Figure Skating Comes to Baseball Town: Olympians Share Memories with Capacity Crowd

By Joanne Vassallo Jamrosz

Photo by Gregory Jamrosz

Photo by Gregory Jamrosz

Cooperstown, New York, may be baseball’s hometown but on a warm Saturday in July, figure skating took center stage.

Olympians Dick Button, Dorothy Hamill and JoJo Starbuck participated in a sold-out symposium, “Fenimore on Ice,” at the Fenimore Museum.

Button, an Olympic champion in 1948 and 1952; Hamill, the 1976 Olympic titlist; and Starbuck, a two-time Olympian (1968, 1972) and two-time World bronze medalist with pairs partner Ken Shelley, shared Olympic stories and special skating memories, delighting the capacity crowd.

Doug Webster, co-founder of Ice Dance International, served as moderator. Webster welcomed the audience through video clips of Olympic figure skating through the present day.

Webster opened by asking the panel, “Why skating?”

“It made me happy,” Hamill said. “The movement, the cool air. It was a magical place for me.”

Starbuck, a self-professed tomboy, loved the speed. She also loved putting on shows and plays as a child and saw skating as the best of both worlds.

“I got to twirl. I got to wear costumes. I still enjoy taking to the ice today,” Starbuck said.

The three also spoke of the special times with their coaches. For Button, the time on ice with Gustave Lussi was invaluable.

“He taught me how to sustain a jump, deep edges and deep skating,” Button said. “I always called him Mr. Lussi. He inspired that kind of respect.”

Hamill remembered coach Carlo Fassi as a “genius” with compulsory figures.

“I really needed help with my figures, “Hamill said. “Back then they were 60 percent of the Olympic score. Carlo really made me love compulsory figures. In practice they were fun. I would not have won the Olympics had I not had help with my figures.”

The three also shared stories of their Olympic experience. Starbuck remembers skating during the Cold War and never making eye contact with her Russian competitors.

“Today it is so different, and that’s wonderful,” Starbuck said.

Hamill remembers the tons of telegrams she received and read the night before her free skate.

Button recalled the 1952 Olympics as a much different experience than his 1948 skate.

“I trained all winter long. I was a much better skater,” he said.

Webster reflected on their roles in skating after the Olympics, and featured clips of Hamill’s TV commercial for Short and Sassy shampoo and Starbuck’s Cup O Noodles, much to the audiences’ delight.

Hamill became America’s sweetheart, a title that she inherited since she was awarded her Olympic medal the day before Valentine’s Day, and the papers reported it on Valentine’s Day. Both Hamill and Starbuck ventured on to perform in ice shows after retiring from competitive skating.

“You go from training six days a week to maybe practicing 30 minutes a day and you perform nine times a week,” Starbuck said. “You feel like you are always under the spotlight out there.”

Hamill and Starbuck also talked of their work with John Curry and the positive influence he brought to their skating.

“I just felt so lucky to be in his presence,” Hamill said.  “He was always encouraging me. With John, it was a whole new life of falling in love with skating all over again. The John Curry Skating Company was magical.”

“The way he taught edges, we felt like we had never skated before,” Starbuck said. “Every movement was important and precise.”

The two-hour symposium concluded with the three Olympians reflecting on the sport that played such a major role in their lives. Starbuck encouraged audience members to try skating at some point during their lifetime.

“Skating is for everyone,” she said. “Everyone can put on a pair of skates and have a great experience.”

For Button, whose Art of Figure Skating Collection will be on display at the museum through Dec. 31, the sport still plays a major part in his life.

“Skating is the only sport that has music, choreography, Olympics and a sense of performance,” he said. “It’s a magical sport and I love it. I did then, and I do now.”