Figure Skating has existed as an Olympic sport since 1908, but was included in the Summer Olympics until 1924. In 1924 Figure Skating was moved to the Winter Olympics, which were held that year in Chamonix, France. The U.S. has garnered a total of 23 medals for Women’s Figure Skating, earned by 18 U.S. female skaters. In this hub, I will introduce U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Olympic Champions from 1920 through 1980. My next installment will finish up with U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Olympic Champions from 1984 through 2006.
U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Olympic Champions included in this article:
- Theresa Weld
- Beatrix Loughran
- Maribel Vinson
- Tenley Albright
- Carol Heiss
- Barbara Roles
- Peggy Fleming
- Janet Lynn
- Dorothy Hamill
- Linda Fratianne
Theresa Weld and Nathaniel Niles
Theresa Weld, 1920 Bronze
Theresa Weld Blanchard was born in 1983 and passed away in 1978. She won 6 gold medals in the U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Championships. She competed in the Olympics 3 times, winning the bronze medal in 1920 in Antwerp, Belgium, becoming the first U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Olympian.
She was also a pairs skater with Nathaniel Niles. They won at nationals 9 times, and competed in the Olympics three times, but did not medal.
Beatrix Loughran, 1924 Silver, 1928 Bronze
Beatrix Loughran was born in 1900 and passed away in 1975. She won the silver medal in 1924 Olympics in Chamonix, France and the bronze medal in the 1928 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland in women’s figure skating. She was a 3 time national champion. She was a pairs skater with Sherwin Badger. They won the silver medal in the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. They were 3 time national champions. She is the only American to earn 3 figure skating Olympic medals.
Maribel Vinson, 1932 Bronze
Maribel Yerxa Vinson-Owen was born in 1911. She won 9 U.S. Women’s National Championships in figure skating, and the bronze medal in the 1932 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. She won 2 national championships for pairs skating with Thornton Coolidge and 4 championships with George Hill. She subsequently coached figure skating. She was killed in a plane crash in 1961, when accompanying her daughter on a trip to Prague, Czechoslovakia for World Championships. The entire U.S. Figure Skating Team perished.
Tenley Albright, 1952 Silver, 1956 Gold
Tenley Emma Albright was born in 1935. She was our first U.S. Olympic gold medalist in women’s figure skating, picking up the gold in the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. She won the silver medal in the 1952 Olympics in Oslo, Norway. She won 5 U.S. National Championships and 2 World Championships.
After her 1956 Olympic win, she retired from skating and returned to college. She graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1961, and subsequently became a surgeon. She married Gerald Blakely, former owner of the Ritz-Carlton.
Carol Heiss Performance in 1956
Carol Heiss, 1956 Silver, 1960 Gold
Carol Elizabeth Heiss Jenkins was born in 1940. She won the silver medal at the 1956 Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, and the gold at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California. She was World Champion for Women’s Figure Skating 5 times.
Heiss was known as an athletic skater, and the first female to land a double axel. One of her trademark maneuvers was a series of single axel jumps, alternating clockwise and counterclockwise. She rotated jumps clockwise and did her spins counterclockwise. More commonly, skaters do both counterclockwise.
She married 1956 Men’s Figure Skating Olympic gold medalist, Hayes Alan Jenkins. Jenkins’ brother David won the gold in the 1960 Olympics. In 1961 she starred in Snow White and the Three Stooges. Heiss retired from skating, but returned to start coaching in the late 70s.
Barbara Roles, 1960 Bronze
Barbara Ann Roles Pursley Williams was born in 1941. She won the bronze medal in the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley California. She retired from skating and had her first child. After the 1961 plane crash that killed the entire U.S. Figure Skating Team, she was asked to return to skating which she did, winning gold in the 1962 U.S. Figure Skating Championship. She had her son later that year. She subsequently took up coaching and has worked with successful figure skaters.
1986 Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show Peggy Fleming with Robin Cousins
Peggy Fleming Breast Cancer Survivor
Peggy Fleming, 1968 Gold
Peggy Gail Fleming was born in 1948. When she was 12 her coach, William Kipp was killed in the 1961 plane crash with the rest of the U.S. Figure Skating Team. She was then coached by Carlo Fassi.
Fleming won 5 U.S. women’s figure skating titles and 3 World titles. She won the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France, the only gold medal for the U.S. that year. Her Olympic victory marked the return to dominance of U.S. women’s figure skaters, who have medaled in every Winter Olympics since.
After the Olympics, Fleming toured with the Ice Follies for several years. She has skated for 4 U.S. presidents. In 1993 she was named the 3rd most popular athlete in the U.S. She has been an ABC TV figure skating commentator for over 20 years, including some of the Olympic Figure Skating competitions. She appeared as a judge in the movie, Blades of Glory.
In 1970, Fleming married former ice dancer, Greg Jenkins, now a dermatologist, with whom she has 2 sons and 3 grandsons. Fleming is a breast cancer survivor, having been diagnosed in 1998 and successfully treated. She has been vocal in advocacy for breast cancer and osteoporosis. Profits from Fleming Jenkins Vineyards & Winery’s Victories Rosé go to breast cancer research charities.
Janet Lynn, 1972 Bronze
Janet Lynn Nowicki was born in 1953. She skated under the name “Janet Lynn” because “Nowicki” was constantly misspelled and mispronounced. She was among the first female ice skaters to successfully perform the salchow and triple toe jumps. She won the won the bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics in Sapporo, Hokkaidō, Japan.
Though she won 5 U.S. championships, the World Championship and Olympic gold eluded her. This was largely due to her poor compulsory scores. The compulsory skates were not typically televised, and therefore poorly understood by the public. Lynn enjoyed good public support, who were displeased to see Lynn place behind less exciting skaters. Lynn is credited, at least in part, with International Skating Union’s move away from compulsories and the addition of the figure skating short program.
2009 Cancer Benefit Performance
Dorothy Hamill, 1976 Gold
Dorothy Stuart Hamill was born in 1956. She won the 1976 Olympic gold medal for Women’s Figure Skating in Innsbruck, Austria. She is a 3 time U.S. Figure Skating Champion, and one time World Champion. Hamill is credited with originating the “Hamill Camel”, a camel spin evolving into a sit spin. She set off a world-wide sensation with her much-copied wedge haircut.
Hamill headlined the Ice Capades from 1977 through 1984. In 1993 she tied with Mary Lou Retton for most popular athlete in America. Hamill has written 2 autobiographies.
She is twice divorced, with one daughter. Her first husband, Dean Paul Martin, son of Dean Martin was a successful tennis player and actor. Martin was an officer in the California Air National Guard, and perished in an F4 crash in 1987.
Hamill still skates, including Broadway on ice. She went public with her breast cancer diagnosis in 2008 and advocates a plant-based diet to decrease risk factors for diseases.
Linda Fratianne, 1980 Silver
Linda Sue Fratianne was born in 1960. She won a silver medal in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. She was a 4 time U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Champion, and 2 time World Champion. Fratianne was the first women’s figure skater to successfully execute 2 kinds of triple jumps, the triple toe jump and salchow.
Like Janet Lynn, Fratianne lost many titles due to lower compulsory scores than less exciting skaters. Supporters feel she was “robbed” of the gold in 1980. Fratianne is credited with the start of glamorous costumes in Women’s Figure Skating.
© 2010 rmcrayne
rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on December 16, 2010:
Thanks for your support bill.
rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on October 17, 2010:
Thanks for visiting Greensleeve. I agree, but I do also enjoy gymnastics in the Summer Olympics.
Greensleeves34 from Southern California on October 16, 2010:
This is by far my most favorite sport! Thanks for the great hub!
rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on March 02, 2010:
Yes Ohma, the costumes, and routines are so sophisticated now!
Ohma on February 28, 2010:
Vey nice. I love figure skating. It is a great pleasure to see how it has grown through the years!
rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on February 03, 2010:
Thanks lorlie. It's so cool to have comments by a "real skater"! I tried ice skating once. Pretty much knew it was my 1st and last time! Love your comment about how HARD it is, because my sister and I sometimes joke that ice skating is impossible- it's all trickery!
Laurel Rogers from Bishop, Ca on February 03, 2010:
rmcrayne, I adored watching these snippets of the 'old' Olympics. I skated in the 80's on a local level and knew I would stay there. Never even dreamed-well maybe a little-of such accomplishments. Figure skating is HARD!!!
rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on February 02, 2010:
Great to "see" you Paradise. Let us know if you leave for Haiti!
I saw Dorothy Hamill on the Today Show yesterday. She is working with head injured children at Kennedy Kreiger (where I did my graduate clinicals) in Baltimore. She gets the kids on the ice, whether on her back, or with their walkers, giving them a feeling of freedom and movement.
Paradise7 from Upstate New York on February 02, 2010:
Terrific hub, I especially enjoyed the clips with Peggy Fleming and Dorothy Hamill, and the interesting bio info. Thank you!
rmcrayne (author) from San Antonio Texas on February 01, 2010:
Thanks for reading Rope. I remember watching Peggy Fleming on TV with my dad. She's the first figure skater that I remember.
The Rope from SE US on January 31, 2010:
One of my favorite Olympic winter sport events to follow. Thanks for putting this together! A walk down memory lane is always appreciated.