Just 19 years old when she traveled to the Grenoble 1968 Olympc Winter Games and returned with a gold medal, Peggy Fleming is generally credited with reviving American figure skating and turning the competition into one of the Olympics’ glamour events.
“With some skaters, there’s a lot of fuss and feathers, but nothing is happening,” two-time men’s figure skating gold medalist Dick Button said. “With Peggy there’s no fuss and feathers, and a great deal is happening.”
“Skating isn’t all about jumps,” Fleming said. “Skating is a beautiful sport, and it is art and it is creative and it is about personality. … Quads and triples are important, but gliding and interpreting music is important, too. It’s the package.”
Fleming made her Olympic debut in 1964, with the United States figure skating program still recovering after a tragic plane crash killed the entire national team and its six coaches while traveling to the 1961 World Championships in Prague. At age 15, Fleming finished sixth in the Innsbruck 1964 Olympic Winter Games.
Fleming continued to hone her skating, taking bronze at the 1965 World Championships, then winning the gold medal at the next three world championships.
At the Grenoble 1968 Olympic Winter Games, skating in a costume made by her mother, Fleming burst to a nearly insurmountable lead in the compulsory skate and easily won the gold medal. With figure skating playing a key role in the American television coverage, Fleming quickly became a sensation, making magazine covers and twice visiting the White House – in an era where that was not yet a custom for athletes.
“My sport taught me what I could do with my talents,” Fleming said, “whether in the rink or in the rest of my life.”