"I shouldn't say this, but I've pictured the flag coming up for her and the anthem playing in the background. In 1976 I told her coach, 'Someday the flag will come up for Linda.' I said I'd make her work for it." -- Virginia Fratianne
This is the way it usually happens:
On a lark the kid starts skating. She's young, maybe 8 or 9 years old, and she comes home saying, "Mommy, Daddy, I love it. Can you buy me some skates? Can you get me some lessons? Please?" You figure it's just a stage, how long can it last? But you do it, and then you think maybe it's not just a stage because six months have gone by and the kid not only loves it, she lives for it. So you go to the rink to watch, and you see a lot of other mothers and fathers watching, too, and some of them tell you, "Your daughter's got it, she's got the right stuff. You ought to be getting her a coach. You ought to be making plans."
What do you know? Sure, okay, you get her a coach and a few more months go by and your kid starts winning the age-group competitions. Isn't that nice? But, hey, she's just a kid, you don't want to push her -- you want her to grow up normal. Then her coach says something like, "It's amazing how fast she learns, how receptive she is to instruction. I think I can make her a champion. It's going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of money, but I think I can make her a champion."
You ask, "Champion of what?"
He looks you right in the eye, because he doesn't want there to be any misunderstanding, and he says, "Champion of the world."
You think he's kidding.
So it begins. Well before dawn you're making her breakfast, packing her skates, waking her up, driving her to the rink for the first of six to eight hours a day, five or six days a week, 12 months a year, minimum 10 years. You know you are closing doors, but what is "normal" anyway? Look at the doors you're opening, the travel, the experience. You would like to think the choice is hers, but in your heart you know it's yours. You and the coach begin to do everything for her. Pick her clothes. Pick the music she skates to. Put her in a special school. Answer her mail. Plan her schedule. You make sure nothing stands in her way. The longer it goes on, the more vacuum-sealed her world becomes, and when the judges want her to be more expressive, more spontaneous, you have to teach her how. Is there free will? Yes, but it counts less than destiny.
What she does is skate.
So what have you done? You have taken this child who loves to skate, who loves you and wants only to please you, and you have gradually sequestered her, cloistered her -- you have, in effect, almost turned her into a hothouse orchid with an ultimate goal of one spectacular bloom at the Olympic games. You have sacrificed everything for that. Your time, your money -- up to $30,000 a year now to train a champion -- your way of living, maybe even your marriage. What choice have you got? By the time everyone understands the depth of commitment, it is already too late to back out. So you push harder.
And if you are lucky, your kid wins that gold medal.
And if you are luckier still, it really was what she wanted.
Linda Fratianne is sitting on the grass at one end of the campus of Cal State, Northridge, a couple of miles from her home. In front of her is a chicken-salad sandwich, which she will pick at for the next 90 minutes, and a pickle, which she will not eat at all. She does not have anything to drink. She was very specific about that in the deli.
"And what to drink?" the deli man asker her.
"Nothing, nothing to drink," she said.
She weighs 98 pounds, and is 5-feet-1. Since she cannot control her height, she must control her weight. "It's so very hard for me to keep my weight down," she says. "And I have to so I can get up in the air and do three turns. During the summer I was 104, and with the extra poinds I couldn't get it up and around. Frank, my coach, he gets really uptight about it, and right now I'm getting weighed in every day. I could be really heavy, you know. No, seriously, I could. I was 107 two summers ago. I love desserts. I love spaghetti -- every Italian does."
She winks as she says it, a deliciously flirtatious gesture out of a Laura Antonelli film. "But now it's eggs and grapefruits, and soups and salads. That's part of my life now. It's a part of my life until the Olympics are over. You know at night I don't sit with the others at dinner. I go up to my room and turn up the stereo -- yeah, turn up Rod Stewart. That's how I cope. Food is food, right? I was raised not to let the little things bother me."
We used to say, Don't sweat the small stuff, right?
"Right. Don't sweat the small stuff. I love it."
She's 19 and almost beautiful. She looks like --
"Sophia Loren? People say that. The eyes?"
No, like --
"Marie Osmond? Liza Minelli? Those are the other two I get."
No, like Dorothy Hamill.
She is shaking her head no. "Really? But she has blue eyes. And her hair is different."
And Linda Fratianne does her little lip pout, not so much because she doesn't like Hamill or Hamill's looks -- she likes both -- but because there have already been too many comparisons to Hamill, and with the Olympics coming up there will be thousands more. For all the national television audience knew in 1976, Dorothy Hamill was the winter Olympics; she was on TV so much we thought she was a mini-series. Anything that makes Linda feel like "the next Dorothy Hamill" is an automatic lip pout. Who needs that kind of pressure?
Fortunately for her the Olympic spotlight is more diffuse this time because there are so many American world champions in skating: Charles Tickner in men's figures; Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia in the pairs figures; Eric Heiden and his sister Beth Heiden in speed. Still, the women's figures is the event that traditionally turns this country on; it is the closest thing we have to a beauty pageant for athletes. And if the gold metalist is an American, she can reasonably expect to get a three-year, $1-million contract from a professional ice show and an average of $150,000 per year per endorsement. That's the rainbow at the end of the gold. And despite the challenges from the German, Anett Poetzsch, and the American, Lisa-Marie Allen, her classmate at Valley Professional School, Linda Fratianne knows that she is expected to win.
"If she skates her best, she wins," said two-time figure-skating gold medalist Dick Button. "She's clearly better than the second-place skater."
This, of course, is pressure.
Neither her mother nor her coach will even discuss the Olympics; they're too nervous.
"I'll talk," Linda says. "What do you want to know?"
Feelings? Tenley Albright, before her Olympics, "felt a marvelous feeling of anticipation." She said she "loved it." Peggy Fleming said, "It was very, very scary, all those years of work coming down to five minutes on the ice." How do you feel?
"I don't know. Happy? Well, I just feel it's a job more or less. I go to the job for eight hours a day, then I come back. I've worked 10 years for this. I'll do the best I can, and if I don't win, if something happens, it isn't the end of the world. I mean, it's possible. I'm human. I don't wake up every morning and say, 'My God, the Olympics are coming up.' I'd go crazy."
But don't you have to win it? Ian Anderson, the editor of Skating magazine, said, "She's got to win, of course. No doubt about it. If she comes in second or third it'll drop her earnings potential by 50 percent -- you've got to have that gold medal walking off the ice." So don't you have to win?
She winks again.
Okay, do you ever daydream about winning. Do you ever see yourself on the victory stand?
And what does it look like?
"Well, I'm wearing my red dress. I'm standing there. I have the medal on."
The gold, huh?
"Yeah, the gold. You know what I once told an interviewer. I once told this woman I didn't want a silver because it would look so tacky. Whaddya think?"
You got to love her.
"Want some of this pickle?"
So, what about all the sacrifices? What about all the things you've had to give up? Did you know about them when you started?
"Are you kidding? No. But I wouldn't change it. Honest."
What's the trade-off?
"You know, no social life, no TV, the usual. But I do have my weekends."
Another wink. A touch on the arm. A giggle.
"I get to go out Saturday nights. My mom gives me a 12:30 curfew -- but she never waits up, you know? I go out. I have boyfriends. What did you think?"
Well, all the stories say you're so shy.
"Oh yeah, they've been saying that for years. Linda Fratianne -- Too Shy For Stardom."
She speaks fluent headline.
"I'm getting tired of that. I mean when are they going to change it? If you don't know me, and if you don't have a couple of hours with me, I come off shy. Very shy. I'll admit that. And when I'm competing I can't have any of my friends around me. I stay in my room the whole day before I complete. Competition time I need to be alone. I really get into my work. But I go to the beach every Sunday. I go to parties."
So why do they say it?
"Honey, I don't know why. I'd walk up to any guy on the street and say hello. Listen to this: Once on a dare I walked up to a guy in a booth in a restaurant and put my arm around him. I love being crazy -- that's on the weekends, only on the weekends. I mean you have to be crazy to live in the world right now, don't you think?"
Okay, you're not shy.
What about the future?
"I want to get married when I'm 27."
Twenty-seven, got it.
"I'll have my first child at 29."
First? How many will you have?
One of each?
She laughs. She rocks backwards on the grass, her tiny body almost tipping over with delight. Is there a feminine equivalent of "coltish"?
And at 35?
"At 35 we'll probably be living in Beverly Hills if my dream goes right. Did I tell you how much I loved Beverly Hills?"
And at 50?
"At 50? I don't know. Wheelchair? Face lift? At 50? I can't think about 50."
There are four other Fratianne children. The two eldest, Mary, 22, a court reporter, and Nick, 21, a law student, are married and each lives a short distance from the family home in Northridge, one of the 39 trillion communities that make up greater Los Angeles. The two youngest are Angela, 17, a thorough extrovert and president of her highschool class, and Bobby, 12, a husky, all-star football player.
"They're all overachievers, and thank God they've all got their own thing," said Virginia Fratianne, who knows that the overwhelming portion of her mothering time these last 10 years has gone to the care and occasional feeding of her middle child, Linda. Virginia Frantianne is anxious to paint a rosy family portrait. "Linda keeps them happy," she said. "They love the success she's had. They love being a part of it. They never complain. There's absolutely no jealousy." And those close to the Fratiannes vouch for this. The secret, according to the mother, "is to give them almost complete independence." This was said with a laugh because the relationship between Virginia and Linda is just the opposite -- complete interdependence.
A typical day: "I'll get up at 4:45. My alarm rings, Linda doesn't have an alarm. I get dressed. In 15 minutes I wake Linda. It takes her 45 minutes to dress. She lays out her clothes the night before; she's incredibly organized -- you should see her closet, she buttons every other button on her blouses before hanging them up. She's very careful about dressing. She puts on blush, eye makeup, perfume, blow-dries her hair. While she's doing that I'm making breakfast, two hard-boiled eggs -- one for her, one for me. I put hers on a paper plate, with her vitamins. Depending on her weight, I may give her a slice of toast, whole wheat or rye. While I'm getting her skates and packing the car, she's taking her breakfast out to the car -- she eats her breakfast in the car -- and we drive to the ice rink, the first one we go to, the Pickwick rink.
"She'll put her skates on in the car, and we'll get to the rink about 6. She'll get out and get on 'patch' -- that's a small portion of the ice where she'll practice her school figures; there are 20 patches in a rink. She does that for one hour. I usually stay in the car and do my knitting, but the next hour, when she skates freestyle, I come in and watch. I never watch any of the other skaters. I don't care about them. But I never get tired of watching Linda. I could watch her skate freestyle forever. Then, she'll do another patch for an hour, and then another freestyle hour. On Mondays, we leave and drive for an hour to Costa Mesa for her ballet lesson, but the rest of the days of the week we go to the other rink in Van Nuys where she'll freestyle for an hour and then patch for two more hours. In between we'll go home for an hour and she will nap -- yes, she's disciplined enough to fall asleep as soon as her head hits the pillow.
"Oh? Did I forget lunch? Oh sure, between the first rink and the second rink we get lunch. We stop at a deli. She usually eats in the car. Then, like I said, we go to the second rink, practice, then go home. She gets dinner, usually just a grapefruit or a salad, takes a shower and washes her hair and goes to bed. If we're all eating dinner together, she usually won't sit with us -- she doesn't want to be tempted.
"Now I know what you're going to ask. You're going to ask if that's normal. Don't worry. She's in a situation that's normal for her. She's well-adjusted. She has her boyfriends. She goes out on the weekends. She spends time on the telephone. You have to look at this as a job. It's just like a job with odd hours. I laugh and call myself a working mother. You've got to understand Linda. This kid knows exactly what she's doing and where she's going. She knows where it's at -- she really does. She's zeroed in on this, really blocked out all her other interests."
Virginia Fratianne says all this while watching Linda skate what will be her freestyle short program at the Olympics, two sizzling minutes to a swatch of music from Stravinsky's "The Firebird." As Linda glides along the ice, making almost no sound at all, Virginia describes herself as a person who "did everything kind of, and nothing well." She is obviously proud of her daughter, yet she makes no attempt to cast her as a goddess, and at one point she even says she wishes the Olympics were already over. "I'm really anxious to start a life of my own." Previous articles have noted Virginia's disdain for and studious avoidance of other skating mothers, blood relatives to the notorious "stage mothers." But let's not get carried away. When a canary puts on a tuxedo it doesn't make him a penguin, which is not to say that Virginia Fratianne isn't charming, because she is.
At this moment Linda, having completed her short program, skates to the side of the rink, blinking her large green eyes, the eyes Dick Button calls "the most beautiful in America."
"She's tired," Virginia says. "She's really been pushing hard."
"Could you get me some aspirin, please?" Linda says.
Her mother is up in a flash.
"Tension headache," she says. "She gets them whenever she pushes like this." She pushes like this five days a week.
In less than 30 seconds Virginia is back with two aspirins and a small cup of coffee. In less than 40 seconds Linda is back on the ice. a
"Now I want to show you what I mean about her being precise," Virginia says, opening her hand to reveal one half of one aspirin tablet. "Most would take one or two, right? Linda knows herself so well she takes 1 1/2."
Virginia is laughing quietly.
At core, their relationship is less mother-daughter than actress-personal secretary in those instances where the personal secretary functions equally as a governess. While Linda understands the shifting of roles, she likes to think of Virginia as an older sister and she occasionally introduced her as "my older sister Ginny." Though they are always together -- and Linda needs Virginia desperately -- they are not necessarily close.
What happens after the Olympics?
"I assume Linda would go to an ice show, wouldn't you?"
Do you talk about it?
"We don't really talk a lot. I learn more about Linda through the things I read."
Why do almost all the top American figure skaters -- Peggy Fleming, Dianne de Leeuw, Jo Jo Starbuck, Linda Fratianne, Lisa-Marie Allen, Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia -- come from Southern California?
What do palm trees have to do with sit-spins?
If all Southern Californians own at least three cars, why wouldn't they assume that a double axle was connected to dual quad carbs?
So you start putting the pieces together. Okay, if a surfboard seems exotic to a kid from Minneapolis, wouldn't a pair of ice skates seem exotic to a kid from L.A.? Then, factor in the staggering emphasis on participatory athletics in an area that has sunshine and warm weather 365 days a year; more professional athletes come from Southern California than any other geographical region in the country. Then, consider that there is no more calculatedly beautiful sport than figure skating and nowhere else in the nation are there more per capita calculatedly beautiful people than in L.A., and you've got most of the puzzle. For the rest you wait in the parking lot of the Pickwick Ice Skating Rink, between the swimming pool and the riding stables and in front of the drive-in movie theater, and the blond man with the blond beard gets out of his blond 280 SL and he says, "The climate attracts the best coaches, and the best coaches attract the best skaters."
The man is Frank Carroll.
His mailing address is Hollywood, Calif., the land of dreams.
For the last 10 years he has played Henry Higgins to Linda Fratianne's Liza Doolittle, and if she wins the gold medal next week she's got it, by Jove, she's got it.
"He's probably like a father to me," Linda said. "I see him more than I see my dad. He's very disciplined -- he knows what he wants to get out of me, and if he doesn't get it he'll work me till he does, which is good.If it weren't for Frank, I wouldn't be where I am today."
Robert Fratianne had heard good things about Carroll; not only was he a good coach, but he was a decent, honorable man. He wanted Carroll to coach Linda and he kept on leaving messages with Carroll's answering service -- "Call Mr. Fratianne." But Carroll didn't and doesn't return his messages. So one day Fratianne brought Linda to the rink where Carroll was teaching and had her skate tiny circles around him until Carroll's face showed he was impressed.
Fratianne: "Well, Mr. Carroll, is my daughter good enough for you?"
Carroll: "She's great. But who are you?"
From the start Carroll was amazed at the immediacy with which Linda would turn his verbal instruction into accomplished fact on the ice. "She wasn't flighty, wasn't silly, wasn't playing. It was always serious. Her progress was startling." Linda was a hyperactive child, but she was never mouthy or independent. The combination of pliability and energy made her the perfect skating pupil. She got so good so fast that not only did other coaches try to steal her away from Carroll, but other parents tried to distract his attention from Linda and other skaters tried to intimidate her. Often, Carroll would find Linda in a corner of the rink crying after another skater had said something particularly bitchy to her. Carroll would tell her, "Toots, they're not saying it to you, they're saying it to your skating, because this is someone who has clunked around and tried and sacrificed and whose parents have sacrificed to make them into a great skater, and they're not going to be. And here you are, here two years, and you are far better and outshining them and they resent it."
And to the Fratiannes, Carroll said, "Stay strong. You have a wonderfully gifted child."
And they did.
And they had.
And they came to trust Carroll and turn her over to him.
And so it is that he calls the shots.
Working with a skater whose world championship performances have been rewarded with such left-handed compliments as "a coldly technical masterpiece" and so perfect there was almost no need to watch," Carroll emerged as the McDonald's of pizazz. He did it all for her. He cut her music and instructed someone how to cut her hair. ("If it's too long she looks like all head and no body.") He picked out her clothes for on and off the ice. ("I wanted clothes coordinated with her music, clothes that looked good on her. She has a tiny body; a long skirt would make her legs look too short. And I wanted something unusual, more theatrical than before, and classier, so I picked reds with sequins.") He taught her to smile when she skated through these jumps -- these triples, three revolutions in the air, an innovation that Linda Fratianne has made mandatory now for any serious woman figure skater -- were terribly difficult, she could articulate her landing in such a way that the judges would think she could do them effortlessly. He took a very quiet personality and tried to give it a splash of Hollywood so that Linda would not just be a champion, but a star. He made her hot. But still people were critical of her cold technology. Then, as added insurance perhaps, he suggested that she might comsider getting her nose fixed because he felt that "if a girl doesn't have the right body, the right weight, the right looks, she's not going to make it, because it's all based on beauty." When Linda and Virginia and Frank all agreed, in 1978, they made an appointment with Dr. Jack Sheen on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills to get a new nose.
Sheen remembered a lot of consultation. "Mr. Carroll was very apprehensive she'd wind up with her face destroyed." After all, that face was good enough, in 1977, to win the world title. Carroll reportedly told Sheen, "If you mess it up, I'll chop your nose off with a hatchet." Not to worry. It came out even better than Sheen anticipated; he expected a fleshier tip. Commenting on the style, Sheen said, "It's a nose with a natural look, a concept that's current.The highly stylized noses are about out now and we're into a new esthetics. This looks like it could've been placed there naturally."
It's an American Nose, totally devoid of character, personality or historical antecedent. This nose says nothing except how beautiful it is, which makes it the perfect Southern California values nothing as much as beauty. Southern California, where the motto is: E Pluribus Plasticum Surgeris. Southern California, where everything is washed and waxed and everyone looks like everyone else as we deny the melting pot to affirm the hot tub. Buy yourself an American Nose. Peggy Fleming did. Lisa-Marie Allen, Linda's main American competitor, did. As Brenda Patimkin so cheerfully said, "I used to be good, now I'm better." And to bring it up to date, as Virginia Fratianne said, "It's very normal -- at least in this part of the country."
Linda did have two deviated septums, and since the surgery she no longer has to breathe through her mouth like a guppy. But the bottom line is: "I didn't do it for breathing, and I didn't do it for skating," Linda said. (God bless her.) "I did it for me walking down the street, for me going out, you know, as a person. I did it for looks. I feel prettier. I feel better."
More spunk. More confidence. More personality. Last year, for the first time, she rejected the music Carroll had cut for her, a new arrangement for "Sleeping Beauty," and chose to stick with "Carmen" for her freestyle long program at Lake Placid. Instead of angering Carroll, her independence pleased him. aFor years he'd been hoping to see Linda become more decisive. "Be yourself," he would tell her, almost begging. But how can someone who has been so carefully cultivated be herself when she apparently never had the opportunity to learn what her self was? It's like training a Doberman to be an attack dog and then asking it to play nice doggy when the mailman comes.
"She's more of a woman now," Carroll said.
Maybe it's the nose or the natural evolution, or a combination of the two, but now Linda can put on that red sequined dress, skate to "Carmen," that luscious call girl, flutter her lashes and suggestively dip her shoulder when the interpretation calls for it. She can sell it. Hooray for Hollywood.
The weakest part of her performance was always "the presentation," the calculated illusion of intimacy between skater and audience. So an Ian Anderson, editor of Skating magazine, might say, "She concentrates so on what she's doing it's like the look you have arm-wrestling. She's got to play to the judges more." And a Doug Wilson, ABC's skating producer, might say, "She's what Dorothy Hamill appeared to be. Fresh. Open. The girl next door. If she has any problem it's that the freshness just doesn't come across when she skates." While it may be that a new nose won't help you land a triple salchow, a new nose may help you think you look better as you land it. If smiling was always the hardest part for Linda, might it be true that she didn't think she was attractive enough to smile about?
The schizophrenia of figure skating has always been that the premium was placed not on the staggering athleticism of a triple, but on the cosmetology of landing it, the ability to persuade the judges that the move was effortless. oChampions -- men and women -- are supposed to be cool, desireable and unattainable. Almost nowhere else in sport can you be penalized for not making it look easy. To pull it off takes equal parts confidence and arrogance. Frank Carroll knows that. "What I'm waiting for," he said, "is the time when Linda steps out on the ice and gives the impression, 'I'm the best, and you'd better believe it.'"
What's funny is that "what" may have come in the form of a "who." Lisa-Marie Allen, that's who. For what it's worth, she was the valedictorian in Linda's graduating class of five. They've been friendly rivals for years, but most recently Lisa-Marie began injecting some venom into that rivalry, suggesting that while she was an independent spirit, Linda was an automaton. For example: "I skate only for myself. Linda has to be told everything to do." Carroll has been acting as spokesman for Linda on this one, and, yes, the tone has been bitchy. "Lisa-Marie is a very poor loser," Carroll said. "She'd do better to keep her mouth shut."
And would Linda like to add anything?
"No. Look, I was raised that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anthing at all. But all she's doing is hurting herself. Sure, she gets a lot of press. If you want a juicy story, a loud mouth, you'd go to her. It only adds up to one thing -- I'm first and she's second. And it only hurts me to the point where I want to go out there and skate and show people how much better I am."
Her voice is clenched.
And there is steam in her eyes.
'Make a right here," she said.
She was in the passenger's seat, her right arm out the window, the Santa Ana breeze blowing through her hair. Linda Fratianne is used to that position; she may be the only 19-year old in California without a driver's license. "If I got my license," she said, "my mom might feel like I don't need her anymore, and I wouldn't want her to feel like that. There's plenty of time after the Olympics to get my license, plenty of time to do a lot of things.
Certainly plenty of time to go cruising. On Wednesday nights, right here on Van Nuys Boulevard. Get in the car and to up and down the strip for hours honking at kids in the other cars, stopping at the light and playing Chinese fire drill -- kids jumping out of one car and climbing into another. Mondo Pick Up. Though the words have changed over the years -- what used to be a "bitchin' good time" is now, simply, "real" -- cruising remains the rite of passage for the Southern California teenager. Angela Fratianne has been through it. But Linda? Never. Tough to cruise Van Nuys at 10 when you've been in bed since 8:30 because you have to be up by 5 to get ready for the first hour of school figures on a patch of ice no bigger than a parking space, which is the standard unit of measurement in Southern California.
"After the Olympics," Linda said.
L.A. is a great big freeway/ Put $100 down and buy a car/In a week, maybe two, they'll make you a star. Everybody is a star. If you don't know Cher, maybe you know her designer; if you don't know him, maybe you know his gardener; if you don't know him, surely you know someone whose niece once baby-sat for a kid who goes to school with Cher's kid, the one she had with Gregg Allman. aSooner or later, if you keep driving the Ventura Freeway to and from an ice-skating rink you're bound to see someone.
"The other day I saw Leif Garrett," Linda said. "Yeah, my mom and I were driving and I saw him in his maroon 450 SEL. His girlfriend was driving -- no, don't put his girlfriend; I don't know if it was his girlfriend. So I say if it was his girlfriend. So I say to my Mom, 'Godd, that's Leif Garrett -- CHANGE LANES. Pull over to the other side.' We made eye contact. I mean, he looked me in the EYE. And this girl who was driving was like TOTALLY -- hey, you're not gonna write this? Oh God, I'll just die."
Usually she's a giggler, a two-beat "huh-huh" and a quick touchety-touch of your arm or your knee just to let you know she's not nearly as shy as everyone says. But now she's got her head thrown back, almost into the back seat, degree of difficulty 5.3, and she's roaring. Leif Garrett. And he'd looked her in the EYE. There have been other stars, too. A girl doesn't grow up in Los Angeles, have a coach from Hollywood and travel the world as the finest female amateur figure skater and not get to meet a few stars like Mick Jagger ("really nice") and Paul Michael Glazer ("really neat") and Angie Dickinson ("really sweet") and Gary Coleman ("really cute").
And Erik Estrada. (In less than two weeks Erik Estrada would be married, but how could she have known? They had met only once, many months before, and while she didn't have a crush on him -- it was nothing, she said, he was 30 -- she'd started a scrapbook on him, which she kept in her room. But it wasn't like they had a thing, you know? "I mean, I don't think he wanted to get into a relationship; I think he just wanted to take me out on a friend-to-friend basis." She felt like he had his life, and she had hers, and the two were very different. He had his stardom, with all the stars and stuff, and she couldn't get into any heavy relationship now with the Olypics coming up. Stil she thought he was a really neat person, and, God, his eyes were outrageous, weren't they? So she kept in touch through the fan magazines; he was always in them. And when she had walked out of the skating rink in Van Nuys she was carrying one, and there was Erik Estrada on the cover, and when she had put it in the trunk of the car it actually sounded like she was sighing, which was perfectly understandable because how could she have know that in 12 days he'd be married; he hadn't even called.)
Stars, you see.
It's natural for a 19-year-old girl to stare at them, to remember them, even to sigh over them. Maybe the only thing that's strange is for a 19-year-old girl to be one of them.
"It's hard for me right now because the little kids in the rink some of them just look up at me and think I'm God or something. I go up to them and say, 'Hi, how're you doing?" and they just stare. It's such a weird feeling, the kids looking up at me like that, because I'm a person. I'm human . . . . Sure I want to be a star -- everybody wants to be a star. Ijust hope I'm ready for it. Once I sat in a restaruant in Lake Placid, and I was facing the room. Well, the word got out the !Linda Fratianne, The World Champ' was there, and all the people turned around to stare at me. I sat there thinking -- What's the matter with me? Why are they all staring? And I started crying. I made my mom switch seats with me. But you have to get a taste of it, don't you?You have to see it to learn to cope with it."
This is the transition period for Linda Fratianne, the time she moves from star-gazing to star-being, the time the cameras switch from black-and-white to color film. This is the beginning of the crunch. It is especially difficult for our hot-housed Olympians, especially our figure skaters and gymnasts, because they are particularly sheltered, having spent so much of their time learning to be not only athletic but beautiful as well. As a rule they tend to be nice, likable and quite eager to please in their answers to your questions, but they often have no strong opinions on anything other than their diets or training methods. Emotionally they seem somewhat like toy dogs after generations of inbreeding -- insecure and high-strung.
Their world is so closely circumscribed that their emotional range can barely run the gamut from A to B.This sudden and absolute exposure can leave scars that never fade.
Taking all this into account, Linda Fratianne seems to be surviving rather well. While she may never be able to use the word "extrapolate" in a sentence like Dr. Tenley Albright, the gold-medalist-figure-skater-turned-surgeon, she is equally unlikely to come down with stomach ulcers like Dorothy Hamill.
With all the attendant pressures of being, without question, the favorite for the 1980 winter Olympics gold medal in women's figure skating, and all the mythic and monetary rewards that accrue to such a title, she can still look into her mirror at night and ask, "Toots, isn't this the craziest thing ever?"
The house is a semi-circular ranch in what appears to be an upper-middle-class neighborhood; Linda has lived here since age 2. In the driveway where Linda someday would like to park her own 450 SEL was an old green sedan with a back bumper sticker: We're Helping the U.S. in 1980. "It came in the mail," Linda said. "I put it right on. I love it. It's just so tacky, isn't it?" She was bouncing as she went into the den where the trophy case housed her medals and the walls held posters and awards, a painting signed by LeRoy Neiman and a photo with Jerry Brown. "The pictures of Erik Estrada are in my room," she said. Blushing.
Hearing her daughter's voice, Virginia Fratianne walked into the room. There was an edge to her voice that could have cut wood as she said, "Where have you been? I called everywhere. Weren't you supposed to have come home?"
"We were at the college. Talking," Linda said.
"Well, don't you think you could have called? Didn't you say you were coming here to talk?"
"All right. Finish your interview. But just a little while, okay? You need your sleep. You have to skate later."
Linda watched her mother go, then sat on the coach and stared briefly at the floor. There are pushes and pulls on you when you are 19 and living at home, when you're no longer a girl but not yet a woman.
"She's right," Linda said. "I should've called."
And then her face brightened again.
"You know we used to fight a lot. Once she chased me around a parking lot because I said something nasty. But we hardly ever fight now. We're much closer now. And I don't want to hurt her because of all the things she's done for me, all the sacrifices she's made."
They have been much closer for a while, but perhaps especially since last spring when Robert Fratianne moved out of the house. He remains his daughter's biggest fan, and he is still faithful to his tradition of sending her flowers at her competitions, with a card that reads: "Win or lose, you're still my champ." He was a lawyer when she started skating, and now he's a municipal court judge in Los Angeles County. A family source says that Robert Fratianne felt left out when for 10 years he saw his daughter spend every day with her mother and her coach. Of course there are regrets. Regrets that Linda came to see Carroll as more of a father than him, regrets for the pain this caused everyone. He is sure there has been a lot of pain.
"Yeah, it was really difficult," Linda said. "How'd you hear about it? Grapevine, huh?"
She wasn't at all reluctant, not at all shy.
"Did you ask my mom about it? No? Good."
"I went through a hard time. I thought things like this only happened to other people; we were supposed to be the All-American family, you know? I went throough this big guilt thing. I thought if my mom had been with my dad more it might have worked out."
Her hands moved haphazardly, but her voice was absolutely steady.
"I just went really crazy, totally out of it. I cried myself to sleep every night. I went to someone about it, and she showed me that it wasn't my fault at all, and she taught me that when I felt angry or depressed to take a pillow, put it over my face, and scream into it -- get all the frustrations out. It works, crazy huh? . . . But I don't cry about it anymore. I haven't cried in a long time, and it won't affect me in the Olympics. It's past."
It was a hot afternoon in November, and Linda Fratianne, who sometimes fantasizes that Billy Joel and Rod Stewart are singing their love songs just for her, got up from the couch and smiled. Her presentation was absolutely perfect. CAPTION: Picture 1, no caption; Copyright (c) 1979, Al Satterwhite; Picture 2, Linda: An orchid ready for a spectacular bloom. A gold medal mean mean a three-year, $1 million contract.; Copyright (c) Armel Brucelle/Sygma; Picture 3, She's made three revolutions in the air mandatory for any serious woman skater. She became so good so fast that other coaches tried to steal her, other skaters tried to intimidate her. Abc Photograph; Picture 4, Frank Carroll: For 10 years he's played Henry Higgins to Linda's Liza Doolittle. Larry Dale Gordon; Pictures 5 and 6, no caption; Copyright (c) Al Saterwhite/Camera 5