Tracey Wainman completed one of the most remarkable comebacks in Canadian figure skating history when she captured the national title in North Bay in February 1986. At the age of 18, she recaptured the title she had won in 1981 at the age of 13, when she became the youngest champion in history, a record that still stands. The victory also set a record for the longest gap between titles, five years. And she upset Elizabeth Manley, then ranked 9th in the World, and about to make a name for herself as one of the world’s best free skaters. What is more, her performances were flawless and emotional.
She won the figures, and then skated a clean short program to Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Wainman looked relaxed indeed — you could tell she loved skating to rebellious (for skating), edgy music. Her double axel-double loop was effortless, and the jazz hands were fabulous, as was the funky-chicken dance on the tips of her toes. It was so satisfying to see Wainman mature into a brilliant artist but also a powerful athlete — the trademark speed was still enthralling audiences, who lapped up this program. She finished 2nd in the short to Manley, who landed a triple salchow-double loop combination, but was still in 2nd place overall.
In the long program, Manley skated well but had flaws in all three of her triples: lutz, toe and salchow. She put her hand down or stepped out of all of them. The door was open for Wainman, but nobody in her entourage told her. She later said they stayed silent — a wise move. Wainman’s long program was one of the great performances of Canadian ladies skating. I don’t mean jump-wise, I mean performance-wise. It just sang. The flow, the steps, the interpretation, the hand movements, the footwork, the charisma, the comedy, the sadness. It brought everyone in the building into the performance, as Brian Pockar remarked. The choreographer David Wilson later said “she gave herself to the audience”, and she really did: this was Judy Garland on skates.
She landed two big double axels, and one triple salchow. Towards the end, anxious to skate a clean program, she changed a third planned double axel into a double flip. Wainman later said that Ellen Burka had put about six double axels into her practice routine to get her over the psychological block about the jump (she also sent her to a self-hypnotist). The audience reaction was ecstatic, and the commentators were all choked up too. But the marks for technical merit were in the 5.4-5.5 range. The artistic marks, however, were in the 5.8s and 5.9s, and Wainman won the long and the title, in a 5-4 split.
Afterwards, Elizabeth Manley’s people were less than gracious, saying they thought she should have won, and sniping that Wainman’s “one triple salchow won’t go very far at the Worlds”. But this victory was fair. Wainman’s technical marks were lower than Manley’s, even though Manley didn’t land any clean triples. Where Wainman won was on the artistic portion, and that was correct. True, Manley went on to become a legend, with her 1988 Olympic silver, and while she was a wonderful, complete skater — possibly Canada’s best ever woman free skater, with the whole package — Wainman was stronger artistically. In a way, Wainman’s victory here did Manley a favour — it prompted her to work even harder, and Manley skated one of the great long programs in figure skating history at the 1986 Worlds in Geneva the following month.
Here are her SP and LP