Thursday, 20 October 2016

The 1965 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

In the years that followed the Sabena Crash that claimed the lives of the entire U.S. figure skating team, the American media largely centred its narrative on figure skating on loss, not on rebirth. Yet, at the 1965 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, held from February 10 to 13, 1965 at the very arena where Sonja Henie had claimed her second of three Olympic gold medals, it was clear that a new generation of stars had incredibly already emerged. More than one hundred skaters representing clubs from sea to shining sea descended upon the Jack Shea Arena that February, each with their own hopes, dreams and unique stories. Let's take a look back at how it all played out!


Paul McGrath and Robert Black

Competitions in novice pairs and ice dance were not yet included on the ticket at the U.S. Championships, but young Julie Lynn Holmes dazzled in the novice women's event, fending off challenges from Coco Gram and Nancy Brunnckow to claim the gold medal in that event. Roger Bass claimed the gold and Christopher Young the bronze in the novice men's event, but the real star was thirteen year old Atoy Wilson, the son of a Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department supervisor. Wilson, who had taken from Peter Betts and Mabel Fairbanks, claimed the silver medal and in doing so was the first African American skater in history to both compete and medal at the U.S. Championships. As an unfortunate testament to the language and sentiment of the time, in a February 10, 1965 article in "The Leader-Herald", coach Nancy Rush praised Wilson thusly: "He can skate good figures and he is a very good free skater. He has all the jumps and a very nice style. If a Negro is going to make it, Atoy is the one." Twelve year old Paige Paulsen and fourteen year old Larry Dusich of Pasadena defeated Susie Berens and Roy Charles Wagelein to win the junior pairs title. Sixteen year old Betty Lewis and twenty one year old Richard Gilbert of Boston claimed the bronze ahead of Sharon Bates and Richard Inglesi of Oakland. Bates redeemed herself by maintaining an early lead in figures to win the junior women's event ahead of sixteen year old Pamela Schneider of Lincroft, New Jersey and seventeen year old Sondra Lee Holmes of Artesia, California. Finishing eighth of nine skaters in Lake Placid that year was a young Janet Lynn. In the Silver (junior) dance event, eighteen year olds Kathy Flaherty and Roger Berry of La Crescenta and Los Angeles, California moved up to defeat compulsory dance winners Sandra Schwomeyer and James Pennington. Dolly Rodenbaugh and Thomas Lescinski of Pittsburgh took the bronze. In the junior men's competition, fifteen year old Robert Black of Melrose, Massachusetts lead after the figures but was overtaken in the free skate by eighteen year old Paul McGrath of Jamaica Plains, Masschusetts. Ron Frank took the bronze and a young John Misha Petkevich placed fifth.


After winning the 1963 and 1964 U.S. pairs titles, Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill had retired. Highland Park, Illinois siblings Vivian and Ronald Joseph had been runners-up to the Fotheringill's the two previous years and were favoured heavily to ascend to the top of the podium. Ronald was a pre-med major at Northwestern University in Chicago; Vivian was a high school junior. Their mother had enrolled them in skating lessons together when they were youngsters when Ronald wanted to play hockey but needed to learn how to skate first. With outstanding poise and precision, the Joseph's easily bested Cynthia and Ronald Kauffman of Seattle, Washington and Joanne Heckert and Gary Clark of East Lansing, Michigan to win their first and only U.S. pairs title.


The defending men's champion, fifteen year old Scotty Allen of Smoke Rise, New Jersey, was considered the skater to beat in his training base of Lake Placid. However, in the school figures Gary Visconti built an early lead over Allen. The reigning Olympic Bronze Medallist fought back in the latter figures but it just wasn't enough. Visconti took first place with eight ordinal placements and two firsts, three seconds; Allen second with two firsts, a second, and two fourths. Sixteen year old Tim Wood and seventeen year old Duane Maki, both from Detroit, placed third and fourth. In the free skate, Allen landed a triple Salchow but fell on a triple loop attempt. Visconti didn't attempt the loop, but skated a flawless performance and earned a standing ovation from the capacity crowd of two thousand spectators. The five judges split the first place marks, with Visconti earning three firsts and two seconds; Allen two firsts, a second and two thirds. Tim Wood took the bronze, ahead of Duane Maki, Billy Chapel of Hollywood, Buddy Zack of Chicago and Richard Callaghan of Rochester. I spoke with Visconti about the event in September 2016.  "I was going against Scott Ethan Allen in New York. He was third at the Olympics and the Worlds and he was the shining little boy. I won the figures and he came second. I remember my Mom was sitting up in the bleachers and Mrs. Allen was behind her. She said to my mother, 'Oh, Gary's doing so wonderful! He's going to be an easy second.' And my mother said, 'Oh, THANK you.' My mother didn't care. The next night was freestyle and everyone said, 'Gary, we're glad you won figures but you know you're going to be second tomorrow, right?' I said, 'Yeah, that's okay. That's fine.' So I skated second to last and he skated last and I did fine. I did a good job and he did a good job but I won... And then everyone said it was a big fluke that I had won."


The defending champions, Darlene Streich and Bucky Fetter Jr., had retired and Lorna Dyer and John Carrell, ranked fifth in the world, were heavily favoured to win their first U.S. Gold Dance title after placing third the two years previous. That's not exactly how it all panned out. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Skating in their smooth an unaffected style, Kristin Fortune and Dennis Sveum beat the established couple, Lorna Dyer and John Carrell. Jean Westwood coached the first two couples in Championship Dance. They and the top Silver Dance couples all came from Los Angeles. Stanley Urban's injury had healed, but Sally Schantz turned pro, so Stan skated with his sister and ended third for the Buffalo SC. Carole MacSween and Bob Munz, second in 1964, could do no better than fourth because Carole had missed so much training time with her broken leg." Wilma Piper and Thomas Easton and Janet and Nicholas Burhans took the bottom two slots in the standings.


Christine Haigler

Eight women contested the senior women's title in Lake Placid and sixteen year old Peggy Fleming of Pasadena, representing the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club, was considered by insiders as a sure bet to defend the national title she had won the year prior in Cleveland. Fleming took a strong lead early in the school figures but seventeen year old Christine Haigler of Colorado Springs, who had received medical attention after two bad falls in a free skating practice earlier in the week, rallied from behind to grab a narrow lead. Both skaters had eight ordinals. Haigler had three firsts, a second and a third, while Fleming had two firsts and three seconds. Sixteen year old Tina Noyes of Arlington, Massachusetts was third; sixteen year old Carol S. Noir of East Orange, New Jersey fourth.

In the free skate, Haigler's practice injury was evident as she fell thrice and was not up to her usual snuff. Noyes skated a clean performance with a fine double Axel but Fleming's dazzling display, replete with double Axels and Lutzes, was deemed by the judges as the skate of the evening. Her marks ranged from 5.4 to 5.9 and she was first on every judge's scorecard. Overall, Haigler had three second place ordinals, a third and a fourth, while Noyes had two seconds and three thirds. Under the factored scoring system, Haigler got the nod over Noyes for the silver behind Fleming. Myrna Bodek overtook Carol S. Noir to place fourth.

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, 18 October 2016

Words Of Wisdom: Advice For The Ice From Howard Nicholson

St. Paul, Minnesota's Howard Nicholson is perhaps best remembered as the long time coach of three time Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Sonja Henie. That said, he was an excellent skater in his own right. While busy coaching Henie, from 1931 to 1933, Nicholson won the Open Professional Figure Skating Championships of Great Britain. An acclaimed specialist in school figure technique who taught in England, America and Switzerland, he wrote "Nicholson On Figure Skating" in 1933, which offered meticulous advice on mastering every figure in the NSA's tests at the time. In his instructional book, he also weighed in on free skating and even his star pupil. Today on the blog we will look back on some of his timeless advice and musings:

(on turns): "I know a great many people will not agree, but personally I am all against pulled, torn or forced turns; they are not my ideal of a turn, which ought to be a true clean edge, to a true clean edge, and naturally does not make much noise. Certainly pulled, torn or forced edges help the judges, as they generally mean 'safe' turns, and the judges have not got to look so carefully for double lines and changes, and naturally the noise impresses the spectators, but it generally means that the skater is the lucky possessor of very strong ankles or legs. Of course a heavy person is bound to cut more ice and so make more noise, but it does not necessarily mean a torn line in that case."

(on Sonja Henie): "Not only have I never had a pupil like Sonja, but I have never seen or imagined there could be a girl so wonderful and so brilliant. I am astounded at her ability to grasp almost immediately my suggestions, however new they may be to her. Difficult and complicated new steps which one would expect to spend months on, even with what it is the fashion to call a first-class skater (I mean anyone who has at least passed the gold medal standard) are performed after only a few lessons with an ease and grace which only an exceptional artist could possibly attain. The lady skater (or, if it comes to that, the man) who can defeat Miss Sonja Henie will not only be the best skater in the world, but, in my opinion, will be the best who has ever put on a pair of skates."

(on Sonja Henie): "It has been a great honour to have such a talented public as Frk. Sonja Henie; I spent many happy hours teaching her. I value tremendously the generous acknowledgment of my coaching she has made on her photograph."

(on Backward Inside Loop Change Loops): "Just before the Change: straighten the tracing knee; raise the body from the hips; lift the free leg slightly higher, along the line of the tracing, but not too far from the ice; keep the back arched. Just at the Change: close the circle by covering the previous tracings; take the free leg quickly forward; the tracing arm right across the body and the free arm further back. The Change is made from the back part of the skate on the B.O. edge. Immediately after the Change: rebend the tracing knee well; lower the body back on the hips again, and look round the free shoulder for the previous B.I. Loop. Do all these movements for the Change as one continuous motion."

(on free skating): "A well thought out and placed programme is extremely effective and convincing. Running about the ice to get pace for a special spin or jump is not, to my mind, 'free skating.' Programmes should be as individual as possible, not just bad imitations of some 'star'. Much the best plan is for the skater to make up a programme and ask his, or her professional, or friends to criticize it and help with the execution. No professional can give a completely different programme to dozens of different pupils, besides that is not what I feel is meant by 'free skating'."

(on playing it safe): "So many people... want to try the most difficult spins or jumps, irrespective of the fact that they may be nervous and unable to bring off anything at all difficult to them, whereas it would have been quite possible to do something simpler, which would probably have been equally effective, and so not have spoilt their programme. Never lose sight of the fact, that it is better to do a less difficult thing well than a difficult thing badly."

I don't know about you, but those last two lessons make a hell of a lot of sense, now don't they?

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, 15 October 2016

Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 4

As autumn creeped in the last three years, I introduced you to a Maritime classic: hodge podge.  If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it.

Here in Atlantic Canada, we use the expression "hodge podge" to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way. I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. For one, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a tour of compelling stories with a skating connection... an a delicious 6.0 finish:


Lyudmila Vasilevna Zhuravleva was not a skater herself but a staff member at the Crimean Astrophysical Observatory in Nauchnyj, near Bakhchysarai, Crimea. Her research with the Institute Of Theoretical Technology began in 1972 and continued into the late nineties. In that time period, she discovered no less than two hundred and thirteen minor planets and other celestial bodies. I'm sorry, but is that not insane?! In her first year on the job, she discovered an inner main belt asteroid that she named 3231 Mila. Considering her name was Lyudmila, I think it's a reasonable assumption that she named it after herself initially. Although three unconfirmed sightings of the asteroid had been made in 1949 and 1955, this was her baby.

3231 Mila, which takes three years, three hundred and one days and twenty two hours to orbit the sun at an average speed of 1904 km/s, was officially dedicated in the memory of another fabulous Lyudmila, Olympic, World and European ice dancing champion Lyudmila Pakhomova on May 31, 1988. Pakhomova had passed away two years prior of leukemia. On the world stage, her posthumous induction that same year to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame may have garnered more attention, but the fact that a light shines in the skies commemorating this skating great is a tremendous testament to the influence that her skating had on the world. Always remember... Up there in the Milky Way, there's an asteroid where you can skate all day.


I quite intentionally usually shy away from even mentioning roller skating on the blog. To be honest with you, I am not a fan. However, from Jackson Haines to Carrie Augusta Moore, the mention of the roller skating floor is something that is quite inescapable when you're researching figure skating history. Many Victorian era performers switched almost seamlessly from blades to rollers, so much so that you really have to do your homework when sifting through primary sources to figure out what they had on their feet at times. Haines popularized "Le prophète" on roller skates but what many don't know is that the very same year that Meyerbeer's opera debuted, another ballet took Europe by storm with an attempt to depict ice skating on stage. It was called "Les Plaisirs de l'Hiver ou, Les Patineurs (The Pleasures Of Winter, or, The Skaters") and was performed at the Academie de Musique Paris, the Great Theatres of Germany and Her Majesty's Theatre in London in the late 1840's. Morris Traub's 1944 book "Roller Skating Through The Years" noted, "in this ballet was a winter sports scene, in which [Paul] Taglioni, in order to depict skating on the Danube, used roller skates with the wheels masked to resemble the blade of an ice skate. The stage was covered with a sheet of some smooth material to represent the frozen river. The music was composed to help describe the sports of a Hungarian winter, 'even imitating the sound of gliding on the ice,' as a critic who reviewed the ballet described it." Roller skating may have largely appropriated from - and in the eyes of some critics at the time, corrupted - ice skating, but the success of this particular attempt to mimic ice skating on stage opened up many eyes to the possibilities of actual ice skating as bona fide stage entertainment.


On March 31, 1995, a rocket attack on the northern Israeli coastal city of Nahariya killed an eighteen year old. The subsequent Katyusha attacks in Galilee left one hundred thousand people sleeping in shelters where they sought refuge from Lebanese shelling. Hardly a safe environment to say the least but this was the scene in December 1995 when seventy four skaters from twenty three countries converged at the rink at the Canada Centre in a dangerous area in Metulla, Israel bordered by Syria and Lebanon for the first international figure skating competition ever held in the Middle Eastern region.

The competition didn't go off without a hitch. An initial plan to exclude the original dance and just judge ice dancers on their compulsory dances and free dance obviously didn't meet ISU standards and several ice dancers had to recycle costumes and improvise music or have them flown in last minute as a result of only expecting to need costumes for compulsories and a free dance. A nasty fall in the Silver Samba forced French ice dancers Marianne and Romain Haguenauer to withdraw. However, the real drama was off the ice, with bombings twenty five kilometers north of the Canada Centre leaving skaters and coaches on edge while they tried to focus their attention on the ice and not on the sky above. Despite the bombs and soldiers everywhere, the show went on. The ice dance event was won by Lithuanians Margarita Drobiazko and Povilas Vanagas and the pairs event by France's Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis of France. In winning with a flawless free skate, Abitbol and Bernadis defeated future Olympic Gold Medallist Elena Berezhnaya, who was then still competing with Oleg Shliakhov for Latvia... and we all now how that went. Though not without errors, World Bronze Medallist Tanja Szewczenko of Germany won the first Skate Israel ladies title in convincing fashion, defeating Elena Liashenko of Ukraine and Katerina Berankova of the Czech Republic in a field of twelve. Hometown favourite Michael Shmerkin won Israel's only medal of the event, a gold, in front of a hometown audience, defeating European Champion Dmitri Dimetrenko and World Junior Champion Evgeny Pliuta. It was a case of who fell the fewest times, with Dimetrenko landing only two clean triples and Pliuta missing his triple Axel. Despite a strong roster of competitors, only the Lithuanian ice dancers and Abitbol and Bernadis made a strong impression with the judges... but the audience was supportive to skaters from here, there and everywhere. And that's how it was just days before Christmas in Metulla, Israel in 1995. As the bombs dropped outside, peace reigned on the ice.


Born June 23, 1832 in Cornish, New Hampshire, Addison P. Wyman grew up working on his father Saul's farm with his two brothers. When he was twenty five, he married Ann E. Atwood, a noted soprano singer, and embarked on a new life studying and teaching violin and piano. After working as a teacher in Wheeling, Virginia, he opened a music school in Claremont, New Hampshire and took up the art of 'fancy' skating. He was so inspired by the ice that he wrote a series of piano-forte pieces in ode to the craft: "Music On The Water", "Floating On The Water" and the 1869 March de Bravurs "The Alps'' among them. Perhaps most famous was his 1867 Caprice "Skating By Moonlight" dedicated to skater Annie Moore of Washington, Pennsylvania. Although largely forgotten today, Wyman was among the first of many American composers to compose pieces inspired by skating and used widely by ice Valsers at the time.


Who could forget the 1908 Summer Olympic figure skating skirmish between Ulrich Salchow and Nikolay Panin? As far as tawdry tabloid material, it made the whole Pasha/Sasha/Maya/Evgeny partner switcharoo look like small potatoes. This was OLD SCHOOL scandal of the first quality. One man who quietly faded into the background of figure skating's first Olympic appearance was a man named John Keiller Greig, who just missed the podium in his home country in 1908.

Born in Dundee, Scotland in 1881, Greig thrice won the British Figure Skating Championships prior to World War I but seeing as his only international appearances were his 1908 fourth place finish at the Olympics and a fourth place finish at the 1910 European Championships in Berlin, Germany, he wasn't a skater that historically is greatly remembered. However, he was an athletic skater for his day and one of the first British skaters to compete internationally sporting the Continental Style as opposed to the traditional English Style of skating still popular in Britain at the time. He also won a large ice waltzing contest at Prince's Skating Club with Phyllis Johnson.

Eminent British judge, pairs skater, author and historian T.D. Richardson offered a wonderful anecdote about Greig's career: "I myself preferred Greig's skating. It was so unstereotyped, so intrinsically his own, less influenced by [Henning] Grenander than any of his contemporaries. I think this was mainly the result of his superb physical strength, on which was based all the beauty and power of his performance. Once, I remember, he had promised to skate a show at Samaden, near St. Moritz, on a date which would have allowed him a week or so at the 6,000 ft. altitude in which to get acclimatised. But he was delayed in London on business, and found himself in the train on the way up to St. Moritz on the day of the show. He quickly changed into costume black tights and lion tamer jacket in the train and, leaving his luggage on the platform; with guards on his skates, he strode along to the rink, skated a four-minute show and an encore, then, returning to the station, he found the train still there, waiting for the St. Moritz Coire train to pass through, boarded it, re-changed and in due course took tea in the Kulm Hotel. Yes! There was something to remember in the skating of this grand fourteen-stone athlete... Incidentally, later on, although no longer young, he took to skiing like a duck takes to water and became one of the first British skiers to jump with any degree of success." I don't know what it is about this story that just made me smile but I think it's just the hilarity of a man getting dressed into tights, skates and a lion tamer costume on a train, hopping off and giving this amazing performance and continuing on his merry old way... I love it!

Greig would ultimately retire from competitive skating in 1910 at the age of twenty nine and as mentioned by Richardson, turn his attention to skiing. The very year of his departure from skating he was featured in W. Rickmer Rickmers' book "Skiing For Beginners And Mountaineers". Tim Ashburner's 2003 book "The History Of Ski Jumping" explains that "after the War, Keiller became the leading light for a new generation of ski jumpers and langlaufers with St Moritz as their base." A pioneer in not one but two Winter Olympic sports by way of his SUMMER Olympic appearance in 1908, Greig would pass away in Scotland in 1971 in Ballater, Scotland at the age of ninety, leaving a legacy of excellence in sport and this wonderful anecdote to make all of you smile as much as I did!


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

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, 13 October 2016

Rethinking Ice Dance History: Progress And An Exhausted Argument

"Dance is everything. Movements with music - all music. Dance is free. You can't lock it up or block it. Today certain rules paralyze it... Many skaters skate, few create. They have to be taught curiosity, emotion." - Christopher Dean, "Patinage" magazine, 1990

When Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean skated their iconic "Bolero" in 1984, everything changed. Coaches, choreographers and skaters from Toronto to Tokyo, inspired by the Briton's game-changing performance, responded with their own efforts to push the boundaries of what was possible in ice dance choreography. As ice dancing become more avant garde, the International Skating Union pushed back... and the skaters pushed back again.

In 1987, the ISU's Ice Dance Technical Committee made some changes. Free dance regulations dropped any mention of changes of tempo in music but made clarifications about lifts, noting that the number of turns in any lift could not exceed one and a half, skaters couldn't turn on their knees or boots or perform other movements with their blades off the ice. Leg and back carries, such as when Christopher Dean flipped Jayne Torvill at the volcano in "Bolero" were out, as was balletic music that couldn't be measured by a metronome. Lying on the ice, too, was out of the question. As the rules stood that year, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean couldn't have performed their innovative "Bolero" program at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Worse still, the judges were at odds between what they were reading in their rulebooks and the skating they were seeing on the ice.

At the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin won with an Igor Bobrin program that was every bit as much in the theatrical vein as the "Savage Rites" program choreographed by Dean and skated by the Duchesnay's, but when Isabelle and Paul invited the judges and referee to explain their reasoning behind placing them a lowly eighth at a press conference, not a single one showed up. Instead, in response the following year the ISU Congress introduced the costume deduction rule, calling for mandatory 0.1 to 0.2 deductions for 'inappropriate' costumes including 'bare chests' and 'sleeveless shirts'. This rule, at least partly, seemed a direct response to the Duchesnay's program. By the time Isabelle and Paul finally won a World title in 1991, the ISU was becoming more and more concerned about the interpretive direction ice dancing was taking. In a February 14, 1992 interview with the "Ottawa Citizen", former World Champion and ISU ice dance guru Lawrence Demmy said, ''We must be open minded. Just because we don't like it, we must appreciate it. That's the point I make to the judges.''

After the 1992 season, the ISU again amended its rules, stating that "other music such as symphonic, opera and other classical music not originally written for the dance floor must be reorchestrated" to have a rhythmic beat. The allowance for innovation, applauded in the work of the Duchesnay's and in that of Finland's Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko; in Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak's "Pee-Wee Herman" free dance and Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow's race car program, was out of favour with the ISU.

Not everyone agreed with the ISU's sentiments. I may be a bit of a contrarian with a taste for the zany but I feel the narrative that the zany was a bad thing and that the alternative was indeed progress was more exhausted than a toddler who managed to stay awake three hours past their bedtime. Toller Cranston, in his 2002 book "Ice Cream", agreed: "After the Duchesnay's left the scene, ice dance declined dramatically. Today it has become low-level schlock. Its future is in jeopardy." I don't think Toller's assessment at the time was the least bit over the top. After all, the result of these rule changes resulted in perhaps the least memorable of any Olympic gold medal winning free dances, Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov's rock and roll shtick, winning in 1994 while Rahkamo and Kokko's ingenious "La Strada" free dance kept them off the podium. In turn, the Finn's - with a rich repertoire of creative work - earned their only world medal in 1995 with a Beatles medley that was every bit as unmemorable as the Duchesnay's more conformist "West Side Story" free dance in 1992. In the case of both teams, their more theatrical pieces remain the ones people remember and revisit. Perhaps most telling was the fact that in contrast to the largely forgettable amateur free dances we saw in the years that preceded the rule changes, some of the finest ice dancing the world has ever seen emerged in the professional competitions during the era that followed that rule change.

Those who took issue with the work of the Duchesnay's have historically taken great pleasure in criticizing their two footed skating and the fact that Paul was a stronger skater than Isabelle. However, looking at the bigger picture of the inspiration that they and Torvill and Dean gave other teams to push the envelope and stretch the possibilities that ice dancing could allow, their role in the sport's development is one to be applauded. I don't know about you, but I say more avant garde performances are still what ice dancing needs. Symbolism is underrated.

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, 11 October 2016

The 1952 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Who's ready to hop in the time machine? Don't all get up at once! Today we're going to take a brief look back at the 1952 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, held in mid January 1952 in Oshawa, Ontario. With berths on the line for the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway, the competition was not only fierce but controversial as well... but I'll save that part for last.

Let's start by taking a quick look at that year's junior competitions. Among the men, fourteen year old Charles Snelling of the Granite Club in Toronto took home top honours. Nineteen year old Rosemary Henderson of Winnipeg narrowly defeated fifteen year old Ann Johnston of Toronto to take the junior women's title and in the junior pairs event, Vancouver's Patricia Spray and Norm Walker (who also competed in junior singles but placed poorly) rallied to take the win over Toronto siblings Arden Mae and Clifford Spearing.

Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden

Winning by a landslide in the senior pairs event, Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden of the Toronto Skating Club dazzled. Their only other competitors that year were Audrey Downie and Brian Power of the Connaught Skating Club in Vancouver. Lynn Copley-Graves' book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" recounts that the senior "ice dancers were overshadowed by the singles and pairs on their way to the Oslo Olympics. Four couples remained after the eliminations of the three events, i.e. Silver Dance, Waltz, and Tenstep. Frannie Dafoe and Norrie Bowden's successes in all three dance finals and Senior Pairs fave them a total of four Canadian titles in one year." Joyce Komacher and William A. de Nance, Jr. of Toronto and Pierrette Paquin/Malcolm Wickson of Vancouver placed second and third in all three of the dance events. Of the entire pairs and dance flock, Dafoe and Bowden were the only ones assigned to either the Olympic or World team that year.

High school student and defending senior men's champion Peter Firstbrook of Toronto fended off twenty three year old, three time Canadian Medallist Bill Lewis of Vancouver and nineteen year old training mate Peter Dunfield to repeat as the winner. The January 21, 1952 edition of the "Ottawa Citizen" noted that "Firstbrook, 18, a handsome six-footer, piled up a decisive 36.3 lead in the school figures and took an easy victory over two other competitors... Firstbrook, who fell after stepping onto the ice without removing one of his blade protectors, retained his crown hands down." Like Dafoe and Bowden in the pairs, Firstbrook would be the sole men's entry to the Olympics in Oslo and the World Championships in Paris.

Vevi Smith
Now here's where it get's juicy. After winning Olympic and World medals in 1948 with pairs partner Wally Diestelmeyer, Suzanne Morrow had continued on as a singles skater, winning the Canadian senior ladies title from 1949 to 1951. The twenty one year old skater, based on experience (and fourth place finishes at the last two World Championships) was in effect given 'a bye' to the Olympic team and was overseas training in Germany when the Oshawa competition was going on. That left one ladies spot for the Oslo Olympics and ten women eager to snatch it up. In the school figures, nineteen year old Vera Virginia 'Vevi' Smith of the Toronto Skating Club rockered and countered her way to a 7.2 lead over Marlene Smith (no relation!) of the Winter Club of St. Catharine's. Both had previously been senior medallists and junior champions, both had the same last name and both were hungry for the win. In the free skate, Marlene Smith (according to the "Ottawa Citizen") "skimmed to an easy victory as she executed the different leaps and spins of her free-style skating with ease and grace. Dressed in a brief costume of cerise shiffon, her long blonde hair fluttered in the breeze as she skimmed the ice to the accompaniment of Kreisler's 'Liebesfreud'." Marlene won the title ahead of Vevi and sixteen year old Elizabeth Grattan of Toronto, who moved up from seventh after the figures to take the bronze. Elizabeth's younger sister Barbara and Maureen Senior placed fourth and fifth. While Marlene celebrated her presumed Olympic ticket, the CFSA was preparing to drop a bombshell. The "Ottawa Citizen" reported that "the Canadian Figure Skating Association executive, in naming the Olympic team, explained that Vevi Smith had been selected even though she hadn't won a championship, because she had racked up a higher score in school figures than any other senior man or woman contender." Things got a little crazy for a while before the CFSA saved face by announcing that both Smith's would ultimately join Davis at the Olympics and Worlds that year. Ironically, it was Marlene that soundly defeated Vevi at both international events.

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, 8 October 2016

Bruce Allan Mapes, Skating's Unknown Inventor


Born August 16, 1901, Bruce Allan Mapes, Sr. grew up in Brooklyn, New York and caught the skating bug when he saw Charlotte perform when he was eleven. He learned the scales of skating - the school figures - at the Brooklyn Ice Palace yet derived far more interest in jumping, spinning and other free skating elements. The amateur competitive scene just wasn't his bag, so in the early twenties he retired and worked as an architect before embarking on a barnstorming professional career with his wife Evelyn Chandler. Christie Sausa's book "Lake Placid Figure Skating: A History" explained that "Evelyn Chandler and Bruce Mapes were big stars in the early 1930s, considered the best professional team in the world at the time." The duo performed in everything from club carnivals to circuses. The popular team also toured with Ice Follies for eight years and performed in Chicago's Century of Progress International Exposition in 1933 and 1934.

Bruce Mapes and Evelyn Chandler. Photo courtesy the Minnesota Historical Society. Used with permission.

After the couple's performing career slowed down, they were both hired by the Hershey Skating Club in Pennsylvania. The Mapes' were the club's very first professional coaches and were responsible for not only training young skaters but developing the club's lavish carnival. They continued to perform elsewhere while coaching. Bruce C. Cooper's historical retrospective on hockey and in turn, skating in Hershey noted: "Evelyn Chandler, who electrified the spectators last week at the First Annual Winter Sports Show and International Ski Meet in New York's Madison Square Garden, will skate between periods, giving a series of ice acrobatics with her partner, Bruce Mapes, one of the world's best known professionals. Miss Chandler and Mr. Mapes will also give their ice exhibition on Wednesday night, December 23, when the Hershey Sports Arena stages its second hockey game, between the Hershey Bears and the Atlantic City Sea Gulls."

Evelyn Chandler performing for the troops in 1938

The on and off ice couple had three children, Chandler, Bruce Jr. and Susan, and both of their sons also became professional skaters. Bruce Mapes Jr. toured alongside two time World Medallist Daphne Walker, Betty Jane Ricker, Bill Keefe and Florine Couls, Bobby Temple and Phyllis Kirby in the fifties ice show Ice Vanities.

Mapes has historically been credited with inventing the toe-loop. and by some, the flip. Whereas John Misha Petkevich's 1988 book "Figure Skating: Championship Techniques" gives full credit to Mapes for the toe-loop, the origins of the flip are a little more murky. Gustave Lussi claimed to have invented the jump with Bud Wilson in Canada. He stated that when Evelyn came up to Canada to perform, she saw the jump performed and took it down to the States where the couple performed it and it became known as a Mapes. Interestingly, in roller skating today a toe-loop jump - not a flip - is known as a Mapes.  

Later in life, Mapes worked as a lighting director for NBC in New York and became a grandfather of two. After dedicating so much of his life to skating as an amateur and professional athlete and later, a coach, Mapes passed away in Red Bank, New Jersey at age fifty nine on February 18, 1961 leaving behind ties to the invention of two of skating's favourite toe jumps.

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, 6 October 2016

The 1936 Winter Olympic Games

In February 1936, the Bavarian resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen played host to perhaps the most controversial Winter Olympic Games in history... and yes, I'm including Salt Lake City in 2002, honey. From judging controversies to Sonja Henie schmoozing with Adolf Hitler himself, the stories from the figure skating competitions in 1936 are almost legendary, yet so many of them have been glossed over or largely forgotten. Today on Skate Guard, we're going to dust off some of these these tales and have hopefully gain a greater understanding as to the larger picture of what really went down as Nazi Germany played host to the world's best figure skaters.


In order to gain some perspective as the backdrop of the skating events at the 1936 Winter Olympics, it's probably helpful to start by taking a look at the 1936 European Championships, held a month prior at the Berlin Sportspalast. Nazi officials were rinkside in Berlin too; Reich Minister Of Propaganda And 'Public Enlightment' Paul Joseph Goebbels, Hermann Wilhelm Göring, Hans von Tschammer und Osten and others were all in attendance to see a twenty four year old Sonja Henie claim her sixth consecutive European title. While in Berlin, Henie announced her intention to turn professional after the Olympic Games, telling reporters from The Associated Press on January 25, 1936, "I will defend all my titles for the last time this year then withdraw from active sport to do only fancy skating for my numerous friends in the world. Preparations for competitions take too much time." Perhaps influencing Henie's decision was the challenge she faced from fifteen year old Cecilia Colledge, who made history at the event as the first woman to land a double jump (a Salchow) in international competition. Colledge's teammate, Megan Taylor, finished third with 413.9 points, but having missed that season's British Championships due to injury, she was not named to the British Olympic team. This placed Britain's hopes to unseat Henie squarely on Colledge's shoulders. Germans Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier were victorious in the pairs event in their home country, but perhaps the biggest story from those 1936 European Championships revolved around the men's champion, Karl Schäfer. According to "The Ottawa Citizen", a concern about Schäfer's amateur status (which of course would have been a huge deal at the time) had been raised in Berlin: "There has been concern in some quarters over the status of Karl Schafer, Austria's great figure skater, world and Olympic champion. Although he is registered here as an amateur, word came yesterday that the American Skating Union was investigating the conditions in which Schafer's name was used in an advertisement in a sporting goods publication." Nothing ultimately came of this accusation, and off to the Olympics Karl Schäfer went to defend his title.


The figure skating competitions in Garmisch-Partenkirchen were held at the Olympia-Kunsteistadion, a 100 X 200 rink with a 30 X 60 area sectioned off and developed for the men's, ladies and pairs event. The capacity was ten thousand and seating consisted of wooden bleachers which surrounded the ice surface. For the first time in history, Hollywood scouts were in attendance looking for professional skating talent and it was at these Games that Sonja Henie, Jack Dunn, Věra Hrubá Ralston and countless others were identified for potential recruitment. Two other notable firsts about the 1936 Games were the fact that they were the first Olympics where an open marking system was employed and the first time both men and women skated the same six school figures, which were decided upon by the host federation.

Karl Schäfer and Ernst Baier

The British figure skating team competed in a cloud of sadness over the death of King George VI, who passed away on February 6, 1936, and skated the entire competition wearing black arm-bands to express their mourning. However, as I hinted at before when mentioning the Nazi presence at the European Championships in Berlin, the political undercurrent of the Games was unmistakable from the beginning. Prolific British skating author and judge T.D. Richardson wrote, "My wife in her capacity of non-playing captain of the team went down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen from St. Moritz about ten days before the games started and there she found organisation and bureaucracy run mad. The complete dossiers of all the competitors and officials had to be in quadruplicate and sometimes more than that, with the most absurd, intimate details. To give an example of the foolish inflexibility of the authorities and the length to which the regimented German mind of that time would go, the
following will suffice. She wanted passes for the parents or persons accompanying the skaters many of whom were very young to enter the stadium, the dressing-rooms, restaurant and so on reserved for competitors and officials, during the practice time, which sometimes meant attendance there from 6.30 a.m. to late at night. Do you think this simple request could be granted? No! It was met with a blank refusal. They were told they must have tickets. But there were no tickets left. All tickets were now unobtainable. It was in vain to say that the only thing the parents wanted was to be with their children and keep an eye on them. It was only after days of argument and after I arrived, by both of us banging the table harder and shouting louder than Ritter von Halt, the organiser, a typical arrogant Nazi, and by threatening to take the whole team back to London, which in point of fact could not have been done, for wild horses could not have stopped the competitors skating, that at last my wife got six cards with 'Please admit to all parts of the stadium at all times', and then peace reigned. I think von Ribbentrop, whom I knew very well, and to whom I complained, had something to say behind the scenes, where Ritter von Halt and a rather sinister individual with a French name, a Baron le Fort, were really enjoying their temporary taste of power."


Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier

The first gold medal to be awarded in 1936 went to the pairs, who contested their free skate on February 13, 1936. With Hitler in the audience, a whopping eighteen pairs representing twelve countries sought the title, the only withdrawal being the Swiss pair of Ruth Hauser and Edwin Keller. It was moderately cold and the sky was described as being a "deep sky blue" as judges settled in for a four and a half hour competition.

Emilia Rotter and László Szollás

The favourites were Hungarians Emilia Rotter and László Szollás, both Jewish, who had won the three World titles preceding the 1936 Games. Considering the politics of the time, it's probably no surprise they were able to finish no higher than third. The gold medal went to Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier, the Germans. Much of their program was shadow skating and the judges seemed to appreciate their speed and rhythm. Baier, according to the February 13, 1936 issue of "The Miami News" composed the music the pair skated to "as they swung through their repertoire of long curves, difficult spins and daring jumps."

Ilse and Erik Pausin

However, as we discussed in "A Pause For The Pausin's", the crowd favourites were the young Austrian pair of Ilse and Erik Pausin, who skated with youthful exuberance in their performance set to Strauss' "Tales From The Vienna Woods". Ultimately, seven of the nine judges had Herber and Baier first, the Austrians giving the Pausin's the nod and the Hungarians voting for Rotter and Szollás. A second Hungarian duo, Piroska and Attila Szekrényessy, finished fourth, followed by Americans Maribel Vinson-Owen and George Hill.

Maribel Vinson-Owen and George Hill

Judith A. Steeh's 1971 book "Olympiad 1936: Blaze of Glory for Hitler's Reich" recalled Vinson-Owen and Hill's program thusly: "Although the last part of their program was executed faultlessly, their opening - which consisted of difficult Lutz jumps - did not go as well as planned." Scores for Canadians Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn were all over the place. The Swedish and Norwegian judges had them third and fourth while German and Austrian judges had them in thirteenth and fourteenth. They finished sixth.


One notable name missing from the men's roster at the 1936 Winter Olympics was Belgium's Robert van Zeebroeck, the 1928 Olympic Bronze Medallist. He had planned to stage a comeback and did register to compete, but did not ultimately attend. Because of heavy snowfall on February 9 and 10, 1936, the ice had to be constantly cleared to allow judges the chance to scrutinize the men's figures better. The weather was so terrible that Canadian judge John Machado contracted pneumonia after being out in the snow and freezing cold for the seventeen hours it took to judge the event and ended up having to be replaced mid-competition by a German judge, Fritz Schober. Reigning Olympic Gold Medallist Karl Schäfer took a commanding lead from the start over his closest rival from the European Championships, Henry Graham Sharp.

Karl Schäfer

He was able to maintain it in the free skate as Sharp struggled and Germany's Ernst Baier moved up from third to second to win his second medal of the 1936 Games. Felix Kaspar of Austria leaped from fifth to claim the bronze with his spectacularly high jumps. Canada's Bud Wilson settled for fourth. The February 15, 1936 issue of "The Montreal Gazette" noted that "in precision, Wilson left little to be desired, but he did not execute his program with the same dash shown by some of the other contestants. The hard ice surface on which the competition was run off caused many of the contestants to tumble. Wilson escaped such an accident, as did [Schäfer]."

Felix Kaspar and Bud Wilson

Fifteen year old Freddie Tomlins, the youngest man on Great Britain's Olympic team, placed tenth. Howard Bass recalled that "Freddie told Graham [Sharp] that he intended to get 'old Schickelgruber's autograph' and proceeded by devious means to bore his way right through Hitler's S.S. bodyguard, reputed to be impassible, and went straight up to the surprised dictator and handed him a pencil! He got the autograph, but what the S.S. guards got afterwards was, I gather, less rewarding." Freddie's teammate Belita Jepson-Turner later recalled, "I don't know what he said to one of the soldiers but they threw him out in his skates and his tights and his little badge and number and everything - threw him right out into the snow - and left him out there for about two hours, locking the door of the arena." Later, the manager of the Japanese Olympic team was so impressed by Tomlins' efforts on the ice that he showered him with gifts, praises and an invitation to come perform in Japan.

Geoff Yates, Henry Graham Sharp and Freddie Tomlins. Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, the National Skating Association Archives.

The weather played a large factor in the results of the 'hothouse' American skaters: Judith A. Steeh recalled,"The Americans in the contest were badly bothered by the weather which was cold and windy, with a real blizzard on the second day, as well as by the fact that they were not used to performing on an outdoor rink; the best performances came from 17-year-old Robin Lee of St. Paul and Erle Reiter of Minneapolis who finished twelfth and thirteenth." There was some serious national basis going on in the case of the Hungarian judge, László von Orbán, who placed his country's skaters Elemér Terták and Dénes Pataky second and third, while none of the other judges had them higher than seventh or eighth. Perhaps less known, the skater who finished in twenty fifth and last place - receiving last place ordinals from every judge in both figures and free skating - was the oldest participant in the 1936 Winter Olympic Games and the oldest Olympian from Latvia in history. Forty six year old Verners Auls was the founder of the Rigas Ledus kluba in Riga.


The infamous 'Sonja and Hitler' photograph

Now, if you want to talk controversy... the stories surrounding Sonja Henie's third Olympic gold medal win in 1936 were nothing short of unbelievable. Before the Olympics had even started, the Henie's had visited with Hitler in Germany. During a 1936 show in Berlin, she gave him the Nazi salute and said "Heil, Hitler". Richard D. Mandell's 1971 book "The Nazi Olympics" aptly notes that "the two durable heroes of the German Winter Olympiad were Sonja Henie and Adolf Hitler. Only the undisputed empress of winter and the increasingly secure master of the Third Reich possessed the magic required to fascinate the masses at Garmisch and had the ranks of 'stars' in the world at large. The two were demonstratively together a great deal. They fed on each other's staged smiling ('Was it his corsage?') - she in clinging white; the Fuehrer slicked hair and wrapped in massive black leather overcoat." Henie's competitors were acutely aware of the political game being played. Vivi-Anne Hultén recalled, "Everybody said she became his girlfriend." Henie was so popular with the German public that police even had to play crowd control as people without tickets fought to get into the arena to watch her skate.

Women's competitors in Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Etsuko Inada
There were other stories though! Twelve year old Etsuko Inada of Japan, the youngest and smallest competitor among the women, became an unlikely crowd favourite. Canada's sole entry, Constance Wilson-Samuel of Toronto collapsed in practice and was taken to the hospital suffering from bronchitis and had to withdraw. However, predictably the attention all seemed to swirl around Sonja Henie. Quoted from "Gay Blades: Part II" in Mary Louise Adams' book "Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport", Maribel Vinson-Owen wrote of how the drama surrounding Henie unfurled during the two days of ladies school figures. She recalled that during the right back bracket change bracket, "[Sonja] had almost no speed for the second half of the figure, she came up to the second bracket right on the flat of her skate instead of on an edge, a major fault, and after the turn she had to wiggle and hitch her skating foot to keep going, and then she pushed off for the next circle a good four feet before she reached her center, another very major fault... and when she had turned her twelfth and last bracket, she was at a dead standstill. So making no pretence of trying to finish out her circle, she just put both feet down, smiled a gay camouflage smile, and walked off the ice. We gasped to see the world champion do such a thing. The figure as it stood, deserved no more than Vivi's 3.8 average, if as high as that, AND YET when the judges put down their cards, not one, not even Mr. Rotch, who indeed does know correct figures, had given her less than 5! We competitors and those on the sidelines who knew laughed in derision with a 'what can you expect'  tone - I looked at Mr. Rotch with the question 'How could you do such a thing?' in my eyes, and he just shrugged." Despite this display, Henie lead Cecilia Colledge by 3.6 points... a margin too close for her comfort. Steven J. Overman and Kelly Boyer Sagert's book "Icons Of Women's Sport, Volume 1" reported that "this unnerved Henie, who had beaten Colledge in the previous world championships on the strength of her compulsory figures; upset because of the closeness of the competition, Henie yanked down Colledge's score from the board and tore it to pieces." There have long been debates as to whether or not Sonja Henie actually ripped down the score sheet and destroyed it or just caused a scene in the dressing room but whatever the reality, she wasn't a happy camper.

Left: Sonja Henie; Right: Cecilia Colledge

I don't think anyone would have had the happiest time in the dressing room in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Between Belita Jepson-Turner's infamous stage mother Queenie, a murder of angry Henie's and a sea of Nazi officials, it can't have been a very pleasant atmosphere. In the November 13, 1949 issue of the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette", Věra Hrubá Ralston recalled: "I remember the day so well. I was in my dressing room and my roommate was there fixing her stocking. Two Storm Troopers knocked on my door. They said, 'Herr Hitler would like to see you.' I was a little scared. Because when the Czechs had marched by his box, they wouldn't give the Nazi salute. I just bowed. Once a Czech, always a Czech. I felt, I don't know - just blank, doing what I was told. Hitler's eyes were very starey. Like he wanted to hypnotize you. When he shook hands, it hurt my hand. He was very abrupt. Very military. Goering and Goebbels were in the box too. Hitler said, 'How do you do? How do you like Germany?' He said it was a beautiful job I had a done. Then he said 'I think a fine girl like you should skate under the German flag. I said 'No, thank you, Herr Fuehrer, I am very under mine. I couldn't tell them that you'd rather die than skate under Hitler. Hitler said 'Well as long as you're happy'. He posed for a picture shaking hands with me. Then he said 'Good to see you... goodbye.' Very abrupt and very military again. I went back to the dressing room and all the girls came running up asking what happened. It got out that I wouldn't skate for Hitler. I lost the competition to Sonja." Hrubá Ralston claimed that she was given a cup inscribed with Hitler's name by the Nazis and years later, when her father was imprisoned in Prague for his political beliefs under Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazis found that very cup when they ransacked the family home. Was it  literally his get out jail free card? Here's the thing... considering that she, in another interview, claimed "I looked [Hitler] right in the eye, and said that I'd rather skate on the swastika. The Führer was furious", I personally have suspicions as to the veracity of her storytelling. Both make for great stories though.

High drama was again the name of the game on February 15, 1936 as the women took to the ice for their free skating performances. Cecilia Colledge, skating second of twenty three competitors, came out and gave the Nazi salute. The German audience loved it. Her music started and then stopped due to 'technical problems' and she was allowed to start again. Despite a near stumble early in her program, she recovered to give what was by all accounts a brilliant performance. Later, when Henie came onto the ice, the crowd was oddly silent. However, after she gave a near-perfect performance, the audience went wild with applause. It was pretty clear how this was all going to go... and the judges concurred.

Women's medallists

Henie won Olympic gold for a third time, with Colledge second, Hultén third, Liselotte Landbeck fourth and Maribel Vinson-Owen fifth. In a 1999 "Newsweek" article, Colledge recalled, "On the podium after the Olympics, there were no kisses, no handshakes, not even a word." Hitler presented Henie with a giant autographed photo of himself along with her Olympic gold medal. As the legend goes, that same picture, placed atop a piano in Henie's Oslo home by a fast-thinking caretaker, spared her a lot of trouble during World War II. The controversial 1990 book "Queen of Ice, Queen of Shadows: The Unsuspected Life of Sonja Henie", penned by Raymond Strait and Henie's brother Leif, claimed that after receiving the photo and medal from Hitler, the Henie family sat down for lunch with the devil himself. Pretty disgusting stuff if you ask me. Was it all political? Dick Button doesn't think so. In a February 11, 2014 "Vanity Fair" article, he commented, "I don't think Sonja Henie was a political person in any way, shape, or form. She was an opportunist... I don't think she could have cared less who Hitler was, except for whatever power he had and what it would do for her career." Whatever the case may be, their unquestionable connection was the story of the 1936 Games; one that cast a dark cloud over the entire figure skating competition.

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, 4 October 2016

Patinage Poetry: The Language Of The Ice (Part Quatre)

How doth I love skating? Let me count the ways... Just prior to the Sochi Olympics, I put together the blog's first collection of poetry about skating called "Patinage Poetry: The Language Of The Ice". The topic of skating poetry has recurred often on the blog, in "Georg Heym: The Skating Prophet" and "Canada's Valentine" and the second and third editions of "Patinage Poetry". Guess what? I just can't get enough! The fourth installment in this series is chock full of wonderful gems from Williams Haynes and Joseph LeRoy Harrison's 1919 collection "Winter Sports Verse". Put on your beret and get ready to snap afterwards for another fabulous collection of historical skating poetry:


Down swept the chill wind from the mountain peak,
From the snow five thousand summers old;
On open world and hill-top bleak
It had gathered all the cold,
And whirled it like sleet on the wanderer's cheek;
It carried a shiver everywhere
From the unleafed boughs and pastures bare;
The little brook heard it and built a roof
'Neath which he could house him, winter-proof;
All night by the white stars' frosty gleams
He groined his arches and matched his beams;
Slender and clear were his crystal spars
As the lashes of light that trim the stars:
He sculptured every summer delight
In his halls and chambers out of sight;
Sometimes his tinkling waters slipt
Down through a frost-leaved forest-crypt,
Long, sparkling aisles of steel-stemmed trees
Bending to counterfeit a breeze;
Sometimes the roof no fretwork knew
But silvery mosses that downward grew;
Sometimes it was carved in sharp relief
With quaint arabesques of ice-fern leaf;
Sometimes it was simply smooth and clear
For the gladness of heaven to shine through, and here
He had caught the nodding bulrush-tops
And hung them thickly with diamond drops,
Which crystal led the beams of moon and sun,
And made a star of every one:
No mortal builder's most rare device
Could match this winter-palace of ice.


This snell and frosty morning,
With rhind the trees adorning.
Tho' Phoebus be below?
Through the sparkling snow,
A skating we go,
With a fal, lal, lal, lal, lal, lal,
To the sound of the merry, merry horn.

From the right to left we're plying,
Swifter than winds we're flying,
Spheres with spheres surrounding,
Health and strength abounding,
In circles we sweep,
With a fal, lal, lal, lal, lal, lal,
To the sound of the merry, merry horn.

Our poise we still keep,
Behold how we sweep,
The face of the deep,
With a fal, lal, lal, lal, lal, lal,
To the sound of the merry, merry horn.

Great Jove looks down with wonder,
To view his sons of thunder,
Tho' the water he seal,
We rove on our heel,
Our weapons are steel,
And no danger we feel,
With a fal, lal, lal, lal, lal, lal,
To the sound of the merry, merry horn.

See the Club advances,
See how they join the dances,
Horns and trumpets sounding,
Rocks and hills resounding,
Let Tritons now blow,
For Neptune below,
His beard dares not shew,
Or call us his foe,
With a fal, lal, lal, lal, lal, lal,
To the sound of the merry, merry horn.


Owned a pair o' skates once
Traded fer 'em,
Stropped 'em on and waded
Up and down the crick, a-waitin'
Tel she'd freeze up fit fer skatin'.
Mildest winter I remember--
More like Spring- than Winter-weather!--
Didn't frost tel 'bout December-
Git up airly ketch a' feather
Of it, maybe, 'crost the winder--
Sunshine swings it like a cinder!

Well - I waited - and kep' waitin'!
Couldn't see my money's w'oth in
Them-air skates and was no skatin',
Ner no hint o' ice ner nothin'!
So, one day - along in airly
Spring - I swopped 'em off 0 and barely
Closed the dicker, 'fore the weather
Natchurly jes' slipped the ratchet,
And crick-tail-race - all together,
Froze so tight cat couldn't scratch it!


Swifter the flight! Far, far and high
The wild air shrieks its savage cry,
And all the earth is ghostly pale,
While the young skater, strong and hale,
Skims fearlessly the forest by.
Hush! shrieking blast, but wail and sigh!
Well sped, O skater, fly thee, fly!
Mild moon, let not thy glory fail!
Swifter the flight!

O, hush thee, storm! thou canst not vie
With that low summons, hoarse and dry.
He hears, and oh! his spirits quail, -
He laughs and sobs within the gale,
On, anywhere! He must not die, -
Swifter the flight!


She's just at my back, and
She sees me, I'm certain.
I'll show I'm a crack hand;
She's just at my back, and -
But something goes crack, and
I'd best just draw the curtain;
She's just at my back, and
She sees me, I'm certain.


We speed o'er the star-lighted mirror along,
And the wood and the mountain re-echo our song.
As on, like the wing of the eagle, we sweep,
Now gliding, now wheeling, we ring o'er the deep.
The winds whistle keenly, - the red cheek is warm,
And there 's none who would yield not his breast to the storm.

The stars are above us, so full and so bright,
And the mirror below us is gemmed with their light.
Like the far-wheeling hawk, in the mid-air we fly;
A sky is above us, - below us a sky.
As onward we glide in our race, we keep time;
And clear as the morning bell echoes our chime.

By pine-covered rock, and by willow-bound shore,
Breast even with breast, like a torrent we pour.
Short, quick are our strokes, as we haste to the mark,
And shrill is our cry, as the trill of the lark.
The goal is now reached, and we bend us away,
Wide wheeling, or curving in fanciful play.

How fondly I loved, when my life-blood was young, -
When buoyant my heart, and my limbs newly strung, -
When the friends of my childhood were round me and near, -
O'er the dark lake to sweep in our sounding career;
And high beat my soul, with enthusiast glow,
As a clear-ringing music was pealing below.

We heeded no danger, - we carelessly flew
O'er a deep, that in darkness was lost to our view;
And onward we rushed, in the heat of our strife,
As, o'er danger and ruin, we hurry through life.
So we sped in our flight, as on pinions along,
And the wood and the mountain re-echoed our song.

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