With her coach standing at rinkside, his hand held over his heart and his good-luck Olympic medal, Linda Fratianne skated into second place today in the women's competition.

For Fratianne, who turned in a flawless performance in the short program, hitting each of the seven required elements, technique has always been the easy part -- if you can call triple jumps easy. Capturing the crowd has always been much harder.

"This afternoon, I felt they were really with me, maybe for the first time," she said. "Maybe it's because it's the Olympic Games, in my hometown (sic). But probably it's because I skated well."

Fratianne is now America's only hope for a gold medal in figure skating. Robin Cousins, a 22-year old from Briston, England who is considered the best free skater in the world, won the men's championship.

Jan Hoffman of East Germany was second and Charlie Tickner, of Littleton, Colo. was third.

Cousins is the John Travolta of the ice rink. Dressed in a slinky black jumpsuit with a plunging neckline and sequined figure skaters on the bodice, Cousins discoed his way through a spectacular five-minute program and five flawless jumps to score not lower than 5.7.

But as he climbed to the podium to accept his gold medal, Cousins tripped and almost fell. He grinned at the irony.

"It was a total loss of concentration," said Cousins, who was watching Fratianne practice when he heard he won. "I was totally out of control."

In the women's short program, Fratianne received scores ranging from 5.6 to 5.9 (on a scale of 6), the 5.9 coming from Giorio Sinisaleo, the Italian judge.

By finishing first in the short (two minutes) program, which accounts for 20 percent of the final score, Fratianne halved the gap between her and leader Anett Poetzsch of East Germany. The free-skating portion winds up the competition Saturday night.

However, Poetzsch still leads the competition, placing first in seven of the nine judges' ballots. Carroll says he is not counting her out.

Skating to the music of Leonard Bernstein's "America," from "West Side Story," Poetzsch got a polite response to her somewhat conservative program, in which she deleted a triple jump for an easier jump combination.

Fratianne was anything but conservative. For once, her fiery orange sequined costume and her music, from the "Firebird Suite," were not the only fiery things about her performance.

There were calls of "go, Linda," as she opened her program with a flawless triple salchow double loop combination. There were bouquets on the ice when she finished.

Tai Babilonia's father, Connie, said after it was over, "It's the best I've seen her skate in a really long time."

Fratianne demurred, "at the Pacific Coast championship, I skated well, in the long program," she said. But to those whose most recent memory of Fratianne was her lackluster showing in the nationals in Atlanta, this was the performance they had been waiting for since she upstaged Dorothy Hamill in the 1976 Nationals.

Allen and Sandy Lenz, the other American women in the competition, also skated well. Lenz remained in 11th place after today's competition, but Allen, who finished third in the short program, moved up two places to sixth overall.

Ingmar Lurz of West Germany, who was second after the school figures Wednesday, dropped to third place. Emi Watanabe of Japan remained fourth.

Carroll refused to make a prediction on the final outcome (though he did offer that Poetzsch will not skate conservatively again).

"I don't mess with fate," he said.

Cousins, who occupied second place when the night began, was first in the last group of six skaters including Hoffman and Tickner. With 5.9's from eight of the nine judges for artistic presentation, he set a wicked pace. Hoffman who had been leading, skated conservatively, but well, finishing with four first-place finishes. He was as consistent as ever.

Tickner, the last skater of the evening, faced a virtually impossible task. When they closed the gate on the rink after him, it was if someone had shut the cell door. When it was over, the audience wanted to clap louder than it did.

When asked if he was disappointed, Tickner said, "You are crazy. I was thrilled to death to be in the olympics. It was just icing on the cake."

Tickner's bronze medal was the United States first non-speedskating medal of the games, and the first medal of any kind for American male skaters since 1968.