Witt, appearing as a judge on British TV show “Dancing on Ice,” was assessing Alcott’s skating routine based on the movie “Sister Act,” when she made the unfortunate suggestion, “Chemmy I am begging you to not do those lifts. I really don’t want to see you up there — you are a pretty big woman.”
According to Britain’s The Sun newspaper, Alcott took the criticism stoically on air, but dissolved into tears backstage.
British viewers took to Twitter to vent their outrage over the snub, with one fan noting, “That silence from the audience was almost deafening before the boos kicked in.”
But Witt, who won two Olympic gold medals for East Germany in the 1980s, played down the embarrassing debacle as a linguistic misunderstanding – the German word for big, groß, usually refers to height rather than girth when used to describe a person.
“I feel sorry about a comment I made about Chemmy and I think I upset her a bit,” Witt said in The Sun. “I said she’s a big girl and she misunderstood. I meant it in a complimentary way, that she is a tall girl. As a skater I was a big girl, I was tall, I was big.”
“I must say I am sorry. I think it was really a language thing so sorry, sorry Great Britain,” the skating star added.
Another celebrity contestant, TV presenter Mark Rhodes, also tried to ease diplomatic tensions, saying, “Chemmy is built for skiing. She is built for power and that is all she was trying to get across.”