Skip to main content
Original Issue

Out To Cut Fancy Figures In Sarajevo

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

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.

Zayak bubbles on about life. "When I grow up," she said last week, "I want to own a very expensive car and a hockey team." Sumners is private and introspective. In a telling interview published last week in Salt Lake City's Deseret News, she confessed to Seattle writer Gary Dobbs that, "when I'm off the ice, I just do something real quiet and by myself. I also cry a lot."

By the end of the school figures, which count for 30% of the total score, Sumners was in the lead with 102.40 points and—behold!—Zayak was second with 100.50, which, for a skater who always hated compulsories, could only mean she was serious about her comeback. And there in fourth, behind Boston's Jill Frost (97.50), was wee (five-foot) Tiffany Chin (94.20), a 16-year-old out of Toluca Lake, Calif., who was about to show everybody a thing or two about fancy skating. The 92-pound Chin, who is of Chinese-American ancestry, is that rare item in skating, a genuine discovery, and while she hasn't exactly been hiding out, she's blossomed in her two years under coach John A.W. Nicks, who coached Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Last year Chin finished third in the nationals in Pittsburgh, and this year she initiated a major assault on the U.S. title when, 10 days before the meet, the braces were removed from her teeth. This girl was serious.

In the two-minute short program that followed, for another 20% of the total, Zayak displayed her usual verve, getting a bunch of 5.6's (out of a possible 6.0), while Sumners skated fluidly, making nary a triple jump and scoring modestly on technical merit but a bit better than Zayak on artistic impression. When the scores were totaled, Chin had beaten them both, and in the standings after two events it was Sumners, Zayak and Chin.

"The nice thing about the short program is that it's short," said Zayak. Sumners coolly noted that she had restricted her moves because "I like not to feel any apprehension." Chin merely smiled a lot.

On Saturday afternoon came the showdown. Sumners and Zayak appeared for the long program wearing every spangle and sequin in the Intermountain West, with Rosalynn in teal and Elaine in bright blue. Chin was much more conservative in a pale blue costume, but she skated the baubles, bangles and beads off her rivals. Indeed, Chin's scores were too low: She deserved better than a couple of 5.8's on technical merit and four more 5.8's for artistry.

The epidemic of stumbles and falls continued: Sumners went kerplunk on a double axel. Zayak went splat on a triple salchow and flopped again on a triple toe walley. In fact, just about everybody in the 15-woman lineup went down. But though she did only three of her four planned triples and fell on the double axel, Sumners was given excellent marks, particularly for artistry: three fat 5.9's and a string of 5.8's.

Which is what saved her title. Again Chin was the individual winner, and she finished second ahead of Zayak in the final national standings and second on the U.S. Olympic team. At this moment Chin is the finest freestyle skater in the world, and the only thing that lies between her and the world title is time. She's still paying her dues, as they say, but she's young enough to wait for the top spot. The wait is just about over; 1985 will be a vintage year.

Sumners was obviously aware that the week's scoring had carried a painfully clear message: She has got to add tougher technical material to bolster an outstanding freestyle program. In a bid for team unity, Sumners allowed as how "Tonight, Elaine and I will have a good talk." There was no way Zayak could leave that remark just hanging there. "Oh, yeah?" she said in feigned surprise. "That's what she thinks." And then she gave everybody her pixie grin. Just kidding, folks.

Then it was on to the ice dance, the grand finale of the competition, and the sight of Blumberg and Seibert gliding to yet another national title, their fourth straight, to the strains of Scheherazade, collecting two 6.0's before a wildly cheering crowd. With them on the Olympic team are Carol Jean Fox and Richard Dalley, Eastern sectional champs, and Elisa Spitz and Scott Gregory, who are seventh-ranked in the world standings.

And while all of this was delightful stuff, Scott Hamilton stole the show. He won laughing, from school figures to a rousing long program that brought the crowd to its feet—a crowd that had waited patiently for him until the stroke of midnight last Friday. Hamilton collected not one but four perfect 6.0's and a raft of 5.9's. And he produced this historic statistic: He was judged 45 times last week—three school figures, nine judges each; one short program, nine judges; one long program, nine judges—and all 45 votes were for first place. Hamilton will be joined in Sarajevo by two standout teammates, Brian Boitano and Mark Cockerell, both Californians.

"O.K., Olympics," said Hamilton. "We're ready."



The Carrutherses made some big moves—and had one bad slip—en route to their title.


Chin, Sumners and Zayak form a formidable triple threat for the Olympic medals.


Hamilton soared above the competition.


Chin, decidedly up for the meet, skated rings around her two rivals in the freestyle.