A 'Tai and Randy' who almost won the gold for Hungary
There's no denying that the US Olympic hockey team was the ultimate Cinderella story at the 1980 winter games. Just as heartwarming, though, was the story of two Hungarian skaters, who almost produced their own miracle on ice only to miss -- narrowly -- winning a gold medal.Skip to next paragraph
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When Krisztina Regoczy and Andras Sallay returned to Budapest, they did so with their country's first winter medal since 1956.
Today, as featured performers with the combined Ice Follies and Holiday on Ice show, they are introduced as Olympic silver medalists and 1980 world ice dancing champions. While accurate, the "intro" just skims the surface of their fascinating story.
Olympic spectators got a glimmer of how special it is during the opening ceremonies of last winter's Lake Placid games. While phalanxes of athletes paraded behind many national placards, Krisztina and Andras, the only members of the Hungarian team, made for lonely standard-bearers.
Hungary has never made much of a dent at the Winter Olympics and probably never will. "There are no hills and no snow in our country," says Andras, only slightly exaggerating. In fact, Hungary, a nation smaller than Indiana, lies within the middle basin of the Danube River, and therefore is far flatter than neighboring Austria.
Winter sports activity is largely confined to recreational figue skating on outdoor rinks. To find the necessary coaching and practice facilities, serious skaters like Regoczy and Sallay may travel abroad.
They spent 12 summers in Richmond, England, training first under Roy Callaway and later his wife, Betty. The experience helps account for their command of the King's English, plus their emergence as world-class ice dancers.
The British, who enjoy a rich skating tradition, joined with Americans to launch ice dancing as a competitive discipline in the late 1940s.The '50s saw British skaters dominate the sport, which takes its lead from Viennese waltzes written more than a century ago. Couples execute original and set dance steps to music, but without the spectacularly high lifts that characterize pairs skating.
As with so many events, the USSR soon asserted itself, no doubt in anticipation of ice dancing becoming an Olympic sport, which it did in 1976. Having monopolized the world championships for a decade, the Soviet ice dancers entered the Lake Placid games as heavily favored as the hockey team.
With the only realistic hope of unseating the Russians, Regoczy and Sallay became darlings of the crowd with their charm and stylish interpretation of Hungarian folk dances.
For several years they nipped at the bootheels of various Soviet skaters, finishing second or third in every European and world championship from 1977 on. This time they would come agonizingly close, losing a razor-thin decision for the gold to the USSR's Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov by a mere 0.96 of a point. To some observers, the 5-4 split decision represented another case of questionable judging.
Despite the momentary sting, however, the Hungarian couple graciously accepted the outcome.
"We were a little disappointed to have come so close [to winning the gold], but pleased that we skated our best," Krisztina says.
"Skating for the audience has always been the main point of our skating," Andras adds. "It was great to hear the applause at Lake Placid. We didn't really think that much about our marks or the color of the medal."