In 1980, Zayak was part of the first trip to China by American skaters.
An excellent student, she was awarded the Dial Award for the national high-school scholar-athlete of the year in 1982.
Zayak was the first woman to consistently land many triple jumps in her programs. At the 1982 World Championships, she landed 6 triple jumps to win the title, but 4 of them were triple toe loop jumps. While she also had triple salchow and loop jumps in her repertoire, they were less consistent. Zayak was not the only skater of her time who repeated the same jump multiple times to add technical content to her programs, nor was she the worst offender; Yugoslavia's Sanda Dubravcic, for example, often incorporated solely multiple triple toe loops and double axels in her 4-minute free programs, perhaps to cover up her deficiencies in other jumps. Still, Zayak's skating contributed to the creation of what became informally known as the “Zayak Rule,” enacted at the 1982 ISU Congress, which states that a skater may not repeat a triple jump more than twice, and after the first instance the jump must be done in combination or sequence. The rule encouraged skaters to display a greater variety of skills.
After winning the World Championships in 1982, however, Zayak was never able to regain the same level of skating. Zayak's placements suffered from generally poor performances in the then-prevalent compulsory figures (attributed after the fact to her damaged foot).
Although she continued to train fiercely and entered the 1984 Olympics season well prepared, Zayak was no longer considered a top contender nationally or internationally. After placing 3rd at the 1984 U.S. Nationals, she performed very strong short and free programs at the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo, for which the judges only awarded her marks good enough to place her sixth. Still, Zayak persevered and won the Bronze Medal at the 1984 World Figure Skating Championships, with equally good performances as the ones she displayed in Sarajevo.
Zayak turned professional in 1984. She competed and toured professionally for a number of years. However, her early professional career was mediocre at best, and it did not take long before she drifted away from the sport.
In 1993, Zayak was the only U.S. female singles skater to reinstate to eligible status in an attempt to make the 1994 Olympic team. While she was unsuccessful at attaining this goal, placing fourth in the 1994 U.S. Championships, the members of the skating community were elated with her skating performance, which included difficult triple jumps she had not completed in a decade. She was named an alternate for the Olympic Games.
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