Fratianne misses Olympic thrills but enjoys new career

The memories of Lake Placid are still vivid for Linda Fratianne -- the excitement, the tension, the spectacular free-skating performance that brought the crowd to its feet in a tumultuous ovation, and of course the controversial judging that forced her to settle for a silver medal.

But all this was a year ago, and although the disappointment of the second-place finish lingers on, it doesn't really seem to have affected the course of her life very much. With her combination of beauty and skating ability, Linda was a sure thing for fame and fortune in the entertainment world, gold or no gold. She's well on her way already as the star of the new "Ice Follies-Holiday on Ice" combined shows, with other lucrative vehicles like movies and TV waiting in the wings.

"I love it so far," she said of her new life, which among other things doesn't require getting up at 4:30 a.m. and skating seven hours or so each day as she did throughout her teenage years. "This is what I hoped and dreamed about -- being in an ice show, being a star.

"I miss competing, though," the tiny (5 ft., 2 in., 98 pounds) dark-haired skater added. "I miss the excitement, and I miss my coach and my mom. It's an adjustment after being with them so much for so many years."

Miss Fratianne launched her Ice Follies career in Philadelphia late last year and has already traveled with the show to Baltimore, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and now Boston.She's working on a 63-week contract, and isn't looking beyond that at the moment, though she says she's had a couple of film offers, and the idea appeals to her at some point.

As for the inevitable questions about the judging that left her second to Annet Poetzsch of East Germany at Lake Placid, her stock reply is: "I don't think I'm in a position to answer." But when pressed a bit she actually has quite bit to say on subject.

"I do feel I skated the best I've ever skated and won 70 percent of the competition [the short program and the free skating]," she recalled. "I know a lot of people thought it was unfair, including myself. But it just happened that way. I think about it a lot, but there's nothing I can do about it. I've accepted it."

The problem occurred in the compulsory figures, where some questionable scoring left Linda so far behind that even her superb free skating skills couldn't close the gap. It wasn't the usual East-West split, but rather a situation in which many observers felt that the heavily German-laden panel had been far too generous toward Poetzsch and too hard on her American rival.

"In my competition there were four German-speaking judges," Linda said. "Once two of them spoke together and then held up the same mark. My coach saw it. That's illegal -- but what can you do about it?"

Long before she arrived at Lake Placid, of course, Linda had been thoroughly exposed to the byzantine world of figure skating judging -- both as a victim and a beneficiary. As a 15- year-old whirlwind she outskated Dorothy Hamill in the 1976 US Nationals, according to many observers, but Hamill still wound up as the champion. Then at the same event in Atlanta last year the skate was on the other foot, so to speak, as Fratianne turned in an unsteady performance, including a couple of falls, but was still voted into first place.

In each case the judges obviously were reluctant to damage the chances of their defending national champion and top Olympic hope by sending her into the games as anything less than No. 1 in her own country. And since Linda had accepted this little game gracefully when it went against her the first time, she was a bit miffed when some of the losers cried foul at Atlanta.

"I understood in 1976," she said, with the obvious implication that others should have done so in 1980. "Dorothy was the champion then. She had the reputation. If they put some little twerp ahead of her, no way she was going to win the Olympic gold medal."

Linda made the Olympic team in '76 and finished eight at Innsbruck ("I was completely starstruck"). She succeeded Hamill as US champion in 1977 and held the title through 1980. She also won the world championship in '77, lost it to Poetzsch in '78, then regained it in '79, thus enabling her to enter the Olympics as the reigning titleholder.

Such a position usually leads to the gold medal -- but not always. There was precedent for Lake Placid only four years earlier when Dianne deLeeuw went to Innsbruck as world champion only to lose out to Hamill. But all this is in the past now, and Linda prefers to live in the present and the future.

"There's a lot more to life than medals," she said. "Happiness is the thing that really matters -- and I'm happy now."

Linda started skating at the age of nine, which is rather late for a potential world class performer, but she took to the sport quickly, was competing before the end of a year, and by age 12 was well known enough to be invited to her first international competition.

"That's when I decided to go all out," she said. "It was strictly my own decision. Nobody pushed me. My family isn't into skating in any big way. It's into the law. My father is a judge, my brother is in law school, and my sister is a court reporter."

For Linda, though, it was four years of a schedule that went like this: up at 4:30 a.m.; breakfast (usually a boiled egg) in the car on the 17-mile ride to the rink; on the ice at 5:30; skating until 10; four hours devoted to school work plus lunch; back on the ice from 2 to 5 p.m.; then home for a low calorie dinner and an 8 p.m. bedtime to be ready to repeat the grind the next day. She followed this routine 51 weeks a year, five days a week (Saturdays off and just a couple of hours of skating on Sunday), taking a one-week vacation in the summer at her family's beach cottage.

Quite a grind, but she has no regrets.

"It was my life, and I wanted to give it everything I had," she said. "I don't know why. I never thought of the Olympics or anything like that. I just loved skating so much."

Would she encourage others to do it?

"Definitely," she said. "But only if they really want it -- only if they're willing to put everything into it."

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