A Chat with Sue Macy, Author of Freeze Frame

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Sue Macy is the author of Freeze Frame, an exciting new book on the Winter Olympics. (Click here for a review.)

Social Studies for Kids: Whose is the most compelling Winter Olympics story to you? Why?

Sue Macy: There are so many fantastic stories to choose from. One of the earliest Olympic athletes who really amazed me was Billy Fiske, who drove U.S. bobsleds to gold medals in 1928 and 1932. Fiske was only 16 when he won his first gold medal. He was still young enough to compete in 1936, but he refused because the Olympics were in Germany and he opposed the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler. The fact that he took a stand against Hitler really impressed me. Fiske later joined the Royal Air Force of Great Britain to fight the Nazis, and became the first American pilot killed in World War II in 1940. He was only 29 years old.

Among today’s athletes, I find Michelle Kwan quite compelling. I’m glad she’ll have the chance to skate in one more Olympics, although the new scoring system in figure skating seems to favor acrobatic skaters instead of elegant athletes like her. Still, I greatly admire her grace and dignity, and who knows, she just might win!

SS4KIDS: Do you think the competition is more intense just because more athletes are involved today than 50 or 80 years ago? Why or why not?

SM: I don’t think the number of athletes necessarily makes the competition more intense, but I do think that over the years, winning an Olympic medal has taken on added significance. Today, many nations award money to their medal winners. In the early years, when Olympians were all amateurs, that didn’t happen. Also some of today’s gold medalists can look forward to commercial endorsements, so there’s a huge economic aspect to winning. That adds a new dimension to the competition. I think Olympic athletes have always approached the Games with competitive fervor, but in the old days they were competing only for personal or national glory. Today, at least some athletes are competing for economic rewards as well.

SS4KIDS: Have you been to any of the Winter Games? If so, which ones have you been to and which was/were your favorite?

SM: I haven’t been to any Winter Games in person, but I’ve followed all of them through newspapers and TV. I’d have to say the 1980 Winter Games were my favorite, both because of some outstanding performances and because of the political situation at the time. President Jimmy Carter had declared that the U.S. might boycott the 1980 Summer Games because they were to be in Moscow and the U.S. was angry that the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. Against that background, the U.S. ice hockey team achieved what had been thought impossible, beating the Soviets in the semifinals and then going on to win the gold. That victory was celebrated by all of the U.S., hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike. And then there was Eric Heiden’s five gold medals in speed skating. He dominated the Olympics as no one ever had before.

SS4KIDS: What other sports do you think should be part of the Winter Games?

SM: I’d like to see women’s ski jumping added to the mix. Right now, ski jumping is the only Winter Olympic sport that women don’t take part in, so adding it would give them full equity. Otherwise, I don’t really think the Winter Games should keep adding sports. I like that they’re smaller and more intimate than the Summer Games. The addition of extreme sports such as snowboarding and freestyle skiing in the last decade has revitalized the Games, but I think that should be it for a while.

SW4KIDS: What would you say to encourage young athletes to pursue their Olympic dreams?

SM: Peggy Fleming gives kids some excellent advice in the foreword of Freeze Frame. She says to pursue your sport because you love it, not because you want to win medals. Getting to the point where you can compete in the Olympics takes years of hard work. If you don’t take a certain measure of joy in all that work, maybe you shouldn’t be aiming for the Olympics. The bottom line for participating in any sport is that it should make you feel good and strong and proud. If that’s how playing a sport makes you feel, shooting for the Olympics is a terrific goal.

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