Sun Valley figure skating coach Sonya Klopfer Dunfield has received one of the highest honors awarded for lifetime achievement in the sport of figure skating. On January 23, 2009, Dunfield was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
"I have other awards but this was the most valuable to me," Dunfield said. "I feel like my mother up there sees this and it is a tribute to all her hard work. I was just very thrilled and thankful."
The honor was bestowed upon Dunfield and four other figure skating icons during the 32nd annual U.S. Hall of Fame Induction Reception at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland.
Dunfield's inspiring skating career had humble beginnings. Born in New York, Sonya was the first-generation daughter of immigrants who fled Hitler's Germany to start a new life in America.
"My mother really loved America and believed so much in it," Dunfield said. "She was so thankful every day."
Her mother and three sisters, anxious to stay off the streets of Brooklyn, started frequenting the Brooklyn Ice Palace, where Sonya's talent for skating and love of the sport took root.
Money, however, was tight in those days. Sonya's training was such a financial hardship on her family; she could not even afford to have her coach accompany her when she competed in the U.S. and the North American championships.
Dunfield's most noteworthy personal skating victories began in 1949 when she won the National Junior Title. This qualified her for the 1950 World Championships in London, where she placed second in freeskating and fifth in figures.
She returned win the Silver Medal in the U.S. Championships. In 1951, she won the Bronze Medal at the World Championships in Milan, and then returned to win the U.S. Nationals and North American titles. In 1952, she concluded her competitive skating career with a fourth place win at the Oslo Olympics, where she was captain of her Olympic team, followed by a Silver Medal at the World Championships in Paris.
Dunfield's distinguished amateur career opened doors for her in the world of Professional Figure Skating. She was a principal skater in "Ice Capades," "Holiday on Ice (taking the place of Sonja Henie)," the Roxy Ice Theatre in New York and the Empress Ice Productions in London. In 1964, she won the World Professional Championships. Many years later, at age 70, she skated to a standing ovation for her performance in "Legends on Ice."
"That was thrilling," she said.
Remarkably, Dunfield's distinction in figure skating extends beyond her personal accomplishments. A World and Olympic coach, she is Master Rated in figures, free skating and ice dancing, and she holds a senior rating in group instruction from the Professional Skaters Association.
She has brought figure skaters to four Olympic Games and eight World Championships. Her world-class students included 1988 Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Manley, whom she coached in Canada with her husband Peter Dunfield, and 1994 World Champion Yuka Sato. Her most famous student, however, was Olympic Champion Dorothy Hamill. Dunfield coached Hamill from her fourth figures test through her first year competing in Senior Ladies in preparation for the Sapporo Olympics.
Dunfield continues to coach in Sun Valley, where she and her husband reside full time, and is a member of the Sun Valley Figure Skating Club.
"I have my babies that I teach and I also enjoy working with adults. I love to help them discover the real joy of skating," she said.
Dunfield shared this year's U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame induction with Nancy Meiss, Marjorie Parker Smith and Joseph Savage (1879--1956), and another famous former student, prominent fashion designer and former Nationals competitor Vera Wang. Dunfield coached Ms. Wang for several years at the Skating Club of New York.
In more than 50 years of devotion to the sport of figure skating, Dunfield has received numerous awards, including the Lifetime Achievement and Honorary Members award and, with her husband, the Coaches Hall of Fame Award from the from the Professional Skating Association. She was inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame in 2001.
"I am lucky to be a skater," Dunfield said. "I love to skate. It does something for my spirit."