Elaine Zayak

Elaine Zayak bigraphy, stories - American figure skater

Elaine Zayak : biography

April 4, 1965 –

Elaine Kathryn Zayak (born April 4, 1965) is an American figure skater. She is the 1982 World champion and 1981 U.S. national champion. She competed at the 1984 Winter Olympian, placing 6th.

Competitive highlights

Event 1978–79 1979–80 1980–81 1981–82 1982–83 1983–84 1993–94
Olympics 6th
Worlds 11th 2nd 1st WD 3rd
Skate America 2nd
Skate Canada 1st
International: Junior
Junior Worlds 1st
U.S. Championships 4th 1st 3rd 2nd 3rd 4th
WD = Withdrew

Personal life

Zayak was born and raised in Paramus, New Jersey. At age two, she lost three toes in her left foot as a result of a lawn mower accident. On the advice of her doctors, she began figure skating as physical therapy. Her left boot was stabilized with a wood mold to compensate for the irregularity in the shape of her left foot. Zayak attended Paramus High School and was awarded the Dial Award for the national high-school scholar-athlete of the year in 1982.

Zayak is married and the mother of a son, Jack.


Zayak was coached jointly by Peter Burrows and Marylynn Gelderman throughout her amateur and professional career. In 1980, Zayak was part of the first trip to China by American skaters.

Zayak was the first woman to consistently land many triple jumps in her programs. At the 1982 World Championships, she landed six triple jumps to win the title, although four of them were triple toe loop jumps. While she also had triple salchow and loop jumps in her repertoire, they were less consistent. Zayak was not the only skater of her time who repeated the same jump multiple times to add technical content to her programs; Yugoslavia’s Sanda Dubravčić, for example, often incorporated solely multiple triple toe loops and double axels in her four-minute free programs. Still, Zayak’s skating contributed to the creation of what became informally known as the Zayak Rule, enacted at the 1982 ISU Congress, which states that a skater may not perform the same kind of triple jump more than twice, and for it to be given full credit on both occasions, one of the two triples must be incorporated into a combination or sequence. The rule encouraged skaters to display a greater variety of skills.

The 1982-1983 season was a disappointing one for Zayak. She won the bronze medal at the 1983 U.S. Championships earning a trip to Worlds. In the middle of the school figures portion at the 1983 World Championships Zayak in 11th place at the time, abruptly withdrew from the competition with just one more tracing to go and was on the next flight back to the United States. She attributed her poor figures to a sore, injured ankle and equipment problems. The press did not give her an easy ride for this decision. A Helsinki newspaper called her a "quitter" while others suggested she knew the problems would interfere with her performance and that she should have withdrawn from the competitions early on so an alternate could be sent in her place.

Zayak won the bronze medal at the 1984 U.S. Championships. She placed 6th at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. At the 1984 World Championships, she won the bronze medal. Zayak turned professional later that year and performed with the Ice Capades from 1984 to 1986.

In 1993, Zayak was the only U.S. female singles skater to reinstate to eligible status in an attempt to make the 1994 Olympic team. Including triple jumps she had not performed in a decade, she finished 4th at the 1994 U.S. Championships and was named an alternate for the Olympic Games.

Zayak was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2003 and the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2013, she was elected into the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.

Zayak teaches figure skating at the Ice House in Hackensack, New Jersey, and is a spokeswoman for U.S. Figure Skating. Among her current and former students are Joelle Forte and Amelia Xu.