Every four years America is ready to fall in love with a little heartbreaker on ice skates. Like previous Olympic sweethearts Peggy Fleming, Janet Lynn and Dorothy Hamill, she must be a bit of girlish fluff who battles both gravity and the other competitors with grit and pluck. Ideally, this sugarplum captures the gold with her weightless spins and winning smile, then glides off to reign as an ice-show queen.
Rosalynn Sumners, 19, has that Gold Medal agenda mapped out, and, she vows, “No one will stand in the way of my ultimate goal.” On ice, the Washington State teenager is a pink-cheeked Dresden doll, her green eyes ringed with makeup and her 5’2½”, 105-pound form set off by a beaded bodysuit. Everything—the jumps, the spins, the smiles—must appear effortless, with never a hint of the 12 years of money and sweat required to create this fairy-princess illusion.
Sumners is at the peak of her figure-skating career. Two-time national champion, she also won a Gold Medal at the World Championships in Helsinki last spring. In January she will defend her national title in Salt Lake City. In February she’ll be in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia for the Winter Olympics, where, according to two-time Olympian Dick Button, “if she has the necessary inner strength, she has an excellent chance of winning.”
You’ll get no argument from Rosalynn on that count. “I just know I’m going to win,” says Sumners. “I have combined artistry with athleticism. A well-rounded program is so much more interesting than watching someone jump, jump, jump.” That arch reference is probably to rival Elaine Zayak, 18, the 1981 national champion Sumners dethroned. Performing harder jumps than Sumners, Zayak is considered the athlete and Sumners the artist. Sumners’ main competition in Yugoslavia will most likely come from Zayak and East Germany’s lissome Katarina Witt.
It all began with a coupon good for a free admission to a local rink, reports Rosalynn’s mother, Betty. She took a 7-year-old skating, and before long she was getting up at 5 a.m. to drive her daughter to practice before school. Now she finds herself helping to support an athlete whose training costs close to $30,000 a year. Besides longtime coach and choreographer Lorraine Borman, who has worked with her from the start, Sumners requires two other coaches, specialists in figures and ballet. Add in travel, aerobics classes, regular sessions with a sports psychologist and two sets of custom-fitted skates. Betty, who divorced her husband, a cost analyst for the phone company, in 1981, derives some income sewing leotards for gymnasts, and Rosalynn’s hometown, Edmonds, Wash., has raised money to help defray costs. Still, Sumners’ “hobby” has not been easy on her family. According to Mom, Rosalynn’s two younger brothers often wonder “if she can get a $500 pair of skates, why can’t they have a $200 bike?”
Training is a seven-hour-a-day, six-day-a-week proposition for Sumners; school and socializing have had to take a back seat. Rosalynn graduated by completing her required courses at home. She claims she’s never had a real beau, but as of earlier this year she has been seeing Nick Karis, 22. “He’s on a good-friend basis,” she says firmly. “I can’t let anything interfere with my skating right now.”