Stacey Smith is an Olympian.
The former figure skater competed for the U.S. at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
As the ice dance competition wraps up at the Winter Olympics in South Korea, the Clayton resident is watching with a mix of pride, patriotism and accomplishment.
Smith recently spoke with St. Louis Public Radio about how she started in the sport, her memories of Lake Placid and the importance of embracing St. Louis' Olympic legacy.
"I never, ever dreamed I would go to the Olympics," Smith said. She received her first pair of skates at age 3, and her parents build a backyard rink at the family's Cleveland-area home. A world-class coach moved to the area and guided her early career. Then she moved around. "I lived in a number of different cities; had several different partners," she said. Eventually, Smith teamed with coach Ron Ludington, who matched her up with fellow figure skater John Summers. The ice dance team won three national championships and finished ninth in Lake Placid.
"We knew we were not going to medal," Smith said as she reflected on the 1980 Games. She called the ninth-place finish "perfectly respectable," adding, "It was an honor to be there." Before going to Lake Placid, she decided those Olympics would be her final elite-level skating performance. "This did represent the culmination of, for me, 20 years of skating," she said, while adding the team dealt with the pressure of performing on home ice. "Here we were, Americans, and we were competing in the United States as the American representatives. So, you can imagine the crowd reception. It does give you a little bit of extra energy." She has not been back to an Olympics since 1980, but has attended a few national championships.
Stacey Smith and John Summers compete at the 1980 U.S. Nationals
"I felt like the rules were an incredible straight jacket," Smith said when comparing her days on the ice to the current figure skating era. Men could only lift partners to chest level, and the partners could not be separated for more than five seconds. Now, couples are required to have side-by-side sequences with various turns while they are not touching. "I like to compare this to the tax code," she said. "They are forever changing it."
She still watches international figure events including the Olympics, and current figure skaters are leaving an impression. "As I get older, I become more and more impressed with the athleticism and artistry of the skaters," she said. "They seem to get better and better. So, I feel like I'm in a unique position to appreciate how good they are." She also credits famed British ice-dancing duo of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean (Torvill and Dean) with changing the sport forever. "In my opinion, they just broke open the skating rules, which were then re-written" after the pair's 1984 Olympic performance to French composer Maurice Ravel's 'Boléro.' Smith considered that performance a watershed moment for the sport.
Efforts are underway to promote St. Louis' heritage as the host of the 1904 Summer Games. Smith is one of the initiative’s strong supporters and is still learning about the legacy.
"I'm an Olympian, and I didn't know this," she said while pointing out the first diving event in modern Olympic history took place by the intersection of Big Bend and Forsyth Road. The start and finish line for the first modern marathon is just steps from that corner. "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say there's going to be a movie made about this, she said. "Because the story is so interesting, and I think St. Louisans are going to be excited about it."
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