Terry McDermott: 1964 Olympic champion

Published On: Jan 31 2014 09:38:03 PM EST
Updated On: Feb 03 2014 11:14:40 AM EST

BAY CITY, Mich. -

Nearly 60 years ago in Bay City, Terry McDermott fell in love with the sport of speed skating.

In 1964 he became a national hero after winning the U.S.'s only gold medal in Innsbruck, Austria. He didn't know that another phenomenon, called "Beatlemania," was crossing the Atlantic as well. For McDermott, his sport came first.

Watch: Terry McDermott wins 1964 gold

"I joined the speed skating club and from there on we started skating in competitions around Michigan," McDermott said.

From there McDermott took off like a rocket. As he got older and more mature in the sport he began training for the 1960 Olympic Games. He did not medal in the 500-meter in Squaw Valley, but a budding rivalry was born between him and Russian skater Yevgeny Grishin, who was considered the best in the world and won gold in those games.

"He intimidated me," McDermott said of Grishin. "He intimidated everybody because he was winning all the events, the 500-meter and 1,500-meter. He was very strong."

The intimidation didn't last. McDermott trained for the '64 games and worked at his uncle's barbershop in Bay City. The shop gave him the chance to earn a living and chase his dream, but it wasn't easy.

"It was difficult," Smith said. "You'd put in a day's work and then a couple hours of physical training every day."

The hard work paid off, but not without a few bumps in the road. McDermott's skates broke just before the Olympics and he had to borrow a pair from his coaches, who happened to wear the same size. Those skates helped McDermott win gold in Innsbruck, beating the mighty Grishin and setting a new Olympic record in the process.

"I was very thrilled and very happy at that, but the most exciting part of winning the gold medal was the evening of the presentation of the medal," McDermott said. "When they put the Olympic medal around your neck and you're standing on that podium and they're playing our national anthem and the flag is being raised, it's quite thrilling."

With gold around his neck, McDermott returned to the United States; but he didn't go right back to Michigan. His first stop was New York City, where he was picked up in a limousine and taken to the Waldorf Astoria. Then, the biggest name in show business came knocking.

"Somehow we were contacted to be in 'The Ed Sullivan show,'" McDermott said. "We didn't know who was going to be on."

It was February 9, 1964, and the Beatles came on.

"That was the night, the first time the Beatles were on American television and I didn't really realize who they were," McDermott said.

They were the biggest band England had ever seen, and soon they would become one of the most influential groups in the history of music. McDermott and his wife, Virginia, got to meet them backstage.

"We were introduced to them and they were very polite," McDermott said. "They called me 'sir' and my wife 'ma'am'. We had a small conversation about the Olympics and it was a good experience."

The conversation and photo captured a monumental moment in pop culture.

"Ed Sullivan had set up a photo of me cutting the Beatles' hair," McDermott said. "Because they had relatively long hair for that period of time, and so we all got together, Ed Sullivan in the picture, and I'm pretending to cut Paul McCartney's hair."

McDermott was part of one of the most iconic television moments in history. 73 million people watched that episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show," and even though he didn't get center stage, he got a huge taste of the limelight.

One question remains for McDermott: Was winning the gold medal or being on "The Ed Sullivan Show" with the Beatles the bigger moment in his life? For him, the answer is easy.

"I think winning the gold medal is a little bit better."

McDermott won a silver medal in the 1968 games and was inducted into the speed skating Hall of Fame. He and his wife of 50 years now live in Bloomfield Hills for most of the year, but head south during the winter. After the amazing accomplishments and priceless experiences, McDermott is content with his life.

"Today I'm retired," he said. "Been retired for seven years and live in Florida for three or four months. I play golf and life is pretty good."

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