I know it sounds trite, and people say it all the time: "She is a lot prettier than she was on TV." But I met Elizabeth Manley, from Gloucester, Ontario, one of the best skaters in the world and the Olympic silver medalist, when she visited Salt Lake City this week - and she is stunning. She is also one of the most energized and charismatic young women I've met in a long time.
She is the petite blonde dynamo who burst through the publicized rivalry of the USA's Debi Thomas and the German Democratic Republic's Katarina Witt, forcing Thomas to take the bronze and actually coming within 0.2 points of taking the gold from Witt.Although she is only 23 years old on Sunday, she has been skating for 20 years. Few people realize that world-class athletes often suffer from depression and stress in an effort to cope with massive pressure. Liz suffered severe depression in 1983, gaining weight and losing hair. At one point she just threw her skates in the closet, looked at her mom and said, "That's it. My skating isn't worth losing my health."
When she successfully fought back, the result was a medal. "I wasn't concentrating on beating anybody," she said. "I just concentrated on beating myself." When she had a poor long program at the world championships in Cincinnati a year before the Olympics, there was no one who would bet that she could put in a clutch performance.
But her long program at the Saddledome in Calgary was flawless, the pinnacle moment of her skating life. She obviously dazzled the judges, who gave her six 5.9's. She was elated.
Liz is a very outgoing person with infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy. But, she said, "to skate well, you have to be dead and calm. If you're on high energy you overrotate your jumps and you skate too fast."
Immediately after her medal, she was a national Canadian heroine, ironic since she had been viewed with some Canadian press skepticism prior to the Olympics, and ironic because Canada's other pride and joy, Brian Orser, for whom expectations were greater, also ended up as a silver medal winner and is now regarded as a national disappointment.
She thinks she never could have beaten Katarina Witt, because of her formidable reputation, although she regards herself as technically better than either Witt or Thomas. Does she want another crack at the gold in 1992? It would be anti-climactic, she says. Both Katarina and Debi would be gone, and it would be said that she won only because they weren't there. Besides, she doesn't want anyone saying "Not her again - when's she going to retire?"
Instead, she has signed a three-year contract with Ice Capades and is going from Salt Lake City directly to a month of rehearsals in Duluth, Minn. After that, she is interested in an acting career and is slated for a screen test for the part of Sonja Henie, the famous Norwegian skater. She thinks she would be great for the role because she is small, blonde and animated. "You need someone short and blonde who can run around for half an hour screaming."
Liz is also interested in television broadcasting, but would not want to be consigned to covering skating alone because she loves all sports. Whatever she does in the future, she is concerned that she maintain the proper role model for little children, whom she loves.
I went away hoping that if her future does lie in TV, that she will not be diminished by the medium. Beautiful and articulate, she must be at least as formidable as Katarina Witt. In any case, she seems destined for a life of impressive accomplishment - and I am right now checking out flight reservations for Duluth in September.