by Marvin Kusmierz (July 2003 - Updated July 2008)
The performance of U.S. team at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck will always be a legacy associated with Terry McDermott, the 23-year-old barber from Essexville, Bay County, Michigan.
Things weren't looking very good for the U.S team on February 4, 1964, the Olympics were half over and it looked like a certainty that the U.S. team was going to set a record they didn't want, "the first U.S. team in history not to win a gold at a Winter Olympics."
On that day Terry was preparing to compete in the 500 meter speed skating event. Not much was expected of him. He competed in the 1960 olmpics, but his performance fell short of a medal. The overwhelming favorite in Terry's strongest event was two-time gold medalist Evgenie Grishin from Russia. No one expected Terry do much better than possibly a bronze medal this time around.
The warm weather of that day had a major effect on ice conditions. The advantage going to those the skater in earliest heats when the ice was still hard and fast. Surprisingly, Terry's coach, Leo Freisinger, decided to put him in the later rounds. He believed Terry was the kind of skater who gave his best performance under extreme pressure conditions. As it turned out Terry was matched up with Grishin. Now Freisinger's best possible scenario was in place, but even he must have had some doubt Terry could defy the odds and beat the worlds's fastest skater.
The shy -- but eager Terry, took his position at the starting line and readied himself. At the sound of the gunblast Terry was off to a fast start ahead of Grishin. Terry on the other hand was living up to coach freisinger's expectations as he continued to hold his lead throughout the race crossing the finish line at 40.1 seconds, setting a new olumpic record to the amazement of the sports world! The U.S. team had their Gold Medal victory! And, Terry wrote himself into sports history! After the race, Girshin acknowledged that the better man won today. Terry's record breaking time for the 500 meters held until the 1972 Olympics.
Considering Terry's feat in relationship to the statistics of the 1964 Olympics helps to appreciate the signficance of his performance. The U.S. team ranked eighth with a total of six medals that year, three Bronze, two Silver and Terry's one Gold. The U.S.S.R. team was the top medal winner with twenty-five, eleven of which were gold.
1964 Gold Medal
The story of Terry McDermott is one seldom seen outside of fiction. While his story never made it into a hollywood movie, it certainly could have, and most like would in today's environment of made for TV movies. It's a story that Terry may have been too shy at the time to take advantage of -- for all he wanted was returned home to his new wife of four months and to his job at Bunny's Barber Shop. Bunny's was located at 1005 Columbus, north side of the street, 1/2 block west of the Farragut intersection in Bay City. A job, that soon had many locals flocking to Bunny's to get a memorable haircut by Terry. A thrill that delighted the many who did so to claim a piece of history for themselves.
Terry's Olympic story is one that was seeded in his youth by circumstances that prepared him for the day of his history making performance. His older sister, Marilyn, married Richard "Dick" Somalski and this certainly played an important role in the direction that Terry took with skating. Somalski founded the Bay County Speed Skating Club in 1946. It was Dick, who provided the encouragement and knowledge that nourished the skills of his young brother-in-law. A role he continued as Terry's coach until he made the 1960 U.S. Olympic team. Both are now in the U.S. Speed Skating Hall of Fame, Terry as a "Skater" and Dick as a "Contributor".
Other noteable achievements by Terry include:
- The 1968 Olympics where he earned a Silver Medal with a time of 40.5. Erhard Keller won the Gold with a time of 40.3, both times below Terry's record performance of 40.1. In the 1972 Olympics, Keller took the Gold and set a new record time of 39.44.
- 1960, medal at the 1960 National Indoor Competition.
- 1961, medal at the North American Indoor Competition.
- 1999, Chairman of U.S. Speedskating Gold Council. Their mission is to play a leadership role for young inspiring U.S. speedskaters, helping them achieve performance excellence and to draw recognition and support to their efforts.
The story of Terry McDermott is a fine example of what is possible when a person's life is touched in a positive way by family, friends and neighbors. He is truly a local “hero!” He is a product of our community and we can take great pride in sharing him with a worldwide audience. But, even more so, his story is a formula that we can point to for success. That it is possible for dreams to come true when they are supported by persistence and honed by hard practice in order to achieve excellence.