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Morning Briefing

When Henie Had an Edge, She Knew How to Maintain It

February 17, 1988

Sonja Henie, who competed in her first Winter Olympics at age 11 and won gold medals in 1928, 1932 and 1936 before earning a fortune in ice shows and movies, wasn't exactly a rags-to-riches story.

According to David Wallechinsky's "The Complete Book of the Olympics," which is the source of today's Morning Briefing, Henie's father owned the largest fur company in Norway and was the owner of Oslo's first automobile.

Henie, after marriages to two Americans, including New York Yankee owner Dan Topping, finally married childhood sweetheart Neils Olmstad, a Norwegian shipowner. When she died from leukemia at age 57, she was worth $47 million.

With such a fortune, she could afford an occasional indulgence. During an ice show in Chicago, she needed her skates sharpened. The only person she trusted to sharpen her skates was Eddie Pec. She called him in New York and had him take the next train to Chicago. Pec arrived the next day. He spent a few minutes sharpening her skates, then took the next train to New York.

Add Henie: When she won the gold medal in 1936, another future actress in the competition was Vera Hruba of Czechoslovakia, who finished 17th. As Vera Hruba Ralston, she starred in numerous B movies for Republic Pictures, including "The Lady and the Monster" and "Hoodlum Empire."

When the United States won the four-man bobsled with a team of Billy Fiske, Eddie Eagan, Clifford Gray and Jay O'Brien in 1932, the competition wasn't held until after the Closing Ceremony because of repeated bad-weather postponements.

Eagan, who had won the light heavyweight boxing title in the 1920 Olympics, became the only man to win gold medals in both Summer and Winter Olympics.

Fiske was the first American to join the British Royal Air Force in 1939.

Gray, who actually was a citizen of Great Britain, was a songwriter whose 3,000 songs included "Got a Date with an Angel" and "If You Were the Only Girl in the World."

He was such a modest man that his children never knew he had won a gold medal until after he died.

Trivia Time: What American competitor underwent cosmetic nose surgery before the 1980 Winter Olympics? (Answer below.)

Speed skater Dianne Holum of the United States, after winning silver and bronze medals in the 1968 Olympics, which were dominated by the Netherlands, switched to a Dutch coach.

In 1972, she won the 1,500 meters, finishing ahead of three Dutch skaters.

The next year, she took a pupil of her own, 14-year-old Eric Heiden, and coached him through the 1976 and 1980 Olympics.

Penny Pitou of the United States, second in the women's downhill in 1960, had competed for the boys' varsity high school team in New Hampshire and finished fifth in the state slalom championships before the school board banned her from further competition.

Later, she was married a few years to Austrian downhill gold medalist Egon Zimmerman. Later still, she became New Hampshire's first female bank director.

Trivia Answer: Figure skater Linda Fratianne. She finished second to Anett Potzsch of East Germany.

Quotebook

Jean Claude-Killy, on the celebration in his hometown of Val d'Isere, France, after he won three gold medals in the 1968 Winter Olympics: "The party went on for 2 1/2 days, and the whole time I never saw the sun once."

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