Figure skating is the Olympic head game.

Other sports have clocks and finish lines. Figure skating has subjective judgments -- many of them based on the reputations of the skaters.

The most tangled heads in figure skating, however, do not belong to the judges. They belong to the skaters.

The U.S. figure skating team showed up here today. The athletes sounded like refugees from an asylum. Or like folks who had been forced to read Ayn Rand since a tender age. Or like spies involved in psychological warfare.

Linda Fratianne, heir to the legacy of Carol Heiss, Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill, showed up with her usual air of being a secret madcap who would love to play the heroine in "West Side Story."

However, Fratianne also was showing clear signs of worry over the one competition for which, she says, "I have set aside my life."

"I think it was almost good that I fell (in the U.S. championships last month) in Atlanta," she said. "It 's made me get mad at myself and realize it's not all together ... that I still have to work.

"I've always been sort of a self-hypnotist, meditating and imagining my whole program over and over in my head.

"But I got away from doing it. Recently, I've gone to a couple of self-hypnosis classes, big group-therapy things."

Along with the customary tautoloical cliches of positive-thinking gobbledegook, Fratianne has picked up the familiar strain of fatalism that bites people who have endured years as pre-Olympic favorites.

"No matter what I do, I don't think it's going to matter. Whatever happens, happens," said Fratianne, pinned against a wall by a gaggle of reporters. "If God wants a gold medal to hang around my neck, it will."

Fratianne was at her best in those rare moments when she could be herself, rather than playing as Miss Perfection.

"What part of your body is Italian?" asked an Italian.

"My whole body," Fratianne said, vamping the poor hot-blooded scribe.

"Are you gonna be a singer next?" asked a friend of Fratianne's knowing what the answer would be.

"Maybe I will," replied Fratianne, looking much like Liza Minnelli. "Why not? It sure would be a challenge with my voice." She laughed.

While Fratianne walked the tightrope between being a 19-year-old who would "like to have some fun when this is finally over" and playing the part of the perfectly composed Ice Queen, other U.S. skaters were going through their mental gymnastics.

Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, the reigning world pairs champions, were engaging in some psychological warfare by proxy. Their coach has sent a letter of protest to international authorities claiming that the great Russian pair -- Irina Rodnina and Alexandr Zaitsev -- are using "many illegal moves in their latest programs."

Coach John Nickes maintains that Zaitsev has his hand on his wife's leg during their spins and lifts.

"You are not supposed to touch your partner below the panty line," said Nickes. "Many of their moves are illegal. They violate rule SSR 133."

Since the Soviet pair won the last Olympics, Nickes' tactic is merely old-fashioned oneupmanship, the process of attacking the reputation of other skates to create an atmosphere in which lower judges' scores can be justified.

If Rodnina and Zaitsev, who took last year off to have a child, also thought that the U.S. was engaging in a little home-court politicking, that wouldn't hurt Babilonia and Gardner.

Finally, the U.S.'s only returning men's singles skater, David Santee, who was sixth at Innsbruck, revealed that he has been seeing a sports psychologist named Bruce Oglivie.

"In the last four months, I've totally turned things around," said Santee. "I hit rock bottom at the pre-Olympic trials here in Lake Placid in September. I rolled over and played dead.

"My problem was my mind. I had to figure things out. I was running at a high state of tension. And I was thinking negatively.

"Now," said Santee, "I have learned how to paint over the past and build a new foundation."

Welcome to figure skating, the Olympic head game.