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Fleming launched modern era of figure skating

Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Fleming's 1968 gold medal captivated TV audience
By Lisette Hilton
Special to

Signature Event

Feb. 11, 1968 - As the two-time world champion, Peggy Fleming was the favorite to win the gold medal at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France. It was to be the first time that the Winter Games would be televised to a global audience, live and in color.

Fleming built a large lead in the compulsory-school figures, which accounted for 60 percent of the scoring. In the free-skating program, the 19-year-old was shaky as she performed to Tchaikovsky's "Pathetique." She attempted her trademark spread eagle-double axel-spread eagle but pulled off only a single axel. She also two-footed the landing on her double lutz.

Still, it wasn't enough to prevent her from winning the competition. Receiving all the first-place votes from the nine judges, Fleming left her closest competitor and main rival, Gabriele Seyfert of East Germany, 88.2 points behind as she was the only American to take home a gold medal from these Olympics.

When asked if the imperfect performance took away from the moment, Fleming said, "A little, but the satisfaction of standing up to the enormous pressure without a major disaster was an accomplishment in itself. I would have been prouder if I'd had the performance of a lifetime, but not many athletes have had that at their Olympics."

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Fleming played baseball and surfed in her youth.

  • She would get so nervous before figure-skating competitions that she couldn't eat.

  • According to her coach Carlo Fassi, Fleming's mother Doris would call him after Peggy's workouts to discuss the routines at length.

  • Doris designed and sewed her daughter's dresses.

  • In 1966, Peggy's father Al died of his third heart attack. He was 41. She was performing in Moscow when she learned of his death.

  • Many say that Fleming's best performance was at the 1968 Nationals, a month before the Olympics.

  • Fleming said her favorite music to skate to was "Some Enchanted Evening" by Jane Oliver.

  • Fleming has been inducted to the U.S. Figure Skating Association Hall of Fame, U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and Women's Sports Foundation Hall of Fame.

  • She is one of six women figure skaters from the U.S. to win an Olympic gold medal. The others are Tenley Albright (1956), Carol Heiss (1960), Dorothy Hamill (1976), Kristi Yamaguchi (1992) and Tara Lipinski (1998).

  • Fleming has been invited to the White House by four different administrations.

  • In the late-1980s, Doris Fleming was diagnosed with bone cancer. She died in 1992.

  • When Sports Illustrated named Fleming in 1994 one of the "40 for the Ages - 40 individuals who most significantly altered or elevated sports in the last 40 years," she was one of only four female athletes. Billie Jean King, Olga Korbut and Martina Navratilova were the other three.

  • After she was diagnosed with cancer, Fleming openly discussed her illness through the media, offering advice, reassurance and hope to women everywhere.

  • Fleming became a grandmother to her first grandson in 1999.

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