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Peggy Fleming was the dominant competitor in women’s figure skating in the 1960s. She had won the US national championships in 1964 and was to win again in each of the subsequent four years. Her first world championship title came in 1966 and, again, it was the start of a run of success – winning once more in 1967 and in 1968. On each occasion, East Germany’s Gabriele Seyfert was placed second. They arrived in France as the two frontrunners.
For American figure skating, it was a particularly emotional event. The entire US figure skating team had been killed in an airplane crash in 1961. The disaster shocked the nation and, after years where it was taken as read that American skaters would challenge for victory, the 1964 Olympic Winter Games had produced just one bronze medal - for youngster Tim Wood. Now was the chance for a victory that would mark a new beginning for the sport.
Despite all the pressure and expectation, Fleming delivered. She had finished sixth in the 1964 Olympics and had set her sights on winning this time, having improved her technique. She did so with determination and style, producing a superb display that took her to gold, once again comfortably ahead of the second-placed Seyfert.
It was the end of Fleming’s competitive figure-skating career. She had not been defeated for three years and Seyfert was glowing in her praise: “She is a skater without weakness”, she declared. Fleming later toured with ice skating shows and became a noted television commentator. She remains one of the most popular skaters that America has ever produced.