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Skating champ Rosalynn Sumners aims for happy medium in routines

While baseballs and footballs are being tossed around this spring, one 18 -year-old from Edmonds, Wash. is still playing her winter sport as if it were January. Her name is Rosalynn Sumners, her sport is figure skating, and her goal is gold next year - Olympic gold.

Rosalynn is the United States and world champion in women's figure skating. Last week she began a nationwide series of exhibitions with other top competitors to raise money for both the US Figure Skating Association and the Olympic team. The 16-city tour began in Boston and will weave across the country, ending in Seattle on May 16th.

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''This is just a chance for us to relax, feel no pressure, and have a good time,'' explained Sumners before taking to the ice in Boston. ''This is my home country, the cities are great, and the people are great.''

Rosalynn began skating at age seven, when a friend clipped a coupon for a free skating lesson and gave it to her. Since then she has followed a consistent path to the top. But although reigning champions may start out with an edge in competitions that are decided by judging, she knows she can't just rest on her laurels and expect to do well.

''People have confidence in me, and I'm confident myself, but I sure don't have it (the Olympics) won,'' she said. ''I can't just say 'Well, I can slack off now,' because I can't. There are girls right there, and they'll be fighting twice as hard. I have to fight twice as hard too. It's not an easy road.''

That may be an understatement, since here in this country she must compete with Elaine Zayak, who beat her in the 1982 world championships and is considered a gold medal hopeful as well.

Rosalynn practices five days a week, six to eight hours a day. On top of that she takes ballet and jazz dance classes. ''Everything is concentrated on skating,'' she said. ''It's a 24-hour job.''

Asked whether getting ''up'' for practice was difficult, Rosalynn replied, ''Practice is kind of automatic for me now. It's not something I have to psyche myself up for everyday. Some days I'm not in the mood to train. If you can make it through days like that, well, they make the fun days that much more wonderful.''

Her ballet experience may be one of her most valuable tools and unique dimensions. ''A lot of jumping and spins are fine for the men,'' she said after winning the Nationals in February, ''but I think such things as triple jumps for the women have been overemphasized in recent years. A nice combination of the physical and the artistic is what we need to reach a happy medium.''

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Sumners improved on that happy medium a month after Nationals by winning the Worlds in Helsinki, where she combined strong, consistent skating with delicate artistic expression for success.

Rosalynn is not alone in her work. She is coached by Lorraine Borman, while off the ice she gets help in such things as facial expression and arm movements from former British Dance Company member Barbara Flowers. Both coaches have helped Sumners achieve a very professional, polished look on the ice - a look enhanced by her beauty and grace.

Though filled with smiles at performance time, Rosalynn says the zest isn't always there, particularly when a busy schedule puts a crimp on her family life.

''I didn't enjoy the European exhibition tour at all. It came right after Worlds, while I was having a sort of letdown. It was hard on me. I had been traveling for a while and missed home. I didn't have a good time.''

Sumners did not have what one would consider a normal high school experience, as she worked mostly with tutors. Yet she seems no less educated, mature, and balanced for it. She is now taking a correspondence course in sociology through the University of Washington, which she enjoys. ''It's something to keep my mind stimulated. I feel education is important, and I really enjoyed school when I went. I've missed it the last few years.''

Asked about her biggest thrill to date, Rosalynn replied, ''Defending my Nationals title and then winning the Worlds have been the ultimate so far. I went into a slump last summer and fall, so winning this year was extra special.''

Up ahead, of course, she'd like to win the Olympics and defend her world title, the latter something no American woman has accomplished since Peggy Fleming won three consecutive crowns beginning in 1966.

What comes after the Olympics and possibly another world title? ''I definitely want to stay with skating, it just depends on what doors are open,'' she said. ''I like acting, as well as some other things, but I'll be in skating.''

After the current tour ends, she plans to take seven weeks off. ''A lot of the skaters think that's a long time. But I really accomplished a lot last year , and I worked very hard.So I need time to refresh myself, to get all the non-skating things out of my system before training starts again. When it's time to train again I'll be ready to go.''

Asked whether she would skate at all during her break, Rosalynn shook her head and laughed. ''I won't step on ice for seven weeks.''

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