Hamill marks silver anniversary of gold medal
NEW YORK (AP) -- A quarter-century after captivating America at the Winter Olympics, Dorothy Hamill believes she still hasn't mastered her craft.
Not even close.
"I'm still skating because I love it, and because there is still something to learn every day," said Hamill, who won her figure skating gold medal 25 years ago Tuesday at Innsbruck, Austria. "Maybe I'm not learning new triple jumps, but I still find there's so much that can be done and I really enjoy learning things."
Americans learned about Hamill eight years after Peggy Fleming carried the sport into a new era. Like Fleming, Hamill was more of an artist than a jumper. She didn't leap into the sporting consciousness so much as flow into it.
Coached by Carlo Fassi, who also guided Fleming and worked with 1976 men's champion John Curry, Hamill -- with her "Hamill Camel" spin, her haircut, her smile and, most of all, her grace on skates -- entranced the nation.
"It was an exquisite performance," two-time Olympic men's champion Dick Button once said.
"I probably remember most all the flowers raining down at the end of my performance," Hamill said. "It was quite a shock and a warm feeling. And, of course, standing on the podium with that great sense of pride of being an American and having achieved a goal I had. And being happy for my coach and team, who did as much work, and yet I got all the glory.
"There was a wonderful flood of emotions, and in some way a sadness that, gosh, I had done all I had dreamed of, and now came the uncertainty of what would be ahead and what the future would hold."
Soon, she was appearing in commercials and TV shows. She turned professional and skated on various tours. A whole new world opened for the 19-year-old star and, although she believes otherwise, Hamill was something of a trendsetter.
"Right after the Olympics, having the television specials and commercials were not the norm for an Olympic athlete," said Hamill, who tours with Champions on Ice. "It was the beginning of that and those were certainly huge opportunities that were a complete surprise and shock to me."
Hamill found touring a grind. After being sheltered as an amateur, she suddenly was thrown into a world of agents and managers seeking her time and a share of her fame. With no one to turn to for advice, Hamill felt lost.
Then there were the constant performances. While training for the Olympics, she had perhaps 15 total competitions a year. On tour, she was doing that many shows in two weeks -- with little practice time.
"I also had to look after myself; before my coach told me where to go, where I had to be. I was on the road with no family and friends around and trying to make new friends," she said. "I was kind of resented by the old show girls who had been there for years. They didn't like this 19-year-old punk coming in, even if she still was an Olympic champion."
While she broke away for a while, Hamill never drifted far from skating. She even bought Ice Capades, in which she had starred, but that eventually led her to declaring bankruptcy in 1996.
One year before that, Hamill returned to pro competition. Following the explosion in popularity for the sport after the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan saga, promoters couldn't invent events fast enough. And they wanted stars.
Twenty years after Innsbruck, Hamill still was a magic name. She had won an Emmy for her starring role in "Romeo and Juliet," and produced and starred in the highly successful "Nutcracker on Ice." She was in high demand.
She still is.
"I never envisioned this way back then," Hamill said. "The options were fairly limited, which meant skating in an ice show for a year or two and then maybe teaching as a general career, even for an Olympic champion. I'm very lucky to have some great opportunities; I never dreamed I'd still be performing now."
At 44 and twice divorced, Hamill occasionally brings her 12-year-old daughter Alexandra along on tour. To Alexandra, Dorothy is simply mom, not one of the icons of female sports.
Figure skating's lure remains strong for Hamill. She thrills at the artistry of Michelle Kwan and at the athletic skills of men who regularly do quadruple jumps in combination.
"It's always been fun," she said, perhaps thinking back to Feb. 13, 1976. "And it still is."