On this day: February 28, 1988
Debi Thomas became the first African American woman to win any medal at the Winter Olympics. In 1986 Thomas became the first African American woman to win the U.S. National Championships and the World Championships. Adding to her accomplishments, she earned a bronze medal in the 1988 Winter Olympics
Her rivalry with East Germany’s Katarina Witt at the 1988 Calgary Olympics was known as the Battle of the Carmen’s. The competition was given this name because both independently elected to skate to the music of Bizet’s opera Carmen in their respective long programs.
Debi Thomas credits legendary ice skating show and comedian Mr. Frick as being the person who inspired her to give figure skating a try.
Thomas shares “My mother introduced me to many different things, and figure skating was one of them. I just thought that it was magical having to glide across the ice. I begged my mom to let me start skating. My idol was the comedian Mr. Frick, formerly of Frick and Frack. I would be on the ice, “Look mom, I’m Mr. Frick.” When I went to my first world championship, I mentioned the story, and Mr. Frick saw it on TV. He sent me a letter and we met at Geneva when I won the world championship.”
In 1991, Thomas earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University. She retired from skating the following year in order to enter Northwestern University Medical School. After graduating from Northwestern in 1997, Thomas decided to continue her medical training to become an orthopedic surgeon.
Debi Thomas has received many accolades for her contributions to figure skating. She was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000, and served as a representative for the U.S. Olympic Committee at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.