Monday, 22 May 2017

It's All About That Lutz, 'Bout That Lutz, No Double...


I'll do for posterity, but judging by how knowledgeable all of you fabulous Skate Guard readers are, I probably don't need to tell you that the Lutz is a toe-assisted jump from a backward outside edge with a complete revolution to the backward outside edge of the other foot. I also probably don't need to tell you that its inventor was an Austrian skater by the name of Alois Lutz. But who was this mystery man and how did his invention get attributed to him? 

We know that dear Alois was a skater at the Kunsteisbahn Engelmann (Engelmann rink) in Vienna. Alternating accounts citing a grand total of - wait for it - zero primary sources, alternately trace his grand performance of the Lutz to the years 1913, 1917, 1918 and even 1923, long after his reported death. It's been said he died of pneumonia or the Spanish flu in his early twenties, but again, no primary sources there either. More uncited sources have even claimed Alois Lutz performed the jump during a hockey game, that he was from Switzerland, that he was one of "skating's great champions" and that the inventor of the Lutz' first name was actually not Alois but Alfred. To be blunt, the lack of information about this little known, young skater and the origins of his invention has inspired many writers over the decades to repeat unsourced information or in most cases, just plain make stuff up.

I was able to find - another drumroll please - a total of two primary sources that even confirmed the existence of Alois Lutz as a competitive skater, and they were both from the same competition. He competed in the Herren-Junioren-Kunstlaufen (junior men's class) on January 28, 1917 at the Austrian Championships held at the Engelmann rink. A who's who of Austrian skating including World and European Champion skaters like Fritz Kachler and Eduard Engelmann, Jr. were present. He finished fifth and dead last, behind Karl Krondutl, Heinz Matauch, Emil von Bertanlaffy and Rouland Zlamal. The February 2, 1917 issue of "Illustriertes (Österreichisches) Sportblatt" noted that "the ice conditions were excellent" at this event and gave accounts of the performances of top senior skaters like Gisela Reichmann and Paula Zalaudek but no mention was made of Alois Lutz performing his famous jump. Similarly, the January 29, 1917 issue of "Fremden-Blatt" offers a full, varied account of the competition, lists Alois Lutz in the result lists and gives zero mention of his performance or the jump. 

Based on repeated claims that the first skater to perform a double Lutz (in practice) was fellow Austrian Karl Schäfer, I think it's fair to make the assumption that the fact that Alois Lutz even got credit for his invention tied back to the fact that he came up with it at the Engelmann rink in the company of so many influential members of the Austrian skating community. An account from Captain T.D. Richardson in his book "Skating With T.D. Richardson" noted, "There is a popular jump called the Lutz which I first saw performed by that grand skater Paul Kreckow at the Palazzo del Ghiaccio in Milan in the early 20's. It is a joyous affair and should be tackled, once its technique is understood, with complete abandon." The dating of Richardson's recollection implies that it really wasn't long before the jump's popularity spread internationally. 

Interview with Donald Jackson where he talks about landing the first TRIPLE lutz in competition at the 1962 World Championships in Prague

The fact that Alois Lutz, an unheralded junior skater, invented a jump that's a mainstay of figure skating today and was actually credited for it should be an inspiration to all young skaters even today to get out there and try new things in the air. If that's not a motivation to make history, what is?

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, 19 May 2017

The Other Barbara Ann's: A Forgotten Era Of Canadian Women's Skating

Barbara Ann Scott

If you don't know the name Barbara Ann Scott, you lose your princess points and perhaps this isn't the blog for you. It's as simple as that! The four time Canadian Champion, two time European Champion, two time North American Champion, two time World Champion and 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist captivated an entire country. She has been lauded in the history books for inciting generations of Canadian skaters after her to lace up and take to the ice. As fabulous as Barbara Ann was (and she was) the truth is she wasn't alone. In the era preceding her dominance of Canadian women's skating, a host of other incredibly talented skaters also captivated audiences from Victoria to St. John's, each leaving their own imprint on the Canadian skating zeitgeist. You don't as often hear their stories though! That changes today, thanks to a handful of old newspaper articles, carnival programs and M. Ann Hall's wonderful book "The Girl And The Game: A History Of Women's Sport In Canada". Get ready to meet some of the leading ladies you didn't know near as well!

FRANCES CLAUDET JOHNSON



Born April 12, 1910, Frances Claudet Johnson started skating at the age of ten at the Minto Skating
Club. Reigning for six consecutive years as the club's junior champion, she won a pair of medals in the junior women's event at the Canadian Championships in 1928 and 1929. In 1931, she teamed up to skate pairs with Chauncey Bangs and in their first try, the duo incredibly beat the North American Champion brother and sister pairs team of Constance and Montgomery Wilson, two of the most eminent skaters of that era. Bangs was an experienced pairs skater, winning the 1927 and 1928 Canadian pairs titles with Marion McDougall, but the lesser experienced Claudet held her own when the duo hit the international stage. They won the silver at the 1931 North American Championships and in 1932 placed in the top six at both the Olympics and World Championships. Bangs retired from competition that year (sadly dying from illness only ten years later) but Claudet wasn't finished yet.


She staged a comeback effort in 1935 but it would be her former pairs rival Wilson who would win her ninth and final Canadian women's title that year. Claudet would end up third. She went on to skate in the Ice Follies, later acting as the tour's choreographer for an incredible thirty three years. She passed away in her home in Fairfeld, Connecticut on October 17, 2001. Quoted in the "Legendary Night Of Figure Skating" program in 1999, Claudet said, "Skating changed my life. Never too serious about it, I was always completely surprised when I won anything. I loved it passionately. In the spring when the natural ice at the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa started to melt, it was like watching someone die. I would often rush there after school and get down and kiss the ice goodbye."

ELEANOR O'MEARA PHELAN


Hailing from the Granite Club, Eleanor O'Meara started skating at the age of nine and won her first skating competition in 1931 as a teenager. Three years later she'd claim the silver medal in the junior ranks at the Canadian Championships behind fellow Torontonian Margaret Leslie. In 1936, she succeeded perpetual winner Constance Wilson and won her first of two senior Canadian titles, the other being in 1938. After finishing third in 1939, O'Meara decided to give pairs skating a go but she never seemed to be able to keep a partner for long. In 1940, she won the bronze medal in the women's event and in pairs as well with Donald Gilchrist. The following year, she teamed up with Ralph McCreath to win both a Canadian and North American pairs title but their partnership too was short lived because of the War.

Eleanor O'Meara and Ralph McCreath

With a new partner and game plan in 1942, she was incredibly back to successfully defend her senior pairs title with a new partner, Sandy McKechnie. A busy skater at those 1942 Canadian Championships in Winnipeg, O'Meara also won a fours title with her former partner Donald Gilchrist and a Waltz title with McKechnie. With Gilchrist, she earned the silver in the tenstep. When did this woman have time to even retie her skates? With the 1943 Canadian Championships cancelled due to World War II, O'Meara made the decision to go pro and perform in benefits and skating shows for the troops until learning that the big ice shows sold millions of war bonds by giving performances where admission could only be obtained by buying a victory bond.

Her program to "Prelude G Minor" and "Carmen" was praised highly when she toured with the Ice Capades. She was lauded by one California columnist as being the "greatest natural skating ballerina", even moreso than Sonja Henie.  A Boston newspaper in 1945 raved, "Eleanor stands alone - she's marvellous. She's a Toronto girl but has achieved frozen fame on every major ice rink in North America."  A MacLean's Magazine article from February 15, 1944 said of O'Meara: "Call it oomph, showmanship, or whatever you like, Eleanor O'Meara has learned to combine her great natural skating ability with her refreshing beauty and personality." She toured with Ice Capades for only three years, retiring from skating in 1946, married a judge in 1947 and raised five children in Toronto. O'Meara died of cancer in Toronto on March 21, 2000 at the age of eighty three.

DOROTHY AND HAZEL CALEY


Of the five Caley sisters of Toronto, Dorothy and Hazel were the two that made the biggest mark in skating. After winning the Canadian junior women's title in 1936, Dorothy Caley moved up to the senior ranks and won the senior title in 1937 on her first try. The defending champion Eleanor O'Meara had to settle for silver that year. They traded places in 1938 and by 1939, Dorothy Caley turned to fours skating, winning the North American title in Toronto with her sister Hazel, Ralph McCreath and Montgomery Wilson. The sisters in fact had a LONG history of skating together. They first learned to skate together in their backyard in Toronto, which their father flooded every winter for his daughters to practice on. Like Eleanor O'Meara, their former training was at the Granite Club. With the war putting an effective stop to any Olympic aspirations for either sister, they decided to join the professional ranks. They had dreams of touring in Australia but when Sonja Henie extended an offer to the sisters to join her tour in 1940, they put those didgeridoo dreams away quickly too. Their first show was at Radio City in New York, which had an ice theatre recently opened by the Rockefeller's. Given to whim, both sisters were known to improvise their routines. They also reportedly refused to have a manager, turned down all movie offers and only performed when they felt like it. In 1941, Hazel married and had a child and took some time away from the sport, but was back skating with her sister Dorothy by 1943, who had been skating by herself in the meantime.

Dorothy also skated with Austrian stilt skater Fritz Dietl for a time and sadly passed away on September 5, 2012 in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Her obituary said: "Outgoing, charming and high-spirited, Dody loved the camaraderie of Granite Club Ladies curling, often writing or directing the light-hearted annual Robertson Ladies Bonspiel show. She golfed enthusiastically as a York Downs and a Saugeen Golf Club member, devising an alternative method of scorekeeping to recognize the joy of many 'great shots' on a hole. Her eternal passion was creating her exuberant and ever-changing garden, where she might be found, or lost, late into the night, tending the flowers and baby trees that found their way to the gardens of her many friends." Hazel (Caley) Waite McTavish, a mother of four, passed away at the age of ninety eight in January 2016. Her daughter quoted her as once saying, "I've had some hard times but everyone does. I've had a wonderful life."

CATHERINE NORAH MCCARTHY


Like the Haley sisters, Norah McCarthy grew up skating outside of Montreal with her sister Tasie, a Canadian junior women's champion and senior fours champion in her own right. Their father was a railroad official and sports promoter. When he was transferred to North Bay (an area that lacked a skating coach at the time), Blanche McCarthy would drive her two daughters all the way to Ottawa to train in the winters. In the summer, the sisters trained in Lake Placid and were popular stars of the carnivals put on for locals there. Training for eight months a year and being tutored paid off for Norah McCarthy in 1938, when she won the Canadian junior women's title. The next season she'd win silver in the senior ranks and in 1940, she won her one and only Canadian senior women's title. In 1939 and 1940, she'd also won the Canadian senior pairs title with Ralph McCreath. The cancellation of the 1940 Winter Olympics after she'd been named to the team in two disciplines meant an uncertain future for the young skater who was described in magazines as "a beautiful black-haired skating cutie" and had trained all her life for that moment. She stuck it out for another season, finishing third in the women's event at Nationals and winning a bronze in the Canadian women's medal sweep at the North American Championships in 1941, but opted to turn professional in 1942. She balanced a highly successful career touring North America with Ice Follies with an incredible busy life that included time spent coaching younger skaters, playing tennis, horseback riding, swimming, sailing, canoeing, fishing and hunting. After a four year stint on the tour, McCarthy married 1942 Canadian Men's Champion Michael Kirby and had eight children. She was honoured by Skate Canada when she attended the 2013 Canadian Championships in her hometown of London, Ontario.

MARY ROSE THACKER-TEMPLE


Mary Rose Thacker and Dorothy Caley

Winnipeg, Manitoba's Mary Rose Thacker was perhaps of all of the women mentioned here the most successful as a singles skater. She won the Canadian senior women's title in 1939, 1941 and 1942 in addition to two North American titles. However, the advent of World War II hampered her participation in Olympic or World competition. Like McCarthy, Thacker was named to the 1940 Olympic team that never was. A diminutive skater at five foot four and one hundred and fifteen pounds, Thacker was a shy brunette with a confidence that exuded when she took to the ice.


She was particularly known as a strong free skater and actually finished ahead of Barbara Ann Scott in winning her 1941 and 1942 Canadian titles. Thacker started skating at four years old and was also an exceptional equestrian, swimmer, ballet dancer (trained at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet), fencer and spoke several languages. Turning professional in 1942, she very briefly skated in professional shows before turning her attention to coaching, becoming the first professional coach at the Vancouver Skating Club in 1945. Two years later, she opened the first summer school in British Columbia. In 1976, she even teamed up with Ron Vincent and Frank Nowosad to found the Canada Ice Dance Theatre. Training skaters for over thirty years, Thacker passed away in July of 1983. She was posthumously honoured by Skate Canada (CFSA) with an induction to the organization's Hall Of Fame in 1995.

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, 18 May 2017

The Gate On The River Scheldt

Photo courtesy The Metropolitan Museum Of Art; used for educational purposes.

Skating's depictions in visual art never fail to fascinate and the period engraving "Skating before the St. George's Gate, Antwerp" is no exception. The scene was painted by renowned Brabant artist and printmaker Pieter Bruegel the Elder and engraved by Ioan Galle, the grandson of Haarlem born engraver Philip Galle. Varying sources conversely date the piece to either 1553 or 1558, so we'll go with the 1550's. It is an extraordinarily vintage depiction of figure skating at any rate! From an artistic perspective, Ger Luijten's book "Dawn Of The Golden Age" noted that this engraving's compositional structure "serves as yet another reminder of that master's (Bruegel's] continuing influence on seventeenth-century Dutch art." The engraving depicts solo and pairs skating and even one skater performing an outside spread eagle long before the move was ever described in any figure skating textbook in front of St. George II Gate on the River Scheldt in Antwerp, located in what was then the Duchy Of Brabant (now Belgium). 

What I particularly love about this piece isn't even the depiction itself but an accompanying inscription, written in Old Flemish. Translated and billed as "The Slipperiness Of Human Life" in the delightful 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating" by Arthur Goodfellow, the inscription reads thusly in English:

"Skating on ice outside the walls of Antwerp,
Some slide hither, others hence, all have onlookers everywhere;
One trips, another falls, some stand upright and chat.

This picture also tells one how we skate through our lives,
And glide along our paths; one like a fool, another like a wise;
On this perishable earth, brittler than ice."

Profound and perceptive, these words from centuries past still very much resonate today and probably will in centuries to come.  

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, 16 May 2017

The 1968 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Peggy Fleming

I feel like The Fairy Godmother from Cinderella. I got a request from a reader to write about this competition and POOF - this poof's granting that very wish! Today we'll be setting our time machine for January 18 through 21, 1968 and looking back at that year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships which were held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the (then) newly finished Spectrum Arena. The event, which featured one hundred and thirty eight entries from coast to coast of the States, was enough to make anyone who had been involved in the regrowth process in U.S. figure skating following the 1961 Sabena Crash proud. Honorary chairman of the event, former U.S. Champion James Lester Madden, said at the time that "the crop of young talented skaters... here clearly indicates how successful this rebuilding program has been. Once again, the United States is reaching a pinnacle in the uphill struggle to dominate international figure skating events." The last part of his statement was key. As 1968 of course was an Olympic year, not only were spots at the World Championships in Geneva on the line but precious berths on the Grenoble Olympic team were at stake as well.

NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

Let's start by taking a look at some of the names and winners in the novice and junior categories. In the novice ladies event, two fourteen year old's battled it out at the top for the gold, with Pegeen Naughton of the Long Island Figure Skating Club edging Patti Miller, the leader after the school figures. Among the novice men, the winner was Dean Hiltzik of the Metropolitan Figure Skating Club in New York. He vaulted from fifth after the figures to win and the winner in figures, Kim Flynn of Denver, fell to fifth overall after the free skate. Talk about movement in the standings! Barbara Ray of the El Camino Figure Skating Club dominated the junior women's event and the junior men's event was full of names, names, names: Gordon McKellen, Jr., Ken Shelley, Atoy Wilson and John Baldwin among them. Perhaps the biggest story in the novice or junior ranks came in the Silver Dance competition. The January 22, 1968 "Toledo Blade" reported, "Joan Bitterman and Brad Hislop of the Seattle, Washington Skating Club, won the Silver Dance despite an injury suffered during practice, which required 15 stitches inside and 25 stitches outside on his right forearm occurred when another skater doing a jump came down on the Seattle skater's arm. The injury caused Hislop to withdraw from the senior men's competition but he insisted on performing in the Silver Dance in which he and Miss Bitterman finished first in the preliminaries Thursday. Margaret Millier and Donald Bachlott of Wilmington, [Delaware] and Philadelphia, were second in the event." Third of the eleven teams competing were Caren Cady and Warren Danner.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


The heavy favourites in the pairs competition were of course Seattle's Cynthia and Ron Kauffman. The two time and defending champions were lucky to even compete/ Ron Kauffman was a private in the Army and was given temporary duty in order to allow this even happen. Skating in matching marine blue costumes, the nineteen and twenty one year old siblings easily trounced the competition. 1967 bronze medallists Betty Lewis and Richard Gilbert of the Skating Club of Boston were heavily favoured to claim the silver but dropped to fourth behind California's Roy Wagelain and his new partner Sandi Sweitzer and a young JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley of the Arctic Blades Skating Club in Paramount. Starbuck and Shelley were both sixteen and just moving up from the junior ranks. Their impressive transition earned them the third spot on the U.S. Olympic team.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Eleven teams competed in Philadelphia for the Gold Dance title. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Everyone expected a tight competition in Philadelphia because Lorna Dyer and John Carrell had retired, but from the first compulsory it was apparent that no one could surpass Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky. They compounded their strength and accuracy in the free dance with an exquisite slow part and novel moves throughout. Ann and Harvey (Skip) Millier moved up from fifth to fourth after the free dance." Silver medallists were Vicki Camper and Eugene Heffron of the Detroit Skating Club and bronze medallists Debbi Gerken and Raymond Tiedemann. Roger Berry of Los Angeles, who had won the silver medal with his partner Alma Davenport the year before and finished ninth at the World Championships one spot behind Schwomeyer and Sladky, took a plunge down to sixth with his new partner Gaie Shoman.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


As was absolutely expected, nineteen year old World Champion Peggy Fleming of Colorado Springs took a commanding lead after the six school figures with a score of 76.76 to Tina Noyes' 72.69. Dawn Glab's 71.73 and Janet Lynn's was 71.65. In the January 28, 1968 issue of the "Chicago Tribune" Fleming noted that she was "used to skating on gray ice with more marks. This is light blue and it's difficult to follow the tracings. If you can get by in this situation, you can get by anything." Many thought the ice was in Philadelphia was tinted for aesthetics on the Wide World Of Sports broadcast but officials attested the hue was added to cover hockey lines and make figure tracings more visible to judges.

Any challenge Fleming might have had in the figures was forgotten by the time she took the ice for her free skate. In her 2000 book "The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories", she recalled her win thusly: "If there was ever a championship that I was meant to win, it was that National title in Philadelphia in 1968. I couldn't wait to show everyone how much I had worked that past year. For the first time, I wasn't that nervous. My training had gone well, and I had avoided injuries... Everything felt right. I just knew when I stepped onto the ice that I was going to be great. I couldn't wait for the music to start, and when it did, I had a feeling of ease, comfort and flow. The jumps seemed effortless, and the crowd gave me adrenaline that felt like it was physically lifting each jump higher. From beginning to end I remember one thing, one constant in my performance: I am completely enjoying this."

Fleming earned five 5.9's for technical merit and three 5.9's and two perfect 6.0's for composition and style. Many still believe it was the greatest performance of her career. Nineteen year old Noyes of the Skating Club of New York finished a strong second and a fourteen year old from Rockford, Illinois named Janet Lynn captured the attention of America's skating establishment with a performance that belied her years. She earned the fourth spot on the Grenoble Olympic team, edging Glab and Eastern Champion Wendy Lee Jones of the Hershey Figure Skating Club.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

From 1964 to 1967, Gary Visconti of the Detroit Figure Skating Club and Scott Ethan Allen from Smoke Rise, New Jersey traded places at the top of the U.S. men's podium. One had two medals at the World Championships, the other an Olympic Bronze. By 1968, Allen was a freshman at Harvard University and Visconti had been given leave from Naval Reserve duties to compete, with twenty one months left to serve. He was stationed at the Grosse Ile Point Michigan Naval Air Station. It was supposed to be a battle royale between these two men but in fact, neither of them won the figures or the free skate in Philadelphia.

In the school figures, Visconti's nineteen year old training mate Tim Wood was victorious with a score of 132,48 to Visconti's 130.29. The 5'10" political science major at John Carroll, coached by Ron Baker, had a decisive lead but the rest of the men were nipping at his heels. A crowd of seven thousand packed the Spectrum Arena for the free skates. That's when a fourth man entered the conversation. John Misha Petkevich, a philosophy student at the College Of Great Falls in Montana was fourth after the school figures. Well behind the leaders with a score of 70.72, the podium seemed a world away but a spectacular performance won him the free skate, a standing ovation and a spot on the 1968 Olympic team. In the January 29, 1968 issue of "Sports Illustrated" magazine, he said of his come from behind medal win: "I was nervous about this thing all day. I had planned to try this triple flip about midway in my routine, see? But then I pulled a muscle in my leg, and I decided I better not go for it. So I gave them everything else I had. And suddenly, about three quarters of the way through, I knew I had them, and I just sort of said, 'Thanks, God, for letting me win,' and went right on skating." Wood took the overall title, with Visconti second. Visconti recalled, "I always give them everything I've got when I'm out there. But that's what this sport is all about. It may sound funny, but this sport is tougher than anything else I can think of. Anyone who says we're not athletes ought to try it one time. It takes strength and coordination, but you know what I'm really trying to do? I'm trying to bring some grace to it. I'm trying to be - well - a boy Peggy Fleming. It's tough." Allen surprised many by dropping down to fourth. His dream of defending the Olympic Bronze he'd won in 1964 in Innsbruck was not meant to be; he earned the third spot on that year's World team instead.

There you have it folks... the 1968 U.S. Figure Skating Championships! One thing's for sure in this case... whoever said history is something best left in dusty library books clearly doesn't hasn't discovered how enthralling skating's history can be.

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.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

A Skate Guard Mother's Day Special: The Stories Of Three Famous Skating Mothers


Suzanne Bonaly, Marjorie Chin, LaVona Fay Golden, Heidi Biellmann, Brenda Kerrigan, Therese Rochette... For a variety of reasons, the mothers of many famous figure skaters have almost become a part of skating lore. Today on Skate Guard, we'll meet the mothers of three Olympic Gold Medallists in women's figure skating... each from a different era and country and each with their own unique role in their daughter's skating careers!

SELMA LOCHMANN NIELSEN HENIE


Sonja Henie and Selma Lochmann Nielsen Henie

When three time Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Sonja Henie was a young girl, her parents took turns going to her practice sessions with her and, in her words, both "developed themselves into expert critics". While Wilhelm 'Papa' Henie earned an international reputation as the wheeler and dealer, Sonja's well-to-do mother Selma acted as her chaperone. In her biography "Wings On My Feet", Sonja described her mother as "quiet but missing nothing, the firm pillar of the family as always... She has been my closest counsellor... going with me everywhere and giving me shrewd advice." It was Selma who took Sonja to Russian prima ballerina Tamara Platonovna Karsavina for dance lessons and who arranged the fittings for a seemingly endless supply of skating dresses. When 'Papa' Henie died while Sonja was filming "Thin Ice" with Tyrone Power for Twentieth Century-Fox, Selma collapsed and was in a state of shock for weeks. Sadly, she passed away in August 1961 at the age of seventy seven, just eight years before her daughter.

MARY PURVES SCOTT


Barbara Ann Scott and Mary Purves Scott. Photo courtesy the Timmins Museum: National Exhibition Center. Used with permission.

Without her mother writing the letter to Santa Claus for her, Barbara Ann Scott never would have got to ask for her first 'real' pair of ice skates for Christmas. Barbara Ann's father Clyde (who survived two years in German prison camps during World War II) passed away during a bridge game when she was only thirteen, leaving her mother Mary to raise her alone. Always at her side, her mother acted as her travel companion, costume designer and even worked with CFSA officials and Barbara Ann's coach Sheldon Galbraith to ensure that she in no way jeopardized her amateur status... that included not accepting the car given to her as a gift by the city of Ottawa. She even pitched in with a shovel to clear the ice in Switzerland when it snowed and the rink attendants were on strike.

In her book "Skate With Me", Barbara Ann recalled that while she practiced figures early in the morning, "Mother would stand or sit at the side of the cold rink, watching me and knitting... I needed the certainty that Mother was there and no one could do anything to me. With that certainty I could concentrate on my job and the time flew."

Both mother and daughter were superstitious. While Mary refused to wear green believing it was unlucky for her, a dark green dress that she knitted for Barbara Ann - worn in her first competition at the age of ten - proved to be Barbara Ann's lucky dress. Mary also gave Barbara Ann "a little carved wooden man, the ugliest little man I've ever seen, with a great long nose and a funny little hat on" when they were in Stockholm, which Barbara Ann carried with her to competitions for some time.

Perhaps because Mary wasn't known to constantly shower her with praise, she earned a reputation in some circles as a slave driver. Barbara Ann recalled, "My mother has heard children comment that she was the 'bear' who kept poor Barbara Ann slaving on the ice all day. How utterly mistaken they were! The bear that kept me on the ice, not slaving but enjoying every minute of it, was that dream of representing Canada in the Olympics." Mary Purves Scott passed away in 1980 at the age of eighty eight.

MARIE HEISS


Carol and Marie Heiss

Freelance dress designer Marie Heiss was born in Munich, Germany and came to America when she was eight years old. She married her husband Edward in 1936. They bought a house in Ozone Park, only fifteen miles from the heart of New York City and on January 20, 1940, she welcomed her first child - a daughter named Carol - into this world. In the next four years, daughter Nancy and son Bruce would all join the family.

Marie would get up at 5:30 every morning to the shrill sound of alarm clock and get all three children out of bed while their father made breakfast so they could travel the fifteen miles to New York to take lessons from Andrée and Pierre Brunet. A thoughtful, artistic woman who loved to draw, she once told her daughter, "Everyone has his own frontier... In the mind. On one side of it, everything is known and tried. On the other side is the part of yourself that has not yet been explored. All the great adventures in life lie on that other side." Marie never let Carol neglect her education, enrolling her in the Professional Children's School in New York, which offered morning and afternoon classes with the flexibility for her to take her lessons with her when she travelled to competitions and to take proctored exams at schools abroad if necessary.

Marie revealed to Carol that she had cancer not long before she was to leave for the 1955 World Championships in Vienna. After undergoing an operation, she was in constant pain but insisted on making the trip to see her daughter compete. In Austria, she didn't miss a moment of practice or the competition. That April, she returned to the hospital and returned even thinner. The following year, she insisted on travelling with Carol to the Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo. When Carol and her mother chose to stay outside the Olympic Village so that her mother could have a room with a private bathroom so she could take long, hot baths to soothe her pain, rumours circulated that Carol was 'too good' to stay with the others. Her mother wouldn't let her set the story straight, refusing to allow it to get out that her health situation was dire. Carol skated lights out at those Games, but again finished second to Tenley Albright. Marie Heiss stuck it out for the World Championships that followed in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and witnessed her daughter win her first World title. At an exhibition that followed in Berlin, her mother grew so ill that both returned home to America immediately. That October, Marie Heiss passed away at home at the age of forty one. The papers learned the horrible truth as to why Carol and her mother had not stayed in the Olympic Village, and Carol went on to win Olympic gold in 1960, dedicating her performance to her inspirational mother's memory. She told reporter Will Grimsley, "This was for Mother. I wish she could have could have been here to help share it."

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, 11 May 2017

Nigel Stephens: An Overlooked Canadian Champion


When your last name is Stevens, people always ask "is that with a 'V' or a 'PH'?" My response is probably usually paired with a 'qu'est-ce que fuck?' look because most people in these parts use a 'V'. Maybe it's my British snobbery coming out; maybe it's the fact I don't think I personally know anyone with the alternate spelling. I'm thinking probably the latter. At any rate, it turns out that a Stevens has never won a senior title at the Canadian Championships but TWO Stephens have. In 1969, Anna Forder and Richard Stephens were Canada's senior pairs champions and way back in 1945 (before World War II had ended) Nigel Stephens was Canada's men's champion. The historical record has overlooked this one time hero of Canadian skating and with plenty of digging, I'm thrilled to be able to share his story!

Born in Ottawa, Ontario on December 10, 1925, Nigel was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Greaves Stephens. He had two sisters (Joan and Daphne) and as a boy learned to skate at the Rideau Rink on Waller Street, which was later taken over by the Minto Skating Club and renamed the Minto Rink. A precocious young talent, he won the Gilmore Memorial Cup as intermediate boys champion at the Minto's annual competition in April 1939 and finished third in the Wilson Cup competition for third class school figures. 

With many Canadian men's skaters going overseas to fight in World War II, the teenage talent continued to earn accolades. In his first trip to the Canadian Championships in 1942, he was second in the junior men's event to Will Thomas of the Toronto Skating Club and the "Ottawa Citizen" reported on February 2, 1942 that "his showing in competition with the cream of Canada's junior skaters was a decidedly good one." By the next year, no senior men's event was held at Canadians as there was a the lack of competitors due to the war. At age sixteen, Nigel Stephens was Canada's junior men's champion in 1943, besting a sixteen year old Norris Bowden, Frank Sellers and Vancouver's Roger Wickson to take the title.

Although he trained during the winters at the Minto Club, Nigel attended the famous summer school in Schumacher and wrote about his experience there in Louise Nightingale Smith's book "Schumacher: Voices In The Gold Fields": "I arrived in Schumacher early in the morning of July 10, 1943. Leaving the train, my first view... was the magnificent sight of the McIntyre head frame, gleaming in the sun. For a seventeen-year-old boy, on his first trip away from home, going to his first job and being 'on his own' for the first time, this was a very exciting moment. The only person I knew in Schumacher was Alex Fulton, who was nineteen. Alex worked in the McIntyre mill. We had met earlier in the year, January to be exact, in Toronto, where we had competed in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Alex and his partner, Olga [Bernyk], had won the Canadian Junior Pairs Championships and I had won the Canadian Junior Men's Championships. Alex subsequently persuaded me to come to Schumacher for the summer to train at the McIntyre Summer Skating School. The previous summer, Schumacher had opened the first summer skating school in Canada at the beautiful McIntyre Community Centre. There was one other facility in North America which offered summer skating (at Lake Placid, NY) but it did not have the full range of facilities which were available at the McIntyre. Nor did it have the 'newness' or excitement of Canada's north country... I started my own job as the lowest member of the 'garden gang', tending the meticulous gardens opposite the rink, at the rate of forty cents an hour... I worked the seven to four shift, and then donned the skates and skated from 4:30 to 9:30 with a short break for supper in the McIntyre cafeteria. Skaters came from all over North America to summer skate in Schumacher, most of us just teenagers working hard at skating and having new experiences and meeting new friends... I spent three summers... among the most generous and friendly people one would ever hope to know." 

The following year, Stephens did not compete at the Canadian Championships but did perform in the Minto Follies show. The "Ottawa Citizen" reported on March 3, 1944 that "if there had been a men's senior Canadian championship this year, there is little doubt that Nigel Stephens would have taken it. His strong, smooth skating last night demonstrated this to the full." That moment did come in 1945. Winning the Minto Skating Club's senior competition that year and performing as a soloist alongside Barbara Ann Scott in Oshawa Skating Club's "Ice Frolics Of 1945" show, he entered the 1945 Canadian Championships in Toronto as the favourite. However, the February 21, 1945 edition of The Maple Leaf  tells us that he "had to overcome an early advantage gained by Frank Sellers, of the Winnipeg Skating Club" in the school figures. He won his Canadian senior's title on the merit of his strong free skate to José Padilla's "El Relicario" and "Habanera". That win proved to be it. There was nothing else to strive for yet: no Olympics, no World Championships. A flash and the pan and he could have just moved on from the skating world... but he didn't.


After graduating from Trinity College at the University Of Toronto and beginning his professional career at the Bank Of Canada, he founded his own investment counsel firm in Toronto, got married to wife Gail and had two sons (one also named Nigel) and grandchildren... but he always had one skate in the rink door. In 1950 - at twenty five years of age - he joined the executive of the Canadian Figure Skating Association, serving on numerous committees and judged nationally and international for thirty years. In his early thirties, he was actually a judge at the 1958 World Figure Skating Championships in Paris, where Canada won three medals. He also continued to skate professionally for a time in club carnivals, teaming up to skate pairs with Olympic Silver Medallist and World Champion Andrea Kékesy.

Andrea Kékesy and Nigel Stephens skating in the Oshawa Skating Club's carnival in 1950

In the early sixties, Stephens turned his attention for a time to the administration side of the sport. He was the CFSA's Vice President in 1961 when the Sabena Plane Crash occurred and not without controversy either. When ISU secretary general George Hasler informed him and then CFSA President Granville Mayall of the decision to cancel the event, they (according to the February 18, 1961 edition of the "Montreal Gazette") cabled Mr. Hasler "expressing sorrow at the American tragedy but pointing out that the decision would nullify many months of preparation by the competitors and the host Czechoslovakians." Any perceived insensitivity didn't cloud the respect he earned as a judge and dedicated administrator. Later that same year, he began his two year term as CFSA President offered assistance and support to the U.S. figure skating community in any way possible. After his presidency, he continued to serve on various committees and judge and was named an honorary member in 1968.

Inducted to into the CFSA's Hall Of Fame in 1993 in a who's who year of inductees including Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, Gustave Lussi and Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, Stephens remained active in the sport in one way or another for much of his life until retiring from his investment counsel firm. Settling in Bowmanville and devoting his attention to raising prize winning sheep and Australian Shepherd dogs in his later years, Nigel Stephens passed away on October 20, 2012 at Peterborough Regional hospital in Ontario. 

One of the reasons that I make a point of telling the stories of the skaters who skating's historical record overlooks is that they are rich and layered like all of our lives are. We wear different hats at different times... but when skating plays that central role in anyone's life we know that they loved it... and Nigel Stephens clearly did.

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 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, 9 May 2017

A Conversation With Bob Turk


Bob Turk, who passed away on February 1, 2017, was the director of the Ice Capades for decade. He worked with Peggy Fleming from the time she was eleven until she won Olympic gold in 1968 and choreographed, produced and directed skating productions that spanned the globe. As a young man, he was a regular at The Polar Palace, where he played records for Sonja Henie and had competitions with Belita Jepson-Turner to see who could land the most Axels in a row. Last March, Randy Gardner connected us for a forthcoming project I'll be presenting... a biography of Belita. Our lengthy conversation extended far beyond her incredible story. Warm, honest and incredibly candid, Bob opened up to me about many of his experiences in the skating world. It is my privilege to share a few excerpts from that memorable conversation with this absolutely delightful man.

ON THE 1949 RHAPSODY ON ICE SHOW IN HAVANA, CUBA

"Belita and Red McCarthy were in that show and I choreographed it and skated in it. We couldn't find that many skaters so we took the best dancers from MGM and put them on skates. Mabel Fairbanks was in that show."

ON LONELINESS

"I'm suffering now because I'm lonely. I'm by myself. My lover who I lived with for sixty one years, he died... and I'm alone. Rita Palmer, who was with the Ice Capades, she died. So many people moved down here because I moved here and they're all gone. That's the worst punishment you can do to me is alone. I'm a people person. Everybody from Ice Capades is dead, I'm ninety and I don't know why everyone died and left me by myself. My mind is sharp, I'm straight as an arrow, I still go to the gym, I've got dancing and tennis and I'm taking classes, I still drive my car to the store... I'm not strong like I was but I'm fine. But I'm alone; I'm by myself. I don't know how that happened but it did. There's a million gypsies, I e-mail with them, I talk with them, but none of them live near me."

ON BELITA


ON BOBBY SPECHT

"Bobby was very, very gay and never tried to hide it. He and Alan Konrad were sort of lovers for a time, but he never really had a lover until the end of his life. He was always drinking and he was wonderful... He lived down here but he drank and lost his vision. He could have had eye surgery but he didn't do it and they just found him dead on the floor down here. He could have had his eyes fixed but he didn't do it so he couldn't see... but he was a wonderful guy. Bobby didn't have any delusions of grandeur, nothing... He was the sweetest person in the world. When we were younger, him and I used to act like crazy fools. He called me Turkey."


ON WILD HOLLYWOOD SKATING PARTIES

"When Ice Capades came into town, Bobby Specht would rent a big house - usually a movie star's house - out in Beverly Hills. After the show every night, he'd throw a big party with every skater in the world. There'd be fifty people there. Everybody'd bring a bottle. Sometimes I'd say to Belita, 'Bobby's throwing a party' and I'd pick her up and take her with me... and the damn parties would go on till three, four o'clock in the morning."

ON HIS GRANDPARENTS AND ICE CAPADES FAMILY



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

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The 1932 U.S. Figure Skating Championships


After the highly successful 1930 World Figure Skating Championships in New York, the U.S. figure skating community directed all of its time, energy and meagre financial resources towards making the figure skating competition at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid the very best they could be. At the time, Sherwin Badger was a man of many hats. Not only was he serving on the Olympic Committee, but he was the USFSA President, Manager of the Olympic figure skating team... and a competitor in pairs figure skating with a very real chance of winning America's first Olympic medal in the discipline with partner Beatrix Loughran.

With his right hand man Richard L. Hapgood, the Assistant Manager of the 1932 Olympic figure skating team, he set a plan in motion that worked to the benefit of not only himself, but all of the American skaters, coaches and judges who would potentially compete at those Games: holding the U.S. Championships in two parts. The first event, which was actually held on December 27 and 28, 1931, included the senior men's, women's and pairs events and acted as an Olympic trial competition. By holding this part of the annual national event months ahead of schedule, it gave skaters a full month of interrupted training leading up to the Games with zero distractions. The second event, comprised of ice dancing, junior competitions and the first ever competitions for novice men and women, was held after the Olympics. In their official report to the American Olympic Committee in 1932, Badger and Hapgood explained, "The United States Figure Skating Association gave every possible support and cooperation by making numerous alterations in its usual plans for holding national championships. Among other things, it designated the Olympic school figures as the figures for these championships, and this step was of enormous help to prospective members of the team, as they were required thereby to practice and skate only those figures which were expected of them in the Olympic Competitions."

Louise Weigel (left) and Edith Secord (right)

The December event, held at Madison Square Garden in conjunction with an elimination Olympic hockey game between the University Club of Boston and St. Nicholas Hockey Club Of New York, was judged by Joseph K. Savage, Carl Engel, Lillian Cramer, Norman Hapgood and Charlie Morgan Rotch. As expected, Loughran and Badger took top honours in the pairs event, defeating Maribel Vinson-Owen and George E.B. Hill and Gertrude Meredith and Joseph K. Savage. Though all three teams were named to the Olympic team, Vinson-Owen and Hill were forced to decline their spot as Hill was unable to remove a scholastic condition at Harvard University to get the time off. Theresa Weld Blanchard was expected to compete in the women's event but ultimately declined, accepting a position as Chaperone of the Olympic team instead. Maribel Vinson-Owen took a strong lead in the figures and turned in a flawless free skate - by accounts one of her best - to easily win her fifth consecutive senior women's title. Margaret Bennett finished second, ahead of Louise Weigel, Edith Secord, Suzanne Davis, Audrey Peppe and Dr. Hulda Berger. Bennett of Minneapolis, Weigel of Buffalo and Davis of Boston were the three women to join Vinson-Owen on the Olympic team, Edith Secord was excluded because of her Canadian citizenship.

Roger Turner

In the men's event, Roger Turner of the Skating Club of Boston fell while executing his first figure, a rocker, but judges ruled there was a flaw in ice. He performed exceptionally well in the rest of his figures, taking a lead over Gail Borden II of the Skating Club of New York. Turner faltered twice in free skating, touching the ice while coming out of a half-loop and losing his balance on a spread eagle. Yet in a four-one vote, he defeated James Lester Madden of Boston, Borden, Dr. Walter Langer and William Nagle to win his fourth U.S. title. In the December 29, 1931 issue of the "New York Evening Post", German writer and actor Hugo Louis Sherwin Golitz raved, "It was interesting to observe that, as in dancing, the really finest virtuosos are the men. Not merely in that they are stronger, more agile and speedy than their sisters but - which is more important - they are infinitely more graceful. Addicts of the late Russian ballet may recall that, exquisite as were [Karsavina] and Pavlova, they were always excelled by Nijinsky and Mordkin."

James Lester Madden, Grace Madden, Frederick Goodridge, Maribel Vinson-Owen and George E.B. Hill

After the Olympics, the second 1932 U.S. Championships at the Ice Club were held amidst high spirits, American skaters having won Olympic medals in both the women's and pairs events  in Lake Placid. Samuel Ferguson and Valerie Jones of the Skating Club of New York became the first U.S. novice men's and women's champions in history. Robin Lee of the St. Paul Figure Skating Club took top honours in junior men and Louise Weigel of Buffalo added a junior women's title to the senior bronze she'd won in December. In junior pairs, New York liquor salesman Ferrier T. Martin and his wife Virginia emerged victorious at ages thirty seven and thirty one. Nine teams competed in the Waltzing competition. "Skating" magazine reported, "There were so many crack couples, it was well-nigh impossible for the judges to make a selection of the final four." After an elimination round that cut out five teams, Edith Secord and Joseph K. Savage took the win over Nettie Prantel and Roy Hunt, Clara Rotch Frothingham and Frederick Goodridge and Grace Madden and George E.B. Hill. In the Original Dance event, Rotch Frothingham and Hill took the win with a tango variation that Bedell H. Harned referred to as "the best combination of steps this contest had ever produced." Defending Champions Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles settled for third place behind Secord and Savage. Due to a lack of entries following an exhausting season, a fours competition was not held.

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, 4 May 2017

The History And Evolution Of Spinning

Scottish Champion Ronnie McKenzie performing a flying sit spin

Boys doing Biellmann spins, four-feature level four spins... Figure skating's 'new' judging system has both unnecessarily complicated the art of spinning and forced skaters to treat spins as seriously as they do jumps. After all, "you don't want to leave points on the table" and such. Ardent supporters of the IJS seemingly delight in pointing out how spins were often throwaway elements under the 6.0 system; rest periods between cross-cuts, telegraphed jumps and wonderfully musical though technically less demanding footwork sequences. We all know that narrative, just as we know that Ulrich Salchow and Axel Paulsen invented the jumps that bear their names, Donald Jackson landed the first triple Lutz in international competition and the delightful Dick Button performed the first double Axel and triple loop. The history of skating's all important jumps has been wonderfully documented, yet unfortunately the evolution of spins has never been offered the same treatment. In order to fully understand how we got to where we are today, it's probably a good idea to start at the very beginning.

The three-turn, known as far back as 1772 when Robert Jones wrote the first instructional manual on figure skating, was of course the forerunner of double and triple three-turn's which Jean Garcin of the Gilets Rouge called 'hooks'. Swiss skating historian Nigel Brown recalled, "It was the single hook or three turn that was employed to join up one skating movement with another. This simple turn was often called a half-spin and was considered a very graceful movement as well as an indispensable one. The spin, consisting of two or three revolutions, was used mainly to terminate a series of skating movements. It completed a small free-skating programme as it were, bringing the performance to an exciting finish. This pirouette was often placed between two distinct skating movements but it was never encouraged as it was considered ugly and out of place."


In the 1850's, skaters from Boston, Philadelphia and New York began experimenting with spins. George Henry Browne, who lobbied for the introduction of the International Style in North America in the early twentieth century, claimed that Charles H. Fuller and his brother William performed "spins, rolls and acrobatic feats" during this period and that Joseph H. Murch of Boston was the first to introduce the two-foot whirl. The crossfoot spin was already known as early as the 1860's, being included in the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society's repertoire of club figures. Browne claimed that Jackson Haines and E.B. Cook introduced Ringlet-Spins circa 1862, which were defined as "complete revolutions on an edge on one-foot", usually added as flourishes to loop figures. George Meagher noted that Ringlets differed from loops only in the shape of the marks left upon the ice, a loop being cycloid, and a Ringlet being perfectly round. In 1863, E.B. Cook endeavoured to differentiate between the terms spin and whirl, suggesting that one-footed pirouettes should be termed spins and two-footed pirouettes should be termed whirls.

During the period that followed, flat-foot spins on both one and two feet, crossfoot spins and two-foot whirls became wildly popular and North America's top 'fancy' skaters began adding their own variations to the extremely limited variety of spins then known. Albert Howard started his two-foot spin from a backward entrance; Charles V. Dodge would start out with a two-foot whirl and then jump on his toes until his feet wound around then drop back to the blade and finish with a crossfoot spin. George Browne noted, "Callie Curtis, in the 60's, could make several revolutions on the toe at the end of a one-foot eight and return to the eight without any intermediate strokes or steps. Curtis could also jump from one toe-spin to another." Toe-spins - or toe-pirouettes - didn't really gain a lot of steam until Halifax and New York club skates with toe rakes came into vogue. Without the evolutions in skate-making during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, spinning never would have evolved past upright spins and toe-spins never would have been the ever popular flourishes to early twentieth century free skating programs that they became.



The Jackson Haines spin

While North American skaters were spinning standing up, legendary figure skating pioneer Jackson Haines was dropping it like it was hot in Vienna with the introduction of his Jackson Haines spin. Starting with a right outside forward flat-foot spin then bending clear down to the ice in a sitting position and straightening up again while evolving at a rapid pace and finishing with a pirouette on the toe, the Jackson Haines spin was in essence skating's first true combination spin, which included the sit spin position that would of course later become one of figure skating's primary spin positions. Haines' spin spread like wildfire. In Germany, they called it the 'Sitzpirouette'. In Canada in the early twentieth century, it was called the 'Bowsprit'. Well into the thirties and forties, people still called it the Jackson Haines, even if they were just executing a sit spin on its own.


At the same time fancy skaters in North America were experimenting with upright spins and Haines was thrilling audiences from Stockholm to St. Petersburg with his signature spin, the stiff English Style skaters in Great Britain were having a minor fit about all of this uncivilized spinning business.
Henry Eugene Vandervell and T. Maxwell Witham showed enthusiasm for double and quadruple three-turns on one foot (referring to the latter as a 'double-double') but warned members of The Skating Club in London of allowing these three turns to "degenerate" into "mere" spins. Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams went so far as to say that spins "often proved themselves to be absolutely destructive to the good form of those who practiced them", believing they had no place in English Style or 'combined' skating. "Toe-spins, performed by our Canadian and Swedish friends," he scoffed, "are quite unsuited to concerted skating." Witham described the forward outside one-foot spin as an "abominably ugly position which has undoubtedly been the cause of its unpopularity in England." George Wood added that if 'kicked figures' such as cross-cuts and toe-spins became part of the English Style, it would be reduced to "a niggling, ungraceful, petty, and hybrid style."

Excerpt from Frederick Toombs' 1879 book "How to become a skater"

To the shagrin of these well-to-do Victorian gentlemen, the evolution of spinning continued at a rapid pace. Both Leopold Frey and Eduard Engelmann performed spins at the 1882 Great International Skating Tournament in Vienna. In 1895, George Meagher described two Canadian additions to the upright spin repertoire - the 'Letter K' spin and the 'Toronto Spin'. The latter, described as starting "with a sharp outside edge spin on one foot, and, whilst revolving at good speed, the toe of the balance leg is gradually lowered, with the point of the skate resting upon the boot of the other foot" certainly sounds like the a scratch spin if you ask me.

After the formation of the International Skating Union, spins quickly made their way into the free skating performances of many of the sport's first World champions. George Henry Browne recalled how Austria's Gustav Hügel amazed spectators at the 1900 World Championships in Davos with "his corkscrew spin on bended leg, coiling around it the unemployed held in both hands, and finishing it with a pirouette on the toe, all that tremendous speed." An Austrian, Georg Wassmuth, was the first to perform a spin on his heels known as an 'apple' and Henning Grenander of Sweden made a speciality of his 'heel spin eight', striking off from a right forward outside edge, crossing his feet at the end of the circle and spinning counterclockwise on the heel of his skate. Irving Brokaw recalled that Ulrich Salchow once ended his program with a Jackson Haines spin and that Fritz Kachler upstaged him by performing two Jackson Haines spins in succession, separated by a 'spectacle move'. It was during this period that the first of many, many women to make spinning history came on the scene. At the 1906 World Championships in Davos - the very first ISU championship for 'ladies' - Jenny Herz of the Cottage-Eislaufverein made history as the first woman to perform the Jackson Haines spin in competition... wearing an ankle-length dress.

Jenny Herz performing the Jackson Haines spin in Davos in 1906

Through the 1910's, professional skaters were pushing the spinning envelope far more than the amateurs. Remember Isabella Butler? The university educated mother who jumped "The Dip Of Death" with Barnum And Bailey, toured America skating on artificial ice and taught women to skate before they could vote? Well, her husband Tom, a stunt bicycle rider and circus man, met Joseph Chapman at the Brooklyn Rink and positively blew his mind with his spinning prowess. Chapman recalled, "I can see in my mind's eye [Butler] doing a sitting (or Haines) spin with one of his flexible legs reared straight up in front of him. Upon seeing this leg projecting straight and high in front of his face he, with the instinct that made him the highest paid clown at the Hippodrome, snatched his cap off his head and hung it on his upright toe, without interrupting in any way his gay and speedy whirl." Charlotte Oelschlägel, star of the Berlin Eisballets and the Hippodrome in New York City, often ended her programs not with her famous Charlotte spiral but with a Jackson Haines spin. She recalled, "On the stage of the Hippodrome I frequently execute difficult spins and jumps on one foot, and then on the other foot, not for the purpose of prolonging the number but for the purpose of showing I can do them equally well on either foot."

By the roaring twenties, the idea of finishing spins on a sustained backward edge as opposed to abruptly stabbing the ice with one's toe-pick or finishing with a toe-spin began to gain steam but Maribel Vinson-Owen recalled that in the women's ranks "spins were frowned upon in many circles as late as 1927." Gillis Grafström introduced the Grafström spin, done in a back outside position entered from a forward outside counter, with his tracing shoulder and arm held forward and free leg and hip back, his head looking over his free shoulder. He also introduced the earliest version of the flying sit spin and the change-foot sit spin. While amateur pairs teams peppered their performances with a couple of very basic waltz spins, professional pairs teams were already wowing audiences with the neck spin and an early incarnation of the headbanger. Vinson-Owen aptly noted in 1940 that in the amateur ranks prior to the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, a spin as rudimentary as the camel spin would have undoubtedly been frowned upon if it had suddenly made its appearance in competition, not to mention the hold-the-foot and back-bend variations which are accepted almost casually today." And that brings us to the camel spin and the layback spin... You might want to put a shot of Bailey's in your coffee before we get into this historical hot mess!

Famous Swiss born coaches Jacques Gerschwiler and Gustave Lussi made their marks as great teachers of skating on different sites of the Atlantic... and both had connections to the 'origin story' of the camel spin. Before we get to those, it's important to clarify that the camel spin wasn't originally called a camel spin. In the thirties when it rose to prominence - mainly in the women's ranks - it was known as an arabesque, parallel or airplane spin. Only when a skater performed the airplane spin poorly, claimed Maribel Vinson-Owen, it was referred to as a camel. Gerschwiler's young protégé Cecilia Colledge has historically been the skater given credit for the invention of both the camel and the layback (or backbend) as she was the first to perform them in international competition in the early thirties.

Cecilia Colledge performing a camel spin in 1934

However, Lussi frequently told his students that the spin originated at the Toronto Skating Club in the twenties and was called the Campbell spin, named after an Australian named Campbell who came to Toronto and created it. In a skating equivalent of the telephone game, claimed Lussi, 'Campbell' devolved into 'camel'. Who was this Australian who came to North America named Campbell that Lussi spoke of? Primary sources offer a clue to that little mystery. In May of 1930, Australian professional skaters Sadie Cambridge - not Campbell - and Albert Enders arrived in New York City aboard the S.S. Mauretania. That autumn, they performed at the St. Regis Hotel in New York... where Lussi directed and choreographed shows... and washed dishes back in 1915 after immigrating from Switzerland. Though Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders didn't move to Canada to teach skating until the early thirties, it's entirely possible that they made a trip to Toronto during their visit to North America in 1930. After all, the duo were performing adagio neck spins in the early twenties... certainly an advanced skill during that era. Maribel Vinson had a different theory entirely, stating in 1951, "I have been told... that [Charlotte Oelschlägel's] combination spins have never been excelled, including the camel spin, a move which was forgotten after Charlotte's return to Europe, only to be 'discovered' again in England in 1934." Whether Charlotte, Colledge, Sadie Cambridge or another Australian mystery skater named Campbell was the camel spin's inventor, by the late thirties, the spin was incredibly popular and the inside camel was being performed as well.

Sonja Henie performing a crossfoot spin

Sonja Henie, better known for her exceptionally fast flat-foot and crossfoot spins, originally performed the camel spin with a bent free leg position. After turning professional, she took a cue from another Jacques Gerschwiler student and straightened out her leg. Bill Unwin explained, "Although Sonja never admitted that she saw Belita [Jepson-Turner] skate, she did see Belita's 'Suspense' and 'Silver Skates'. Ted Shuffle said that once she'd seen Belita in those shows, she straightened her leg out on her camel [spin] and he said the line improved in Sonja's skating dramatically. He said Sonja skated way better in her films after she'd seen Belita's films than the previous ones."

Freddie Tomlins, one of the best male spinners during the thirties

The foot-in-hand Jackson Haines or 'Figure Four' spin in Canada - a precursor to the spin position we know today as the cannonball - also rose to prominence in the thirties, popularized by the students of Willie Frick.

Louis Rubenstein performing the 'Figure Four' spin in the nineteenth century

Maribel Vinson-Owen recalled, "One day in 1931 on my first visit to Willie's home city, Berlin, I was practicing at the Sports Palast, and in the course of things did a Jackson Haines, coming up holding my free leg with my hand close to my body, free knee bent at hip height and parallel to the ice. Immediately a man came dashing over to me, exclaiming, 'I know who your instructor is. Only Willie Frick could have taught you that spin.' At the time, of course, he was right, though since then pupils of many other teachers have learned it." Maribel adapted this spin to create her very own variation called the Vinson Spin, based on a pose suggested by Boston sculptor Leonard Craske. In the Vinson Spin, after spinning a few revolutions in the Foot-in-hand Jackson Haines position, the skater would stretch their free leg to the side "with a straight knee at head height, still of course holding the hand." Vinson-Owen also claimed to be "the first to do, at least on this continent" the 'Flip' airplane, a variation on the camel where the skater first performed an upright flat-foot spin then dipped or 'flipped'  forward into the camel spin. Essentially this was a upright/camel spin combination without a change of foot.

Megan Taylor showing her spinning prowess in Australia in 1939

Despite the many innovations to spinning that occurred in the thirties, the most important development was the focus on being centred and not travelling. This seemed to be something that Gerschwiler, Lussi, Frick and the rest of the 'elite' coaches of the period all actually seemed to agree on! Eminent British skater, judge and historian T.D. Richardson recalled that Gerschwiler "holds the theory, a subtle one at that, that the rotation in the spin comes from the check of the forward movement by the marked turning of the body, and that when a spin is not centred, that is to say when the skater is travelling as opposed to remaining in one place, it is because this forward movement has not been sufficiently checked."

Evelyn Chandler spinning up a storm in a hotel show in 1938

During World War II and the Sonja Henie boom when touring and hotel ice shows drew throngs of new fans to the sport, it was common practice for ice show producers to feature an exceptional spinner in a prominent role. Few casts were complete without a comedy act or two, a beautiful ice queen, an adagio pair and a skater with an uncanny knack to make audiences dizzy with their fast revolving pirouettes. Evelyn Chandler, one of the first female skaters to perform the double Salchow jump, was considered one of the best spinners in the professional world during this period and long
before he was Mr. Debonaire, Roy Shipstad was billed to audiences as 'The Human Top'. Long before triple jumps became the norm, audiences were simply captivated by the magic of spinning.

Roy Shipstad showing off his sublime spins

In the amateur world, Gustave Lussi led the way in another wave of spinning experimentation in the forties. "We tried all kinds of things like double Salchow into a toe spin," he recalled. Though Gillis Grafström and Marcus Nikkanen had experimented with a hop from a sit to back sit position in the twenties and thirties, it was Lussi's pupils who added the modern flying sit and flying open Axel sit spins to the repertoire of skating elements during this period.

Maribel Vinson-Owen's description of Marcus Nikkanen's flying sit spin

Dick Button has claimed that Arthur Vaughn, Jr. and William Grimditch were the first to perform the flying sit spin and Axel sit spin "correctly" during the War years and by the late forties, Button, Johnny Lettengarver, Jimmy Grogan and Eileen Seigh were all including flying sit spins in their free skating routines. Lussi later recalled, "One night I was talking in my sleep and rolling all over in bed. My wife woke me up and I sat straight up in bed and said, 'I've just invented the flying sit spin.' So I went in the next day and taught it to Buddy Vaughn [in 1942]. It wasn't as open then. With Hayes [Jenkins in the 1950's] we really started to open it up. He would really fly. But the greatest flying sit I had was [John] Misha Petkevich... he came down the rink full speed and let go like anything... Everyone had to scatter to get out of his way."

Lussi student Dick Button gave his invention, the 'modern' flying camel spin, its international debut at the 1947 World Championships in Stockholm. By the next year, everyone and their dog were performing his novel new spin, many calling it the Button camel. Button later reminisced, "I recall how steadfastly Mr. Lussi and I had worked on a Button camel, or flying camel, and how jealously I had guarded it its first year for fear a rival would see it and beat me to the punch by skating it in a competition. In skating, as in any field, once you have shown an original idea in public, opponents are surely to copy it if they can, and soon the new movement becomes a part of the standard technique."

Cecilia Colledge performing the jump-airplane spin in the thirties

Similarly to the case with Grafström and the flying sit, skaters had attempted to 'fly'
during the camel long before Button and Lussi developed the modern flying camel technique.  In 1940, Maribel Vinson-Owen described a "jump-airplane" spin, however it was dissimilar to Button's flying camel in that the jump didn't occur until after several rotations and not long after the skater jumped, they pulled into an upright position, exited the spin and called it a day.

Maribel Vinson-Owen demonstrating the jump-airplane spin 

According to Dick Button, we have France's Jacqueline du Bief to thank for the accidental invention of the illusion spin in the early thirties. He recalled, "Jacqueline, on beginning the [camel] spin, lost control, regained it, then lost it again, and was finally able to stabilize her position. At first she felt she was doing a terrible spin; then she began to emphasize her flailing arms, making the lurching of her body appear quite intentional. When a judge later questioned her about her unorthodox movements, she looked him dead straight in the eye, replying in complete sincerity that she had invented it (she didn't say when) to fit her style of skating and that she called it a 'Now I Have It, Now I Don't' spin. It gained her points in the competition."

Ronnie Robertson in action

Ronnie Robertson, who worked with Lussi, was a prodigal spinner known for his fast blur, corkscrew and crossfoot spins who earned international renown for his efforts in this department of skating in the fifties. Lussi's grandson claimed NASA once sent a team to study Robertson and how Lussi got his skaters to spin so fast and not get nauseous. Lussi claimed Robertson spun at 6.5 revolutions per second. In 1958, a roller skater named Rick Mullican invented the travelling camel entrance into the arabesque position. Though to this day more popular on rollers than on ice skates, figure skaters with roller skating backgrounds like Germany's Marina Kielmann, later translated the travelling camel entrance to the ice quite effectively.

Rosemarie Stewart and Bob Dench demonstrating the Dench Double Spin and pair camel spin

Though upstaged by dazzling lifts and death spirals, pairs spins developed greatly over the years as well. By the forties, amateur pairs teams had added the back outside double spin, combined double spin on inside edges in the spread eagle position and the Dench Double Spin to their routine. Germany's Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier and Austria's Ilse and Erik Pausin popularized side-by-side spins in the thirties. Herber and Baier have been credited as the first team to perform both the forward change-camel pair spin and change-foot side-by-side spins in the late thirties. Though Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders popularized the side-by-side Jackson Haines spin back during the roaring twenties, the athleticism and innovation of Herber and Baier and the Pausin's was arguably what pushed pairs teams to push the spin envelope. By the late fifties, pair spins in the Killian and Tango positions and side-by-side spins were old hat.

Tatiana Nemtsova of Russia performing a half Biellmann spin

Though Toller Cranston was the one who popularized the broken leg sit spin in the seventies, multiple instructional books on skating reveal that the spin was already well-known in the early sixties.

Heather Belbin in broken leg spin position in 1951

During the late fifties and early sixties, Soviet skaters Tatiana Nemtsova and Tamara (Bratus) Moskvina left their mark on the sport by performing variations of the camel spin where the leg or boot was held by their hand... precursors to the spin later popularized by Denise Biellmann as the Biellmann spin. Like the camel spin, the Biellmann spin's origin story is a fine example of why it is just plain irresponsible when studying history to definitively claim that anyone was 'the first' to do just about anything.

Jeannette Altwegg, Ája Vrzáňová and Joan Lister spinning up a storm in 1948

Swiss skater Karin Iten claimed that she'd invented the spin, child star Janet Champion was said to have performed it in the Ice Follies, World Professional Champion Pamela Prior was said to have performed it in the thirties. Cecilia Colledge even performed a one-handed spin that resembled the half Biellmann at the 1937 World Championships in London.

Patricia Pauley going in for the haircutter in the late fifties

Maribel Vinson-Owen described a "hold the foot airplane" in 1940 "in which the skating hand reaches around and grasps the heel of the free skate over an exaggeratedly arched back, either at the very entrance into the spin or after a bit of speed has been lost and the pull-away of the free leg has consequently died down somewhat." Especially considering that in the forties, fifties and sixties touring ice shows, hotel shows and British ice pantomimes featured dozens upon dozens of inventive spinners. pinpointing that one skater who performed both the 'half' and 'full' Biellmann spin first is a futile task.


Before Denise Biellmann drew acclaim for the spin that became her namesake, Dorothy Hamill was delighting audiences with her 'Hamill camel', which she debuted in competition as a junior at the 1970 U.S. Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In her book "A Skating Life: My Story", she recalled, "Gus Lussi had tried to teach me an interesting transition between my back camel spin and my back sit spin... I did my best to translate what Mr. Lussi had said but it was difficult, since he was unable to demonstrate it himself. So I came up with my version of what I thought he meant. Vera Wang and her partner Jimmy Stewart were training in Toronto that summer also. Jimmy would playfully tease me about my steadfast devotion to this new spin. He'd say, 'Hey, Hamill, how's your camel?' And the name stuck around. Everyone started referring to it as the Hamill Camel. It remains my trademark to this day."

Many have argued that in the eighties when great strides were made in the evolution of jumping, spinning suffered a lull. Dick Button claimed that spinning "hadn't been done as well since [Lussi] stopped teaching." Though there is perhaps some truth to these arguments, the decade of Dynasty hair, gaudy sequinned dresses and Safety Dancing wasn't without its exceptional spinners. Canadians Liz Manley, Gary Beacom and Kay Thomson were all quite sensational, the latter including a back layback and several other innovative variations on standard positions in her free skating programs that were very much ahead of their time. Alexander Fadeev did a double Axel into a sit spin, while his Soviet teammate Victor Petrenko was performing the layback, a rarity in the men's ranks. Natalia Mishkutenok and Artur Dmitriev wowed audiences with their 'Natalia Spin', a unique pair spin where Mishkutenok held Dmitriev's ankle while he spun in an upright position and she was upside down. Their coach Tamara (Bratus) Moskvina admitted to stealing the move "from a Canadian couple".


As women started landing triple Axels and men quads in the late eighties and early nineties, the narrative about spins being 'throwaway' rest period elements under the 6.0 system became a go-to for skating commentators, sportswriters and fans alike. However, it was during this decade that Denise Biellmann brought the Biellmann spin and headless scratch spin to the masses by winning professional competition after professional competition. It was also during this decade that Evgeni Plushenko became the first man to perform the Biellmann spin in international competition. Most importantly though, it was in the nineties that two prodigal young Swiss skaters left the jaws of audiences on the floor by really taking spinning to 'the next level'. Nathalie Krieg and Lucinda Ruh, both ahead of their time, were performing 'IJS' spins long before Salt Lake City and earning ovations not for what they did on the air, but what they accomplished while spinning around on the ice.


On July 1, 1997, British Champion Neil Wilson became the first skater to hold a Guinness World Record for the most rotations (sixty) per minute on one foot in a spin. Ruh later topped Wilson's record with one hundred and three rotations per minute, only to best her own record later the same day with one hundred and fifteen rotations. In 2006, Russia's Natalia Kannounikova more than doubled Ruh's record with three hundred and eight rotations per minute and in 2015, Olivia Rybicka-Oliver of Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia - at eleven years of age - toppled Kannounikova's record with three hundred and forty two rotations.


Over the course of the centuries, the evolution of spinning has been nothing short of remarkable. Without innovations in skate-making and the human desire to push boundaries and experiment with new positions and combinations of spins, figure skating certainly wouldn't be what it is today. Though the current 'IJS' system has perhaps overvalued the difficulty of unattractive 'features' at the cost of aesthetics and musicality in spinning, there's no denying that spins are finally being given the credit they have long been due in competitive figure skating.

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