In America's elation at the glamorous, 11th-hour successes by Billy Kidd and Jimmy Heuga in the men's slalom last Saturday, everyone almost forgot two earlier triumphs by a pair of young U.S. skaters. That was unfortunate, because this pair—a speed-skating barber from Michigan and a pampered 14-year-old figure skater from New Jersey—had already insured that the nation's men would not go home from the Winter Olympics empty-handed.
On the morning of February 4 the Olympics were more than halfway over, and the U.S. seemed headed straight for its first gold-medal shutout in Winter Games history. Then along came Richard Terrance McDermott of Essexville, Mich. Most Americans had never heard of Terry McDermott—or of Essexville—and many knew precious little about his specialty, 500-meter speed skating. But Terry, wearing a pair of skates borrowed from his coach, won a gold medal in the event. Terry tried his best to live up to the role of a celebrity, but that is simply not his long suit. When someone asked him what next, he stood there, pigeon-toed, and said he only wanted to get back to the girl he married four months ago but, because of training, he has not seen in almost two.
Going home presented other pleasures to Terry, who says his true love is cutting people's hair, a pleasure he indulges at his uncle's neighborhood barber shop in Bay City, not very far from Essexville (McDermott looks a lot like Perry Como, but perhaps all young barbers do). Terry has been cutting hair (at $1.75 a head) for a year now and stands behind the last chair in a shop with four. His wife works in the bank that holds the mortgage on their new home.
Terry, who is 23, started to speed-skate as a youth because his sister married a guy who did. Training and racing sporadically, as his limited means permitted, he kept an eye on the Olympics. He made the team, almost unnoticed.
February 17, 1964
Innsbruck was rather warm the day before he was to race, and the ice on the outdoor rink had turned soft. Terry's coach, Leo Freisinger, had two choices: put Terry in the first starting group, when he knew the ice would be hard and fast, or put him in the second group, when he knew Terry's adrenalin would be flowing. "The risk of putting him in the first group," said Freisinger, "was that he might draw an early starting number. Terry needs pressure, he needs someone to beat. The risk in waiting was that the ice might soften."
Freisinger crossed his fingers and put Terry in the second group. Sure enough, Terry's biggest rival for the gold medal, Russia's Evgeni Grishin, did poorly going off early, and clouds hung heavy overhead. "I think we've got us some gold hardware," Freisinger told Terry, and Terry went out and proved him right with an Olympic record sprint of 40.1 seconds. Grishin, twice a gold medalist, was clocked at 40.6 and admitted that he had been beaten by a better man. When Terry heard that, he just blushed and couldn't think of a thing to say.
Bashfulness is never the problem of Scott Ethan Allen, who turned 15 two days after winning his Olympic medal. A worldly, self-possessed little boy, Scotty is as voluble as Cassius Clay, and he and his entourage of six supporters hit the town like an independent Olympic committee.
Scotty figure-skates—which is quite right for him because his mother, Sonja Fuhrman, was once Sweden's figure-skating champion. When she was little, Mrs. Allen used to bite her nails in awe while watching her idol, Sonja Henie, and now she worries a lot about Scotty—whether he is cold, whether he is tired, whether he is nervous, whether, heaven forbid, he is running a temperature. Just in case that should happen, a doctor and a nurse were members of Scotty's ground crew.
Home for Scotty is Smoke Rise, N.J., an exurb of manicured lawns with a private lake where no house, Mrs. Allen says, costs less than $50,000. Scotty sails a Sailfish on the lake sometimes, and Frank Allen, his father, manufactures electronic timing devices in Parsippany, N.J. Scotty has a white telephone on his bedroom desk which, like the rest of the furniture, comes from one of New York's more expensive shops, Georg Jensen's.
"I'm just an average guy," he says, "except I skate." Scotty started skating on double-runners when he was 14 months old and now gets up at day-break to skate on single-runners at Madison Square Garden. He gets to school at noon, and gets out at 3. Then tutors come to his house and fill in the blanks. Scotty has lots of curly hair, a middle-range voice, a downy mustache and a fair amount of zeal.
While waiting for the men's free-skating finals to begin (he had placed fourth in the compulsory figures a few days before), Scotty napped serenely in his dressing room at the ice stadium in Innsbruck while his mother frantically roamed the halls on three-inch stiletto heels. "Why should Scotty be worried?" said his coach, Fritz Dietl. "Let's face it, he's brainwashed. He's not thinking about winning, he's wondering who's going to be second."
When it was his time, Scotty went out onto the ice and gave the audience a few free warmup leaps and spins, and waved and grinned to the crowd like the politician he is. He then skated very well indeed and did not fall. When he slipped a little, he gave everyone the big grin again, and they ate it up.
From the sidelines, Mrs. Allen pounded on an usher and shouted, "Thatsa boy," and "Nice going," and that sort of thing. When Scotty was through, he was rushed immediately to an ABC-TV camera. There was the perfect lipstick image of a kiss on his left temple.
Scotty got a bronze medal that night and became the youngest competitor ever to place in the top three at a Winter Olympics. The French favorite, Alain Calmat, got the silver and Germany's Manfred Schnelldorfer the gold. "Boy, oh boy," said Mrs. Allen. "I'm very happy and proud," said Scott Ethan Allen's father, who had not said much until then, and his eyes began to brim.