Thursday, 24 March 2016

The 1941 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Eugene Turner in action

As bombs dropped overseas in Europe and war efforts ramped up, American skaters couldn't be dragged away from the ice. Some trained in sunny California rinks; others in chilly New York ones. Still others took to the ice in a 80 X 80 cold storage warehouse in Detroit converted into two separate ice rinks. The show, as it always does in skating, went on when The Skating Club Of Boston played host to nearly one hundred of America's best at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships held from January 31 to February 2, 1941.

Eugene Turner and Jane Vaughn. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Many of the skaters who competed in Boston that year later moved on to successful careers in the professional ranks. Twelve year old novice ladies champion Dorothy Goos of the Skating Club of New York was certainly one; she was headlining with Holiday On Ice by the time she was seventeen! Fresh off a win at the Pacific Coast Championships, a twenty one year old self certified judge and self taught sensation named Eugene Turner defended his U.S. senior men's title. The handsome young skater was the toast of Massachusetts that year. The Sunday Morning Star on February 2, 1941 noted that "Eugene Turner of Los Angeles, a scarlet-coated master of the spins, scored a perfect six tonight to successfully defend his men's senior title... The 20-year old Californian concluded a five-minute exhibition with a series of toe and change-foot spins and intricate foot weaving, that won him the unanimous decision of the judges... Turner, wearing a brilliant red jacket, executed a series of back bend spread eagles that brought continuous applause from the gallery." That splash of colour in a sea of grey certainly brightens your spirits to read, doesn't it? Arthur R. Vaughn Jr., a sixteen year old from Philadelphia who wore his glasses while he competed, bettered his fourth place finish from the year previous in Cleveland, Ohio to finish second ahead of Brooklyn, New York's William K. Nagle. Like Goos, Turner moved on to show biz as well. In 1942, he skated with Sonja Henie in "Iceland" and 1943, he partnered Belita in "Silver Skates".

Jane Vaughn

With Joan Tozzer marrying and retiring from competitive skating, the senior women's field was wide open. University Of Pennsylvania student Jane Vaughn of Philadelphia rose to the occasion, defeating Gretchen Merrill of Boston (that year's Eastern Champion) as well as Charlotte Walther of New York, Dorothy Glazier of Boston and the Pacific Coast Champion, Ramona Allen of Oakland, California. If the name Jane Vaughn rings a bell, it's because she went on to become The Most Hated Skating Judge In Vienna in 1967.

Donna Atwood and Eugene Turner

After losing to Patty Vaeth and Jack Might in their hometown of Colorado Springs at the Pacific Coast Championships, Donna Atwood and Eugene Turner reversed that result in Boston in the pairs event. Winning the bronze were Joan Mitchell and Bobby Specht. After the event, Atwood and Specht teamed up and won the following year's national pairs title together before joining the professional ranks and becoming two of the most popular Ice Capades stars of all time.

Sandy MacDonald and Harold Hartshorne won the ice dance event for the third time at the 1941 U.S. Championships in a deep field comprised of fourteen teams. Although many male U.S. skaters were starting to enlist, I'd say fourteen senior ice dance teams during World War II was pretty good, wouldn't you? Lynn Copley-Graves, in her wonderful book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" noted that "things were happening so fast [in the development of ice dance in America] that no one had yet passed the Gold Dance Test, so it could not be a prerequisite in the Dance event" in those days. Eugene Turner, who had medalled in both the men's and pairs competitions, incredibly claimed the silver in ice dance as well with partner Elizabeth Kennedy. In third were Edith Whetstone and Alfred L. Richards, Jr. Due to a lack of entries, the fours competition was cancelled and judges announced that the previous year's winners, Jannette Ahrens, Mary Louise Premer, Robert Uppgren and Lynn W. Wakefield Jr., would continue to hold the title for another year.

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