In the backstory of my novel, On Thin Ice, Natalie’s parents were the first American pair to win the World Championships. However, in real life, that distinction is often credited to Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardener, who, like Natalie’s parents, did not go on to become the first American pair to win the Olympics. (In reality, Karol and Peter Kennedy won Worlds in 1950, and Tai and Randy were the second, and most recent, to achieve that title.)
In 1979, when Tai and Randy won Worlds, this “first” was quite celebrated, and they became favorites for the upcoming 1980 Olympics, to be held in Lake Placid, New York. But it wasn’t meant to be.
Randy was injured, and though he tried to push through the pain, he ended up needing a shot to relieve the pain. Unfortunately, the shot left him with a numb leg. After a disastrous warm-up, they made the difficult choice to withdraw.
After the Olympics, Tai and Randy, known in the press as the “Heart-Break Kids,” went on to have a successful professional career — touring with the Ice Capades, competing in professional events, and participating in the reality TV show Skating with Celebrities. Tai battled alcoholism and is now sober.
To this day, no American pair has brought home gold from the Olympics. And that is unlikely to change next year — no US team has medaled at Worlds since 2002 and no US pair has won an Olympic medal since 1988.