Michigan Man Shocks the World in 1964 Olympics Capturing Only USA Gold Medal
A Michigan man became an unlikely hero the day he set a record and took home the only gold medal for Team U.S.A.
The Winter Olympics are upon us. The United States is among the most prolific medal-winning nations to compete in the Olympics but in 1964 it was a different story. The 1964 Winter Olympics took place in Innsbruck, Austria, and an American speed skater shattered a record.
Terry McDermott was a 23-year-old working as a barber in Essexville, Michigan, located in Bay County. The job allowed him to earn a living while training. Terry first competed in the 1960 Olympics but did not medal in any events. It was the year he first met his biggest rival, Russian skater Yevgeny Grishin. It was in the midst of the Cold War and Grishin was considered the best in the world.
in 2010, McDermott told Click On Detroit that Grishin intimidated him and everyone else after winning many events. McDermott said the rivalry made him push himself that much farther. Perhaps it was the push he needed to set a speed record that day in 1964.
McDermott would work all day at the Essexville barbershop, then train at night for a few hours. He has said that it was hard work but that hard work sure paid off. Just before the Olympics, McDermott's skates broke. Fortunately for him, one of his coaches wore the same size and agreed to let McDermott borrow them for competition.
Grishin competed in the speed skating 500 meters event and posted the top time for the second pairing of the long track. He remained in the top spot until McDermott, nicknamed the Essexville Rocket, crossed the finish line in 40.1 seconds. He shattered the Olympic record and snatched the gold medal from his Russian foe.
While the Essexville Rocket's unlikely story could end there, it gets even better. McDermott returned to the United States as a national hero. His first stop was New York where he was invited as a guest on the biggest television show of the day, the Ed Sullivan Show. It just so happens it was the same night The Beatles invaded America and performed on the same episode of the Ed Sullivan Show.
When the Essexville Rocket returned to Michigan, he was given a hero's welcome. A crowd of more than 50,000 gathered to welcome him as well as politicians and the national media.
The Essexville Rocket competed again in the 1968 Olympics in France and earned a silver medal after competing last in an event on soft ice. Even the athlete who won gold said he believed McDermott would have won otherwise.
When he finally retired from competing, the quiet and humble man from Essexville went on to become a speed skating official. Terry McDermott was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame in 1972 and 1977 the National Speed Skating Hall of Fame in 1977.