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Witt skates not for gold, but as a figure of peace LILLEHAMMER '94


HAMAR, Norway -- This time, she will not skate for a medal. She will not vamp and flirt with a crowd, a Carmen on skates, dying like a fluttering butterfly.

Katarina Witt is 28 now, a woman who speaks of peace and perspective.

For her, the killing in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is a source of pain, the chase for an Olympic gold a source of bemusement.

The woman who was once the face of East Germany to the world, is at a Winter Olympics for the first time since 1988, representing one Germany, united.

She cannot win the gold when the women's skating program begins Wednesday night. She may not even finish in the top 10 because she is surrounded by teen-agers with fantastic jumps and Americans entangled in a soap opera.

Yesterday, she walked right into the Olympics, though, right into the middle of the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding saga.

"I think it's overblown," Witt said. "I was really shocked when it happened. I feel there are more important things to life. I look at newspapers, it is on every cover all over the world. People are dying all over the world, and that is not on the cover of the magazines."

The tale of the American skaters has overwhelmed a sport, overwhelmed the Olympics.

But Witt is here to bring grace and style back to the Games. When skating's rules were changed, paving the way for the amateurs and pros to meet again, she joined the rush back to the Olympics.

"I just wanted to take a chance, take the challenge and go for it," she said. "This is one of the most interesting years I've had in my career."

She is polished and cool, but in a sport where the triple jumps are nearing double figures, she performs only two.

"You get more beautiful and more fun to watch, but you don't have the jumps anymore," said Kerrigan's coach, Evy Scotvold. "Katarina is a great showman."

Witt risks embarrassment, but does not care.

"I asked myself a question about skating again, and I wanted to know an answer, 'Yes or No,' " she said. "If you don't find it, you regret that you didn't go on again."

She was second in the German championships and said she felt she "had come home again," after years of suspicion that the East German secret police Stasi had tried to exploit her. She was eighth in the European Championships, an event she ruled for nearly a decade.

"This is like finishing a part of my life now," she said. "I mean, it's really finishing."

After the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, she gained fame and popularity in the West, skating for dollars and Diet Coke in America.

"America has become a second home to me," she said. "When the wall came down I felt Americans really honored what I had done in skating, much more than the Germans."

The world outside of skating interests Witt now. Her politics are taking shape after years of being sheltered behind a wall.

When she views the 22-month siege of Sarajevo, she sees a city where she won her first Olympic gold in 1984, a city now in ruins.

"Walking through the city and marketplace, which got terribly destroyed a couple of weeks ago, I see that," she said.

"People from different cultures were living together peacefully. And now there is war, and I still can't get it out of my head. It's really breaking my heart."

She is engaged in an unlikely skating quest. France's Surya Bonaly and Ukraine's Oksana Baiul are the favorites. Witt is an outsider, an old-timer letting others deal with Olympic pressure.

She no longer skates for herself, no longer skates for her country.

In Calgary she was Carmen, defeating her American rival Debi Thomas for a 1988 Olympic gold.

This time, she plans to skate for an idea. For peace. For freedom. For the city of Sarajevo.

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" will play in a chalet-style arena in Norway.

And on the ice, will be Witt, a champion from the past performing for the future.

"I was looking for something special," she said. "I feel I'm old enough to not just portray a character," she said. "I wanted to bring something else across. I was there in Sarajevo. They were the best Games. I have the best memories.

"I felt I want to use my sports, my possibilities for the artistic side, to bring something peaceful across," she said. "That we are one world and we should live together in peace."

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