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- February 24, 1992
- Vol. 37
- No. 7
Some Golden Oldies
America's Fab Four Women Figure Skaters from Olympics Past Recall Their Moments of Glory
When Dorothy Hamill became the last American to land a gold medal in women's figure skating, 16 years ago at Innsbruck, Austria, the pert Olympian won as much praise for her natural charm as for her nimble technique. For Hamill, however, the victory also left a lingering sadness. "I was 19 years old and had already achieved a lifetime goal," says Hamill, now 35. "It was such a big letdown." For the next few years, Hamill seemed to lose her balance. Hollywood beckoned, and she joined the Ice Capades but often felt exploited. "I was suffering from a bleeding ulcer," she says. "I was tired, and my skating was rotten. "At 24, she married Dean Martin's son Dean Paul, from whom she was divorced two years later. Today, a better-grounded Hamill, who lives in Indian Wells, Calif, with her husband, Ken Forsythe, a sports-medicine doctor, and their daughter, Alexandra, 3, recalls the glorious finale of her gold-medal performance.
I skated first [in the long program concluding the competition] and felt very confident; I had been skating well all week, and the judges had been complimenting me on my music and my program. My goal was to skate clean and not to worry about the other girls. The night before I had sat in my room by myself, reading 300 telegrams and letters from people I did not know. It was so nice to have so many people rooting for me, but I realized I had to live up to their high expectations, and I felt very alone and very sad. After my performance the next afternoon, I had to squint to see the numbers on the hoard because I'm nearsighted and I couldn't wear my glasses while I skated. They were all 5.8s and 5.9s, but I really didn't believe I'd won until I was standing on that platform. When the national anthem played, my gosh, it was an unbelievable feeling. I thought about how proud I was to be an American, about how hard I had worked for so many years, about all the sacrifices my family had made. I felt great relief that it was all over, but later I cried. All I had ever focused on was amateur skating. So much work lay ahead. It took a long time to adjust.
Carol Heiss Jenkins (1960): Giving young skaters an edge
Winning the gold medal at Squaw Valley, Calif., was the storybook ending to Carol Heiss 's brilliant career. At the time the world's best woman skater was secretly engaged to U.S. men's figure skater Hayes Jenkins (who won his own gold at Squaw Valley) and was planning to give up the sport. The couple married a few months after the Games and moved to Akron, Ohio, where Jenkins practiced law and Heiss stayed home to raise their three children. After 20 years in retirement, Carol Heiss Jenkins, now 52, returned to figure skating as a coach in 1981. Today she is training six Olympic hopefuls at the Winter-hurst rink in Lakewood, Ohio.
I had come to the 1960 Games for one purpose: to win the gold medal. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, The Saturday Evening Post and LlFE magazine were all predicting that the one sure [U.S.] gold medal would be in ladies' figure skating. So I really had to keep control of my nerves. It was the first Olympics that was televised, so I did not want to fall. I just told myself. "Look, you're well-trained, you've worked hard, just do your thing." Once the marks went up, I knew I had won. I felt kind of numb. It wasn't until I actually held the gold medal that I realized I was an Olympic champion. There's absolutely no feeling like it, to know that you're the best at something. It isn't the thing that makes you happiest for the rest of your life, but there is a great feeling of pride. Afterward, I was in my room drinking champagne when my coach Pierre Brunet called and told me to be at the rink in two hours. When I got there, he made me go through my program (I was competing at the World Championships soon afterward) and correct the things I hadn't done perfectly. I got angry. Tears came to my eyes. I thought, "I just won the gold medal!" Then he said, "I want you to remember this. You've won. But winning opens doors too. Take the doors, don't rest on your gold medal."
Peggy Fleming (1968): Carving her name in ice
Peggy Fleming's Olympic gold at Grenoble, France, led to professional skating with the Ice Follies, then to television commentating for ABC. Fleming, 43, is watching this year's Olympics from her home in Los Gatos, Calif., with husband Greg Jenkins, a dermatologist, and their two sons, Andy, 15, and Todd, 3.
I came off the ice and saw my mom, Doris, which was wonderful. I only wish my lather had been there. He died in 1966 at 41, after his third heart attack. He worked very hard to support our family and my skating. He used to make the ice for me every morning at the rink where I skated. At least he had been able to see me win the Worlds in 1966. It's been nonstop ever since.
Tenley Albright (1956): Surgically precise to this day
One of Tenley Albright's most vivid memories is of the costume she wore to skate her freestyle competition at the Olympics in Cortina, Italy: a deep rose dress and a large bandage running from her ankle to her calf. Ten days earlier, Albright had taken an ugly fall during a practice session; her skate blade had severed a vein and scraped the bone on her right foot. Today, Albright, 56, a highly regarded medical researcher who lives in Boston with her second husband, Gerald Blakeley, in real estate, their three daughters and her five stepchildren, remembers how the nagging physical pain was erased by the drama of the moment.
I knew I wanted to get through the program despite my injury. As the music began, I remember thinking what a majestic setting it was: the music, the mountains, the open-air rink. One minute into my program, I landed a perfect double Axel on my lender foot. At that moment the entire audience started singing along with the music. It was thrilling: a warm, powerful feeling. I had a heightened awareness of the ice conditions, how I felt, the position of my feet. I even noticed that certain people in the crowd were smiling. When I climbed onto the winner's platform, the flag went up. and I remember feeling very close to everybody, there and back home. But suddenly home wasn't just Newton, Mass.; it was I he whole country. Winning brought me a wonderful sense of completeness.
After a partner's death, Tracy Wilson looks back—and ahead
As she scans monitors and tests microphones from her perch at the Olympic Ice Hall in Albertville, CBS skating commentator Tracy Wilson is also keeping a cheek on her emotional barometer. Four years ago. at the Winter Games in Calgary. Wilson herself was in the rink with partner Rob McCall, taking the bronze medal in ice dancing for Canada. "We were home." she remembers. "There was a thunderous ovation. Center ice. I just wanted time to stand still."
The partners went on to skate professionally until March 1990 when, on tour in Portland. Oreg., McCall was rushed to a nearby hospital and diagnosed with AIDS-related pneumonia. He died of AIDS-related ailments—including brain cancer—last November at age 33. "I couldn't even pretend to understand." says Wilson. "He was on his own. I had to stand by and watch."
McCall never publicized his illness. "At the time you couldn't travel across the border [into the U.S.] if you had AIDS," says Wilson, who learned about his plight when he did. "He also didn't want to become a media event." McCall continued to skate, but not competitively.
"Rob's death really hit Tracy hard." says her husband, Brad Kin-sella, 33, a restaurant designer. "Rob and Tracy were as close as a brother and sister."
And sometimes as contentious. "I was a very disciplined, technical skater. I stuck with the routine." says Wilson, 30, the mother of an 8-month-old son, Shane. "Rob liked to have fun, to improvise, to feel the music. He was an artist, but sometimes he'd drive me nuts. I couldn't gel him to do the same thing twice."
Nevertheless, McCall, who came from Dartmouth, N.S., and Wilson, who grew up in little Port Moody, B.C., became partners in 1981. shortly after she left college alter one semester. During their first world ice dancing championship, they borrowed the costumes they could not afford to buy and went on to win seven consecutive national championships between 1982 and 1988.
Throughout McCall's illness, Wilson was buoyed by Ins courage and his humor. "Last summer when he had no hair because of chemotherapy, he would ask, 'Who has more hair, me or Shane? she recalls. "He was trying to make it easier." There had been times earlier in his illness when McCall could not skate because of a tumor in his foot, and other times when he felt strong enough to perform. But Wilson sensed the end was near when McCall was released from a Toronto hospital last November. "I said goodbye to him the night before he passed away," she says. "I fell that was it. He could barely lilt his hand."
This week, as she analyzes the world's finest skaters and reflects on glories she has known at firsthand, Wilson has but one regret. "I don't sit there watching and wishing I was out there." says Wilson. "I loved it. and it's over. But being with Rob, that's what I miss."
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