Ice skater Dorothy Hamill’s gold-medal winning performance at Innsbruck 1976 earned her a permanent place in the hearts of her fellow Americans. And almost four decades later her own love affair with the ice remains undimmed.
“I felt an infinite force inside me. I knew instinctively that I wasn’t going to fall. I skated better than I’d ever skated before.” Those were the words of Dorothy Hamill as she recalled the events on the ice at Innsbruck’s Olympia-Stadion on 13 February 1976. The young American ice skater, who was still just 19, delivered a scintillating routine in the free programme, performed to the music from the Errol Flynn movie, Captain Blood. The highlight was an innovative camel spin that ended with a sitting spin - a sequence that was quickly named the “Hamill Camel” and became her signature move. The judges were unanimous in their decision to award her the highest score, meaning that, for the first time in her career, she finished ahead of her two great rivals, Diane De Leeuw of the Netherlands and East Germany’s Christine Errath. After receiving her gold medal from IOC President Lord Killanin, she was unable to contain her emotion; as the US flag was raised and the national anthem sounded out, she burst into tears of joy, a moment that further endeared her to an adoring American public. She is the last female skater to win an Olympic gold with a routine that didn’t include a triple jump.
Two years running, Hamill was edged into second place at the World Championships, first in 1974 in Munich (GER) by Errath, and then again in 1975 in Colorado Springs (USA) by De Leeuw. However, she got her revenge on both of her rivals at the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck and then again a month later at the Worlds in Gothenburg (SWE). Immediately after that double triumph, she decided to turn professional, going on to become a huge star back home. Dubbed “America’s Sweetheart” by the US media, Hamill’s distinctive hairstyle, created by renowned stylist Yusuke Suga, started a trend among a generation of American women. Meanwhile, the ice rink in Greenwich, Connecticut, the town where she grew up, was renamed in her honour.
Hamill has been skating ever since she was eight years old. Since retiring from competition, she has starred in numerous ice shows around the world, along with other top skating stars. She has also written two autobiographies, and appears regularly on TV, most recently in the 2013 edition of the popular show, Dancing with the Stars. In 1993, a public opinion poll named her and gymnast Mary-Lou Retton the USA’s most popular sportswoman. Asked when she plans to stop skating, the answer is always the same: “Never!”
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