Yes, it is hard to imagine such a thing and it really was devastating to US skating and our entire skating community.
This was in 1961, a year after the Squaw Valley Olympics. There was a changing of the guard as most of our established skaters had retired or turned pro. Heading to Prague were all of our young new champions and national medalists along with many of our best coaches. It was a loss that took close to a decade to overcome and emotionally the scars lasted longer.
Sometimes I think the newer generation of skating fans fails to recognize how important and beloved a champion Peggy Fleming was. Many of us first saw her in 1964 - a young, 15 year old girl, full of promise but still unpolished. Needless to say US Skating was rebuilding in those years and as 1968 approached, for the first time in eight years we had high hopes for our new National Champion to win the Olympic Gold Medal. Peggy did not disappoint us and the fact that she was not from an elite family - she skated in home made dresses sewn by her mother - only served to further endear her in the hearts of the American public.
Peggy went on to also win Wolrds later that season and then retired from competitive skating to turn professional.
(US Nationals - 1964 Peggy Fleming)
Back in 1961 we suffered a terrible loss but like most things the wounds were healed in time. I will always have a special place in my heart for Peggy for helping to bring back US Skating. Janet Lynn was to follow Peggy as our next Ice Queen and although she never won the OGM or WC she was adored by most of the American and International skating community.