The 1968 Exhibit: Peggy Fleming wins the gold, February 10, 1968

feb23On this day, February 10, in 1968,* Peggy Fleming won the gold medal in figure skating at the Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France--the only gold won that year by an American athlete at the competition.* A few weeks later,* this "Olympic Charmer" showed up on the cover of LIFE magazine, wearing her gold medal and her memorable chartreuse skating outfit.* Fleming, who came into the Olympics as the three-time World Champion, was expected to win, but her triumph* galvanized the American figure-skating world, still recovering from the catastrophic plane crash seven years earlier that had killed the entire U. S. figure-skating team.* (Another American skater, Tim Wood, won silver at Grenoble.)* Fleming's win was the first in an unbroken string of medals (not all of them gold)* for American women in skaters at the Olympic Games that extends down to the last games in 2006, and includes such well-known names as Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, and Nancy Kerrigan.

Peggy Fleming's performance at the 1968 Games is the stuff of legend, and it is of course available on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw9XZAA72lw). Watching it, one is struck again by the contrast between her style--classic, balletic, and graceful--and that of the women in the sport today, when the competition has come to be dominated by speed and jumping.* Fleming was-- and remains, at age 61--a class act.

It's not surprising that a youthful and triumphant image was chosen for the cover of LIFE this week.* Fleming's gold was just about the only good news around.** Inside this issue, the Olympic Games take a back seat to a huge photo spread and a depressing article on the Marines at the seemingly endless battle for Khe Sanh in Vietnam (announced on the cover next to Peggy's saluting arm).* LIFE's editorial in this issue is headlined: "Wherever we look, something's wrong."*** It begins: "The American people . . . unexpectedly find themselves mired in frustration, self-doubt, and even impotence. . . . America is in a multiple crisis: military, monetary, social, constitutional, and moral," and the editors call for an "honest rethinking of our purpose in the world."