Ice Skating’s First Superstar

Sonja Henie went to the Olympics for Norway four times, and won gold in figure skating three of them. Then she became a Hollywood movie star. But besides being very good at her sport, she was the first female figure skater to achieve any kind of stardom. That was because, even as a young teenager, she was brave enough to change everything about the competition. She didn’t just do tricks, she made figure skating into an art by adding ballet moves. And she wore a short skirt.

The creation of Sonja’s “image” was a family project. In her first Olympics—1924, Chamonix, aged 11—she wore a baggy outfit, the black skate boots of the day, and finished last in a field of eight competitors. Three years later, in 1927, when she won her first world title, her uniquely choreographed free skate was delivered in a svelte costume of white velvet, its bell skirt hemmed to just above the knee. The audience was shocked . . . and delighted. Sonja’s liberation from those old-crow skating skirts showed off spins and spirals to better advantage, and allowed her to perform tricks—the single axel, for instance—that had previously belonged to male skaters.

And one more thing. As Michael Kirby, the Canadian champion who was Sonja’s skating partner in the late 1940s, would write, “She had what was thought to be incredible gall for wearing pure white skates. This, she told the press, was because it reminded her of the beautiful snow in her homeland of Norway.”

But when Henie retired from amateur skating in 1936, she was only 24 and her career was just beginning. Read about Henie’s life, her competitive career, and her later stardom in movies and in ice shows, at Vanity Fair. -via Digg


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