Sonja Henie - A True Icon
Starring in over a dozen Hollywood feature films and winning more singles figure skating titles than any other woman in history, Sonja Henie stands as a true icon in both the sporting realm and for those lovers of classic movies. Henie isn't simply remembered for her great skating, of which there was plenty.
Sonja was actually the youngest person to ever win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics, and she held that position until Tara Lipinski won her gold–ironically enough, also in figure skating–some 70 years later. In Sonja's day, however, it was unprecedented for an athlete so young to be so talented.
Born on April 8, 1912 in Oslo, Norway, Sonja Henie was a professional figure skater with over 16 championships to her name, 3 Olympic Gold Medals, and she would eventually go on to star in a slew of hit Hollywood films. She was the blonde bombshell long before others would come along, but Henie never really intended on acting.
Henie's parents were both wealthy, and her father was a world champion cyclist who encouraged his children to participate in sports. It was clear from a very early age that young Sonja could skate very well. However, she was also a skilled swimmer, tennis player, and equestrienne. Eventually, though, she would become serious about figure skating, and by the time she was 10, she already had her sights set on the biggest stages in the world.
Henie's Remarkable Olympic Gold Performance
Believe it or not, Sonja Henie participated in her first Olympic Games at only 11 years of age. She was still practically a baby in a competition with girls a few years older than her. Henie wasn't without experience herself, though; she was fresh off of a Norwegian Championships victory at 10 years of age – and not just any championship, but the senior championships. Though Sonja was very skilled and graceful on the ice, the 1924 Winter Olympics were not her best showing. Oftentimes she would skate over to her coach to ask for advice. She ultimately finished in 8th place, well out of any medal contention, but on the bright side she was still only 11.
When Henie was 14, she won her first World Figure Skating Championship. Though this would ultimately be the first of 10 consecutive championships, this first in particular was a great launching pad heading into the Olympic Games in 1928. Now 15, she no longer needed to take breaks in her routine to ask for advice. She was a champion, 4 years older, far wiser, and ready to face the competition head on.
The 1928 Games had a few very young contestants, especially in the figure skating competition. But this was par for the course. Younger competitors often competed, but it was customary for them to lose out to the older, more seasoned competition. There were no professional sporting leagues to speak of in most countries, so a lot of the field was around Sonja's age. Though it was exceedingly rare to find someone at only 15 who displayed the level of talent Sonja Henie displayed. And this was extremely evident when she skated against the likes of the US's Beatrix Loughran and Austria's Fritzi Burger in the Games. Sonya skated a fantastic routine to seal the deal, winning her first Olympic Gold Medal at only 15 and becoming, at the time, the youngest competitor to ever win a singles gold in a winter event.
This wouldn't be the last medal she won, however. In the 1932 Games in Lake Placid, Henie won gold again, defeating a great field, and she would repeat those results at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1936, making 3 consecutive gold medals to keep on the shelf en route to her 10th consecutive world championship, which she won only a week later.
Henie had a popular following that rivaled the Beatles of the '60s. Security had to follow her around wherever she went, and when she was finished with her competitive career, she transitioned into the movies seamlessly and made some great motion pictures.