Hamill, Dorothy Stuart

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HAMILL, Dorothy Stuart

(b. 26 July 1956 in Chicago, Illinois), Winter Olympic and World Figure Skating champion turned professional skater whose career earned her lasting international popularity.

One of three children born to Chalmers Hamill, a businessman, and Carol Clough, a homemaker, Dorothy Hamill grew up in Riverside, Connecticut. At the age of eight she discovered a battered pair of ice skates, tried her wings on Morse's Pond behind her grandparents' Massachusetts home, and became enchanted with skating. Her parents encouraged her dreams by providing private lessons at Play-land in Rye, New York, and her mother scouted "practice patches" throughout the area. The neophyte quickly mastered elementary moves, including skating backward.

At various times, mother and daughter moved to different cities in search of the best coaches. Otto Gold, a strong disciplinarian, changed Hamill's technique and taught her figures. He encouraged the energetic ten-year-old to join the United States Figure Skating Association to qualify for regional competition. She studied summers with Gold at Lake Placid, but missed her friends. Hamill described this time as "a wall closing around me and [I] experienced my first taste of the essential loneliness of a life dominated by a single goal.… I was skating for the long haul, no matter what the cost, no matter where it took me. I already knew it was worth it." Hamill passed her initial qualifying tests in 1966, prompting one of her peers, Cynthia Van Valkenburg, to suggest they were ready for pairs competition. Despite Gold's opposition, they competed, but came in last.

Hamill won her first gold medal in 1967 at the Wollman Open. Now under coach Gustave Lussi's firm guidance, her free-skating techniques progressed substantially. He worked with her to develop "the Hamill Camel," a spin combination using a flying layover and a sit spin finale. Lussi's most important advice was, "You have to believe you can do it. You have to have guts to be a great skater. … If you hesitate, you are lost." On Hamill's eleventh birthday her friends gave her pierced earrings—thirteen pairs in all. The youngster then bargained with her parents to get her ears pierced if she won her next competition. By summer's end, the victor was sporting pierced earrings.

From 1968 to 1976 Hamill continued to train and compete in regional and national events under a succession of trainers including Barbara Taplan, Sonya Klopfer Dunfield, Ellen Burka, Brian Foley, and Carlo Fassi. For luck, she traveled with her collection of stuffed animals. Because of nearsightedness, she was dubbed "Squint." By 1970 Hamill qualified to enter international senior competition. Along the way she acquired many friends, enhanced her figure-and free-skating styles through ballet, and endured "constant butterflies" and some injuries. She scored first in free skating at the Boston Eastern Regionals.

Hamill's schoolwork had been suffering as her training intensified. Occasionally, when she and her mother traveled to other cities to perfect her techniques, her mother hired private tutors. She moved with her mother to New York, where she enrolled in flexible academic classes at the Yoder School between skating sessions. After finishing fifth at the Nationals in 1972, Hamill was invited to Sapporo, Japan, for the North American championships, where she won the silver medal. Chosen to represent the National Figure Skating Association, Hamill captured the French St. Gervais and German Nebelhorn trophies.

Renowned coach Carlo Fassi was impressed with Hamill's potential and had trained her in the summer of 1971 at his training camp in Tulsa, Oklahoma; in 1972 Hamill trained part-time at his new rink in Denver, Colorado, while finishing her high-school requirements. Fassi advised Hamill, "Concentrate, focus, make your mind into a tunnel and look to the other end where the light is shining." In Toronto that summer, Hamill worked with Ellen Burka on the double axel, a jump with two and a half turns in the air. Every week there were theater-on-ice classes, where students played a role mimed to music and projected to an audience. Hamill represented the United States in 1972, placing first at the Richmond Trophy in London, and performing for Queen Elizabeth at a gala televised ice show. Her father flew with her to Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, for Skate Prague, where she won the short program and the Prague Trophy. While behind the Iron Curtain the police confiscated the Hamill passports for a time, but they recovered them and continued to Vienna. Hamill won her first National Senior title in 1974 at Providence, Rhode Island, and placed second in the World Championship in Figure Skating at Munich, Germany. She was chosen to join the International Skating Union tour, a group that provided excellent opportunities for performers to gain self-confidence. Hamill graduated from the Colorado Academy in 1974.

In 1975, still with Fassi, she began final rigorous training for the 1976 Olympics. In January 1976 Hamill won first place in the Colorado Springs Nationals. Suga, a famous hair stylist, created the "Hamill Cut," a distinctive wedge cut, for the Olympics. Time magazine and ABC-TV featured the young skater in cover stories. At the 1976 Winter Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria, Hamill earned high artistic and technical scores to win the Gold Medal. Thrilled, she kept the prize under her pillow. The graceful young American represented the hopes and dreams of thousands of people. She had achieving her dreams by winning the National, Olympic, and World titles. After she won the World Championship in Göteborg, Sweden, colleague Dick Button asked, "What's next?" Hamill answered impishly, "I'm going to smoke a cigar."

Hamill turned professional following her Olympic victory, joining the Ice Capades in 1977, and starring in television specials and skating exhibitions. Boyfriends came and went until she met singer Dean Martin, Jr.; they married on 8 January 1982 and divorced in 1984. Hamill married sports physician Kenneth Forsythe in 1987; they had a daughter in 1989, and later divorced.

When the Ice Capades went bankrupt in the early 1990s, Hamill purchased and revamped the show. Hamill announced her retirement from touring in 1995, but she used her celebrity to promote charitable causes and continued to make special appearances as late as 1998. She has served as National Chairperson for the American Cancer Society, on the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, on the International Special Olympics, and at Ronald McDonald House, often working with handicapped children through skating clinics.

Hamill was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame in 1991, and into the United States Figure Skating Association Hall of Fame in 1992. Honors include a plaque at Morse's Pond in Massachusetts; Dorothy Hamill Rink in Greenwich, Connecticut; and an honorary diploma from Greenwich High School, which she attended before moving to New York. Named an "Outstanding Young American," her portrait is hung in the National Art Museum of Sport. The Ladies Home Journal named Hamill the "most trusted woman in America." In 1984 she earned an Emmy for her performance in Romeo and Juliet on CBS-TV. Although diagnosed with osteoarthritis, Hamill continued to skate and has joined fellow Olympian Bruce Jenner in a program to alert the public to the disease. Hamill has truly realized her personal and professional goals, as well as contributed to her community.

Biographies of Hamill include Elizabeth van Steenwyk, Dorothy Hamill: Olympic Champion (1976), and Edward F. Dolan, Jr., and Richard B. Lyttle, Dorothy Hamill, Olympic Skating Champion (1979). Hamill cowrote an autobiography with Elva Clairmont, On and Off the Ice (1983). Her career is also chronicled in various series on sports stars, including Miranda Smith, "Dorothy Hamill," Superstars (1977), and William R. Sanford and Carl R. Green, "Dorothy Hamill," Sports Immortals (1993).

Joan Lizzio

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