Olympic veteran BYU professor shares unique tie with Russia

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The strained atmosphere surrounding the Cold War could not stop a 17-year-old American speed skater in her red, white and blue uniform from sprinting up the stairs to the door of the Russian speed skating team and introducing herself in broken Russian.

BYU professor and retired Olympic speed skater, Barbara Lockhart, poses with Olympic gear. Photo by Sarah Stroebel Hill.
BYU professor and retired Olympic speed skater, Barbara Lockhart, poses with Olympic gear. Photo by Sarah Stroebel Hill.

Former Olympian and BYU professor Barbara Lockhart prepared to form ties with the Russian speed skaters prior to even arriving at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympic Games. “Because the Russians were the best speed skaters,” Lockhart said.

Years earlier, Lockhart’s father spotted a pair of speed skates in his department store’s basement and brought them home to his young daughter. At 9 years old, Lockhart woke herself up at 4:30 a.m. each morning, ran three miles to the ice rink, which was just a soccer field the local firefighters hosed down for the winter, and practiced skating for hours.

“I tend to be really, really hyper-motivated,” Lockhart said. “I trained myself.”

When Lockhart was a senior in high school, the Olympic committee added women’s speed skating to the games. Lockhart decided to try out merely for the experience, with no expectations. However, the night before the race her father told her that she was going to be on the Olympic team.

“My dad and I are really close,” Lockhart said. “He would just tell me to do things, and I could do them.”

She was taken back by her father’s matter-of-fact statement.

“I went out the next day and won the race,” Lockhart said. “Nobody expected it, except for Dad.”

While training for the Olympics, Lockhart got a part-time job at the high school bookstore. She knew the Russians were the best speed skaters in the world, so she made the most of her time at work.

“There were books on Russian,” she said. “So I taught myself.”

When Lockhart presented her broken Russian, the team was “shocked and so pleased.” Lifelong relationships were born. Lockhart and the Russian skaters became inseparable; they even taught Lockhart their skating technique.

“People don’t realize how close it’s possible for the athletes to get even though you are competing, because the Olympics have a whole different spirit,” Lockhart said.

In the 1964 Innsbruck Games, Lockhart described her race as a “peak experience.” She was on track to win the gold medal when she fell for the first and last time in her career. One of Lockhart’s closest Russian friends, Klara Guseva, cried on the sidelines as she watched her American competition fall out of the medal standings.

“Had I stayed on my feet and won a medal, (Klara) would have been bumped out of her medal,” Lockhart said. “That’s how close we had become; she got the third-place medal.”

In 1992, Lockhart was asked to direct the BYU Russian study abroad program. By what Lockhart calls a miracle, she found Klara, whom she had lost contact with years earlier. Lockhart, a convert herself, explained to Klara why she was in Russia with a Book of Mormon in hand. Soon after, Klara was baptized as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When Lockhart fell in the 1964 games, reporters repeatedly said, “All that for nothing.”

She disagrees.

“I think of it as a gift, an amazing privilege to be given the talent and the opportunity to develop it,” Lockhart said.

“Whether she is relating to people, situations or circumstances, she always finds the good,” said Ron Hagar, one of Lockhart’s colleagues, said. “She is a competitive and accomplished person yet never fails to recognize, celebrate and promote others’ achievements before her own.”

Lockhart’s Russian ties are a paramount element in her Olympic experience, as those relationships have extended far beyond athletic competition.

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