Skating's Sumners/E.Z. rivalry; pro basketball opposites; playoff golfer

If Elaine Zayak is the best female skater in the world, how come Rosalynn Sumners keeps returning to Edmonds, Wash. with the American title? That was the main question to arise out of the national championships in Pittsburgh. America's best skating male (Scott Hamilton), pair (Kitty and Peter Carruthers), and ice dance team (Judy Blumberg and Michael Siebert) are clearly identifiable, but that's hardly the case with the women.

Sumners has now won the US women's crown the last two years, yet Zayak, of Paramus, N.J., is the defending world champion. Which one of these skaters will be the chief gold medal threat at the 1984 Olympics is subject to debate.

Sumners seems the steadier of the two. She does well in the compulsory figures, where Zayak falls behind, and then skates solidly through her short program and longer free skating routine. Zayak, on the other hand, loves to finish strong with a spectacular, jump-filled free skating display that leaves little margin of error. Last year, she took so many spills that she finished third in the nationals.

This year she finished second, passing two other skaters on the last day of competition, but not Sumners, who blended both power and grace to hold off her rival in the free skating finale. 76ers, Rockets: poles apart

Regardless of what Philadelphia does in the regular season, Moses Malone's real test lies ahead.

His mission, clearly, is to put an end to the team's playoff frustrations and bring the 76ers an NBA title. If he does, the $13.2 million spent to sign him may be justified.

So far, Malone has made a difference. The Sixers, 41-7 for a .854 winning percentage, are ahead of the record pace set by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers ( 69-13, .841).

And what about the Houston Rockets, the team Malone played for last year? How are they doing? Not bad enough to become the most inept team since the 9-73 Philadelphians of a decade ago, but abject enough at 10-39. Typical of their frustrations was an overtime disgrace in which Portland outscored them 17-0, the first such shutout in the era of the 24-second shooting clock, which began in 1954. Things may be looking up, though. Not long ago the Rockets won three straight home games.

The franchise's best hope, however, lies just ahead. For the Rockets could come away from the next NBA draft with both the first and second overall picks, or Ralph Sampson and some other can't-miss type. This bonanza would occur if Cleveland and Houston (which has acquired the Cavs' No. 1 choice) finish as the league's worst teams. They have been running dead even for last. Touching other bases

* Discouraged by his poor play, golfer Rex Caldwell once walked off the course in mid-round several years ago. Today he's earning a reputation for going the distance, and then some. He started the current season by making it to extra holes in both the Bob Hope Desert Classic and Phoenix Open. And though he lost each time, thus distinguishing himself as the first player to do so at consecutive PGA events, Caldwell was hardly demoralized. Convinced he's swinging the club better than ever, he proceeded to finish tied for second in last weekend's Bing Crosby Pro-Am. That nudged his 1983 earnings to nearly $100 ,000, or about $35,000 more than he won all last year.

* The newest basketball fraternity? Phi Slamma Jamma, the name given to the University of Houston's dunk-happy frontcourt.

* It's hard to remember a more lopsided and bizarre all-star game than the National Hockey League's this week. The Campbell Conference, whose record in these contests is little better than the American League's in baseball, routed the usually victorious Prince of Wales stars 9-3. Wales goalie Pete Peeters accidentally scored the first Campbell goal when he tried to steer a rebound behind the net. Wayne Gretzky would later add four more for the winners - all in the third period, a feat that earned him MVP honors and a $14,000 car. Fans expect the spectacular from Gretzky, but not from Vancouver goaltender John Garrett, who probably would have won the MVP any other year. An emergency fill-in for injured teammate Richard Brodeaur, Garrett shut down the opposition from the middle of the second period on.

* No one doubts that Joe Namath will eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What's surprising is his failure to enter the shrine in this, his first year of eligibility. Only one first-timer, wide receiver Paul Warfield, made the '83 class. Warfield was certainly a superb athlete, but Namath, despite nagging knee problems, was a landmark player - the most glamorous rookie in AFL history and the engineer of the New York Jets' shocking Super Bowl victory. Some may think he was more style than substance with his Broadway Joe image, but Namath threw for more yards than eight Hall of Famers, and his quick-release spirals were considered the state of the art.

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