By Veronica Dudo
Many ice skating legends visited Atlantic City over the weekend to honor Olympic Gold medalist Peggy Fleming during The Caesars Tribute II: A Salute to the Ladies of the Ice. Caesars Entertainment partnered with StarGames to present the show at historic Boardwalk Hall, featuring Dick Button, Nancy Kerrigan, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes, Nicole Bobek, Shizuka Arakawa, Sasha Cohen and Yuka Sato. During the 1968 Olympic Games in Grenoble, Fleming took home the only gold medal for the US team.
During the event, Fleming was honored for her accomplishments, talent and style in the world of ice skating, as well as for her contributions to pass Title IX, which forever changed the playing field for women in sports. I spoke with the 63-year-old about her iconic career, what it was like to be a part of history and why Philadelphia is a city she will never forget.
How does it feel to be the honoree at this year’s The Caesars Tribute II: A Salute to the Ladies of the Ice?
I’m thrilled that they chose me, and I’m happy that everybody is here to skate together, and I’m very honored.
Philadelphia is a city that will always be special to you. Can you explain why?
It will always be a very memorable town for me because that was my last National Championship–right before the Grenoble Olympics in ’68–and it was probably my best performance as a competitor ever, because I was ready for the Olympics. I was trying to get my sea legs on for the nerves that were going to happen in Grenoble. You never know how you’re going to feel until the Olympic Games actually begin and you have to start skating under that pressure, but at that Nationals, I was so prepared and I really trained very hard–I could have probably done my program in my sleep, I had done it so much! That was my best performance, because I was so ready for that year and I wanted to do my absolute best, so Philadelphia will always be a very special place in my heart.
You have worked with many designers during your career. Who made your costume for the 1968 Olympic Games?
My mother made the dress; it cost about 20 dollars! (Laughs) She made all of my costumes when I was competing, and then I had Bob Mackie and a bunch of different designers. He [Bob Mackie] did my very first job–an NBC hour television special of my own. Of course, my mother was at every fitting and helping with the design, so that it was really still me. You have to trust these professionals and still be able to stand up for yourself. So it was a fun time, a challenging time and kind of a glamorous time.
You pioneered the way in television for female athletes with your Emmy award winning specials. Was there a lot of pressure to be successful?
There was a whole lot of pressure on being successful at this–no one had ever done a television special before about figure skating. I did five specials, and the third special, I got two Emmy’s for it, and it was a breakthrough time and I think my career was launched because of television. That was the era of television, and ABC’s Wide World of Sports started covering a lot more sporting events. And at that Olympics at Grenoble in ’68, that was the first time that ABC covered it live on the satellite in color, and I was the only Olympic Champion of the whole U.S. Team of all the sports.
You were only 19 years old when you skated during the 1968 Olympics. What helped you find the confidence to skate?
I came from a very simple family; I’m numbe
r two of four girls. My dad was a newspaper pressman who didn’t make very much money. My mother made my costumes. It was real good hard work—I had to be tough under the pressure of the Olympic games, and I came through, and I think America helped me. I could feel the support and I could also feel the pressure of what was on my shoulders to do at that Olympics. It’s amazing when you jump in on something that you’re scared about, and skating really, really taught us how to gather ourselves in the toughest times and still do your best and have that inner confidence from all of the training.
For over 20 years, you have been a commentator and analyst for the sport of ice skating. What is the atmosphere like watching your fellow skaters perform?
It’s been quite an experience, and I’ve learned a lot and I’ve shared a lot of my experience. And the competitors, what they really go through, and we all do it with our own style. We’re all competitors, and it is a very revealing sport because it’s so emotional, it’s so physical, it’s so expressive. And it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to have your body do what you want it to do–it’s a very complete package.
You had a role in the efforts to pass Title IX. What was it like to be a part of history?
I was on the Board of the Women’s Sports Foundation with Billie Jean King–that’s her organization that she founded to help encourage women to get into sports. We were a part of trying to get Title IX passed, and that was a bigger-than-life kind of project to be a part of, and it just was great to rally around so many different legends in all different sports. And I think we’ve come a long way.