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Great Skaters: Elaine Zayak and Midori Ito

Updated on August 9, 2014

Elaine Zayak

During the 1980s some skaters awed the audience with their extraordinary jump technique. Among them was a skater who even forced the ISU to change the rules.

Her name was Elaine Zayak.

Elaine Zayak was a skater whose physical handicap became her motive of skating. When Zayak was three years old, she lost two toes. As a therapy to rehabilitate her balance, skating was recommended by a doctor, but Zayak's skating grew beyond just a therapy.

In the 1980s, triple jumps were the key to win the competition, and that's Zayak's strength. At thirteen, Zayak won both U.S. Junior Championships and the World Junior Championships.

In the 1982 World Championships , Zayak landed six triples in the free program to win the title beating Katrina Witt. It was the first time that any lady skater landed six triple jumps in competition.

Zayak's success inspired many more to attempt triple jumps in the competition. Eventually the ISU modified the rules to limit the number of jumps in the program.

After the rule change, Zayak couldn't overcome the tough challenge from Rosalynn Sumners and German skater, Katarina Witt.


Elaine Zayak in 1984

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Elaine Zayak in 1980

Midori Ito in 1988

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Midori Ito

After the rule change that specifically targeted at Zayak the ISU succeeded in keeping her at bay.

It is because the judges were easily persuaded by the number of triple jumps, and the measure was to prevent from turning figure skating competition into jumping competition.

But there was another skater who dwarfed Zayak. It was Midori Ito.

Midori Ito was a skater who slapped the ISU in the face.

Ito wasn't a traditional type of female figure skater. Like Zayak, Ito was a small figure, rather stocky, but her power and control in jump was unprecedented, hardly imaginable in ladies figure skating.

Ito demonstrated a superb proficiency in jump. Her jump was high, fast, and strong. Ito was a kind of skater that defied the ISU's vision in Katarina Witt and ladies figure skating.

In the context of figure skating debate between the ISU and skaters in the post Janet Lynn, Witt was the answer close to the definition of ladies figure skating.

Three factors contributed to Katarina Witt's success. The rule change that targeted to contain Zayak's jumping advantage, Biellmann's early retirement, exhausted from the weight of her fame, and the ISU's psychological resistance to jumpers' dominance.

But it was Midori Ito that presented a new mode of figure skating. Midori Ito was a sensational jumper, often jumping more powerful than men. Ito broke the barrier of ladies figure skating by succeeding triple axel in competition for the first time.

Ito was perhaps the most powerful jumper in the ladies figure skating history. Ito's speed, height and power was simply incomparable.

Ito's physiological conditions, however, have two sides, naturally. While her small and stocky shape helped her exceed in jump, she suffered greatly in other elements.

Moreover, Ito's acrobatic jumping technique was more suitable to men than women and its stylistic affinity to gymnastic athleticism tended to contextually negate aesthetics of ladies figure skating.

Modori Ito in 1989

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