“She gave hope to a skating program devastated seven years earlier by a plane crash that killed the entire U.S. figure skating team.”
On February 15, 1961, the entire 18 member figure skating team was killed in a plane crash during a scheduled landing on route to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championship in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Among those lost in the crash was the U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Champion, the U.S. Men’s Champion, the U.S. Pairs Champions, the U.S. Ice Dancing Champions, and a nine-time champion, bronze medalist, and coach to several skaters. This tragic crash marked the loss of this country’s top skating talents. Also among those involved in the plane crash was Peggy Fleming’s coach, William Kipp. After his death, Peggy was coached by Carlo Fassi. This event was considered catastrophic enough at the time that the entire World Figure Skating Championship was cancelled by the International Skating Union. This plane crash was the worst crash to happen to a sports team in American history until the Marshall University Football Team plane crash in 1970. At the time, President John F. Kennedy, brother to Robert Kennedy, had been in office for less than a month when he issued a official public statement of condolences from the White House.
In remembrance of the skaters lost on Sabena Flight 548, then U.S. Figure Skating President F. Ritter Shumway created the USFS Memorial Fund. This fund, to this day, is credited with supporting the training of young figure skaters throughout the United States.
The plane crash took place when Peggy was only 13 years old. With the loss of America’s best skaters, Peggy was left with tremendous shoes to fill. As she grew, she relied on the support of both of her parents. Albert Eugene Fleming and Doris Elizabeth Fleming, Peggy’s parents, each sacrificed their own lifestyles in order to provide for their seemingly exceptional only daughter. Growing up, Peggy’s father Albert drove the zamboni for Peggy as she practiced her skating routines around the ice rink. According to Peggy, she began skating at the young age of 9 as a result of advice she received from her father. Sadly, Peggy’s father passed away before seeing her earn her gold medal. The dress worn by Peggy during her gold medal-winning performance was designed and created by her mother Doris Elizabeth Fleming.
“I wouldn’t have started skating if it weren’t for my Dad, but I became a skater because of my mom. It is not stretching the point to say, ‘We became a skater,’ two people, one pair of skates. We each had a job to do to make me a champion skater, and I certainly didn’t do it on my own.”
Not only did Peggy revive the United States Figure Skating Team’s status as one of the best programs world-wide, she also represented the United States well by winning the only gold metal for the nation out of all American participants at the young age of 19. Since the loss of the skaters in 1961, Peggy’s accomplishment was seen as a necessary rebooting for American figure skating success as she took gold and fellow skating Tim Wood took home a silver medal in the men’s category.
Sports Illustrated named Fleming, along with Jackie Robinson, Billie Jean King, and Arnold Palmer, as one of seven athletes who changed their sport.
Ironically, Peggy reflected on her performance on it’s 50 year anniversary on the Today Show by saying the performance “wasn’t one of her best, and “wasn’t [her] skate of a lifetime.” Over the course of her professional career, in addition to her gold medal in Grenoble, France’s 1968 Winter Olympics, Peggy won 5 United States titles and 3 World titles. Of those titles, 5 were gold medals.
In some ways, Peggy’s winning of the gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics in France can be seen as a rectification of the catastrophic event that took place years earlier in 1961. This win was a way for the United States figure skating team to redeem themselves on both public national and world-wide platforms.
At the time of winning her gold medal, Peggy was dating her teenage sweetheart, Greg Jenkins, who she later married and had two sons. In 1998, Peggy was diagnosed with breast cancer and fought very publicly. After radiation, Peggy was deemed “cancer-free” and became an advocate for cancer research and funding.
Resources used: Friedersdorf, Conor. “Peggy Fleming and the 1968 Winter Olympics.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 7 Feb. 2018, www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2018/02/peggy-fleming-and-the-1968-winter-olympics/552635/. TodayShow. “Olympic Figure Skater Peggy Fleming Has 1 Regret about Her 1968 Gold Medal.” TODAY.com, www.today.com/news/olympic-figure-skater-peggy-fleming-has-1-regret-about-her-t122651. “Peggy FLEMING.” International Olympic Committee, 2 Feb. 2017, www.olympic.org/peggy-fleming. “Peggy Fleming.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 4 Feb. 2018, www.biography.com/people/peggy-fleming-9296974. “Peggy Fleming: Challenge of a Lifetime -.” Homepage -, 20 Mar. 2009, news.cancerconnect.com/peggy-fleming-challenge-of-a-lifetime/.