What: The showdown between ice skaters Katarina Witt and Debi Thomas at the 1988 WInter Olympics in Calgary, both skating to a suite from Bizet’s “Carmen”:
(To play them simultaneously, move the counter on Thomas’s video to 0:30, then start both.)
Why: At the culmination of the Calgary games, America’s Thomas and East Germany’s Witt held the female equivalent of the Thrilla in Manila. Like Ali and Frazier, the skaters had fought two previous epic showdowns, with Thomas winning at the 1986 World Championships and Witt edging Thomas at that event in 1987. Anyone who saw the ’87 Championships saw this coming, but the rest of the world was shocked when the two pulled the equivalent of showing up to a party in the same dress: they both picked the same sequence from Bizet’s “Carmen.” Going into the long program, Thomas was first and Witt was second. Witt, considered by many to be the most beautiful woman ever to play her sport, skated a clean and silken program, maximizing the elegant strokes of the music. But her program was more style than substance, leaving the door open for a powerful performance by the stronger Thomas. Alas, it was not to be: Thomas made tentative mistakes, double-footing twice. In the end the heroine of the event was the pixieish Elizabeth Manley of Canada, who won the long program and the hearts of the crowd, and stole the silver medal from Thomas.
Impact: The Battle of the Carmens was the apex of ladies’ figure skating, with Witt becoming an international sensation. Only six years later, Tonya Harding participated in a plot to injure her rival Nancy Kerrigan, and the sport never seemed as graceful after that.
Personal Connection: Like every 20-year-old male at the time, I had a tremendous crush on Katarina Witt, who parlayed her atypically non-waifish form into a major modeling career. But I later came to admire Thomas more, as she retired to get a medical degree from my alma mater and became an orthopedic surgeon. (We Wildcats have a tendency to claim all our classmates’ accomplishments as our own.)
Other Contenders: Japanese gymnast Shun Fujimoto completes his 1976 gold-medal routine with a broken knee; archer Antonio Robello lights the flame at the ’92 Barcelona games; the French team categorically fails to “smash” the Americans in the 2008 men’s 4x100m freestyle relay; Derek Redmond’s dad helps him finish the 400 meters in Seoul; ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean light the ice on fire with their performance of “Bolero” in Sarajevo; and yes, Al Michaels, I do believe in miracles, I do! I do!