Sport: Figure Skating
Born: April 4, 1965
Town: Paramus, New Jersey
Elaine Zayak was born on April 4, 1965 in Paramus. She is the daughter of Jeri and Richard. Elaine's introduction to figure skating was the result of an accident experienced at a young age. When Elaine was two years old, she lost three toes and part of her left foot in a lawn mower mishap. To help Elaine maintain her balance and avoid developing a limp, her doctor recommended she begin figure skating. Her skates were specially made with a wood mold to accommodate her injured left foot. Not only did figure skating help Elaine recover from her tragic injury, it also developed her become a world-class athlete.
As Elaine improved her skating, she began to participate in competitions. Her greatest talent was her jumping ability. Elaine routinely landed multiple triple-jumps, which wowed the crowds. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, triple-jumps were rarely executed in women's competitions. Elaine burst onto the skating scene in 1979, when she won gold at the World Junior Championships.
After her success in Junior competition, Elaine moved on to Senior events. In 1981, she won the U.S. Championships. That same year, she also finished second in the World Figure Skating Championships. Her success and personality at the age of 15 made her a media favorite and transformed her into a New Jersey superstar.
At the 1982 U.S. Championships, however, Elaine fell three times, resulting in a third-place finish. With expectations of her sky-high, the poor showing at Nationals caused her shame and embarrassment. Fearing she might look foolish again, Elaine contemplated skipping the 1982 World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark. After being consoled by her parents, she returned to the ice. The 1982 World Championships began much like the U.S. Championships. Elaine fell during her short program and was down in 7th place. In the long program, she found her old form and delivered one of the best performances of her career. In landing six triple-jumps, Elaine brought the crowd to its feet and took home the gold.
Elaine's performance in the 1982 World Championships would spawn a crucial ruling in the skating world. The "Zayak Rule" stated that the same triple-jump could only be performed twice per routine, and only if one of the attempts is performed as part of a combination. The rule was implemented by the International Skating Union in hopes of bringing artistry and diversity back to figure skating. Other skaters were forced to up their games and learn to perform many different types of triple-jumps, eventually improving the overall quality of women's figure skating. For Elaine though, it took away her greatest asset. She would not win another major competition, with her next-best major result a second-place finish at the 1983 U.S. Championships.
In 1984, Elaine competed in the Winter Olympics in Sarajevo and finished sixth. The gold medal winner was East Germany's Katarina Witt. Elaine turned professional soon after the 1984 Olympics, joining the Ice Capades. She finished second at the 1984 and 1987 World Professional Championships. Elaine did not enjoy professional life and only competed for a few years.
Contributing to Elaine's loss of passion for skating was the constant pressure—not only to win, but to control her weight issues. As a young phenom in the figure skating world, Elaine was under a microscope. She became anxious, feeling that she had to win every event she competed in. As her anxiety increased, she ate more and more, leading to her gaining more pounds than a world-class skater should. It reached a point where her coach had to warn local delis not to sell her anything beyond a cup of coffee.
Elaine attempted a comeback in 1994, after professionals were allowed to compete in that winter's Olympics. She finished 4th in the 1994 U.S. Championships, leading to her being named an Olympic alternate at age 28. In 2003, Elaine was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Currently, she gives figure skating instruction at the Ice House in Hackensack.