At the World Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa last week, U.S. team member Charlie Tickner and a few friends met for a late dinner at a Chinese restaurant, the sort of place whose only merit is that it stays open until 2 a.m. Tickner polished off his meal with a fortune cookie, first extracting the fortune and reading it aloud. It said: "Jealousy and competition may trouble you." Nothing could have been more appropriate for fold-under-pressure, maybe-I'll-quit, I've-got-an-excuse Charlie.
But this particular cookie made everybody crumble into laughter. A few hours before dinner Tickner had won the world championship, the first U.S. man to do so since Tim Wood in 1969 and 1970. "If I had gotten this cookie before I skated," Tickner said, "I would have died." At 24 the Grand Old Man of U.S. skating, Tickner has been hovering near the top for years while gaining a growing reputation for crashing on important landings. In his upset performance last week, Tickner finished third in the compulsory figures, third in the two-minute short program and second in the five-minute free-skating program, which was good enough to give him the title.
After his unsatisfying start, Tickner had driven to a practice rink with Norma Sahlin, his coach. Sahlin said about his effort, "Well, it wasn't your best."
"It's hard to have a magical performance," Tickner said.
"Yeah, but you're about due."
He was, indeed. Last Thursday night Tickner delivered the near magic he needed in the free-skating final to earn the victory just when it looked as if 1978 might belong to East Germany's Jan Hoffmann, the 1974 titleholder. (Reigning world champ Vladimir Kovalev of the U.S.S.R. came in fourth.)
"The ultimate victory is to skate your best," Tickner said. "And so I skated my best." And perhaps had a bit of luck as well? "You only have luck when you train for it."
With Tickner winning an unexpected gold medal—and 17-year-old superskate Linda Fratianne still to finish her competition—it suddenly appeared the U.S. was on its way to taking both the men's and women's titles for the first time since 1959, when Carol Heiss and David Jenkins made off with the world championships. Fratianne, from Northridge, Calif., the 1977 world champion, already is being mentioned by some in the same breath as Heiss, Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill.
But Fratianne had gotten off to a disastrous start with a third in the school figures. Her coach, Frank Carroll, complained bitterly about collusion among German-speaking judges, but everyone always complains about the judging in figure skating. It is a rule. However, at times nationalism can become too rampant even for skating's ruling body to abide. That's why the Soviets had been banned as judges this year. "I'm not into judging," Linda said resolutely. "I just know I have to do better figures."
Fratianne's work was further cut out for her after Tickner won. Not only was she trailing significantly in points, but also the whispered feeling among many Americans was that the judges would not care to award gold bookends to the U.S. As it turned out in the Friday night final, East Germany's Anett P�tzsch was the clear—if unspectacular—winner, with Linda second. Fratianne's father, Bob, consoled his stoic daughter. "To be second in the world is not so terrible," he said. Then he added, "Why are you looking at me like that?"