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‘Katarina Rule’ Brings High Fashion to Olympic Skating Costumes

February 18, 1992

ALBERTVILLE, France (AP) _ When U.S. figure skater Nancy Kerrigan takes to the Olympic ice Wednesday night, the most memorable part of her program might not be her elegant axels or loops.

It could well be her Madison Avenue, beaded, poison green, haute couture, four-figure costume.

Quite a change from the G-strings and decollatage of Calgary. Thank the ″Katarina rule.″

The increasingly high-stakes world of figure skating isn’t just a matter of higher jumps and more spins. It is also a competition where costumes have become an escalation of color, texture and pizzazz.

″The sport goes through stages,″ said Frank Carrol, the coach for 1980 silver medalist Linda Fratianne. ″There is a lot of glitz right now, a lot of it is done without much taste or thought.

″What they (Kerrigan and her coach) tried to do is have something with class rather than glitz.″

Kerrigan’s costumes are the creation of Vera Wang, a former figure skater who now sells $12,000 evening dresses and wedding gowns from her Madison Avenue shops.

All this is a far cry from the days when Peggy Fleming’s mom sewed her Olympic costume.

Carrol and Fratianne are credited with starting the costume wars in 1976 when Fratianne appeared in a hot pink and orange creation by Hollywood designer Pete Menefee.

″Before that costumes were very simple little things with maybe a few rhinestones around the neck,″ said Christy Kjarsgaard Ness, the coach for U.S. champion Kristi Yamaguchi. ″It seems simple by today’s standards, but then everybody said, ’Wow 3/8‴

Carrol said he went for the flash to enhance Fratianne’s show. The world champion was the first to do more than one triple jump in competition. But her image was that of a dull technician.

The innovation touched off an escalation of rhinestones, sequins and feathers. Skaters kept trying to outdo each other. Flash went to trash with a flurry of bare midriffs, bikini tops and bare arms.

Then came Katarina Witt.

The two-time gold medalist from East Germany might be best remembered for provocative outfits and her lasting comment that men prefer ″looking at a well-built woman than someone built in the shape of a ball.″

″Why not stress what we have that is beautiful?″ she asked at the 1984 Calgary Games.

Her Olympic costume, with plunging neckline and high cut hips, drew criticism. ″We’re here to skate in a dress, not in a G-string,″ Canadian coach Peter Dunfield fumed.

The line was drawn. New Olympic rules now mark down skaters who show navels or too much bosom and derriere. Excessive decorations are also out. It’s called the ″Katarina rule.″

So now come Kerrigan and Wang, advocates of less as more.

Kerrigan won’t be the only skater in couture fashion. French skater Surya Bonaly will be wearing a Christain LaCroix original. Other costumes come from the fashion centers of Hollywood, Paris and Rome. Style and colors are determined by everything from the music to the lighting at the rink.

Not everybody has access to the latest in style.

Vicktor Koudriavtsev, coach for Unified Team skater Ioulia Vorobieva, said the former Soviet skaters were provided costumes by the state Committee for Sports.

″We don’t have much of a selection of fabric so we have to do with what we have,″ he said. ″Sometimes they might have a better costume, but it doesn’t put us at a disadvantage.″

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