Debra Janine “Debi” Thomas (born March 25, 1967) is an American figure skater and physician. She is the 1986 World champion, two-time U.S. national champion and 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, having taken part in the Battle of the Carmens at those games.
Thomas was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. She grew up in San Jose, California where she started figure skating. She attributes most of her success to her mother who sacrificed to drive her over 100 miles a day between home, school, and the ice rink. Debi wanted to be a doctor from age 5, and now is a practicing orthopaedic surgeon who specializes in hip and knee replacement. She has one son named Christopher Jules “Luc” Bequette in 1997.
She represented the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club beginning in 1983, which launched her career. Debi was coached by Alex McGowan from age 10 until she retired from amateur competition at age 21.
Thomas won both the 1986 U.S. national title and the 1986 World Championships; those achievements earned Thomas the ABC‘s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year award that year. She was the first female athlete to win those titles while attending college full-time since Tenley Albright in the 1950s. She was the first African-American to hold U.S. National titles in ladies’ singles figure skating. Thomas was a pre-med student at Stanford University during this time although it was unusual for a top U.S. skater to go to college at the same time as competing.
In 1987, Thomas was injured with Achilles tendinitis in both ankles and struggled at the U.S. Nationals, placing second to Jill Trenary. She rebounded at the World Championships, finishing a close second to East German skater Katarina Witt.
In January 1988, Thomas reclaimed the U.S. National title. At the 1988 Winter Olympics held in Calgary, she and Katarina Witt engaged in a rivalry that the media dubbed the “Battle of the Carmens“, as both women skated their long programs to the music of Bizet‘s opera Carmen. Thomas skated strong compulsory figures and performed well in the short program to an instrumental version of “Something in My House” by Dead or Alive. In the long program, she made mistakes on a number of jumps and placed fourth in that segment of the competition. Overall, she finished third and won the bronze medal, behind Witt and Canadian skater Elizabeth Manley (Thomas fell from first place going into the long program to third place overall in the final standings). By winning the bronze medal, Thomas became the first black athlete to win any medal at the Winter Olympics. Thomas won the bronze medal at the 1988 World Championships and then retired from amateur skating.
Thomas was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000. She was also selected by President George W. Bush to be part of the U.S. Delegation for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin Italy along with other former Olympians: Dorothy Hamill, Eric Heiden, Kerri Strug, and Herschel Walker. Thomas returned to the ice briefly to participate in “The Caesars Tribute: A Salute to the Golden Age of American Skating”, an event which featured many of the greatest legends and icons of American figure skating.
After her figure skating career, Thomas went back to school to become an orthopedic surgeon. She graduated from Stanford University in 1991 with a degree in engineering and from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in 1997. Thomas followed this with a surgical residency at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Hospital and an orthopedic surgery residency at the Martin Luther King Jr./Charles Drew University Medical Center in South Central Los Angeles.
In June 2005, Thomas graduated from the Orthopaedic Residency Program at Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles. She spent the next year preparing for Step I of the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgeons’ exam and working at King-Drew Medical Center as a junior attending physician specialist. In July 2006, she began a one-year fellowship at the Dorr Arthritis Institute at Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, California, for sub-specialty training in adult reconstructive surgery.
As of November 2010, Thomas is in private practice at ORTHO X-cellence Debra J. Thomas, MD, PC in Richlands, Virginia.