by Amy Lignor
The masters and mistresses of the toepick have had a place in our minds for a good long time. Not only did these Olympic performers dare to be different, but the athletes came out of their particular events as true stars in the sport of figure skating.
For those who are unaware (or have lost count), the United States has won fourteen gold medals, brought home by thirteen skaters, since 1948. Overall, the American figure skating community has won forty-six medals in total, and they earned their unique and beloved accolade for a reason; they skated their literal behinds off and caused mouths to gape and eyes to widen in shock. So as Sochi commences, it is nice to think back on the best figure skaters of all time for this country; artists and technical wizards that will never be replaced.
It wasn’t a medal, it was a movement. In 1984, Tiffany Chin showed everyone that Asian-Americans would be at the top of the figure skating world. In Sarajevo, she gave a beautiful performance, opening the door to names like, Yamaguchi and Kwan who would soon arrive on the scene. She wasn’t the champion, but Chin did make sure to break the ice when it came to a new generation and a new ethnicity entering the sport.
Like Chin, it was a girl named Debi Thomas who opened another door in the skating world. She was the first African-American to win a medal (bronze) in the 1988 games held in Calvary. The gold medalist, Witt, was not a shock, but Thomas made sure that her performance was admired by everyone.
Dick Button is a man everyone is used to as being the announcer for the sport of figure skating. But, if you ask you mother and/or grandmothers and fathers, they will tell you he is the man who was the best of the best for as long as they can remember. 1948 gave him his gold medal, and in 1952, he earned yet another. The double Axel in Olympic competition seems like old hat now, but Button was the first to land the move and make fans scream with surprise.
Scott Hamilton is mentioned by everyone when it comes to figure skating, and the reason why is not only the fact that he could skate rings around everyone else; it is the fact that Hamilton is a whole lot of fun to watch. Skating to rock-and-roll, he executed spins, jumps and turns that made everyone smile. In Sarajevo in 1984, Scott was more than a little bit reserved when he gathered up his gold medal – but after he went professional, he delivered the laughs, and became the most popular male figure skater of all time.
Peggy Fleming is the woman people think of with the long hair and the stunning smile. She was the beauty and the darling of the sport back in 1968, and it was nice that she was in the center spotlight the year color came to television. She not only won the medal, but Fleming won it by almost ninety points over her nearest competitor.
Kristi Yamaguchi was 16, highly professional, highly artistic, and brought the gold back to the U.S. after a very long absence. Grace and elegance were her keys to winning, and her technical skill was off the charts when she showed it to one and all at the 1992 Albertville Games. When the rules changed, she went back as a professional to compete one more time and won the gold medal…one more time.
But no matter who you ask; no matter what ‘best of’ list you come across, the name Brian Boitano will be the numero uno everywhere.
In 1998 in Calgary, Boitano did the undoable act of landing the first triple Axel by an American. Brian Orser (his closest opponent from Canada), and he, waged an ice war that no one will ever forget. That is one contest where America came out the champion and truly deserved to be!
So as the next generation takes the ice, and new unforgettable performances and amazing athletes are born, it’s nice to remember the huge steps they will have to fill in order to reach the pinnacle of figure skating success.