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This was the scene in Copenhagen: There were 34 senior women from 21 countries. Not all of them were threats, by any means, but Zayak could expect fierce competition from Katarina Witt of East Germany, the defending champion, Claudia Kristofics-Binder of Austria and, of course, the new U.S. champion, Sumners. After the compulsory figures, Zayak was fourth; not good, but certainly not unusual for her. The compulsories count for 30% of the total scoring. And then came the freestyle short program—another 20%. For Zayak this was two minutes of disaster. Somewhere in the middle of a triple toe loop she lost it and came down: kuh-rash. She scrambled up and pushed on. "I never cut anything," she says. "If I fall on a triple and I got four more coming up, you think that I'd play it safe and cut them out? Uh-uh. No way." When the music and the scoring had finally ended, she was in 10th place in the short program. Zayak's combined scores in the two events put her seventh overall.
Let's face it, trying to come from seventh to win in the long program is an almost hopeless proposition. And in the moments before she went on—Zayak was out of the top seed and was assigned to skate 11th from the end—the following things happened:
•She momentarily went to pieces. Not in front of everybody; she closed herself in a small room with Burrows and just went blooey, screaming and crying. Burrows leaned against the door and let her yell it out. "You just can't put that kid down," he says. "I could actually feel her sense of fear, of being alone out there. But about the only thing I could do was to let her know that she was the best and not to worry."
•Hearing the yowling, Jeri came to the door and pounded desperately to get in. "Go away!" barked Burrows, bracing against the wall with one foot holding the door shut. "But I'm her mother!" Jeri protested.
"And I'm her coach!" Burrows yelled.
The door stayed closed.
•Along came, of all people, old Fritz Dietl of Tots on Ice. He got in the door. "So what are you afraid of already?" Dietl asked the former skating bumblebee.
•And then Rich showed up with that wry smile of his. He got in, too. "You don't have to be afraid of anything in this whole world," he told Elaine. He put a little Paramus pause in there. "Well, except me," he said.
But Elaine already knew all of that, and it is now a matter of skating legend that, when the tears had dried, she went out and blew their doors off. It was a wild, free program, full of flourish and with seven triple jumps (see box), only one of them the least bit wobbly. One of Europe's respected figure-skating critics, Alex McGowan, described it in the British magazine, Ice and Roller Skate: "Elaine Zayak...surely gave them something to shout at. A rare combination of youthful dynamism, technical strength and cheeky energy pervaded her performance. Let's hope the critics, especially in the U.S.A., will lay off her and her coach, Peter Burrows, and, instead, be proud of this gutsy kid who brought them a world championship."
That last comment was aimed at ABC in general and Peggy Fleming in particular. As color commentator for the network, Fleming, the three-time world and 1968 Olympic champion, whose most risky move as a skater was a modest double axel, tells viewers what is and isn't good. She has never liked athleticism. And even when Zayak came roaring out of seventh spot to win the world title, Fleming still wouldn't let the kid up. Nice, but as far as style goes she has a long way to go, Fleming said.