CALGARY, Canada — Of the many lessons U.S. figure skating champion Brian Boitano has learned this year, the one that may eventually result in the greatest gain is: If you can't beat them, hire their choreographer.
After Boitano lost the title he had won the year before to Canadian Brian Orser at the World Championships last March in Cincinnati, he decided he needed help with his short and long programs from a Canadian.
"She's already gotten some guff about it," Boitano said this week of Sandra Bezic, a Toronto choreographer.
As music is so much a part of her life, she was prepared to face it this weekend at the Olympic Saddledome in Skate Canada, a competition that has attracted some of the world's best skaters, eager to see the site of the 1988 Winter Olympics Feb. 13-28.
Among them are Boitano, 24, of Sunnyvale, Calif., and Orser, 25, of Penetanguishene, Ontario. They finished first and second in the world in 1986 and then traded places this year.
If the first two days of competition are an indication, Orser will extend his winning streak over Boitano to two. After winning the compulsory figures Thursday, he also won Friday night's short program. Boitano was second in both.
San Jose's Debi Thomas, the 1986 world champion and the runner-up this year, won the women's short program Friday night. But Canada's Elizabeth Manley, who fell on a triple salchow and finished second in the short program, retained the overall lead on the strength of her compulsory figures Thursday.
The women's long program is scheduled for this afternoon and the men's for tonight. As the long programs count toward 50% of the final scores, both Thomas and Boitano could rally to win with superior performances.
If Boitano should win, his choreographer may not be the most popular person in the Saddledome.
"When it comes right down to it, may the best man win," Bezic said, attempting to be diplomatic.
Not succeeding, she added, "I just feel I'm working with the best man."
Asked if she has taken gruff, she laughed and pointed to the official's badge that was presented to her by the Canadian Figure Skating Assn. It identified her as being from the United States.
"It hasn't been bad," she said. "It's just the circumstances. If the Olympics weren't in Canada and if the leading contenders weren't an American and a Canadian, it wouldn't make any difference. Skaters have used international choreographers for years."
Many, including U.S. women's champion Jill Trenary, have used Bezic. "I'm a professional person," she said. "No one has the right to question where I work. The Canadians are obviously well looked after."
Orser, for instance, has a choreographer from Philadelphia, although Uschi Kessler emphasizes that she is a West German citizen.
Boitano approached Bezic because of her reputation for classical choreography. He and his coach, Linda Leaver, decided after the world championships he should leave behind the more earthy Western-style long program he had planned especially for Calgary, which, until it won the Olympic bid, was best known for its annual Stampede.
"I feel he's a classical skater," Bezic said. "His lines are pure, his technique is brilliant. We felt classical music would best display those abilities.
"If you understand his growth pattern, you realize his technique has progressed, but his artistic side didn't progress at the same rate."
As Boitano becomes more artistic, he said he will not forsake the athletic skills that have earned him so much attention.
He said he will continue in his efforts to become the first skater to complete a quadruple jump, although he will not try it here. His next attempt will be at a competition two weeks from now in Budapest.