CALGARY, Canada — Alex McGowan liked the way his skater skated Thursday night. He did not like the way the judges judged.
His skater, Debi Thomas of San Jose, moved into first place in women's figure skating through the first two phases of the competition at the Winter Olympics. But McGowan, who coaches Thomas, criticized judges after her second-place finish in the short program, speculating that some of them decided who would win the gold medal before they arrived here.
He did not name names, but the implication was that the favorite, East Germany's Katarina Witt, is receiving favored treatment. She won the short program Thursday night at the Olympic Saddledome, moving into second place behind Thomas and doing her part to assure that this competition will be decided by dueling Carmens.
Both Thomas and Witt will skate to Georges Bizet's "Carmen" in Saturday night's long program, which accounts for 50% of the final score. Either can win the gold medal with a first-place finish in the long program. If Witt, 22, wins, she will be the first woman skater since Norway's Sonja Henie (1928, '32, '36) to repeat as Olympic champion.
There is virtually no chance for the other skaters to win the gold medal, but as many as four--Canada's Elizabeth Manley, the Soviet Union's Kira Ivanova and the United States' Jill Trenary and Caryn Kadavy--are still in contention for the bronze. Ivanova dropped from first after the compulsory figures to fourth with a 10th-place finish in the short program, which counts toward 20% of the final score.
Skating to a hard rock sound, "Something In My House," by Dead or Alive, Thomas, 20, did a more demanding short program than any of the other contenders and received the highest scores for technical merit. Three of the nine judges gave her 5.9 of a possible 6.0. But her scores for presentation included four 5.7s and one 5.6.
When McGowan saw Thomas' scores for presentation, he frowned and said: "No way."
Many spectators among the capacity crowd of 19,000 must have agreed with him, booing the judges when the scores were announced.
"I told her she might get a 6.0 mark for style if it snows in the Sahara," McGowan said later. "I thought she skated fantastic. Her technique was superb, and her artistic (presentation) was super. It hurts me when I see her skating well and get dropped in her artistic marks.
"Katarina skated well. I've got no problem with that. She was great. But I don't think Debi deserved to be dropped for her artistic marks. It worries me that the die has been cast, that she is going to be dropped for artistic marks Saturday night, regardless of how well she skates. I don't want to see the style marks used for political purposes."
Asked whether she shares her coach's concerns, Thomas said: "I felt like that three months ago. I knew it would probably be this way. It's been in the press that Katarina is the favorite. I knew I was going to have to be at my best here.
"So far, I've been at my best, and I'm happy with that. It was great having the audience boo my marks. I said, 'You deserved better, kid.' "
Witt skated to a medley from the Broadway musical "Jerry's Girls." Her program was not particularly demanding, but she was, as usual, elegant. Although the judges gave her four 5.8s, four 5.7s and one 5.6 for technical merit, eight of them gave her 5.9s for presentation.
Witt bypassed interviews afterward, but there was also reason for her to complain about the political nature of judging. The only judge who did not give her a 5.9 for presentation was Lucy Curley-Brennan from the United States, who gave her a 5.8.
As for the fashion statement Witt was supposed to make in the short program, it proved to be something less than controversial. After seeing the costume she wore last month at the European championships, Manley's coach, Peter Dunfield, called it a G-string. But Witt toned it down Thursday night with a liberal use of fringe to cover the thighs.
When Witt finished her 2-minute 15-second program, she stood behind the sideboard at the end of the rink and watched Thomas skate. Most skaters disappear into the dressing room after their performances, but Witt is different.
"She does it all the time," Thomas said. "I do it, too. You want to see the others skate. But I wouldn't have stood at the end of the rink like she did."
Asked if she thought Witt was trying to intimidate her, Thomas said: "Maybe. I usually don't get psyched out, though. So it's not too good an idea to try it. I fight harder."
Only two skaters received standing ovations. To no one's surprise, one of them was Manley, the only Canadian among the contenders. She was third in the short program and was the only other skater besides Witt and Thomas to win on any of the judge's scorecards. Witt won six judges, Thomas two and Manley one.
But the most exciting skater was Japan's Midori Ito, who was 10th after the compulsory figures, but dazzled the crowd with her short program. She finished fourth in the short program and is eighth overall, out of medal contention but someone to watch for sheer entertainment.