Winter Olympians From the Smithsonian Vaults

From the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, a team of former champions, heroes and icons

Debi Thomas duked it out with East German rival Katarina Witt at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Both had chosen Bizet's Carmen as the music for their long program, and onlookers dubbed their showdown for the gold "The Battle of the Carmens.” Witt won the battle and Thomas became the first African-American to win a medal at the Winter Olympics, taking home the bronze. Debi Thomas by Neil Leifer, 1988, gift of Time magazine, all images courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
The petite Canadian figure skater Barbara Ann Scott reigned supreme at the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The only woman from her home country to ever win Olympic gold for singles figure skating, Scott was only 13 when she became the first female skater to complete a double lutz in competition. Boris Chaliapin 1948, gift of Mrs. Boris Chaliapin
Effervescent 19-year-old figure skater Dorothy Hamill became as well-known for her wedge haircut and over-size glasses as she was for her gold medal performance in the 1976 Winter games. Together, Hamill and her coach, Carlos Fassi, are also credited with inventing a brand-new skating move, the “Hamill camel,” in which she segued from a camel spin into a sitting spin. Dorothy Hamill by John G. Zimmerman, 1976, gift of Time magazine
Beth and Eric Heiden, the speed skating siblings who hailed from Madison,Wisconsin, both competed at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, where Eric became a five-time gold medalist. Beth, with an injured ankle, took home the bronze for her performance in the 3,000-meter speed skating event. Neil Leifer, 1980, gift of Time magazine
Two-time medalist Shaun White may have outgrown his bad boy “Flying Tomato” nickname, but his winning streak has ended. The red-headed snowboarder/skateboarder, who was 15 when he participated in his first Olympic trials, was looking to win two gold medals in the men’s halfpipe at Sochi, but failed. Cass Bird
, 2006, printed 2012, acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor
Austrian skier and gold medalist Leonhard Stock surprised onlookers when he bested the competition’s favored opponents, at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Despite having suffered a fractured collar bone just two months before the games, Stock—initially a member of the reserve team—beat fellow Austrian Peter Wirnsberger by more than half a second. Neil Leifer 1980; gift of Time magazine
The Norwegian-born Sonja Henie glided her way into history with her 1928 win in St. Moritz, Switzerland at the age of 15. Henie stole the show with her technical mastery and daring fashion sense, introducing white figure skates and short skirts to the sport. Henie, who later became a film star, also placed first at the 1932 and 1936 Olympics, and is the only woman figure skater to ever win three straight gold medals. Henry Major c. 1930-1935
Tamara McKinney and Phil Mahre were both 1983 World Cup skiing champions and U.S. gold medal hopefuls competing at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. For Mahre, it was an unforgettable competition. Not only did he win the gold medal in slalom, but his twin brother, Steve Mahre, won the slalom silver. McKinney placed fourth in the giant slalom, but would still go down in history for being the only American woman to win the World Cup until Lindsey Vonn inherited the title in 2008. Neil Leifer, 1984, gift of Time magazine

The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery provides us with a visual narrative of American history. Using photography, performing arts and new media, it features the smirks, smiles and stares of individuals who've influenced our culture. A search through its collections recovered pictures of athletes whose past performances at the Winter Oympic Games immortalized them in the minds of millions. From figure skating film stars to teenage snowboarders, our round-up of old and recent winners alike is a nostalgic reminder of trails blazed and inspiration sown. Even heroes must eventually retire to the bleachers, where they'll watch a new generation break records—and hearts. But unlike most precious metals, Olympic gold never tarnishes.

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