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If you like Dorothy Hamill's story, you might also like:
Tenley Albright,
Susan Butcher,
Suzanne Farrell,
Scott Hamilton,
Sally Ride
and Amy Tan

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Dorothy Hamill in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Amazing Olympic Games

Related Links:
Dorothy Hamill
Team USA

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Dorothy Hamill
Dorothy Hamill
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Dorothy Hamill Interview (page: 4 / 6)

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  Dorothy Hamill

You were 13 when you decided you wanted to win a gold medal?

Dorothy Hamill: I think I dreamed about competing at the Olympics, maybe hoping to win a gold medal. Not that I ever thought that I would, but I dreamed about it.

Somebody must have thought you would. Somebody must have helped you to believe in yourself.

Dorothy Hamill: I don't think so, no. Maybe my coach in this subtle way.

I had a very tough, tough, tough, tough coach in the early years. His name was Gus Lussi and his way of complimenting you and letting you know that you were doing well was by asking you to demonstrate. He was a phenomenal technician. He could teach spins the way nobody, nobody -- I mean, they don't teach kids how to spin anymore. And, he was a phenomenal jumping coach as well. So he would call me over and ask me to demonstrate. And that's how I knew that he thought I was good.

At some point you had to make a commitment, at least to yourself that you were going to go for this.

Dorothy Hamill: I was always committed, yes.

Even when I was on the world team two years before the Olympics, with ice skating you just never know that you're going to make it. And even then I thought, 'Well gee, I hope I make the Olympic team in 1976." There was never any thought that, "Yes I'm going to make the team and yeah I could win a medal." You know, deep down inside I knew that if I worked really hard and if I skated my best, I had a really good shot at making the team and I had a really good shot at winning a medal. And this is when I was already number two in the world. So you know, I was never that confident, but I knew if I did all the right things, I had a shot at it.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

How did you handle the pressure of competition?

Dorothy Hamill: Usually go into the bathroom and throw up.

I really would get violently ill. So I never ate very much before I competed because I couldn't keep it down. I often thought it was really like going to your own execution. You know, from the time I got up in the morning I'd be counting, looking at the clock and saying, "Okay, I've only got 12 hours until I'll be finished," and "Nine hours until I'm finished," and "Five minutes from now I'll be finished." It was just -- I couldn't wait 'til it was over. But once I got onto the ice, and once the music started -- after about :30 seconds -- I was okay. But it's just that first :30 seconds, which is why I would always do, you know, one of those easy jumps that kind of -- you didn't really have to worry about maybe missing it, and then the next couple of jumps were always the tough ones, because you're still full of energy before you get exhausted at the end of the program.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Do you have to live with the fear of failure or self-doubts when you are competing at that level?

Dorothy Hamill: I have always had self-doubt, still do. Fear of failure, not really. Didn't matter. I mean we all say this, but it's true. You know, you just want to go out and skate well. I just never wanted to embarrass myself. It didn't matter if I won or not. You hope that your best is better than everybody else's best. But, I was always out there competing against myself, because there were so many more skaters that were much more talented than I.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

I think the reason I won the Olympics was sheer perseverance. Not because I was certainly more talented than anybody else. I worked as hard as I could. I was always the first one on the ice and the last one off. I'm just one of those people that has to be overtrained and overworked before I can do my best. That's unlike a lot of my friends and colleagues today. But so, you know, it was just sheer perseverance. I was not the most talented, still am not the most talented. Whatever I've done has just come through hard work really, and the love of it and the passion for it.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

There are a lot of talented people out there. Weren't those other young women working just as hard, wanting it just as badly? At least on that day, you succeeded where they failed. You got the gold medal.

Dorothy Hamill Interview Photo
Dorothy Hamill: Right. There were three of us that sort of played musical chairs. Dianne DeLeeuw, who competed for Holland (she's American, but she competed for Holland), Christine Errath, who was East German, and myself. The three of us would sort of trade places every year at the World Championships. Dianne DeLeeuw won the World's once, I was second, Christine was third. Then Christine won, I was second, Dianne was third. So I was always second. And then the Olympic year, I was the lucky one. You're right, they all did probably work just as hard.

So what was it inside of you that accounted for that gold medal?

Dorothy Hamill: If I knew that I could probably make a lot of money off of it. I think timing had a lot to do with it. I think I was sort of ready for it that year. The other years, quite honestly, I didn't work as hard as I did the year I won. I worked hard, but not as hard. Maybe they didn't work as hard the year of the Olympics or something. I really have no idea.

What was it like off the ice with the women you are competing with?

Dorothy Hamill: It was cordial. There was a language barrier with the East German woman. We were girls.

How about among the American girls that you were competing with for places on the team?

Dorothy Hamill Interview Photo
Dorothy Hamill: They were younger than I. Little Linda Fratiana, everyone hoped she would win the Olympic Gold Medal at Lake Placid in 1980. She was sort of a hot young up and coming kid. She skated at Nationals and skated much better than I did. She probably should have won, but I had seniority -- politics of ice skating and all of that. She didn't win, but she was a darling young lady. I think she was 13 maybe, just a little spitfire doing triples. That's when the triples started. I barely knew her, so it wasn't like today where the kids skate together all the time and tour together. The first time I ever met her was at Nationals.

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This page last revised on Oct 19, 2011 23:30 EDT
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