(Reuters) - Profiles of some of the most memorable winners of the Winter Olympic figure skating women’s individual title.
SONJA HENIE (NORWAY) 1928, 1932 and 1936
Henie was figure skating’s first great star, both on and off the ice. She won her first gold medal aged 15 in 1928 then won again in 1932 and 1936 and remains the only woman to have won the event three times. A week after she took her third Olympic title, she won a remarkable 10th successive world crown, and gave up her amateur status to turn professional. She was so popular that police were needed to control the crowds that came to see her everywhere she went. She moved to the United States and began starring in Hollywood movies, becoming an instant box-office hit and one of the highest-paid stars of the era. Married three times, she died in 1969 aged 57.
Fleming won the 1968 gold medal in Grenoble, France and remains one of America’s most popular champions. When she was 12-years-old, her coach was killed in the 1961 plane crash in Belgium that claimed the lives of the entire U.S. figure skating team that was on its way to the 1961 world championships. The loss of the team not only plunged the United States into mourning but left a massive void in the country’s skating ranks. The U.S. did not win a figure skating gold at the 1964 Olympics and Fleming was the only American to win gold in any sport in 1968, thrusting her into the spotlight. After the Olympics, she signed a $500,000 contract to skate in a touring show, appeared in a range of commercials and later became a television commentator.
Like Fleming, Hamill became one of America’s most adored athletes after she struck gold in Innsbruck, Austria. She also won the world championship that same year, performing a new spin that became known as the Hamill Camel. When she turned professional she became the first female athlete to sign a $1 million-a-year contract to perform for an ice troupe that she later bought.
Witt is the only woman apart from Henie to win the women’s singles gold medal more than once after she won her first at Sarajevo in 1984 then successfully defended her title at Calgary, Canada four years later. A hugely popular competitor, who was not afraid to use he striking looks and flirting approach to her full advantage, she received 35,000 love letters after her first win. Following her second, America’s Time magazine described her as “the most beautiful face of socialism” while reclusive North Korea issued commemorative stamps featuring her image. Witt also won four world championships and was a hit sensation off the ice, touring the world with ice shows, appearing in films and once posing naked for Playboy.
The women’s figure skating competition at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway remains infamous because of the scandal surrounding America’s two skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tony Harding. At the U.S. National championships, Kerrigan had been attacked and smashed on the knee by a man with an iron bar, who later turned out to be associate of Harding’s husband. Harding denied any prior knowledge of the plot to hobble her compatriot but could not escape the media hype in Lillehammer.
Baiul, who was orphaned at the age of 13 and had to live with the families of her coaches, did not fit the typical profile of an elite figure skater and was a shock winner of the world title in 1993. But while the world’s media was transfixed by the American saga, the Lillehammer judges concentrated on the graceful work of the Ukrainian, who was awarded gold at the age of 16. Kerrigan took the silver and Harding finished eighth. With no money or family, Baiul immediately turned professional after Lillehammer and moved to the United States.
Compiled by Julian Linden, editing by Mitch Phillips