From Olympic glory to carrying God’s flame


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, March 25th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. 

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Next up: the Olympics. 

Last year’s games got postponed. You well know why! And you probably know the build up to the games starts with the Olympic flame being passed from runner to runner. 

Today, a year after the Olympic Flame arrived in host country Japan, the Torch Relay gets underway once again. Runners will pass the torch to each other until the flame arrives in Tokyo in time for the opening games ceremony in July.

REICHARD: Forty nine years ago, figure skater Bibi Moritz of New Jersey carried the Olympic torch for the games in Munich, Germany. 

World Journalism Institute mid-career graduate Amy Lewis has her story.

[MUSIC: BUGLER’S DREAM] 

AMY LEWIS, REPORTER: Figure skater champion Bibi Moritz still has the Olympic torch she carried in 1972.

MORITZ: I carried the torch for the Olympics in Munich. I just said the other day, I don’t even know where it is. It’s somewhere.

Bibi Moritz, known simply as Bibi, was born Eileen Zillmer. She was only 14 when she skated in her first Olympics for West Germany. Twenty-five years earlier, her Austrian mother qualified for the Olympics but never got to compete because World War Two cancelled the games—twice.

Bibi started skating before she was 2 years old. Her mother handed off her Olympic dreams to the young skater. She coached Bibi and pushed her to success. Skating—and her mother’s expectations—dominated Bibi’s days.

MORITZ: I used to love the exhibition. Other than that, I think it was tough. I think all of it was just so much practice. Before school, after school. Back on the ice till about seven at night. I mean, I did homework in the bathtub, more or less.

Her home wasn’t a restful place.

MORITZ: ‘Cause she brought skating home. So it wasn’t ended at the rink, where it would with a coach. So it was at home too. You know, if you didn’t do something right, or, you know, she was still mad at you because you didn’t land the jump or whatever it was. It’s tough to bring it home. 

Even food became a means of control.

MORITZ: I don’t know, there must have been something that maybe would have been better than just locking up the kitchen, because then I wanted it twice as much. One time I ate a whole box of Honey Buns and then I was so worried that my mother would find out I ripped the whole box up and flushed it down the toilet.

Her mother’s expectations and coldness made Bibi call out to God. She remembers praying daily at each crucifix she passed at her private school. 

MORITZ: And I prayed every night in bed, I used to just have my stuffed animals lined up on my bed and pray with them. Because I was, you know, upset because I couldn’t understand her. I was never angry with her. I just was sad that she couldn’t understand, maybe, the love I think I expected.

Even if she couldn’t express love for her daughter, Bibi’s mother was an effective coach, and Bibi earned a place on the 1968 German Olympic team.

ARCHIVE AUDIO: [PEGGY FLEMING]

That year, American Peggy Fleming won gold…Bibi placed 19th. 

ARCHIVE AUDIO: [1970 WORLD FIGURE SKATING] 

For the next three years, Bibi won Germany’s National Championships. She rocketed to the world’s top-10 skaters and qualified for the 1972 Olympics.  

But she contracted sarcoidosis—growths of inflammatory cells in her lungs. She missed the Olympics—just like her mother. 

She hung up her competitive skates at age 18.

MORITZ: Well, I was very sad, of course. And I wrote an essay, that I used to be the main entrance of a hotel door.  And now I’m just the side door for the servants because suddenly you feel like you’re nobody. But then I was immediately thinking, I need to do some things.  I love skating so much.  What can I now do for skating?  I can teach kids.  And that’s exactly what I did, then right away, you know, at 18. I started at 18 already, I started teaching.

Her ability to change direction on ice translated well—from competitive skating to coaching athletes. She coached with her mother in the U.S. for several years. She says that worked only because she kept her expectations low and prayed for her mother. But their relationship remained distant.

Bibi attended college in the U.S. She married Chris Moritiz, who managed an ice rink. His faith in Christ ran deeper than hers. He gently influenced her deepening understanding of the gospel as she continued coaching. 

Training Olympic hopefuls demanded a lot of energy and focus. She preferred spending time with her husband and their young son. So she changed course again. Instead of working primarily with athletes, she began teaching children the joy of skating. It lacked the wow-factor of a triple lutz, but she was passing on the artistry and beauty of the sport. 

AUDIO: [SKATING RINK]

On a 50-degree March day in northern New Jersey, Bibi—now in her 60s—pulls on ski pants, tucks toe warmers into her fuzzy winter boots clad with extra traction, and cues the music for her first lesson at the Englewood Field Club. The sun has melted the rink’s north end into a giant puddle, so she’ll spend the next five hours on the south end, calling instructions to her students… 

AUDIO: [SHARPENING SKATES]

…sharpening blades, petting dogs the moms bring rink-side, and fielding temperature checks.

Her students love their coach, responding well to her care.

SOFIA:  I’m Sofia.

SYDNEY: Sydney. 

AMY: Tell me, how old are you? 

SYDNEY: Eight.

SIENNA: My name is Sienna Vargas. I’m nine years old. Before, I couldn’t do a Chinese spiral. Before, I couldn’t do a spiral.  Before, I couldn’t do a lunge. I couldn’t do a lot of things before. She’s strict, but, in like, in a good way, because a strict way, because it gives you more confidence to, like, try it again.

What could be more important than passing on to her students the love of skating?

Sharing God’s love brings Bibi the most joy. Coaching provides opportunities to talk about Jesus. She regularly prays for her co-workers and her students and their families. In the end, it’s not mainly about skating: 

MORITZ: I think, altogether, just that I can bring Christ to as many people as I can. And I think really that’s my main mission. Listen, we can’t do anything without God.

Someday while spring cleaning, Bibi may come across her medals and the Olympic torch again, but those things don’t define her.

MORITZ: Yes, it was great that I did it. Don’t get me wrong. I think it was a great experience. And I wouldn’t want to change it for anything. However, I don’t define myself as you know, this wonderful skater. I want to be, you know, a Christian,anda wife, and a mother, and then I want to be a champion, you know, because that’s not really who I am.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Amy Lewis, in Englewood, New Jersey.


(Photo/Amy Lewis)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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