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Harvard Sport Legend Remembers Glory Days

By Will Bohlen, CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Harvard has produced numerous business leaders, government officials, and even a few Hollywood personalities. One thing that Harvard has not produced many of, however, is sports legends.

In 1949, Dick Button '52 entered Harvard. Like most freshmen, Button was good at something. His special talent was figure skating. Button came into Harvard having already won a gold medal in the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Fast forward to 1998--Button is in St. Moritz again, this time celebrating the 50th anniversary of his golden moment. Button can still recall the day he won his first gold medal as if it were yesterday.

"Like a young man remembering his first love, I remember every detail of St. Moritz that day...its brilliant sun, the crowds, the long walk to the stadium, the white coats and caps we wore, the sublime ice here at the Kulm for skating figures, the darkening shadows of a setting sun, the enthusiasm of what seemed to me like huge crowds," Button said.

Once he finished skating that day, Button became the first American to capture the gold medal in figure skating in Olympic competition.

"Actually, I won in 1908, when I was 21/2," he joked.

Perhaps that is a little exaggeration, but Button has been around the sport for a long time. A former Massachusetts Hall and Lowell House resident, Button spent many hours during his stay at Harvard on the rink.

"I skated at the Skating Club of Boston during the school year," he said. "In the summers and during vacations, I went to Lake Placid to train."

Button won the U.S. and World Championships every year he was a student at Harvard and won his second Olympic gold in his senior year.

Button's second gold wasn't his only accomplishment that year. He also graduated cum laude in government.

"Nowadays, no one can be a skater and go to college," he said. "I feel it is a great loss. For me, it was the perfect combination."

Button has kept himself busy since his days as an amateur skater. Once deciding to go pro, he skated with the Ice Capades.

Soon Button was doing commentary for ABC. He is still doing telecasts for the network about 35 years later. He won an Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality in 1981.

Button also got into producing and formed Candid Productions Incorporated where he revolutionized figure skating by creating the World Professional Figure Skating Championships.

As a commentator and as a former competitor, Button sees several differences in today's figure skating compared to the days when he competed.

"First, skating used to be done outdoors on natural ice. Today's skaters no longer have to worry about sun, rain, or snow," he said.

The second thing missing is the compulsory figures, an event where all skaters had to run through the same routine.

"[The compulsory figures] were eliminated, a victim of television's lack of interest and of taking too much time," Button said.

The fact that there are now Russian and Chinese skaters is different from the days of St. Moritz. "Also, everyone was truly an amateur," Button added.

"Finally, the competitive skating world now exists in fall and spring, not just winter," he said.

These days, Button lives at his home in North Salem, New York, in a place appropriately called Ice Pond Farm.

Yes, there is a pond there, but only when the conditions are just right.

"I only skate if there is 'black ice.' That's where the whole pond freezes completely through and then you can skate perfect figures. After I skate on it once, then it is no longer black ice because it has been marked up. I wait for it to completely melt and freeze again."

Button only does his sport on his terms. Such pickiness is perhaps the true mark of a legend.

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