Tracey Wainman stole the show at the 1980 World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund, West Germany. Aged 12, she was the youngest competitor at the competition, and her sparkling long program (10th place) earned a thunderous standing ovation and marks as high as 5.6; she finished 14th overall, but won first place in terms of buzz in the skating world. Her performance prompted CTV’s Johnny Esaw to exclaim: “That’s the greatest debut I’ve seen by anyone, anywhere at any time”; the commentator compared it to the coming out of the elfin Russian gymnast Olga Korbut at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Robin Cousins, the 1980 Olympic Champion, told a reporter for The Toronto Star that “Canada has something special in its hands”; Wainman herself was mobbed by fans and reporters, and she was asked to perform with World and Olympic champions on the ISU international spring tour, a rare honour for non-medalists. And a British TV commentator said: “In Canada, they’re predicting big things from Tracey, hoping she’ll follow Barbara Ann Scott, Petra Burka and Karen Magnussen to the World title.”
Her long program was fast and furious, and featured a triple salchow and three double axels. She fell on a triple toe loop, the first time she had attempted it in competition, although she had been landing it in practice, according to the CTV commentator Debbi Wilkes. The most beautiful part of her program, however, was the slow section to Khatchaturian’s Lullaby from the Gayane Ballet. It was particularly expressive and mature for a 12-year-old; the combination of her heartfelt interpretation and the melancholy, dramatic music seemed to foreshadow turmoil to come in Wainman’s career, but there was a bit of comedy too, when Wainman sort of wiggled her bum at the judges in time with the music, and Johnny Esaw howled with laughter. He also exclaimed when Wainman’s mother, Gaye, waved to her daughter from the stands towards the end of the long. The applause at the end is rapturous and prolonged, with teddy bears and flowers strewn all over the ice; one can only imagine the complicated psychological consequences of having so much success, so fast. When your debut prompts mass adoration, how can you possibly top that feeling, and indeed live up to the expectations?
At this point in her career, Wainman’s free skating was pulling her up from low placements in figures. She finished 21st in the compulsories, and 17th in the short program after she stepped out of a double axel, so she stood 20th going into the long program. Her coach Ellen Burka had completely revamped Wainman’s short program after Canadians, changing the music and taking out the troublesome double axel-double loop combination; in Dortmund, Wainman performed a double lutz-double loop instead. In 1980, you could just about get away with doing an easier combination, but that innocent era was rapidly coming to an end. In fact, making their debut at the 1980 Worlds along with Wainman were Elaine Zayak, the American triple-jumping machine who would go on to win the 1982 Worlds, and Katarina Witt, the future East German superstar who, in those early days, was also a jumping bean.
Wainman’s success at Dortmund fuelled her celebrity, not that celebrity culture in 1980, or Canada, was particularly intense. As well as performing on the ISU tour, at venues such as Madison Square Gardens, she appeared on CTV’s Stars on Ice TV show (a weekly variety show, sort of a precursor to Dancing on Ice) and Front Page Challenge, and was on the cover of Canadian Skater magazine. See her 1980 Worlds and exhibition program below.
See what all the fuss was about, here’s her LP
And her SP
Queen’s Gala, London