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The Winter Olympics- Youngest Gold Medalists and Competitors

Updated on February 16, 2020
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John is a long-time poet, short fiction, and article writer. He loves story-telling and also has a Certificate in Permaculture Design.

Olympic torch and fireworks display. Opening Ceremony of Sochi Winter Olympics 2014
Olympic torch and fireworks display. Opening Ceremony of Sochi Winter Olympics 2014 | Source

Age is No Barrier

There are certain sports in both the Summer and Winter Olympics where age doesn't seem to be a barrier especially at the lower end of the scale. In sports like swimming and ski jumping many competitors are in their mid teens, however in gymnastics and figure (ice) skating successful competitors regularly seem to be in their early or even pre teens.

In this article I discuss some of the youngest competitors and Gold Medalists in Figure Skating at the Winter Olympic Games.

"I want to do with skates what Fred Astaire is doing with dancing."

– Sonja Henie


Sonja Henie

Sonja Henie remains one of the most well known names in Winter Olympic and ice figure skating history. Sonja was born in Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway on April 8, 1912.

At six years of age Sonja's father Wilhelm, a former world cycling champion and now a successful fur trader,gave his young daughter a pair of ice skates and hired world-famous Russian ballerina Tamara Karsavina with instructions to turn Sonja into a sporting celebrity. At the age of just 11 years Sonja competed in the first-ever Winter Olympics held at Chamonix, France in 1924. Although she showed glimpses of potential during her routine Sonja finished last out of a field of eight competitors.

Despite this disappointment success was imminent, and Sonja Henie would soon dominate women's figure skating for more than a decade. In 1927 she won the first of ten consecutive World Championships, and the following year, as a 15 year old, won the first of her three Olympic gold medals. She is credited with being the first to incorporate ballet moves into a skating routine.

After retiring from figure skating in 1936 Sonja moved to Hollywood to pursue a film career and enjoyed some success as an actress starring in movies such as: One in a Million (1936), a musical. The following year she starred opposite Tyrone Power in the romantic comedy Thin Ice, and Happy Landing (1938) with Don Ameche. In 1941, Henie co-starred with Glenn Miller in the musical Sun Valley Serenade. In most of her roles she played an ice skater or a character in possession of those skills.

She also had a thriving career with her own touring show, known as the Hollywood Ice Revue and continued to tour the world until the mid-1950s.

I want to do with skates what Fred Astaire is doing with dancing.

— Sonja Henie

Dick Button

Richard Totten "Dick" Button was born July 18, 1929 at Englewood, New Jersey and is widely considered to be one of the best skaters of all time.

Though he had won the US figure skating crown the previous year, after finishing second in the 1947 world figure skating championship, 17 year old Dick Button was prompted to become more artistically daring. By the time the 1948 Winter Olympics came around, the young American sensation was ready to dazzle the world.

During the free skate event he attempted two routines never seen on the ice before, the double axel and the camel jump. Button had been attempting the double axel jump in practice but had never landed it. In practice on the day before the free skating event, he landed one in practice for the first time so put it into his free skate for the next day. Button landed it and the camel jump, becoming the first skater in the world to do so. The judges were impressed, and Dick Button became the youngest male figure skating Gold Medalist in Winter Olympic history.

1948 was a golden year for Button as he became the only man in history to complete the "figure skating grand slam", Olympic gold, United States, North American, European and World titles. He went on to successfully defend his Olympic crown in Oslo, Norway in 1952, and won every competition he entered for the rest of his competitive career.

Later Dick Button worked as an actor performing in movie roles such as The Young Doctors starring Fredric March, and The Bad News Bears Go To Japan starring Tony Curtis. he also did many tv appearances such as Skating With The Stars by the producers of Dancing With The Stars and became an Emmy Award winning sports commentator covering many figure skating championships and Winter Olympic games.

Tara has since turned to acting and has had numerous roles including:

  • Malcolm In The Middle (Carrie)
  • What's New, Scooby Doo (Camp Counselor Grey)
  • Still Standing (Sarah)
  • 7th Heaven (Christine)
  • The Young And The Restless (Marnie Kowalski)
  • Touched By An Angel (Alex Thorp)
  • Ice Angel (Tracy Hannibal)- TV Movie

Tara Lipinski

Tara Lipinski was born on June10, 1982 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Sugarland, Texas. She was already an accomplished roller skater by the time she tried on her first pair of ice skates at age six. Tara first attracted international attention when she qualified for the United States team at the 1996 world championships at 13 years of age.She only finished 15th, but the following year she caused a sensation when she became the youngest world champion in figure skating history.

When the 1998 Nagano, Japan Winter Olympic Games came around, Lipinski was tipped for the silver medal behind Michelle Kwan who had beaten Tara in the 1998 world championship. Kwan led after the first routine but Lipinski overtook her by the end and at the age of 15 years and 255 days, Lipinski became the youngest winner of an individual event in the history of the Winter Games, beating Sonja Henie's 70-year-old record by two months.

By April the same year, Tara Lipinski had announced that she was turning professional. In the spring and summer of 1998, Lipinski toured with Champions On Ice. She then toured with Stars On Ice for four seasons. Lipinski appealed to a younger audience, attracting new fans to what had traditionally been an adult-oriented show. Her signing to Stars on Ice was a coup for the tour.

Lipinski's most notable individual victory as a professional came at the 1999 World Professional Figure Skating Championship at age 17, she became the youngest person to win that event. However her professional skating career was hampered by a series of hip injuries.

Sochi Winter Olympics 2014

Figure skating

News Sat Feb 8 2014

The Russian 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaya has just brought the house down – literally – with a sensational performance in the ladies’ team short program. Even the BBC commentators were applauding.

The diminutive 15-year-old Russian figure skater positioned herself to become the darling of the Sochi Games after a great routine during Saturday's team event. Lipnitskaia scored a 72.90 to record the highest total among individual women skaters. The home crowd roared when the 2014 European champion was finished.

It may be too early to tell as these games are still in progress and the gold medals for this and other figure skating events are yet to be decided, but based on the above performance Yulia Lipnitskaya could be the next 15 year old and possibly the youngest yet to win a Winter Olympic gold medal. She almost didn't qualify for selection only making the minimum age requirement just days before the selection cut off.

* Unfortunately Julia Lipnitskaya's later performances did not quite reach the level of her first so was unable to win a gold medal, but her performance was commendable for someone so young.


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© 2014 John Hansen


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