When Dick Button was 12, someone told him he’d never be a good skater. Button’s father overheard these comments, and encouraged Button to train harder and work with new coaches.
Button eventually teamed with legendary coach Gustav Lussi and earned a place among Olympic and U.S. figure skating history.
Until Yuzuru Hanyu did it Saturday, no other man had repeated as Olympic figure skating champion since Button in 1952.
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"Bravo Hanyu, Records are made to be tie[d]," Button tweeted.
But Button wasn't just the first man to win back-to-back gold medals, he was the first U.S. men’s figure skater to win any Olympic medal. And he was the first man to pull off several jumps and other figure skating elements that have become standard for athletes today.
Button entered the 1948 Olympic Games as the 1947 Worlds silver medalist — the last competition he would ever lose. At Worlds in 1947, he introduced his “Button camel,” or what’s now referred to as the flying camel, practiced by hordes of skaters today.
He also took the title at the 1948 European championships, the last year the competition was open to non-European athletes.
His gold medal performance at the 1948 Olympics included the debut of a double axel, which Button became the first man to land. Aged 18 years and 202 days, Button was the youngest men’s figure skating Olympic champion — a record that still stands today.
“In winning first place and the gold medal in singles Richard Button accomplished something that no United States skater had ever done before, and his performance should be considered one of the outstanding achievements of the Games,” wrote team manager Harry N. Keighley in the official U.S. report of the Games.
The report also detailed the challenges that the rink presented. Figure skaters were scheduled to compete after hockey games, and no manpower was left to resurface the ice before their competitions. There were also problems with the record player and sound equipment, Keighley wrote, and practice sessions were infrequent and inefficient.
Button would win seven national titles and five consecutive Worlds titles in his career. While training for the 1952 Olympics, he attended Harvard College (he later graduated from Harvard Law) and commuted on breaks to training centers in Lake Placid, New York.
At the 1952 Olympics, Button became the first athlete to land a triple jump of any kind: the triple toe loop. He was awarded his second gold medal under a unanimous vote.
Button skated in shows and formed his own production company once he turned professional. He acted in movies, television specials and plays, which he also produced. His broadcast debut was at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics and that career spanned decades. He was inducted into both the Olympic Hall of Fame and the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
Leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Games, Button told The Los Angeles Times of the Olympic spirit: “Ultimately, there will be a moment or a performance that will arise and will lift your heart, and that's what counts. In this world, if your heart gets lifted, even for a brief time, it's well worth it.”