Unprecedented jump makes bright Button figure skating champion
At the age of 18, Dick Button was a little young to be making history, but he had always thrived on beating the odds. As a youngster, Button had been an enthusiastic young skater, but had only really focused on the sport after his ability was doubted. At the age of 12, Button was told he would never be a good skater, a comment that enraged his father. He sent him to New York to take lessons from leading coach Joe Carroll.
Junior titles followed, and his development continued after switching to another top coach, Gustave Lussi, who was to work with Button throughout his career. In 1946, aged just 16, Button won the US Championships, completing his rapid rise to the top of the national rankings. The following season he was to finish second in the world championships behind Hans Gerschwiler. Remarkably, this was to the last time in his career that he failed to win a competition that he had entered.
He made amends the following years when, in the run-up to the Olympic Winter Games, Button won the European Championships, beating Gerschwiler. It was the be the final time that non-Europeans were permitted to enter the championships, with north Americans athletes taking home the men's and women's titles. Button remains the only US athletes to have won the European Championship title.
In St Moritz, he led Gerschwiler by nearly 30 points following the figures portion. Next up was the free skating. In practice, Button had been trying out a new move – the double-axel. It was a spectacular jump that had never before been landed in competition. If he could perform it, his chance of sealing gold would rocket; but if he tried and failed, it could leave the door open for Gerschwiler.
Button debated and practiced and, the day before the free skate, he landed it for the first time. That made up his mind and he included the jump in his routine. In front of the judges he leaped – and landed safely. Eight out of nine judges voted him in first place after a scintillating performance.
Button became the youngest man to win Olympic figure skating gold, a record he still holds. He retained both his world title and Olympic title in 1952 before retiring from the sport. In a varied career, he has since been an exhibition skater, a TV commentator, a stage actor and a lawyer.