Peggy Fleming changed figure skating forever

Peggy Fleming
Danny Summers
Posted

Figure skating is always a hot topic at the Winter Olympics. Americans, for the most part, have dominated the sport for nearly 100 years.

But it wasn't until 1968 - when Colorado Springs' own Peggy Fleming came along - that figure skating was elevated to a whole new level.

Fleming was 19 at the time and the favorite to win the Gold medal in Grenoble, France. She was the three-time defending World Champion and five-time defending United States champion.

Fleming won the Gold medal and returned back to America a hero. She retired from amateur skating within months and was offered a lucrative contract by Ice Follies that paid her the whopping sum of $500,000. She also made the cover of Life magazine.

What many of you may not know is that Fleming perfected her craft at the old Broadmoor World Arena as a member of the famed Broadmoor Skating Club. She attended Cheyenne Mountain High School.

But contrary to popular belief she did not graduate from there. Fleming returned to her native California and officially graduated from Hollywood Professional School in 1966.

Regardless, Fleming is a huge part of Colorado Springs history. She was inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. Fleming also attended Colorado College in the 1960s.

Fleming moved to Colorado Springs with her family from Los Angeles in the mid 1960s so that she could train under the late Carlo Fassi. Fassi later coached Dorothy Hamill to Gold at the 1976 Olympic Games.

Early in Fleming's career it was easy to see that greatness was on the horizon. Most girl figure skaters had linebacker-like legs and wore bruises on their hips. But not Fleming. At 5-foot-4, 108 pounds, she changed the pattern of women's figure skating for years ahead. She swung gently into her turns, picking up momentum by arching her body rather than stroking off powerfully with a leg.

But she was also tough. While at Colorado College, she doubled as the hockey coach of the Phi Delta Theta Red Barons. They didn't play hockey very well, but they had fun.

“They don't even skate very well, but I love them,” Fleming told Sports Illustrated in 1966.

Fleming had three sisters who were not skaters and sacrificed moving to Colorado Springs so that Peggy could refine her craft.

Fleming's mother, Doris, made her skating dresses and her father, Al - an ex marine - supported her skating financially and emotionally. He was the one who encouraged Fleming to take up skating when she was nine while the family was living in Cleveland.

During her high school years in Colorado Springs, Fleming usually rose from bed about 5 a.m., made her own breakfast and then drove to the World Arena where she worked on her craft for about four hours.

Then it was off to Cheyenne Mountain High School for mid-morning and afternoon classes and back to the World Arena for more practice until 5:30 p.m. She then returned home to work on chores around the house and any school work that needed to be finished.

This was a pattern that Fleming followed for years. After all, she didn't become the best in the world by chance.

“She launched figure slating's modern era,” Sports Illustrated wrote in 1994 when it named her one of the 40 individuals who most significantly altered or elevated sports in the previous 40 years.

SI went on to say: “Pretty and balletic, elegant and stylish, Fleming took a staid sport that was shackled by its inscrutable compulsory figures and arcane scoring system and, with television as her ally, made it marvelously glamorous. Ever since, certainly to North Americans, figure skating has been the marquee sport of the Winter Games and increasingly staple of prime-time television.”

Sports Illustrated again honored Fleming in 1999 when they named her among seven athletes - Jackie Robinson, Arnold Palmer, Billie Jean King, Pele, Richard Petty and Bill Russell were the other six - as 20th century athletes who changed their sport.

And to think, Fleming once was one of us here in the Pikes Peak region.

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