Figure skating treble for Henie
Though she had yet to turn 24, Sonja Henie arrived in Garmisch as the reigning two-time Olympic champion, seven-time European champion and nine-time world champion, with her tenth and last world crown arriving that same month, February 1936, in Paris.
A truly global star, the so-called Ice Queen attracted large crowds wherever she went. In winning her second gold at Lake Placid 1932, she took figure skating – the most popular sport of those Games – to a new level before her adoring fans. It is no exaggeration to say that Henie helped create modern figure skating and give it the recognition it still enjoys today.
In taking to the ice at what would be her penultimate amateur competition, the Norwegian superstar would face a formidable challenge from 15-year-old British skater Cecilia Colledge. The teenager laid down the gauntlet with a near-flawless display in the compulsory figures, in which 26 skaters from 13 countries took part. Though six of the seven judges had Henie in first place, her advantage over her young rival was slim to say the least.
Held four days later, the free skate saw Colledge turn in another superb performance to heap pressure on the Norwegian. The last to skate, Henie did more than hold her nerve, however, once again producing her very best form and a series of incredible jumps and spins, delighting a rapt crowd with her grace and style.
Judged the overall winner by each and every one of the judges, Henie stepped up to collect her third consecutive gold medal, a feat that has yet to be matched in women’s figure skating. Colledge earned a richly deserved silver just behind her, with Sweden’s Vivi-Anne Hultén coming in a very distant third.
Having already announced that the Garmisch Games would be her last, Henie brought her amateur career to an end a week later in Paris, where she claimed that tenth world title to round off her second grand slam of world, European and Olympic titles in four years.
Henie followed up her unprecedented amateur career by staging hugely successful ice shows around the world. Performing in Hollywood in one of her skating spectaculars, she attracted the attention of Tinseltown’s major producers and went on to sign a lucrative contract with 20th Century Fox, appearing in 15 films and becoming a bankable star.
A lover of modern art, Henie and her husband Niels Onstad built and gave their names to an art centre in the Oslo suburb of Høvikodden. After being diagnosed with leukaemia, she died on a flight from the Norwegian capital to Paris on 12 October 1969. She was 57.