Knoxville native remembers 1988 Winter Games
Galen Oppegard's Knoxville home is a museum – a shrine to the '88 Winter Games
"Just looking at the pictures here," he said. "Little reminders."
At 28 years old, it was Galen's son Peter Oppegard's first, and last, shot at Olympic glory.
"We knew that it would be."
Those Olympic dreams finally came true, about 25 years after Peter's first skate.be. At the time I was considered a little bit older by a few years," said Peter, via Skype from California.
"My mom asked me if that's something that I'd like to do. And I thought, that sounded like a good idea, so I thought I'd give it a try," he recalled.
A try turned in to a hobby. A hobby became a career.
With a supportive family still in Knoxville Peter moved all over the country to train.
"It was pretty hard on him," his father said. "He loved his family. He hated to be away."
Peter's career suffered peaks and valleys. And he nearly left the sport for good after the lowest of lows.
"I think some people would have quit then," Peter said of a disheartening second-place finish in the national championships. "But we came back stronger."
In 1984 Peter paired with Jill Watson. The two won three national titles together and came in to the '88 Games poised to take home a medal.
For Peter, the moment was finally here.
"It was very important to me to take in the whole feeling of being in
Calgary," he said.
Eleven members of the Oppegard clan were able to do the same.
"It was amazing. It really was," Galen recalled. "The whole experience. It's hard to believe we were there. I think back on it and I say wow, I can't believe it."
Knoxville's Peter Oppegard was in line for a medal heading in to the final event, the long program.
"At that point I felt like I was ready and I was prepared," Peter said.
But at the very beginning of the routine, his partner fell.
"She went down on it," he said.
Galenn Oppegard describes the family's feelings in the crowd: "Touch of despair. A lot of oh
no's in our crowd when that happened," he said.
"And I remember thinking in the next 10 seconds, she would have to be up in the air being thrown again," Peter said.
Petergave Jill a sign of reassurance.
"I squeezed her hand a little bit, to reassure here that we were going to be OK. She was brilliant after that," said Peter.
So was he.
Oppegard and Watson skated well enough for silver, but got bronze.
"We were so thankful to have had the skate that we did," Peter said. "And so pleased by being in the medals, that for us the difference between the medals, would not have changed the experiences that we had at all. We were so pleased by it."
Eleven proud family members felt the same.
"Tears of joy," Galen said. "That's a lot of what was going on. My wife too. Wow."
Peter got off the podium and went straight for his family.
"Big hug. I remember that. It was amazing," said Galen.
"It was so nice to look in to their faces and exchange and share all the feelings of what 25 years of training turned out to be," Peter said. "We didn't need words. It was just a special moment. When I look back on it now and see my mother and father jumping up and down in the stands. As I look back on it, after all these years, it's even that much more memorable for me."
He returned the states with a hero's welcome. From Hollywood Squares. To a White House visit with President Ronald Reagan. Back home to East Tennessee.
"During the Olympics Knoxville meant everything to me," Peter said. "It was really important for me to know where I came from, who I am, and it gave me the strength when I stepped out on to that ice to do what I felt like I had to do."
A city and a family gave him strength. And both, are still proud of Peter Oppegard.
"He stuck in there," Galen said. "And worked hard and he had the talent. And he got there. He earned it.
I'm very proud."