Thursday, 11 February 2016

Tonight We're Gonna Party Like It's 1909

Here's my guess. You're probably reading the title of this blog going "Gymkhanas? What in the hell is a gymkhana?" It's actually an Indian word that denotes "a place where skill based contests are held". In the Victorian and Georgian eras in Switzerland, the word 'gymkhana' was used to describe incredibly popular outdoor winter social festivals with games, food, skating contests... basically like a flea market with sports. However, as is often the case when the well-to-do get together in throngs, these affairs were often underscored with ulterior motives that went far beyond social networking.

At that point in skating history, The Continental Style reigned supreme in Europe. As many of skating's elite (including practitioners of the competiing English Style) headed to Switzerland to practice on beautiful outdoor ice, tensions were often high. Harry Stone's wonderful book "Ski Joy: The Story Of Winter Sports" sets the stage for the fetes and gymkhanas in Switzerland of the era and talks of how skaters of two different styles getting together brought politics into play: "The National Skating Association experienced its moment of truth in St. Moritz. They had spent years dithering over admitting the Continentals as a special section of the Club. But they had a traitor among them: In 1907 Edgar Syers stole a despicable march by announcing from London that he had formed a British club for the Continental stylists. The English school were furious. Not only had they been outmanoeuvred but Syers was not even a good skater. It was widely recognized that it was his wife, Madge, who carried him through all the pair championships they had won. With Princes as his base, the uppity Edgar Syers had acquired an almost unassailable position for his new fangled association. He had successfully inveigled the prestigious sporting Earl of Lytton into accepting the presidency. To add insult to injury, Syers had pre-empted the National Association and had already lodged an application for international status. Within two years the National Skating Association had planned a terrible revenge. After protracted negotiations, Edgar Syers was coerced into agreeing to an amalgamation. A meeting to forge the link was held at the Kulm Hotel. There the English school made sure of their triumph. While passing a motion congratulating the secretary E.E. Mavrogordato for the 'care and trouble he had taken,' no mention was made of Edgar Syers. As a final indignity, he was not even voted onto the committee." With this politically charged rivalry as a backdrop, work on developing rinks and clubs in Switzerland and governance of skating was 'set aside' for a series of weekly grand parties.

Fetes were daytime affairs with a log fire burning, cake served and exhibitions of free skating given in both the English and Continental styles. Relaxed competitions in school figures for the more proficient skaters in attendance were contested. In contrast, gymkhanas were much more lavish afternoon or dusk affairs. Stone's book explains that "gymkhanas were altogether more frivolous with everyone encouraged to join in. They were usually organized by one or two of the local sporting clubs who used the entrance fee as a way of raising funds. One of the hotel bands would be hired for the occasion, Chinese lanterns were hung down the centre and on reaching the bottom, would split on either side. On reaching the top again, each would be joined by another skater so that the next time there would be four. They would keep doubling up until there was a massive column filling the entire rink. After a day or so of many diverse exertions, everyone would forgather for tea, or more probably, hot chocolate. In those hotels created for mountaineers there was little ceremony. A president at The Bear in Grindelwald tells how 'tea was served out of two urns with large baskets, chained to table legs to prevent theft, and filled with cakes. One just helped oneself to tea and as many cakes as one wanted and sat down wherever there was room. One one lady, whose husband was the uncrowned king of the British skating, was allowed a tablecloth and a teapot... At this time 'apres ski' - and even the American cocktail - were still unknown. Guests had to find their own amusement during the dull dusk interval between tea and dinner. The serious skaters at The Bear would congregate in the entrance hall, passing around a dirty and increasingly damp towel for cleaning the blades prior to leaving their boots overnight on one of the big heaters. Most hotels had a billiard room where the men would repair. The ladies would knit or read in the lounge while the band played selections from the light classics."

The use of music in these skating parties would surely have been met with disdain by the English skaters in Switzerland, who only a few years previous had been outraged at the Bear Hotel in Switzerland when Continental skaters had asked for a band to be hired to accompany their skating and had been effectively shut down by the English Style skaters. The Continental Style skaters decided to hire their OWN band then and the English Style skaters were forced to go along with it, much as they would have been at the gymkhanas. With the interpretation of music playing such an integral role in skating over the decades to come, it seems hard to fathom that skaters of a time not really so long ago would have had such rivalry over music being played at a skating rink. Politics aside. The 'good old fashioned fun' of these parties where competitors let their hair down and set aside their differences can offer the skating community a lesson even today. We don't always have to agree but if we work together and have a little fun, progress can and will continue to be made. Like the tables at The Grindelwald Skating Club's gymkhanas, there is room for everyone.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Downton Abbey On Ice: The Sensational Stories Of Skating Servants

"Skating-floors will, of course, be laid down in the houses of all the affluent, and invites will be issued from Portland-place and Park-lane... It will be the privilege of a gentleman to solicit the hand of a lady for the next figure-of-eight, to beseech her to take part with him in the date of the year, or to join him in a true-lover's knot. Servants will skate in and out with real ice." - excerpt from "The Artificial Floor For Skating" by George Cruikshank (1841)

At the time, many would have taken George Cruikshank's 1841 essay "The Artificial Floor For Skating" - which imagined servants skating around a parlour with an ice floor as light comedy. After all, most writings about skating during the Victorian era spoke only of the well-to-do. Skating may originally have been an activity for the classes instead of the masses, but hidden in plain sight are the stories of how servants took to the ice with the same enthusiasm as their masters.

In the nineteenth century in Holland, it was thought of as nothing to see milk-maids skating to market with pails balanced on their heads and porters racing down frozen rivers and canals with their loads but in many other parts of Europe, domestic servants would have been confined to the shorelines, steering carriages and sleds carrying their masters and tying their skates. With little freedom or time for recreation, one of the few times many servants to the wealthy would have had the luxury of taking to the ice would have been when they were watching over children... and keeping them away from undesirables. One mother's account from The New York Daily Tribune on Friday, December 31, 1909 noted that "the cautious mother does not let her child go skating without a bodyguard of servants" for fear of "the children of the rich [meeting] the children of the tenements".

'Lucky' servants took on more coveted roles specific to skating. Some rinks employed servants for the express purpose of assisting the well-to-do in putting on their skates while others - recall "The Skating Waiters Of St. Moritz" - were hired to serve skaters refreshments. In the late forties, the affluent Mrs. John Labatt (a member of the London Skating Club in Ontario) was known to have her servants serve drinks to the adult skaters. We can even recall from the December 2014 Skate Guard blog "Frozen Tennis Courts In The Himalayas: Skating History In India" how rickshaw and carriage builder Jack Blessington had his Indian servants assist in flooding tennis courts in Shimla for skating by spraying them with water.

More generous masters were known for encouraging their servants to take to the ice. Nicholas Blundell, the Lord of the Manor of Little Crosby in Merseyside, England, wrote in his eighteenth century diaries of taking his servants ice skating and Lord Halifax of Hickleton allowed his servants to skate on a South Yorkshire pond, recalling "beginners being impelled... on a wooden chair from the kitchen by the excellent Smith who had begun life 50 years earlier as my mother's pony boy and had become butler." Perhaps most amusing are accounts of masters actually REQUIRING the help to entertain them with their skating. The eccentric Henry Pelham Archibald Douglas Pelham-Clinton, 7th Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyme reportedly spent two million pounds constructing tunnels, underground chambers, a large ballroom, chapel, conservatories and skating rinks at Welbeck Abbey. Skating ran in the Duke's family - he was a descendant of William Grant, the subject of Gilbert Stuart's famous painting "The Skater" - but the only times the skating rinks were used were when he demanded that his chamber maids and stable boys skate for his amusement. Similarly, E.S. Turner's book "What the Butler Saw: Two Hundred and Fifty Years of the Servant Problem" recalled how the Duke of Portland installed a skating rink on his grounds "on which his servants were expected to disport. According to a family memoir, if he came across a maid sweeping a corridor he ordered her out to skate, whether she had any desire to do so or not."

For other masters, the popularity of skating posed a major dilemma. There are many accounts from the turn of the century of maids refusing to accept positions unless they were given two or three nights off a week to go skating. These 'demands' became so widespread that "Punch" Magazine even depicted a maid refusing a job because there was no skating rink nearby in one of its 'Servantgalism' cartoons. Pardon the pun, but the icing on cake? In the March 20, 1908 edition of The Port Augusta Dispatch, one uppity Australian lady of the house wrote in to complain about her help thusly: "The young person who can lay claim to the simplest rudimentary knowledge of domestic affairs is scarce indeed. I have tried a long series of town 'ladies' who kindly consented to board with me and do a little housework at odd times, but their abilities if they had any were all in the social line. In fact 'going out' appeared to be their forte. One was an accomplished skater. While the Glaciarium was open, not a single night did she miss, and when fancy dress carnivals were on (and they seemed to occur with unceasing regularity once a week) she was lost to the public during the preceding day, her whole attention being devoted to the fancy toilette. It is satisfactory to know, that one's cook has secured several prizes as a fancy skater, but one could wish that her ability had been more in her hands and less in her feet."

Of all these stories of servants skating, perhaps the most charming is an anecdote from the March 3, 1955 edition of The Milwaukee Chronicle, which noted that "the known history of floor waxing starts with the French whose palace parquet surfaces gleamed with wax polished by servants who skated across the floors with rags tied to their feet." There you have it! If you don't think history can teach you anything, you are wrong. Take a lesson from old Jeeves - or Jacques - and get to cracking on those floors. I may be mistaken, but I believe you get extra points for Swiffering up extra stains in the second half of your program.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Saturday, 6 February 2016

The Most Hated Skating Judge In Vienna

When Jane Vaughn won her two U.S. titles in 1941 and 1942, bombs were dropping overseas. Genocide and unspeakable horrors were taking place in Nazi concentration camps. When she retired from the sport after winning her second title, she married then First Lieutenant Henry Sullivan of the Air Army Corps Henry Sullivan (who went on to be a Commandant and the head of the Air Force Academy) and settled in Omaha, Nebraska where she remained active in the sport writing for "Skating" magazine and serving as an international judge at countless events.

It was at one of these international competitions, the 1967 World Championships in Vienna, Austria, that she made international headlines by outraging the Viennese audience and European skating community with her judging decisions.The March 2, 1967 issue of the Victoria Advocate gives us the gist of what went down in Vienna that year: "Mrs. Jane Sullivan of Omaha, Neb., was accused by Austrian and West German officials of erratic judging in the men's and pairs competitions. As the result of the complaints, she faces possible suspension by the International Skating Union. The American judge caused a furor in the Austrian press when she awarded minimum marks to Austrian title defender Emmerich Danzer in the men's compulsory figures Tuesday. One newspaper screamed 'scandalous judging - American general's wife dislikes Danzer' after Mrs. Sullivan put the local hero into 10th place. Her fellow judges placed him between first and third. Then she incurred the wrath of the West Germans by placing their favorite pairs skaters, Margot Glockshuber and Wolfgang Dannem, seventh in the [short program]. The other judges put the Germans in second place behind Russia's Ludmila Belousova [and] Oleg Protopopov, the title holders. What really riled West German coach Erich Zeller was that Mrs. Sullivan gave the highest marks to the American pair, Cynthia and Ronald Kauffmann of Seattle, who completed the [short program] in second position. 'American judges are among the worst in the world,' Zeller said. 'It seems the United States is always sending them to Europe to be nasty to us.' Ernest Labin, Austrian vice-president of the ISU and head judge in the pairs competitions, said Mrs. Sullivan's championship record will be subject to an investigation by the ISU. 'We have had so many complaints about Mrs. Sullivan, we'll probably have to take action against her. I expect she will be suspended for some time.'" Seeing as no known footage exists of Danzer's figures or the pairs short program in its entirety, we can hardly speculate on whether or not Vaughn Sullivan's marks and ordinals were justified but based on Austria's well documented history of suspect judging, as the old saying goes... "those in glass houses should not throw stones."

As the competition continued, Sullivan became the target of the Viennese audiences. She was loudly booed whenever her name was announced as being one of the nine judges and constantly throughout the competition when she gave her marks. The March 4, 1967 issue of The Day noted that "she had the lowest scores for six of the twenty men skaters, including champion Danzer and runner-up Schwarz. She also gave [Scotty] Allen the lowest marks he received." The fact that it's noted that she gave Allen, a former Olympic Bronze Medallist from the United States with a strong international record, his lowest marks is a pretty poor talking point in any argument of national bias. It's also entirely possible she was just a low marker and that her ordinals were for the most part consistent with the rest of the panel. She could have been judging what she saw that day - as much judges do - and not bowed to bloc judging or other pressures. After all, the judging panel in the men's event that year was comprised of six European judges, Vaughn Sullivan and a judge apiece from Canada and Japan. In the pairs event, she and Canada's Donald Gilchrist were the only non-European judges. Although it's absolutely possible she WAS in the wrong (we weren't there) the evidence given in media accounts leans more in my eyes to the fact that she was most likely calling it as she saw it and not towing the line. John Shoemaker, then USFSA President, defended Sullivan in Vienna in the March 4, 1967 Independent Journal, saying "she has an outstanding record as a thoroughly honest judge. Otherwise she wouldn't be here." Shoemaker deferred the matter to the ISU... and a strange twist of fate actually played a pretty big role in allowing the whole hullabaloo to die down when the head of the Jane Sullivan witch hunt, ISU President Ernest Labin, died suddenly in Vienna that same year. Sullivan would go on to judge at future World and Olympic competitions, including the 1976 Games... in Austria. It looks like the most hated judge in Vienna in 1967 got the last laugh.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Howdy, Mr. Ice And The Demise Of The Centre Theatre

New York City's Centre Theatre may no longer be standing, but during the forties it enjoyed a decade of popularity as an exclusive venue for live skating shows. It all started in 1940, when maverick ice show producer Arthur M. Wirtz negotiated with G.S. Eyssell, the executive producer of Rockefeller Center and the president of the Radio City Music Hall to convert what was then a stage theatre into an ice theatre. A quarter of a million dollars was spent on the whole transformation and in October 1940, a three hundred thousand dollar production called "It Happens On Ice" kicked off the festivities at the Centre Theatre with a two year stint. Other shows followed: "Stars On Ice", "Hats Off To Ice", "Icetime" and "Icetime Of 1948". Beginning in the summer of 1948, Sonja Henie and Arthur M. Wirtz staged the sixth skating production to take to the Centre Theatre stage, "Howdy, Mr. Ice".

The cast was impressive. U.S. Bronze Medallist and 1948 Olympian Eileen Seigh made her professional debut and popular show skaters Skippy Baxter of Canada and The Bruises (Monte Stott, Sidney Spalding and Geoffe Stevens) of England headlined. Other prominent performers were Jinx Clark (the gun-toting bartender we met in "The Ghost, The Skater And The Shotgun" back in October 2014), Rudy Richards, Harrison Thomson, Paul Castle, Mickee and Paul Preston, juggler 'Trixie' (Martha Escoe La Rue) and ice comedians Buster Price, Jimmie Sisk and Buck Pennington.

Although Freddie Trenkler appeared in earlier shows, by December 6, 1948 (the date of the program I have), he was no longer in the show. Music was performed by Nola Fairbanks, Dick Craig, William Douglas and Fred Martell. "Howdy, Mr. Ice" held both matinee and evening performances and featured choreography by Catherine Littlefield, a former prima ballerina who was also the director of the Philadelphia Ballet Company. Elaborate costumes designed by Billy Livingston and Katherine Kuhn accented a lavish stage set by Bruno Maine. 

The show itself was in two acts and featured elaborate production numbers that ranged from Americana and typical ice show fare (Yankee Doodle Dandies, skating flowers and a Christmas number) to more avant garde pieces. Among the latter were an African safari lion hunt, an artistic piece depicting Mercury and Pandora skated by Baxter and Clark and an interpretive solo skated by Seigh called "Golden Eagle". The show's second act opened with a lavish production of "Sleeping Beauty" and the grand finale - "The World's Greatest Show" - was a circus theme with skaters dressed as clowns, elephants, leopards, panthers, giants, horses and acrobats. A few things made "Howdy, Mr. Ice" particularly unique compared to other ice shows of its era. It included aerial work from Jinx Clark (which has only really become largely popular on ice in recent years) and Skippy Baxter was attempting triple jumps in the show before Dick Button landed the first in competition in 1952.

Reviews were mostly favourable. The Spokane Daily Chronicle called the show "delightful" and "the best in its series" and The Ottawa Citizen called it "proficient and well-staged". However, by the late forties, competition was fierce in the entertainment history in New York City. Ice shows were in direct competition with new musical acts and stage plays and many people chose to spend what dispensable income they had on tickets to new musicals that debuted in 1949 like "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "South Pacific" instead. As seats filled on Broadway, residents of The Big Apple bid adieu to Mr. Ice. In no time flat, the seats were empty and The Centre Theatre lost its lease in the spring of 1950. The venue briefly used as an NBC television studio before its demolition in 1954 and it would be decades before The Ice Theatre Of New York would fill the void left by the closure of this spectacular venue.  

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The Marvel From Milan: The Anna Galmarini Story

Born in the height of World War II on October 15, 1942, Anna Galmarini grew up in Milan, Italy. The four foot ten, ninety five pound dynamo with dark hair and bright green eyes started skating  at the age of ten at the Sport Palace in downtown Milan during school gym periods because she hated tennis. In an interview in the April 1, 1971 issue of the Kingsport Post, she explained, "my older brother was interested in ice skating. I thought it looked like fun." She also showed an interest in hockey, but her parents made it clear, "you may skate, but no ice hockey." Figure skating it was. She started without a coach at the beginning, then began to take lessons twice a month. By age thirteen, she was Italian junior champion and training eight hours a day. At the age of fourteen, she went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany to study with the best European coaches.  In 1957, representing del Circolo Pattinatori Artistico di Milano, she won her first of four consecutive Italian senior women's titles. However, when she entered her first international competition, the 1957 European Championships in Vienna, Italian silver medallist Carla Tichatschek placed sixteenth to her nineteenth. This forgettable debut only prompted Galmarini to train even harder.

When she returned to the European Championships the following year, her progress was so remarkable that she moved all the way up to tenth place in a field of twenty two. However, at the World Championships that year in Paris, she floundered and finished a disappointing twenty first... again behind Tichatschek. A big part of the reason she struggled was her inexperience in skating world class school figures. The Milwaukee Sentinel on January 11, 1968 recalled that "she scored erratically in her earliest European and World Championships, but her free skating was so poetic that she gradually crept up on the prima ballerinas of the frozen stage - Carol Heiss, Sjoujke Dijkstra and the late Laurence Owen. She was a tone poem on the ice." The following season, the judges finally rewarded her with an eleventh place finish at the European Championships and a ninth place finish at World Championships. Though not exactly a medal threat heading into the Olympic season, her strength in free skating - particularly on the second mark - made many competitors nervous.

Anna Galmarini's strength as a free skater wasn't the only thing that made her competitors take notice. Keeping in mind that this was during Carol Heiss' era where 'young ladies' were expected more than ever to uphold a 'perfect ice princess' image, she didn't quite fit the mould. While training in West Germany, she introduced Olympic Silver Medallist Marika Kilius to smoking cigarettes. She also found her name in the West German newspapers and courts. The February 24, 1960 issue of "Der Spiegel" purported that after a twenty year old Berliner, Manfred Pfaff, had a liason with seventeen year old Galmarini, he was beaten by Anna's father and her coach Erich Zeller. Pfaff filed a criminal complaint against Zeller, saying he'd beat Galmarini during the incident as well. Despite the press attention, 1960 was her most successful year as a competitor. After winning her fourth Italian title, she placed in the top ten at the European Championships, Olympics and World Championships. So impressive was her free skating that year in Squaw Valley that on February 21, 1960 the Italian newspaper La Stampa-Domenica called her style "very whimsical and elegant" and "quite different from what they are accustomed to [in] Europe."

Immediately after the 1960 World Championships in Vancouver, Galmarini started touring with Holiday On Ice in Europe. During her six year stint with the company in Europe, she often played second fiddle to skaters like Alain Giletti and Sjoukje Dijkstra but after winning the 1965 World Professional Figure Skating Championships at Wembley, people really started finally recognizing her star potential. She joined Holiday On Ice's U.S. tour in 1966 and in America found far more recognition and respect touring alongside skaters like Ronnie Robertson, Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman, ice comic Jimmy Peacock and World Professional Champions Marianne Althamer and Karl-Heinz Kramer. After a brief return to the European tour, where she again took second billing - this time to Olympic Bronze Medallist Hana Mašková - she returned to the America for good as a featured soloist on Holiday On Ice. On the tour, she also skated pairs with Gary Visconti; one of her co-stars was Marei Langenbein, the mother of future British Champion Charlene von Saher.

Tiring of being shipped back and forth across the ocean, Galmarini left Holiday On Ice and joined Ice Capades, skating for several years in the seventies alongside skaters like Karen Magnussen, Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley, Tommy Litz, Linda Villela, Billy Chapel, Freddie Trenkler, Sashi Kuchiki and Melissa Militano and Johnny Johns. It was while she was with the Ice Capades that she met her husband Jules Mayeur, a technician with the show. They travelled together while on tour, living the 'gypsy life' in a thirty one foot motor home.

Not only did Galmarini live a nomadic 'gypsy life' while on tour, she portrayed a gypsy princess on the ice as well. Her programs were always described as very interpretive. She skated as a gypsy princess, a clown and even a cat, skating to Les Baxter's "Jungalero" on the 1968 Holiday On Ice tour. In the September 18, 1968 issue of The Norwalk Hour she mused, "I cannot just skate. I must skate like a cat - feel like a cat, become a cat. You must think your part. Ballet training helps tremendously in this way." After her own performing career ended, she actually worked as a skating coach for the Ice Capades when her husband was promoted to technical director in the early eighties.

In reading many interviews with Galmarini, it became absolutely apparent that she was a remarkably fascinating woman. She spoke English, Italian, French, German and Spanish and dreamed of becoming an interpreter and building a forty foot sail boat and just sailing around the world. She expounded upon the virtues of dance training and the joys of getting involved in the sport. Her biggest passion though? Cooking. In the August 31, 1975 issue of The San Antonio Express, she explained, "I cook everything from lasagna to beef stroganoff to chow mein and sometimes I combine the entrees. It's my own concoction of Chinese-Italian cooking." In an article in The Miami News on March 27, 1969, she even shared her recipe for Veal Cutlets Milanese, which I'm including below.

Although she sadly passed away in 1997 at the age of fifty four, there's no denying that Anna Galmarini's story is unique and worthy of appreciation. From her late start and incredibly quick rise in the standings as an amateur skater to the 'bad girl' stories to touring on two continents, her love for cooking and interpretive style, she was clearly one cool cat both on and off the ice. Although the photos and videos may be grainy, her exuberance jumps out at you and becomes as crystal clear as a freshly resurfaced sheet of ice.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Guy In The Sky: The Story Of Maribel Vinson-Owen's Leading Man

If I wasn't in the research process for a book on the late, great and utterly fabulous Belita Jepson-Turner, my next choice definitely would have been Maribel Vinson-Owen. Three time Olympian, North American Champion, U.S. Champion, legendary coach, professional skating star, author, journalist and larger than life personality, Maribel was a woman ahead of her time. In the many writings about her over the years, a central figure has of course always been Guy Owen. He was once her husband, the father of her two daughters and for many years, her partner on the ice as a professional skater and coach. However, Guy Owen's story has always been secondary to Maribel's. Today, I want to take the time to shine the spotlight on him.

Born June 20, 1913 in Ottawa, Ontario, Guy Rochon Owen was the only son of Welsh parents James Arthur and Laurence Owen. His grandfather, Alfred Rochon, was a lawyer, Superior Court judge and Liberal politician who represented Ottawa in the Legislative Assembly of Quebec from 1887 to 1892. Young Guy got his start skating as a young boy at the Minto Skating Club and by fourteen, he was already winning competitions in both singles and pairs skating. The March 14, 1927 issue of The Ottawa Citizen noted at that at the Minto Club "in the Gymkhana graceful exhibitions were given by the junior boy champion, Guy Owen, holder of the Sifton Cup, and by the junior pairs, Betty Carter and Guy Owen, holders of the Soper trophy." At that same carnival, Guy also won a quarter mile speed skating race.

By 1929, he was the Canadian Junior Champion in men's singles, beating W.A.H. Kirkpatrick of the Toronto Skating Club and Fraser Sweatman of the Winnipeg Winter Club. That same year, with Frances Claudet, Melville Rogers and Katherine Hopdell he was part of the Minto Four that finished second to the Toronto Four of Veronica Clarke, John Machado, Margaret Henry, Stewart Reburn. Although Guy Owen won four consecutive medals in the senior men's competition at the Canadian Championships from 1932 to 1935, his absolute speciality during his amateur career was without a doubt fours skating. He won a total of eight medals at the Canadian Championships in the category and with his Minto teammates was undefeated from 1933 to 1937.

At the North American Championships, The Minto Four was undefeated from 1931 to 1937, with Guy Owen and Melville Rogers being the two static members of the winning four during that span. The Minto Four were so popular that in 1935 they were asked to perform for the Governor-General of Canada and The Countess Of Bessborough at Rideau Hall. During Guy's reign as North American Champion, he struck up a friendship with Maribel Vinson. They skated together in an operetta organized by Guy's coach Gustave Lussi in Lake Placid and over the years, their friendship blossomed into a romance.

Guy Owen turned professional in 1936. Although he had been a hugely successful fours skater, he had skated in the shadow of other talented Canadian men - notably Bud Wilson and Osborne Colson - for many years. He quickly found the success he was looking for. In the Monday, March 23, 1936 issue of The New York Sun, journalist George Trevor wrote in that at the Madison Square Garden in a benefit show, Owen's performance "eclipsed" none other than three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie. Trevor said, "the smash hit of the evening was slender Guy Owen of Ottawa who held the Garden crowd spell-bound by his sinuous grace and rhythmic fire. Imagine a vivid Goya painting come to life and you will have an impression of the languorous yet vibrant Owen as he executed a Spanish fandango on blades that clicked like [Castanets]. The functional beauty and graceful movements of a Belmonte or Joselito - heroes of the Madrid bull ring - characterize Owen's every motion. Lithe and supple as a matador, he swooped in for the death thrust as described a 'veronica' as he swirled out of range. Hemingway would have exulted in Owen's performance. The Canadian wore baggy black trousers, black leather boots, a gold-embroidered black tunic, set off by a giddy scarlet sash, and a flat-brimmed hat of black glazed straw held in place by a chin strap. He was called back for encore after encore as the Garden thundered its tribute." The program Trevor wrote of was of course Guy's Gaucho program, which would be his trademark throughout his professional career. He performed it following that Madison Square Garden show at the Minto Follies in Ottawa to a similar response and then promptly took a job as a banker in Montreal, eager to settle down and make money after so many years living in the shadow of the strict rules of amateurism.

It was Maribel who convinced him he had the chops to make a living in skating. She encouraged him to join her Gay Blades tour. Skating his "Hey! Hey! Farmer Grey" program to thunderous applause nightly, he often upstaged yet another Olympic Gold Medallist, Vinson's co-star Karl Schäfer on the tour. He headlined at the Minto Follies and at the Montreal Skating Club's carnival. Melville Rogers said that "Mr. Owen was one of the most sought after skaters for exhibitions." Maribel was right. Guy had the goods to make it in skating. He was also, in her mind, husband material.

The couple planned their engagement. In March of 1938, Owen got his affairs in order to leave Canada and take up permanent residency in the States. After spending the summer apart, the couple officially announced their engagement in late August of that year and married shortly thereafter in a private ceremony at the Winchester home of her parents. Maribel and Guy first settled in Minnesota where they coached at St. Paul Figure Skating Club for two years. In 1940, they moved out west to teach at new East Bay Iceland rink in Berkeley, home of the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club, summering out east. While at Iceland, they attracted many skaters to Bay area. At one point, the rink got so crowded many skaters had to double upon on patch. Together, they produced weekly pops concerts at in which both students and coaches performed. In 1940, the couple's first daughter, Maribel Yerxa Owen, was born.

While coaching in California, Guy and Maribel continued to remain active as professional skaters. In February of 1941, they headlined the Spokane Figure Skating Club's revue. The Spokesman-Review on February 16, 1941 noted that "Owen's solo effort will be the famous 'Gaucho' number, most widely-known and popular male figure skating act, which he himself originated. [Vinson and Owen] will skate together twice, one of the duet numbers being the great life and death number, which was termed 'the most dramatic ever seen' by reviewers at several of the large ice shows in which Miss Vinson and Owen have appeared this fall. They present a stirring interpretation of the struggle between life and death, with the inevitable triumph of death." Another Spokane reporter noted that Owen's performance "was full of difficult leaps and figures that he made look easy." That summer, Guy and Maribel made history by starring in the first ice show in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. At 5'9", the tall, dark and handsome mustachioed skater fit right in while in South America. The duo were well received and upon their return, they brought back their interpretation of the samba on ice to carnivals in America.

In 1943, Guy installed a private 20 X 25 portable ice rink at a former auto repair shop on the corner of Milvia Street and University Avenue in Berkeley. He called it Maribel Lake. In the September 12, 1943 issue of the Berkeley Daily Gazette, he stated that he could install portable ice rinks "anywhere there is room and have the ice in perfect condition in 12 hours, provided electrical wiring of the place is built to handle the sizeable portable compressor. He found hunting for a downtown site for the lake just about as tough as locating a desirable house in Berkeley." Guy's installation was notable in that it was one of the first private portable rinks in California at the time.

The following May, little Laurence Rochon Owen born, named after Guy's mother. While Maribel took a few months off to be with her daughters, Guy shone while coaching and organizing pops concerts and ice ballets at Iceland. The following year, the family of four packed up and headed to east to teach at the Skating Club Of Boston. While there, Maribel and Guy's performing career as professionals got a second wind.

Engaged in the Oval Room at the Copley Plaza Hotel, they became two of the more prominent names in skating involved in the hotel circuit at the time. Their first show was called "Deep Purple". The November 24, 1945 issue of Billboard magazine noted that"Guy Owens' lightning fast solo to 'Jazz Pizzicato' had ringsiders gasping and won solid applause." As a pair, Vinson and Owen skated a waltz and a "laugh-collecting satire on the tune 'Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing In A Hurry'. Near collisions and spills had the customers sitting on the edge of their chairs." The couple staged two shows in the Oval Room in 1946. In the first, "A Mardi Gras Ballet On Skates", Guy performed a speedy solo to "Louisiana Purchase" as a gambling villain. In the latter, titled "New York Vignette", Maribel and Guy reimagined a Manhattan nightclub in their "Pink Cocktail" program and Guy skated a Broadway inspired solo to "Smooth Sailing".

Maribel and Guy's success at the Copley Plaza Hotel led them next to Boston's Center Theater. In 1947, the couple directed, staged and starred in "Everything's On Ice", a musical comedy on ice. Unfortunately, the show was panned by critics and short lived. An April 19, 1947 review of the show from Billboard magazine opined, "Maribel Vinson and Guy Owen, whose exciting night club shows have played to top business [have] had a hand in nearly every phase of the production, and the fact is
evident, because they have tried to do too much. What they need now is the services of a highly competent director who will weed out the deadwood and point up the good things." Reviewer Bill Riley was critical of the fact that Vinson and Owen, themselves "wonderful to watch", had allowed
themselves to be upstaged by inferior skaters by giving them too much of a spotlight.

In the fall of 1948, Maribel and Guy left Boston and returned to Berkeley, California. As it turned out, the poor reviews of their Center Theater show were the least of the couple's woes. In her fabulous book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman explained that "returning to California couldn't reverse the difficulties in the Owenses' marriage. Friends conceded that Owen had a drinking problem that became too much for Maribel. They skated beautifully together, but off-ice their disparities were readily apparent... Instead of shining alongside his wife, Guy withered in her presence. However, his drinking was not evident to everyone, and he maintained his composure and demeanour while teaching. Guy taught for eight months in California, then left his family and took a position with the Sault Saint Marie Club in Michigan. The following summer he taught at the Michigan State University in East Lansing and directed the MSU Skating Show."

During this period, the couple divorced but Owen's work as a coach continued. After coaching at Michigan State University and in New York, he signed on as the professional of the Spokane Figure Skating Club, where he and Maribel had performed in 1941 and 1943 to great acclaim. In the winter of 1942, he was already shoring up plans to teach in East Lansing that summer. His contract to teach in Spokane again in the fall of that year had already been renewed. While visiting his parents in Ottawa, Guy passed away suddenly on April 21, 1952 of a perforated ulcer. He was only thirty eight at the time. Maribel was shocked and troubled by Guy's passing. Despite the fact he'd left her and her two young daughters, she worried that she had indirectly in some way caused Guy's drinking and despite their divorce, did still care about him. To Guy, she dedicated her book "Fun Of Figure Skating". She recalled that, "the late Guy Owen, one of the world's great jumpers, used to lift so high and poise so long on one of the simple back toe jumps... that audiences used to gasp and wonder when he was going to come back down!" It's with tragic irony that while flying high over Brussels, it was her that never came back down. Perhaps now together these long lost souls both hover midair in an Axel and have found peace together on the ice in the sky.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Sunday, 24 January 2016

The 2016 Canadian Championships: The Good, The Bad And The #NoSheBetterDont

In my ten years performing as a drag queen, I did the odd show. Well, maybe the odd hundred. One of the bigger events was called Coronation weekend. Performers from across Canada and as far south as California and Las Vegas would descend on the weekend for a three day extravaganza of shows. There were hundreds of performances in a three day span - some spectacular, some forgettable - and by the end you were so exhausted you couldn't even think. The 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships were a completely different but similar beast. I have been at the Scotiabank Centre watching and covering skating for six to twelve hours a day since Monday and let me tell you, although it has been physically exhausting the energy from the performances I have seen on the ice this week would put absolutely any drag queen to shame. Glitz, glamour, surprises and spectacular skating were in no short supply in what was arguably the most exciting Nationals this country has seen in many years. Before the blog returns to its regularly scheduled programming of sifting through the sport's fascinating history, join me in a journey to the present as I explore the good, bad and #NoSheBetterDont of the senior competitions here in Halifax, Nova Scotia this week:

THE WOMEN'S EVENT: The buzz in the Scotiabank Centre yesterday was that the women's final was the most exciting of all time at the Canadian Championships. As someone who studies figure skating history, I can tell you that you're pretty much right on the money. 

In the short program, Kaetlyn Osmond of the Ice Palace Figure Skating Club was resplendent, landing a beautiful triple flip/double toe, triple Lutz and double Axel in her short program to Cyndi Lauper's cover of "Unchained Melody" to take the lead with a score of 70.63. Alaine Chartrand followed closely behind, borrowing from the Jeremy Abbott songbook with an excellent performance of her "Pina" short program and a score of 68.81. Gabby Daleman, who started off strongly with a triple/toe combination, fell on her triple Lutz and found herself in third place with a score of 133.55. Based on her practices and the absolute sense of ease with which Kaetlyn skated her short program, it seemed to many that a third National title would be a distinct possibility. That's not how it all played out. 

First of the three gold medal contenders to skate was Newmarket's Gabby Daleman. Skating to "María de Buenos Aires Suite: Tema de Maria, Yo soy Maria" by Ástor Piazzolla, the defending Canadian Champion started with a triple Lutz/double toe/double loop combo and proceeded to skate lights out - reeling off triple after triple in her spirited performance and earning the first standing ovation of the day on Saturday. Four of Daleman's jumping passes (a second triple Lutz, a triple loop, a triple Salchow/double toe combination and a double Axel) all earned her extra credit for being in the second half of the program and her score of 133.55 actually ended up being the highest free skate score of the competition. The vibe in the rink was electric as Alaine Chartrand took to the ice. Who could top that, right? Chartrand did. 

Skating to "Gone With The Wind", the powerhouse from Prescott had the skate of her life and once again the crowd was on its feet losing it. Chartrand actually received credit for five jumping passes late in the program to Daleman's four, but an underrotation call on her opening triple Lutz/triple toe combination and an edge call on her next jump kept her behind Daleman in the free skate by 0.37! Her short program score gave her the edge and it was Chartrand in first, Daleman in second when Kaetlyn Osmond took to the ice. 

When she stepped out of her opening triple flip, it seemed a forgone conclusion that wouldn't only go downhill from there but that's not what happened. Osmond fought hard, landing her next three jumping passes (a double Axel/triple toe, triple Lutz and triple Salchow) but a doubled flip, a step out and a popped double in the third part of her double Axel combination at the end of the program assured her fate. In the end, it was Chartrand first, Daleman second and Osmond third and based on the atmosphere in the rink, if it would have gone any other way yesterday, the crowd would have gone bananas and not in a good way. I haven't watched the women's event at the U.S. Championships (yet) but based on what everyone was saying about the short program and what I saw in person here in Halifax, I think there will be a few Americans who have taken pleasure in mocking Canadian women's skaters who will enjoying a delicious meal of crow. These women were positively spectacular and all three medallists deserve all the credit they've been getting this week and then some.  

WHAT'S A SKATING COMPETITION WITHOUT AN UGLY CRY?: Lack of sleep makes tends to make me a tad overemotional but the tears that welled up the corner of my eyes in the first minute of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje's free dance to "This Bitter Earth/On The Nature Of Daylight" by Dinah Washington and "Run" by Ludovico Einaudi had nothing to do with that. These two are the real deal and the vehicles they have chosen this season are on a completely different playing field than most of their international competitors. Although Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were just outstanding this week in claiming silver with unique and edgy material, Kaitlyn and Andrew outdid themselves and the standing ovations that followed both of their programs made their win with a score of 191.73 (11.91 points higher than their closest competitors) almost secondary. They're crafting high art out there and finally, with the judges resigning themselves to do the right thing at the Nationals down in the States and giving the Shibutani's the nod, the road to a World title appears to be free of one less roadblock. They were just so, so special.

PATRICK CHAN'S COMEBACK: Speaking of eating crow, there were an awful lot of naysayers when it came to Patrick Chan's comeback, weren't there? I'll be the first to admit that Chan seemed perhaps a little more confident than I would be if I were in his shoes. He finished off the podium at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, his practices here in Halifax were not all smooth sailing but in both the short program and free skate here he was nothing short of spectacular. He made quad/triples look like a walk in the park; he oozed confidence, control and attack. Chan is one of those skaters who you have to see live to really appreciate just how good he is and was he ever on top of his game here! The best part? All of that Chanflation at Nationals that folks relish harping on about... you couldn't say that here. He earned 103.58 in his short program, 192.09 in the free for a total of 295.67 and the marks (PCS included) were truly reflective of the performances he delivered both days. Yes, he's going to face a ton of competition going up against Yuzu and friends at Worlds, but his efforts here yet again reminded us all of just what he is capable of when he's on.  

IT TAKES TWO: After the excitement in the women's and ice dance competitions, I don't think I was ready for another nail biter but the pairs event was just that. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford may have had bobbles in both of their programs, but they fought so, so hard and their win with a score of 221.75 was well deserved. With five consecutive Canadian titles now, they join the likes of Dafoe and Bowden, Underhill and Martini and Brasseur and Eisler in the history books. The throw quad was there, the throw triple Lutz was there but beyond the big ticket items, there's really such an improvement in the PCS side of their skating this season that correlates exactly with their music choices and program layout decisions. Yes, there may be Russians but there always Russians... I don't doubt for a second these two have what it takes to repeat as World Champions.

Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau delivered two flawless performances and sold the heck out of their free skate to "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" (alas, not the Annie Lennox version) for second place with a score of 211.40. Their standing ovation was well deserved and I thought the scores could have been a smidgen closer. If you think about how quickly this team's rise in the ranks from juniors has been, it makes them all the more exciting. They couldn't have done anything better.

And Lubov and Dylan? Wow! They brought it in both performances too and they really offer something different style wise juxtaposed with their competitors. That lift with the one-foot feature in the free skate right in front of the judges is always a show stopper and 204.22 is a great score especially when you look back and realize they were in the 160 range at last year's World Championships in Shanghai, China.

AN UNEXPECTED STANDING O: Bronze medallists in the ice dance competition Élisabeth Paradis and François-Xavier Ouellette represented the CPA Loretteville and CPA Lames D'argent de Laval wonderfully with two very solid performances here in Halifax. Their free dance set to Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and a composition by Karl-Hugo Van de Kerckhove was mesmerising and a credit to their coach and choreographer Marie-France Dubreuil. Their unexpected edge on Paul and Islam in the free dance on the strength of their TES score and levels on their lifts and the standing ovation they received was so well earned. I really thought they kind of got gypped a little last year and it was nice to see their hard work and performance quality appreciated by the domestic judges here. About time.

KEVIN REYNOLDS' COMEBACK: Not taking a thing away from Liam Firus' silver medal win - - which was totally deserved and quite fabulous actually - it was so nice to see Kevin Reynolds back on the podium with his 2014 Sochi teammates. He was kind of under the radar this week but his short program to "Tank" by The Seatbelts proved that the twenty five year old student of Joanne McLeod is back and in fantastic form, quad/triples and all. Just to be clear here... if you're wondering if his result was a fluke, you may want to guess again. He was one of the most consistent jumpers in both practices and warm-up's here in Halifax and with scores just shy of Firus (who also landed a quad) his skate problems appear to be a thing of the past.

MARIE-FRANCE IN THE KISS AND CRY: Whether it was drooling over Fabian Bourzat or rolling eyes at the fact they had TV cameras shoved in Brian Orser's face during Nam Nguyen's entire free skate, the audience was as distinctly aware of what was happening off the ice as much as what was happening on it. Marie-France dancing along with her many student's programs this week at the boards is seriously like the most adorable thing ever. In my interview with her last year, she told me, "Music has a lot of influence on my mood and I listen to a wide variety through out the day. Hip hop in the morning to pump me up as I drive to the rink, classical music or jazz when I drive back home to relax and disconnect from coaching and hard rock when I clean the house!" Can a Best Of Marie-France Dancing In The Kiss And Cry dance/fitness DVD please be a thing that happens? Because I would so buy the hell out of that.

THE BEST OF THE REST: I'm kind of a big fan of positivity, in case you haven't guessed. If I don't like someone's skating, for the most part I don't harp on it or mention it at all because really, who needs to listen to someone bitch about skaters and drag them through the mud? That's not how most of us roll here in Canada and thank God for that. One of the things I did want to do when blogging about this event was recognize the great things many of the skaters who aren't on the podium accomplished this week. In the women's event, there was Véronik Mallet, who showed such an improvement from last year even if she did drop a spot in light of Kaetlyn's comeback. Her free skate featured a triple flip and double Axel/triple toe combo and such a nice lightness to her presentation. Roxanne Rheault, Michelle Long and Larkyn Austman all had some great moments in their programs as well. Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps might have finished fifth but gosh, did she ever sell that free skate. The lifts were fantastic! The new partnership of Nicole Orford and Asher Hill is one of my favourite new pairings and their short dance to "My Heart Cries" by Etta James and Harvey Fuqua and "It's Not For Me To Say" by Johnny Mathis was actually one of my top five favourites in the entire dance event. There's so much to like about their skating and Carol Lane sure knows how to highlight their strengths. A free dance that really stood out in terms of attention to detail and performance quality were Timothy Lum and Brianna Delmaestro's intricate Bollywood program to "Silsila Ye Chahat Ka" by Shreya Ghoshal, "Dev's Last Journey" by Raqhav Chatterjee, Supra Adhikari and Rashmi Sharma, "Balak Balak" by Udit Narayan, Vinod Rathod and Shreya Ghoshal and "Dola Re Dola" by Kavita Krishnamurthy and Shreya Ghoshal. Did they ever sell that! Another one of Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe's teams, Alexa Linden and Addison Voldeng, performed a similarly detail oriented, theatrical program to "Alice In Wonderland" that I just loved. The legacy of Wing and Lowe's unique style is alive and well in their work with so many ice dancers coming up through the ranks and a welcome addition as so many other teams have opted for safer program choices. Among the men, Bennet Toman who trains in Richmond Hill with Robert O'Toole had such a great free skate! Although I have to admit that "Who Wants To Live Forever?" is becoming the new "Carmen" in terms of overused skating music, his program was chock full of difficult content and transitions and I thought he got a little lowballed. He's definitely a skater on an upward trajectory. Keegan Messing's short program (choreographed by Douglas Webster) was delightful and he really worked the crowd in the free skate, as did Nicolas Nadeau with his "Mary Poppins" program. In a sea of serious programs, it was wonderful to see these guys just going for it and in turn, having the crowd behind them.

LEGENDS OF THE FALL: Can we talk for a minute about how terrifying Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro's fall in the short program on the triple twist was? It was beyond frightening in person and last night, PJ Kwong said to me, "you NEED to watch it again on tape" so I did and honestly, the second time I was like just "giiiiiiirl"... And you know what? WHAT a sin. Kirsten and Michael's practices have been spectacular this week, they look so well trained and the programs this season are such a better fit for them. It was honestly just one of those freak things. Come on. We all know they can do a triple twist. That said, from the 'bad' to the 'fabulous', when they landed the twist at the start of their "Romeo And Juliet" free skate, you could just hear the crowd letting out a sigh and relief and despite a fall on the side by side Salchows, their free skate was gutsy and sensational. Mad respect to these two for coming back and skating the free skate and doing it so, so well. That cannot have been easy.

SAY MY NAM, SAY MY NAM: It just wouldn't be a figure skating blog written by a former drag queen without a Destiny's Child reference, now would it? I spoke with Nam Nguyen last week leading up to this competition and got the distinct vibe he was phased by Patrick Chan's return and the skating this week unfortunately reflected that. I think going back to "Sinnerman" in the short program was an intelligent decision but unfortunately, when you miss your quad and everyone else isn't, you end up a bit buried in the standings. A score of 76.04 to Chan's 103.58 in the short all but ruined his chances of unseating the Olympic Silver Medallist and his free skate set to Bach did have some good moments but the mistakes weren't enough to take him any higher than fourth, just higher than Nadeau in fact. What worked for Nam Nguyen last season wasn't just the jumps, it was the programs and taking the safe route with a classical free skate just didn't pay off enough in the second mark for him to be competitive. Defending a national title is hard for anyone - it has been since the freaking 1920's for heaven sakes - so hopefully he'll come back stronger than ever. He's under twenty and has two quads. I'm sure he will land on his feet just fine. 

DOWN A SPOT: When someone moves up a spot, someone else moves down. That's how figure skating competitions work. It was disappointing to see Olympians Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam lose ground and drop off the podium considering the improvement they have made technically this season. The move to Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon really strikes me as a wise one but after such a gorgeous short dance to "The Mouse Waltz" and "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin" by John Lanchbery, the free dance set to Barbra Streisand seemed to leave both the judges and audience a little colder than the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" program that earned their training mates a standing O. Their free dance last season to "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel was a gem and I think a big part of this loss came down to the program and not the content, levels notwithstanding.

THERE'S FANDOM AND THEN THERE'S FANDOM: Back in 2013, I wrote a blog on the darker side of figure skating fandom. While I highly doubt there were any Annie Wilkes' in the house in Halifax, damned if I know. Canadian figure skating fans (for the most part) are some of the most highly intelligent, knowledgeable, passionate and kind people you could ever meet but I will be real here and say that it never ceases to amaze me how some can take it a bit past healthy fangirling. I'm all for being interested in who's coaching who, which pairs and dance teams are gelling and which aren't and who is doing well in practice and who is consistently bombing. However, I think there's a very fine line between being passionate about Patrick Chan's programs and being passionate about finding out what Patrick Chan had for breakfast and I will admit, I did chat with the odd person this week who had some difficulty in making that distinction. By all means, cheer on your favourites, take an interest in their lives, whatever... But for the love of Annie Lennox and all that is sacred, if you're concerned that you might want to take that obsession down an octave, you probably should.

THE FOOD: Because I live here, for some reason all week people have been complaining about the food to me like I somehow responsible for it. No, I didn't have a hand in baking anyone's cardboard cheese "pizza" or frying up anyone's soggy French fries, but the food that was being offered up at the Scotiabank Centre this week was appalling in terms of both quality and selection. It's kind of a shame it took until Friday night for them to clue in and open more of the kiosks to offset the line-ups of people just wanting a water or a coffee. Considering that when Stars On Ice rolls into town, they have all the bars and food stations open and you never run into this program. To the venue's credit, they got it together by Saturday, but Friday during the day was atrocious. Thank goodness for the fact this was right downtown and there are so many decent restaurants a stone's throw away.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at

Friday, 22 January 2016

The 2016 Canadian Championships: From History To Mystery

Back in 1966, the Canadian Figure Skating Association's membership was swelling at over one hundred thousand and was expected to triple within three years with government support from the Physical Fitness and Amateur Sports Council. At the previous year's World Championships at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Petra Burka had won the gold medal in the women's event. In the men's event, Donald Knight had claimed the bronze. Knight, Burka, Valerie Jones, Susan and Paul Huehnergard and Carole Forrest and Kevin Lethbridge had all won medals at the 1965 North American Championships in Rochester, New York. The future looked bright as thousands packed Peterborough, Ontario's Memorial Arena to see Canada's best contend for medals on home turf at the 1966 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Due to a February 8 entry deadline from the ISU for entries for that year's World Championships in Davos, Switzerland, the competition schedule had to be overhauled, with senior events held at the beginning of the event on February 5 and 6 and novice and junior events scheduled afterwards. The senior events were broadcast on television and commentated by Bruce Hyland and unlike today, there were no press conferences where journalists jockeyed for positions, no cell phones, no social media. It was a different time.

In the senior pairs event, siblings Susan and Paul Huehnergard, representing the Upper Canada Skating Club defended the national title that they'd won the year before in Calgary ahead of two other sibling teams, Alexis and Chris Shields and Betty and John McKilligan. However, it was another pairs team who would be the talk of the competition. After an IOC investigation found that German skaters Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler had signed professional contracts before the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, they'd been (at that time) stripped of their Olympic silver medals. It was in Peterborough that IOC executive James Worrall presented the bronze medallists in Innbsruck, Canada's Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell with an upgrade - a gorgeous pair of Olympic silver medals - in a special ceremony. In ice dance, Carole Forrest and Kevin Lethbridge, also of the Upper Canada Skating Club, also defended their national title. With the retirement of Lynn Matthews and Byron Topping, Gail Snyder and Wayne Palmer moved to second and Judy Henderson and John Bailey claimed bronze. Predictably, Donald Knight of Dundas also defended his national men's title, handily fending off challenges from 1964 Canadian Champion Charles Snelling and three time Canadian bronze medallist Jay Humphry of the North Shore Winter Club.

However, it was another skater from the North Shore Winter Club that would capture the imagination of the packed audience that year. The youngest of the skaters in the senior women's event was none other than thirteen year old Karen Magnussen. The 1973 autobiography "Karen: The Karen Magnussen Story" (written by Karen with Jeff Cross) noted that although five thousand people had packed the Memorial Arena for the women's free skate - most there to see Petra Burka defend her title - it was Magnussen who stole the show: "It was the kind of challenge she could not resist. Karen placed fifth in the compulsory figures, in itself a fine performance in her first senior national competition. But the best was yet to come. Her free-skating performance at Peterborough is still regarded by many as the most electrifying ever seen in the Canadian championships. It earned an ovation from the crowd. Dr. Suzanne Francis, an international judge, awarded her a mark of 5.9 (out of 6.0) for artistic impression - the highest mark of the competition, and higher by one-tenth of a point than the same judge's mark for Miss Burka. When the marks were added up, Karen was in second-place in the free-skating section, right behind world champion Petra. She had been practicing [her senior free skating program] for only two months... [She] finished in fourth overall, but veteran observers there had seen enough to convince them they were watching a future champion." They were right. Although Petra Burka won her third and final Canadian title that year in Peterborough ahead of Valerie Jones and Roberta Laurent, it wouldn't be long before Karen Magnussen was Canadian Champion. Jim Proudfoot, writing for the Toronto Star in February 1966 noted, "it was [in Peterborough] that Canadian figure skating officials became excited about her, and instructed coach Linda Brauckmann to make sure Karen got through the tests necessary to qualify for international competitions." The people of Peterborough were right on the money. The future of Canadian figure skating couldn't have been brighter and Karen would prove to be its biggest star looking forward to the seventies.

A lot has changed fifty years later. Gone are school figures and compulsory dances; here to stay is the 'new' judging system that replaced the beloved 6.0 system following the scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The sport barely resembles what it once looked like but the standard of skating this week at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships couldn't be higher.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage speaking at the opening press conference for the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships

At the opening press conference for the event on Thursday, January 21, two time Olympic Silver Medallist Elvis Stojko (the Athlete Ambassador for the event) reflected on his experience competing in Halifax at the 1990 World Championships and Skate Canada CEO Dan Thompson and HRM Mayor Mike Savage welcomed athletes, their families and fans to Halifax. History continued to emerge as a theme throughout the day. Although I unfortunately ultimately missed the Ellen Burka documentary at Pier 21 that I was so excited about attending, I did have chance to meet and chat with four time Canadian Champion Louise Soper, who was sitting in the row behind us while we watched the pairs practice. She was there with her husband and dance partner Barry and explained that while she no longer skates, she does still follows the sport. This month marks the one month anniversary of the passing of the late, great Toller Cranston and she remembered her former teammate fondly.

From the past to the back to the present! Today the Canada's elite men, women, pairs and ice dancers will take to the ice for the phase one of the senior competitions. Who doesn't love men? I know I do! No less than eighteen of Canada's best on blades will be showing each other up in the senior men's event. The buzz surrounding the comeback of Olympic Silver Medallist and three time World Champion Patrick Chan is no joke. And why not? He's won seven Canadian titles and took gold at his first major international competition since the Sochi Olympics earlier this season. Based on his short program result as the free skate was cancelled in light of the Paris attacks, he finished off the podium at the Trophée Éric Bompard. It was fourth place for him at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona. Undaunted, Chan has taken a more big picture approach to coming back, stating, "I'm going for my eighth title but I think there's a lot more at hand that I'm trying to achieve at Nationals in terms of adding technical elements and trying it for the first time and seeing how it works... and also, like I said at the beginning of the season just getting my legs under me this year and get myself ready for the next two years to make them a lot smoother than this year." His biggest competition will of course come from the defending champion Nam Nguyen, who trains at the Cricket Club in Toronto under Brian Orser, the coach of Olympic Gold Medallist Yuzuru Hanyu and World Champion Javier Fernandez. I have a feeling that Nguyen's decision to switch back to his fabulous short program to Nina Simone's "Sinnerman" from last season could very well pay off dividends today. There's always something to be said for going back to something that you know works, right? The fight for bronze is perhaps going to be as interesting if not moreso than the media driven rivalry between Chan and Nguyen. A half a dozen or so men could all quite easily enter the medal conversation. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, British Columbia, Elladj Baldé of Montreal and Liam Firus of Vancouver certainly have the experience, but there are any number of men who could challenge for the podium. One to keep your on? Keegan Messing. After rolling in the deep field of American men's skaters, this Alaskan made the clever decision to compete for Canada and with choreography by Douglas Webster of the Ice Theatre Of New York and Ice Dance International fame and coaching by Olympian Ralph Burghart, he's going places.

Interview with three time Canadian Medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier

3X Canadian Medallists Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam.
Due to a technical glitch, my interview with them didn't
make it, but they're going to be fabulous! 

In the ice dance event, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Ontarians who train at the Detroit Skating Club under Pasquale Camerlengo, Angelika Krylova, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Natalia Annenko-Deller, are heavy favourites for the lead. They have been unbeatable so far this season, claiming gold at the Finlandia Trophy, Skate Canada International, the Rostelecom Cup and the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain. On the journey this season, Weaver said, "I feel like we're really enjoying ourselves this year and we're growing with each competition and enjoying the day to day and I think that's really important with overall well-being. We're not spring chickens anymore and I think that happiness is an advantage and it helps us to perform better and better." Among the other thirteen senior ice dance teams, their biggest threats will come from Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of the Scarboro Figure Skating Club and Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam of the Barrie Skating Club and Élisabeth Paradis and François-Xavier Ouellette, who train at the Club de patinage artistique Gadbois in Montreal.
Interview with Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford

Interview with Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau

Interview with Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro

Interview with Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch

The senior pairs competition is looking like it's seriously going to be quite the epic showdown. The favourites are of course Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. They have won the last four Canadian titles, a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, last year's World title in Shanghai, China and both of their Grand Prix assignments this season. Although they have two quad throws (the Salchow and the Lutz) in their bag of tricks, after finishing second at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona sportswriters have opted for the tired 'having a difficult season' storyline based on one result. Don't buy into it. They've got the goods to perform well here, their practice last night was near perfect and with the support of a rowdy East Coast crowd and their programs this season, I have a feeling we are going to witness something really special from these two in Halifax. The battle for the other two podium spots is a different story altogether. If I was a betting homosexual, I'd put my money on Quebec's Julianne Séguin and Charlie  Bilodeau for the silver. They've been on an upward trajectory, winning the bronze medal at both of their Grand Prix assignments this season and their free skate to "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" (alas, not the Annie Lennox version but fabulous nonetheless) really brings the wow factor. But then again, I don't know nor does anyone really. There's a whole host of other extremely strong teams who will be putting the heat on Duhamel and Radford, among them Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch, Hayleigh Bell and Rudi Swiegers and Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps. I wouldn't dream of counting anyone out for a second in the pairs event this season based on how they were all practicing last night. It's going to be a battle!

Interview with 2013 and 2014 Canadian Champion Kaetlyn Osmond

Interview with 2015 Canadian Champion Gabby Daleman

Interview with 2015 Canadian Silver Medallist Alaine Chartrand

The women's event is going to be equally interesting. After missing last season due to injury, two time Canadian Champion Kaetlyn Osmond (originally of Marystown, Newfoundland) is on the comeback trail. A crowd favourite, Osmond said, "If I had any little injuries through the beginning of my season, they are completely healed now and I'm feeling better than ever. I haven't been practicing better in my life... Nationals is always my favourite competition of the year so I'm really happy to be back." Her results on the Grand Prix were less than stellar - eleventh at Skate Canada International in Lethbridge and sixth at the NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan - but the past is the past and this is the present. Her biggest competition will of course come from defending champion Gabby Daleman of Newmarket, Ontario, Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ontario and Véronik Mallet of Sept-Îles, Quebec. It's going to come down to who lands the jumps and as we all know, anything can happen.

So grab yourself an urn of coffee and keep them coming... it's going to be a busy weekend here in Halifax. Who will take home the medals this weekend is a compelling mystery that will only be solved as new history is carved on the ice. You do not want to miss a minute of the action!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at