Five Winter Olympians Who Forever Changed Their Sports

Considered bizarre at first, these athletes’ techniques ultimately became the gold standards for their sports

A ski jumper flashes a V. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user tpower1978.)

Dick Button: Spinning class

(AFP/Getty Images)

Beginning with the 1948 Winter Olympics, when, at the age of 19, he became the youngest male figure skater to win a gold medal, American Dick Button built a reputation for being the first person to pull off new, difficult moves in competition. He landed a double axel—a jump where the skater rotates in the air two and a half times—for the first time during practice at those Olympics, then nailed it again during the free skate competition.

Each year, for the next four years, Button unveiled a new combination move in competitions. In 1949, it was a combo of two double loops, in 1950, a triple double loop and in 1951, a double axel, double loop. Then, at the 1952 Olympics in Oslo, Norway, he landed a triple loop in his free skate program, becoming the first skater to do a triple jump in competition. That jump won Button his second gold medal. His moves became de rigueur for any skater hoping to stay competitive, and Button’s innovative style was a big factor in the free skate part of competitors’ programs becoming more important than the compulsory figures, in which skaters were required to trace figure 8s and other designs. Today, compulsory figures are no longer a part of international events. 


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