One of my fondest memories as a figure skating fan was watching 19-year-old Dorothy Hamill of Riverside, Connecticut, skate to the Olympic gold medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics, held in Innsbruck, Austria. She won the gold medal on Valentine’s Day – what a great present for her!
Dorothy had entered the Olympics as the three-time US champion and two-time World silver medalist. She was considered the best free skater in the world, with her strong, athletic style, crisp spins, and interesting choreography; however, she had not yet won the World title, as she was prone to make one or two costly errors. In those days, the singles competitions included the compulsory school figures, the short program, and the long program. While Dorothy wasn’t the gold medal favorite (reigning World champion Dianne deLeeuw of the Netherlands was the favorite) she was definitely expected to win an Olympic medal.
Just prior to the Olympics, Dorothy had split with her coach, Carlo Fassi (with whom she had trained for several years in Colorado Springs). She and her mother, who had lived in Colorado Springs so that Dorothy could train there, closed up their apartment in one day in order to return to the East Coast. Hamill arrived at the Olympics barely on speaking terms with Fassi, but they managed to patch things up so that they worked well together for the Olympic competition.
Hamill's American beauty rose dress, snazzy hair-do, and brilliant smile really won the day for many in the audience. Dorothy's haircut became a rage, as many young girls had their hair cut in the "Dorothy Do".
There was a sixteen-year draught with American women winning the Olympic gold medal in figure skating, so from 1976 until 1992, when Kristi Yamaguchi won the gold medal, Dorothy reigned as "American's Sweetheart on the Ice".
I saw Dorothy perform with Ice Capades in the late 1970s and early 1980s. She always skated beautifully, always looked gorgeous, and her smile reached to the top row of the ice arenas. I recall one Ice Capades performance in which she had called out sick. The announcer told us that "We regret to inform you that, due to illness, Dorothy Hamill will not skate in this afternoon's performance". The audience responded with a chorus of groans.
I also remember Dorothy's enjoyable television specials, one of which featured a number with her dressed in a '50's poodle skirt and skating with "saddle skates".
Dorothy's personal life hasn't been exactly been easy. She's been divorced twice - to Dean Paul Martin, who died a number of years ago in a plane crash, and to Ken Forsythe, a former Canadian Olympic skiier, with whom she had her daughter, Alexandra, who is now 16. Dorothy now lives in the Baltimore area.
During the early 1990s Dorothy and then-husband Forsythe purchased the Ice Capades, and she ran the company for a few seasons. I saw her "Cinderalla on Ice" show and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a very lavish production, and very well presented, I thought. Unfortunately, her Ice Capades went bankrupt, and she sold the company.
A few years ago Dorothy was diagnosed with osteoarthitis, a condition that almost ended her skating career. Once she realized what was wrong with her body, she received proper medication and was able to return to skating. She was a member of the cast for a SOI tour a few years ago.
Several of my all-time favorite Hamill programs are:
"One Rock 'n Roll Too Many"
"The Music of the Night"
Dorothy has always conducted herself with grace, good sportsmanship, and class. She represented herself and her country with honor. She one said (to paraphrase), "It still shocks me how people sometimes react when they meet me. The warmth and affection they show me is so moving."
Hats off to you, Dorothy!