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by Elaine Povich, AARP Bulletin, February 10, 2010
We remember them as high-flying skaters, skiers and winter Olympic champions, frozen on ice and snow and frozen in time with arms high in the air in triumph.
Many years later, some of the 50-plus Olympic champions are super-personalities, like Peggy Fleming, Dick Button and Scott Hamilton, who do TV commentary on skating and charity work for medical research. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who revolutionized ice dancing in 1984 skating to Ravel’s "Bolero," now shepherd amateur skaters for the British TV show Dancing on Ice.
Others prefer a quieter life. Skier Jean-Claude Killy, who cashed in on his fame by doing advertisements for watches and cars, lives in Switzerland and sits on the International Olympic committee; twin brother skiers Phil and Steve Mahre live on separate farms near Yakima, Wash., and run a ski camp. And Anne Henning, who won her only Olympic gold at age 16 in 1972, teaches fourth grade in Colorado. No matter what their lifestyle, these over-50 Olympians have moved past their triumphant memories to fulfilling lives and careers.
What they haven’t been, for the most part, is idle. Perhaps it is the drive that made them Olympic champions that pushes them to excel in other areas. And it’s likely that the athleticism that drove them to be champions is keeping them fit and healthy into their middle years.
What are they up to? Here’s a look:
Ice Dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean
Who can forget that iconic ice dance in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, in 1984? Before Torvill and Dean, ice dancing looked more like a polka party then ballet. Their dance to Ravel’s “Bolero” changed all that.
They were awarded perfect scores. Although they took bronze in the 1994 Olympics ten years later in Lillihammer (when judges ruled Dean had lifted Torvill too high for a dance routine), they will always be remembered for the “Bolero” piece. Since 1994, they have still danced together and now appear on Dancing on Ice, a British television series in its fourth season, which is a little like the U.S. Dancing with the Stars, but featuring skaters.
Torvill, 52, and only 5-foot-2, had ballooned up to about 140 pounds but recently dropped down to 112 and now sells a DVD of her workout routine called “Lose It. ” She lives in East Sussex, in the U.K, and is married to Phil Christensen, an American sound engineer. They have two children, Kieran, 6, and Jessica, 3.
Dean, 51, who was once married to French Canadian world ice dancing champion Isabelle Duchasnay, whom he met while choreographing routines for her and her brother Paul, is now married to American skater Jill Trenary. They have two sons and live in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Skiers Phil and Steve Mahre
Phil took a silver 1980 at Lake Placid and a gold in 1984 Sarajevo in the slalom, while Steve finished just behind him in 1984 for silver. They both live on separate ranches near their hometown of Yakima, Wash. Both are still active skiers and work on improving skiers' style and technique at the Mahre Training Centers at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah. Phil attempted a comeback to international skiing, wanting to see if he could compete at age 50 with the top skiers in the world. But he injured his knee in training and with that his hopes of being the oldest Olympic caliber skier were dashed. “I should have given myself more time,” Phil told AARP Bulletin Today. “Surgery in March put an end to that whole deal. It was tough to say I’m not going to do it again.”
Phil and his wife, Holly, have three children and one grandchild, Zayla, who is just eight months old. Phil says he may wait until she is two or three to get her up on skis. Steve also is married. He and his wife, Dena, have two children and one grandchild. Phil says skiing “has never been easier” what with all the new equipment available, and encourages retirees to give it a try. “Don’t know how to ski?
You can learn to ski. We’ve taught people in their middle-aged years, in their 50s and 60s and they take to it like a youngster would—just with a little more reservation,” he said.
Speed skater Anne Henning
Anne Henning, 52, won a gold and bronze speed skating medal in 1972 at Sapporo. She is married to Erik Palmer and has two grown children and an 18-month-old grandchild, Mason. Mason’s more into swimming than skating, and likes taking nature walks with his grandmother. Henning teaches the fourth grade, but still brings in her Olympic outfit and skates every four years to show her students.
“Put your hero worship aside for a few minutes, I’m still your math teacher!” she says, laughing.
In 1972, Henning was the youngest Olympic champion at age 16 and she set an Olympic record in the 500 meters. She took a bronze in the 1,000 meters. Then at age 16, she just quit.
She says speed skating then didn’t have the cachet it has today after gold medalists Dan Jansen, Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden made the sport fashionable. “People know about speed skating, that was not part of the game when I won my medals. I wanted to go to college and see what else I could do,” she said. A painful divorce put her on the road to becoming a teacher so she could spend time with her kids. She did come back to make an appearance on ABC’s Superstars program and that allowed her to buy a home in Englewood, Colo., where she lives and teaches today.
Figure Skater Scott Hamilton
Much as happened to Scott Hamilton since he won the 1984 Olympic figure skating gold medal. To look him today, you would never imagine the medical difficulties he’s endured. The latest, a benign brain tumor that forced him to relearn to skate, appeared in 2004. Five years later, he skated at a benefit performance for the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, which successfully treated his tumor. In 1997, he successfully fought a battle against testicular cancer as well. During his treatment, he often felt like simply lying still, not wanting to move. But he did, and he got his skating back. He uses his experience to encourage others. ‘I’m a short, bald, figure skater. What’s your excuse?’ “ said Hamilton, who is a little over 5-foot-2-inches tall and who grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio.
“Get off the couch!” he said for the Cleveland fundraiser.
He is also the author of The Great Eight: How to be Happy (Even When You Have Every Right to be Miserable), coauthored with Ken Baker and published in 2008. In 1993, he was ranked in the top eight most popular athletes in America by a marketing company. He is married to Tracie Robinson and has two sons, Aidan, 6, and Max, 2.
Hamilton may be best known for his commentary on skating competition and is working the 2010 games. He also made a commercial success out of skating, bringing together former champions and professional skaters for Stars on Ice tours that drew sellout crowds.
Hockey captain Mike Eruzione
Mike Eruzione, captain of the gold medal-winning U.S. hockey team in 1980, doesn’t play hockey much anymore. He scored the winning goal against the vaunted Soviet team in 1980, but today, he limits himself to occasional pickup games with his grown son. These days, his game is golf, and not surprisingly, he’s pretty good at it.
He’s 55 and puts his handicap at about seven or eight but allows that it “was a little lower” in the past. “I don’t putt as well as I used to,” he said in an interview with AARP Bulletin Today in between stops on a speaking tour.
He is a motivational speaker as well as director of special outreach at Boston University, where he went to school, and part owner of the Omaha Lancers, a minor league hockey club. In his spare time he helps coach the high school hockey team in his hometown of Winthrop, Mass., and says he yells at them when they don’t get the drills right. He still lives there with his wife, Donna. They have three grown children, two sons and a daughter.
A former NHL and Olympic broadcaster, Eruzione’s workout regimen these days includes spin classes at the local gym, and riding the stationary bike or elliptical machine when he’s on the road.
He says he’s in “pretty good shape” but could stand to lose five or six pounds. A former spokesman for Nutrisystem, he still follows their diet plan.
His advice to over-50s? “Just get out there and get active. Don’t sit behind a computer. I’m not going to be able to play hockey like in 1980, but I can still go out there and exercise and have fun.
Don’t sit around the house like an old fart. Just get out there.”
Figure skater Dorothy Hamill
From mentoring U.S. 2010 Olympic skater Rachael Flatt, to shepherding adult figure skaters at a fantasy camp, to promoting her fitness and skin care campaign, Dorothy Hamill seems busier now than she was in her 1976 gold medal year.
At 53, she makes frequent TV appearances and speeches and still skates, despite a battle with osteoarthritis and a lifelong fight with depression. She underwent successful intensive treatment for breast cancer a couple of years ago. And she recently married an attorney in Baltimore, where she now lives.
“I never thought I’d get married again,” the twice previously married Hamill told the Good Day New York program late last month. “But he’s worth waiting for. He’s a dear man and we’re having a blast,” she said of her husband, John MacColl.
As for her fantasy skating camp, it’s a week in Nantucket on indoor ice in the middle of summer. Hamill skates with the campers and they get instruction from other teachers as well. She says the camp shows that anyone can get on the ice if they want to, regardless of age.
“I really encourage [older] people to try it,” she told WJZ-TV in Baltimore earlier this month. “Get a lesson. Just get out there. Wear all the protective things you need. And start slowly.”
Hamill was the 1976 National, World and Olympic figure skating champion. She then joined the Ice Capades and competed professionally. She did endorsements, and the Ideal Toy Co. made a Dorothy Hamill doll. It included the famous “wedge,” a bobbed haircut that became universally popular. Many years later she admitted she didn’t like it very much.
She married Dean Martin Jr. in 1982, but they divorced and he later died in a plane crash. Her second marriage, in 1987, was to sports doctor Kenneth Forsythe with whom she had a daughter, Alexandra. She bought the Ice Capades, the popular touring ice show. But increasing competition let to financial difficulty and she faced bankruptcy after divorcing Forsythe in 1995.
Still very popular, she overcame her osteoarthritis, resumed skating and bounced back again. She plans to be at the Olympics to cheer on Flatt and the other Americans.
Skier Billy Kidd
Just looking at Billy Kidd’s name, it’s easy to overlook the fact that he’s partially Native American and a member of the Abanaki tribe, which has roots in New England. Kidd grew up in the ski town of Stowe, Vt., and started skiing as a youngster, becoming a highly ranked junior ski racer. Most of Kidd’s medals were in World Cup competitions, not the Olympics, but his silver medal in 1964 at Innsbruck was the first won by the United States in slalom skiing, which until that time was considered the domain of Europeans.
Even after several injuries forced his retirement, Kidd kept up with skiing. In 1968, he became director of skiing at the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. in Colorado. At 68, he still spends winters there as director of skiing and running the Billy Kidd Performance Center. He has three grown children.
Jimmie Heuga, Kidd’s teammate and friend who took the bronze in the 1964 slalom (the first time two American men had medaled in the event) died this Feb. 8 of multiple sclerosis.
“Obviously I admire him for what he did in the Olympics, but even more for what he did in his life after that,” Kidd told the Denver Post that day, exactly 46 years after winning their medals. “There are very few athletes who accomplish so much on the playing field, and then go on to accomplish even more after the competition is over. Jimmie was rare in that.”
Kidd is captain of the Native American Olympic Ski and Snowboard Team and works to bring Native kids into the Olympic sports. At Steamboat he started the “Ute Future Olympians” program. He worked with the snow-sports industry to donate more than half a million dollars worth of gear to 45 tribes.
In 2003, Kidd joined the advisory board for Private Retreats by Abercrombie and Kent, a high-end custom travel agency.
Figure skater Dick Button
If you listen to Dick Button comment on skating, you’ll know that he’s knowledgeable, enthusiastic and often critical. What you may not know is that he’s 80 years old and ten years ago suffered a major brain injury when he fell on the ice. He needed intensive rehabilitation, but made a complete recovery and is now a spokesman for the Brain Injury Association of America.
Skaters have a love-hate relationship with the outspoken Button, who was the first man to do a triple jump in competition (a triple loop) and can spot a two-footed landing or other mistake a mile away.
He is particularly harsh on the skaters if they neglect school to concentrate on skating. “I have an interest in the sport, but I also have an interest in the people who do it,” he said in an interview with the Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service. “The problem is, the people who do it are just so overloaded. What it comes down to is that there is so much money to be made, it doesn’t seem to matter if [the skaters] are educated or not.” Button himself graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law School.
Button has always been an innovator when it comes to figure skating. He invented the flying camel jump into a spin that is now a staple of all figure skaters. He won his gold medals in 1948 and 1952 and has been commenting on skating since 1962 His production company, Candid Productions, produced many professional skating competitions and programs like TV's Battle of the Network Stars. He married American skating coach and choreographer Slavka Kohout in 1973 and they had two children, Edward and Emily. They were divorced in 1984.
Hockey goalie Jim Craig
Who can forget the sight of Jim Craig, draped in the American flag, skating frantically around the rink after the 1980 U.S. hockey team won the gold medal with the words “Where’s my father?” on his lips. When the two—extremely close after of the death of Craig’s mother three years earlier—locked eyes, it was an iconic moment. It’s fitting then that Craig’s charity work today revolves around the death of his father, Don, in 1988 from a burst abdominal aortic aneurysm—commonly called a triple-A.
Craig, now 54, is the national spokesman for the Ultimate SAAAVE (Saving Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm Very Efficiently) campaign. On the eve of the 2010 Olympics—the 30th anniversary of the 1980 hockey gold medal—Craig made an appearance in Michigan to talk about screening for the disease.
“People ask me how I first knew that my dad had an abdominal aortic aneurysm,” Craig said in a statement in advance of the event. “And I know it sounds harsh but I want everyone to get the message—I first knew that my dad had a triple-A when he was dead. If we had known in time for the triple-A to be repaired, my father could have had so much more time with us. Today a quick and painless ultrasound can detect a triple-A.”
The Ultimate SAAAVE group is inspired by the SAAAVE Act, a federal law signed by former President George W. Bush in 2006 that provides for a one-time screening for triple-A to be covered as a Medicare benefit. The screening, which began in 2007, takes place at the Welcome to Medicare physical for men who have ever smoked and for men and women with a family history of the ailment, which is almost always fatal.
In addition to his charity work, Craig is a motivational speaker and president of Gold Medal Strategies, a Boston-area promotions and marketing firm.
A former NHL goalie, Craig volunteers as a youth hockey coach and is involved in charity organizations, including taking to the ice with the Boston Bruins alumni to play in benefit games.
Craig and his wife, Sharlene, have been married for 24 years. They have a son and a daughter, who his official biography lists as “talented hockey players, neither of whom play goalie.”
Figure skater Janet Lynn
Janet Lynn was known worldwide as a figure skater, but today she’s better known as a motivational speaker and a practitioner of the Christian faith that sustained her through her skating and far beyond. After a poor initial performance at the 1972 Olympics in Sapparo, Japan, where she was favored for the gold, she says it was a talk with God that kept her going. Even when she fell on a relatively easy flying-sit spin the next day, she kept God with her, she says, and smiled through the fall. She won bronze and spoke about how her faith sustained her. Years later, in a return visit to Japan, a young woman gave her a note which said her inspiration kept the young woman from taking her own life.
“That reward is one that is eternal, a reward that was given by a very powerful God” Lynn said in a speech for the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society of Rockford, Ill., her hometown, where she is a member of the society's board of advisors.
Now 58, Janet Lynn Nowicki (she dropped her last name professionally) never won Olympic gold, but she may have done more to change figure skating than anyone who did. Notoriously weak in the now defunct school figures part of the competition, her performances in the free skating part persuaded skating officials to deemphasize the school figures and add a short program to the event, along with the long free skate. After a disappointing performance in the World championships in 1973, she became a sought-after professional skater, and became the highest paid female professional athlete in 1973 when she got a three-year contract with the Ice Follies for $1.5 million. In 1974 she became the World Professional champion, skating in an event created by Dick Button to open a venue for skaters who had left the amateur ranks but still wanted to compete.
Lynn is married and is the mother of five sons. She revealed most of her personal feelings about religion and skating in her book Peace and Love, published in 1973, which is still in print.
Elaine Povich, a native of Maine, knows plenty about winter sports.
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