The 1967 North American Figure Skating Championships

Event program. Courtesy Sandra Bezic.

"You've got to be kidding me." Those had to have been the words that came out of the mouth of Joe Geisler, the Chair of the 1967 North American Championship Committee, when he learned just a week prior to the event he had spent three years planning was in very real danger of having to be postponed or cancelled. Just a week prior to the 1967 North American Championships, Montreal's civic employees went on strike, abruptly closing the doors of the advertised venue, the five year old, eighty five by two hundred foot Maurice Richard Arena on Viau Street, which could seat over six thousand, three hundred spectators.

Event advertisements showing planned location. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

With little time to spare, Joe Geisler and his Committee members - the CFSA's George J. Blundun and Dr. Sidney Soanes and USFSA's Spencer Cram and Robert T. McLeod - met with the manager of the closed venue and Montreal's skating clubs in hopes of finding a speedy solution to their dilemma. It was ultimately decided to split the event between three (less dazzling) venues, the Town of Mont Royal Arena, University Of McGill Arena and Centre Sportif of the Universite de Montreal. Members of the sponsoring club, the Montreal Silver Blades, jumped in to handle everything from catering to ticket and program sales. Skating fans even stepped up to the plate to volunteer and the local newspapers and radio stations did their best to help advertise the change in venues so that ticket sales wouldn't suffer.

Addresses from Presidents of the USFSA and CFSA. Courtesy Sandra Bezic.

This 'show must go on' last minute effort allowed the event to be staged from February 10 to 12, 1967 as planned. Sheldon Galbraith even showed up with his Ampex 3/4 inch reel recording equipment in tow so that his students would have the advantage of reviewing their practice sessions and competitive performances after they'd skated. It was the first time instant replay had been used at the North American Championships.

Let's take a look at how the event played out! As we'll learn in today's blog, the behind the scenes drama paled in comparison to much of the excitement on the ice that chilly February.

Skaters coming off the ice after an opening 'parade of contestants'. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Though audience members complained that the drafty McGill Arena where the compulsory pairs short program was held was just as cold as it was outside - minus twenty five degrees Celsius - Seattle siblings Cynthia and Ron Kauffman didn't seem affected by the bone-chilling temperatures. They took a strong lead, earning first place ordinals from six of the seven judges. Conditions weren't quite so brutal at the more modern Centre Sportif, where free skating events in all four disciplines were contested. This time, the Kauffman's - who drew first to skate - set a bar so high that none of the other five teams were ultimately able to match. Though again placed second by one of the four Canadian judges, they won the title and Layman Trophy by a comfortable margin. Susie Berens and Roy Wagelein and Betty Lewis and Richard Gilbert completed a historic first time American sweep of the pairs podium at the North American Championships.

Photos of competitors. Courtesy Sandra Bezic.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION  

To the surprise of few, defending North American Champions Lorna Dyer and John Carrell took a unanimous lead in the compulsory dances over Canadians Joni Graham and Don Phillips and Americans Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky. Similarly to the Kauffman's in the pairs event, Dyer and Carrell drew first to skate in the free dance... and their marks were so high that there really wasn't much room for the teams that followed to have beaten them no matter how well they skated. Considering they were the reigning World Bronze Medallists and none of their challengers had even attended the 1966 World Championships in Davos, this wasn't exactly surprising. Graham and Phillips finished third in the free dance, but narrowly defeated Schwomeyer and Sladky for the silver. After the morning practices on the final day of the event, there was an informal dance session "for out-of-town guests and Host Club members".

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Chilled to the core at the McGill Arena, the six men's competitors shuffled positions early in the school figures, with Canada's Donald Knight coming out on top of Scotty Allen and Gary Visconti by a considerable margin when the dust settled. The men's free skate was perhaps one of the most evenly matched ever contested at the North American Championships, for not only were Knight, Allen and Visconti outstanding skaters. They were joined by Dr. Charles Snelling, Jay Humphry and Tim Wood - all excellent performers in their own rights. First to skate was Humphry, who delivered perhaps his finest performance to date, landing a triple toe-loop in the last minute of his program. Allen, who skated second, faltered on several jump landings. Knight followed with a confident performance, and Visconti, who skated fourth, was an audience favourite. Snelling's performance was marred by an untimely fall caused by a camera flash... which led to a back injury. Wood, last to skate, drew generous applause for his exciting and technically demanding performance. The judges, who had their work cut out for them, split their marks largely between Knight and Visconti in the free skate. With the figures factored in to the game, Knight took the gold and Rogers Trophy with first place ordinals from six of the seven judges, followed by Allen, Visconti, Humphry, Wood and Snelling.

Photos of competitors. Courtesy Sandra Bezic.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Peggy Fleming and Valerie Jones skating their figures. Photo courtesy Valerie (Jones) Bartlett.

The women's school figures were the first event of the Championships and the free skating the last. At the outdated Mount Royal Arena, defending World Champion Peggy Fleming established a healthy early lead over Valerie Jones, Tina Noyes, Karen Magnussen, Roberta Laurent and Jennie Walsh.

Valerie Jones. Photo courtesy Valerie (Jones) Bartlett.

In the free skate, Valerie Jones dazzled with her use of vocal music near the end of her program, which at that point in time, though seldom used, wasn't yet 'outlawed'. Fleming skated remarkably and won over many Canadian fans who had previously viewed her negatively as 'that American girl who beat Petra Burka' before they actually got the chance to see her skate live. Karen Magnussen struggled on her first few jumping passes. Then, out of the blue, the music stopped and the power in the arena went out. She spent forty minutes in a dark dressing room with her coach and a screwdriver fixing a blade problem then restarted the program at the beginning and skated superbly. Despite her effort, she tied for last place in the free skate and was unable to move up from fourth. Fleming was the unanimous winner, followed by Jones and Noyes. 

Matchbook from the Fontainebleau Motel

Prior to the event, skaters had been bussed to the nearly-completed site of Expo '67 for a press briefing on the World's Fair. During the event, they partied it up at a 'special evening' at the Fontainebleau Motel. After the competition, a banquet was held where prizes were awarded and pictures were taken. In "Skating" magazine, Janet Carnegie Dolan recalled, "As usual for this kind of event, the wait for the results seemed longer than necessary. and the presentations an anti-climax. Because of the power failure, the afternoon had already been longer than scheduled. Those who had been following the events closely realized there was little chance of any startling changes in the standings from the compulsory events. On the whole, the championships had been a success. The favourites had won in most cases. Even the least technically-minded spectator at a skating championship who becomes more of an expert than the judges could find little cause for complaint. It is no small chore to organize a Championship of this caliber. In the face of extraordinary difficulties, the 1967 North American Championship Committee and the sponsor club... had come through splendidly and deserved straight sixes across the board."

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