Talk to figure skating athletes, and they’ll tell you that our long and rich history in the sport make the Olympic Village of Lake Placid a special place to train and compete. From legendary Lake Placid coach Gustave Lussi to 1932 gold medal winner Sonje Henie to the legendary Dick Button and many more, the stars of our tiny town shaped the sport and the art of figure skating over the last century.
Now, as we look toward a winter season marking the 100th anniversary of the Olympic Winter Games, we prepare to welcome home to Lake Placid what is sure to be a memorable celebration of culture, art, sport, and skating heritage.
A Champion Returns to the Ice
As the last skater in history to have won the compulsory figures competition in the Olympic Games, Debi Thomas is a celebrity skater who is the perfect embodiment of both the figure legacy in skating as well as the artistry that is the cornerstone of the World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships. Debi is the 1986 World Champion, a two-time U.S. National Champion, the 1988 bronze medal winner at the Calgary Games, and the first black athlete from any country to win a medal in any sport in the Winter Olympics. After recently training in Lake Placid, Debi has decided to return to compete at the October World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships.
“I know how difficult it is to perfect these figures,” says Debi. “It’s especially difficult at 56 years old. But the timing is right for me to do something like this and challenge myself. Competitive skating has evolved in a different direction. However, figures are an art form and a skill, and through this competition, we can honor the world’s great skating artists and inspire the younger generation.”
In 1988, Debi was considered the only competitor capable of beating Katerina Witt. Of the six hours a day Debi would train in those years leading up to her World Championship and Olympic medal, four of them would often be practicing figures. She was truly the world’s best in this discipline.
In fact, as an ABC sports video narrated by Jim McKay and Peggy Flemming from those Games shows, Debi Thomas (beginning at 8:30 mark of the video) skated a superb second compulsory figure which she won, moving her from fourth place into third overall.
“Today, I worked with a couple young people in the rink who are going to be competing at the Championships,” noted Debi. “They’re in there getting pointers because they’ve never had to do figures. To them it’s a foreign thing. So, to be able to show this to the next generation and see their interest and curiosity in learning these skills is really encouraging and inspiring.”
Throughout her skating career and beyond, Debi was no stranger to overcoming challenges. While training for the Olympics and competing and winning on the world stage, Debi was also a student at Stanford University, graduating in 1991 with a degree in engineering. After retiring from skating, she attended Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine to realize her childhood dream of becoming a medical doctor, and from there, she went on to become a practicing orthopedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee replacement. Having skated only sparingly in the last three decades, she’s coming back to train and compete at this year’s Championships in Lake Placid.
“I’ve done a lot of difficult things in my life, and this may be the most difficult,” says Debi. “What is inspiring me is seeing others inspired by me coming back. People are excited to see me on the ice again. I really had to take this seriously and be very focused and disciplined because to do this when you’re older is a lot more difficult. It’s given me a real appreciation for the figures and how well I used to do them.”
The Cherry on Top of a Special Event
While Lake Placid is already a historically special place in the world of figure skating, Debi Thomas’ return to the ice will be an especially remarkable part of this celebration – the cherry on top of the World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships. Founded by local Lake Placid residents and Olympians Patrick Kelly and Karen Courtland Kelly and championed by athletes passionate about figure skating’s deep roots in art, the World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships is an event that elevates art to the level of athletic competition while rejoicing in both.
Amid all the many parts of the five-day celebration, seeing Debi Thomas return to competition and perform figures on black ice will be a piece of history in the making.
To make it as easy as possible for as many as possible, all events at the World Figure and Fancy Skating Championships, except for special on-ice lessons and workshops, are free for all spectators. That makes this an event not to be missed. Though admission is complimentary, registration is still required , so visit this link to find details, including the schedule, and to submit your registration form.