by Ralph Routon
Peggy Fleming might be a 61-year-old grandmother now (though she's the most glamorous 61-year-old grandmother you might ever meet), but the figure skating legend and 1968 Olympic champion still keeps a close eye on her sport.
Fleming, who trained in Colorado Springs at the old Broadmoor World Arena, graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School and attended Colorado College during her skating years, was watching inside Pacific Coliseum on Tuesday night as another Cheyenne Mountain student, Rachael Flatt, placed fifth in the short program to start the ladies event at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Fleming isn't working here, though she has been a network commentator for ABC for more than two decades, but she had plenty of analysis to offer Wednesday morning after signing a special Olympic Hall of Fame mural of American winter-sport athletes at USA House.
And she feels Flatt, as well as fellow American Mirai Nagasu in sixth place, still can have a shot at medals in the long program Thursday night.
"I think we're going to see the same kind of performances from both of them that we saw in the short program," Fleming says. "Rachael is so steady and consistent. She might not have quite the flair of some of the other skaters, but she's so solid. Mirai needs to show a little more confidence out there, but she has a lot of potential."
Fleming says she hopes both Flatt and Nagasu will continue skating through the 2014 Olympics, "because I think it really helps our sport in America when our athletes take us on their journey with them, the way Michelle Kwan did for so many years. They've handled themselves so well here, but these girls are young, just 17 (Flatt) and 16 (Nagasu). They have a lot of good years ahead of them."
Fleming was sixth in the 1964 Olympics before winning in 1968 at Grenoble, France.
Like most observers, Fleming is virtually conceding the gold medal here to South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, who won the short program by a comfortable margin.
"I really like Kim's style, her elegance and her speed on the ice," Fleming says. "She's over and above everyone else right now. It's not just the jumps. She makes it look so easy. I told somebody in the stands who didn't know much about skating, 'When it looks easy, that means they're good.'"
Fleming also says she could barely comprehend how much courage it took for Canadian champion Joannie Rochette to skate well enough for third place in the short program Tuesday night, after her mother Therese had died of a sudden heart attack at 55 just after arriving in Vancouver early Sunday.
"That was amazing," Fleming says. "I don't know how she could deal with that and still skate so well. I lost my dad two weeks after winning my first Worlds, and I was just 17. I'm not sure I could have done what she did. But it had to help that the audience was full of people pulling for her."
Fleming had her own life-threatening moment in 1998, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But she went through aggressive treatment and says she hasn't had any problems since, "though I don't miss anything on my checklist."