Between the artistry, the thrill of watching fearsome athletes hurl themselves into epic jumps, and the costumes (oh, the costumes!) it's no wonder figure skating has made many a fangirl.
On the eve of a new Olympic Games, one that's already seen its share of skating-related drama here in the U.S., we're taking a moment to reflect on the beloved champs of our youth. These are the ladies who made it all look so easy that we developed a twisted sense of our own skills and ate it, many a time, at the local rink trying moves we had no business trying. (Unfortunately, as we soon learned, most of us cannot execute a perfect double axel and triple toe loop.)
Here are eight figure skaters from the Olympics past that were true stars -- girls and women we loved for their strength, their guts and their showmanship -- and where they are today. (Otherwise known as a trip back to a time when Olympians didn't weirdly cover their skates with sheer hose -- a look ESPN says is thankfully fading away.)
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Fleming was a three-time World Champ and took the gold in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France -- the only gold the U.S. won in the games that year. Fleming was arguably the U.S.' first bonafide skating celeb to emerge from figure skating in the U.S.
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After hanging up her skates, Fleming worked as a color analyst for ABC Sports for years, though she is now retired. The mother of two (and now grandmom) also had a high-profile battle with breast cancer, which was detected on the 30th anniversary of her gold metal win in France -- a challenge she told Jacksonville.com
she was prepared for, in part, because of her past. "You don't win the Olympics by yourself and you don’t survive cancer by yourself," Fleming said.
The head that launched a thousand "wedge" haircuts
-- which was basically a fancier take on the classic bowl -- Hamill became a national obsession after she won gold in the 1976 games in Innsbruck, Austria, at age 19. Once she turned pro, Hamill became a headliner with the Ice Capades. She also clinched five consecutive World Professional titles, and starred in several primetime TV specials
Hamill, who is now in her mid 50s, has been inducted to both the Olympic and Figure Skating Hall of Fames, battled breast cancer and penned a memoir in which she came clean about her lifelong battle with depression
. She's an avid philanthropist and was a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars"
last year, but had to withdraw early because of an injury. (Hamill also continues to rock an updated version of her tried-and-true 'do.)
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With the Cold War in full-swing, Witt joined a rarefied group of men and women who've taken the top prize in back-to-back Olympics
, winning gold in 1984 and then again in 1988 (in a deliciously
'80s costume) -- for what was then East Germany. During her reign, Witt basically owned figure skating: She was also a four-time World Champion, six-time European Champion and eight-time National Champion, before turning pro in 1988, one year before the fall of the Berlin wall.
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According to her website
, Witt now runs a production company that produces ice shows and TV specials. She's also served as a figure skating commentator for big-time events (think: Olympics, World Championships, etc.), and has even tried her hand at acting -- starring in a show at the Berlin Cathedral in 2009. Like many of her fellow skating superstars, Witt, who is now in her late 40s, has written a memoir, and runs a charitable foundation, her website
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Yamaguchi kicked off the U.S.' complete obsession with figure skating -- which stretched from the early '90s through the new millennium -- clinching the gold in the 1992 Olympics, having switched from pairs to singles not long before. Remarkably, the native Californian was born with club feet and started skating as a child as a form of physical therapy.
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She wrapped up her pro-skating career in 2002, but Yamaguchi, who is now in her early 40s, continues to run her "Always Dream"
foundation, and has served as a spokesperson for various national skating groups. In 2006, she added another trophy to her collection, winning the sixth season of "Dancing with the Stars."
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Ah, Nancy. After winning the bronze at the 1992 Olympics (her fellow American Kristi Yamaguchi came in first), she was famously injured two years later in an attack orchestrated by the ex-husband of rival skater
, Tonya Harding. Despite her injured knee, the Massachusetts native went on to take silver in the 1994 games -- in Vera Wang, no less.
After the Olympics, Kerrigan was in seriously high demand, scoring endorsements with the likes of Walt Disney World and starring in several ice skating shows. In recent years the mother of three, who is in her mid 40s, has popped back into the limelight, appearing on the short-lived "Skating with Celebrities
" and in Will Ferrell's skating movie, "Blades of Glory." The Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan scandal recently grabbed the spotlight again, thanks to an ESPN documentary
reexamining the events, as well as America's reaction to them. Kerrigan will be an analyst
in the upcoming Olympics.
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Baiul eeked out a win over Kerrigan in the 1994 games -- when she was a mere 16 years old. (Controversial side note: While '94 was a big year to root for Kerrigan, this author was a hardcore Baiul fan. So much spunk, that one.) Before that, Baiul also won a World Figure Skating Championship and a Ukranian National Championship.
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Baiul, who is now in her mid 30s, has written two biographies, according to her website
, launched jewelry and skating apparel lines and appeared in countless skating events. As The Wrap reports
, she also recently grabbed headlines for suing her former agency (among others), "for a total of more than $170 million, alleging widespread fraud and theft of millions of dollars she says she earned in the years-long media blitz that followed her gold medal performance at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer."
At just 15 years old (15, you guys!), Lipinski won the gold medal at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, making her the youngest individual gold medalist in the winter games to date. (Lipinski was also the youngest National and World Champion, according to her website.)
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Lipinski turned pro at the ripe ol' age of 15, and, at 17, became the youngest skater to win the World Professional Championships, though she was later plagued by hip injuries. Lipinski has been a skating commentator for years and will be an analyst at this winter's Olympics. The 31-year-old is also a special correspondent for Extra TV.
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Kwan's a five-time World Champion who won the silver medal in 1998 (behind Lipinski), and bronze in 2002 (the year that fellow American Sarah Hughes took the top prize) -- making her the most decorated U.S. figure skater. In 2006, Kwan -- who The New York Times
called "the face of United States figure skating for more than a decade" -- withdrew from what she had intended to be her final Olympics, due to a groin injury.
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After 2006, Kwan went back to school to get her Bachelor's and eventually a Master's Degree in law and diplomacy. A recent newlywed,
the 33-year-old now works for the State Department
as a senior adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs. Get it, girl.