- Figure Skating
Peggy Fleming, one day before the unprecedented exhibition of 38 Olympic Champions, “Skates of Gold”, “This is no longer about competition or degree of difficulty; it’s about the grace and beauty of athleticism, and it appears that Peggy Fleming will still have her fastball long after Nolan Ryan’s plaque is gathering dust in the Hall of Fame.”
It was an appropriate analogy for a woman whose childhood passions were baseball and tree climbing; passions that would quickly be forgotten the first time she put on a pair of figure skates at age nine. She says her memory of that first day on the ice is one of quiet, effortless movement. Peggy had no way of knowing then that she would soon shoulder much of the responsibility for keeping the sport of figure skating alive in this country.
In 1961, the entire United States Figure Skating team was killed in a plane crash on its way to the Prague World Championships. Peggy Fleming was eleven years old and her coach was one of those killed. With all of her role models gone, it would be up to her to create an image of style and grace that would carry her to five U.S. Titles, three World Titles, and in 1968 to an Olympic Gold Medal. As Linda Leaver, Brian Boitano’s coach said, “Her energy got the train of U.S. Figure Skating moving again. Once it got rolling, nothing has stopped it since.”
ABC televised the 1968 Winter Games live and in color for the first time ever, and the enduring image from that coverage will always be of Peggy’s free-skating program. It was a program that won her the Gold Medal by 88.2 points over her closest competitor, and it would be the only Gold Medal the United States brought home from Grenoble.
That image, televised by satellite, of a young woman in a chartreuse dress fulfilling her dream as a nation watched, was the beginning of a long and mutually satisfying relationship with television. Six months after those Olympics, Peggy would star in the first of five TV specials. Her Sun Valley Special won two Emmy Awards, and in 1973, her fourth special became the first joint production by Soviets and Americans filmed entirely in the USSR.
Her career has continued to expand, not only in television appearances ranging from “Diagnosis Murder” and “Newhart” to hosting a special on poaching in East Africa, but also into commercial endorsements. The diversity of Peggy Fleming’s marketing development set the standard for today’s generations of figure skaters. Because of her continuing popularity, corporations have come to realize the universal appeal of her sport, and Peggy remains its graceful symbol and most identifiable personality.
She has been invited to the White House by four different administrations, and in 1980, was the first skater ever invited to perform there. The 1986 unveiling of the Statue of Liberty was a national celebration and again Peggy was asked to perform.
In 1999, Peggy was honored at the Sports Illustrated 20th Century Awards. She was in an elite group of seven named “Athletes Who Changed the Game”, which included Arnold Palmer, Billie Jean King, and Jackie Robinson.
Her years as an on air analyst for ABC Sports have taken her to national, world, and Olympic competitions, and she continues to provide warm and knowledgeable commentary to an ever – growing audience. ABC’s long – standing contract with Peggy is evidence of her professional commitment to them as well as theirs to her.
Over the years the pace of her speaking engagements has steadily increased, and today she is an eagerly sought after representative of the sports world. Her most recent speaking appearances have been for Avon, Unique Lives and Experiences, and The National Osteoporosis Foundation. Her credibility and power to sustain market interest are currently being illustrated by successful commercials for OsCal calcium supplement.
In January of 1998, Peggy faced another challenge with grace and courage. On the 30th anniversary of her gold medal in Grenoble, France, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Faced with what she called “another Olympics, a life Olympics”, Peggy decided to share her experience with the public so that other women would be strengthened. Promoting breast cancer awareness has become extremely important to Peggy, and her appearances on “20/20”, “Oprah”, and “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” have given hope to millions of cancer patients.
Peggy has always regarded her place in sports history as an honor and from this perspective she has made her career choices. Although Phil Hersch of Sports Illustrated called her “the face that launched a thousand zambonis”, she feels that glamorous image is only one side of her personality. Today her interests are focused on health issues as well as fitness; balance, she feels, is the key to living a vital and satisfying life. Towards that end she has served on several community project boards, such as San Jose’s Sports Authority and as honorary chairman for Easter Seals and the PTA. She was also the National spokesperson for the National Osteoporosis Foundation.