OTL: Still crystal clear
The young people pose casually on the steps of the Boeing 707, their faces luminous with excitement, jitters, pride and adrenaline, brightened by the easy smiles of born performers. They are figure skaters, and they are going somewhere special, about to fly to Brussels en route to Prague for the 1961 world championships.
Some are experienced competitors, but many are untried. The trip gives them a jump start on a new four-year Olympic cycle, their first chance to demonstrate they are legitimate heirs to the dominant U.S. teams of the postwar era.
The photograph, taken at Idlewild Airport in New York City, is 50 years old now, its age betrayed by the model of the aircraft and the vintage clothing and hairstyles. It captures one of the last scenes before the team's course was irreversibly set. If only the skaters could be coaxed away from the plane's door and down the steps. If only they could be led across the damp tarmac to safety, to the rest of their lives.
Sabena Flight 548 crashed on the morning of Feb. 15, 1961, while attempting to land in Brussels, killing all 72 aboard -- 34 of them in the U.S. skating delegation -- and one farmer on the ground in the fields around Zaventem Airport.
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