Since the Winter Olympics are drawing near and I am catching the fever, I have been reading more on Winter Olympic sports. I just completed the memoirs of Dorothy Hamill, the legendary American figure skater who won the gold medal in 1976. Here is my review on her autobiography.
“A Skating Life: My Story” by Dorothy Hamill with Deborah Amelon
Figure skating, autobiography, Olympics
October 7, 2008
3 1/2 of 5 stars (good)
Many people dream of winning an Olympic gold medal in a favorite sport, then going on to live happily ever after. Sometimes, however, real life may not live up to those golden expectations (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun!). Dorothy Hamill’s memoir “A Skating Life” is a vivid illustration of not only her life after winning a medal, but also of the sacrifices both the athlete and his or her family must make in order to compete at that level.
The book can be considered to have two main sections, before and after the 1976 Winter Olympics when Hamill won her gold medal. In the chapters before the Olympics, she recalls her schooling, her training in Lake Placid and the relationships with her coaches with surprising detail when one considers the book was written more than thirty years after her victory. She also gives an interesting account of her relationship with her parents, especially that with her mother.
The first chapter that discusses her mother’s absence from her winning program in the Olympics was wonderfully written. She expounds on that moment and it is evident that she was deeply affected by it. There is not a lot of detail about the sport of figure skating in the book. Hamill does talk about some of her routines in her training and has wonderful stories about other skaters at the time such as Janet Lynn, but the skating talk is basic. For those readers who would want to read this to learn something like the difference between a Salchow and a Lutz, that won’t be found in this book.
Her story after the Olympics seems to be one heartbreak after another. She is twice divorced, her first husband is killed in an airplane crash and while it happened after the divorce, this is another event that is shown to have affected her deeply. She also filed for bankruptcy after buying and managing an ice show. All of these setbacks, while described in detail, are told in a conversational style instead of the same style as the first chapter. While this still makes for good reading, it feels like something is missing, especially when compared to the first chapter.
It isn’t all doom and gloom. By the end of the book, it is apparent to the reader that Hamill is comfortable at this point with what life has dealt her and feels blessed to have not only her daughter in her life, but that she has been able to reconnect with her mother. Depression is a topic that is discussed for both herself and both her parents. That is done in a respectful manner that doesn’t come across as bitter or pity. This book is a good account of Hamill’s life and readers who like to read memoirs that are heavy on descriptions of life events and relationships will enjoy this one. If the reader wants to learn more about Hamill’s skating career and the sport, then avoid this one.
Did I skim?
Pace of the book:
It moved along well in most parts, but there were times that I felt it was tough to read, as it was very clear to the reader that Hamill was having difficulty trying to tell the story of a tough situation in her life.
Do I recommend?
Yes, if the reader is looking for a book with descriptions of various relationships and family dynamics, this is a good selection. As a sports book, it doesn’t have a lot about the sport of figure skating, but enough that an avid fan of the sport will enjoy it.
Book Format Read: