Talent is only one of many requisites a skater must have to win an Olympic gold medal. Each year hundreds of very talented boys and girls fall by the wayside because a well-developed support system is lacking. This includes access to artificial ice and good coaching, parental encouragement and financial backing, plus a determined, even mulish character that will enable the skater to ignore daily frustration and laugh at the incredible odds stacked in favour of failure.
Interestingly enough, many of those who have ascended to the heights of the sport originally took up skating on medical advice the same spirit of determination that enabled them to overcome childish ill health and injury has carried them through to the very top. Doctors advised Irma Rodninas mother that skating might build up stamina in her sickly child. Scott Hamilton, the 1981-3 World champion, afflicted with a rare digestive disease, credits skating with saving his life. As a toddler, an accident with an electric lawnmower sliced off part of Elaine Zayaks foot. Doctors thought skating would encourage her to use both feet equally. In 1982 she became the women's World champion. The 1983 US junior champion, Kathryn Adams, for whom great things are predicted, started skating because the muscles in her legs were weak and uncoordinated. Like all skaters, she has had to overcome injury. In 1980 she broke an elbow. In 1982 she punctured her leg with her blade. The wound required fifteen stitches to close. Later that year she encountered painful back spasms from growing and the impact of landing triple jumps. As a dedicated skater, she sloughs off such setbacks.
Many skaters have demonstrated fierce determination to come back from injury. Robin Cousins won his Olympic gold medal on what he termed second-rate knees after having operations on both of them for torn cartilages. The parents of Dagmar Lurz of West Germany feared she would never walk again after the thirteen-year-old was in a bad car crash. Her coach, Eric Zeller, said she would spend hours a day for months with tears streaming down her face because of the pain, trying to relearn the basic steps of skating. However the metal plate in her hip did not prevent her from winning a bronze medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
The enormous surge of interest in skating after John Curry won his Olympic gold medal in 1976, and again after Cousins won in 1980, might have been expected to spark off a growth in the sport at grassroots level. However, because of lack of facilities, this did not occur. Many parts of the country are without rinks at all (Cousins might never have become a skater if a rink had not opened in his home town of Bristol in 1966) and the rinks in existence were soon crowded to capacity. Many, discouraged, did not return after their first, unsatisfactory visit. Others who persevered discovered that the only time they can book lessons on uncrowded ice is either in the morning or late at night since most rinks are run as commercial concerns and have to stay open to the public for recreational skating at convenient times of the day if they are to make money. Parents of primary-level skaters are often unwilling to adjust their lives to this inconvenient schedule, and even though experienced skaters are used to this situation, they still grumble at the abnormal times at which they have to train. Karen Barber and Nicky Slater, the British second-ranked pair, often appear bleary-eyed during the day because of their marathon after midnight training sessions at the Richmond rink. They joke that they have jet lag when they take part in competition in Britain because they have to adjust to a different time schedule. Torvill and Dean spend months at the West German Training Centre at Oberstdorf partly because this allows them to practice at more social hours than they could at their home rink in Nottingham. Curry and Cousins both spent their final years as amateurs at the Colorado Ice Arena in Denver. There's two ice surfaces permit the demands of the public to be met on one, while the other is kept exclusively for training. There is a second ice surface at the Richmond ice rink but it is extremely small. First-class coaching is a major factor in producing a champion. If a skater makes a good choice initially, he or she may remain with the same trainer throughout his or her career.