Biography of Peggy Fleming, Olympic Gold Medal Figure Skater

American figure skater Peggy Fleming performs a routine at the Olympics in Grenoble, France, February 11, 1968. She won the gold medal.
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Peggy Fleming (born 1948) is an American figure skater, who dominated world championship skating between 1964 and 1968, winning a Gold Medal at the Olympics in Grenoble in 1968, and then went on to have a long career in professional skating.

Early Years

Peggy Gale Fleming was born on July 27, 1948, in San Jose California, one of four daughters of newspaper press operator Albert Fleming and his wife Doris Elizabeth Deal.

Her family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where at the age of nine she began skating, winning her first competition at age 11. 

Her family returned to California in 1960 and Fleming began training with coach William Kipp. In 1961, tragedy struck U.S. figure skating, as a plane crash outside of Brussels killed 18 members of the U.S. skating team on its way to a World Championship competition. Bill Kipp was killed in the crash. Fleming was a beneficiary in a memorial fund set up after the crash, and she used that money to buy new skates. 

Rebuilding American Figure Skating 

After the loss of so many skaters, Peggy Fleming was one of the major components to rebuilding American figure skating. Working with coach John Nicks, she won her first U.S. championship in 1965—her first of five in a row. She was 16 at the time, the youngest U.S. women's champion ever, and would hold that record until Tara Lipinski won her title at the age of 14 in 1996.

 To help prepare Fleming for world championships, her father took a job with a newspaper in Colorado Springs so she could afford to train in higher altitudes. She began working with coach Carlo Fassi and attended Colorado College in 1966, and won her first World Championship in Switzerland that same year.

 

Wearing a costume her mother made for her at home with a striking chartreuse color, Peggy Fleming won the Olympic gold medal in figure skating in 1968, in Grenoble, the first Olympics televised in color, and she amazed the world with her artistic execution. She won the only gold medal earned by the U.S. that year. 

Titles and Honors

  • Five United States titles, 1964–1968
  • Three world titles, 1966–1968
  • Olympic gold medal, figure skating, Grenoble, February 10, 1968
  • Female Athlete of the Year, Associated Press, 1968
  • U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame

Turning Professional

Fleming turned professional in 1968 and began skating in popular shows such as Ice Capades, Holiday on Ice, and Ice Follies. She was featured in several television specials, two of which won her Emmy awards. Those prime time television specials included co-stars such as Olympic skier Jean-Claude Killy and legendary Hollywood dancer Gene Kelly. In 1983, she had a co-starring role in Radio City Music Hall’s "Ice," a theatrical dance spectacle of three dozen skaters with a 45-piece orchestra which co-starred Toller Cranston and Robin Cousins. 

In 1981, Fleming became an ABC Sports commentator for skating events in the U.S. and internationally.

Her work as a skating analyst, often appearing alongside Olympic gold medalist skater Dick Button, kept her in the public eye throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and in 1994 she was featured in Sports Illustrated as one of the world's most important athletes of the day. 

Family and Activism

She married dermatologist Greg Jenkins in 1970, and they had two children, Andy and Todd. 

In 1998, Fleming was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a lumpectomy and radiation treatment. She has been active in speaking about early detection and treatment of breast cancer, and she has been a spokeswoman for a calcium supplement. She and her husband owned and ran the Fleming Jenkins Vineyards and Winery in California; they retired in 2017 and returned to Colorado. 

"The first thing is to love your sport. Never do it to please someone else. It has to be yours."

Legacy and Impact

Fleming's long term impact on the sport of skating is one that combines style and athletic ability. While she was active, she was known for her seemingly effortless performances, combining balletic grace with the era's most difficult leaps. In the 1994 Sports Illustrated article naming her as one of 40 greatest sports figures since 1964, writer E.M. Swift said "She seemed to flow from one element to the next, seamlessly, weightlessly, like something blown about by the wind." She was invited to the White House twice—in 1980, she was the first skater ever invited to perform at the White House, and her appearances and performances inspired generations of U.S. women skaters.

Sources and Further Information

  • Peggy Fleming. In Her Place: Inner Views and Outer Spaces. 2000.
  • Peggy Fleming. The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories. 1999.
  • Peggy Fleming. The Official Book of Figure Skating. 1998.
  • Morse, Charles. Peggy Fleming. 1974.
  • Rutherford, Lynn. Peggy Fleming Celebrates 50 Years of Strength and Grace. Team USA. Dec. 20, 2017.
  • Shepherd, Richard F. "Stage: 'Ice' at Radio City Music Hall." The New York Times Feb. 10, 1983.
  • Swift, E.M. 40 Greatest Sports Figures of the Last 40 Years: Peggy Fleming. Sports Illustrated (1994). 
  • Van Steenwyk, Elizabeth. Peggy Fleming: Cameo of a Champion. 1978.