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Witt retires after one last performance as 'Carmen'

Two-time Olympic ladies gold medalist takes final bow

Katarina Witt waves to the crowd in Hanover after her final on-ice performance.
Katarina Witt waves to the crowd in Hanover after her final on-ice performance. (Getty Images)

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By Todd Hinckley, Lynn Rutherford special to icenetwork.com
(03/05/2008) - Two-time Olympic ladies gold medalist Katarina Witt retired on Tuesday from her show career on ice with one final performance in her defining role -- "Carmen."

The 42-year-old Witt capped off her eight-city farewell tour in Hanover, Germany, where the crowd gave her a thunderous ovation throughout her six routines. Long-time friend and fellow Olympic champion Brian Boitano, as well as Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev; Steven Cousins; Ryan Bradley; and current European pair champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, also participated in one or more of the shows.

Witt was so overwhelmed with preparing for the show that she was left nearly speechless afterwards. All she could say about the great send-off was "Thank you."

"I'm doing well," she added. "Not as many tears fell as I maybe feared."

Even if she doesn't miss performing, figure skating fans - and the sport itself -- will certainly miss her. Several of her fellow skaters mused about the need for someone of Witt's glamor, sex appeal and longevity today.

"In my opinion, figure skating viewers are brought in by strong female athletes," Johnny Weir said. "Right now you have babies competing in the ladies' division. They're all so young; they don't have the same star quality as Katarina Witt. You want that kind of magic to draw in husbands and teenage guys that want to watch hot girls skating in short dresses."

Four-time world champion Kurt Browning said Witt was an integral part of what he called the sport's golden age.

"Katarina, along with skaters like Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Brian Orser, Kristi Yamaguchi and I, we were all very lucky," he said.

"That time in the late '80s through the '90s had interesting personalities and a lot happening. You had the Olympics just two years apart (in 1992 and '94), and professionals like Katarina and Brian (Boitano) returning for the '94 Games. Then there was the whole Nancy-Tonya thing. Put it all together and it was just an exciting time. Two of the more recent Olympic ladies' champions, Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes, really didn't stay in the sport like Katarina, or later Michelle Kwan, did."

Witt, born in East Germany, was the most decorated skater in the 1980s. After winning the silver medal at the 1982 European and World Championships, she came back the next year to start an amazing run. She would win the next six European titles, four of the next six world championships, and the 1984 and '88 Olympic gold medals.

The defining moment in her career came at her second Olympics, in Calgary in 1988. While the men's figure skating event was dubbed the "Battle of the Brians" between American Brian Boitano and Canadian Brian Orser, the ladies competition was called the "Battle of the Carmens." Witt and her main rival, American Debi Thomas, each skated their long program to Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen. It wasn't Witt's best performance, but it was enough to win the gold, and the East German became only the second woman to defend her Olympic title (Norway's Sonja Henie, who won three straight titles -- 1928, '32 and '36 -- is the other).

Her gold catapulted Witt to a successful professional career that began with three years on tour with Boitano in their show, Witt and Boitano Skating. In 1990, she reenacted her famous role in an on-ice version of Carmen with Boitano and Orser and won an Emmy. And in 1998, a decade years after her second Olympic victory, she bared all for Playboy, becoming only the second cover subject (after Marilyn Monroe) to sell out the magazine.

Although retired from the ice, Witt will hardly be out of the public eye. A keen businesswoman with several books, exercise products and a jewelry line to her credit, she has jumped aboard television's reality show train with both feet.

She purchased the rights to a German version of the TV reality competition Skating with Celebrities and is currently producing and hosting the program's second season. She is also host of her country's rendition of The Biggest Loser, a weight-loss contest where dieters strive to lose the most pounds, and served as a commentator for German networks at the 2006 Olympics.

During the taping of a skating show in the U.S., Witt was once asked what kept her working so hard and long after her Olympic triumphs. The down-to-earth icon laughingly replied, "It's called making a living."