VANCOUVER — Some 22 years after the Calgary Olympics, Elizabeth Manley found herself worrying that she would once again finish second to Katarina Witt.
As the former figure skating rivals laced up Sunday for an on-ice reunion at a downtown outdoor rink, Manley wasn’t sure what to expect from her former rival from Germany.
“We’re not 20 anymore, so you’ve got to give us credit just for being out here,” said the former Canadian star, who finished second to Witt at the Calgary Games. “I was more concerned — I’m not going to lie to you — I thought she was going to really upstage me today.”
Only the narrowest of margins separated the two when they squared off in ’88, prompting friendly goading from spectators for a rematch.
But all Manley needed was a smile, a wave and a stunning spin to remind the crowd of how her spunky moves made her an unanticipated national hero in Calgary.
“I promised I’d do one spin — I hope I don’t fall,” the 44-year-old Manley joked, a slight tremor in her voice.
And suddenly her leg flexed out gracefully, and her body twirled in a pirouette, arms raising in the air as her whirl got ever faster until she became a blur.
With that, she encouraged the fawning crowd to welcome Witt. Hamming it up, Manley got down on her knees, raising and lowering her arms in teasing homage as the German appeared.
“I don’t skate anymore,” Witt said as Manley hugged her.
Manley was pleased to hear it since she has also been off her skates for a while.
“I haven’t skated in a couple years because of my mom’s illness, so I was like, phew, good,” she said, wiping imaginary sweat from her brow.
The reunion was more emotional than technical as the pair glided around the rink making cutesy small talk for the fans before speaking to a crush of national and international reporters convening for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Witt, who is in the city to cover the 2010 Games for German broadcaster ARD, said it wasn’t until several years after the ’88 Games that she understood the significance of Manley’s medal.
Manley was ranked fourth in the world in 1987 and was viewed as one of several skaters in the running for bronze. She arrived in Calgary with a nasty case of the flu but ended up putting on a daring and athletic performance.
“She didn’t feel so well and then she skated so great,” Witt recalled Sunday. “I know how it is when a country, really, (finds) a hero in their sport and she was perfect at this time.”