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Sunday, December 30, 2001
Tears of joy for gold medalist Dorothy Hamill

By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com

Feb. 13, 1976

Before Dorothy Hamill takes to the ice for her freestyle routine at the Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, she starts crying after seeing a sign in the stands that says, "Which of the West? Dorothy!"

At first, she thinks detractors made the sign and takes it as a message that she is a witch. In this Cold War era, what the sign-makers are cleverly asking is which Western skater - Hamill or Diane de Leeuw of the Netherlands - is going to defeat East Germany's Christina Errath for the gold medal. Then they answer by saying Dorothy.

Once Hamill realizes the sign is held by her friends, who wanted to shake her out of her usual pre-competition jitters, the three-time U.S. champion feels better. A relaxed Hamill gives a clean and safe performance, skating to music from Errol Flynn movies. She wins the gold medal by a unanimous decision of the nine judges.

At the medals ceremony, the 19-year-old Hamill cries again. "I couldn't help it," she says. "It wasn't because I had finally won the medal. It was seeing the American flag go up and hearing the band play, 'The Star Spangled Banner.'"

Hamill will set a fashion trend as young girls will copy her 'do, which looks like a bowl haircut. She also will become the first female athlete to sign a $1 million-a-year contract, with the Ice Capades, which she will later purchase and manage.