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OLYMPIC HISTORY: Jeanne Ashworth a role model for aspiring Olympians

October 20, 2016
By ALISON HAAS - Lake Placid Olympic Museum , Lake Placid News

Children in the Olympic region are fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in a variety of winter sports in Lake Placid.

From ski jumping to skating and luge, flyers and notices for the start of the winter sports season are starting to fill mailboxes, and some parents are asking their children what activity they might want to join. For some, this is an easy decision because from an early age their child knew exactly what sport they were drawn to.

As a child growing up in Massachusetts, former Wilmington town supervisor and three-time Olympian Jeanne Ashworth first became fascinated with speed skating after reading "Hans Bricker or the Silver Skates," by Mary Mapes Dodge. She was captivated by the drama of the competition in the story and when she discovered an ad in her local newspaper for a speed skating race that she could enter for about a quarter, she signed up.

Article Photos

Three-time Olympian Jeanne Ashworth poses in skates as a child.
(Photo courtesy of the Lake Placid Olympic Museum)

Until then, she had only figure skated and didn't know what to expect going into the speed skating race. Ashworth recalls being around seven or eight years of age and how her "mother made her a little tartan dress with straps that went down mid-thigh with a white blouse with straps over my shoulder that I wore and lights were shining on the skaters as we raced around the Boston Garden."

Ashworth went on to describe that first speed skating race she entered, "I was wearing figure skates running around on my toes and I made it into the semi-finals. There were tons of kids that did this and I made it!"

Following that race, her local speed skating club noticed she had entered that skating derby and asked if she wanted to join the Wilmington Skating Club in Massachusetts and the next year got a pair of $9 speed skates.

As Ashworth's love for speed skating continued, she found that the Lake Placid region suited her training needs and moved to the region. She worked at the North Pole in Wilmington during the summer as Little Miss Muffet, and stayed at a campsite she set up on the way to Whiteface Memorial Highway. She would jog up to work every morning and back down to her campsite after work.

Ashworth remembers at the end of fall, "I wanted to get the earliest ice I could get and the ice would sometimes freeze on Winch Pond up near Copperas and I made a squeegee out of a garage door stop and would use a piece of plywood for the handle, I would chop holes on the ice and squeegee the water around the track to make new ice to skate on."

Her training and dedication paid off.

In 1960, women were officially allowed to compete in speed skating for the first time at the Olympic Winter Games at Squaw Valley, California and Ashworth made the Olympic team. She competed in all four speed skating events and when she crossed the finish line of the women's 500-meter race, "I looked up at the times and wow," she said.

Ashworth captured the first official medal for U.S. women in speed skating when she won the bronze medal. "It was all so lucky because I didn't know too much about what I was doing, I just went out and skated fast," she said. Perhaps it was destiny that Ashworth found that ad in the newspaper as a child.

To learn more about the history of speed skating, please visit the Lake Placid Olympic Museum at the Olympic Center. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about the museum, visit www.lpom.org.

 
 

 

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