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Linda Fratianne talks art of title defense

Four-time U.S. champion discusses the unique challenges

Linda Fratianne (left) with world and Olympic teammate Sheryl Franks backstage at <i>Salute to the Golden Age of American Skating,</i> Fratianne's first performance in nearly eight years.
Linda Fratianne (left) with world and Olympic teammate Sheryl Franks backstage at Salute to the Golden Age of American Skating, Fratianne's first performance in nearly eight years. (courtesy Sheryl Franks)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(01/18/2011) - The absence of past U.S. champions Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir (sitting out this competitive season) and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (retired) makes the battle for the senior titles at the upcoming 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C., all the more fierce.

Unlike the past when the year after a Winter Olympic Games provided a clean slate for up-and-coming contenders to stake their claims, this year all four 2010 champions will compete to defend their titles.

"I think it's much easier winning a national title than defending it because it's always easier being the underdog and trying to get to the top," says Linda Fratianne, four-time U.S. champion (1977-80), two-time world champion ('77 and '79) and Olympic silver medalist (1980).

"When you're at the top, there's a lot more pressure," she continues. "There's always someone below you that is really hungry to be the champion. It's a lot harder defending a title. There's a lot more pressure. People are expecting you to be better.

"I always found that nationals was a much harder competition for me than worlds."

Fratianne admits she was never at her 100 percent best for the U.S. Championships. Part of that may have been that she was saving something physically and mentally for the world championships, where she tried to achieve her peak performances of the season.

Although Fratianne waged ferocious battle with East German skater Anett Pötzsch on the international stage, three decades later she more recalls her U.S. battles with three-time silver medalist Lisa-Marie Allen. Today, the two women, who both live in Sun Valley, are close friends, but back in the day things were tense. As the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid approached, there was even an article in the New York Times that pointed out the differences between the quiet shy brunette, Fratianne, and the charismatic tall blonde, Allen.

"She was really hungry to be a national champion and I knew that," says Fratianne.

As the defending U.S. champion, Fratianne says she felt everyone was watching her, wondering how her skating was progressing, if she was keeping her weight down, what kind of haircut she had and what the style of her new dresses would be.

In many ways, Fratianne's quiet consistency and Allen's outgoing personality are an excellent comparison to defending U.S. ladies champion Rachael Flatt and silver medalist Mirai Nagasu, although Fratianne was coached by Frank Carroll as is Nagasu.

To deflect the pressure that comes with title defense, Carroll stressed a strategy for Fratianne.

"My thought going into nationals was that we have a job to do," Fratianne says. "I thought, 'We have a job to do,' not 'we are going there to beat somebody or win a title.' We have a job to do and that's to skate to the best of our ability.

"That's all we can ask from ourselves. Sure, we all want to win, but that's all we can do."

She suggests all four defending champions, and the other competitors for that matter, embrace that philosophy. Don't worry about another skater's routine, jumps or costumes. Focus on yourself.

A few weeks ago, Fratianne ran into Lysacek in Sun Valley. She says he told her he misses working with Carroll every day. She said she feels the same way.

"Even after all these years, I miss going into the rink and seeing him every day," Fratianne says.

She recently went through some old photographs recently and found a photo of herself walking backstage at the 1977 U.S. Championships in Hartford, Conn.

"That might be one of my favorite times," she says. "Frank in the background of this picture. It was my short program to Swan Lake. I had a white dress with black trim. That brought up some good memories of the first national championship I won."