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Out To Cut Fancy Figures In Sarajevo
Bob Ottum
January 30, 1984
Crashes marred the nationals, but our Olympic figure skaters rose to the occasion
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January 30, 1984

Out To Cut Fancy Figures In Sarajevo

Crashes marred the nationals, but our Olympic figure skaters rose to the occasion

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The stunned crowd of 10,640—plus standees—in Salt Lake City's Salt Palace arena gasped sharply in perfect unison. For the record, let it be known as The Moment When Peter Hauled Off And Threw Kitty Into The $15 Seats. And let it be further noted that it set up one of the grittiest comebacks ever seen in the sport: The two of them put their shattered act back together last Thursday and went on to win the national pairs title, their fourth in a row.

We speak here of Peter and Kitty Carruthers, the pride of the 1984 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, a competition that doubled as the Olympic Trials to pick the team that is expected to sack Sarajevo a couple of weeks from now. And we speak of toughness in its finest form. Peter, 24, 5'11", with a handsome, open face and broad grin, is a powerfully muscled 165-pounder. His sister, Kitty, is 22, with short dark hair and big almond-shaped eyes. At 5'1", she weighs just 99 pounds, earrings and all, and wears a shy smile. But the cuteness ends right there. "What really counts," says Peter, "is that she eats nails for breakfast."

The Big Throw was but one happening in an event that produced lots of good stuff right from the start. For one thing, just about everybody crashed, simply because they were all on the attack. This was the scene: All the big hitters were assembled, 194 of America's top skaters from 54 clubs around the country. The town was full of talk about how this meet would produce the finest U.S. skating team ever, which definitely seemed possible, and dark rumors also buzzed of a hateful rivalry between two of the senior women, which definitely was a lot of hooey. More about the women in a moment. In the ice dancing there was the velvety smoothness of Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert to provide moments of elegant calm, and in the senior men's division there was the incomparable Scott Hamilton, three-time U.S. and world champ. Those elements promised boffo action, and boffo it was.

Out skated Peter and Kitty, the adopted kids of Charles and Maureen Carruthers of Burlington, Mass. They have been skating together since they were tots. After finishing fifth at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, they rose to fourth at last year's worlds and are now poised to win a medal in Sarajevo.

Their freestyle routine is full of soaring leaps and moves that might be called smoothly explosive, including two originals: One Peter calls a "no-handed, one-handed overhead." in which he holds Kitty aloft as if she were the starship Enterprise; the other is a lateral twist, a scary throw in which he spins her sideways overhead while he speeds along below waiting to catch her. But their most spectacular number is called the Throw Triple Salchow. It comes one minute into their 4½-minute program. With a mighty windup. Peter rolls Kitty off the inside of his right arm and awaaaaay she goes, wheeling three times counterclockwise through the air and landing backward on her right outside edge. Sometimes.

Last week, somewhere high in the air, everything went blooey. Perhaps Peter tossed her too hard, perhaps she was thinking of the quadruple version they've been practicing for Sarajevo. Whatever, suddenly the crowd recoiled in alarm. "I thought you were throwing her at me," one of the judges told Peter later. Down came Kitty on the ice with a frightening blam. She quickly scrambled to her feet, not entirely conscious. Still, she picked up the routine and went on. For the next two minutes or so. like a just-clobbered fighter waiting for his head to clear, she skated flawlessly on memory, instinct and guts. Those at ice level could see she was glassy-eyed, and Peter kept stealing worried glances at her as they went on. When it was over, victory roses, silver trophy and title in hand. Kitty faced a concerned press. "What happened?" she said. "I just fell flat on my face, that's what happened."

With the Major Crash out of the way, the meet settled down to a series of minor spills punctuated by bursts of superb skating. And if that wasn't enough, in the senior women's division, still another competition was taking place off the ice.

When last we left the artistic Rosalynn Sumners of Edmonds. Wash., the current U.S. and world champion, and the athletic Elaine Zayak of Paramus, N.J., the former U.S. and world champion, they were still trading titles. Theirs is a rivalry that goes way back to the novice nationals of 1978 when a 12-year-old Zayak was third and Sumners, then 13, was fifth. By 1981, Elaine had won the U.S. seniors, with Rosalynn fifth. In 1982. Zayak won the world title but lost the national to Sumners. Last year Sumners won it all, while Zayak struggled with injuries and a weight problem. Well, Zayak is now 18 and svelte, nicely fur-coated (lynx) and effervescent. Sumners is 19, nicely fur-coated (blue fox) and cautious.

And they're still at it. Zayak came to Salt Lake City with a freestyle program that offered a delicatessen of skating moves, starting with what she called "take off and race around a lot," and including five triple jumps, "some cute footwork," a couple of deep breaths stolen during a serpentine sequence and a high kick delivered with both hands on the barrier wall, as if it were a ballet bar. "Some judges will like it," she said, "and others will hate it." Sumners was ready to counter with a more classical routine, beautifully graceful, with four triples and smooth, polished lines—fine stuff, though not exactly electrifying. The programs seemed to match the skaters' personalities.

Considering how different they are, it's understandable, in a way. that some media folks have long tried to work up an adversary relationship between the two. carrying mean quotes from one to the other and hoping to stir up something newsy. But the problem with that is that Zayak and Sumners skate; each is thoroughly engrossed in what she's doing and doesn't really care about anything else. Lord knows, skating is tough enough in itself.

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