Twenty-five years ago, a small town in the Savoy Alps of France captured the attention of the sports world. The Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games opened Feb. 8, 1992, and closed 15 days later.
Team USA won 11 medals, nearly doubling its medal haul from 1988. Women accounted for nine of those medals, with Bonnie Blair racing to two speedskating golds on the outdoor oval, Kristi Yamaguchi gliding to victory in figure skating, Donna Weinbrecht powering to the inaugural gold in moguls and Cathy Turner earning the first short track speedskating title for the United States.
Here are 10 memorable Team USA moments from those Games, the last Winter Games to be held in the same year as the summer edition.
1. Bonnie Blair, Long Track Speedskating, Feb. 10, 1992
|Bonnie Blair poses on the podium after winning gold in the women's 500-meter at the Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 10, 1992 in Albertville, France.|
The speedskater from Champaign, Illinois, went into Albertville with great fanfare. She was the only American woman to win a gold medal four years earlier in Calgary – claiming victory in the 500-meter – as well as the only Team USA athlete to take home two medals after skating to bronze in the 1,000.
Blair also had personal goals, dedicating the Olympic Games to her father Charlie, who died on Christmas Day, 1989.
Blair was supported by nearly 50 members of “The Blair Bunch,” the family and friends in purple coats who traveled to Albertville and serenaded her with “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”
Blair won with a time of 40.33 seconds to become the first U.S. woman to win a gold medal in two different Winter Games. Ye Quiabo of China, who had skated three pairs before Blair, placed second in 40.51.
“I know I couldn’t have done any better on this day,” Blair said.
Two years later, however, Blair outdid herself by winning a record third straight title in the 500 in Lillehammer.
2. Bonnie Blair, Long Track Speedskating, Feb. 14, 1992
On Valentine’s Day, it was time to fall in love with Blair all over again. Two days earlier, she had placed 21st in the 1,500-meter, but that was only after coasting the final 400 meters when she realized she was not in medal contention.
In the 1,000, Blair skated before her main rivals. She had a strong start and clocked 1 minute, 21.90 seconds. Then she had to wait. Ye and Monique Garbrecht of Germany went head-to-head three pairs after Blair’s race. Ye’s time was 1:21.92, two-hundredths slower than Blair, while Garbrecht came in at 1:22.10.
Blair went on to win the 1,000 in Lillehammer for a record sixth medal by a U.S. winter athlete, male or female. She was also the first U.S. woman to win five gold medals at either the winter or summer edition of the Games.
3. Kristi Yamaguchi, Figure Skating, Feb. 21, 1992
|Kristi Yamaguchi poses with her gold medal at the Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 21, 1992 in Albertville, France.|
As a little girl, Kristi Yamaguchi’s favorite toy was a Dorothy Hamill doll. When Yamaguchi, the reigning world champion, skated onto the ice in Albertville, no American woman had won a gold medal in women’s figure skating since Hamill in 1976. However, Midori Ito of Japan, the 1989 world champ and the first woman to land a triple axel, was the favorite.
Yamaguchi, a California native, led after a lovely “Blue Danube” waltz original program, with her Olympic roommate, Nancy Kerrigan of Massachusetts, in second place. Ito fell in the original program, but was still in the hunt for a medal.
Prior to the long program, Hamill sought out Yamaguchi backstage to wish her luck. Although none of the top women skated a clean long program – not even Yamaguchi – her performance skating to "Malagueña” was good enough for gold.
Ito was the first woman to land a triple axel in Olympic competition and won the silver medal while Kerrigan earned the bronze, marking the first time since 1960 that Team USA won two medals in the event. The third U.S. competitor, Tonya Harding, was fourth.
4. Donna Weinbrecht, Freestyle Skiing, Feb. 13, 1992
Freestyle skiing made its debut in Albertville, with moguls – known as “bumps and jumps” – taking place in Tignes. Weinbrecht, the 1991 world champion from New Jersey, came in as the heavy favorite. However, Weinbrecht qualified second behind local favorite Raphaelle Monod of France. In the final, Weinbrecht skied to the accompaniment of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” by the Ramones, completing a run that was conservative, yet clean. She scored 23.69 points to edge Yelizaveta Kozhevnikova of the Unified Team (23.50), but had to wait for Monod, who was the eighth and final competitor. Monod encountered trouble and came in last, to the dismay of 20,000 fans.
“It was like a concert, and you’re on stage,” Weinbrecht later told the L.A. Times. “It was hard to fathom that all those people were looking at you and screaming.”
Weinbrecht suffered a knee injury the next season and had surgery, then went on to dominate the 1993-94 world cup season. However, she was a disappointing seventh at the Lillehammer Games. Weinbrecht competed again in 1998 in Nagano, placing just off the podium in fourth.
5. Cathy Turner, Short Track Speedskating, Feb. 22, 1992
After missing a spot on the 1980 Olympic team, Turner retired from speedskating and became a singer/songwriter.
She returned to the sport in 1988 and made world teams in 1989, 1990 and 1991. Known for her scrappiness, the New York native was a natural in short track. In the 500-meter final, she was in the lead when Chinese skater Li Yan clipped her skate on the homestretch. Turner threw her skate forward at the finish line and won, edging Li by .04 with a time of 47.04.
Turner retired from competition after the Games, briefly joining the Ice Capades, then returned to defend her title in 1994 in a controversial finish. She again retired, returning once more to make the 1998 Olympic team at age 35.
6. Hilary Lindh, Alpine Skiing, Feb. 15, 1992
|Hilary Lindh competes at the Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 18, 1992 in Albertville, France.|
Team USA was shut out of the medals in alpine skiing at the Calgary 1988 Games. With the downhill course at Meribel considered the most difficult women’s course of all time, only 0.18 of a second would separate first place from fifth.
Kerrin Lee-Gartner of Canada was the unexpected winner of the gold while Lindh became the surprise silver medalist. World champion Petra Kronberger of Austria won the bronze.
Lindh, a native of Alaska, had previously placed no higher than sixth in a major international race, although she was the first American to become world junior champ in downhill. At the Calgary 1988 Games, she missed a gate and did not finish the downhill race.
Lindh also had taken only one training run on the long, fast track at Meribel since the U.S. team was forced to leave a training camp early the previous season because of the Gulf War.
After winning her silver medal, Lindh said, “No matter what happens after this, I’ve always got this.”
She went on to win a bronze medal at the 1996 world championships in downhill, followed by the world championships gold a year later in Sestriere, Italy.
7. Diann Roffe, Alpine Skiing, Feb. 19, 1992
|Diann Roffe competes at the Albertville 1992 Olympic Winter Games on Feb. 19, 1992 in Albertville, France.|
At age 17, Roffe burst on the international scene to win the 1985 world title in giant slalom. After a world cup victory that same season, Roffe went through a seven-year drought.
An injury ended Roffe’s 1991 season, but she had a strong start to the Olympic year.
Then Roffe almost fell at the top of the first run in the giant slalom, placing ninth, with teammates Julie Parisien, skiing with a broken wrist, in fifth and Eva Twardokens sixth.
Roffe feared she had given up too much time. As the first American to tackle the second run, she skied with “nothing to lose,” she said, and posted a tremendous performance.
Pernilla Wiberg of Sweden clocked 2:12.74 to win the gold while Roffe and Anita Wachter of Austria wound up tied for the silver medal with a time of 2:13.71. Parisien was fifth and Twardokens seventh.
“I knew it was in me to do this,” Roffe said. “After all the down times, I’m back. It’s everyone’s dream to win an Olympic medal.”
Roffe, a native New Yorker, had trouble adapting to the shape and size of the next generation of skis, and barely made the 1994 Olympic team. She was the first skier down the slope in Kvitfjell, the Lillehammer venue, in the super-G, but her time held up for the gold medal. Roffe followed that with her first world cup title in nine years, winning the super-G at Vail to end her career on a high note.
8. Paul Wylie, Figure Skating, Feb. 15, 1992
Wylie was not considered a medal contender in Albertville. His previous highest finish in an international competition had been ninth. At the 1988 Games, he was 10th, and Wylie had to rally to place 11th at the 1991 world championships.
The 27-year-old Harvard graduate had never even won the U.S. national title, placing second in the competition to determine the 1992 Olympic team behind Christopher Bowman.
And yet Wylie was masterful in Albertville and won the silver. Skating to “Henry V,” he was the only athlete among the top six who did not fall or touch the ice with his hand in the long program. Viktor Petrenko of the Unified Team had more challenging elements and won the gold medal, though two judges placed Wylie first in the long program.
Bowman was fourth, pulling himself up from seventh after the original program.
“I always wanted to skate well in the Olympics,” said Wylie, who was third in the original program. “I wanted to be able to say, ‘Yeah, that was great. That was my moment.’ It’s the happiest moment of my life.”
A reporter pointed out that he could have won the gold.
“Hey,” Wylie said, “how much of a Cinderella story do you guys want?”
9. Women’s 3,000-Meter Relay, Short Track Speedskating, Feb. 20, 1992
In an event that was supposed to be a showdown between Canada and China, the Chinese team crashed in their semifinal while on world-record pace. In the final, Canada, which had won six straight world championships, held off the U.S. team of Darcie Dohnal, Amy Peterson, Turner and Nicole Ziegelmeyer, which earned silver. Peterson, Turner and Ziegelmeyer joined Karen Cashman in 1994 to win the bronze medal in the relay, while Peterson also won the bronze medal in the 500 behind Turner’s gold in Lillehammer.
10. Nelson Carmichael, Freestyle Skiing, Feb. 23, 1992
When Carmichael was in high school, his mother was cleaning his room when she found a note he had written. It said, “I want to be among the top five skiers in the world.”
The Colorado native accomplished his goal, winning the bronze medal in moguls to become the first American male skier to win a freestyle skiing medal. A two-time world cup champion in 1988 and 1989, Carmichael appeared in the Calgary Games when moguls was a demonstration sport, but finished 10th.
In Albertville, on the course in Tignes, Carmichael was in fourth place after the qualifying round. In the final, he moved up to make the podium.
“This medal makes up for ’88,” said Carmichael, who retired after the 1992 season. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this year, and now that it’s finally come, I’m happy.”