Not long ago, I took my daughter to see Stars on Ice. I have long been a fan of skating, and I was excited to see the stars of my youth (like Ekaterina Gordeeva, who I remember skating pairs with her late husband, Sergei Grinkov) and contemporary champions (like Joannie Rochette, who heartbreakingly medaled at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics after losing her mom just prior to the competition). Moving stories, inspiring dedication, breathtaking athleticism and artistry – even for someone who doesn't know her Lutz from her Salchow, it's impressive. As my 4-year-old (who came for the costumes but stayed for the spins) put it so eloquently, "They are REALLY good balancers, Mommy."
But figure skating might not be the arena-filling phenomenon it has remained for decades, were it not for a 5-foot-3-inch Norwegian born 100 years ago today.
Sonja Henie was skating's first superstar. By 10, she was Norway's champion, and at 11 she competed in her first Olympics. She won her first World Championship at 14 and became unbeatable, going on to win ten consecutive Worlds, three consecutive Olympic golds, and six consecutive European Championships.
No one could top her, and everyone wanted to be like her. Henie was the first to sport the now ubiquitous women's figure skating look: short skirt and white boots. And she was the first to use dance choreography in her skating routines. Her innovation and glamour forever transformed skating and helped solidify its acceptance as a legitimate sport and Olympic pursuit.
Henie's reign continued long after her competitive career ended. In 1936, she turned pro and began performing and touring in lavish ice shows.
That same year, the ice princess signed a long-term deal with 20th Century Fox and added silver screen star to her résumé. Check out her fancy footwork as Henie heats up the ice in "Tico, Tico" from the 1945 film It's a Pleasure.
From the half loop to Hollywood to Holiday on Ice, Sonja Henie was a star.
Written by Jessica Campbell. Find her on Google+.