Brian Boitano made his first mark in the figure skating world in 1978, when he took the bronze medal in the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, just ahead of fourth-place Brian Orser of Canada.
The Battle of the Brians – matching fierce rivals – culminated at the Calgary 1988 Olympic Winter Games.
Boitano, who four years earlier had placed fifth at the Sarajevo 1984 Olymnpic Winter Games, had edged Orser in the 1986 World Championships. Orser repaid the favor at the 1987 World Championships, winning gold to Boitano’s silver.
“I knew getting on the flight from San Francisco to Calgary that I couldn’t make a mistake all week,” Boitano said 30 years later. “I knew that I’m going to have to be clean in not only the competition, but in every practice. I don’t have a chance of winning unless I’m perfect, because I have to create a talk within the judges and the community of skaters watching the practices, like, ‘Oh my gosh, Boitano’s on fire!’”
In Calgary, Boitano and Orser were essentially tied heading into the final phase of the competition, the free skate. Of the nine judges, five favored Boitano’s flawless program, while four favored Orser. The American claimed gold by the narrowest of margins.
“It was what I dreamed about for so many years that I had trouble convincing myself that it was really happening,” he said. ‘There’s this feeling when you skate your brains out and it’s so important to do it at that time – and you actually do it and you meet the challenge.
“That’s such a good feeling just alone by itself that when they’re playing the national anthem you’re like, ‘Life can’t be this good. This moment can’t possibly be as fulfilling and complete as I feel it is right now.’”
Following the Olympics, Boitano turned professional and won 10 consecutive competitions, including five world professional championships. He successfully petitioned the International Skating Union to return to amateur status and participated in the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Winter Games, where he finished sixth.