She steps out of her son’s car onto the half-circle drive in red, white and blue beaded shoes. Donning a white Olympic wind suit, the 93-year-old Dorothy Franey Langkop looks vibrant, as if returning from a brisk morning stroll.
Which is fitting, for inside her son’s colonial style home is an impressive array of awards – including an Olympic medal – that Langkop has acquired over a long and remarkable athletic career.
Hailing from St. Paul, Minn., Langkop first learned to ice skate on a rink her father created in the backyard.
“My father would say, ‘If my girls are here, then I know where they are,’” Langkop recalls, laughing.
Whatever the season, Langkop learned to play its corresponding sport: hunting, skiing, swimming and golfing. But Langkop showed undeniable skill in speed skating, and with no standardized high school sports for girls, she ended up competing with boys.
“They would change practice times so she wouldn’t know to show up,” says her son, Jimmy Langkop. “She would always beat them.”
“And I used to date some of them – that was the bad part” Langkop chimes in.
At 17, she set a world record for the 100-yard speed skate, and the following year was chosen for the 1932 U.S. Olympic team. There, she won a bronze medal for the 1,000-meter race.
After dominating the athletic rink, Langkop’s mother decided it was time to make her presentable in a pair of pumps instead of skates. Always a tomboy, the young Olympian was sent to her sister’s home in Dallas so she could “make a lady out of her.”
Instead, Langkop wandered to Oak Cliff, where her sister found her playing a game of pick-up basketball with fellow female athlete Babe Dietrichson Zaharis. The two became lifelong friends.
“Mom was very much like the Babe Dietrichson of the North,” Jimmy says.
When it was time to choose the 1936 women’s Olympic speed skating team, Langkop was first on the list. But there was a lack of funding because the sport was not yet officially recognized, so the team was unable to compete. Langkop didn’t miss a beat. She went on to set eight more world records, giving her a total of 12 out of 14 world records, all in varying distances.
But Langkop soon tired of her singular skill and decided to do something rare in the skating world: She crossed over from speed skating to figure skating.
“She paid her dues,” Jimmy says. “She took choreography and dance lessons, and by 1942, she had her own show on Broadway.”
The Dot Franey Ice Review opened at the International Casino on 44th and Broadway, where Langkop was the first woman to skate on three types of skates: speed skates, figure skates and stilt skates, which separate the foot from the blade by 18 to 24 inches.
Figure skating was flourishing into a popular sport, so the show decided to hit the road, traveling throughout the country to rave reviews.
“All my shows were held over from a four-week contract to a six-month or nine-month, or even a yearlong run,” Langkop says.
During this time, Langkop met her husband, Eugene, a former professional baseball player. Cited as “the only man who could keep her attention,” the two fell in love and married in Mexico.
When Langkop brought her skating troupe and portable rink to Dallas’ Adolphus Hotel, her six-week show was such a hot ticket that it turned into a 14-year run. Until 1957, Langkop produced, directed and starred in a new show every six weeks. Seats often had to be reserved at least two weeks in advance.
“It was the power lunch of the day, and was the center of downtown,” Jimmy says. “She was quite admired by all the businessmen because she ran the whole show.”
On only a 20-by-24 foot rink, Langkop choreographed all kinds of stunts with eight to 10 skaters on the ice at a time.
Langkop continued to skate while pregnant with her first child and even directed and produced from her hospital bed shortly after giving birth.
“They put in a special line for me so I could still direct from my bed,” Langkop says.
After the show’s end, she continued her athletic ways until a hunting excursion with friends brought it to a screeching halt. A single accidental shot went off while Langkop loaded her gun on one knee. The buckshot pulverized her left foot, and doctors insisted on amputation.
“I just wouldn’t hear of it,” Langkop says. “I didn’t want to be on crutches the rest of my life.”
Adamantly, she refused amputation and went to Chicago, where she endured 12 reconstructive surgeries from the best orthopedic surgeon in the country at the time. Describing the endeavor as “painful, painful, painful,” Langkop spent a month in the hospital. She wasn’t about to refute her reputation as a restless spirit.
Less than a year after nearly losing her foot, she entered and won the Dallas City Golf Championship at the age of 45.
For mixed foursome tournaments, Langkop often hooked up with good friend Mickey Mantle, and Langkop says she was the only woman he was willing to play with.
“He wanted to play with someone he could win with,” Langkop jokes.
Simultaneously, she began a large effort to organize a group for veteran Olympians. Using her political clout, she raised money and helped convince the U.S. Olympic Committee how important it was to legitimize the group.
“Dorothy was in fact the person that kept the Olympic movement alive when it very easily could have gone awry,” says John Naber, Olympic gold medalist and fellow U.S. Olympian. “Her affection for the Olympic movement and respect for Olympic ideals made her the focal point for any Olympic alumni activities. There’s no way we can adequately thank Dorothy for being the torch bearer for the Olympic alumni movement – without her we would not be here.”
In 1983, she became the group’s first female president and an executive director for life.
“She still has that Olympic spirit and Olympic belief in her eyes and in her smile, and that is one thing that I will always cherish about Dorothy,” says Mike Eruzione, captain of the 1980 “Miracle” U.S. Olympic hockey team.
It’s no surprise that, despite a recent hip replacement surgery, Langkop is still going strong. She recently celebrated her 93rd birthday with a party of more than 100 guests.
“She is so loved and admired that people came in from Hawaii and Boston to see her,” Jimmy says. “She is totally inspirational, not only because of what she accomplished, but also because of the obstacles she had to overcome. She has been a trailblazer.”
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