by Huston Horn
Issue date: February 17, 1964
On the morning of February 4 the Olympics were more than halfway over, and the U.S. seemed headed straight for its first gold-medal shutout in Winter Games history. Then along came Richard Terrance McDermott of Essexville, Mich. Most Americans had never heard of Terry McDermottor of Essexvilleand many knew precious little about his specialty, 500-meter speed skating. But Terry, wearing a pair of skates borrowed from his coach, won a gold medal in the event. Terry tried his best to live up to his role of a celebrity, but that is simply not his long suit. When someone asked him what next, he stood there, pigeon-toed, and said he only wanted to get back to the girl he married four months ago but, because of training, he has not seen in almost two.
Going home presented other pleasures to Terry, who says his true love is cutting people's hair, a pleasure he indulges at his uncle's neighborhood barber shop in Bay City, not very far from Essexville (McDermott looks a lot like Perry Como, but perhaps all young barbers do). Terry has been cutting hair (at $1.75 a head) for a year now and stands behind the last chair in a shop with four. His wife works in the bank that holds the mortgage on their new home.
Terry, who is 23, started to speedskate as a youth because his sister married a guy who did. Training and racing sporadically, as his limited means permitted, he kept an eye on the Olympics. He made the team, almost unnoticed.
Innsbruck was rather warm the day before he was to race, and the ice on the outdoor rink had turned soft. Terrry's coach, Leo Freisinger, had two choices: put Terry in the first starting group, when he knew the ice would be hard and fast, or put him in the second group, when he knew Terry's adrenalin would be flowing. "The risk of putting him in the first group," said Freisinger, "was that he might draw an early starting number. Terry needs pressure, he needs someone to beat. The risk in waiting was that the ice might soften."
Freisinger crossed his fingers and put Terry in the second group. Sure enough, Terry's biggest rival for the gold medal, Russia's Evgeni Grishin, did poorly going off early, and clouds hung heavy overhead. "I think we've got us some gold hardware," Freisinger told Terry, and Terry went out and proved him right with an Olympic record sprint of 40.1 seconds. Grishin, twice a gold medalist, was clocked at 40.6 and admitted that he has been beaten by a better man. When Terry heard that, he just blushed and couldn't think of a thing to say.
photograph by James Drake
Sports Illustrated Flashback: In and Out of a Jam