Hamill, Dorothy

views updated May 14 2018

Dorothy Hamill


American figure skater

In the mid-1970s, American figure skater Dorothy Hamill was the leader in her field, capping her success with a gold medal at the 1976 Winter Olympics. She was known for her signature "Hamill camel" and wedge/bob haircut which started a fashion craze. After the Olympics, Hamill turned professional, skating in shows and professional events, and later owning the Ice Capades. As a skater, her style balanced athleticism and grace, and she was a dominant freestyle specialist.

Hamill was born on July 26, 1956, in Chicago, Illinois (some sources say Riverside, Colorado, or Riverside, Connecticut), the youngest of three children born to Chambers and Carol Hamill. Hamill was raised in Greenwich, Connecticut, where her father was an executive at Pitney Bowes Company.

Begins Skating

Both Hamill's father and brother skated but were not serious about it. Hamill herself began skating when she was about eight years old. She used her brother's hockey

skates that were too big for her until she received a pair of inexpensive skates for Christmas. Hamill taught herself to skate forwards on a local pond, but could not teach herself to skate backwards. She also saw someone spinning on television, and thought it looked cool.

This led Hamill to convince her parents to take group lessons at a local rink. She soon became obsessed with skating and was very good. Hamill skated under USFSA (United States Figure Skating Association), moving straight from juvenile to novice, skipping intermediate. Her mother drove her to New York City and other locales to train. One of her first coaches was Sonya Dun-field (née Klopfer), who won the U.S. ladies singles championship in 1951.

Develops the Hamill Camel

By the time Hamill was 12, she was winning major championships. When she was 12, she was the national ladies novice singles championship. Among the highlights of Hamill's program at the championship was her innovation in skating, the so-called "Hamill camel." It was a flying camel that went into a sit-spin. It was developed in 1969, while she was training with Gustave Lussi in Lake Placid, New York.

In 1970, Hamill moved up to juniors and won the Eastern junior singles title. She then competed in the U.S. ladies singles competition, and finished second. Her desire to train intensely (skating seven hours a day, six days a week) led her to drop out of school and receive her education from a tutor. Hamill later earned her high school equivalency degree. While her parents supported her skating and these kind of decisions, it was a financial burden and resulted in her mother traveling with her daughter, away from her husband. Though Hamill did well in competitions, she often suffered from stage fright.

Hamill won the Eastern sectional ladies singles title and finished seventh at the world championships in 1971. This led to another important coaching change. She met Carlo Fassi at the Pre-Olympic Invitational. He had also coached champion Peggy Fleming who won the gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympics. Fassi invited her to begin training with him in Colorado.

Hamill's experiences in Colorado were positive. The high altitude improved her stamina. She also studied ballet and worked on her fitness. Fassi himself helped Hamill with compulsory figuresthe aspect of competition that she struggled with the most. Hamill also began working with choreographer Bob Paul. Paul chorreographed routines that highlighted her athletic abilities, especially her jumps, and her Hamill camel.


1956Born in Chicago, Illinois
c. 1964Begins learning to skate
1969Develops Hamill camel
1970Drops out of school to focus on training
1976Competes and wins in the Winter Olympics; retires from amateur figure skating; becomes professional figure skater
1976-78Skates professionally with the Ice Capades
1982Marries Dean Martin, Jr., on June 8
1983Appears in television ice version of Romeo and Juliet, later winning an Emmy Award
1984Divorces Dean Martin, Jr.
1987Marries Kenneth Forsythe in March
1988Gives birth to daughter Alexandra
1993Purchases the Ice Capades
1994Skates as Cinderella in the Ice Capades show Cinderella Frozen in Time ; sells Ice Capades to International Entertainment, Inc.; briefly retires as professional skater
1995Skates in the Legends of Figure Skating
1996Skates in the Hershey's Kisses Figure Skating Challenge; files for bankruptcy
2000Skates in the first Winter Goodwill Games; skates with Champions on Ice

The results were positive. In 1973, Hamill finished fourth in the world ladies singles championships. In 1974 and 1975, Hamill won the U.S. championship for ladies senior singles. Her second victory was impressive, in part because she had an injured foot but still pulled out the win. Hamill still had problems with sensitivity, however. At the 1974 World Championships, she heard boos from the crowd as she was warming up for her free skate. Hamill left the ice crying, believing the booing was directed at her. However, the crowd was actually booing the judges for the previous competitors scores. After she was reassured about the situation, she skated well. She won the silver medal.

Wins Olympic Gold

In 1976, Hamill began the year by winning her third consecutive U.S. championships. There was some controversy as some believed the judges scored her generously. Hamill received scores of 5.8 and 5.9 out of 6.0 though she took out the loop and flip jumps of her program. She followed this up with a gold medal performance at the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. She won despite a big scare. She was walking with coach Fassi when a car carrying another skater and coach approached them. Fassi pushed her out of the way, but the car accelerated and would have hit her had she not been moved by him.

Despite Hamill's victory at the U.S. championships, she had not been favored to win the gold medal at the Olympics because she had finished second at the world championships two years in a row. She had the lead after the compulsory figures, but had an emotional moment after seeing a sign that read "Dorothy, Wicked Witch of the West." But Hamill pulled it together. She scored a perfect 6.0 in the short program, and kept her lead after the freeskate to win the gold medal. Hamill later said it was her best competition as an amateur.

After the Olympics, Hamill went on to win the World Championships in 1976, at the competition at Göteborg, Germany. She won both the compulsories and the free skate. By this time, Hamill was considered the best freestyle skater in the world and considered "America's Sweetheart." However, her skating style would be considered somewhat dated now. Hamill's most difficult jump was the double axel, and she could not land a triple salchow consistently.

Hamill's jumps got higher later and she learned to better blend artistry and athleticism. But she explained to Vicki Michaelis of the Denver Post that jumps should not be valued over artistry, or vice versa. "I don't think skating should be limited to one or the other. I think it should be absolutely both. I guess I've been sort of frustrated over the years where people say it has to be one or it has to be the other I think that's part of the appeal of skating, that some people like the grace and beauty, some people like the athleticism and some people just like the entertainment value of it."

Turns Professional as a Skater

After her Olympic win, Hamill became a phenomenon in the United States. Her short bob/wedge hairstyle became extremely popular. To take advantage of her commercial opportunities and pay back her parents for the cost of training (they were in debt because of it), she turned professional. Though she was shy, Hamill appeared in a number of commercials and television specials.

One of Hamill's first contracts was a two-year deal with the Ice Capades worth $1,000,000. She told Kenneth Denlinger of the Washington Post, that she did Ice Capades "because it was a chance to pay people for their help (literally, because that gold medal cost an estimated $75,000 in training-related expenses over the years) I also knew that I wanted to skate, not teach, and this was the only I could see to do it."

A featured skater on the Ice Capades tour, Hamill found the demands of the professional life very different from her days as an amateur. The travel and performances were more physically demanding, and there was a very different, grinding schedule. Hamill became stressed out, especially by the weigh-ins. She had to worry about her weight. Skating with the Ice Capades led to her developing a bleeding ulcer.

In the 1980s, Hamill continued to skate professionally, and had two significant television specials. In 1983, she appeared in an ice version of Romeo and Juliet that aired on CBS and was very successful. The production won an Emmy Award for Hamill. Later in the decade, she appeared in Nutcracker on Ice, a show produced by Hamill and her second husband, sports medicine doctor/former Olympic skier Kenneth Forsythe. (Hamill's first husband was Dean Martin, Jr., the son of entertainer Dean Martin, who was a tennis player, actor, and musician. They were married from 1982-84.)

Awards and Accomplishments

1969Wins the U.S. national ladies novice singles championship
1970Wins Eastern U.S. junior ladies singles title; is second at U.S. ladies singles championship; finishes seventh in world championships
1971Wins Eastern sectional ladies singles title; wins silver at USFSA compulsory competition; finishes fifth at U.S. championships
1972Finishes fourth at the U.S. championships
1973Finishes fourth at the world championships in ladies senior singles figure skating; finishes second in U.S. championships
1974Wins U.S. championship in ladies single figure skating; finishes second in world ladies singles championships
1975Wins U.S. championship in ladies single figure skating; finishes second at world championships
1976Wins gold medal in ladies singles figure skating at Olympics; wins World Championship; wins U.S. championship in ladies single figure skating
1984-85Wins World Professional Skating Championship
1986-87Wins the Women's NutraSweet Pro World Title
1991Inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame
1998Wins Headliner of the Year Award for Enter the Night performance at Stardust Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada
2000Skated in the first Winter Goodwill Games, placing fifth; inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame

Despite her negative experience with the Ice Capades, Hamill continued to appear in touring ice shows. In 1984, she appeared with John Curry and his Ice Dancing company. In the middle of the decade, Hamill also appeared in the Stars on Ice show. She also competed in professional skating championships, winning a number of titles. In 1984 and 1985, she won the World Professional Figure Skating Championship. In 1986 and 1987, she won the Women's NutraSweet Pro World Title.

After the birth of her daughter, Alexandra, Hamill stopped skating professionally for about six years. However, she still appeared in commercials and maintained endorsement deals with companies such as NurtraSweet, Healthy Choice, Casio, and Bausch & Lomb.

Buys Ice Capades

In 1993, the Ice Capades was in serious financial trouble. The company had filed for bankruptcy in 1991. Hamill, her husband, and businessman Ben C. Tinsdale, bought the company in 1993. She put it under her own company, Dorothy Hamill International, of which she was president. She told Steve Wulf of Sports Illustrated, "It was breaking my heart to think there would be no more Ice Capades. It wasn't just that I once skated for the company, it was also the thought of all those skaters out of work."

When Hamill took over, she changed Ice Capades to suit her tastes as a skater. The shows had become dated using a variety format, but Hamill made it into a show on ice. She hired better quality skaters, choreographers, and costumers. She also did away with weigh-ins. One of her greatest successes was with the Ice Capades show she executive produced, 1994's Cinderella Frozen in Time. Praised by critics and aired as a special on ABC, Hamill herself skated the lead in many stops on the tour. Hamill also created other ice shows, including Hansel & GretelFrozen in Time.

In 1995, Hamill and her partners sold Ice Capades to International Entertainment, Inc. Though she intended to retire again from professional skating, divorce and bankruptcy problems contributed to her return to the ice. In 1995, she skated in the Legends of Figure Skating, replacing an ill Katarina Witt . In 1996, Hamill skated in the Hershey's Kisses Figure Skating Challenge, a team competition between three teams of four skaters. Her team included Michelle Kwan , Todd Eldredge, and Dan Hollander.

Hamill was asked to compete in the 2000 Winter Goodwill Games, against other professional skaters and the leading amateurs of the day. Though she had not competed in over a decade, she did well, placing fifth. As Sharon Raboin wrote in USA Today, "Hamill delighted with her tight, fast spins, where she looks like a blur; her tremendous edge control, mastered years ago with compulsory figures training; and her desire to make the most of every moment in her program."

Hamill believed she aged well as a skater. She told Wulf from Sports Illustrated, "I don't think people realize that skaters get better as they get older. Olympic skating is all about jumping, how many triples you hit

cleanly. Watch professional skaters, and you'll see a more fluid, more disciplined style. Some of it comes with practice, some of it comes with maturity"

Though Hamill was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2000, she continued to skate in professional tours such as Champions on Ice. Her name was still a draw. Hamill also continued to appear in commercials and work as a skating commentator for various broadcasts. Of her life, she explained to Tim Reynolds of The Times Union, "There have been good times, there have been bad times, there have been hectic times. But I've always had skating. When things were, or are, going badly in my personal life, I always have my therapy. I always have my skating."


Address: PO Box 16286, Baltimore, MD 21210; 75490 Fairway Dr., Indian Wells, CA 92210-8423.

Related Biography: Coach Gustave Lussi

One of Dorothy Hamill's coaches was Gustave Lussi, a Swiss-born skater who trained seven Olympic medallists and 16 world champions, including Dick Button and Scott Hamilton. Lussi was a ski jumper in his native country, and came to the United States in 1915. He established his reputation in ice skating by producing and directing a famous ice show at the St. Regis Hotel in Manhattan in the 1930s. Lussi began working as a figure skating coach in 1942. As a coach, he adapted techniques from ski jumping to skating. Lussi was strict but produced a number of athletically impressive skaters. He worked as a figure skating coach until shortly before his death in 1993 at the age of 94.


(With Elva Clairmont) Dorothy Hamill On and Off the Ice, A. A. Knopf, 1983.



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Sketch by A. Petruso

Hamill, Dorothy

views updated May 14 2018

Dorothy Hamill

With her magnificent leaps, tornado–swift spins and a trend–setting wedge haircut, 19–year–old American figure skater Dorothy Hamill (born 1956) captured the 1976 Olympic gold as well as the hearts and minds of the American public. As a figure–skating champion with an innocent, squeaky–clean image, Hamill became an instant celebrity after her win before millions of television viewers. Girls and women flocked to hair salons and ordered her haircut by name. Life magazine dubbed it one of the most important fashion statements of the past 50 years.

Began Skating on Neighborhood Pond

Hamill was born July 26, 1956, in Chicago, Illinois, to Carol (Clough) and Chalmers Hamill. She grew up in Riverside, Connecticut, with her older brother, Sandy, and sister, Marcia. Her father worked as an executive at Pitney Bowes. As a child, Hamill spent a lot of time with her grandparents, Jonsie and Bill Clough. It was on the pond behind their home in Wellesley, Massachusetts, that eight–year–old Hamill strapped on her first pair of skates—a too–big pair of ragged hand–me–downs both of her siblings had worn. They were so big her grandmother had to tuck foam rubber into the toes to make them fit. In her autobiography, Dorothy Hamill: On and Off the Ice, Hamill recounted that first magical moment on the ice: "I sat on the bank of the pond trying to lace the boots with impatient, frozen fingers. At last I struggled upright, wobbling precariously. I took a cautious step forward and, as I felt the ice under my blades, something inside me surged."

Hamill spent endless hours skating on the pond until she was nearly frozen. Then, she would run inside and get a cup of steaming sugar–and–cream–rich coffee from her grandmother. Hamill was hooked; she begged her mother for a new pair of properly fitting skates. One day, she returned home from school to find them sitting on the table. Hamill took them to the neighborhood pond for a trial but was dismayed because the other kids could already skate backward. She begged her parents for lessons and they gave in.

Hamill learned to skate backward, but she was still not satisfied. Now she wanted to spin. In the summer of 1968, Hamill's mother enrolled her in classes at the Stamford Shopping Mall's ice studio. By the end of the lessons, Hamill had learned to do her first jump—a bunny hop, which is a hop into the air while skating forward. The teacher told Hamill's parents that she showed real talent, so they enrolled her in private weekly lessons in Rye, New York.

Entered First Competition at Age Nine

In the fall of 1965, nine–year–old Hamill participated in her first competition—the Wollman Open—held at New York City's Central Park. She took second. By now, Hamill's parents sensed her determination and allowed her to spend the next summer training at Lake Placid, New York, a former Olympic venue and training center for many ice–skaters. Hamill trained with Czechoslovakian coach Otto Gold, who had been the European skating champion in his younger years. Gold was a strict disciplinarian, who demanded much of his students. This change in coaching style was good for Hamill, and she made a lot of progress. However, at the end–of–summer Lake Placid competition, she finished eighth. Hamill was disappointed; Gold was undaunted. He told her parents that she was a proficient technical skater but needed more training in free skating in order to connect her moves more gracefully.

Overhearing this conversation stirred up a bunch of emotions in Hamill. It gave her a complex, but it also sparked a new level of determination. Writing in her autobiography, Hamill explained her turning point this way: "As I listened to this conversation I got the idea that I had an inborn lack of grace. It was a notion that was to stay with me for many years." Her style changed. "I began to attack my skating ferociously: if I could not be artistic, then I would be athletic. I would jump higher and spin faster than any girl alive."

Trained with World – Class Coaches

Hamill spent the summer of 1967 at Lake Placid again, this time training with Swiss coach Gustave Lussi, coach to 1948 Olympic gold medalist Dick Button. Lussi was the first coach Hamill developed a complete trust in and this was reflected in her progress. She mastered complicated footwork that had troubled her before. Under his direction, Hamill attempted her first double axel. It is one of the most demanding double jumps because the skater must complete two–and–a–half revolutions in the air. After watching her fail again and again, Lussi offered Hamill one of the most valuable lessons of her career. Hamill reiterated the conversation in her autobiography: "You have to believe you can do it," Lussi told her. "You have to have guts to be a great skater. You have to attack it with absolute confidence. If you hesitate you are lost. Go out there and give every move you do everything you've got."

By the fall of 1969, 13–year–old Hamill was training daily with Sonya and Peter Dunfield in Manhattan. The trip took 90 minutes. Back in Connecticut, school became a struggle. Hamill was overtired and always late. She also lost connections with her school friends because she could never socialize with them at night. When they invited her to a movie, she had to turn them down so she could go to bed early. In time, Hamill and her mother moved to New York City and Hamill dropped out of the formal education system, enrolling at a private tutoring school that fit her skating schedule.

By 1971, Hamill was competing in international competitions. During a trip to Japan, Hamill met Carlo Fassi, the man who had trained U.S. figure–skater Peggy Fleming when she won the 1968 Olympic gold. After the trip, Hamill began working with Fassi. He was an expert at improving the overall look of a skater—no detail was more important than any other. Hamill and her mother moved to Denver to train with Fassi.

To get through the tedious training sessions, Hamill learned to daydream as she traced the same figures in the ice over and over again. Fassi could tell she was just going through the motions; this infuriated him. Fassi told Hamill that when she skated, the only thing she could think about was the blade on the ice. According to her autobiography, Hamill told Fassi that she had to daydream to get through the boring sessions, to which he replied, "Then give it up, Dorothy. Just give it up. Either you do it right, or you don't do it at all—okay?" This exchange marked another turning point in her career. From then on, Hamill knew that she had to be completely present whenever she took to the ice.

Under Fassi, Hamill made marked improvements and continued entering international competitions. In 1974, she won her first National championship in the Senior Division at Providence, Rhode Island, repeating in 1975 and 1976. As the 1976 Olympic trials approached, Hamill skated seven to eight hours a day and worked out with a physical trainer six days a week.

Won Olympic Gold

The 1976 Olympics were held in Innsbruck, Austria. Hamill nailed her compulsory figures and earned high marks for her short program. Just 19, she was in the running for the gold. It all rested on her performance in the long program. The day before the final competition, Hamill's mother tried to get her mind off the event by taking her to see the places where her favorite movie, the Sound of Music, was filmed. While they were sightseeing, piles of telegrams arrived in Hamill's room. Reading them overwhelmed her. Speaking to the Dallas Morning News' Cathy Harasta, Hamill summed up the moment this way: "I started to read them and realized I didn't know any of the people who sent them. They were all well–wishers. I felt this great sense of loneliness and responsibility. I started to cry and get all upset."

Hamill pulled herself together and found herself in the center of the rink with her knees shaking, waiting for the music to begin. She recalled coach Lussi's words: Give it everything you have. She remembered Fassi's advice: Focus. "And then I was skating and I had never felt as good as I did at that moment," she recalled in her autobiography, entitled Dorothy Hammill: On and Off the Ice. "I felt I possessed endless strength and I knew instinctively that I was not going to fall. I was skating better than I had ever skated in my life."

Hamill's flawlessly executed performance wowed the crowd. Her routine included her trademark "Hamill Camel," a camel spin lowered into a back sit spin. In a regular camel, the skater jumps with one leg extending backwards in the air while bent at the waist. The skater then lands on the other leg and spins. Hamill took it one step farther, bending her legs and dropping into a sit spin. She won the gold and went on to win the World Figure Skating Championship in Göteborg, Sweden, a few weeks later.

Prior to the Olympics, legendary Japanese stylist Yusuke Suga had cut Hamill's hair into a distinctive layered wedge. Every time Hamill did a spin, her thick brown hair fanned out like a halo, then fell back into place. Her hair became as popular as she was. After the Olympics, women and girls everywhere cut their hair in a short and sassy Hamill wedge. Hamill's shy innocence and stunning Olympic performance had turned her into America's sweetheart. She appeared on the cover of Time. Speaking to the Dallas Morning News' Harasta, 1972 Olympian and Hamill friend Gordie McKellen described her popularity this way: "Dorothy had that apple–pie–and–Chevrolet aura. She was a gift to the figure skating world."

Launched Professional Ice Career

Hamill was the 1976 National, World and Olympic champion. There was no more left for her to conquer in the amateur world of skating, so she moved on. Hamill signed a $1 million–a–year contract with the Ice Capades, becoming the first female athlete to earn that much in a contract. She had other offers as well; the Ideal Toy Company produced a doll in her likeness. Hamill was one of the first female athletes to earn money through endorsement deals.

Along the way, Hamill met Dean Martin Jr., son of entertainer Dean Martin. They married on January 8, 1982, but the marriage ended later in divorce. He later died in a plane crash. In the mid–1980s, Hamill appeared in a CBS ice special version of Romeo and Juliet, for which she earned a 1984 Daytime Emmy award. She also continued to compete, winning four straight World Professional Figure Skating championships, 1984–87.

In 1986, Hamill met sports physician Kenneth Forsythe. They married a year later and had a daughter, Alexandra. When the Ice Capades approached bankruptcy in the early 1990s, Hamill and Forsythe purchased the company and revamped the show. With her connections, Hamill brought in amazingly talented skaters. Though she was working as producer, Hamill also found time to skate. She played the title role in the company's popular production of "Cinderella . . . Fozen in Time." Facing tough competition from Walt Disney's World on Ice, she sold the Ice Capades in 1995. By 1996, Hamill had filed for bankruptcy and was going through another divorce.

Through all the changes in her life, skating remained a constant. As of 2004, Hamill was still skating with the Champions on Ice tour in a production titled Broadway on Ice. She had, however pared down her schedule to spend more time with her teenage daughter. Hamill was rotating her role with skating stars Tara Lipinski and Nancy Kerrigan. Hamill told Grand Rapids Press writer Sue Merrell that she enjoyed the change of pace the show offered. "There's an exciting burst of energy trying to skate to a live singer. . . . It's more like a dance in a piano nightclub. Skating to recorded music is fine, but there's a wonderful unpredictability when it is happening live."


Hamill, Dorothy with Elva Clairmont, Dorothy Hamill: On and Off the Ice, Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.

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