Sonja Henie (NOR) was just 11 years of age at Chamonix 1924, where she understandably suffered from a lack of experience and finished last in the women’s figure skating competition. At St. Moritz 1928, aged 15, she showed maturity beyond her years, impressing fans and judges alike as she deservedly claimed her first Olympic gold medal.
In the years leading up to the 1932 Games, she collected every ISU World Championship singles title available to her, in 1928 (London), 1929 (Budapest), 1930 (New York) and 1931 (Berlin), and two European crowns, in 1931 (St. Moritz) and 1932 (Paris), prevailing at the latter event just a month before travelling to the United States.
Competing in the first Olympic figure skating contest to be held indoors on 9 February, in a specially constructed 4,500-seater arena which was packed to the rafters, the elegant Norwegian, at the peak of her powers and already an international star, put in a stunning performance. Sitting top of the standings after the imposed figures segment, she took the acclaim of a delighted American crowd that had no way of knowing that the following day’s skating would prove to be even better.
The free skate was scheduled for 10 February, and Henie’s programme, entitled “Ice Fairy”, saw her take figure skating to a level never before seen at the Olympic Games, as she produced jumps of incredible grace that appeared to defy gravity.
Amid a raucously enthusiastic crowd reaction, the seven judges present awarded Henie first place for the second day running, enabling her to triumph with a considerable advantage over Austria’s Fritzi Burger (who had also finished second at St. Moritz 1928), and Maribel Vinson (USA). This exceptional display not only served to cement her legend even further, but it also placed ice skating firmly on the global sporting map.
Henie was only two thirds of the way through her triumvirate of Olympic triumphs, and in the run-up to Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936 she continued to rack up world and European titles, amassing ten of the former and six of the latter, an unprecedented and still unmatched total. She later turned professional, putting on ice shows in the USA and Europe, while simultaneously embarking on a Hollywood film career.