It is a January Saturday morning in Minnesota. Outside it is cold, and a gray prairie wind is blowing. But the expansive arena of the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington is nearly celestial in its removal from the cruel real world. Clear light and serenity have settled into the empty ice palace. Transcendent music (Debussy? Brahms?) rises on its own wings up to the sunlike lights in the ceiling. On the rink, a universe below the highest seats, a couple of tiny figures glide, dip, practice lazily to the music. They seem remote, ethereal down there in this great oval void of 15,000 empty seats.
Now Janet Lynn Nowicki is walking along the top rim of the amphitheater. It is the perfect setting for her. Last night, more like an angel than a girl, she won the U.S. women's figure skating championship for the fifth year in a row. She was brilliant, radiant, unreal. Today she is dressed with morning-after realism: a black pea jacket, drab baggy jeans, low dark shoes. She is very short, not a bit willowy. She is looking more like Janet Lynn Nowicki, the 19-year-old dumpling daughter of an upstate Illinois druggist than like Janet Lynn, the graceful darling of international ice from London to Vienna to Leningrad.
Still, the face is that of the cherubic celebrity herself. The famed blonde bob is perhaps a bit limp, but the smile is fresh and sunny. There are the fine cheekbones, the almond hazel eyes, the short straight nose, the features of a Slavic angel—though with a touch of tension today. She is here in the heights of the skating arena for an interview. She is congratulated on the brilliance of her championship performance and asked how she arrived at such perfection. She says, "I had an inner peace last night, and I always skate very well when I have that."
The interviewer says, "Inner peace?" and Janet says casually, "The peace of God. Before I went out on the ice I prayed. I said, 'O.K., Lord, You promised that if I asked for Your help You'd be with me. I'm asking You to keep Your promise, God.' And He did."
Janet's voice is matter-of-fact, girlish and mild, in no way evangelistic. She speaks about the Lord as if He were her pal. She is asked if she prays a lot and she replies, "Sure. Prayer is like a way of life with me. I pray a little every day, not just when I skate."
"Does God always tell you what to do?"
"He always waits to the last minute to tell me what to do. But He usually tells me."
"One thing specific, for sure: my being here now is only because of God. I didn't want to skate this year. I couldn't face it. After 14 years of serious skating I was tired. After the Olympics I was sick of it. I was bored and depressed. I almost quit for good this summer. One day I went to the rink. I was planning to work five or six hours. I stayed 10 minutes and went home and said, 'Mom, I can't do it.' I talked to my parents, my brothers and my pastor. I prayed to God about it. He said, 'Skate another year for me.' I said, 'O.K., Lord, if You want me to skate, I will. But then I have to trust You every day to give me the strength every day because I am tired of it.' He promised. So I am here. But it is so hard and I am more depressed than I was before. I'm O.K. when I trust in God, but otherwise not. I used to be O.K. on my own, but now I have to have God and faith or I can't make it. It's so hard now...."
The interviewer pauses then asks hesitantly, "Is God a good skater?"