Monday, 30 January 2017

Racism At The Rink

"Puck" magazine political cartoon depicting a person of colour on a skating chair at the Union Skating Pond

One year after civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March On Washington, a riot broke out at a Medford, Massachusetts skating rink when a young black man asked to cut in on a young couple ice dancing together. According to the July 30, 1964 issue of "The Age", "before the brief fracas ended, at least 10 people suffered minor injuries, and the stone-throwing, club-wielding crowd damaged a bus and turned over a police car... Fifty club-swinging police from five nearby communities broke up the disturbance. Several police were pushed and punched by rioters. Others said they were hit by rocks... To prevent further fighting, the police escorted groups of youths out of Sullivan Square and made sure the crowds dispersed quickly. Police from Malden, Somerville, Boston and Cambridge and the metropolitan district commission assisted in breaking up the riot."

Flashback to almost twenty years earlier, north of the border. In 1945, a fifteen year old Toronto student named Harry Gairey Jr. made his first trip to the Icelandia indoor arena on Yonge Street with his friend Donny Jubas. Jubas was Caucasian; Gairey a person of colour. Gairey started skating at the age of eight and regularly frequented the Varsity Arena and Ryerson Park rink but when he and Jubas arrived to skate at this new rink on Yonge Street one day that winter, everything changed. "I go up to buy tickets and the guy says to me, 'We can't sell your friend a ticket,' I turn around and look behind me, then I turn back and say, 'Are you talking to me?' And he says, 'Yeah, I'm talking to you. We don't sell tickets to Negroes. We don't let them in here. So do you want only one ticket?' And I turn and say, 'Let's get out of here,'" Jubas recalled in a February 16, 2009 article in the "Toronto Star".

Like a broken record of Mabel Fairbanks' experiences in New York City, rink racism was still very much alive and well in many North American cities during that era... and like Fairbanks, Gairey didn't turn the other cheek. His father, a Pullman porter, had studied race relations and arranged a meeting with Alderman Norman Creed which alerted Mayor Robert Hood Saunders to the situation. Twenty five University Of Toronto students picketed the Icelandia rink with signs saying  "Color Prejudice Must Go" and "Racial Discrimination Should Not Be Tolerated". Two years later, as a direct result of the rink's refusal to admit Gairey, Toronto's city council passed an ordinance against discrimination based on race, colour, creed or religion. Gairey's father became a prominent activist for civil rights and the rink where Gairey, Jr. and Jubas skated as children was renamed the Harry Ralph Gairey Ice Rink. At the naming ceremony, Gairey and Jubas rekindled their childhood friendship.

In terms of breaking down colour barriers, skating has come a long, long way since the earlier decades of the twentieth century. There have been Olympic and World medallists of colour like Debi Thomas, Robin Szolkowy and Surya Bonaly. Just this past week, Vanessa James became the first woman of colour to win a medal at the European Championships in pairs skating.


Over the course of the next couple of weeks in conjunction with Black History Month, we'll be exploring the historical impact of persons of colour in the skating world on Skate Guard and I sincerely hope that these stories - some heartwarming, some heartbreaking - serve as a reminder of how far the skating world has come but how far it still has to go.

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.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Back In The USSR, Part Three: Ice Dancing's Humble Beginnings In The Soviet Union


"Perhaps the USSR will soon occupy all three rungs of the stand of honor." - Tamara (Bratus) Moskvina, "Skating" magazine, April 1970

Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, Maya Usova and Alexander Zhulin... It would really be quite easy to assume from thinking back on these legendary names that ice dancers from The Soviet Union were always dominant. However, like everything else in figure skating history, everything begins somewhere.

In 1958, Svetlana Smirnova and Leonid Gordon made history at the European Championships in Bratislava as the first Soviet ice dance team to compete in a major ISU international competition. They finished dead last. Prior to taking up ice dancing, Smirnova had been a pairs skater with partner Yuri Nevsky. Nevsky had previously skated pairs with Ludmila Belousova before she teamed up with Oleg Protopopov and when he retired from competitive skating in 1957, he took on a major role in popularizing ice dance in the Soviet Union.

In the September 1962 issue of "Skating World" magazine, Nevsky wrote, "Ice dancing had been practiced in the Soviet Union at public rinks long before the USSR Federation became affiliated with the ISU. But it was merely a pastime for those who attended the rinks after their daily work and found pleasure in skating to music. The number of ice dances in those early days did not exceed a dozen, and the patterns were rather primitive, being based on simple edges. These were mainly polka, tango and foxtrot movements, waltzes (to both slow and fast tempo) and some dances converted to the ice from the ballroom, of the Pas de Grace and Pas d'Espagne type." Aside from recreational performance, the most audience that these dances really received was at carnivals.

Lynn Copley-Graves' wonderful 1992 book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" noted that "while reading the USFSA magazine 'Skating' in 1955, Yuri happened upon some ISU dances. He showed them to others and sparked interest in competitions using ISU regulations. Within a year, skaters at the public rinks embraced the new dances, calling them 'sporting dances'. Poor technical ability hampered progress because knowledge of edges, cross rolls, mohawks, etc. was scanty. As the Soviet skaters fumbled through the European Waltz, Foxtrot and Fourteenstep patterns, interest waned. The highly qualified skaters - those who could handle the intricacies of these dances - snubbed them, unconsciously associating them with the old dances. To them, the dances were 'a new toy for beginners or for those who attended the rinks for fun.' Only a few of the leading figure skaters recognized the worth of the new dancing. Among them were Yuri's pair partner Svetlana Smirnova and Leonid Gordon."

Coached by Larisa Novozhilova, Smirnova and Gordon learned fourteen ISU compulsory dances in a year and gave exhibitions in St. Petersburg but perhaps discouraged by their loss in Bratislava, turned professional and joined an ice ballet. However, their brief but pioneering step to putting ice dance on the map as a bona fide sporting discipline added credibility to these new dances, and it wasn't long before the Soviet federation adapted these 'new ISU dances' into their competitive structure and developed a three-tiered testing system with four levels in each tier. Within ten years, ice dancing had became so popular in the Soviet Union that qualifying competitions were instituted to whittle down the number of senior ice dance teams at the National Championships to fifteen.

Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov

By 1969, Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov were on the European and World podium. Their secret? Choreography from The Bolshoi Ballet. As compared to the severely contrasting style of the dominant British teams of that era, it would be the Soviet ice dancer's infusion of classical dance into their ice dancing that would give them that edge for years to come. Talk about a contrast from initial resistance to innovation!

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, 26 January 2017

Back In The USSR, Part Two: Training Behind The Iron Curtain


"We can only guess at what age human 'motor bricks' are formed. But considering hundreds of years of ballet experience in Russia and the fact that the Moscow Ballet School students start at age seven, we have to presume that at age twelve, 'motor bricks' are already rather 'firm' and it is hard, if not impossible, to get rid of incorrect 'pronunciation' in body motion. - Dr. Sergei Aleshinsky

It wasn't until the sixties that the Soviet Sports Program started taking figure skating seriously. Prior to that, as Henry W. Morton noted in his 1963 book "Soviet Sport: Mirror Of The Soviet Society" sports with low military potential like figure skating and tennis just weren't paid much credence. Initially, unless officials believed that a skater could contend for a medal they simply weren't 'good enough' to be sent to international events.

Galina Beskina of Moscow, who took from Boris Podkopaev

However, with the success of many Soviet skaters abroad as the sixties wore on, the Soviet Sports Program began to recognize the potential of competitive figure skating. They took concerted steps to get people on the ice. Morton explained that "in winter, which is usually severe and lasts from six to eight months, skating surfaces in cities are flooded to provide frozen pathways in parks and near large stadia." The whole point of this would have been to not only promote physical education, but to get people in skates and moving. It was all about hand picked talent identification sweetie. Among those who first learned to skate on a flooded sports field? None other than the legendary Tamara Moskvina herself.


A great example of the push to get more and more skaters on the ice during this period comes from Miriam Morton's 1974 book  "The Making Of Champions: Soviet Sports For Children And Teenagers". Morton writes that "there is also a countrywide movement to teach figure skating to masses of children. The 'Pionerskaya Pravda' and the figure skating schools are encouraging this. In Moscow, for instance, there are posters at every skating rink inviting children and teenagers to enroll for free instruction and practice. To give balance to the program, these figure skating centers offer calisthetics, elements of music appreciation, and ballet dancing... Marina Sanaya began her training in one of these centers. When she was thirteen, she participated in the world championship competition in Calgary, Canada. 'So far,' reported a Soviet sports journalist with a touch of humor, 'her biggest reward has been a kiss and a big hug from her parents, but she skated with champions Karen Magnussen and Janet Lynn.'"

Lynn Copley-Graves, in her wonderful book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" noted that in the late sixties and early seventies "Soviet skating developed rapidly as skaters and coaches took back training techniques and ideas for competitive tiers from their interactions abroad. By 1969, Soviet competitors could work up through club, city, provincial and national meets... Ice time was no problem, because competitors could attend school in the morning or afternoon or fit training time around their work schedule. Everyone either worked or went to school. Dressmakers were paid to design costumes for the competitors to fit the music or theme, and competitors had access to the Union House of Music or Conservatory to pick out music... Most World Class skaters trained in Moscow or Leningrad, drilling the same whether for pairs or dance... At Moscow's Crystal Palace, Nancy D'Wolf watched six skaters go through drills that seemed like 100 of everything for two hours: Axels, Argentine twizzles, waltz jump split lifts, Kilian patterns. The warmup readied them for program run-throughs... There were no tests at the lower levels. Either trainers passed their students on to the next level of proficiency, or the students achieved the next level by winning a certain event. Soviet skaters were called 'sportsmen,' not athletes; those considered 'pros' skated in shows. When the sportsmen practiced, no one else could used the ice. In August, the Moscow rink closed to all other skating to let the sportsmen train for the upcoming season. As skaters progressed to higher competitive levels, they received more ice time."

Promising young skaters received free skating attire and competed against the students of other coaches. Each city's training bases held regular competitions, closed to the public. The objectives of these city competitions weren't just to offer skaters competitive opportunities but also to identify potential international competitors, the national competition in the Soviet Union not being the sole basis on which international assignments were selected. By the seventies, the Soviet Union had over fifty artificial rinks and four thousand competitive figure skaters.

Copley-Graves further explained, "Lower-level skaters trained three hours a day and world class [ones] put in four hours a day on the ice. Exercise programs - running and floor exercises imitating figure skating technique - supplemented on-ice practice in a deliberately prolonged training cycle to make skaters peak later in life. To develop instructional techniques, Soviet trainers analyzed videotapes of top World competitors... One aspect of Soviet training is to develop skaters equally in both directions, instead of just counterclockwise... While Western skating associations struggled with methods for guaranteeing accreditation of coaches, the Soviet system set up Institutes of Physical Culture. Even the best skaters had to graduate from an institute to coach. Medical doctors and scientists - many among them former competitors - researched the mechanics, physics and biology of figure skating. Skating coaches were, thus, specialists and commanded high social status; they worked independently with the less advanced skaters. Ballet choreographers helped coaches arrange [programs] and exhibition numbers for the elite competitors...  Many retired sportsmen went on to coach the youngsters. The Soviet government considered a full-time job as working 16 hours a week, and they spread the word to keep everyone employed. Thus, the many instructors worked on a rotation basis."

Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev

The Soviet Union's identification of the relationship between physics and figure skating technique understandably gave Soviet skaters an edge and interestingly, an American coach of renown who I spoke with explained that a Soviet skating manual discussing physics was indeed smuggled into the U.S. by a Russian coach and this information has indeed been disseminated and passed on through oral tradition to several American coaches over the years.

Another obvious advantage that Soviet skaters had was dance training. Elena Tchaikovskaya was one of the eminent coaches who stressed the importance of ballet training to coaches and Sergei Alechinsky, in the September-October 1988 edition of "Professional Skaters Magazine" noted that "the students of the Soviet specialized figure skating schools begin to attend ballet classes at about the same time they are selected for the school (about six years old)."

Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov at the 1986 World Championships in Geneva

Although the concept of the Soviet Union's training system may seem completely foreign to those of us living in other countries, there's no denying that many aspects of their system, in particular the study of physics and implementation of ballet training, were really ahead of their time. Like it or not, the system certainly produced more champions that you can shake a skate guard at.

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, 24 January 2017

Back In The USSR, Part One: Propaganda And The Soviet Sports Program


"Take our warning:
If you want to keep your health,
Don't you ever,
Wait for doctors, act yourself.
Bathe in cold water every morning
If you want to keep your health."

- Soviet health and sport propaganda blasted over loudspeakers at the Central Stadium, Spartakiad, 1956

Back in April of last year, we took a look at the first skating club in Russia and some of Russia's first skaters of note. In today's blog, I want to return to the region and explore just how figure skating began its sickeningly slow rise to prominence under the Soviet state. Let's start by taking a look at some of the problems facing figure skating in the period leading up to the December 29, 1922 formation of The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Prior to the formation of the Soviet Union, many athletes competing winter sports received little to no funding, which greatly impacted their ability to travel to international competitions. In fact, seeing as Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin competed at the 1903 World Championships and Lidia Popova and A.L. Fischer at the 1908 World Championships in their home country, the only Russian skaters between 1900 and 1922 who competed ABROAD at a World Championships were Fedor Datlin, Ivan Malinin, Sergei Wanderfliet and Xenia Caesar. In fact, winter sports funding on the whole during this period was so bad that in 1912, European and World speed skating champion Nikolai Strunnikov left the sport when he was refused financial support for his trips to compete abroad.

Russian Studies lecturer James Riordan explained in his 1977 book "Sport In Soviet Society: Development Of Sport And Physical Education In Russia And The USSR" that this period of scant international representation in Russia was moreso "a busy time for the organized sports movement, with tentative government backing and overall control. More and more clubs were formed, schools and courses of physical training were established in the larger cities." We also learn from Riordan that from 1917 to 1920, skating became a sport which gained more focus. "The existing Vsevobuch training programme was extended from 96 hours to 576 hours in urban areas and to 436 hours in rural localities, spread over two years... The new programme also made provision for lectures in hygiene, anatomy and physiology." As you can tell by the years, this increased focus on developing skating as a sport predated the official start of the Soviet Union. Although during the period of the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet Sports Program was already rearing up.

Soviet figurine of female figure skater, twentieth century

The first official championships of the Soviet Union may have been held in Moscow in 1923 and won by Yuriy Zel'dovich but why did it take so long for the Soviet Union to start pumping out champion after champion? Yuri Brokhin's book "The Big Red Machine The Rise And Fall Of Soviet Olympic Champions" may provide an important clue that held true for several decades in the Soviet Union: "To be admitted to a skating school is more difficult than to pass the entrance exams at Moscow University. First, there are few such schools. Most of these, located in Moscow and Leningrad, enjoy a cachet comparable to that of the most exclusive of Connecticut's country clubs. Even the bureaucrats admit that the mass approach seen in other Soviet sports is absent in figure skating, if only because of the limited availability of artificial ice. More important, countless hours of work with a large group of specialists are demanded for every pair of world-class youngsters."

Lynn Copley-Graves' book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" noted that during the mid fifties, "Walter Powell asked the Soviet delegates why a country so interested in the arts did not send skaters to Worlds. [Nikolai] Panin, still alive in Leningrad, had been the last prominent Soviet skater half a century earlier. Walter asked to visit Moscow during the World Speed Skating Championships in February. The USSR Sports Section issued Walter, ISU President James Koch, and Secretary Georg Hasler an official invitation. Inside Russia, the three visitors witnessed a 'renaissance of figure skating'. Panin had written the Russian rulebook on skating, about 200 pages long, illustrated with photos of skaters doing some of the 41 official figures recognized by the ISU and its member associations. Three new artificial rinks were planned in Moscow, and the USSR was about to hold its first exclusive national figure skating championships. Previously the country had hosted international meets, but none just for Soviet skaters. The three visitors left with the sense that they would welcome Soviet skaters into the world figure skating community at large."

Now that we've touched somewhat on the development of figure skating as a bona fide sport under the Soviet Sports Program, I want to go back to the quote from the very beginning of today's blog and explore the role propaganda played in luring in youth athletes. The 1951 poster heading today's blog translates to "if you want to be like me - just train!" The "Pionerskaya Pravda" and "Izvestiia" newspapers were widely considered to be under the government's thumb and the Soviet Sports Program's own newspaper, "Sovetskii Sport", periodically ran pieces on its top figure skaters. "Les Nouvelles de Moscou" (The Moscow News) sponsored the annual skating competition of the same name and the propaganda machine was in full swing there too. Barukh Hazan's 1982 book "Soviet Impregnational Propaganda" noted that skaters from the Soviet Union were "asked to make public semi-political statements which are consequently amplified by Moscow's other instruments of propaganda."

Stay tuned! Part two of this three part series on Soviet skating history will venture a bit forth in time and explore what can be discerned of training conditions behind the Iron Curtain. You don't want to miss 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.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Bridging Borders: The Stories Of The First Two Canadian Men's Champions

In the early days of competitive 'fancy' skating in Canada, skaters from the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa were a dominant force. Today on the blog, we'll meet two fascinating pioneering men from the most wonderful country in the world's capital who paved the way for the skaters of the future. Canada's first two champions in men's figure skating, Ormonde B. Haycock and Douglas H. Nelles, may have just been names on a paper to you before but after learning their stories I think you will be as fascinated by these two 'gentlemen skaters' as I was.  

ORMONDE B. HAYCOCK

Ormonde coaching at the Olympia Skating Club in Detroit. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Born in Ottawa on September 4, 1880, Ormonde 'Ormie' Butler Haycock was the son of of Richard Henry Haycock and Mary LaFontaine. He had one brother and four sisters, one of which grew up to be a senator's wife. Although educated in public schools and at the Lisgar Collegiate School before his father got him a job as the assistant manager of the Canada Life Assurance Company, Ormonde grew up in a skating family and throughout his colourful life, skating is always what this man seemed to turn to.

Ormonde was one of the founders of the Minto Skating Club and a long time executive member. He was also instrumental in the initial organization of the skating club's junior program. His obituary from "The Ottawa Citizen" suggested "he was eight times champion of Canada", but this is incorrect. Although Ormonde 'only' won four Canadian men's titles (in 1905, 1906, 1908 and 1911), he won five Canadian pairs titles, making that nine. One of those pairs titles was won with his sister Aimee, who also won two Canadian women's titles. Ormonde and his other sister Katherine won two pairs titles together and not to be outdone, a third sister named Oswald - who went on to marry Colonel Ivan McSloy - finished second in the now long defunct Waltz event at the Canadian Championships in 1910.

Ormonde Haycock, Lady Evelyn Grey, Eleanor Kingsford and Philip Chrysler

Ormonde's other two national pairs titles were won with Lady Evelyn Grey, the youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Grey. Ormonde was also a member of the Connaught Four which won the North American championship in 1910. In 1911, Ormonde won the Earl Grey Cup for skating teamwork along with Lady Evelyn Grey (the youngest daughter of Lord and Lady Grey), Eleanor Kingsford (later Mrs. John Law) and Philip Chrysler. As many Canadian skating records were lost in the 1949 Minto Skating Club Fire, it's certainly possible that records of more of Ormonde's earlier championship wins went up in flames as well. We do know he competed internationally against Irving Brokaw in a men's event in New York in 1905 and travelled to Great Britain with a group of Canadian skaters in his heyday.

What many don't know about this Canadian skating pioneer is that in addition to his proficiency on the ice, he was equally as comfortable on water that wasn't frozen. As well as being a sailing enthusiast, Ormonde was an accomplished sculler. An early member of the Ottawa Rowing Club, he won rowing championships in Ottawa, St. Catharines and Washington from 1904 to 1906 and in 1906 was part of a four man crew that won an international rowing event in Detroit, Michigan. Ormonde was also musically talented and deeply fond of music. He played several instruments and even composed for piano.

On March 8, 1916 (a year after World War I started) Ormonde enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and went overseas to serve in anti-aircraft batteries. Unlike many, he lived to tell about the war and went back into the insurance business. That didn't last long... and the lure of his lifelong passion for skating returned. After getting married to his wife Florence, Ormonde's increasing interest in teaching skating led him to leave Ottawa to coach skating in Toronto and Lake Placid. Christie Sausa's book "Lake Placid: A Skating History" noted that Ormonde was "fabulously popular" and "performed in the three winter ice carnival skating exhibitions held each winter, in addition to his coaching duties." He later coached in Detroit and Cleveland for a time before making the trek to New York. In the early thirties, Ormonde also worked with skaters in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. He choreographed, directed and performed in the Buffalo Skating Club's 1932 club carnival which was attended by an audience of three thousand, five hundred people.

Ormonde passed away at the age of fifty eight on August 18, 1938 in Canandaigua, New York at his summer home after several months of illness. Although his name or story isn't as remembered as many Canadian skating greats who followed, his legacy is one of a lifelong dedication to the sport we all know and love. Ormonde didn't just help to build skating in one country but did it in two at a time when the competition between Canadian and American skaters was every bit as fierce as it is today. I think we all owe this long lost pioneer a tip of the hat and a big thank you!

DOUGLAS H. NELLES


Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada

Born March 26, 1881 in Grimsby, Ontario, Douglas Henry Nelles was the son of Beverly and Louisa (Buckwell) Nelles. His father was a fruit grower and packer and it's no surprise that young Douglas spent much of his youth outdoors helping with the family business. By his early twenties, Douglas had studied civil engineering and gained employment with the Dominion Land Survey. Travelling with a party of men into the harsh wilderness of Hugh Miller Inlet, Glacier Bay and Skagway and living in tents on the borders of Canada and Alaska, his job was at times quite dangerous.

Douglas H. Nelles and an orderly setting up camp in the wilderness. Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada

Late in the first decade of the twentieth century, Douglas moved to Ottawa and found work as a civil engineer. It was there that he first truly embraced the great art of figure skating. Not long after joining the Minto Skating Club, he claimed the 1910 and 1912 Canadian senior men's titles and the 1912 national pairs title with Eleanor Kingsford. After marrying Marjorie Katura Stowe Wainwright in January 1914, he took a hiatus from skating and served overseas with the Canadian Forestry Corps during World War I, reaching the rank of Major. He was demobilized in 1919 and returned to Canada via Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia aboard the HMT Minnekahda.

Less than a year after he returned to Canada, Douglas was back on the ice. In 1920, he teamed up with Alden Goldwin to claim his second Canadian pairs title and capped off his competitive career with a bronze at the 1922 Canadian Championships with D.F. Secord. While working as a manufacturer, he toiled away behind the scenes as a builder with the Amateur Skating Association of Canada and the Minto Skating Club. One of his greatest accomplishments was his work with Major Clarence E. Steeves and Melville Rogers in organizing the highly successful 1931 North American Championships in Ottawa.

Although Douglas and his wife suffered a devastating loss when a son died in childbirth in 1933, they took great pride in their daughter Muriel and son Arthur. The latter turned out to be every ounce the great skater his father was. After showing promise as a young skater at the Minto Skating Club, Arthur Douglas Nelles turned professional and appeared in the Arthur M. Wirtz show "It Happens On Ice" at the Center Theatre with Hedy Stenuf, Skippy Baxter and The Caley Sisters. Sadly, Douglas H. Nelles, one of Canada's first great skating champions, passed away December 7, 1960 at the age of seventy nine.

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, 19 January 2017

The 1987 Canadian Figure Skating Championships


Thirty years ago Brian Mulroney was Prime Minister, lovers of great literature were mourning the death of famed author Margaret Laurence, Wang Chung's "Everybody Have Fun Tonight" topped the Canadian music charts and many of Canada's best figure skaters convened in Ottawa, Ontario for the first Canadian Figure Skating Championships to be held in the country's capital city since 1958. 

Held from February 1 to 8, 1987, the 1987 Canadian Figure Skating Championships were a star-studded affair attended by a who's who of Canadian figure skating. Compulsory figures were skated at the Nepean Sportsplex and free skating events were held at the Ottawa Civic Centre. The competition marked the first time in history that the Canadian Championships had a title sponsor. Sugar-free sweetener company NutraSweet was the ironic choice, since reporters boasted of the seemingly endless supply of sugar-laden donuts and plates of candy that were served up by members of the Nepean Skating Club in the media room. 

The event was broadcast on CTV and commentated by Johnny Esaw, Debbi Wilkes and Brian Pockar. Prior to the event, then CFSA President David Dore remarked, "We have dynamic power in our lead people, but we don't seem to have the same quality below them. We're hoping that others will come along this week to offer challenges... Our elite athletes have qualified us for a large world team and it's very important that the backup people also perform at a high level." If the remarkable stories from this event are any indication, skaters at all levels lived up to their potential. Grab yourself a cup of coffee - sweetened with NutraSweet, of course - and hop in the top machine. Today we're taking a look back at the skaters and stories from this exciting competition!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

Thirteen year old Brigitte Richer and sixteen year old Michel Brunet, Quebecers representing the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa, dominated the novice ice dance event from start to finish. Stacey Ball and Jeffrey Gavin of Ontario won the novice pairs event ahead of Quebec's Marie-Josée Fortin and Jean-Michel Bombardier and Jodi Dawson and David Wood, young students of Kerry Leitch from the Preston Figure Skating Club. Winning her first medal at the Canadian Championships, a young Karen Preston of the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club finished third in the novice women's event behind Margot Bion and Josée Arseneault. In his debut at Nationals, seventeen year old Glenn Fortin of the Quinte Figure Skating Club narrowly defeated Andrew Hoddinott in the school figures. He maintained his lead in the free skate to win the novice men's title ahead of a young Sébastien Britten. Hoddinott dropped to third.

Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Michelle Menzies and Kevin Wheeler, representing the Preston and Brussels Figure Skating Clubs, vaulted to victory in the junior pairs event ahead of fifteen year old Twana Rose of Weyburn, Saskatchewan and her nineteen year old partner, Colin Epp of Vancouver. Jodi Barnes of Pitt Meadows and Rob Williams of Maple Ridge, settled for the bronze. Ontarians Catherine Pal and Donald Godfrey dominated the junior dance event. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "they had not only presence... but also a commanding, well-matched style. Dressed in purple and orange folk costumes, they lit up the ice with their flashy Hungarian program skated in European style." A young Jacqueline Petr and Mark Janoschak finished second, followed by Pamela Watson and Aimée LeBlanc.

After finishing third in the junior women's event at the 1986 Canadian Championships in North Bay, Angie Folk of the Glencoe Club moved up to take the gold when the two skaters who had placed ahead of her the year before moved up to the senior ranks. Josée Arseneault of the Club de Patinage Artistique Stellaire de Baie Comeau finished second ahead of 1986 novice champion Joelle Batten of Chatham. Twenty year old Norm Proft of North Vancouver shouldn't have even been in Ottawa. He finished sixth at the Western Divisionals but when two skaters who ranked ahead of him pulled out, he got the fourth spot in his division after paying a twenty five dollar late fine out of his earnings as a waiter to his section, who had to meet at the eleventh hour to approve his entry. He was fifth in figures, skated a clean short program to finish second behind a young Marcus Christensen of Toronto. In the free skate, he moved up to take the gold ahead of figures winner Bernard Munger of Ste. Foy, Quebec and Saskatoon's Brent Frank.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

At twenty eight, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia's Rob McCall was the oldest of the two hundred and forty three skaters in Ottawa. McCall and his twenty five year old partner Tracy Wilson were clear favourites in the senior ice dance event. It was a year of change for the defending champions. They had parted ways with longtime coach Bernard Ford and were working primarily with Marijane Stong and John Brisco, They took a strong lead in the compulsory dances ahead of Calgary siblings Karyn and Rod Garossino, Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, Penny Mann and Richard Perkins and Michelle McDonald and Michael Farrington but their biggest test of the event would be the OSP. After a poor review from the referee at the Novarat Trophy in Budapest, they had ditched their German military themed Viennese Waltz and opted for Strauss' "Tales Of Vienna Woods", which McCall termed "a parody" of the theme. At the time, he explained, "I'm a prince - which is perfect type-casting - and she's a pauper. She's my prop. We always sort of add a little story to our numbers." The new program earned them marks from 5.6 from 5.8 and only expanded their already healthy lead. Disaster struck Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers. They finished a shocking sixth in the OSP after a fall and a stumble and dropped to fifth overall, behind the Garossino's, Mann and Perkins and McDonald and Farrington, who actually placed third in that segment of the competition. Lynn Copley-Graves recalled that in the free dance, "Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall had no competition. The intricate footwork in their free dance brought out the best of Duke Ellington. Clever stunts and antics took this dance beyond the traditional... The circusy march tunes of Karyn and Rod Garossino from 'The Great Waldo Pepper' did not hypnotize like their allegorical 'Romeo and Juliet', but they entertained and skated well to retain second place. Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, 20 and 22, trained by Roy Bradshaw, seemed reticent to interact and reveal themselves through their skating and would have benefited from acting or mime classes. Skating controversially to Southern American tunes, Scott presented Jo-Anne much of the time, and in these segments she opened up. They skated with power and unison." They managed to move up and take the bronze ahead of Mann and Perkins, McDonald and Farrington, Erica Davenport and Mark Mitchell and Melanie Cole and Martin Smith and earn the third spot on the 1987 World Team.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


Mark Rowsom. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Twenty one year old Cynthia Coull of Greenfield Park and twenty seven year old Mark Rowsom of Comber, Ontario lead after the senior pairs short program. The students of Kerry Leitch who represented the Preston Figure Skating Club couldn't seem to put a foot wrong but their efforts were overshadowed by the second place team, whose story was the talk of the competition. A very serious fall on a lift in practice the autumn before the competition left twenty five year old Doug Ladret with a double skull fracture. Despite his injury, he arrived in Ottawa with his seventeen year old partner Christine Hough and an addition to his costume: a helmet. The February 4, 1987 issue of "The Vancouver Sun" noted CFSA officials claim that it was the "first helmet ever worn by a skater during a competition." Ladret sported his black helmet for the first half of his short program but after performing the same lasso lift that caused him his injury, he took it off mid-performance, handed it to coach Dave Howe and kept going. The crowd went berserk. A fall on footwork by Hough was the only thing to detract from their gutsy performance. Denise Benning of Windsor, Ontario and Lyndon Johnston of Hamiota, Manitoba, together for a year, finished third after Benning fell on a side-by-side double loop. In a classical free skate set to the music of Riccardo Drigo, Coull and Rowsom were again spectacular. Their only major error was a miss by Rowsom on a side-by-side double Axel attempt. Benning and Johnston wowed the crowd with their signature statue lift, a variation on the platter lift where she flipped in the air on the exit, but struggled on jumping passes. Hough fell on a throw triple Salchow and both she and Ladret unfortunately lost steam in the latter half of their program.

Christine Hough and Doug Ladret at the 1987 Canadian Championships. Margaret Burwell photo.

In the end, it was Coull and Rowsom first, Benning and Johnston second and Hough and Ladret third. A notable face missing in Ottawa was Lloyd Eisler. When his latest partner Karen Westby retired due to injury, he had teamed up with a young woman named Isabelle Brasseur. They intended to make their debut the following season.

THE FOURS COMPETITION

For the fourth year in a row, Lyndon Johnston found himself atop the podium in the fours competition at the Canadian Championships. In 1987, he shared the victory with his pairs partner Denise Benning, Laureen Collin of the Preston Figure Skating Club and John Penticost of the Club de Patinage Artistique Chateauguay. Again sporting his helmet, Doug Ladret finished second with Christine Hough, Michelle Menzies and Kevin Wheeler. The bronze medal went to Cynthia Coull, Mark Rowsom, Melanie Gaylor and Lee Barkell.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Charlene Wong and Elizabeth Manley at the 1987 Canadian Championships. Margaret Burwell photos.

Twenty one year old Elizabeth Manley got a bye through the Eastern Divisionals to Ottawa as she had a flu over Christmas that laid her up for two weeks. Asked about losing her Canadian title to Tracey Wainman the year before prior to the event, she said, "It's in the past. I got some satisfaction out of beating her at the Worlds at Geneva a month later." In her 1991 book "Thumbs Up!" Manley recalled her confidence in Ottawa in 1987: "Just before we drove to the arena for the compulsory figures, Peter [Dunfield] looked at me and said, 'Elizabeth, this is the moment to take your title back. You can do it. Your figures are there, your programs are right, and you're prepared. Just go out there and remember all the things we've discovered.' He hugged me, and I felt a surge of confidence that stayed with me all the way through the competition." She followed his advice, tying the Royal Glenora Club's Patricia Schmidt on the first figure and winning the other two. A surprising third was St. Albert, Alberta's Joelle Tustin, who had missed the 1986 Canadian Championships and placed eleventh in 1985. Linda Florkevich, who had beaten Schmidt at the Western Divisionals, was fourth and Pierrefonds, Quebec's Charlene Wong (also training with the Dunfield's in Gloucester) was sixth. An unlucky thirteenth and last was Mississauga's Lindsay Fedosoff, who arrived at the Nepean Sportsplex for the school figures with a mismatched pair of skates - a left free skating boot and a right figures boot.


In the short program, Manley expanded her lead with a clean but cautious program. Instead of going for her planned triple Lutz combination, she instead performed a gorgeous triple toe-loop/double loop combination and ended up with marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.8. Schmidt and Florkevich both also skated cleanly to finish second and third. An overrotation on a triple toe-loop attempt only allowed Charlene Wong to climb one spot in the standings. Dressed in black and gold for the free skate, Manley reclaimed her Canadian title despite errors on four of the five triples she attempted, including a hand down on the Lutz and a fall on the loop. Interviewed by Paul Hunter in the February 8, 1987 edition of "The Toronto Star", she explained, "I'm not trying to make excuses or anything but the second knot on my landing [skate] broke and my whole skate became loose. I just couldn't get a grip on the landings. I was unsure what to do so I just skated with it." Why didn't Manley stop? She simply was not sure what to do at first but ultimately just decided to just power through. Quoted by Martin Cleary in the February 9, 1987 edition of "The Ottawa Citizen", she explained, "After the fall, I panicked. I said to myself, 'You can't stop now, girl.'" Sixteen year old Diane Takeuchi actually finished second in the free skate with the only two triple performance of the competition ahead of Florkevich and Schmidt, but Patricia Schmidt's strong performances in the figures and short program kept her in second overall ahead of Florkevich.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Crediting his improvement in the school figures to his work with sports psychologist Peter Jensen and former Olympic Medallists Karol Divín and Jimmy Grogan, twenty five year old Brian Orser skated three of the best figures of his career to that point to take a strong lead ahead of 1986 Canadian Silver Medallist Neil Paterson of British Columbia, although Paterson did beat him on the final figure, the loop. Twenty one year old Kurt Browning of Caroline, Alberta was third, twenty year old Michael Slipchuk of Edmonton fourth and Mark MacVean of the Gloucester Skating Club fifth. After badly spraining his right ankle in a pre-competition practice, 1986 Canadian Bronze Medallist Jaimee Eggleton finished a disastrous eleventh and withdrew from the competition.


Orser was spectacular in the short program, landing a triple Axel and earning 5.9's from all seven judges for technical merit and one 5.9 and six 6.0's for technical merit. Paterson remained in second, ahead of Browning, who landed a rare (for him) triple Lutz combination.


All Brian Orser needed to do was show up for the free skate and the gold was pretty much his. Instead, he skated his "Ladyhawke" program lights out, went for two triple Axels and earned ten 5.9's and four 6.0's.  In winning, he became the first person since Montgomery Wilson to win seven consecutive Canadian senior men's titles. Browning moved up to second. In his 1991 book "Kurt: Forcing The Edge", he recalled, "The free skate was my best to date. Only Orser received higher marks. I landed five triples, was marked in the 5.6 to 5.8 range... [and stood] on the podium with the silver medal around my neck. As a bonus, Slipchuk came on strongly enough to win the bronze, ensuring that we'd be headed for the States together. The door to the world championships had swung open at last." Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, when one door opens another closes. After landing a triple Axel, Paterson two-footed his triple flip and triple toe and doubled his triple loop and tumbled off the podium. Considering he had cracked the top ten at the 1985 World Championships in Tokyo, his loss had to have been devastating at the time. Matthew James Hall of the Minto Skating Club finished sixth in his senior debut; Mark MacVean seventh.

The names and faces may have changed since 1987 but one thing is certain this week in Ottawa at the 2017 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships... we're in for another exciting competition full of the same amount of drama, excitement and fabulous skating!

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, 17 January 2017

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: Skating Hair Through The Years


Keep it under your hat... but we're going to talk about a little hair history today! Until the twentieth century, how a skater's hair looked made little difference. Whether under a top hat or a smart feathered bonnet, the length of a skater's locks was quite irrelevant until the introduction of the Continental and International Styles of skating made jumps and spins de rigueur and the sport gained more of a following as early hotel shows and ice pantomimes became popular in the first few decades of the twentieth century.

It really wasn't until the Sonja Henie era when women's figure skating became more much more glamourized that many skaters really started paying attention to creating a 'packaged look' and it was Henie herself who led the charge. When she was in her early fifties, she had her hair done by a young hairdresser named Jon Peters, who went on to become a Hollywood producer. They became fast friends and she actually lent him one hundred thousand dollars towards his first salon. 

Sonja Henie

By the fifties, tiaras weren't uncommon sights in the hair of competitive skaters and in the popular British ice pantomimes, both men and women often wore wigs. Producers of touring productions led the war on errant hair-pins, which posed particular dangers to skaters performing under dim spotlights. In her 1952 book "Skate With Me", even Barbara Ann Scott warned of their dangers: "Don't use ordinary hairpins. They are too apt to fly out. Be sure that you have your hair tethered down securely, for there is nothing very appealing about a girl skating with her hair flopping all over her face. I used to wear a little bonnet which served the double purpose of keeping my hair back and my ears warm." Scott's reference to bonnets was in line to the trend to cover hair to keep it out of a skater's face when they performed jumps and spins, doubling as added warmth in the subzero temperatures during outdoor competitions. In her husband Tyke's 1959 book "Girls' Book Of Skating", Mildred Richardson noted, "Caps are never worn, as they tend to come off, but in windy or snowy weather hair is covered by a becoming pull-on hood or scarf."

Excerpt from Jacqueline du Bief's book "Thin Ice"

By the sixties, Carol Heiss had dyed her hair black for her role in "Snow White And The Three Stooges" and Sjoukje Dijsktra was jacking it up to Jesus with a beehive that contained more final net than the entire dressing room of the movie "Hairspray". In her interview with Allison Manley for "The Manleywoman SkateCast" in April 2014, she laughed, "You don’t know how much hairspray there was in there... It stayed, you see, it would be stuck. If it would be loose, I couldn’t stand it, if my hair came into my eyes or anything. But it had so much spray in it that it just stayed there. So it was good. I don’t understand now, when I see the skaters with the ponytails slinging around - that must be awful. Mine didn't move, it stayed. It took a lot of hairspray. I’m amazed that I still have hair on my head." Though Dijkstra managed to keep her hair, not everyone was so lucky. In one show, American Olympian Roy Wagelein's toupee got caught in his partner's costume during a lift and came right off his head. 


Without a doubt, the most famous skating hairdo in history was the Dorothy Hamill wedge. Achieved by lifting the hair and cutting at an inward angle, going from the longest lengths at top to the shortest at the bottom, the cut was copied by millions of women around the world after Hamill's win at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. After turning professional, Hamill signed a three hundred thousand dollar contract with Clairol and did commercials for their Short & Sassy Shampoo and Conditioner. In turn, the company donated twenty five cents from every bottle of the condition to the USFSA's Memorial Fund. 


By the nineties, short hair was on its way out and ponytails and buns dominated. Josée Chouinard did commercials for Pert Plus, Clairol sponsored a pro-am competition and even Scott Hamilton skated to music from the movie "Hair" in a hippie-style wig. Copying the glorious mane of Gwendal Peizerat, male ice dancers in the early twenty first century grew out their hair in droves... with extremely mixed results.


Whether Tonya Harding's mall bang or Maria Butyrskaya's Florence Henderson bob, the way that the world's top skaters have worn their hair over the years has just been one more way that they have set themselves apart. The grades of execution might have varied, but I think most skaters have earned a 6.0 for composition and style.

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, 14 January 2017

The 1985 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Kemper Ice Arena, photo courtesy Missouri Valley Special Collections, Kansas City Public Library

A lot has certainly changed in the thirty two years since Kansas City, Missouri first played host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Back in January of 1985, Ronald Reagan was President, Madonna's "Like A Virgin" topped the Billboard music charts and single event tickets to see America's best skaters in action only put you out twelve dollars at most. Held from January 29 to February 2 of that year, the 1985 U.S. Figure Skating Championships marked a changing of the guard in the American figure skating world. Scott Hamilton, Rosalynn Sumners and Elaine Zayak, who had all won World titles and represented the U.S. at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, had turned professional. The top four pairs teams from the 1984 U.S. Championships had all switched partners or turned professional as well. On paper, it was anyone's game.

Behind the scenes, things weren't all rosy. A key sponsor pulled out at the last minute, leaving organizers to pull off a small miracle. Then there was the matter of the ice. Although the King Louie Ice Chateau and Fox Hill Ice Arena were ready to go for practices and school figure competitions, the main venue - the Kemper Arena - had been scheduled for a basketball game the night before the very first practices 'on the big rink' were to be held. Rink employees worked overtime through the night to ensure the ice was ready.

The people of Kansas City went all out to ensure the event was a success. Over one hundred skaters from the Kansas City, Carriage and Silver Blades Figure Skating Club's participated in the opening ceremonies, handed out awards, retrieved flowers and acted as runners for results and messages. Other organizations that contributed volunteers were the Kansas City Ski Club, University Of Missouri-Kansas City and Sports Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy Associates, Inc. More than three hundred volunteers from Kansas City Young Matrons manned several hospitality suites and a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales benefited the Crittenton Center For Disturbed Youths. For the first time ever, the Christmas lights at the Alameda Plaza Hotel were turned on at a time other than the holiday season in a special ceremony in celebration of the event.

In the end, over two hundred competitors flocked to Kansas City ready to prove their mettle. In promoting the event for ABC's "Wide World Of Sports", Dick Button raved, "What viewers will see is the bare bones outline of who is good and who is going to be good. It's like picking out from a bunch of young colts who has the talent, stamina and strength, artistry and personality. You see all those elements that end up being the basis for someone's style." With a huge thanks to Joanna Marsh, Special Collections Librarian at the Kansas City Public Library, join me in the time machine and take a look back at what made this event so special!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

The novice and junior results from the 1985 U.S. Championships read like a who's who of American figure skating in the nineties. For starters, the event was Kristi Yamaguchi's very first appearance at the U.S. Championships. Placing fifth in junior pairs with Rudy Galindo and barely missing a medal in the junior women's event, the young Californian was only just beginning her journey to greatness. Jerod Swallow of the Detroit Skating Club did double duty, winning the junior ice dance event with Jodie Balogh and competing in junior pairs with Shelly Propson. In the junior women's event, Tracey Seliga of the Colonial Figure Skating Club lead after figures and Dedie Richards of the Dallas Figure Skating Club took the lead after the short program. However, Jill Trenary of the Broadmoor Skating Club vaulted to first ahead of Tracey Damigella of the Skating Club Of Lake Placid in the final standings. Representing the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, the fabulous Doug Mattis took top honours in the junior men's event, besting Erik Larson and Rudy Galindo. However, the event that garnered the most attention from Kansas City audiences was without a doubt the novice men's competition. Though he finished second to thirteen year old Todd Eldredge, sixteen year old Aren Nielsen of Grandview made history as the first skater from the Kansas City area to win a medal at the U.S. Championships... in front of a hometown audience in the first Nationals held in Kansas City. As one might imagine, the crowd went a little berserk. Coached by Randy Brilliantine, Nielsen was only fifth after figures but won the free skate with an outstanding performance that featured a triple Salchow and double Axel/double toe combination. His medal win was particularly impressive in that he had only been fifth at the Midwestern Championships the year prior. Quoted in the January 31, 1985 issue of the "Kansas City Star", Nielsen remarked, "It was like it wasn't even me. I can't believe it, I really can't believe it. I mean, I felt like I was almost like a fighter out there - even during warm-ups. I was pumping myself up. I just kept on saying, 'You've got to make yourself do it. You've got to make yourself do it.' And that's how it went."

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


An unlucky thirteen teams vied for top honours in the senior pairs event, which seemed doomed from the get-go. Margo Shoup and Patrick Page of the Broadmoor Skating Club withdrew after she crashed into the boards during a warm-up; Karen Courtland was taken to a local hospital after skating her program with partner Patrick Daw and treated for an upper respiratory infection. Many of the other teams suffered mishaps on key elements in their programs and judges were tasked with deciding which pair had made the fewest mistakes. Ultimately, that team was twenty one year old Jill Watson of Indiana and twenty five year Peter Oppegard of Tennessee. Only skating together for a few months, they trained in Ontario under Louis Stong. Winning both the short program and the free skate, Watson and Oppegard went for the gusto, attempting both the throw triple Salchow and throw double Axel in their winning free skate and earning marks ranging from 5.2 to 5.7 for technical merit and 5.2 to 5.8 for artistic impression. Coached by Ron Ludington, the brother/sister pair Natalie and Wayne Seybold settled for silver, ahead of Gillian Wachsman and Todd Waggoner and Susan and Jason Dungjen. Quoted in the February 4, 1985 issue of "The Globe And Mail", Watson remarked, "It's like a dream come true. I still can't believe it."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

With Rosalynn Sumners and Elaine Zayak out of the picture, many expected that seventeen year old Tiffany Chin of Toluca Lake, California would be a shoe-in for gold in Kansas City. In reality, she would end up facing some very legitimate competition in her quest for the national title in 1985. Although she took a strong lead in the school figures ahead of seventeen year old Debi Thomas, Jill Frost, Jana Marie Sjodin and Caryn Kadavy, Chin struggled in the short program, botching the triple toe in her competition and losing her balance on the change foot sit spin. Bolstered by her early lead, Chin managed to hold on to the top spot entering the free skate despite her miscues despite very strong performances by both Thomas and Kadavy. In the months leading up to the competition, Jill Frost endured a stress fracture, tonsilitis, strep throat, mono and the flu. She struggled in the free skate, dropping behind Kathryn Adams overall. 


In her first U.S. Championships, Caryn Kadavy delivered a flawless free skate thar featured a triple loop, triple toe and three double Axels. Her marks ranged from 5.5 for 5.8 to technical merit and from 5.6 to 5.8 for artistic impression. It was enough for the bronze, behind Thomas, who landed a double Axel/triple toe, triple toe and double Axel/double toe in her free skate but stepped out of a triple Salchow and double Axel and put her hand down on a triple loop. In winning the silver medal, Thomas became the first African American in history to win a medal in the senior women's competition at the U.S. Championships. 


Rebounding with a clean but conservative program that featured two triple toe's and three double Axel's, Tiffany Chin showed verve and confidence in clinching the gold medal. Quoted in the February 3, 1985 issue of "The Sunday Observer-Dispatch", she remarked, "Last night I wasn't happy at all with my skating. Today, I decided I would be on my own. My coach told me I had to be more independent. I felt pretty aggressive going into it. I decided if I land a jump I'm really going to land it and if I fall, I'm going to do it aggressively." Coach Mr. John Nicks added, "The great thing wasn't the way she skated, but the way she came back after skating poorly Friday." 

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

The only winners from the 1984 U.S. Championships in Salt Lake City who returned to defend their national titles were twenty five year old Judy Blumberg and twenty seven year old Michael Seibert. Judy and Michael arrived in Kansas City extremely prepared. They had worked on their compulsories with Bobby Thompson and had a brand new free dance set to music called "Fire On Ice" especially composed for them by Joel Silberman. They took a strong lead early in the event, but two judges placed them second in the Quickstep OSP because they believed their music didn't fit the rhythm. Fourth after compulsories, Renee Roca and Donald Adair brought the house down and earned a standing ovation for their "42nd Street" OSP, put together only two weeks before the competition after judges at the NHK Trophy criticized the program the OSP they had previously used. Suzanne Semanick and Scott Gregory's "Cabaret" OSP was equally well received by the enthusiastic Kansas City crowd. 


In the free dance, Blumberg and Seibert wowed with their unorthodox and athletic performance, yet many were taken with Semanick and Gregory's themed free dance to "Sabre Dance", "Adagio" and "Kalinka", which centered around the concept of escape.



Despite their best efforts, Semanick and Gregory dropped from second after compulsories to take the bronze behind Blumberg and Seibert and Roca and Adair. Lois Luciani and Russ Witherby placed fourth, Susie Wynne and Joseph Druar fifth and Susan Jorgensen and Robert Yokabaskas sixth. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled,
"[Yobabaskas], at 6,4½" tall, was one of the tallest ice dancers in the world. He had lost his 5'10" partner Hae Sue Park to an injury. He found 5'11" Susan Jorgensen, who had quit for three years because she could not find a partner when a growth spurt at 12 years old knocked her out of singles and pairs. 'They said a team as tall as ours could never make it to Nationals,' Yogi explained in a press conference. He and Sue skated with class in their sensual free to 'Slaughter on 10th Avenue', using their height to advantage and placing sixth. Their partnership ended in marriage." The top three teams all advanced to the World Championships in Tokyo, where Blumberg and Seibert hoped to succeed Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean as winners. Quoted in the February 4, 1985 issue of "The Globe And Mail", a confident Blumberg remarked, "We believe we are as good as anybody competing in the event. We didn't stay in it to finish fourth or third or second."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

With Scott Hamilton out of the picture, the competition in Kansas City was really between the previous year's silver and bronze medallists, twenty one year old Brian Boitano of Sunnyvale, California and twenty three year old Mark Cockerell of Burbank, California. Taking an early lead over Cockerell in figures, Boitano skated brilliantly as James Bond in his short program to music from the soundtrack of "The Spy Who Loved Me". Miming a gunshot in his choreography, Boitano joked to reporters that his intended victim was coach Linda Leaver. She laughed, "I was glad to be shot. It was great!" Cockerell's short program was set to the "Lone Ranger" theme. After his program, a girl came down to the railing and plopped a black cowboy hat with a silver star badge on his head. Seven of the nine judges preferred Boitano's program, expanding his figures lead to fifty percent. 


In the free skate, Cockerell landed a triple Lutz, triple toe/triple toe, triple Salchow, triple toe and two double Axels but stepped out of a doubled triple loop attempt. His gutsy performance was rewarded with marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.8 for technical merit and 5.6 to 5.9 for artistic impression. Boitano did one better, killing it with a quintessential eighties fast/slow/fast medley that included the theme from "On Golden Pond". Nailing a triple Axel, double flip/triple toe/triple toe, triple Lutz, triple flip/double toe, triple Salchow, his only error was a step out on his triple loop. His marks ranged from 5.6 to 5.9 for technical merit and 5.6 to 5.9 for artistic impression, and were indeed enough to earn him his first U.S. title. 


Eighteen year old Scott Williams of Redondo Beach, California was outstanding in his bronze medal winning performance, as was Christopher Bowman, who moved up from eighth after figures to finish fourth, just ahead of Paul Wylie. Quoted in the February 4, 1985 issue of "The Globe And Mail", a relieved and happy Boitano said, "The frustration is finally over. It's like I've made it over the mountain."

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, 12 January 2017

Toller Cranston's 1984 Comeback


At the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, the lines between amateurism and professionalism blurred when champions from eras past reinstated to the eligible ranks in hopes of challenging the world's best Olympic eligible skaters. It is a topic we've visited before more than once on Skate Guard, but I am quite confident that the subject of today's blog may be news to many of you. It doesn't involve Lillehammer and doesn't even take place in the nineties.

Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Less than three years after winning the bronze medal at the 1976 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, the late, great six time Canadian Champion Toller Cranston was very seriously considering the possibility of attempting a comeback to the eligible ranks and competing in the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo. In an interview with Linda Jade Stearns in the December-January 1979 issue of "The Canadian Skater" magazine, he spoke of his plan in detail: "Charles Snelling will have nothing on me. I have to perform for a couple more years - I want to do a movie and I know that I can't do that if I'm an amateur. Then I'm going to have to throw myself on my knees and ask the CFSA to give me back my amateur status, which will take a year. Therefore I'm basically aiming for the 1984 Olympics... I'm going to do my comeback at thirty-five as opposed to Snelling in his mid-twenties. And he didn't train the way I'm training now... I just competed in the American Superstars show for TV, and my competitive instincts surged - like wild. I became a tiger, a cutthroat, and I became consumed with the desire to win, which I had never really felt before when competing as an amateur. When I enter the 1984 Olympics - even if I have to skate out of Iceland to do it - I'll put skating in its proper perspective. I'm going to take it very seriously, but I know that my career will not hinge on how well I do. It's not like, 'Oh my God, what happens if Ronnie Shaver beats me - I'll be finished, I'll be through.' I learned how to be afraid in the worst way. When people say, 'Oh, you only came third at the Olympics, you blew it,' I reply, 'Third? It's a miracle!' I was so totally overwrought that when I stepped onto the ice I couldn't believe that my legs were carrying me. I can do figures in my free skating boots now that are better than the ones I did in the Olympics in my figure boots. I realize that it's totally a question of control of the brain. It was nervousness, it wasn't that I had bad figures (that accounted for my low standing in figures at the Olympics.) My figures were just as good as anybody's, but I did not have the ability to zero in, to totally concentrate. I wouldn't be nervous now because nothing is hinging on my performance. I'm not going to enter with the attitude that here's my big chance to win the 1984 Olympics. When you come back at thirty-five to compete in the Olympics, people will say, 'Let's see how good he is... can he beat the champion from Luxembourg? Well, probably. But can he beat the French champion?... Let's see how far he can go. I know that I'm not going to out-triple my competitors because by then they're going to have to scrape them off the rafters. In the performance that I would give, the emphasis would be totally on performing. I would perform like wild. It's not that I wouldn't do a number of things, but I would say, let the skaters doing the quadruples and the eight triples do them. I would do all the things that they don't do. I would create a certain controversy."

Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

In the end, the lure of professional competition won out. For seven consecutive years from 1980 to 1987, Toller competed at Dick Button's World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Landover, Maryland. More often than not, he didn't win. We will never know the history books would have looked if Toller had in fact somehow managed a return to the eligible ranks in 1984. Against the likes of Scott Hamilton, Brian Orser, Jozef Sabovcik and the rest, he would have undoubtedly been at a huge disadvantage technically but I don't think anyone can argue that he wouldn't have put on one hell of a show like only Toller could.

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