Dick Button was born on July 18, 1929, in Englewood, New Jersey. He claimed the first of seven consecutive U.S. Championships at age 16, and won five World titles and back-to-back gold medals at the Winter Olympics before retiring from competition in 1952. Elected to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1976, Button has remained in his sport's headlines as a prominent television analyst.
Olympic figure skater and television personality Dick Button was born Richard Totten Button on July 18, 1929, in Englewood, New Jersey. Though his father, George, initially pushed his son toward ice hockey, he sent Button to train with ice-dancing coach Joe Carroll in Lake Placid, New York, during the summer of 1942. Carroll recommended the services of Gustave Lussi, a Switzerland-born skier turned skating coach, and Button began training with his new mentor at age 13.
Button's development accelerated rapidly under the direction of Lussi, and he won the United States Figure Skating Championships men's novice division in 1944 and the junior division in 1945. He completed the trifecta by claiming the senior division gold medal as a 16-year-old in 1946, the first of a record-tying seven consecutive U.S. Championships.
Button placed second to Switzerland's Hans Gerschwiler at the 1947 World Figure Skating Championships in what would be his lowest finish at the senior level. Along with defending his U.S. National championship, he claimed his first of three North American Figure Skating titles that year.
Competing at the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Button became the first skater to land a double-axel jump during a performance; amazingly, he had only successfully performed the move in practice just days before the start of competition. The jump helped Button outlast local favorite Gerschwiler for the gold medal. Along with his Olympic glory, Button won his first of five World Championships and the European Championships in 1948, the last year Americans were allowed to participate. He remains the only man to simultaneously hold the Olympic, World, European, North American and U.S. National titles.
Among his other innovations, Button is the inventor of the flying camel spin, where the free leg swings around in a jump and becomes the focal point for a spin upon landing. Button also became the first skater to land a triple jump in competition, which he used to claim his second consecutive gold medal at the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway. After his wins at that year's World and U.S. Championships, the celebrated skater retired from competition.
Post Competitive Career
Button completed undergraduate courses at Harvard University in 1952 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1956. He also continued to entertain audiences on ice by skating professionally with the "Ice Capades" and "Holiday on Ice" tours.
In 1959, Button founded Candid Productions with Paul Feigay. Although Candid would produce several notable shows, including Battle of the Network Stars, Button found his greatest success in the media industry as a television analyst. He served as a figure skating commentator for CBS' coverage of the 1960 Winter Olympics, marking the start of a long second career in the broadcast booth for the sport’s biggest events.
Button created the World Professional Figure Skating Championships in 1973, and in 1976 he was among the inaugural inductees to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Two years later, he survived a brutal attack by a gang of young men who went on a rampage in Central Park.
Meanwhile, Button continued to gain prominence as a television analyst, earning acclaim for his pointed, honest critiques of skaters and their routines. In 1981 he was honored as the first winner of an Emmy Award for Outstanding Sports Personality - Analyst.
Named person of the century by International Figure Skating magazine in 1999, Button fell while attempting to dust off some old moves a year later and suffered a fractured skull. Although the injury left him with permanent hearing loss, Button recovered use of his cognitive functions. He brought his renowned analytic skills back to the airwaves after a few months, while also serving in his new role as national spokesman for the Brain Injury Association of America.
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