Born on December 3, 1965, in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany, Katarina Witt became a figure-skating champion and a symbol of her country's regime during the Cold War. From 1983-88, she won six European Championships, four World Championships and two Olympic gold medals. Witt went on to tour professionally, make a famous appearance in Playboy and immerse herself in other entertainment ventures.
Early Years and Development
Katarina Witt was born on December 3, 1965, in Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany. She started skating as a 5-year-old and was soon enrolled in the intensive program at the Karl-Marx-Stadt Sports Club and School. At age 9, she began training with renowned East German skating instructor Jutta Müller, who taught her young protégée how to infuse her performances with her charming personality.
Witt won her first major competition at the 1981 East German National Championship. She claimed silver in both the European and the World Figure Skating Championships the following year, and in 1983 she won the European Championship for the first of a record-tying six consecutive times.
Witt vaulted into the international spotlight when she beat favored American champion Rosalynn Sumners by one-hundredth of a point to win the gold medal in the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. She dominated the sport over the next half-decade, combining her technical skills with a dazzling flair for showmanship that enthralled judges and audience members. Her success and striking looks earned her recognition as "the most beautiful face of socialism," though her fame also drew increased scrutiny from the Stasi, East Germany's secret police.
Along with her streak of European Championship wins, Witt won four World Championships from 1984-88, losing only to American Debi Thomas in 1986. At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Witt and Thomas both famously choreographed their long routines to Georges Bizet's opera Carmen, but Witt outlasted her rival to become the first woman to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in singles figure skating since Norway's Sonja Henie in 1936.
Witt retired from competitive amateur skating after winning her final World Championship in 1988, but she returned to qualify for the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Her free-skate routine was a memorable tribute to war-torn Sarajevo, the site of her 1984 Olympic debut, though she finished seventh in the overall competition.
The crumbling of the East German socialist regime in the late 1980s freed Witt to pursue all sorts of professional interests. She starred with men's Olympic medalists Brian Boitano and Brian Orser in the 1990 HBO telefilm Carmen on Ice, which won a Primetime Emmy Award for the trio that September. Witt and Boitano also teamed up for a three-year run of Witt and Boitano Skating, an exhibition that drew a rare sellout crowd for an ice show at Madison Square Garden.
In 1995, Witt founded the WITH WITT Sports & Entertainment GmbH production company with business partner Elisabeth Gottmann. She also segued into mainstream acting with appearances in the films Jerry Maguire (1996) and Ronin (1998) and popular TV shows such as Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond.
The skating queen posed nude for the December 1998 edition of Playboy, making it just the second issue in the magazine's history to sell out, following the inaugural 1953 edition featuring Marilyn Monroe.
In 2005, Witt published her autobiography, Only With Passion, and formed the Katarina Witt Foundation to provide aid for disabled children and teens. She delivered her final professional performance in 2008, but continued to mentor other skating hopefuls on her German reality-TV show Stars on Ice and the British competition Dancing on Ice.
Witt was the subject of the 2013 documentary The Diplomat, which chronicled her rise to glory and her uneasy relationship with the East German authorities, who gave her favorable treatment while keeping her under close surveillance.
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