COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Five decades ago, all 18 members of the U.S. figure skating team, traveling for the 1961 world championships, were killed in a plane crash, victims of a mechanical meltdown on a landing near Brussels. A nation's dominance in a glamour sport also went up in flames.
The story of an undeniable tragedy and the subsequent rebirth of American figure skating is being told on the big screen for the first time next month, with help from a handful of Olympic medalists, a reigning Olympic champion and a well-known network TV host.
A one-night-only showing of "RISE" will take place Feb. 17, the cinematic feature set for more than 500 theaters, including three in Colorado Springs, as a red-carpet presentation run by Matt Lauer of "The Today Show" on NBC happens at Times Square in New York two days after the 50th anniversary of the first fatal accident involving a Boeing 707.
Storytellers in the Fathom event, produced and directed by 16-time Emmy Award winner Lookalike Productions, are Brian Boitano, a 1988 Olympic champion; Peggy Fleming, who won Olympic gold in 1968; Dorothy Hamill, a 1976 Olympic champ; Scott Hamilton, a 1984 Olympic champ; and Michelle Kwan, an Olympic silver medalist in 1998 and an Olympic bronze medalist in 2002.
Perhaps the headliner is Evan Lysacek, who parlayed momentum from a 2009 world title into a gold at the Vancouver Games in February, the first by a U.S. man since Boitano hit the top of the podium. Proceeds will go toward the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund, which awards $300,000 annually in grants and scholarships to skaters and has dished out more than $10 million since its inception eight days after the crash of Sabena Flight 548.
U.S. Figure Skating president Patricia St. Peter said the movie acts as "not only a film to commemorate the team, but it's also a film to celebrate where (American) figure skating came from that point," with 27 Olympic medals and 117 world medals the past 50 years. St. Peter noted, "It is a story about what happens when you experience a horrible tragedy, a horrible loss, and what people do to literally get up and move forward."
"Everybody across the country can experience this at the same time and be a part of it," U.S. Figure Skating executive director David Raith added. "The community feeling and spirit of going to a theater and bringing people together is an important part of what we want to do. ... The hope is that by the end of it, everybody will want to go and skate."