Staying on top in figure skating may be a little easier than in other sports. But don't bother telling that to Elaine Zayak, who just lost her title as America's ice queen.
Judges generally tend to mark reigning rink champions higher, a virtual impossibility during last week's battle for US figure skating honors in Indianapolis. Zayak fell three times in her free-skating routine and wound up third behind Rosalynn Sumners, the new champion, and Vikki de Vries.
Less than a year ago Elaine established herself as one of the early favorites for the next Olympic gold medal. Dazzling the judges with triple jumps, the athletic 15-year-old took second in the world championships, won by Switzerland's Denise Biellmann, who has turned pro.
As a rule, the US female titlist enhances her stature with a string of national crowns before the Olympics. Now, however, the identity of this country's top gold medal hopeful is debatable. The pitfalls in Zayak's daring routines are apparent. Whether Sumners will emerge as the steadier of the two remains to be seen, but she appears to have the edge in the exacting compulsory figures.
American skaters rarely excel at this discipline, yet two years ago Sumners won the figures competition at the Junior Worlds en route to the overall title. The 17-year-old from Edmonds, Wash., is a strong and stylish free skater as well , as she proved in Indianapolis. Though an injury forced her to edit out certain elements of her free-style routine, she jumped from fourth to first after completing this segment of the competition.