Saturday, 30 July 2016

#Unearthed: The Barbara Wagner And Bob Paul Edition


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history duff are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's #Unearthed is a fascinating article by the late Gordon Wesley written the autumn after Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul won their first of four World titles. It originally appeared in the October 1957 issue of "Imperial Oil" magazine and has been shared with the permission of the fine folks at Imperial Oil:

"HER FUTURE'S ON ICE" (GORDON WESLEY, SHARED WITH PERMISSION FROM IMPERIAL OIL)

One brisk December day 13 years ago, a well-bundled five-year old took her first faltering steps on her first pair of skates on a Toronto backyard rink.

Last February the same girl, now a well-proportioned young woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and a contagious smile, stepped confidently on the ice in Colorado Springs' posh Broadmoor Ice Palace. For five minutes, she and a slim, handsome youth swooped and spun across the slick surface, climaxing their routine with a daring shoulder-high knee-catch. Applause roared from the stands as skating-wise spectators anticipated the judges' decisions - Canadians Barbara Wagner, 18, and Robert Paul, 19, were the new world's champion pairs skaters.

If tears were seen to glisten in Barbara's hazel eyes, there was good reason. The seemingly effortless performance by the two young skaters was the product of thousands of hours of rugged rehearsing. Their easy-looking physical harmony was the result of a regimen that would tax a professional fighter. For six years they had dedicated themselves to skating. For Barbara there had been few parties because there wasn't time, no skiing because she might injure herself, no swimming because it tends to over-relax skating muscles, no sundaes because skaters must watch their weight.

Nor were Barbara and Bob the only ones to have made sacrifices. Barbara's father, James H. Wagner, a senior member of Imperial's public relations department, had shown his faith in his daughters ability by spending thousands of dollars for lessons and equipment. A 15-minute skating lesson costs $3.25. Skates and boots are worth $110 a pair and Barbara wears out a pair in nine months. A two-month stint of summer-skating in Schumacher, Ont. costs him $900 a year.

But Jim, an immensely proud father, shrugs off these expenses. "Our car is three years old," he says with a smile, "and maybe we could spend the money on new furniture. But we prefer it this way. Any parent with a talented child would do as much, and after all, doesn't any other parent do as much, say when he puts his child through medical school?" But what of Barbara? Does she sometimes long to be a normal teen-ager? Has the sacrifice been worth it? If that five-year-old in the Wagner backyard had known what was in store for her, would she have exchanged her skates for a doll-house?

"I would have chosen to skate," says Barbara. "Anything you have to do continuously - like skating or golf or even business, I suppose - you get tired of sometimes. But deep down you have to love it or you wouldn't be able to continue."

And there's another side to it. "Look at all the things my skating has brought me," she points out. "I've crossed the Atlantic twice. I've skated all over North America and travelled all over Europe. I've been entertained in palaces and met all sorts of fascinating people. I have friends all over the world."

Barbara's natural cheerfulness and her keen zest for living have stood her in good stead on her travels. At the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina, Italy, her off-ice activities won the hearts of the Italians. Speaking a sort of pidgin Italian, Barbara, dubbed "Leetle Mees Canada" by the Italians, spent her off-hours wandering through the village's picturesque streets, chatting with newsboys about the day's headlines or picking up interesting items about the town's history from the Cortina town clerk. Her energy astounded everyone. In her two weeks in Cortina, she visited every church and historical site within a five-mile radius. The Canadian Press described her as "one of Canada's top goodwill ambassadors."

Oddly enough, neither Barbara or Bob particularly wanted to win the Olympic gold medal that year. They wanted to see another Toronto couple, veterans Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, crowned champion. "Franny and Norry are retiring at the end of this year and it will be a shame if they don't win," said Barbara before the competition. As it turned out, the Bowden-Dafoe team lost out to an Austrian entry, [Schwarz] and Oppelt. Barbara and Bob placed sixth, then went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, for the world championships and finished fifth - and that was the beginning of their climb to the top.

"We knew 1957 would be their year," said coach Sheldon Galbraith, 34-year-old professional at the Toronto Skating Club. It was indeed their year. All the month of February they won the North American title at Rochester, the Canadian pairs title at Winnipeg and the world pairs title at Colorado Springs.


Now they have their sights fixed on the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley, California. For the next two and a half years, they will dedicate their time and energy to preparing for that single five-minute performance that will decide their right to be Olympic champions. At least until they get a chance at the Olympic title, they will remain amateurs. They will defend their various titles and give occasional exhibitions to keep themselves in top condition. After the Olympics - who knows? "Maybe," said Barbara, "if neither of us is married and there are good offers, we'll turn professional." But that's a long way off.

Barbara's story properly begins when she was taken to ballet school at three and a half. With a natural responsiveness to music and her long golden curls, she was an immediate success. But her parents soon decided she had had enough. "I didn't want her to spend her life travelling around as a ballet dancer," says her father. To which Barbara laughs, "Look at me now!"

Discarding her ballet slippers for skates, Barbara taught herself to stay upright in short order. At nine she joined the University Skating Club in Toronto, but soon found that Saturday mornings were not enough. She moved to the Toronto Skating Club and in 1951, without ever had a professional lesson, she won the club championship for girls under 12 years old. The next year she took two junior titles and, with a young lad named Robert Paul, was runner-up in the junior dance competition.

Compared to Barbara, young Bob had got off to a pedestrian start. He had reached the ripe old age of nine when his parents bought him a second-hand pair of figure skates so he could keep up to a young girl cousin. The next year he contracted polio - luckily, a non-paralytic type. While recuperating in hospital, he told his family, "When I get out of here, all I want is a nice new pair of skates." He got his skates.

Meanwhile, Barbara's progress, largely self-taught, was not going unnoticed. Sheldon Galbraith, who had coached Barbara Ann Scott to her World and Olympic titles in 1948, saw her possibilities and convinced her parents she needed professional coaching. She was only 12 years old when Galbraith suggested to her parents that she "summer-skate". The Wagner's balked. Mrs. Wagner argued that Schumacher was about 500 miles north of Toronto and Barbara was still a little girl. Jim Wagner objected - after all, he said, there was more to life than figure skating; she should be playing tennis and swimming and doing all of the other things girls of her age were doing. Barbara broke down all the arguments in typically feminine fashion; showing her usual determination she wept until her parents agreed to at least have a look at Schumacher.

Barbara was a little taken aback by the frontier appearance of the mining town. Still she was pleased with the McIntyre arena with its three artificial ice rinks and other recreational facilities, all built primarily for employees of the McIntyre Porcupine gold mines. Galbraith assured the Wagners that their daughter would be well-chaperoned and cared for and they headed back to Toronto minus their skating daughter.

At first Barbara did nothing but figures and solo skating. But she was short - she's only five feet one inch today - and Galbraith thought it might lengthen her stride and improve her technique to pair her with Bob Paul, who is now six feet and weighs 175 pounds. So well did they perform together he decided to train them as a pair and the following spring - 1954 - they won the Canadian junior pairs title at Calgary. Obviously they were naturals. As Galbraith put it: "Any weakness one might have is corrected by the other. Barbara has the grace and expression and Bob has the muscle power."

In 1955, now seniors, they were runners-up to Dafoe and Bowden in the Canadian Championships held in Toronto. That same year Barbara and Bob ventured into even deeper water, competing in both the North American Championships at Regina and the world meet at Vienna. Not that they had any hope of winning, but their coach deemed it important they gain international experience. So good an impression did they make that they were invited with other Canadian skaters to give exhibitions in Davos, Lausanne and Zürich in Switzerland; Paris, France; and several North American cities.

Psychologically, the youthful stars have now reached a crucial point. "Right now," says Galbraith, "they're going through their worst period. They would like to let up because there's not the same incentive. There are times where there's nothing left but willpower."


Sheldon seldom lets up on their training, driving himself as hard as he drives his pupils. Skating around the pair in lazy circles, he calls out, "Now!" for the timing of a lift, and then, "Feel it now, feel it!" Sometimes he will signal for the music to be stopped, show Barbara how he wants her to do a split mazurka and tell her to try again with the half-serious warning, "Three thousand of those and you'll have it right!"

Even if they wanted to, Barbara and Bob are usually too out of breath for repartee. In a sport which temperament - and temper - is accepted almost as the norm, these two are noted for their serenity. The pair avoid seeing too much of each other of the ice because, as Barbara says with typical good sense, "We've seen too many pairs go down the drain because they let themselves get emotionally attached. Besides, she says, they have different off-the-ice interests.


Barbara has developed a highly effective method of avoiding temper outbursts. When she finds herself becoming angry, she simply turns her back and walks away. "I can't see any point," she says, "in saying something you'll regret later."

Her charm and even disposition have won her friends all over the world. Almost every day letters and requests for photographs arrive from some distant corner of the world, usually from people she has never met. Some are addressed simply, "Miss Barbara Wagner, Champion Figure Skater, Canada". She makes a point of answering all her fan mail and carries on a regular correspondence with two girls in Lausanne, Switzerland. Fame she finds very pleasant. As for the crowds who regularly turn up to watch her skate: "The more the merrier - I love them!"

She admits to one superstition - the number 13. When she started school, she came home with a 13 for her mother to sew inside her coat and she graduated from St. Clement's girls' school last June 13. In most competitions she manages to find a 13 either on a hotel room or a street number. Always on the watch for her lucky number, Barbara was happy when she found out she had been assigned no. 58 in the World Championships in Colorado Springs. "After all," she points out, "eight and five make 13, don't they?"

An avid reader - she prefers modern fiction - Barbara regrets her career allows no time for university. Last year she began a course in fashion design, her favourite hobby, but her skating forced her to drop out. Her skill in dress designing has not been wasted - she usually designs her own skating costumes and her mother sews them, a major economy.

Naturally thrifty, Barbara does her best to hold down expenses. As a world champion, she has most of her travelling costs paid for by the Canadian Figure Skating Association. Earlier trips to competitions, however, were financed by her father. When Barbara competed at the World Championships in Vienna in 1955, her mother went with her as chaperone - and Jim footed the bill. Last year Jim took advantage of a month's holidays to take his wife and 24-year-old son, John, to Italy and Germany to watch Barbara skate. "It was expensive," he smiles, "but worth every cent of it."

As far as the expenses are concerned, Barbara and Bob seem to be over the hump. At a reception for the pair at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club last March, both were presented with life memberships, to which Barbara reacted with unbridled enthusiasm. "Just think," she bubbled happily, "I'll be able to skate free until I'm 90!"

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Henie And Hanscom Park: Omaha's Unique Skating History


"It's not the sign that ice is firm,
Nor cold wave worth berating,
When Charley does the inside edge
And spends the night in 'skating.'"

- Omaha World-Herald, 1899

Founded in 1854, Omaha, Nebraska was a popular transportation hub during the nineteenth century. The city was the birthplace of U.S. President Gerald Ford, actors Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift and dancer Fred Astaire. Nearby Lincoln, Nebraska today plays host to The National Museum of Roller Skating, America's only museum dedicated to preserving the history of ice skating's 'sister sport'. Although roller skating history may reign supreme in Nebraska today, the early history of ice skating in The Gateway To The West is a colourful one certainly worth exploring.

A mere thirty years after Omaha was founded, ice skating was already so popular among its residents that a covered rink was opened on St. Mary's Avenue. "The Omaha Bee" on January 4, 1884 advertised, "Plenty skates, ice good, rink well lighted and dressing rooms well heated. St. Mary's avenue rink." Despite this early effort, in the harsh winters of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, skaters in the city were more drawn to ponds and lakes.

Chester P. Petersen, Louis R. Bostwick and Miss Stockbridge and Martha Parks skating at Hanscom Park

The 'Old Muddy' Missouri River and Cut Off Lake weren't really considered safe locations for skating even in the coldest temperatures. The ice was rough, often covered in sand and snow and there were often numerous air holes. Carter Lake, Lake Manawa and Miller Park were well-loved skating spots in Omaha but by far, the circular lake in Hanscom Park was considered prime skating territory. Protected by huge oak and elm trees, the frozen lake was maintained by the city's park commission and flooded twice a week during cold weather at a cost of up to five hundred dollars... in the late nineteenth century! Fires were built on the shore of the lake for warmth, skates were available for rental and the Omaha & Council Bluff Street Railway Company even took out advertisements in local papers suggesting that skaters "take a street car" when ice conditions were favourable in the winter months.

Pete Vaughn

Skate sailing was one novelty that caught on particularly in the city but without a doubt, in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, figure skating was more popular than speed skating and ice hockey combined. Omaha's earliest documented figure skating star was a Coca Cola representative named G.C. Vaughn who was known simply as Pete. He was a popular draw at Hanscom Park, where he demonstrated his fancy figures and even reportedly performed "the sensational trick off whirling a girl or boy around his head" like Norval Baptie and Gladys Lamb. On more than one occasion, city police refused to allow him to perform his feats on ice because too many skaters would crowd one part of the ice to watch, bearing the ice unsafe. On January 9, 1916, the "Omaha Daily Bee" proudly exclaimed, "New York can boast of its [Irving] Brokaw and its [Norval] Baptie and its Charlotte and the rest of its assembly of expert and fancy skaters, who step forth on an ammonia rink and cut innumerable and unfathomable figures on the ice, but Omaha lays claim to the amateur champion at fancy skating."

In Omaha, skating wasn't all fun and games. In December 1910, one John Piper pleaded guilty to the charge of assault and battery when he struck a laundry worker named W.H. Mick across the eye with his skate in a jealous rage while skating in Hanscom Park. On December 16, 1910, the "Omaha Daily Bee" noted, "The prisoner explained that Mick had become escort to a young woman to whom Piper was giving attention. The disappointed swain then followed the pair from the park and attacked Mick at Twenty-ninth and Castellar streets. He was fined $25 and costs by Judge Crawford." I don't know about you, but twenty five dollars seems like a pretty light sentence for slashing someone in the eye with a skate!

In 1939, the Figure Skating Club of Omaha was established. Its skaters first took to the ice on the flooded tennis courts at the Omaha Country Club. Two years later, three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie made her first and only appearance in the midwestern city... and literally melted hearts. The Nebraska State Historical Society noted, "Her agent asked Nebraskan Barney Oldfield to help publicize the show. Oldfield decided to present Henie with a green, heart-shaped ice sculpture. The frozen heart quickly began to melt, foiling the skater's attempt to autograph it with a heated nail. Oldfield vowed to keep the heart in Omaha until Henie returned, but she never did. After Henie's death in 1969 Oldfield returned to Omaha to place a rose on the now shrunken sculpture. In 2003 the heart was missing from its cold storage site."

Peggy Fleming's winning free skate at the 1967 U.S. Championships

In 1949, an outdoor oval skating rink was built behind the Coliseum and Physical Education building on the city's university campus. It was flooded by the Lincoln Fire Department. Almost twenty years later, Omaha played host to a major figure skating competition for the very first time: the 1967 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. There was considerable pressure for the untested host city, as at the time the U.S. Figure Skating Association had a rule that the club sponsoring the U.S. Championships had to guarantee at least five thousand dollars in profit to cover expenses. In a 2013 interview with Erin Golden, Joan Lubischer recalled, "I remember the skaters were a little leery of coming to Omaha, Nebraska... and they were absolutely astounded at the wonderful ice we had." In the end, the event was a roaring success. The six thousand, one hundred seat Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum was sold out as skating fans watched Peggy Fleming win her fourth U.S. title and the fire marshal even allowed two thousand additional 'standing room only' tickets to be sold. Gary Visconti, Cynthia and Ron Kauffman and Lorna Dyer and John Carrell claimed gold medals in the men's, pairs and ice dance competitions. The U.S. Champions in all four disciplines in Omaha all went on to medal at the World Championships that year... a feat that has yet to be duplicated since.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Behind Closed Doors: Revisiting The Madge Syers Story

Madge and Edgar Syers

Few historical glimpses of figure skating's rich history neglect to touch on the story of Madge Syers, the first woman to compete at the ISU's World Figure Skating Championships. Although (as Nigel Brown's 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History" reminds us) "Miss A. Malmgren of St. Petersburg competed against some of the finest men skaters of the day in an international competition held in 1890 in the Russian capital", Madge Syers has been rightfully honoured for her important role in the development of a competition for women in ISU competition. Although we first explored her story back in 2013 in "Spotlight On Madge Syers: The Mother Of Figure Skating", I want to take the opportunity today to explore some fascinating new information that has recently been discovered about Madge Syers' private life.

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Madge and Edgar Syers

Madge's father, Edward Jarvis Cave, was born in September 1840 in Leicester, Leicestershire, England. Ashworth Mansions blog tells us that "Edward Cave was born in Leicester but made and then lost his fortune in London. Beginning with just £100, he played a critical role in developing middle class flats and was responsible directly or indirectly for most of the blocks in and around Maida Vale and West Hampstead.  By 1889 he was promoting a company to buy up a number of pubs and restaurants including the Angel, Islington. In 1898 he was raising money for the Hampstead Electric Supply Co – which was supplying over 500 houses by this time using his new blocks as captive customers. Cave was a sharp operator. In 1895, he worked with Boehmer and Gibbs to build a row of shops on Kensington High Street. The client was Jubal Webb, a celebrity cheese-monger. Webb was a showman who had exhibited the world’s largest cheese at the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and whose address for telegraphs was 'Gorgonzola London'. Webb asked Cave to insert a restrictive covenant  explicitly forbidding any other cheese seller from taking one of the premises. Cave persuaded Webb that such a clause was not necessary and then promptly sold one of the leases to Hudson – a rival cheesemonger. Jubel Webb sued. And lost. Edward Cave went bankrupt in 1900 with liabilities of over £500.000. Throughout his career, he had built with borrowed money. Things began to go wrong in 1896 with the development of Broad Street House in the City. Cave was forced to sell this development at a loss and was also hit by a failed attempt to rebuild the Black Lion pub in West Hampstead. Then, having overbuilt, he couldn't find tenants or purchasers for a number of his appartment blocks. Though his fortunes declined, Edward Cave kept on spending. His personal outgoings were a prodigious £4.000 a year. This included a house at the seaside, a share in a shooting box, expenses to maintain various ladies under his protection and, for his amusement, a 375 acre farm in Hampshire. At the time of his bankruptcy he was building a mansion for himself in Hampstead complete with stables and wineries. Edward Cave's financial collapse also brought down two of his sons. Henry Jarvis Cave built Lauderdale Mansions in which he lived. But he could not let the flats at high enough rents and was declared bankrupt in 1903. Henry stayed trading a little longer than his brother Edward Athelstan Cave whose 'rash and hazardous speculation and unjustifiable extravagance in living' forced both bankruptcy and a move from his Hampstead mansion to the comparative squalor of Flat 57 Biddulph Mansions. Edward Cave's daughter, Florence, was rather more fortunate. She won the figure skating gold medal in the 1908 London Olympics under her married name of Madge [Syers]. Cave sold the lease on Ashworth Mansions and some other blocks to Harry Charles Costello Shaw, doctor turned property investor. Shaw kept a close eye on his flats but was much too grand to live in an apartment, instead residing in a splendid villa at 125 Maida Vale with his large family and five servants. After the bankruptcy, the Cave property empire was packaged into a new company called Mansions Consolidated Ltd which operated a number of blocks in Hampstead, Highgate and Maida Vale, including Ashworth, Biddulph, Elgin and Lauderdale Mansions. Mansions Consolidated, itself, went into liquidation in 1910 but did not disappear without trace. Notably, it made a major contribution to the financial ruin of its chairman, Dan Harries (DH) Evans, the department store magnate, who was finally declared bankrupt in 1915. DH Evans founded his store on Oxford Street in 1879 with just £1.500 and sold it, just fifteen years later, for £160.000. Once a wealthy man, D.H. Evans died in penury having lost all his money speculating in London property. Mansions Consolidated cost him, personally, £65.000. Mansions Consolidated also left its mark in property law due to a test case at Lauderdale Mansions that is still cited today. Frederick Jaeger, tenant of flat 161, complained that some other apartments were being used 'as places of meeting between men and women for improper purposes.' He refused to pay his rent as his quiet enjoyment of the property was being interfered with. The judge ruled that the landlord was not responsible for any disturbance caused by other tenants unless this had been actively encouraged by him."

Madge Syers painting by Charles Ambrose

Here's where things get even more scandalous. Genealogical records recently uncovered by NISA historian Elaine Hooper suggest that at the exact same time Madge's father Edward was married to her mother Elizabeth Ann Chapman, he had a second family on the go in Hanover, Middlesex, England. Madge was the tenth of Elizabeth Ann and Edward's twelve children, the last being born in 1884. However, between 1896 and December 1910, Edward Cave fathered another ten children with Pauline Bretzfelder. When Madge's mother Elizabeth Ann passed away on May 8, 1909, Edward Cave wasted no time in marrying Pauline. When I say wasted no time, I mean there wasn't even a mourning period. He waited a month.

Elaine gleaned some wonderful further insight into Madge's family life from primary sources: "Edward Cave may have been made bankrupt in 1900 but in the 1901 census they were still living in Hampstead, having moved from Chislett Road and downsizing so much that they now only had two servants, a cook and a housemaid! It seems that bankruptcy did not leave them poor. NISA's 1896 to 1902 membership books note that Madge and two of her sisters were residing at Westgate, Chislett Road, West Hampstead. This has since been renamed Compayne Gardens and all the house are exceedingly large and have now been converted into very expensive apartments. The 1891 census has them living at 78 Portland Square and they have a butler, a cook and two housemaids. When Edward died he lived in Twickenham. All of the above, were then and are now fairly exclusive areas. You would certainly need plenty of money to afford property there. When Madge died she was living in St. George's Way, Weybridge in Surrey. These days, St. George's Way is a gated community and the large old houses are still single dwellings, mostly occupied by the rich and famous. I have seen a copy of Madge's will in the National Archives and when she died she left £975-7s-6d (old money £975-72p). I would think that would have been quite a lot of money in 1917." In case you're wondering, with inflation Madge's estate would be considerably over one hundred thousand dollars in present day.

Edgar Syers

But what of Madge's skating partner and widower Edgar Morris Wood Syers? We know he was one of the most passionate advocates of the Continental Style, that he coached and wrote prolifically about skating and that he had a thing for the younger ladies, Madge being twenty years his junior. Much like Madge's father, Edgar didn't waste much time in remarrying after his wife's death either. In 1921, fifty eight year old Syers tied the knot in Brentford, Middlesex, England, this time to twenty one year old Eva V. Critchel. Edgar lived into his eighties and died in early 1963 of natural causes.

In the 1908 book "Book Of Winter Sports", which Madge co-authored with Edgar Syers, she said that "many Englishwomen have become remarkably proficient, equal, indeed, to any but the very best of the other sex. Skating is an exercise particularly appropriate for women; it requires not so much strength as grace, combined with a fine balance, and the ability to move the feet rapidly. In these qualifications a woman has often the advantage, particularly in our own country, as Englishmen are usually inclined to be rather slow and heavy skaters." Knowing a little more about the men in her life, one almost has to wonder if that last jab was partially coloured by Madge's impressions of men in general. I think we can safely speculate that she probably put up with a lot. 

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Friday, 22 July 2016

Echoes Of The Eisballets


"When I was a child in 1910 I already skated this new style and [at] twelve years I jumped already the Axel and Axel Paulsen himself saw me do it...." - Charlotte Oelschlägel in a letter to Dr. Arthur N. Foxe, January 29, 1968

If the word Admiralspalast rings a bell, it is with good reason. Early in the twentieth century, the Berlin venue played host to a series of highly popular Eisballets. They starred none other than the famous German professional skater Charlotte Oelschlägel, then only a teenager, who later went on to become a sensation in New York City in the Hippodrome's lavish ice shows. Today on the blog, we are going to delve a little deeper into the stories and scandals surrounding these productions.


Founded in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Berlin's Admiralsgartenbad was first home to a swimming pool, salon, over sixty baths (first and second class), two electric baths, a Russian steam bath and forty one brine baths. In 1910, the facilities were expanded by The Admiralspalast Aktien-Gesellschaft. Architects Heinrich Schweitzer and Alexander Diepenbrock added a cafe, 'Japanese salon', cinema, restaurants, ice arena and public baths to the Admiralspalast facilities, making the venue a 'one stop shop' for Berlin residents and visitors to the city. Not long after the 30 X 60 ice arena opened in April 1911, German impresario Leo Bartuschek set to work scouting talent for a series of Eisballets, which provided entertainment to diners seating around the rectangular ice surface.


Among Bartuschek's Eisballets were "Montreal, the Town on Skates", "Magic Of The Alps", "Yvonne", "Alpen Zauber", "Frau Fantastie", "The Merry Doll", "Abrakadabra", "Die Roten Schuhe" ("The Red Shoes") and "Flirt At St. Moritz". Charlotte Oelschlägel was indeed the star of many of these productions, but other skaters in the shows included Ellen Dallerup, Hans White, Alfred Jainczik and Hilda Rückert. The number of skaters who actually participated in these shows varies vastly from source to source. Arthur Goodfellow's 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating" claims there were sixty five in the cast whereas "The Sketch: A Journal Of Art And Actuality" in 1914 claimed the cast consisted of "seventy five girls and twenty five men." Howard Bass in his book "This Skating Age" notes that "the late manager of Dundee Ice Rink, Stanley Fryett, an Englishman who truly lived for skating, became a professional at the Admiral Palast at that time and has told me that ["Flirt At St. Moritz"] was well worthy of its historic importance that there were more than a hundred performers in the original Berlin cast." In stark contrast numbers wise, Jacqueline du Bief, in her book "Thin Ice" wrote that "Mr. Hans White, who was for a long time the star of the company, tells us that ballets were presented regularly by a permanent company of fifteen to eighteen professional skaters. He also tells us that the company even had its hired supporters of whose applause the artistes could be assured on payment of five marks a month." The varying numbers - from fifteen to over one hundred - may well be explained by the fact that there were multiple Eisballets which would of course had different casts.

The historical record does tell us that these shows were indeed very well attended, with up to a thousand spectators sometimes present for the suppertime skating soirees. Nic Leonhardt, in the 2013/2014 issue of "The Passing Show", the newsletter of The Shubert Archive, noted that "Flirt In St. Moritz" was "directed by Leo Bartuschek with music by Julius Einödshofer, choreography by B. Bernar, and costumes from the workshop of Hugo Baruch & Co., it is considered to be the first ice ballet with a plot. Its simple story allowed for various physical effects on stage, while the diverse cultural backgrounds of the characters provided an excuse for the display of colorful costumes and representations of national stereotypes. The main character was Kitty Goldberg, the young and beautiful widow of an American millionaire, who travels to St. Moritz, Switzerland. There she meets Oti, a Japanese Marquis, and Oluf Jacobsen, a Norwegian sportsman, who both fall for her – the American socialite becomes the talk of the town. The show was a huge success. Picture postcards featuring characters and scenes from the ballet were used for promotion and are still in great demand by collectors on both sides of the Atlantic."


The writings of American author and humorist Irvin S. Cobb provide an extremely rare primary source glimpse into what it would have been like to have been in the audience at the Admiralspalast watching one of Bartuschek's Eisballets. In 1914, he wrote "in the Friedrichstrasse there is another place, called the Admiralspalast, which is even more attractive. Here, inclosing a big, oval-shaped ice arena, balcony after balcony rises circling to the roof. On one of these balconies you sit, and while you dine after after you have dined you look down on a most marvellous series of skating stunts. In rapid and bewildering succession there are ballets on skates, solo skating numbers, skating carnivals and skating races. Finally scenery is slid down on runners and the whole company, in costumes grotesque and beautiful, go through a burlesque that keeps you laughing when you are not applauding, and admiring when you are doing neither; while alternating lightwaves from overhead electric devices flood the picture with shifting, shimmering tides of color. It is like seeing a Christmas pantomime under an aurora borealis. In America we could do these things - at least we never have done them. Either the performance would be poor or the provender would be highly expensive, or both. But here the show is wonderful, and the victuals are good and not extravagantly priced, and everybody has a bully time."


The success of these shows translated into plans for a massive 'ice palace' that was modelled after the Admiralspalast to open in New York City. Irving Brokaw, The Shubert's and Frank J. Godsoll were all involved in the planned project but it never came to fruition. Instead, Bartuschek and much of the Eisballet's cast, including Charlotte and Ellen Dallerup became stars in New York City" when "Flirt In St. Moritz" became "Flirting In St. Moritz" and took the Hippodrome by storm. However, that's not where the story ends. Not even close. As Charlotte wowed with her thrilling Axel's and signature spiral, scandal brewed behind the scenes of the Hippodrome shows. By scandal, I mean that Bartuschek almost had the Lederhosen sued off him. "Variety" on June 2, 1916, reported that "Marietta Lorette Lorens, through her attorney, Nathan Burkan, has secured a judgment of $1,146 against Leo Bartuschek, of Berlin, owner of the ice ballet at the Hippodrome the past season. The action was started against Barthuschek when Miss Lorenz did not receive her salary of $400 per month after January 15. Bartuschek received $1,500 per week for the company and contracted with the plaintiff to manage it at the above-mentioned salary. Bartuschek claims that his contract ran out Jan. 15, and Miss Lorenz was employed in the Hippodrome thereafter, and should look to it for salary."

Meanwhile in Germany, Eisballets continued to be held at the Admiralspalast for a time in Bartuschek and Charlotte's absence, but things weren't going so well there either. The Bendigonian on June 14, 1917 reported that "an instructive sidelight is thrown on the Teutonic character by a story which is told in the Berlin 'Vortwarts': The management of the Admiralspalast (a well-known Berlin music hall) engaged a number of young girls who were to figure on the stage as 'skating artists'. Their pay was to be twenty marks a week. Herr Wagner, the manager of the hall, must imagine that a girl who can maintain herself in the present state of things on that sum is not only a 'skating artist,' but also an artist in starvation. When three of these tried to convince him of the impossibility of living on such a wage he coolly observed, 'What of that? You are good-looking girls... and you will doubtless find additional means of adding to your income.' The girls thereupon brought an action against Wagner on the charge of 'offensive suggestions.' The Trades Court, in giving judgment, held that while the charge of 'offensive suggestion' appeared to be well founded, the complainants, having signed a contract with their employer, were duty bound to carry it out on the terms agreed upon. They were, moreover, condemned to pay the costs of the action. These unfortunate girls will therefore be driven to the necessity of setting aside a sum of money from their wretched stipend to pay their employer's legal expenses, besides their own. If they are further forced by grim want to adopt Herr Wagner's infamous suggestion, the responsibility will lie heavily on judge who tried their action." No word on how those unnamed German figure skaters made out, but chances are they had bigger worries in their lives to contend with by the end of World War I.

There is indeed evidence of the continued existence of the Admiralspalast ice rink after World War I.
The "Wiener Salonblatt" notes that the German Ladies Figure Skating Championship was held in the indoor skating venue in 1919, with Elaine Winter taking top honors ahead of Margarete Klebe. Incredibly, you can still go to the Admiralspalast, once home to Charlotte's famous Eisballets, today.
With echoes of Eisballets past resounding in its walls, the space reopened as a theatre in 2006.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The 1957 North American Figure Skating Championships

Hosted by the Genesee Figure Skating Club, the 1957 North American Championships in Rochester, New York were so well attended that potential spectators were actually being turned away at the doors. Seven thousand and two hundred skating aficionados from both north and south of the border packed the city's War Memorial Arena for the free skating events with bated breath, anxious to see who would take home brand spanking new trophies donated by F. Ritter Shumway and the Rochester Institute Of Technology. In the end, Canada and the United States ended up in a stalemate, with gold medals in two disciplines each. Who was victorious? Who fell short? Let's take a look at how it all played out:

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


Canadians Maria and Otto Jelinek claimed the silver medal

"These kids have worked hard for this one and I'm pulling for them to come through," said Maribel Vinson Owen of the international debut of her students Nancy Rouillard and Ron Ludington. However, the 1957 North American Championships were one battle even the unstoppable Maribel couldn't win. Canadians Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul and Maria and Otto Jelinek easily claimed the top two spots in the pairs event in Rochester, a testament to the utter dominance of Canadian pairs teams in the fifties. Wagner and Paul went on to win the Canadian and World titles in spectacular fashion... all within sixteen days. In his April 2010 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, Paul recalled their training during that period: "We were, I say, trained like machines. Sheldon [Galbraith] would bring out the stopwatch, and we could go through that program without the music and end up within a half-second of when the music was there. And our music was on 78s, and every rink had a variable speed on its record player, so they could get it exact. I don't think that happens with CDs today."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Women's champion Carol Heiss Jenkins

On January 20, 1957 - Carol Heiss' seventeenth birthday - Tenley Albright dropped a huge bombshell. In a telegram to the United States Figure Skating Association, she announced her retirement. Up until that week, she'd been training six hours a day for the North American Championships. Suddenly Heiss, who had unseated Albright at the previous year's World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, found herself with a hell of a lot less competition to worry about in Rochester. The blonde and athletic student of Pierre Brunet from Ozone Park, New York, dressed in red with a sequin crown, skated brilliantly to take the gold in a unanimous decision of all five judges.

Margaret Crosland

Second was Canada's Carole Jane Pachl, who fell on a double loop early in her free skate. Third was seventeen year old Joan Schenke of Tacoma, followed by Canadians Karen Dixon and Margaret Crosland and Santa Ana, California's Claralyn Lewis.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


David Jenkins in action

At the 1956 World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Colorado Springs' David Jenkins had won the bronze medal. Right behind him in fourth was Toronto's Charles Snelling. They both had to be shaking their heads in disbelief when young Donald Jackson, who hadn't even competed at the previous year's Worlds, won the first school figure in Rochester. His beginner's luck ran out quickly when he blew the next three. Seventeen year old Snelling gave Jenkins a run for his money in the remaining figures but in the free skating, Jenkins utterly dominated. Performing a clean triple loop, double Axels and dizzying spins, he was the unanimous choice of all five judges. Hayes Alan Jenkins took a break from Harvard Law School to cheer his younger brother on. He praised him profusely: "I have thought Dave always was a better free skater than I... I thought his freestyle exhibition was magnificent. He is the only man now skating who can do the triple loop." American Tim Brown claimed the bronze over Jackson, who had an uncharacteristically disastrous free skate and finished fourth. In his 1977 Jackson biography "King Of Blades", George Gross noted, "When Don had returned to Ottawa in the fall, he and Otto [Gold] had decided to put together a completely new skating programme. They had only a couple of months to prepare it for competition. Don skated well during the early stages of the five minute routine but took a fall at the half way mark. He was back on his feet in a flash continuing his performance. Yet, his desire was not enough to overcome his inexperience with the programme. He fell three times in the final minute."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

With three teams from Canada and three from the United States, the ice dance competition seemed doomed for a gridlock from the get-go. All six teams powered their way through four gruelling rounds of compulsories (the Rocker Foxtrot, Westminster Waltz, Quickstep and Argentine Tango) and a free dance. Geraldine Fenton and Bill McLachlan were ranked only second in Canada at the time as the North American Championships in 1957 were held prior to the Canadian Championships. The Torontonians pulled off a major upset in Rochester, defeating U.S. Champions Joan Zamboni and Roland Junso. In winning, Fenton and McLachlan made history as the first Canadian ice dance team in history to claim the North American title, ending a ten year streak where Americans dominated the event. Emily Van Hoorhis, describing the couple's winning free dance in the April 1957 issue of "Skating" magazine noted, "Their rich fluidity created by a soft knee bend and lovely lean lent a smoothness and flow which radiated from the couple's rhythm and lightness." In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted that the "competition was so close among the top three that the winning couple could not be determined by a majority of ordinals. The lowest ordinal total was used in the final decision." Another Canadian team, Sharon McKenzie and Bert Wright, actually won the free dance with two first place ordinals, but finished third overall, hampered by a collision in the boards during the Rocker Foxtrot. Toronto's Beverley Orr and Hugh Smith, penalized for performing pair moves in their free dance finished in last place behind Canadians Lindis and Jeffrey Johnston and Americans Carmel and Edward Bodel.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

How The Open Marking System Got Its Start


"A swiftly moving free skating program passes like a film, you have to take everything of it in split seconds and only in the well trained judge's mind will everything register as far as the human mind is able to register the multitude of quickly similar following moves." - Willy Böckl, 1940, "How To Judge Figure Skating"

"Open marking should be strictly adhered to. Secret marking, making adjustments possible, is just the bad practice the ISU does not want." - Gustavus F.C. Witt, "Skating" Magazine, November 1951

Although an early incarnation of the 6.0 judging system was first introduced to amateur figure skating competitions in 1901, for the first thirty years that it was in place the average skater had zero concept of how they were being scored. Results were usually released well after each segment of competitions and a "4.9, 5.1" were never held up on placards by rinkside judges. "Originally, the judges marks were kept in absolute secrecy, so far as the skaters and the public were concerned," explained American skating judge Joel B. Liberman in 1946.

Although it had already been used for several years in Sweden and tested at the World Championships in pairs skating in 1934, it wasn't until 1936 that the Open Marking System was officially introduced in international competition. It was adopted by the International Skating Union at their 1935 Congress. At first, some judges were completely overwhelmed by the pressure of having to think so quickly on their feet. Charles M. Rotch, who judged the men's, women's and pairs events at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany recalled, "It was the first time I had used the Open Marking System. It was a mad scramble, for, before the skater had barely finished a figure, the judges were asked to hold up their cards, and we had no time to digest what the skater had done. The same was true of the free skating - the whistle blew for the judges to line up and hold up their marks, first for Program and then for Performance, before the skater was even off the ice."

Despite Rotch's misgivings, the system took off and was also used both an ISU/IEV and nationally modified versions at the 1936 World Championships, 1937 U.S., North American, European and World Championships. The Amateur Skating Association of Canada first introduced open marking at a junior club competition at the Toronto Skating Club in January 1938. On January 12, 1938, "The Montreal Gazette" reported, "Under the open marking system, each judge is equipped with a box in which are two sets of large figures, each coloured differently. At the conclusion of the judging of any figure, each judge pulls from the box the figures he has credited the competitor. Spectators see the cards. Officials of the Toronto club said in this way the public gains an idea of the scoring and that the system acts as a deterrent against any judge being discriminatory." Even in 1938, most people 'got' that transparency could only help the sport.

In its infancy, reception towards the Open Marking System was for the most part fantastic. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Comments on its use had been overwhelmingly favourable, mentioning more accurate judgment, more honesty and less fixing of the results, and increased interest for all, especially for the spectators." By 1946, Joel Liberman was boasting, "The open system has been modified for convenience and time saving, but essentially it has persisted through more than 35 competitions." However, open marking did have its detractors both in Europe and North America. Notably, one article critiquing open marking appeared in "The Skating Times" in 1938. It was penned by an author who ironically hid behind the cloak of anonymity - using the pseudonym 'A.B.C.' - to complain about transparency.' He or she bemoaned that judges often got carried away and boxed themselves in by giving extremely high marks mid-competition and unable to make use of an eraser, found themselves in sticky situations they couldn't get themselves out of. 'A.B.C.' cited one mid-thirties competition where a skater was given two 6.0's when four skaters (one of them being Cecilia Colledge) hadn't even skated yet. In "Skating" magazine, John Machado argued that some judges were "prone to attribute a certain amount of rubbing and changing to dishonest fixing of results" and that transparency was the lesser of two evils.

Open marking ultimately transformed skating into a sport beloved by millions that survived countless controversies and evolutions until good old Ottavio Cinquanta rather inexplicably decided to kick it to the curb in the twenty-first century after 'ye olde Salt Lake City debacle'. With the recent decision to ditch the anonymity under 'the new judging system' that unfortunately persisted during Cinquanta's reign of terror, we can only hope a return to transparency will serve skating with the same boost in popularity that it afforded back in the thirties and forties.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Adele Inge: The Girl Who Did Backflips On Ice During World War II


"I'm a camera fiend, you know." - Adele Inge, "The Ottawa Citizen", March 25, 1953

Every eight months or so, one of those listicle type news sites will run one of those clickbaity pieces claiming Surya Bonaly was either the first or only woman to perform a backflip on ice. I kind of cringe a little each time. What about Rory Flack? Lori Benton? Ashley Clark? Sally Richardson? And what about Adele Inge? Got to love crackerjack research. Something, something "Wikipedia said so". Oh sweetie no...



Born in 1926, Adele Inge was the daughter of Emma Inge and her real estate broker husband Everett. Largely self-taught, Inge started skating as a youngster on her own private, homemade twelve by twenty six foot ice rink constructed in the basement of her parents' Clayton Township, Missouri home. An athletic child, by the age of nine Adele was beating her male classmates in track and field, tennis and cycling. She also excelled at everything from horseback riding to tap dance. But it wasn't until she started to copy the gymnastic stunts of her three older brothers, Robert, Ray and Oliver, on the ice in the basement rink that father Everett truly realized that he had a star on his hands.


Everett hauled his daughter out of school and hired a woman named Mildred Massee who had studied at The Sorbonne in Paris' Latin Quarter to act as her tutor. He proceeded to take on a second job... acting as his little show pony's manager. In the late thirties, Adele made her big debut appearing in Sonja Henie's revue. To say her act was an artistic masterpiece would be the exaggeration of the century, but Adele's high flying split jumps, Arabian cartwheels and acrobatic stunts - including a backflip - left audiences struggling to pull their jaws up on the floor. Before she was even fifteen, Adele had done everything from acting in the St. Louis production of "Murder In The Red Barn" to ice skating at the International Casino on 42nd Street in Times Square, New York. In 1942, Adele starred in a series of shows in the Terrace Room of the Hotel New Yorker, accompanied by no less of a star than Benny Goodman himself. She appeared in select cities with the Ice Capades tour in 1942. Then, in the middle of World War II, her fairy tale almost ended.


On June 19, 1943, Everett Inge died suddenly in St. Louis, Missouri. A seventeen year old Adele's future seemed uncertain but an invitation to perform in the Century Room at The Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, Texas kept Adele's fifteen minutes of fame going. Making her rounds on the hotel ice show circuit, Adele was the toast of the Netherland Plaza Hotel's ice show in Cincinnati in 1944 and 1945. The March 25, 1944 issue of "Billboard" magazine boasted, "Adele Inge, featured, is the most capable fem ever to cavort on the ice here, and she seems to improve with every showing. She has a figure, appearance and grace, and totes a big bag of ice tricks, including spins, twists, whirls and more, far above the average. Her waltzing to 'Warsaw Concerto' is the hit of this show."


In the late forties, Adele took her act to Great Britain and appeared alongside Daphne Walker and The Three Rookies in the show "Stars On Ice" at the Stoll Theatre. In 1951, she even skated in Brazil. By 1952, the highly in demand skater was starring in the revue "Calendar Capers" on the ice tank in the Boulevard Room of the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. Her star slowly waning, Adele enjoyed limited success as the star of "Spice And Ice" on the Tivoli Circuit in Australia in 1958. Her last big gig? Doing advertisements for Kraft Bonox beef broth.

Just as quickly as she'd risen to prominence, Adele Inge faded into absolute obscurity. You won't find her name in any of those listicles or in the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame. History has a funny way of choosing who gets remembered and who gets forgotten and it's truly a shame, because I think a female figure skater who was doing backflips in the thirties and forties deserves at least an honourable mention. But what do I know?

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

What The Zhuk?: Scandals From Behind The Iron Curtain


With wife Nina, Stanislav Alekseevich Zhuk won three consecutive silver medals at the European Championships from 1958 and 1960. However, it is his controversial coaching career and not his competitive accomplishments that most remember today. Just what made Stanislav Zhuk one of the most despised coaches in history? Let's go back in skating history, sneak behind The Iron Curtain and explore this fascinatingly despicable tale.


Let's get this party started with an excerpt from a letter to the editor, published in the November 16,
1968 edition of the омсомо́льская пра́вда (Komsomolskaya Pravda), the Soviet Union's All-Union newspaper: "Dear Editor, We are writing to the Komosol paper because what we have to say has to do with the upbringing of young athletes. Let's start by mentioning just one episode, which unfortunately, did not fail to slip past millions of TV viewers at the Grenoble Olympics. Remember the wonderful moment when our 'Golden Pair' of figure skating, two-time Olympic Champions Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, were greated by an ovation as they stood on the highest step of the winners' platform? It seems only one pair of athletes, a mere step below, 'forgot' to congratulate them. Only so as not to provide silage for sensation-seeking Western papers did the champions finally shake the hands of their rival teammates. But we will not reproach these athletes, for 'There are no bad students - only bad teachers.' Let us now turn our attention to the tutor of the Silver Pair - Honored Coach Of The Soviet Union, Honored Master Of Sport, Comrade Stanislav Zhuk. There he stood, arms folded, right in front of the TV cameras. Millions saw how he turned his back as Belousova and Protopopov entered. To an outsider this might have seemed just chance, an unfortunate slip, but we know better: we know all too well of those interviews he has so zealously been granting foreign columnists, and we know that what he did to the Golden Pair was, alas, hardly accidental. We have read those interviews in foreign publications, and we can testify that Zhuk continually expatiates on our champions' flaws with obsessively extolling his pair alone. Is this befitting for a Soviet coach? We dare not cite most of the language Zhuk uses with his colleagues. But we submit just one, barely printable, example, addressed to Honored Coach of the Soviet Union Tatiana Tolmacheva, an individual respected by all sportsmen: 'Just wait, I'll drown you like a mangy kitten in a slop pail!' This because Comrade Tomalcheva, a judge at the competition, consigned his pupils to second place. One of Zhuk's 'teaching methods' is to collect personal vouchers from his charges saying he's the one that taught them a particular technique. He keeps the vouchers in his tweed jacket, and every time his students win he shakes the papers in his fist as proof he's the one to thank for it. For some reason - whether out of fear or mesmerized by his past performance - there's no one who's yet had the nerve to straighten him out." This scathing letter was signed by six prominent soviet coaches, including the national team's senior coach Viacheslav Zaitsev as well as Tomalcheva, Elena Chaikovskaia and Igor Moskvin. The silver medal Soviet pair referenced as Zhuk's pupils in Grenoble were of course none other than his sister Tatiana and partner Alexander Gorelik.

Tatiana Tomalcheva

The letter to the омсомо́льская пра́вда fuelled a showdown. Although the Soviet Sports Committee were steadfast in their support of Zhuk and maintained silence on the issue, the furor was just beginning. When the newspaper later shared that "Comrade Zhuk has been given a stern dressing down. The appropriate notation has been made in his personal file" his rival coaches didn't buy it. In his 1978 book "The Big Red Machine The Rise And Fall Of Soviet Olympic Champions", Yuri Brokhin notes that "after a training session of the National Team at a suburban Moscow dacha, the angry Zhuk decided to get even. He packed his skaters onto a bus, waited until Belousova and Protopopov showed up, promptly slammed the door in their faces, and ordered the driver to step on the gas. The Golden Pair was left stranded twenty miles outside the city. The next day Belousova and Protopopov blew into the offices of Komsolskaia Pravda brandishing two points. First Zhuk had borne them a personal grudge ever since the 1950s, when they were training under rival theorist Petr Orlov. He continually made disparaging remarks to them, talked about them behind their backs, and ultimately had them expelled. What he was doing now was no different: conspiring to turn the Sports Committee against them. Second, Zhuk was having his pupils imitate Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul while dismissing the achievements of the native Russian school, for which Belousova and Protopopov had paved the way."


On January 8, 1969, right before that year's European Championships, the омсомо́льская пра́вда published an article demanding that Zhuk be fired. This time, the media fire storm was so overwhelming that the Sports Committee removed Zhuk as the coach of the National Team heading to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. His students, Irina Rodnina and Alexei Nikolaevich Ulanov, won their first European title without their coach present, soundly defeating two time Olympic Gold Medallists Belousova and Protopopov. At a press conference after the competition in Germany, Rodnina told reporters "It's true we don't show the depth of feeling that they do, but tell me - I'm only nineteen, so why should I try to play with a kind of experience I haven't yet had and they have? I can't - and what's more, I don't want to - come off like some artiste. But I do have something of my own to offer. If Aleksei and I started imitating them, we'd never have won. Coach Zhuk found a style that was right for us - and it's just the opposite of theirs, which I think everybody's bored with by now anyway." To say that there was no love lost at the time between the Protopopov's and Rodnina, Ulanov and Zhuk is really the understatement of the late sixties. After finishing third to Rodnina and Ulanov and another legendary Soviet pair, Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin, the Protopopov's retired amidst allegations that Zhuk and Valentin Piseev had a hand in their demise, Rodnina flourished with Ulanov and later Zaitsev... but Zhuk continued to zhuk up. Behind the scenes, the indomitable Rodnina was actually intimidated of her coach, so much so that she would reportedly get up even earlier in the morning than she was asked to just to be early for their lessons and avoid his wrath. Zaitsev and Zhuk didn't get along and things eventually got so bad that Rodnina eventually made a deal with the Central Red Army Club (CKSA Moscow) to allow Tatiana Tarasova to take over as their coach in 1974.


In addition to his prize pair, Stanislav Zhuk acted as coach to many other top Soviet skaters in the seventies, including Sergei Chetverukhin, Elena Vodorezova, Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakrai and Sergei Volkov. Brokhin's book recalls Zhuk's behavior during his pupil Elena Vodorezova's free skate at the 1977 World Championships in Tokyo: "Tweed-jacket collar tucked under the bulldog jaw, tired eyes cast downward at his shoes, he transformed every sound of the girl's skates into an image of unmistakable clarity. Suddenly he could hold back no longer, breaking his practice of many years. He raised his eyes and riveted them on Elena. His glower pierced the skater as his thoughts bubbled over in unpronounced phrases: 'What the hell is she doing?... Get up there! Somersault! No, no! Stupid brat! How many times have I told you not to move into a jump like that? Well... Dazzle those damned judges with that finale of yours! Ah... Ah! Shit... you snot-nose little dummy!' A couple of minutes later, smiling for the TV camera, the man was down by the rink kissing the girl, straightening the light blue bows that stuck up from her hair like propellers: 'Atta girl, Lenochka! You blew it here and there, but dammit, you weren't half bad! Molodets! Next year, we're gonna get that gold!'" Vodorezova actually won the free skate that year in Tokyo, but a thirteenth place finish in the school figures and a fifth place in the short program kept her in seventh place. Rodnina and Zaitsev fought with Zhuk and left him for Tatiana Tarasova. He turned his attention to Marina Pestova and Stanislav Leonovich, who won World medals in 1980 and 1982.

The drama continued! In her book "My Sergei: A Love Story", Ekaterina Gordeeva wrote at length of her experience training under Zhuk in the mid eighties: "The head coach of the army club at that time was Stanislav Alexeyvich Zhuk, who by any definition was a miserable, pitiless man... He was in his fifties, short, with a big stomach and a round face. His most arresting feature was his eyes, which were small and dark and looked very deep into you. They were very scary, peering at you from beneath his hairy eyebrows. All of Zhuk's movements were fast. He also had very strong but not very nice hands. I didn't like it when he showed us movements with his hands. And on the ice, when he demonstrated something to us with his feet, he couldn't straighten his leg. It looked ridiculous. Sergei used to laugh at Zhuk, but not to his face. We used to imitate the way he walked fast, taking very small steps. Sergei didn't like him as a person. Zhuk drank every night, and he used to speak harshly, even filthily, to the boys. He liked to order them around as if they were soldiers, because they skated for the army club. 'Shut up,' he would say. 'I'm higher than you in rank.' Zhuk liked these army rules... He used to tell us, 'If I don't coach you, you'll never be on the World or Olympic team.'"


Gordeeva continued by stating, "I shared a room with Anna Kondrashova, and Zhuk would tease us about eating dinner at the cafeteria. Anna always had a problem keeping her weight down, so we stopped going to dinner because afterward Zhuk would tell such stories about how much we ate and how much we'd weigh if we kept eating dinners like that... One time I saw Zhuk hit Anna. I was in the bathroom, and Zhuk came and started talking loudly to her. I decided I'd better stay where I was, but then they started fighting, and when I came out, he was hitting her on the back. I ran out to get Sergei, but by the time we came back Zhuk was gone. Anna was crying. That was nothing new. She cried almost every day. Zhuk used to come to her and say, 'I saw you last night go into Fadeev's room. What were you doing in there?' Even if she had done this, it was none of his business, of course. But he would torment her with his spying, and I was so young that Anna never confided in me what was behind it. I understand now that he was trying to get Anna to sleep with him. He had done this with many girls over the years."

In the spring of 1986, Gordeeva and Grinkov, Alexandr Fadeev, Anna Kondrashova and Marina Zueva sent a letter to Central Red Army Club officials reporting Zhuk's drinking, missing practices and abuse. The club appointed Stanislav Leonovich to coach Gordeeva and Grinkov, but Zhuk (a colonel by rank) remained the Central Red Army Club's head coach, continuing his work with young skaters for years to come. On November 1, 1998, he passed away at a Moscow subway station near the same club he coached at for decades. Despite his controversial (to put it mildly) career as coach, in 2008 a statue was erected in his honor at the Central Army Red Club. I don't know about you, but that seems like a tough pill to swallow.

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Magician From Mission Hill: The Paul McGrath Story


"Expression should not be held inside when skating." - Paul McGrath, "The Harvard Crimson", April 18, 1974

Boston, Massachusetts... home of Maribel Vinson Owen, the cream donut and Meagan Duhamel's new favourite place to scream in the air. It was also the home of the subject of today's blog, a skater whose contributions to the sport have never really been recognized to the extent they should have been.

Born August 21, 1946, Paul McGrath was the son of Francis McGrath, a tool and die maker, and his wife Catherine (Linehan) McGrath. The McGrath's were an Irish Catholic working class family that lived in the Boston neighbourhood of Mission Hill and figure skating was something that Paul discovered at the age of twelve in 1958. He bought his first pair of skates - three sizes too small - at a rummage sale for fifty cents. It wasn't long after he first took to the ice that people started recognizing that he had something special: a striking ability to interpret music. He joined the Commonwealth Figure Skating Club and supplemented his usual training with ice time at the Skating Club Of Boston. "I trained at the Skating Club [Of Boston] but I wasn't a member; I was only allowed on the ice during certain hours," McGrath explained in an April 26, 1984 interview in The Boston Globe. "I was the proverbial weed poking through the sidewalk."

That 'weed' was the prize pupil of Olympic Silver Medallist, World and European Champion Cecilia Colledge. She guided him to a second place finish in the novice men's event at the 1962 U.S. Championships in front of a hometown audience at Boston's McHugh Forum in only his fourth year skating. Two years later in Cleveland, McGrath placed fourth in the junior men's competition behind Tim Wood, Duane Maki and Richard Callaghan. In 1965 at the age of eighteen, he won the Eastern and U.S. junior men's titles and finished second at the Lake Placid Summer Competition right behind Canadian Champion Dr. Charles Snelling. He continued to skate through the 1966/1967 season then decided to call it quits. "My whole family sacrificed everything for my training until they just couldn't swing it anymore," McGrath explained in 1984. "But I'd already been told by some powerful people in skating that I wouldn't make it to the Olympics in 1968, because the other contenders for the team had better connections. There's a lot of politics in skating."

After graduating from Newman Preparatory School and attending Emerson College, McGrath became the Radcliffe figure skating instructor at the Donald C. Watson Rink just north of Harvard Stadium. He also coached at the Hayden Recreation Centre and the North Shore and Commonwealth Figure Skating Clubs. In 1968 and 1970, he finished second behind World Champions Emmerich Danzer and Donald Jackson at the World Professional Championships at the Empire Pool at Wembley. Four years later, he earned seven perfect scores and won the World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain. Skating to "Carmina Burana", McGrath was a pioneer in introducing vocal music to professional competition. In the April 18, 1974 issue of "The Harvard Crimson" he explained, "I used this music not for the words but for the sound of the voice, so that I could interpret the sounds... Any music is appropriate if you can express what you want to." His repertoire of programs was extremely eclectic for the period. He performed to everything from Mahler's "Symphony No. 10" to a drum solo by Ringo Starr.

It was at the World Professional Championships at Wembley that McGrath first met Lorna Brown. "After my performance," she recalled, "this guy comes running up to me who I'd never really seen because I hadn't seen him skate at that point because [the men] were after us. He came up to me, hugging me, saying, 'You really came through!' and I could never forget that moment. I felt like I'd met someone who was on the same wavelength; the same artistic plane as me. We got together and we became lovers. We travelled back and forth for a while and then one day, I was in Boston at his apartment and one of his lovers came in and it was a really scary situation. Eventually, we broke up because it just wasn't right for him. But for a time we had an amazing relationship. It was very much based on the art. We had so much in common. We went to art galleries in New York together, he bought me a ring. It looked like we were going to get married at one point. When I went to the Boston Skating Club, there was a great big banner the whole length of the rink that had been put up at the back where the seating was: 'Welcome Lorna'. I was just blown away. He had me performing for his skaters and dancing in someone's house on a stage. It was just amazing, really. We loved each other and we continued to be friends but there was no connection in any way, shape or form at that point because I had totally accepted that he'd decided one hundred percent that he was gay and I could completely accept that."


McGrath's artistic and musically sensitive performance style later caught the eye of Olympic Gold Medallist John Curry, who invited him to perform in his "Theatre Of Skating" at the Cambridge Theatre in London. After the show, Curry sent McGrath packing. "There wasn't an obvious dislike going on that we could see," explained Brown. "Nobody ever spoke about John and Paul but I think they differed artistically. I think maybe John criticized Paul. He was an incredible jumper and John wasn't. Anything that would upstage John, especially from a man, he wouldn't have. Also, I think Paul was not as classical as John. He was very, very much a free spirit. He was an individual artist. He didn't follow anybody. He was a complete individual. He would stand on one of the openings going on to the ice and literally, he would step onto the ice and do a triple jump from nothing. He was an amazing jumper, incredible technician and a great artist. He wasn't copying anybody. He was his own person."

After winning a second World Professional title in Jaca in 1977, McGrath focused his attention primarily on coaching and choreography and took a job at the Skating Club Of Boston. Among his students were Catherine Foulkes and Jill Frost. Frost was a promising American skater who won the U.S. novice and junior titles but like her coach, never won a medal in the senior ranks at the U.S. Championships. Like her coach, Foulkes skated in John Curry's Company. McGrath's work was praised effusively by his peers and his choreography was a cut above much of the shtick of the period.

McGrath was outspoken about how figure skating was presented to television audiences. He believed too much emphasis was placed on the technical elements and not enough attention was paid to educating audiences about the second mark. He bemoaned, "Television has built a huge audience for skating...  How would you like it if in the middle of Swan Lake,' the announcer came on and said, Now watch that arabesque!' TV skating is just not handled from an aesthetic viewpoint."

Sadly, McGrath left this world far too soon. He passed away on December 3, 1990 at the age of forty four of liver cancer, a complication of HIV/AIDS, at the Youvill Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Brown learned about Paul's death when she went to John Curry's memorial in New York. "To hear about Paul's death, among so many others, when I was standing on stage was absolutely heartbreaking. I sobbed." The last time they had seen each other was in London in the seventies.

Since 1992, he has been honoured posthumously by the Professional Skaters Association with the Paul McGrath Choreographer Of The Year Award. Winners have included Sandra Bezic, Sarah Kawahara, Brian Wright, Lori Nichol, Tom Dickson and David Wilson. Brown recalled, "He was very funny. He was a person who loved to enjoy life. He loved performing and that was maybe what John crushed a little bit because he kept Paul back. He wouldn't allow Paul to do the things that he was really best at. We would laugh a lot. He was a very passionate person, very meaningful and compassionate as well. A beautiful person with a lot of love in his heart."

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.