It’s been decades since Dorothy Hamill made her gold medal-winning Olympics debut in 1976, and now the former figure skater says the sport is in good hands at the 2018 Winter Olympics — thanks to the latest U.S. team.
“It’s been fun to watch everybody,” Hamill, 61, tells PEOPLE. “It’s so much different than it was in the ’70s, so I just admire them all, all the pressure they’re under. All the skaters … are out of this world.”
The powerful U.S. team consists of headline-making names like Adam Rippon, Mirai Nagasu, Nathan Chen, Bradie Tennell, Alex and Maia Shibutani and more. And despite a lackluster performance from the women in the recent short program, Hamill says she’s sure the ladies can pull it together for Friday’s (Thursday night stateside) long program.
“Our team didn’t do as well as we would’ve hoped,” acknowledges Hamill, who is currently partnering with Nature’s Bounty. “But it’s the short program and there’s some amazing youngsters out there. The long program … the young women can still pull up and medal. All in all, the skating is pretty spectacular. I can’t wait to see what happens.”
Having snagged a gold medal at the Innsbruck, Austria, Olympics, Hamill knows a thing or two about beating the odds. She instantly became a national sensation thanks to her performance — and her famous bobbed hairstyle.
Now, Hamill says she’s seeing some new star power at the PyeongChang Olympics, particularly noting Nagasu’s historic triple axel and Nathan Chen’s headline-making six quadruple jumps. Earlier in the Games, Nagasu became the first American woman to land the jump at an Olympics, during the bronze medal-winning team event.
“It was spectacular,” Hamill says of the triple axel. “It was just breathtaking to watch her do it. She’s gone through a lot and for her to stay in for another four years after the last Olympics … to stay at that level for another 4 years is a lot of work.”
On Wednesday, Nagasu unsuccessfully attempted the triple axel during the short program.
“We all thought she’d be able to do it in the short program which didn’t happen. I mean, she was just so close to landing it,” Hamill laments. “I hope she’ll do it again in the long program. ”
As for Nathan Chen’s display, Hamill says she’s never seen anything like it.
“I never dreamt as a youngster that we would ever see that many quadruples, it was all about triples then,” the legendary skater tells PEOPLE. “I’ve seen Nathan since he was pretty much a little boy and he’s just sort of off the charts as far as technical. He’s still young so he has a huge future and hopefully the next Olympics.”
She adds: “For the next few years at the World Championships — barring any physical problems — I think he’ll be a big, big, big star. He’s incredible, he really is. All those quads.”
She also spoke highly of Tennell, 20, who was unknown outside her sport a year ago before she catapulted into the public eye with a third-place finish at Skate America in the fall.
“I think she has a great future. To have your international debut at the Olympics has got to be pretty nerve-wracking,” Hamill says. “I think we’ll be able to see a lot in the long program … has a really bright future.”
As if a triple axel and six quadruple jumps weren’t enough to thrust the U.S. figure skating team into the spotlight, the Olympics produced a beloved internet sensation: Rippon. With a series of retweet-worthy quips and one-liners, Rippon has become America’s sweetheart on and off the ice.
“He’s a phenomenal skater … I think he’ll go on to do some great things with skating and thing outside of competition,” Hamill tells PEOPLE of Rippon. “I do like the fact that he just says what he feels … I admire the fact that he’s honest about his feelings. He’s an incredible skater.”
The 2018 Winter Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.