The 1994 US Nationals will forever be known for the Nancy Kerrigan knee bashing and the subsequent criminal prosecution of Tonya Harding and her cohorts. However, there was another major story in the ladie's competition that was pretty much overlooked, with all the Nancy/Tonya saga.
Elaine Zayak made a tremendous (!!!!) comeback to eligible competition, with a strong fourth-place finish. Not bad for a 28-year-old who had left figure skating and who did not really know if she would be able to make a decent comeback.
In retrospect, Zayak had a stellar eligible career, with the 1981 US title, the 1982 World title, the 1981 World silver medal, the 1984 World bronze medal, and bronze medals at the 1982 and 1984 US Nationals. Elaine represented the US at the 1984 Winter Olympics. Elaine suffered a stress fracture prior to the 1983 Worlds, so she was unable to defend her title.
Elaine's strength was her strong arsenal of triple toes and triple salchows. In an era when the top women skated, at most, three or four triples, Elaine landed six or seven. The ISU was fearful that ladies skating would turn into little more than a "jumping bean" contest, and they institute a role that became known as the "Zayak Rule", whereby a skater could repeat a triple jump only once in the long program, and if so, it had to be a combination jump.
Elaine turned professional after the 1984 Worlds and skated with Ice Capades for several seasons. I had the pleasure of attending an Ice Capades performance in 1986 and enjoyed her performances. They were well skated, full of jumps and pizzaz.
Unfortunately for Elaine, touring as a pro became very difficult, and she stopped skating. During the winter of 1993, however, the competitive juices started to stir, and she turned to her former coach, Peter Burrows, for assistance. As Elaine said at the time, her comeback was a "month by month" situation. She honestly did not know whether or not she would be able to return to competitive shape. Boy, did she ever!
Elaine skated two strong, powerful programs at the 1994 US Nationals. Her jumps were done well, and she showed greatly improved artistry. The audience went crazy and gave her two long, standing ovations. Her coaches jumped up and down in ecstasy. Elaine was almost in tears, she was so overjoyed. She told the press that she did not want to take a spot on the Olympic team away from anyone - she just wanted to skate her best.
Bravo, Elaine. You, go girl!