Sticking the Landing
Former Olympic figure skater Marie Millikan still finds fulfillment in the sport she loves
Writer / Jon Shoulders
Photographer / Amy Payne
With the 2018 Winter Olympics upon us and droves of Hoosiers no doubt anxious to see some of the world’s most elite athletes compete thousands of miles away in South Korea, many Carmel residents might not be aware that they have a former Olympic figure skater and current skating coach living right in their midst.
Marie Millikan, head skating instructor at the Carmel Ice Skadium, represented Czechoslovakia in the 1968 Olympic Winter Games in Grenoble, France, finishing in 21st place overall amidst a highly competitive field that included three-time world champion Peggy Fleming, who took home the only gold medal for the U.S. that year.
“The feeling was exhilarating,” Millikan recalls of her Olympic experience. “When you’re marching in for the opening ceremonies and the leader of the country you’re in is out there, it’s very, very uplifting. The Olympics are every athlete’s ultimate goal, and you know when you’re there that there are millions of athletes in the world but just a small number that get to be there.”
Born in Prague in 1948, Millikan was on the ice by age four, slowly kindling a passion for figure skating that has remained strong for more than six decades. After competing in the ’68 Olympics, as well as the 1967 and 1968 World Championships and several international competitions along the way, she traveled through Europe, Asia and South America as the principal skater with Holiday on Ice, a family-oriented ice show.
In 1970, soon after retiring from professional skating, Millikan settled on the northside of Indy with her first husband, a U.S. native whom she met in Japan, and began coaching young skaters at the Indiana State Fairgrounds and the former Ice Dome near Keystone at the Crossing. By the fall of 1974 the Carmel Ice Skadium had officially opened its doors, and Millikan has instructed skaters of all ages and skill levels at the facility ever since.
“When the Ice Skadium was built there was nothing around here but a dirt road and bushes,” she recalls. “When I was told where the rink was going to be built I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, nobody’s ever going to find us!’ Carmel has blossomed so much since then.”
At age 69, Millikan is as busy as ever with coaching duties at the Ice Skadium, and she’s also worked for the Associated Press over the years covering eight Olympic Winter Games and several World Figure Skating Championships as an analyst and translator (if you think her skating accomplishments sound impressive, consider her linguistic expertise – she’s fluent in Czech, Slovak, Russian, French, German and English).
“I’ve gotten to interview a lot of skaters and coaches and various officials, and a lot of my friends from my skating time have become coaches and judges through the years, so I had easy access to them when others didn’t,” Millikan says. “I can recall during the time of the Soviet Union, athletes there weren’t allowed to talk to anybody but they’d talk to me because the coaches and people there knew me from when we were children together.”
As it happens, Millikan isn’t the only former pro athlete connected to the Carmel Ice Skadium – it’s co-owned by professional bowling hall-of-famer Mike Aulby, a southside Indy native who graduated from Franklin Central High School. Aulby is also the owner of Arctic Zone Iceplex in Westfield.
Aulby joined the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) tour not long after high school, and went on to become one of bowling’s name amongst names, winning 29 titles throughout a 25-year career that landed him in the sixth spot in the PBA’s 50 Greatest Players in History list in 2009, according to the association’s official web site. His talents even landed him a few spots on “Late Night With David Letterman.”
Aulby feels fortunate to have Millikan at his facility, not only as a coach but also as a role model for aspiring skaters young and old.
“She’s great, and we’re lucky to have her over at the Ice Skadium,” he says. “Having been there from the beginning, she’s been a big part of our success there.”
At age 69, Millikan’s passion for skating has never flagged, and she says her coaching and analyst roles have seldom felt like burdensome responsibilities throughout her lengthy career.
“Most people have their work and they have a hobby, but my hobby is my work,” she says. “I love what I am doing, and I have a variety of people I deal with from age four all the way to adult skaters. And of course as a coach you’re involved with music, choreography and costuming. It’s not just the athletic skills, it’s the performance and the artistry. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”
So how does she feel U.S. skaters will fare in the 2018 Olympic Winter Games?
“The U.S. team has been going through ups and downs in the last few years –we’ve always had big stars like Brian Boitano and Michelle Kwan, but that hasn’t happened in the recent years,” she says. “Our pair teams aren’t near the top of the field, but right now I think the U.S. has a good chance in ice dancing because we have some good dance teams that have been placing in the World Championships. We’ll see.”