Flashback Friday: 5-Time Minnesota Olympian Made Her Olympic Debut in 1988

February 09, 2018 08:06 PM

At a time when most teenagers are just getting their driver's licenses and worrying about homework, Amy Peterson was already embarking on what would prove a long Olympic journey.

It was 30 years ago this week when Peterson, then only a sophomore at St. Paul Johnson High School, took part in the first of what would eventually be five opening ceremonies as a member of the U.S. Winter Olympic team.


The short-track speed skater would go on to win a silver medal in 1992 in Albertville, France, and two bronze medals in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway.

The opening ceremony of the 1988 Winter Olympics was held in Calgary on Feb. 13 at McMahon Stadium.

Short-track speed skating was still a demonstration sport in 1988. The young Minnesotan, who is now Amy Peterson Peck, was making her debut on the grandest international stage in sports.

"I was so young then, and I really had no expectations," she recalls. "Everything was just so fun and so cool. Walking into that stadium as part of the opening ceremony was the most amazing thing I'd ever experienced."

Peterson Peck, whose mother had been active in speed skating and whose father had been a hockey player, learned to skate on a rink her Dad built in the backyard of their home in Maplewood. She first took up speed skating at age six when her father took both she and her older sister to a session with the East Side Speed Skating Club in St. Paul.

"My mom told him not to sign us up," she remembers with a chuckle. "She said to just let us see if we liked it. We went and we loved it so much that my Dad signed us up right away. We came back with uniforms and club bags. My mom just laughed."

Peterson Peck's father was a boyhood friend of Herb Brooks, a fellow Johnson graduate and the legendary coach of the gold-medal winning 1980 U.S. men's hockey team. Her uncle was Gene Sandvig, who had competed in a pair of Olympic games as a speed skater himself.

So aiming for such heights seemed an obtainable goal to Peterson Peck.

"The ideal was always there," she said. "I looked at it like if they did it, I could do it too. I was lucky enough to know people who had been there and done that. And they supported me along the way."

After Calgary, though, it was back to Johnson, where she was a member of the varsity girls soccer and golf teams until her graduation in 1990.

"I always loved every sport I did," she said. "Being on the soccer team at Johnson was such a different experience because I got to be part of a team sport. I loved playing soccer in the fall. And golf is such a completely different sport than speed skating. It was a nice break to come back to that after the winter speed skating season.

"For me, playing sports helped me feel like a normal high school kid. Because I was away competing a lot, I didn't always have a chance to do some of those normal high school things."

Speed skating would remain a huge part of Peterson Peck's life for years to come. After earning a silver medal as part of the U.S. women's 3,000 meter relay team in 1992, she returned to win bronze in both the relay and the women's 500 meters in 1994. She dealt with chronic fatigue issues after the 1994 games, but returned to earn a spot on both the 1998 and 2002 Olympic teams as well.

It was at the 2002 Winter Olympics, held in Salt Lake City, that she was selected to a high honor by her fellow U.S. Olympians - carrying the flag for the U.S. delegation in the opening ceremony.

"That was kind of a blur," she remembers. "The captains of each sport in the U.S. delegation meet and nominate people. Then they vote. I was a team captain that year. But the day of the meeting, one of my teammates said I couldn't go. They had a separate team meeting without me and decided they were going to nominate me. They knew I'd never go into that meeting and nominate myself. So someone else took my place. It's always really meaningful to be selected to do something like that. But this was shortly after 9/11. So it had even more meaning that year. It was such an amazing honor."

The honor was a reflection on her select status as a five-time Olympian, counting the demonstration year in 1988.

"I didn't set out to go five times," she said. "I'm sure it's like this for most athletes, though. You're always trying to chase down that perfect race or perfect moment. And as good as I had gotten, I always felt like I could do better. That's what drove me."

Peterson Peck moved back to Minnesota for a time after the 2002 games, but she relocated to New York in 2005, and is now married and the mother of four sons.

The veteran Olympian, whose husband is a sixth-generation dairy farmer, stays connected to the sport as a volunteer coach with the Saratoga Winter Club.

He sons are all active in speed skating as well.

In fact, she will be back in Minnesota this weekend when one of her sons competes in the 2018 Age Class Nationals in Roseville. The trip will also give her the chance to see her mother, who now lives in Annandale, and her sister, who lives in South Haven.

She also intends to be a devoted viewer of this year's Winter Olympics in Pyenongchang, South Korea. The opening ceremony of this year's winter games took place Friday.

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"I'm going to watch as much as I can," she said. "It's really the only chance you get to see most of these sports on TV. I always enjoy it. In fact, I've already told my boys they have to watch basketball and all their other sports on a different TV. I have control of the big TV in our house for the next two weeks."


Frank Rajkowski

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