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February 5, 2022
Winter Olympics of the past and Hoosier links
Without mountains, Indiana isn’t known as a mecca for winter sports. So the state’s historic connections with the Summer Olympics are much more extensive than with their winter counterparts. Even so, there have been links for more than 40 years, which Hoosier History Live will explore following the international hoopla with the opening ceremony tonight of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
A bobsledder from Indianapolis competed in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, then became a firefighter before his untimely death. A figure skater who grew up in Bloomington captured a bronze medal at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Also at those Winter Olympics in Calgary, a brother and sister from Marion, Ind., drew national attention because of their hard-luck story and their hometown’s efforts to support their dreams.
And, beginning in the early 1940s, a superstar from previous Winter Olympics, although not a Hoosier (she wasn’t even an American), developed a close relationship with the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, a favorite venue for her touring ice shows for many years.
To explore these and other connections between Indiana and the Winter Olympics, Nelson will be joined by Dan O’Brien, a veteran sports journalist and screenwriter based in Greenwood. Dan was one of the guests on a Hoosier History Live show in 2016 about unheralded historic Olympians from Indiana; that show primarily focused on athletes in the Summer Games.
Dan also was a long-time friend of Dick Nalley, who had been a football and track star at the University of Indianapolis before becoming a bobsledder on the U.S. team in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. After the Olympics, Dick Nalley served as a firefighter for 16 years in Indianapolis and owned a popular gym prior to his death at age 47 from cancer.
It’s athletes like Dick Nalley from previous Olympics whom we will explore during our show rather than those who will be competing in Beijing, including two skiers from Lawrenceburg, Ind. The skiers, who are currently the focus of attention from other Indiana media, are Nick Goepper, who won silver and bronze medals in, respectively, the 2018 and 2014 Olympics, and Justin Schoenfield, a first-time Olympian.
During the 1988 Calgary Olympics, the spotlight was on figure skaters from Indiana whom Dan O’Brien and Nelson will discuss during our show. Jill Watson, a pairs skater from Bloomington, captured a bronze medal. Nelson covered the crusade of Wayne and Kim Seybold, a brother and sister from Marion, to make the U.S. Olympic team despite a series of challenges before and after the games. Their family lived in a trailer park to save money for Wayne and Kim’s training expenses. After the Olympics – and even while touring in ice shows – Kim Seybold underwent delicate surgeries for a recurring brain tumor. Beginning in 2003, Wayne Seybold served several terms as the mayor of Marion.
In a way, Indiana’s connections to the Winter Olympics can be traced to the legendary Sonja Henie of Norway, who won three gold medals at consecutive Winter Olympics beginning in 1928. Considered the first superstar of the Winter Olympics, Henie became the headliner in touring ice shows and acted in Hollywood movies.
Her touring ice show was one of the first top attractions at the Coliseum, which had opened a few months earlier in late 1939 at the State Fairgrounds. Although never based in Indianapolis, Henie became closely associated with the Coliseum, where her performances (publicized across the Midwest) were highly anticipated events for thousands of Hoosiers and visitors.
Hoosiers who have competed in the Winter Olympics include:
Bryan Leturgez, a bobsledder in the 1992 Albertville Olympics and 1994 Lillehammer Olympics. Although he was born in Terre Haute, Leturgez was based in the northwest Indiana town of Cedar Lake for much of his Olympic career.
Tom Becker, who was a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force when he competed as a bobsledder in the 1972 Sapporo Olympics. Becker, a native of Indianapolis, also competed in the 1976 Innsbruck Olympics.
And Doug Sharp, a former Purdue University pole vaulter who won a bronze medal as part of the U.S. bobsledding team in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
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