Gene Heffron’s Olympic roots trace back to the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France. Those were the Olympics when Peggy Fleming won the hearts of the world in ladies figure skating. Those were also the games when Heffron along with his partner Vicky Camper helped Ice Dancing make a splash.
“That was the first time they were doing that, because it had always been perceived that it wasn’t athletic enough. So they got permission to do an exhibition,” said Heffron.
No scores were kept. The performers weren’t judged. The true judges were the fans who filled the stands.
“It was the most attended of all the indoor competitions. More than hockey. More than figure skating. We had 15,000 standing room only to see that. Because they wanted to see what it was. Nobody knew what it was.”
Up to that point Ice Dancing had been looked down upon as something that was merely pretty and pleasant, much like ballroom dancing. It wasn’t viewed as a sport.
“We were kind of the stepsister type thing yea.”
Suddenly that perception changed.
“They realized ‘Oh these guys really are athletes. They can do some athletic stuff.’
As the years have gone on ice dancers have been given more and more freedom to show their athleticism in addition to their artistry. Today American’s Charlie White and Meryl Davis are considered by Heffron to be the best ice dancers ever.
“They’re probably going to win the Olympics. They are exciting.”
Heffron says ice dancing will probably never become quite as popular as pairs figure skating.
“ Because they can do the big lifts. They can do the big throw. They can do jumps. We still can’t do throws or jumps in ice dancing.”
The the gap has narrowed greatly. When the ice dancers take the ice in Sochi people will be eager to watch.
Heffron is originally from Syracuse. He has lived and coached in Rockford since the mid-80s. He has coached three Olympic Skaters Matt Savoie, Ava Hansen, and the dance team of Johnny Johns and Mary Karen Campbell.