A Turncoat Victory: The Duchesnay's Decision To Skate For France


"I was the last person they dealt with in Canada, which I guess I should not be proud of... It's not my best moment and obviously I failed." - David Dore, "The Globe And Mail", March 24, 1988

Even if you were at the 1978 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Victoria, British Columbia, you probably wouldn't have noticed them. Of the eleven teams competing in the novice pairs event that year, Aylmer, Quebec's Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay finished in dead last.

Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine

Injury forced the young siblings to reassess their goals and by 1982, the Duchesnay's had reinvented themselves as ice dancers and claimed the junior silver medal at the 1982 Canadian Championships in Brandon, Manitoba behind Teri-Lyn Black and Mirko Savic of Toronto. They spent that summer at the international training camp in Oberstdorf, where they caught the eye of Czechoslovakian coach Martin Skotnický. In the autumn, they made their senior international debut in (of all places) France, finishing third at the Grand Prix St. Gervais behind their future rivals Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko and Italy's Isabella Micheli and Roberto Pelizzola. That same month, they finished second behind Klimova and Ponomarenko at the Nebelhorn Trophy in West Germany.

Three months later, the Duchesnay's were bypassed for a spot on the World Junior team. 1982 Canadian Champions in novice dance Christine Horton and Michael Farrington were sent instead, along with another novice team, Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, who hadn't medalled at the previous year's Nationals. Though no 'official' explanation was given, the fact that the Duchesnay's had stayed in Ottawa and turned down the CFSA's 'suggestion' to train with Bernard Ford at the National Ice Dance Centre near Toronto appeared somewhat coincidental.

Making their senior debut at the 1983 Canadian Championships in Montreal, the Duchesnay's finished fourth behind Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall, Kelly Johnson and John Thomas and Karyn and Rod Garossino in a field of seven. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves aptly noted that "after placing third at St. Gervais and second in the Nebelhorn, fourth at home seemed low."

The French Canadian duo's international results during the 1983/1984 season weren't exactly stellar. In September at St. Ivel in Great Britain, they were fifth in a field of seven. Two months later at the Ennia Challenge Cup in Holland, they were seventh. At the 1984 Canadian Championships in Regina, they once again placed fourth behind the same three teams (in the same order) as the year before. In a March 22, 1984 interview from "The Ottawa Citizen" during the 1984 World Championships in Ottawa, coach Betty Callaway remarked, "They work very hard and have the potential to make the national team. They have good imagination, good presence on the ice and don't mess around on top of the ice. But they must experiment more and be more adventurous." That April, the Duchesnay's finished sixth out of the fourteen teams competing at the International Morzine Trophy in France to Johnson and Thomas' second. Their rivals from the Granite Club then left the amateur ranks, opening a door for the Duchesnay's to finally make the podium at the 1985 Canadian Championships.


In Moncton at the 1985 Canadian Championships, the Duchesnay's finally stood on the podium, but their bronze - in a five-four split with the Garossino's - kept them off the World team. Shortly thereafter, they won the Coupe Excellence at the Claude Robillard Centre, defeating ice dance teams from France and the United States. By that autumn, shit was starting to hit the proverbial fan.

Despite being initially scheduled to compete at the Grand Prix St. Gervais, Nebelhorn Trophy and Skate America, the Duchesnay's were no-show's at all three events. The CFSA chose to instead enter the Garossino's and Canada's number five team, Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, at Skate Canada. When the Garossino's placed fourth at St. Ivel with a free dance that didn't go over that well, the CFSA pulled them from Skate Canada and invited the Duchesnay's to compete in London, Ontario at the last minute. Upset they'd already been 'pulled' from Skate Canada once, they didn't accept the CFSA's offer and the Garossino's were put back on the Skate Canada team. Ultimately, both the Garossino's and Borlase and Chalmers finished off the podium at that event, and frustrated with what they perceived as a lack of support from the CFSA, the Duchesnay's made a risky decision. Lynn Copley-Graves explained, "When the CFSA passed over Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay for the Skate Canada team in 1985, they gave up hopes for a berth on the Canadian World Team. Their French Canadian father had met their French mother while stationed with NATO in Metz, France, in serving the Canadian armed forces. Paul, born in Metz, and Isabelle, born in Quebec, had the option through their dual citizenship to skate for France when they realized that the CFSA would not place them high enough for international competitions. The FFSG offered to pay their expenses if they won the 1985 French Dance Championship. If they lost, their competitive days would be over."

Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine

The Duchesnay's announced their decision to skate for France in an October 25, 1985 press release, saying, "We feel we have a better opportunity in France and a better chance of meeting our goals of competing in the 1988 Olympics." Then CFSA President Bruce Miller said, "It's a real loss to Canada's national team. We regret losing this talented couple." David Dore later said, "We really had no choice but to agree and let them leave." He called the situation "very simple" and said that their third-place finish at the 1985 Canadians caused them to miss the World team and the French federation had offered them training support [the CFSA] couldn't offer. Paul and Isabelle's mother Liliane said, "Isabelle made it very clear, if they didn't win [the 1985 Canadians] this meant they weren't good enough. This would be final. They were going to try it one more time." Their father Henri, pulling no punches, told a journalist from the Montreal newspaper "La Presse" that the powers-that-be at the CFSA that included David Dore played a key role in their decision to skate for France.

Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay at their first French Championships. Photos courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. 

The Duchesnay's first trip to the French Championships wasn't all rainbows and puppies. In a March 15, 1986 article in "The Ottawa Citizen", reporter Martin Cleary recalled their chilly reception at that year in Lyon thusly: "Parachuting into Lyon three days before the French ice dance championships, the Duchesnay's knew they had to win or their careers were finished. The French officials, coaches and skaters gave them the collective cold shoulder. The Duchesnay's were exercising their dual citizenship option and the top French skaters felt cheated. The Duchesnay's weren't used to the wider rink and they erred by not training on it for several weeks. As a result, they placed second in the compulsory dances. Now, they had to win the original set pattern and the free dance, skated on the same day, to qualify for the worlds. If they didn't, they were ready to quit. They escaped, winning both, with the help of an enthusiastic and inspiring crowd of 5,000 in Lyon. The Duchesnay's, believing they were going to the Worlds, were relieved, while the second and third-place teams were restless. The silver and bronze medallists made their feelings well known, wearing T-shirts reading 'Merci, La France' over their outfits during the medal presentations. A couple of weeks before the European figure skating championships in Copenhagen, the Duchesnay's were told by the French federation they had to place in the top eight or the silver medallists from the French Nationals would go to the worlds." Talk about a warm welcome!


At the 1986 European Championships in Denmark, the Duchesnay's accepted the French federation's ultimatum and placed eighth of the eighteen couples competing: exactly what they needed to do to survive the chopping block. However, their free dance made such an impression on their peers that they were given a standing ovation at the athlete's banquet that followed the competition. Isabelle, in a telephone interview from their training base in Oberstdorf, told Cleary, "Someone from the French federation called me before the Europeans and said we'd finish eighth, I asked him how he knew and he told me 'my little finger told me.' I asked him what he meant and he told me don't ask. That shocked us. I asked him what we'll do at the Worlds and he said we'll probably finish 10th." That little French birdie ultimately wasn't correct in their 'prediction', but they weren't far off. At the 1986 World Championships in Geneva, the Duchesnay's placed twelfth to the Garossino's ninth. That autumn, they won their second French title and firmly established themselves as their new country's number one ice dance team. By the 1987 World Championships in Cincinnati, they were ninth to the Garossino's tenth. Borlase and Chalmers, the other team who was offered a spot at that controversial Skate Canada in 1985, were seventh.


Aside from Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall in 1988, the Duchesnay's were never beat by a Canadian ice dance team again. In 1991, they made history as the first ice dance team from France to win the World Championships and in 1992, they claimed France's first Olympic medal in ice dance. Their risky turncoat gamble in 1985 was one of the first high-profile examples of an ice dance team switching countries mid-career - to their benefit.

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.

A Minnesota Marvel: The Johnny Lettengarver Story


The son of Harry and Margaret (White) Lettengarver, John 'Johnny' 'Peewee' Alfred Lettengarver was born April 29, 1929 in St. Paul, Minnesota. As a young boy growing up during The Great Depression, he made his own fun by taking to the frozen ponds of St. Paul and Minneapolis and soon was recognized as something of a child prodigy.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Johnny's parents enrolled him in figure skating lessons at the St. Paul Figure Skating Club and by the age of eleven, he entered the world of competitive skating - coached by no less a great than World Champion Megan Taylor and mentored by USFSA judge Mary Louise Wright.

Johnny as the winner of the 1945 Midwestern junior men's title. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

By the time young Johnny was fifteen, he won the bronze medal in the novice men's event at the U.S. Championships behind Dick Button and Jean-Pierre Brunet. In the two years that followed, he won the U.S. novice and junior men's titles as well as the U.S. junior and Midwestern senior pairs titles with partner Harriet Sutton of Minneapolis. The pride of Monroe High School, not only was he a skater going places but an honour roll student and senior vice-president of his class. Nicknamed 'Pee-Wee' by his peers for his compact stature, he also excelled at gymnastics, horseback riding, cross-country running and track and field.


A silver medal win in the senior men's event at the 1947 U.S. Championships in Berkeley, California earned Johnny a coveted spot on the American team headed to the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. At the age of eighteen, he departed for Europe in December 1947 aboard the S.S. America, early enough to get in some much needed practice in advance of the 1948 European Championships in Prague which preceded the Olympics in Switzerland. Though he placed fifth in Prague, he made quite an impression on the Canadian and Hungarian judges, who both had him second in the free skate... ahead of Switzerland's Hans Gerschwiler. In St. Moritz, his free skating performance was second best to Dick Button but a fourth place finish in the figures kept him just off the podium. A similar scenario played out at the World Championships that followed in Davos, where young Johnny again had to settle for fourth place. After another trans-Atlantic voyage aboard the S.S. America, he claimed the bronze medal at the U.S. Championships behind Button and Jimmy Grogan. That August, he announced his decision to turn professional, thus ending an incredibly short but thoroughly impressive competitive career. At the time, he told Associated Press reporters, "It looks as though the draft is going to get me and I won't be able to do any skating in the Army. So I might as well cash in now and be a professional."

As he predicted, Johnny was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1950, after skating a stint as a featured skater with the Ice Capades. He joined the cast of John H. Harris' Ice Cycles spin-off tour in January of 1953 and later returned to Ice Capades, performing alongside Ája Zanová, Donna Atwood and Bobby Specht and Silvia and Michel Grandjean. He skated a solo act as well as a precision duet with childhood friend Don Pearson. The November 8, 1950 issue of the "Buffalo Courier-Express" described him as "poetry in motion" and the March 13, 1949 issue of the "Chicago Tribune" raved, "Mr. Lettengarver moves like a dancer and skates like a dream. He has instinctive elegance and style to spare, a rare sense of timing in space, and his turns in the air have a silky, balletic brilliance. There are plenty of other experts, but he is unmistakably a star."

Top: Don Bearson and Johnny Lettengarver in the Ice Capades. Bottom: Johnny Lettengarver in the Ice Capades.

Interviewed for "The Philadelphia Inquirer" on October 11, 1949, Johnny said, "There is long training to go through before the Olympics and there is plenty of high tension during the Games. That's easy compared to the championship competition I face in every Ice Capades performance. With Ice Capades, I have to be at my peak all the time because the entire cast is made up of champions. It's competition every night and keener than one will find in amateur contests... Every performance is a stern test of a skater's skill and the applause of the crowd is an honour that has given me my greatest thrills."


While touring with the Ice Capades, Johnny met his wife Virginia, a fellow skater. After retiring from the show in the late fifties, the couple settled in the state of Washington and raised two sons and a daughter. A love of water both frozen and not, Johnny became a keen boating enthusiast and a respected skating coach at Highland Ice Arena in Shoreline, Ballard Arena in Seattle and Jimmy Grogan's school in Squaw Valley. In his spare time, he enjoyed skiing and sports cars. He sadly passed away of cancer on January 14, 1997 at the age of sixty seven.

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.

The 1989 European Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

Britons were still in shock after the Kegworth air disaster just weeks prior that had left forty seven dead at East Midlands airport. A new law allowed pubs in England to remain open for twelve hours each day, except on Sundays. The popularity of a new cookbook compiled Linda McCartney converted many to vegetarian cooking. Tom Hanks starred in the number one box office film "The 'Burbs"  and Phil Collins topped the music charts with his hit "Two Hearts".


The year was 1989 and from January 17 to 21, the best of the best in European figure skating could be found on a temporary ice surface in the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England, dazzling audiences with twist lifts, twizzles and toe-loop's.

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

The 1989 European Championships were the first ISU Championships to be held in England since 1950 and the first European Championships held in England in fifty years. At the 1939 Europeans, a trio of British women (Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor and Daphne Walker) had swept the podium. A lot had changed in figure skating since the gloomy post-War days of rationing. By 1989, the Europeans were televised in twenty eight countries and one hundred and five entries from twenty nations participated.

Photos courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

The event tied in with the City of Birmingham Centenary Festival and in addition to the great skating, visitors to the Venice of the North enjoyed a grand firework display, an organ recital at town hall, a centenary service at St. Philip's Cathedral and an art exhibition presented by the Royal Birmingham Society Of Artists. At the gala opening of the 1989 Europeans, there was a special number celebrating Great Britain's rich skating history, featuring Robin Cousins and children from Birmingham and four other clubs in the Midlands. At the closing exhibition, the skaters performed before Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal Anne. John Curry and Bobby Thompson acted as the British team's national coaches.

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

As was so often the case in the seventies and eighties, there was confusion surrounding the Soviet team. Two different lists were sent by the USSR Skating Federation to the British organizers. One list had Viktor Petrenko and Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov; another didn't. At the eleventh hour, the hosts discovered the trio of Olympic medallists were not competing. Petrenko was sick and Gordeeva had an ankle injury. Courtney Jones (who chaired the Organizing Committee) told reporters, "It's a little bit sad and naturally we are disappointed. We didn't realize until the Soviets arrived that [Ekaterina Gordeeva] and [Sergei Grinkov], and [Viktor Petrenko], weren't competing. But there are so many other good skaters and we are very nearly sold out."

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archivew

ISU rule changes were significant talking points in Birmingham. Tighter doping controls had been introduced, with more random testing occurring during practices. A new rule forbidding revealing or exhibition style' costumes in response to the showy outfit Katarina Witt had worn when she won the previous season at the European Championships allowed judges to deduct up to 0.2 from their marks for outfits that weren't "modest and dignified in nature." As we'll see in today's blogs, the fashion infractions in Birmingham almost overshadowed the great skating.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

With Gordeeva and Grinkov out due to injury and former Olympic Gold Medallists and reigning World Champions Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev retired, the heavy favourites in Birmingham were fellow Soviets Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov. The 1984 Olympic Bronze Medallists and 1987 European Champions, who trained in St. Petersburg, had won medals at both the 1988 Europeans and Worlds and finished just off the podium at the Calgary Olympics.


This wasn't Selezneva and Makarov's first time at the rodeo and they skated strongly in the original program to take the lead entering the free skate. With side-by-side triple toe-loop's, they narrowly defeated East Germany's Mandy Wötzel and Axel Rauschenbach in a five-four split of the judging panel. The bronze went to Soviets Natalia Mishkutenok and Artur Dmitriev.


Axel Rauschenbach recalled, "After winning the silver medal at the European Championships in 1989 in Birmingham, we had a serious accident just before leaving for the World Championships in Paris 1989. Mandy had a serious head injury after a collision with my skate. This accident threw us back. We never again reached the form we had before the accident."



Great Britain's Cheryl Peake and Andrew Naylor hung on to fifth place despite a couple of errors.
If the crowd had their back, the British judge didn't. Mary Groombridge gave them their lowest marks - 4.8 and 4.9. She had the other British pair, Lisa and Neil Cushley, ahead of them. Speaking of judging, you'd think the pairs event in Birmingham was ice dance. The teams finished in the exact same order in the original and free programs. Perhaps more luckily, the escaped the Birmingham costume drama...

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Twenty five year old Alexandr Fadeev was seeking his fourth European title in nine years. The 1985 World Champion had dominated the previous year's event in Leningrad from start to finish, but outside of his home country things at first appeared a little different. In an upset, Oregon born West German skater Richard Zander won the school figures over Fadeev. To give some context to that result, Fadeev had won the figures at the Calgary Olympics and Zander had been ninth.


Alexandr Fadeev rebounded with a stellar original program, winning that phase of the event over Poland's Grzegorz Filipowski, Czechoslovakia's Petr Barna and the Soviet Union's Dmitri Gromov. Richard Zander finished only tenth, dropping to sixth in the overall standings entering the free skate, but was forced to withdraw due to the same back injury that had almost forced him to retire the previous season. Fadeev's costume for the original program was wild. He wore gloves with what one reporter referred to as "long glittering Florence Griffith-Joyner style claws" and had a sequined parrot on the back of his outfit. Despite this, many judges didn't give him the now mandatory 0.2 costume deduction. Four of them gave him a 5.9.

In the free skate, Alexandr Fadeev brought the house down with an eight-triple performance and earned four perfect 6.0's for artistic impression on the way to his fourth European title. Grzegorz Filipowski, Petr Barna, Dmitri Gromov, Daniel Weiss and Viacheslav Zagorodniuk rounded out the top six. Famously, British judge Vanessa Riley implemented a mandatory 0.2 deduction to Alexandr Fadeev, who wore white pants that left little to the imagination, prominently showcasing Sasha Jr.  She told reporters, "There's no point in having rules if you don't use them. The rules say costumes must be modest and dignified. Fadeev's clearly wasn't. I therefore deducted 0.2 from the artistic impression mark, making it 5.6. I still had him first." At the Worlds in Paris, Fadeev wore a pair of jockey shorts over his jockstrap to avoid getting dinged for his dingle.


In Fadeev's 2009 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, he recalled, "Back in time, the professionals, the ballet dancers, they wore the dance belt, which is basically [a] G-string, the male version... which is supposed to give the nice forms instead of just the Speedo under the white costumes, which if black it always shows. So my choreographer was the ballet expert, a costume designer, and he designed it. But I think it was the first time anyone was wearing that, so I think that’s why the judge did not understand that. I think it's a misunderstanding."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Left: Claudia Leistner. Right: Joanne Conway.

Katarina Witt, Kira Ivanova and Anna Kondrashova had all left the amateur ranks and East Germany's Simone Koch had withdrawn, leaving twenty four year old Claudia Leistner of West Germany as the favourite in Birmingham. She had won the bronze medals at the 1983 and 1985 European Championships and placed ahead of both Jill Trenary and Midori Ito at the 1988 Worlds in Budapest. She took a strong lead in the figures, which had been reduced in number from three to two. Joanne Conway, Natalia Gorbenko, Natalia Lebedeva and Željka Čižmešija rounded out the top five. Seventeenth in her debut at Europeans was a young Surya Bonaly. She shook things up with a get-up which Vanessa Riley described as "more of a court jester's outfit."


It was West meets East in the original program when Claudia Leistner defeated seventeen year old Simone Lang. Seventeen year old Joanne Conway's fourth place finish kept her in second overall entering the free skate, with Natalia Lebedeva in third. With a conservative but daring effort, Leistner took the gold over Lebedeva and her teammate Patricia Neske, who had been only eighth in figures. Joanne


Claudia Leistner claimed the gold with an athletic free skating performance that featured a triple loop, two triple Salchows, a triple toe-loop and a two-footed triple flip. Natalia Lebedeva and Patricia Neske took the silver and bronze, while Joanne Conway dropped all the way down to sixth and Surya Bonaly moved all the way up to eighth.


Claudia Leistner's victory was the first for a West German woman at Europeans since Gundi Busch in 1954. Her former coach Ondrej Nepela, dying in hospital, was able to watch her victory on television. After winning, she told reporters, "It's been a long wait. I hope I can do the same in Paris [at the World Championships]. I would have liked Katarina to have been here so I could have tried to beat her." She was on the payroll of Daimler's Untertürkheim plant, along with almost fifty other West German sporting stars. When she returned home to her country, she received a Mercedes 300 as a gift for winning.


Joanne Conway was quite sick in Birmingham and had actually thrown up half an hour before skating a clean original program, but as is so often the case in skating, many played her rough free skate off as nerves. The British press, hoping for a medal, weren't exactly kind to her. David Whaley, sports editor for the "Sandwell Evening Mail" wrote, "Jolly Joanne 'I can bottle it with the best' Conway has rarely shown she can handle pressure. Then, shock horror, one round to go and in the silver medal spot. Surprise, surprise - down she went and down the drain went the forlorn medal dream."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

With Olympic Gold Medallists Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin having turned professional, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko were the favourites at the European Championships for the first year. It was their sixth crack at the title and they had medalled every time except their first Europeans back in 1983, when they finished fourth. Notably absent were Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay. Isabelle had undergone knee surgery the October previous and had not recovered sufficiently to compete. From her training base in Oberstdorf, she told an Associated Press reporter, "We are bitterly disappointed at missing the Europeans. It would have been great to unveil our new routine, which has again been choreographed by Christopher Dean, in front of a British crowd."


As expected, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko took a strong lead after the compulsories - the Yankee Polka and Rhumba. Maya Usova and Alexandr Zhulin finished second; Natalia Annenko and Genrikh Sretrenski third. There was an outcry when Usova's lime green bikini and body stocking for the Rhumba wasn't penalized by many judges. Joan Slater, the coach of British ice dancers Sharon Jones and Paul Askham told reporters, "The British association would not permit our skaters to wear something like that at these Championships. It's totally over the top. They should not show any bare midriff, but that was more like a Latin American ballroom outfit." Usova and Zhulin's coach Natalia Dubova responded, "We didn't realize the costume would create such a furor. The design at the World Championships will definitely be changed and will be fully in agreement with the new regulations."


Klimova and Ponomarenko's "Ain't She Sweet" topped Usova and Zhulin's "Black Bottom" in the Charleston OSP. There was criticism over the fact that Annenko and Sretenski skated in pastel outfits that didn't say Charleston whatsoever, but still ended up ahead of the popular fourth place Hungarian couple, Klára Engi and Attila Tóth and Jones and Askham, who performed more classic Charlestons.


Klimova and Ponomarenko finally won their first ISU Championship with an excellent free dance to Kurt Weill's "Mack The Knife", earning 6.0's from both the Soviet and Italian judges. The Soviet judge also gave a 6.0 to Usova and Zhulin, whose free dance to "The Planets" somewhat stole the show from their elder teammates. Annenko and Sretenski's lovely free dance made up for the criticisms over their OSP.



The third Soviet sweep of the dance podium at Europeans of the eighties did not go unnoticed, nor did the new level of athleticism that that was permeating the discipline. In "The Spectator", John Powers wrote, "Ice dancing, which had its feet firmly in the ground by design, has gone Bolshoi in the last six years. Even dancers are airborne now, and all need to be stronger, lither and fitter than ever before. No part of figure skating has changed more than ice dancing."

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' 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? 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.

Lady Evelyn Grey: A Regal Force From Rideau Hall


"To make the best of every talent; to be aware of the beauty of the world. To be active, cheerful, amused, and if possible, amusing; to make and keep great friends; to enjoy things; to grumble as little as possible; to keep an open mind, and, as a consequence, to be happy, even in the difficult, if exciting, world of today." - Lady Evelyn Grey Jones, handwritten letter to Lady Evelyn Public School, 1965

Lady Evelyn Alice Grey was born March 14, 1886 in St. George Hanover Square, London, England. Her father, Albert Henry George Grey, was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Northumberland County in the House Of Commons at the time. Her mother, Alice (Holford) Grey, was something of a socialite... to put it very mildly. Her father's parents were a secretary and servant to Queen Victoria and her mother's father was a wealthy art collector and Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire. To say that Evelyn grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth would be something of an understatement.

Lady Evelyn Grey and Ormonde B. Haycock. Photos courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Evelyn grew up wanting for very little in London. She didn't see a lot of her father when she was a young girl, as he had accepted an invitation from Cecil John Rhodes to serve as an administrator with the British South Africa Company in Rhodesia. In 1904, when Evelyn was eighteen her father was appointed Governor-General of Canada by the government of Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Upon his arrival in Ottawa, he succeeded his brother-in-law the Earl of Minto... the founding member of the Minto Skating Club.

The Earl Grey family. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Evelyn hadn't been one of those elegant 'society ladies' who'd skimmed the ice at Prince's Skating Club at Knightsbridge. In fact, until she arrived in Ottawa, she hadn't really given skating much of a thought. While residing at Rideau Hall, she could hardly escape the ice.

Ice Castle at Rideau Hall. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Continuing the long-standing tradition established by the Minto's, the fourth Earl Grey hosted wildly popular weekly moonlight skating and tobogganing parties at Rideau Hall during his stint as Governor-General. One such party was described by his daughter Lady Victoria Grenfell in a letter to Lady Wantage thusly: "Two huge bonfires burn and crackle close to the two rinks both of which are lit up by rows of Chinese lanterns on wires all round them... The party is opened by a procession of couples on skates each holding a torch and skating a long serpentine march to the music of the band. The tattoo of torches with all the lanterns and coloured Bengal lights really made it look like Fairyland. It was a glorious night with a splendid full moon." In 1906, the Earl Grey donated the Earl Grey Cup to the Montreal Winter Club for competitions in "combined figure skating of four to a center, combined figure skating in pairs and individual skating." He also attended numerous skating competitions, often presenting prizes to the winners.

 
The Minto Four in 1911 - Lady Evelyn Grey, Eleanor Kingsford, Ormonde B. Haycock and Phillip Chrysler. Photos courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Though the Earl Grey was a patron of several skaters at the Minto Skating Club, none was nearer and dearer to his heart than his own daughter. The Earl was responsible for bringing Arthur Held, a German coach who had been teaching in America, to the Minto Skating Club... specifically to help Evelyn with her school figures. Evelyn won both the pairs and Waltz titles at the 1910 Canadian Championships - skating with partners Ormonde Butler Haycock and Dudley Oliver. The following year at the Canadian Championships in Montreal, Evelyn and Ormonde repeated as pairs champions... and Evelyn won the Canadian women's title. The Minto Skating Club won the overall title that year... and took home the Earl Grey Cup. The February 28, 1911 issue of the "Ottawa Citizen" noted, "Lady Evelyn's was a remarkable performance, when it is remembered that her career as a skater began only four or five years ago, and that she was handicapped by a lack of that early experience on the blades which falls to the lot of the ordinary Canadian. It therefore required natural aptitude, conscientious practice, and clever head work to enable her to rise to the top."

Top: Lady Evelyn Grey photographed with a who's who of North American skating in 1911, including Irving Brokaw, Ormonde B. Haycock and Eleanor Kingsford. Bottom: Clipping of a performance of Lady Evelyn Grey in Boston.

Interestingly, Evelyn's winning performances at the 1911 Canadian Championships weren't even her most noteworthy efforts on the ice that winter. At the Minto Skating Club's carnival a week prior, she'd joined her father, mother and sister on the ice in a fancy dress performance reminiscent of the Aberdeens' Historical Fancy Dress Ball of 1896, dressed in "an officer's costume of the eighteenth century."

Top: Lady Evelyn Grey and Lady Sybil Grey. Bottom: Lady Sybil Grey, Lady Evelyn Grey and Countess Alice Grey

Following her win in Montreal, Evelyn travelled with her mother and sister Sybil to Boston, where she gave figure skating exhibitions in conjunction with a winter sports festival. She was widely praised by the well-to-do Bostonians in attendance. The March 17, 1911 issue of the "Citizen" noted, "The Minto [four] was described as a crack organization. Lady Evelyn Grey also appeared in pairs [with Ormonde B. Haycock], and was warmly greeted for her share in the graceful and picturesque performance." The ideas exchanged on this trip helped further relations between skaters from Ottawa and Boston and so moved the Duke of Connaught to suggest an international fours competition between Canadian and American skaters... the Connaught Cup.

Lady Evelyn Grey and her father strolling in Regent's Park, London in 1916

Evelyn's short but highly impressive skating career was cut short by her marriage to British writer and barrister Sir Lawrence Evelyn Jones in 1912 and subsequent pregnancy with her first of five daughters. The couple made their home at Cramner Hall, a historic country house near Fakenham, Norfolk. She passed away on April 15, 1971 in the affluent London suburb of Marylebone at the age of eighty five, the distant memories of her short incarnation as a champion figure skater long forgotten.

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.

#Unearthed: Politicians, Diplomats And Skating


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's 'buried treasure' is a fascinating piece about the skating backgrounds of a number of British, Canadian and American political figures. It was written by NSA historian Dennis Bird, with assistance from Captain T.D. Richardson and Benjamin T. Wright, and first appeared in "Skating World" magazine in September of 1965.

"POLITICIANS, DIPLOMATS AND SKATING" (DENNIS BIRD)

A few weeks ago Edward R.G. Heath became the new leader of the Conservative Party. In the ballot which secured his election, he had a narrow majority which proved to be decisive. Until the last minute, however, political correspondents and opinion polls were predicting that the honour of becoming Party leader and possibly the next Prime Minister would go, not to Mr. Heath, but to a member of the National Skating Association - Reginald Maulding.

Reginald Maulding

Most of the newspaper articles on Mr. Maulding's career have stressed his youthful lack of enthusiasm for sport. It is true that as a schoolboy he was not over-fond of team games, but he certainly enjoyed figure skating. He joined the NSA in 1930, when he was thirteen, and eventually passed the International-style bronze medal test. In a recent letter to the Skating World he says "I did my skating at Hammersmith, and was taught by Freda Whitaker. I enjoyed free skating more than set figures, and I am afraid I never had the patience to persevere for the silver."

After serving in the RAF in the war, he entered Parliament in 1950 as Conservative MP for Barnet. Since then he has held increasingly high office in successive Governments, culminating in his appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1962. Since the Conservatives defeat in last year's General Election, he has been the Opposition's spokesman on foreign affairs, and has had no time to spare for skating. He writes that he had hoped to attend the Royal Skating Club's party at Queen's last October, but, much to his disappointment, was prevented by pressure of work.

Sir John Simon. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Nowadays it is rare for British politicians to be skaters. It was not always so, however. Before the Second World War, skating was a popular pastime in high society, and many MPs, peers, even Cabinet Ministers were to be seen on the ice at Grosvenor House or the Westminster Ice Club. Some, of course, preferred the old English style. Notable among these was Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who sat in the House of Lords from 1922 to 1963 as a representative peer for Scotland; he has been an NSA member for over sixty years, and holds the Association's English-style gold medal. Another English-style medallist (this time bronze) was the late Viscount Simon, Foreign Secretary from 1931 to 1935 and probably better known as Sir John Simon.

Sir Samuel Hoare. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Lord Simon's successor at the Foreign Office was an even more enthusiastic figure skater, but in the International style. He was Sir Samuel Hoare, later Viscount Templewood, sometime President of the NSA and holder of many of the greatest offices of state. between the two World Wars. He was a notably reformist Home Secretary, and served also as Secretary of State for India, Lord Privy Seal, and finally Ambassador to Spain. When the Ice Club, Westminster, was opened in 1927, he was persuaded to go there by a life-long friend, our distinguished contributor T. D. Richardson. Lord Templewood wrote in 1930, in his preface to "T.D.'s" book "Modern Figure Skating," "I am under an obligation to the author. At the most helpless moment of my life he came to my rescue. do not mean when I was born, but rather when I first set skate upon ice. This is the moment when we want a helping hand, and this is the moment when Captain Richardson outstretched his to me. At the critical turning point, battle as hopeless, he put me on the right way to learn something of a delightful art and a very exact science."

Lord Templewood certainly did not "give up the battle". He found skating an excellent relaxation from problems of government policy, and he achieved the remarkable feat of passing the NSA silver figure test when he was over fifty years old. His ice-rink activities on one occasion interfered with his political life; in December 1935, at the height of this political life; in the Hoare-Laval pact which resulted in his resignation, he was hors de combat in Switzerland, having fallen on the ice at Zuoz and broken his nose.

Sir Charles Cayzer. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Other politicians of this period who sought their pleasure on ice included Sir Charles Cayzer, Conservative MP for Chester from 1922 until his early death in 1940, and Captain Leonard F. Plugge, MP, whom Captain Richardson describes as "very keen and not a bad performer up to about silver standard."

Sir Peter Markham Scott. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

At least two NSA members have made unsuccessful attempts to become Conservative MPs. One was Peter Scott, the famous artist, ornithologist, dinghy sailor, and TV commentator. He was a bronze figure medallist, and in 1932 he won a pair-skating competition at the Ice Club with Joyce Macbeth. In the 1945 General Election he was defeated by only 435 votes at Wembley North. Five years later, at Greenwich, another skater lost his chance of a seat in the Commons. This was Ronald Dashwood Gilbey, now chairman of the NSA Council and a former member of Westminster City Council and the LCC.

A pre-war championship contender with political leanings is B. J. Humby. He skated for the British men's title three times, and passed his gold test in 1940, just before joining the RAF for war service. In recent years he has played an active part in local politics, and just completed three years as vice-chairman of Croyclo, South Conservative Association.

Violet Helen (Millar), Countess Attlee. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

It is noticeable that all the British politicians interested in skating have been Conservatives. This is perhaps a consequence of the social esteem in which the sport has been held in the past; perhaps it presents an insufficiently democratic "image" to attract the Labour Party. The only prominent Socialist whom 1 can remember being associated with skating is the late Countess Attlee, who during her husband's Premiership regularly attended the British championships at Wembley, and presented the prizes.

Colonel Viktor Gustaf Balck

Diplomats as well as politicians have sometimes been active skaters. One of the most notable was the Swedish diplomat Colonel [Viktor] Balck, who was President of the ISU from 1925 to 1933 and presented (in the name of the Stockholm Allmanna Skridskoklub) the "Swedish" cup awarded each year to the British men's champion.

David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

In the heyday of Princes SC, Knightsbridge, many ambassadors accredited to the Court of St. James's were regular skaters, among them the representatives of Chile (Don Augustin Edwards), Brazil (M. de Bittencourt), Siam, Belgium, and France. The first Lord Redesdale, too, who had represented. Britain in Japan, appeared every morning at Princes; he was a remarkable character, best remembered now as the father of "the Mitford girls" (the Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Mosley, Nancy Mitford, and so on).

Jaochim von Ribbentrop. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Adolf Hitler's ambassador in London, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was at one time a competitive skater. In his youth he was attached to the German Embassy in Ottawa, and he joined the Minto SC there. In February 1914 he was a member of the Minto team which travelled to the United States to contest the Ellis Memorial Trophy against the SC of Boston - one of the earliest international competitions in North America. The famous American champion Mrs. Theresa Weld Blanchard, who was one of the victorious Bostonians, remembers him as an interested and reasonably skilled skater, and a pleasant personality. Some twenty years later Ribbentrop was at the 1936 Winter Olympics, and often told T. D. Richardson (who was acting as the British chef de mission) that "he would like to go on to the rink and skate -- only the limited space available for the competitors stopped him."


The Earl and Countess of Minto skating on the Ottawa River. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Mention of the Minto SC brings us to the Countess of Minto, after whom the club was named. Her husband, the Earl, was Governor-General of Canada from 1898 to 1904, and they were both staunch supporters of figure skating; they donated the cups which are still awarded for the Canadian men's and pairs' champion-ships. On their return to Britain, Lady Minto was often to be seen at the Ice Club, Westminster, and Captain Richardson recalls many pleasant waltzes with her.

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

Since those days, there seem to be few links in Canada between skating and politics. One, however, is represented by Leonard P. Kelly ("Red" Kelly), the Liberal MP for York West. He first made a name for himself as an ice hockey player with the Toronto Maple Leafs before entering Parliament in June 1962. He is married to Andra McLaughlin, who was on the US team for the World figure skating championships of 1949, 1950, and 1951.

Joseph Kennedy and Megan Taylor

American politicians have not shown much enthusiasm for ice sports, although I believe Charles E. Wilson, President Eisenhower's Secretary of Defence, once had the misfortune to fall and break his ankle while skating, during his period of office. The Kennedy family of Boston, however, have long had an interest in it. When Joseph Kennedy senior was US Ambassador in London before the war, his sons used to take winter sports holidays in Switzerland, and I have in .my collection a happy photograph of Joe Kennedy junior, snapped at St. Moritz with Megan Taylor, then champion of the World. When Joe was killed in the war, his family had built in his honour the Joseph P. Kennedy Memorial Skating Center at Hyannis, Massachusetts.

President John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy. Photo courtesy National Archives.

Joe's younger brothers all had connections with skating. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was at Harvard with Tudor Gardiner, who later married 1956 Olympic champion Tenley Albright. Mr. Kennedy became President of the United States less than a month before the disaster of February 15, 1961, in which the entire US World team lost their lives. He issued a special tribute to the team from the White House, and he and his family gave strong support to the creation of the USFSA's memorial fund.

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

At the benefit carnival that initiated the fund, Edward Moore Kennedy (now the junior Senator from Massachusetts) came to read a personal message from the President. Edward himself had a particular sympathy with the fund, for when he was a freshman at Harvard he shared a room with one of the crash victims - Dudley Shaw Richards, the 1961 U.S. pairs champion.


Another member of this gifted family, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy, often takes an opportunity to get his skates on. When representing the President en a goodwill tour of Japan in 1962, he skated at the Korakuen rink in Tokyo, and now that he is a Senator-for New York State he is sometimes to be seen at Rockefeller Center rink in Manhattan, guilding uncertain steps of some of his nine children.

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.