I was four months shy of my 5th birthday when Peggy Fleming captured the Gold medal in women’s figure skating at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.
Last Thursday I satisfied a dream — call it checking off a major category on my bucket list — when I interviewed her in the Penrose Room at the Broadmoor World Arena. It was one of the highlights of my 32-year career as a sportswriter/reporter.
Fleming is as beautiful today — inside and out — as she was when she was a teenager perfecting her craft at the old Broadmoor World Arena in the 1960s as a member of the famed Broadmoor Skating Club.
I visited with her and her husband Greg Jenkins for about 90 minutes. The focus of our interview was her role in creating the Peggy Fleming Trophy, awarded to the top skater who artistically expressed and presented a complete composition while demonstrating technical skills. We also talked about her storied career, including the three years she spent training in Colorado Springs under legendary coach Carlo Fassi.
Fleming grew up in the San Jose, Calif., area and didn’t take her first skating lesson until age 9. Six years later she made her first Olympics, finishing sixth at the 1964 Innsbruck Austria, Games. After retiring from the amateur ranks in 1968 and marrying Greg two years later, she spent the majority of the next few decades in the San Jose area raising their two sons. She and Greg moved to the Denver area two years ago and plan to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year at The Broadmoor.
To this day, Fleming is treated like royalty in most places she visits around the world. When I was with her in The Penrose it was like old home week for the most famous American figure skater in the history of the sport. Our interview was halted several times by her friends who dropped by our table to give her a hug and say hello. Among those was longtime Broadmoor-area resident Carolyn Kruse.
Kruse is one of my favorite people in the world. I’ve known her for 10 years. She’s known Fleming for over 50. Kruse visited with Fleming at our table and brought a stack of Fleming memorabilia she had collected over the years to present to her friend.
Fleming’s importance to American figure skating cannot be overstated. She was grace and elegance, artistry and poetry, wrapped into one 5-foot-4 ice princess who trained longer and harder than most, if not all, of her contemporaries.
Fleming won the only Gold medal for the United States during the Grenoble Games. Those Games were also the first to be broadcast in color to a world audience. Fleming was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year for 1968.
The world fell in love with Fleming as she danced to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6, “Pathetique” during her three-plus minute routine. She said she decided on the song while ironing clothes at home.
It has been said that America’s figure skating modern era was born when Fleming won Gold. Eight years later, during the Innsbruck, Austria, Games of 1976, Dorothy Hamill won top honors and captured the hearts of millions of American girls with her signature wedge hairstyle. Hamill, who trained under Fassi in Denver, was elevated to stardom, but who knows if her star would have been as bright had Fleming not laid the groundwork?
Fleming, along with tennis legend Billy Jean King, were the first two superstar American female athletes of the television age. It can be argued that track and field Olympian turned pro-golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias (1911-56) is the greatest female athlete of all time. Fleming, in my opinion, still ranks in the top three.
Thanks for the memories, Peggy.
Danny Summers has been covering sports in the Pikes Peak region since 2001. Send story ideas and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.