ROCKFORD - The winter Olympics have always had their heroes and athletes who connect with the viewers. 50 years ago the athlete who connected with many people both in the Stateline and around the globe was Rockford's own Janet Lynn.
That's right. It's been 50 years since a 14 year old Janet Lynn skated in the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France. She was the youngest member of that U.S. Olympics team.
"At age 14 I was kind of sent on my own to live in the Olympic village and I actually survived at age 14. All on my own and I got to practices," says Lynn reflecting.
"When I was 14 I was just happy as a lark that I had been able to go."
Lynn finished in ninth place out of 32 skaters in 1968. In 1972 she returned to the Olympics that time in Japan as an 18 year old. She was one of the favorites coming off her fourth straight U.S. National Championship, but she struggled in the compulsory figures costing her any shot at a gold. Her strength was the free skate. She won that portion of the competition despite falling on a flying sit-spin. She earned a bronze medal to become the first Olympic medalist in Rockford's history.
"I was honored to be able to win the bronze medal," said Lynn. "For a while I had wondered, I had wanted to win the gold medal at one point in time, but I realized that my skating was really not about the medal. It was about something very different than that and that was honoring God."
For Lynn the notion that winning wasn't everything was ingrained in her at a young age by her coach Slavka Kahout.
"It was all about being the best that I could be," says Lynn. "It was never about winning. I was never asked to win. Before I would go on the ice to compete she (Kahout) would look me in the eyes with her eyes sparkling and say, 'Just go out and tell a story."
So at what age did she say to yourself, 'I'm' all-in with figure skating? I want to compete for national championships. I want to go to the Olympics?'
"Probably after I became a junior national champion. I think one day I was on the ice and all of a sudden it dawned on me that maybe I could go to the Olympics some day."
How nerve-wracking was it for Lynn as a teenager, first at 14 then at 18, to perform all by herself on the ice in front of the whole world?
"Well I guess I never thought of it that way. I guess that's a good thing," said Lynn laughing.
"I was always nervous. You can't reach that level of performance without getting the adrenalin going and knowing how to control it, and so I was always nervous, but I was blessed."
Lynn was a five-time national champion who later went on to skate professionally. She moves from Rockford many years ago. She now resides on the east coast.
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