The 1983 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert took their skates to canvas to design the logo for the 1983 U.S. Championships program and souvenir poster. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Children were playing with the Fisher Price Tape Recorders and Glo Worm toys Santa Claus had brought them for Christmas, while their parents were pondering over the impact of "Time" magazine's new 'Man Of The Year' - the computer. The number one song in America was "Africa" by Toto and Sydney Pollack's film "Tootsie" had been number one at the box office for weeks. The year was 1983, and from February 1 to 6, the Mount Lebanon Recreation Center and Pittsburgh Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania played host to the 1983 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.


The 1983 U.S. Championships shattered an attendance record of eighty seven thousand spectators that had been set the previous year at the Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ninety two thousand skating lovers attended the first and only U.S. Championships ever held in The Steel City. The high attendance was attributed not only to rising popularity of the sport, but the fact the weather had held out quite well. It only snowed once during the event and skaters were able to walk from the hotel to the arenas.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The competition was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club, the Junior League of Pittsburgh and the Consolidated Coal Company. The event's theme was 'The Great Skate' and its mascot was Patches  - an unfortunate skater relegated to suffocating in a warm panda bear costume, performing spirals at center ice. In keeping with the panda theme were the local precision team, The Pittsburgh Pandettes, who gave an exhibition performance during the Opening Ceremonies.

Judy and Jim Sladky as the 'Campbell kids'

It was the first year that Campbell's Soup was a sponsor for the U.S. Championships - and soup was absolutely everywhere. Skaters, officials and members of the press were all served pots of chicken noodle and cream of mushroom and 'Campbelled eggs' were served to the attendees at the farewell breakfast. Judy and Jim Sladky dressed up as 'the Campbell kids' - complete with eight pound heads - to waltz around the rink extolling the virtues of Sodium-rich broth. Judy Sladky recalled how the 'Campbell kids' came about thusly: "We were in Disney at the time and I was working for ESPN and was doing all their figure skating. We were getting ready to go into the '84 Olympics. We were on tour and I'd fly to Connecticut and put two or three shows on line for them ESPN and fly back to be in the show. They said, 'The Olympics are coming up. We want you, but you can't be on the road like this'. By that time, we'd been on the road for like twelve years. I said, 'Well, Jim, at least I've got one job'. All of a sudden I saw the Campbell's Soup company was going to be doing this, so I called the head of the Campbell's Soup and said, 'You must need Campbell's Soup skaters to skate!' and he said, 'We do!' We did that for ten years, I think. By that point, we had skated as Bert and Ernie for Sesame Street in the Ice Follies, so we'd made that transition already. It was great!'"

Jim McKay and Dick Button (sporting a tuxedo jacket for TV and jeans for off-screen comfort) commentating for ABC's Wide World Of Sports. Photo courtesy "Tracings" magazine.

There may have been few surprises at the top of the podiums but that certainly didn't mean it wasn't an extremely eventful competition in many respects. Grab yourself a nice cup of Campbell's soup and take a trip back in time for a look at all the excitement!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR COMPETITIONS 

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The novice women's event featured two dazzling 'come from behind' medal wins from skaters representing clubs without rich histories of medal wins at Nationals. Suggie Oh of Santa Barbara and Dedie Richards of Dallas, only fifth and fourth in school figures, gave outstanding free standing performances to take the gold and silver. Kristin Kriwanek took the bronze, and the winner of the figures - Danielle-Alyse Babaian of Long Island, dropped to fifth. At just under twelve years of age, Oh was the youngest woman in any discipline in Pittsburgh. Skating to "The Firebird", she landed three double Axels and a triple toe-loop - the only triple jump attempted by any of the novice women.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The only skater in the novice men's event who didn't fall in their free skate was Mark Mitchell of the Hamden Figure Skating Club. He moved up from sixth after figures to claim the bronze behind Christopher Mitchell of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club and Eddie Shipstad of the Broadmoor Skating Club. The free skate was won by the fourth place finisher, Siegfried Lind of Seattle, a powerful jumper who struggled with school figures and spins. In seventh place overall? A tiny Todd Eldredge... at eleven years old and five months the youngest skater in any discipline in Pittsburgh. Monty Hoyt, who had won the U.S. novice men's title in 1959, made his judging debut at Nationals. He was one of three judges who placed Eddie Shipstad first.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In an unusually deep field of junior pairs, Susan and Jason Dungjen prevailed over Sandy Hurtubise and Karl Kurtz and Sue Falzone and Michael Bilcharski. The Dungjen siblings had won the silver medal the previous year in Indianapolis. Hurtubise and Kurtz were both accomplished singles skaters who were new to pairs skating. Both of the top two teams landed throw triple Salchows.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Despite an outstanding free skate from Yvonne Gomez, Kathryn Adams - the 1982 U.S. Novice Champion - won her second gold medal at the U.S. Championships in the junior women's event. The bronze medal went to a young Rosanna Tovi.

Yvonne Gomez. Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine.

Kathryn Adams dominated the event from start to finish, landing a triple jump in combination in the short program and three triples in the long. She and Yvonne Gomez were training mates in California and students of Christy Kjarsgaard [Ness].

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The heavy favourite in the junior men's event was fifteen year old Christopher Bowman, who had just been crowned the World Junior Champion less than two months prior in Sarajevo. Though he landed a triple toe-loop combination in the short program and five triples in the long, Bowman actually finished second in the latter two stages of the competition. The short was won by David Fedor; the long by Angelo D'Agostino. It was the strength of Bowman's school figures that earned him the gold in Pittsburgh. D'Agostino finished second; Daniel Doran third.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Fifteen year old Suzanne Semanick and nineteen year old Alexander Miller III, who had only been skating together for six months, were surprise winners in the junior ice dance event. As Semanick was from Pittsburgh, they were understandably very popular with the crowd. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "At Regionals, Alex had slicked back his hair with Vaseline to imitate a 1950's ducktail for the Rock N' Roll OSP and spent the entire night trying to get the grease out for the free dance. This time he used Dippity-Do. They appropriately dressed in gold for the free dance to music from 'Grease' and a cut from 'Star Wars'. They swept all seven ordinals in the compulsories, OSP and free." Kandi Amelon and Alec Binnie won the silver, Colleen McGuire and William Lyons III the bronze and siblings Christina and Keith Yastuhashi placed fourth, The 1982 U.S. Bronze Medallists, Kristin Lowery and Chip Rossbach, surprised many by dropping to fifth. 

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


With two of the top four pairs from the 1982 U.S. Championships out of the picture, the fight between the twelve senior pairs in Pittsburgh was quite interesting. Siblings Kitty and Peter Carruthers skated brilliantly in both the short program and free skate to repeat as U.S. Champions. Burt Lancon had placed second in 1982 with partner Maria DiDomenico but as he had only been skating with his new partner Jill Watson for six months, few expected the team to challenge the more seasoned Lea Ann Miller and Bill Fauver for second place. That's exactly what happened in the short program though. Watson and Lancon skated brilliantly to edge Miller and Fauver, who debuted a new short program of a more athletic flavour than their usually classical programs. In the free skate, Watson tumbled twice and Miller and Fauver skated a very solid program to move up to second. Fourth place went to Gillian Wachsman and Robert Daw. Daw was a 1980 Olympian, representing Great Britain with Susan Garland. Maria DiDomenico, who had teamed up with Peter Oppegard, was only able to manage a seventh place finish, two spots ahead of Natalie and Wayne Seybold.


The Carruthers' road to victory in Pittsburgh hadn't been an easy one. Kitty had a bout of the chicken pox that caused them to miss a fall international event and they'd ditched their short program after poor reviews at the Eastern Championships, coming up with a new one in a matter of weeks.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


David Santee had turned professional after placing a disappointing eighth at the 1982 World Championships in Copenhagen, as had defending Silver Medallist Robert Wagenhoffer, making things appear on paper to be a lot easier for twenty four year old Scott Hamilton of Colorado Springs to defend his title. In reality, it was no cakewalk! Though Hamilton took an early lead by winning all three school figures, both nineteen year old Brian Boitano of Sunnyvale and twenty year old Mark Cockerell of Burbank joined him in landing triple Lutz combinations in their short programs. All eleven men in the event attempted triple jump combinations.


The men's free skate was sold out, with scalpers selling eleven dollar tickets for double their value. Hamilton won the final phase of the competition with a dazzling performance that featured a double Axel/triple toe-loop combination and four other triples. His flashy effort earned near perfect marks from all nine judges and a standing ovation from the packed arena. Writer Vicki Fassinger recounted, "When Hamilton came onto the ice, he transmitted an air of professionalism. His skating combined balanced athleticism and personal expression and he conveyed this to the audience as no other skater had been able to."



Brian Boitano and Mark Cockerell's programs were more technically demanding than Scott Hamilton's. Boitano performed five clean triples including a triple Lutz and triple flip/double toe-loop combination. Cockerell landed six triples but fell on a triple toe-loop attempt. When the marks were tallied, Boitano was second, Cockerell third, Bobby Beauchamp fourth, Paul Wylie fifth, Scott Williams sixth and Tom Dickson seventh. Boitano and Wylie were the only two men to attempt the triple Axel. Boitano rotated but landed on two feet; Wylie fell but managed to land one in the warm-up.

In his 1999 book "Landing It: My Life On And Off The Ice", Scott Hamilton recalled, "I did a comic rendition of the waltz in a style borrowed from an old number made famous by Jackson Haines, one of America's founding fathers of figure skating. Don [Laws'] thinking was if this part of the program amused him, it would entertain the audience. It was a stretch to try comedy in a routine, and a risk because we didn't know how the judges or crowd would react to the segment. Nobody else was doing it. As I was mimicking the dance, I could hear people laughing, which was exactly what we wanted. The judges enjoyed it too."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert were huge favourites with the crowd. They had only recently started representing the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club and their participation made for many new ice dance fans. They won the Quickstep and Argentine Tango but finished third in the Ravensburger Waltz after falling on the double twizzle section right in front of the judges.

Blumberg and Seibert rebounded in the Rock N' Roll OSP with an entertaining performance to "Shake, Rattle And Roll", replete with letter sweaters and saddle shoes, to secure their lead over Elisa Spitz and Scott Gregory, Carol Fox and Richard Dalley and Renee Roca and Donald Adair, whose "Roll Over Beethoven" OSP was a crowd favourite.


In the free dance, the audience booed low marks for Roca and Adair and Fox and Dalley but delighted in Blumberg and Seibert's classic Fred and Ginger free dance, which they had altered from the season previous to add a tap dance section. Despite a stumble from Blumberg late in the program, the defending champions earned the only perfect 6.0's awarded in any discipline in Pittsburgh: one for technical merit and five for style and composition. There was some backlash over the 6.0's, because they hadn't skated perfectly.


Blumberg and Seibert took the gold and in a five-four split, Spitz and Gregory the silver ahead of veterans Fox and Dalley, shutting them out of the World Team for the first time since 1980. Roca and Adair ended up fourth, followed by Susie Wynne and Joseph Druar and Susan Jorgensen and Robert Yokabaskas.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

It wouldn't have been a competition in the early eighties without a good old fashioned showdown between Elaine Zayak and Rosalynn Sumners... and the one in Pittsburgh in 1983 certainly did not disappoint.

An unusually large field of fifteen women vied for the senior title in 1983. Surprisingly, Melissa Thomas of Massapequa, Long Island (who had finished dead last at Nationals in 1982) was the one who led the pack in the school figures. Sumners sat in second, Vikki de Vries third and Elaine Zayak fourth. In the April 1983 issue of "Skating" magazine, an unnamed staff reporter recalled, "At the completion of the figures a television crew swarmed onto the ice and used turquoise paint to make the tracings of Rosalynn's and Elaine's [paragraph] loops visible to the TV cameras. All but overlooked was Melissa, the convincing winner of the figures, who nonetheless could not conceal her delight in this achievement. One of the judges preserved the desire to preserve Melissa's rocker, so near it was to diagrammatic perfection."

Rosalynn Sumners skated a wonderful short program to move up to first ahead of Vikki de Vries, Melissa Thomas and Elaine Zayak. Twelve of the fifteen competitors attempted triple jumps in combination and almost all of them were successful. While most of the competitors did the Salchow or toe-loop, fifth place Kelly Webster landed a triple loop in combination. Strangely enough, the element that seemed to give several of the women grief was the flying sit spin.

The battle royale between Elaine Zayak and Rosalynn Sumners in the free skate was what the spectators had shelled out eleven dollars to see. In the February 2, 1983 issue of the "Chicago Tribune", seventeen year old Zayak of Paramus, New Jersey boasted, "I'm still going to do those triples, even though I know I probably don't need [them] all to win. If I don't do [them], everyone will wonder why. Besides, I wouldn't feel special. I have to know that I am at least one step ahead. Hopefully, in a year I'll be out, anyway. After the Olympics." Upping their ante to compete with Zayak and Sumners, every single one of the women in Pittsburgh attempted at least one triple jump in their free skate.


Elaine Zayak did exactly what she promised she would, landing six triples in one of the best skates of her amateur career. Eighteen year old Rosalynn Sumners responded with one of the most ambitious performances of her own career but tumbled on a triple Salchow. Her marks - all 5.8's and 5.9's for artistic impression - were enough to keep her in first. Zayak moved up to second.


Tiffany Chin took the bronze in only her second year at the senior level, skating brilliantly and earning marks ranging from 5.4 to 5.7. Her only mistake was a fall on a triple toe-loop attempt. Vikki de Vries, Melissa Thomas, Kelly Webster, Jill Frost, Jacki Farrell, Staci McMullin and Jennifer Newman rounded out the top ten. A young Debi Thomas placed an unlucky thirteenth. It's worth noting that although Melissa Thomas placed fifth overall, she too gave one of the finest performances of her career in the free skate, landing three double Axels and staying upright on the triple toe-loop that had eluded her the previous year at Nationals.


Rosalynn Sumners attributed her win partially to improved figures. She told an Associated Press reporter,"I never lost confidence. I feel that now I proved, to myself, that I can still win with both of us skating our best." When asked if she disappointed with the silver, Elaine Zayak said that she had only prayed to do her best. She conceded, "Roz did skate the best tonight." Both young women laughed at the manufactured rivalry that was being concocted between them in the press.


Through a modern lens, one of the most bizarre aspects of the press coverage of this particular event was the seemingly constant focus of reporters on the skater's weights. Rosalynn Sumners partially credited her win to the fact she'd lost sixteen pounds since the summer prior, while Elaine Zayak pledged to lose ten pounds before Worlds after losing. An article in "Sports Illustrated" was actually titled "The Thinner Was The Winner". Furthermore, "Skating" magazine told of how coach Ron Ludington gloated over beating Dick Button in a weight loss contest and named and praised the 'lightest' female pairs skaters. Incidentally, a nutrition and fitness seminar was held in Pittsburgh by two food scientists from - you guessed it - Campbell's Soup.

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