Peggy Fleming was looking at a chartreuse dress as she traveled back to the moment she ruled the skating world.
“It’s so simple,” she said as she examined the dress she wore when she skated to gold at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.
“It’s a big part of my life,” she said of her dress and medal. “It changed my life, and it was a great experience. It opened up a new world for me.”
The dress is part of the collection at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum on the southwest edge of downtown Colorado Springs. The museum opens Thursday.
Fleming saw the dress behind the museum’s glass for the first time Tuesday morning.
Greg Jenkins, then a Colorado College student, met Fleming at the original Broadmoor World Arena in the ‘60s. They married in 1970. He stood beside his wife Tuesday morning as she examined her dress.
“It’s good to see it knowing that it’s in good hands here,’’ he said.
Fleming is right in her description of the dress. It is radically different from the elaborate — too elaborate — dresses worn by modern skaters. It is elegantly simple.
The dress was created by Doris, Peggy’s mother, at the family home on 9 Normandy Circle, a mile walk from the Broadmoor World Arena. Fleming remembers getting poked by pins as Doris made sure the dress fit just right.
When Fleming and Jenkins return to Colorado Springs, they usually stop by 9 Normandy Circle. Fleming examines the retaining wall built by Al, her father, and returns to the days when a family of six crowded into the small home. The house remains close to the same.
Sometimes, a resident of 9 Normandy Circle walks out the front door and asks a pointed question:
“Can I help you?”
“Well, I used to live here,” a gold medalist replies.
In this house, Al and Doris constantly told their four daughters they were “really special.”
Fleming smiled at the memory of those words.
“I was the only one who really, really believed,” she said.
The museum tells the story of American believers who, like Fleming, somehow convinced themselves they could conquer the world. This belief had much to do with fantastic athletic talent, but just as much with outlandish confidence and unbending determination.
Not far from the dress and skates Fleming wore on her ride to gold, a museum visitor can examine two gold medals won by sprinter Betty Robinson. She first won gold in the 100 meters at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. She was a 16-year-old from a small town in Illinois, and she crossed the finish line with an astonished smile on her face. She was the first female to win gold in Olympic track competition.
Three years later, a man discovered Robinson in the ruins of a crashed plane near Chicago. She had suffered a cracked hip, a crushed arm, a broken leg and severe cuts to her face. At first, the man believed Robinson was dead.
She never regained full use of her leg and could not bend her knee enough to crouch for the start of a sprint. Didn’t matter. In a relay, she could stand and wait for the baton.
She won gold at the 1936 Berlin games as part of the United States 4 x 100 relay. One gold reveals a gleeful teen natural. The second gold reveals a young woman who defied physical agony.
Stories of triumph, especially the unlikely ones, are the best part of the Olympics. And those stories are the best part of a museum that honors those triumphs.
You gaze at Robinson’s medals and think of her will to overcome. You stare at Peggy’s dress and skates, and think of how the Fleming family moved from California to Colorado Springs in pursuit of Olympic gold.
Jenkins smiled as he thought of Doris, his late mother-in-law who made a dress seen by millions of TV viewers all over the world.
“She knew what she wanted for her daughter and Peggy knew how to be respectful of all that,” he said.
A few feet away, Fleming stood close by her dress and skates. Decades ago, she walked most days from 9 Normandy Circle to the Broadmoor World Arena for skating instruction. She believed she could rule the world.
And she did.
“It’s great,” she said softly, “to be part of this history.”