Thoughts on Elaine Zayak
IMHO, about the only really positive aspet of the women's competition at the 1994 US Nationals was the surprising, excellent performances of 28-year-old Elaine Zayak, who blazed to a fourth-place finish. As we remember, that competition was forever marred by the hideous attack on Nancy Kerrigan.
Elaine Zayak, a native of Paramus, New Jersey USA, took up ice skating as a young toddler at the advice of her family physician. She had lost part of a foot in a lawn mower accident, and the physician thought that ice skatign would provide good physical therapy and enable Elaine to regain good balance on both feet. Zayak took to skating like a duck takes to water. She won the World Junior title in 1979, and at the 1980 Nationals, at the age of 14, she finished fourth and just barely missed making the Olympic team. At the 1980 Nationals, Elaine astounded the audience with a large arsenal of triple jumps - something that just wasn't common in the ladie's competition in that era.
Zayak won the US championship in 1981 at the age of 15, and she won the silver medal at the 1981 Worlds that were held that year in Hartford, Ct. Denise Biellman of Switzerland won the World title that year and promptly turned pro.
Elaine's competitions in the fall of 1981 were not overly successful, and she was criticized for placing all emphasis on her triples and neglecting the artistic aspects of her skating. At the 1982 US Nationals, she fell three times in her long program and fell to the bronze medal position. Elaine was so devastated at this performance that she almost did not come out to receive her medal.
At the 1982 Worlds, disaster struck Elaine again in the short program, as she fell and was in 7th place heading into the long program. A medal seemed like a remote possibility. The night before she skated, Elaine had a long talk with her coach and sorted out her feelings. In essence, her coach told her (to paraphrase) "What you're feeling is nerves, and that's all right. You are not feeling fear because you know you can land the triples." Zayak skated the best long program of her career (IMHO), landed seven triples, and shot up from 7th place to win the World title.
The skating world was in shock over this result, and the ISU, quite frankly, was fearful that Zayak would start an era of women jumping like jumping beans and forgetting to be graceful and artistic. Hence, the ISU instituted a rule that became known as the "Zayak Rule" in which a skater could perform each triple jump only twice, and if a triple was repeated, it had to be in combination. Heretofore, Zayak's long programs included four triple toes and three triple salchows - with perhaps one in combination. This rule took away much of Elaine's competitive edge.
At the 1983 US Nationals, Elaine finished second, and then she suffered a stress fracture in her left leg that caused her to withdraw from that year's Worlds. At the 1984 US Nationals, Elaine finished third and headed into the Olympics. Unfortunately, she finished 12th in the school figures and was effectively out of the hunt for the medals. She skated well in the short and long and pulled up to sixth. A month later, she won the bronze medal at the 1984 Worlds and soon turned professional.
I saw Elaine skate as a headliner in Ice Capades a year after she turned pro. I thought she skated very, very well. Her jumps were very high and clean, although her choreography looked very simple.
Elaine competed in several pro competitions with mixed success, and she left Ice Capades after several seasons. In interviews, she said she "hated life on the road" and found life as a touring pro "miserable". She simply stopped skating, gained weight, and went on with her life.
Somewhere in the early 1990s her competitive fire reemerged, and Elaine returned to her former coach, Peter Burrows, and asked if he would train her again. It was a "month by month" situation, as neither knew whether Elaine, then 27 years old, could possibly regain her jumps and stamina.
At the 1994 Nationals, Elaine stunned everyone by landing a number of clean triples and winning the pewter medal. She received the loudest acclaim of all of the skaters, and she looked absolutely thrilled at her performances and final result. I thought it woud have been fantastic had she qualified for the Olympics, but that year the US could send only 2 skaters (Kerrigan and Harding) and Michelle Kwan, who had finished second at Nationals, was the first alternate.
Zayak was married several years ago and was coaching young skaters.
I remember that the media never really treated Zayak like a "skating princess". Her bios almost inevitably showed her family, with her father tending bar at the watering hole he owned in Paramus. I guess the USFSA felt that a bartender's daughter wasn't exactly the perfect picture for America's top female skater. One bio even made a big todo about Elaine's "bleached blonde hair". Give me a break!
Last edited by SkateFan4Life; 08-18-2005 at 09:57 AM.
Here's a link to a site that has a nice snapshot of Elaine Zayak as a pro skater.