BALTIMORE — It wasn't the greatest performance of his life. After all, Christopher Bowman once played a blind boy in "Little House on the Prairie." But it was good enough for a Tuesday morning interview with a few of the reporters here for the U.S. figure skating championships.
To hear him tell it, life in Van Nuys hasn't been much different from life in South-Central Los Angeles. Or Beirut. Figure skating, he said, saved him from drugs and gangs.
Many of his friends, he said, weren't so lucky. Some of them, he said, looking reverently toward the ceiling in the Baltimore Arena, aren't with us anymore.
But he was spared, he said, because of his parents' support. He said that his father worked three jobs to pay for figure skating lessons. And spared, too, because of his upbringing and service as an altar boy in the Roman Catholic church.
Some of the reporters were enthralled.
Others had heard Bowman's act before.
When parts of the interview were repeated to some of Bowman's friends, they either laughed or rolled their eyes.
"That's Meryl Streep playing Chris Bowman," said Olympic champion Brian Boitano, who said that he has visited the home that Bowman shares with his parents in a middle-class neighborhood of Van Nuys.
To say that Bowman has a flair for the dramatic is like saying that the sun rises in the east.
Whether he's on the ice or not, rarely is he not performing. He usually isn't during the compulsory figures, but who can blame him? You wouldn't ask Vladimir Horowitz to play scales.
In Thursday's compulsories at the Mount Pleasant Arena, Bowman finished fourth. The only man considered to have a chance to beat him here, Paul Wylie of Denver, was sixth.
But it is in the freestyle skating that the true Bowman emerges. Although his workouts have been limited because of a deep cut in his left shin suffered during an exhibition in December, it is almost a given that he will skate well during tonight's original program and even better in Sunday's long program. The larger and more enthusiastic the crowd, the more important and pressurized the moment, he more he thrives.
"When Christopher goes out there, it's like he's telling the crowd, 'OK, fasten your seat belts. You're in for the thrill of your life,' " said Frank Carroll, who coaches Bowman at the Pickwick Ice Arena in Burbank. "That has made him a winner."
Bowman, 21, also was injured before last year's national championships, but he still finished third, behind Boitano and Wylie. That earned Bowman a berth on the Olympic team at Calgary, Canada, where he finished seventh. A month later at Budapest, he was fifth in the World Championships. If he is fully recovered, he could win a medal at this year's World Championships next month at Paris.
Carroll responded to a question about Bowman's potential by asking a few of his own, then supplying the answers.
"Is he a terrific athlete? Yes. Have there been times when his performances have been the best in the world? Yes. Is he the most talented man in the world? Yes. Do I think he will be a world champion? That depends on Christopher. It depends on how much he's willing to do."
Bowman's work habits haven't changed much since he first began working with Carroll as a hyperactive 5-year-old. To get his precocious pupil's attention, Carroll found that he sometimes had to turn him upside down and drop him head first into a trash can.
More questions and answers from Carroll:
"Is Christopher an angel? No. Is he a coach's dream? No. When the curtain goes up, can you always expect him to give the very best he has in him? Yes.
"There are certainly things I'd like to change about him. I'd like to change his ideas about how to train. We all want obedient students. But it's not always the obedient students who are the winners.
"I've had kids who do everything I tell them in practice, but when they go out there for a competition, their legs turn to water. They literally tremble. You don't have to worry about that with Christopher."
Oh, but how the U.S. figure skating community does worry about Bowman! During a telecast last year, ABC commentator Dick Button questioned Bowman's commitment.
Bowman was furious, but Button hasn't changed his opinion.
"There was a lot of flak because I said he wasn't dedicated enough," Button recently told the Baltimore Sun. "It's strictly up to him whether he achieves things or not. The whole question is what kind of skating he does.
"He's a very talented boy. Is he a skater who will leave the sport different or better, or will he just be a hell of a nightclub act? He can win and not be a great skater or he can not win and be a great skater. It would be great for the sport if he put it all together."