The 1990 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

From February 6 to 11, 1990, Canada's best amateur figure skaters converged on the Walden and Sudbury Arenas in Sudbury, Ontario for what would prove to be one of the most fascinating Canadian Figure Skating Championships in some years.

Photo courtesy Vintage Vigo

Two hundred and forty six skaters skaters competed in Sudbury, including a record sixty five from the province of Quebec. The competition was sponsored by the Royal Bank and media coverage was more than ample. Debbi Wilkes, Johnny Esaw and Dan Matheson commentated for CTV, newspapers from Vancouver to Halifax covered the action on their sports pages and even TSN, a fledgling network who didn't know a Lutz from a layback spin, recapped the competition as best as they could on their evening sports recap programs.

Otto Jelinek and Johnny Esaw at a fundraiser for the CFSA. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

The event marked the last time that school figures were included in the singles competitions at the Canadian Championships and with the World Championships being held shortly thereafter in Halifax, the pressure was considerable on all of the athletes vying for opportunities to compete on the World stage in their home country. Throw a little Bailey's into your Tim Horton's double double and join me for a look back on how things played out in the Nickel Capital of Canada in 1990!


Hometown favourite Jennifer Prowse defeated Saskatoon's Jay Chatterson and Laval's Sherry Ball to take top honours in the novice women's event. In novice dance, Masha Soucy and Louis-Philippe Poirier of St. Léonard and Boucherville took the gold, outskating Cynthia Harper and Dean Phillips of the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club and a very young Victor Kraatz, then skating with Taryn O'Neill.

Skaters from the Kerrisdale Figure Skating Club grabbed the top two spots in the novice men's event. The silver went to Ravi Walia and the gold to Matthew Knight, who landed two triple toe-loops in his crowd-pleasing free skate set to Charleston music from the roaring twenties. Seventeen year old bronze medallist Andrew Smith trained in Oakville, Ontario and had placed fourth in the novice event at Nationals in 1989.

Photo courtesy "Georgetown Herald" Archives

Without a doubt, the most interesting novice event in 1990 was the pairs competition! Twelve year old Penny Papaioannou of the Tillsonburg Figure Skating Club and her nineteen year old partner Raoul LeBlanc of Memramcook, New Brunswick were a study in contrasts. On top of the fact they had a seven year old age gap and lived in different provinces, Penny was four foot nine and Raoul five foot eight. The crowds went gaga over the young team and predicted they were going places. They won the gold medal, ahead of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Andrew Bertleff and Jamie Salé and Jason Turner. Yes, you read that correctly. Once upon a time, Shae-Lynn Bourne did beat Jamie Salé at the Canadian Championships in pairs skating, not ice dance. However, the big talk of the novice pairs event was a serious accident that occurred in one of the novice pairs practices. Two Ontario teams, Krista Coady and Allan Proos and Janice Morgan and Johnathan Allen, collided. Though Morgan and Allen were relatively uninjured, both Proos and Coady struck their heads on the ice. Coady was examined and released, but Proos remained in the ICU of the Sudbury General Hospital with a serious concussion and a bad gash on his head. A CAT scan revealed internal bleeding. After receiving stitches, Proos remained in the hospital for over the week and missed the competition.

To the delight of the crowd, Jacquie Taylor of the Sudbury Figure Skating Club took home the gold medal in the junior women's competition, ahead of Mary Angela Larmer-Wilson and Sherry Ball's sister Stacey. Seventeen year old Helena Horsky of the Glencoe Club had the lead after figures but ultimately failed to translate her early victory into a medal.

Skating to music from the soundtracks of "Perry Mason" and "The Untouchables", Isabelle Laboissiere and Mitchell Gould of Boucherville edged a young Marie-France Dubreuil and Bruno Yvars of Boucherville and Brigette Richer and Michel Brunet of the Minto Skating Club for the junior ice dance title. Taking an early lead in the school figures and only improving upon in it with a free skate that featured five clean triple jumps, Sébastien Britten took home the gold medal in the junior men's event ahead of Ian Connolly and Jean-François Hébert. It was the first time in history that a trio of skaters from Quebec swept the junior men's podium at the Canadian Championships.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

A young Marie-Claude Savard-Gagnon and Luc Bradet received marks as high as 5.5 in winning the free skate and gold medal in the junior pairs competition ahead of Kristy Sargeant and Colin Epp and Allison Gaylor and John Robinson. Annik Douaire and Martin Gaudreault, second after the original program, dropped off the podium with a disappointing free skate. In the February 10, 1990 issue of "The Montreal Gazette", Marie-Claude and Luc's coach Josee Picard praised the young team's effort thusly: "The best part of their skating is the technical, athletic side. We're working now on style, making them look good. Today, they did both. Their technique was good and the style was there, too."


Only two teams vied for the fours competition. The winners, coached by Kerry Leitch, were Christine Hough, Cindy Landry, Doug Ladret and Lyndon Johnston. The silver medal went to Patricia MacNeil, Michelle Menzies, Cory Watson and Kevin Wheeler. MacNeil, who hailed from Glace Bay, was the only skater from Nova Scotia to claim a medal at the 1990 Canadians.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

In contrast, eight pairs battled it out in the senior pairs competition. Defending World Silver Medallists Cindy Landry and Lyndon Johnston won the original program in a five-two split with nineteen year old Isabelle Brasseur and twenty six year old Lloyd Eisler. In their "Darktown Strutters Ball" program, Brasseur and Eisler executed more difficult side-by-side jumps than Landry and Johnston - double Axels in fact - and Eisler expressed frustration that they were ranked below the more decorated leaders."When we get to Halifax and we do double Axels and everybody else does double Lutzes, we'll see where we are," a huffy Eisler announced in an interview in the February 8, 1990 issue of "The Edmonton Journal". From huffy to Tuffy, Christine Hough and her partner Doug Ladret sat in third after the pairs original program, also turning in a clean free skate. The competition was shaping up to be a potential three way race.

That's not exactly how it played out. Hough fell once; Brasseur twice. Five judges placed Brasseur and Eisler third; the other four placed them fourth. In an interview in the Friday, February 9, 1990 issue of "The Globe And Mail", Brasseur didn't mince words: "I skated like crap."

Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

With a clean performance, 5.8's across the board for technical merit and three 5.9's and four 5.8's for artistic impression, Cindy Landry celebrated her eighteenth birthday with a Canadian title win with partner Lyndon Johnston. It would prove to be the first and only Canadian title either Landry or Johnston would ever win. Interviewed while waiting to receive his medal for the February 9, 1990 issue of "The Globe And Mail", Johnston said, "I don't think it has sunk in yet. The old saying, 'Good things come true for those who wait,' is true. I've waited a long time and worked hard for it. It couldn't feel better right now." It was his ninth try with his sixth partner. Because of Landry and Johnston's success at the previous year's World Championships, the top three teams were all sent to Halifax, where Eisler (who had made only made the World team by one ordinal and one point) learned his prediction about the side-by-side double Axels in the short program was absolutely correct.


Jo-Anne Borlase and Martin Smith

The retirements of Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall in 1988 and the Garossino's in 1989 left the dance field wide open. The nine teams competing in Sudbury were pulling out all of the stops to establish themselves as the next 'it' team. Nineteen year old Jacqueline Petr and twenty year old Mark Janoschak took the unorthodox step of working with Ellen Burka and Toller Cranston on their free dance. Twenty three year old Jo-Anne Borlase and twenty one year old Martin Smith worked with no less a who's who than Bernard Ford, Marijane Stong, Rob McCall, Sandra Bezic, Tatiana Tarasova and Vanessa Harwood. Twenty five year old Michelle McDonald and twenty six year old Mark Mitchell tinkered with their lightning fast footwork constantly to try to gain an edge.

After the compulsory dances, Borlase and Smith lead perennial 'bridesmaids' Penny Mann and Richard Perkins, 'double M's' McDonald and Mitchell and Petr and Janoschak. McDonald and Mitchell won the OSP and moved up to second overall behind Borlase and Smith with marks ranging from 5.1 to 5.6 for technical merit and 5.5 to 5.8 for artistic impression for their Samba OSP. Mann and Perkins dropped to third; Petr and Janoschak remained fourth. Throwing a little shade towards the competition, Sackville, New Brunswick's Mark Mitchell announced in "The Montreal Gazette" on February 10, 1990: "Ninety percent of ice dancers interpret the samba as a Caribbean dance, but it's not. It's Brazilian; sultry."

Ultimately, Borlase and Smith won the free dance and gold medal with their much-praised program to "Bacchanale" from "Samson and Delilah". Skating to music from "The Last Emperor", Petr and Janoschak were second in the free dance and third overall behind McDonald and Mitchell. Mann and Perkins dropped to fourth, ahead of Pamela Watson and Michael Farrington and Jennifer Nocito and Brad Hopkins.

"We're disappointed with the second-place finish but not with our performance. We made changes in the program this season with some different choreography and we feel we're moving well with it," said Mark Mitchell. Martin Smith said, "We're very excited about going to our first World Championship because that's the big goal in our sport. But we can't start to think about where we might fit in the standings because curiosity can take away from the most important thing for us - skating as well as we can." Borlase added, "We don't so much compete with others as with ourselves to skate well and improve. From now to the Worlds, we'll be stepping up our training schedule, working as hard as we can to be as good as we can in Halifax."

Although they placed eighth, nineteen year old Allison McLean and twenty year old Konrad Schaub turned in one of the most talked about free dances of the event. Coached by Lynn Koper at the Ice Palace Figure Skating Club, they made their senior debut with an edgy, post-apocalyptic program set to music from "Back To The Future", "Antarctica" and "Golden Child". The judges didn't warm up to the survivalist theme or the fact they were skating in tattered and torn rags. By dishing out less than favourable marks to McLean and Schaub, the Canadian judges sent a clear message: what the Duchesnay's were doing and what the Canadian judges wanted to see were two different things altogether.


Lisa Sargeant

On top of coming into the Sudbury Nationals covered in bruises from repeated falls on triple loop and Axel attempts, Lisa Sargeant of The Royal Glenora Club had a bruised ego. At the Western Divisional Championships in Fort McMurray, she'd lost the figures to Shannon Allison and struggled in both her original program and free skate, placing third overall behind Tanya Bingert of Richmond, British Columbia and Margot Bion of Calgary's Glencoe Club. It was hardly the position the much-hyped 1989 Canadian Bronze Medallist wanted to be in. The story at the Eastern Divisionals in Woodbridge, Ontario had been quite different. Eighteen year old Karen Preston of Mississauga had rebounded to beat twenty year old figures leader Josée Chouinard and Leslie-Anne White of Toronto. It hadn't been an easy road for Preston, a grade thirteen student at the Erindale Secondary School who trained under Osborne Colson. She'd torn apart her left ankle in practice the previous September and the pressure of retaining a National title she'd won unexpectedly in 1989 was considerable. Charlene Wong, another heavy favourite, had a bye to Nationals. How things would play out in Sudbury was anyone's guess, really.

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

Margot Bion won the final senior women's figures, defeating Lisa Sargeant, Charlene Wong, Susan MacKay, Diane Takeuchi and Josée Chouinard. Karen Preston sat in a disappointing eighth. Asked about the significance of being the last woman to win the figures at the Canadian Championships in an interview in "The Calgary Herald" on February 8, 1990, Bion responded, "It was quite exciting, because it was the last time figures are going to be skated. I've always liked figures, so it's a nice thing to go out doing my best. On the last tracing of my rocker I thought 'last time'. It was kind of sad, actually." Discussing the impact of the demise of figures in a February 8, 1990 interview in "The Globe And Mail", Preston said, "Figures give a skater the chance to develop discipline. They develop balance. In a way, I'm sort of sad to see them go. I think there will be more injuries because free skating will be the only thing skaters will be doing and people will be spending more time on jumps."

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

Karen Preston's struggles continued in the original program, when she fell on her triple flip combination and touched a hand down on another jump attempt. When she placed sixth in that segment of the event and remained eighth overall, any chance of reclaiming her National title was over. In a four-three split, Chouinard defeated Sargeant and Diane Takeuchi of Thornhill in the short program and heading into the free skate, Sargeant sat in first overall, followed by Chouinard and Wong.

Lisa Sargeant, who was coached by Michael Jiranek and trained alongside Kurt Browning and Michael Slipchuk, planned an ambitious free skate, with a triple/triple combination, a triple loop and two triple Salchow's. Ultimately, she managed three triples and two double Axels in a gutsy effort to a Gershwin piano medley, her only mistake a missed double Salchow. Her marks ranged from 5.4 to 5.7 for both technical merit and artistic impression.

The rest of the field unravelled. Wong fell on one triple, overrotated another and popped a third into a single. Chouinard imploded, falling three times and leaving the ice in tears. Try as she might, Karen Preston wasn't able to move up to the podium. Sargeant took the gold, Wong the silver and Chouinard the bronze.

In an interview in the February 10, 1990 issue of "The Edmonton Journal", Lisa Sargeant said, "I've worked so hard for this. I've had a few confidence problems but I put it all together here. After the first few jumps I got the feeling everything would be fine. I wasn't as nervous as last year. I felt very strong and very positive." She credited her younger sister Kristy for helping instill her with the confidence she needed to achieve her Sudbury victory.


Kurt Browning. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Fourteen men competed in Sudbury for three 'golden tickets' to the 1990 World Championships in Halifax and the drama leading up to the competition was almost as exciting as the event itself. Langley, British Columbia's Norm Proft got a bye through Divisionals while nursing a blood infection in his foot. Twenty three year old Kurt Browning had peaked at the Western Divisionals in Fort McMurray, throwing in a clean quad late in his program after tripling his first attempt. Then he started breaking in new boots and blades. At the Royal Glenora Club, Michael Slipchuk landed his first quad in practice, witnessed by Kevin Cottam and Mark Schmitke. At the Eastern Divisionals in Woodbridge, Ontario, seventeen year old Elvis Stojko of Richmond trounced the competition with a daring free skating program chock full of triples. No one, including David Dore, knew quite what to expect. In an interview in the February 3, 1990 issue of "The Globe And Mail, Dore advised, "Nothing's automatic. I'd say there are six men chasing the three spots."

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

"This is a first for me. It's a real surprise," said twenty year old Jeffrey Partrick of Brandon, Manitoba when he defeated Browning, Matthew Hall, Slipchuk and Proft in the final senior men's school figures competition at the Canadian Championships. Interviewed in the February 9, 1990 issue of "The Calgary Herald", Browning said, "During the first loop, my balance went right back to the heel. If it had been on the second or third tracing, it wouldn't have mattered as much. But the first tracing is the one you follow for the rest of the figure. I left my good figures in the warmup. But we're here for the long run, not just for today." Although his coach expressed great regret at the abolition of figures, in an interview with TSN Browning intimated that he couldn't have been happier to see them go. He did, however, express his intent on continuing to practice them as a training tool.

Before a crowd of five thousand, six hundred, Norm Proft stole the show in the original program, skating cleanly to music from "Cabaret". He won this phase of the competition with marks of 5.4 to 5.6 for technical merit and 5.5 to 5.7 for artistic impression, ahead of Stojko, Slipchuk, Browning and Partrick. Browning, who struggled on both parts of his combination and singled the required double Axel, earned marks ranging from 4.6 to 5.3 for technical merit and four 5.8's and two 5.9's for artistic impression. He held on to the overall lead, but Proft's come from behind win only added to the suspense of the final. Interviewed in the February 10, 1990 issue of "The Toronto Star", a frustrated Browning admitted, "I'm just plain discouraged because I was having a good time after a really good week. But maybe it's a signal that competition never is easy, no matter if it's national, divisional or the Worlds. I didn't attack the combination hard enough, then for some reason I can't explain, I didn't do a double Axel, a warmup jump. I really wanted to skate well here and I haven't but there's still the long to rescue the week. It's the old numbers' game, that's all, that has me in first."

Without mincing words, the fact that Kurt Browning won the 1990 Canadian men's title was a gift... a controversial one at that. Stojko landed eight triples in his free skate, earned five 5.8's, a 5.9 and a 5.7 for technical merit and a standing ovation from the boisterous Sudbury crowd. Then, Kurt came out, fell on his opening quad attempt, executed a double Axel/half loop/double Salchow, triple Axel/double loop, triple Axel/double toe, botched a triple toe, stepped out of the first triple toe in a triple toe/triple toe combination and finished off with a single flip and a double Axel. It was hardly his best effort, one he later referred to as "an absolute horror show". The judges were generous, giving him a 5.5, two 5.7's and a 5.8 for technical merit and four 5.8's, two 5.7's and a 5.6 for artistic impression. In a five-two split, Browning retained his national title on the strength on his second mark. In a post-skate interview on television with Debbi Wilkes, Browning said, "I suppose the championship is important but I was really looking forward to using this as a really positive influence going into Halifax. I know we wanted to leave some room for improvement, but I didn't want to leave that much room... If anything's going to make me skate good in Halifax or make me hungry to train at home, it will be today."

Reflecting on the event in a 1991 feature on CTV during Skate Canada International, Stojko recalled, "1990 was an incredible year for me. Coming in second in skating [which was] the best I could at the time was an incredible moment but... the people at the rink were going crazy. That's something that will always stay in the back of my mind: that that was the first step in getting to the top." Slipchuk edged Matthew Hall for the bronze despite falling on a triple Axel less than thirty seconds into his program. In an interview in the February 11, 1990 edition of "The Edmonton Journal", he mused, "It's kind of funny when you say you did seven triples (two Salchows, two toe- loops, a Lutz, flip and a loop) and came third. The long was twice as good as I did last year at Canadians, but it was a harder event. It was a tough last flight to be in. I came ready to skate and I wasn't going to leave until I was on that World team."

Kurt Browning and Lisa Sargeant's wins marked the first time since 1966 in Peterborough - when Ellen Burka coached champions Donald Knight and Petra Burka - that one coach's students won both the senior men's and women's singles at the Canadian Championships.

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 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

The Mail Bag Overfloweth

Happy New Year! After a brief and much needed post-holiday break, Skate Guard is 'back in business' for its seventh year. In 2020, I'll once again be digging deep in the archives and piecing together puzzle pieces to share untold stories from figure skating's colourful past. Before we start talking Walleys and winners, it's high time that I unpacked the mail bag, answered some of your questions and shared some of the interesting e-mails and social media messages that have come my way over the last six months. I'm going to try to do this quarterly from now on so things don't pile up. As always, if you have a question you'd like me to tackle or feedback over a blog please reach out via e-mail.


Q: From Jenny (via Facebook): "I have a homework assignment for you... Roy Blakey got this and doesn't know anything about it. I said, I know just the guy. Can you figure this out? Thanks!"

A: This one was new to me too, but I think I was able to figure it out. Sanger's Royal Circus was a Victorian era British travelling circus and menagerie run by George Sanger and (for a time) his older brother John. His shows would have been touring during the 'Glaciarium' era of early artificial ice rinks in England, when John Gamgee and others concocted 'ice' out of all manner of noxious substances.

I was able to find an advertisement for this very "Carnival On the Ice", no doubt a temporary affair designed to be a novelty during the holiday season in the December 12, 1885 issue of the "Cheltenham Looker-On". As a sad aside, Sanger was murdered by one of his former employees in 1911, just six years after he retired. I suspect that this coloured lithograph is not only old, but quite rare.

Q: From Linda (via Facebook): "Are there any websites where we can view some of the earlier figure skating movies like Sonja Henie? or Barbara Ann Scott?"

A: There are some amazing people who are going above and beyond in terms of digitizing vintage figure skating videos. First and foremost, Frazer Ormondroyd has uploaded all kinds of fascinating footage on his Floskate YouTube channel. If you just search Sonja Henie and Barbara Ann Scott on the British Pathé and BBC Movietone YouTube channels, you'll come up with all kinds of interesting stuff as well. Quite a few of Sonja Henie's films are also on there.


The National Film Board of Canada has a gorgeous film of Barbara Ann Scott called "An Introduction To The Art Of Figure Skating" that may want to check out as well.


Gretchen Merrill, Nancy Lemmon, Governor Tom Dewey, Eileen Seigh, Dick Button and Barbara Jones in Lake Placid. Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive.

From Dick Button (via Facebook): "On the far right is Barbara Jones, national novice champion and my pair partner in the Eastern Pair Championship in Baltimore where we skated my single program as a pair substituting a Lutz lift for a Lutz. Things were simpler then."


Photo courtesy Jim Hurst

From Jim (via e-mail): "Loved the piece on skating in Hawaii! I performed with Ice Capades West Co for 6 years in the 1970's and Honolulu was our last city of the tour! We all LOVED Hawaii. We kept our own tank equipment there! We played the HIC building featured in your piece, now I think it is called Blaisdell Arena. Before and after the show and at intermission we'd see people reaching over the dash to actually FEEL the ice; they had never seen such a big ice cube, LOL. Attached is a photo from back back stage area ever.  I am the taller guy. Back stage Honolulu was legendary for us Ice Capades skaters! West Co would play Vancouver in Jan and then go to Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, ending up in Halifax and Moncton! We couldn't wait to get to warm weather after our long winter."


Jim Sladky, Minerva Burke and Judy Schwomeyer in Lake Placid. Photo courtesy Joseph Butchko Collection, an acquisition of the Skate Guard Archive.

From Kathie (via Facebook): "Tough judge... 'Burke's Law'!"

From Gerry (via Facebook): "Minerva Burke from Baltimore. She was a National judge who was hard of hearing. There are many colorful stories surrounding her."

From Linda (via Facebook): "Min Burke, she judged many of my dance tests. Yes we wondered how she knew we were on time because her hearing was failing."


From Barbara (via Facebook): "He was Charlie Tickner’s coach for awhile in Berkeley and at Squaw. He was a creative choreographer."

From Laurie (via Facebook): "Tim was always an enigma... I never saw that clean cut view, rather the man with the flowing beard and amazing calm kindness."

From David (via Facebook): " I had seen Balanchine's fabulous pas de deux 'Tarantella' to music by Gottschalk on television and fell in love with the music, Grande Tarantelle, a tour de force for piano and orchestra. I headed to the record store to find a recording and I was successful. I took it to Iceland to play on the freestyle. Knowing Tim was an accomplished pianist I asked him if he was familiar with it. He said yes and asked how I discovered it. A few weeks later one of his students was using the music for her competitive program."

From Moira (via email): "Great article on Tim Brown! In 1989 I met Tim and Frank Nowosad (a close friend of mine) in Sun Valley during the summer. Frank wanted Tim to teach Gary Beacom (Co Artistic Director of the Sun Valley ice show at the time) the antique figures. It was a fascinating week!"

From Ellen (via email): "You made my day with your post on Tim Brown. I was a recreational skater in Philly and then went out to Denver with a friend for summer skating before starting college. I remember Tim when he was in Baltimore. He spent that summer of 1952 in Denver being coached by Eugene Turner who had spent the previous winter at the Philadelphia SC&HS in Ardmore, my home town. The delightful and classy Tenley Albright was there also. Tim was a very earnest young man and enjoyed a friendship that summer with Charles Snelling whom he teased re the Canadian eh!
Even then he would seem to forget his rehearsed program when performing in the summer show and just fill in. I so wanted him to win a medal in Squaw Valley and was crying in front of the TV whenever he faltered. When they announced the Belgian plane crash, the first thing I did was look for his name and was so happy to not find it. Obviously I was unaware of the team's names then.
Over the years since the internet, I have typed in Tim's name and did finally read of his death. The video you shared is so delightful to watch for the beautiful line and edge changes. Now we see ugly spins, multitudes of high rotation jumps, footwork with flailing arms and lots of stroking as the norm with some notable exceptions Then there's the music you wish would stop. The result is empty sections in the arenas where once they were packed. While Richard Dwyer still glides gracefully, young skaters develop serious injuries that derail their careers. Thank you so much for your work of sharing the history of the figure skating world with those of us who relish it."

From Wanda (via Facebook): "I took from Tim in about 1975 in Berkeley - his long hair and beard period. I had no idea he was an MD!! He lived a couple blocks from Berkeley Iceland and if he forgot my 7 AM lesson, I’d walk to his house and find him playing the piano..."


Photo courtesy Alice Mansell

From Alice (via e-mail): "1972 Silver Edge FSC show had Linda Leaver as one of the choreographers and her student Brian Boitano performed in his first ice show as a Sesame Street kid, with Oscar, kneeling far left.

Photo courtesy Alice Mansell

Dorothy Hamill also skated in the club's 1972 show.  My Dad, Roger Mansell, negotiated with her Father, for her to come out to California for the show. The club parents bought her an air ticket, found her a homestay with a club member, arranged for her to be fitted for a brand new pair of Harlick skating boots, and said her coming west would allow every West Coast judge to see her skate  - and they almost all came.  The club members loved rooting for her as "one of our own" in her later competitions.

As best I know, Silver Edge did not have another ice show during its existence. Silver Edge FSC was active between from the mid-1960's to the mid 1980's when the Sunnyvale Ice Palace rink closed and the club merged with the Peninsula Skating Club.

Photo courtesy Alice Mansell

While researching the history of the old Sunnyvale Ice Palace rink this past year, I stumbled on a write-up about a Los Altos, California Rotary talk by Linda Leaver and a 1988 Chicago Tribune item about her.  (She was also my first skating coach.)  I had no idea she had so many close friends killed on the 1961 Sabena airliner crash. Her coach Linda Hadley and many of her fellow Seattle/Spokane skaters were killed.  I suspect the 1972 Slver Edge show program of her is from her competitive days.  I recall she skated a solo number called "Meditations" during a segment celebrating the NASA Apollo Moon landings with skater/astronauts and skater/"Moon Creepers" at the 1971 club show.  That was the first ice show Brian Boitano ever saw I learned later. We had a tradition at the club that every club member child who wanted to be in the show could be, even if his or her hand needed to be held.  And, every new club member could get a short free group lesson on club ice time."


From Mae (via snail mail): "I found this picture one day and thought you may like to have it. This statue is in Oslo. I took it about 15 years ago."


From Zoie (via Facebook): I just read your article on Herbert S. Evans. I have a pair of Barney and Berry silver plated skates with his name on it. I am sure my grandfather knew that he was a skating champion but I had no idea. I think these may have been his skates. What a great article.


From Angela (via e-mail): "I wonder if you might be able to help me? Corinne Altmann was a French figure skater born in Paris, around the same time as Alain Calmat and she appeared in photographs and competitions around the same time as Alain in the 1950’s. She was/is my husband’s cousin and I would love to know what happened to her after 1959. Do you have any knowledge? I would be very grateful if you have any information or advice as to where I can search for her."

Corinne represented France at the 1958 World Championships and 1959 European Championships. Anyone with any information on her story can reach out and I'll pass on the information to Angela.

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 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 3w

The Best Of 2019: A Skate Guard New Year's Spectacular

Over the last twelve months, Skate Guard blog has shared over one hundred fascinating stories from figure skating's rich and colourful history. It's been an absolute pleasure hearing from so many of you throughout the year. Learning about your own connections to and perceptions of these important stories has to be the best part of 'doing what I do' and I cannot wait to continue to share even more of these gems with you in the coming year! I'll be on a short break and will resume with the usual schedule of two new blogs a week on January 14, 2020.

To cap off what has certainly been in an interesting year in the skating world, I wanted to share a perfect 10.0 of my favourite pieces from 2019 that you may have missed. If you haven't read any of these yet, make the time... they're honestly just fascinating tales!


In December 2019, we 'headed' to an unlikely skating destination - Hawaii - and explored The Aloha State's unique connections to the sport and Sonja Henie's famous Hula acts. These stories were great reminders that no matter where you go in the world, there's a skating connection!


Photo courtesy Denver Public Library

In 1895, the gold boom town of Leadville, Colorado constructed a very unusual winter attraction - a giant ice palace. In August of 2019, we took a trip back in time and looked at just what happened inside.


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In 1953, the World Figure Skating Championships were held on outdoor ice in Davos, with weather conditions so dire that skaters actually collapsed on the ice. We reflected on the incredible stories from this competition on the blog in March of 2019.


Photo courtesy Don Willis

Californians Marcella May Willis and Jimmy Lochead Jr. rose to prominence as America's top ice dancers in the height of World War II, making history as the first couple from the West Coast to win the national crown. We explored their fascinating story in June of 2019.


In the sixties - an era when British couples utterly dominated the international ice dance scene - Lorna Dyer and John Carrell rose to prominence with their technically precise and forward take on ice dancing style. We explored their story on the blog in June of 2019.


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

Many of Canada's top amateur skaters had turned professional and were cashing in on 'the boom' of interest in skating that followed the Lillehammer Olympics. In July of 2019, we looked back at the the 1995 Canadian Championships in Halifax - the first Canadians of a new Olympic cycle. Rare videos of this event donated by Skate Guard reader Maureen added to the fun. 


During the Great War, New Yorkers were treated to a novel summer attraction - the ice show. Thomas Healy's Golden Glades was a huge hit for several years until prohibition (temporarily) put the kybosh on martinis and mohawks. We explored this story on the blog in May of 2019.


Performers in "Broadway On Ice" in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo courtesy The National Library and Information System of Trinidad and Tobago.

Like Hawaii, the Caribbean is probably not exactly the first place you'd think of when it comes to figure skating. In June of 2019, we explored the fascinating footnotes and fabulous figures that comprise the region's unique skating heritage.


Sweden's Gösta Sandahl is perhaps one of the most overlooked World Champions in the history of figure skating. We explored his unique story on the blog back in February of 2019.


In January of 2019, we explored the engrossing story of the Baron von Petersdorff. He travelled the world as an acclaimed professional skater but the mystery surrounding his tragic death is like something out of a detective novel.

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 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

#Unearthed: An Ode To John Curry

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.

This month's 'buried treasure' diverts a little from the usual format of #Unearthed in that it's actually a recent article. German skating historian Dr. Matthias Hampe's ode to John Curry appeared in the November 2019 issue of "Pirouette" magazine and it's my pleasure to share a translated version with you all today.


John Curry (UK) would have turned seventy this year. In addition, it is the twenty fifth anniversary of the death of this legendary figure skater. These events provide occasion to remember his life's work and to appreciate its innovations.

The beginning of his career

John Curry was born on September 9, 1949 in Acocks Green, a suburb of Birmingham, as the third son of engine factory owner Joseph Curry and his wife Rita. The family lived in a villa at 946 Warwick Road, now home to the Arden Lodge Residential Home.  Already at the age of five years the desire for dance lessons matured in him. Because his father felt this as inappropriate for a boy, Curry chose figure skating as a substitute. He received this inspiration after seeing a television broadcast of the ice show "Aladdin" with ex-World Champion Jacqueline du Bief. His father agreed and financed the training, because on the one hand skating at this time was extremely popular and secondly because skating, with its upright rigid upper body position without interpretive use of arms, was completely 'above suspicion' compared to ballet. His son would be socially recognized as an athlete and not a dancer.

Curry began skating in 1956, often with only one lesson per week. He first trained with Ken Vickers and subsequently with Peri Levitsky at the Summerhill Road Rink. Figure skating offered him a possibility to escape a difficult childhood. After his fathers suicide in 1965 a financial emergency broke out in the family. Curry left school and moved to London, where he worked as a salesman at NCR and trained with Armand Perren. After disagreements, he left to train with Arnold Gerschwiler at the famous Richmond Ice Rink. Gerschwiler taught Curry according to the old school traditions, emphasizing deep edges and a high standard in school figures. In 1967, Curry became British Junior Champion; in 1971 Senior Champion. In 1968, he began taken ballet lessons. In London he also experienced his coming out and met his first love, the Swiss coach Heinz Wirz.

Disappointing international entry

His first major international entry was in 1970 late at the age of 20. He placed twelfth at the European Championships in Leningrad. He had also a disappointing showing at the 1971 World Championships in Lyon, when he fell on his both triple jumps Salchow and Loop. In result he switched coaches to Alison Smith. She referred to him in a television interview as a talented but difficult student, who was hardly capable of criticism and was reluctant to be corrected. Slavka Kohout acted as his choreographer. Coaches were more akin to allies and advisors to Curry. His first appearance at the Olympic Games in 1972 was a tragedy. After 8th place in the compulsory figures competition, he dropped back to 11th place in the overall standings after another falls on his triple jumps in the free program. To end his jump weakness, Curry went new ways. After the World Championships in Bratislava in 1973, he signed a sponsorship deal with Edwin Mosler (USA) and then trained with the internationally successful champion coach Gustave Lussi in Lake Placid and from 1975 Carlo and Christa Fassi in Colorado Springs, where he triggered a debate about his amateurism. Curry's plan was that Lussi improve his jumping and pirouette techniques. The Fassi's should give the presentation the final touches and tie up the necessary overall sports policy package.

Finally , this change to a more professional training environment formed the basis of his positive performance development. From 1972 to 1976, he steadily increased his rank at the European Championships from 1972 to 1976. In 1974 he won with bronze medal at the European Championships, his first, major international medal.

Figure skating as an artistic form of expression

Men's skating was in crisis at the beginning of the 70's. There was an overemphasis on upright posture, long prepared jump entrances, lacking transitions, simple spins and flaws   in the triple jumps. As a result of the uniformity of the program design and the numerous technical errors, the number of spectators declined rapidly. Men's figure skating became the least attended discipline at ISU Championships. Into this vacuum came Toller Cranston (Canada) and John Curry. At that time they seemed like a revelation. While Cranston broke the doctrines of the traditionally masculine style with eccentric expressive dance, Curry sought a synthesis of figure skating and classical ballet. He began in 1973 with a short program to an interpretation of Ferdinand Hérold's "La Fille mal gardée" and in 1974 in the freestyle skated to parts of Petr Ilrich Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 and No. 6. Characteristic was his classically trained posture, elegance, absolute body control, precise lines, musicality and cool restraint. Every movement and all transitions were controlled and classically styled. In 1975, Curry went one step further with his short program based on Igor Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps" and his free program to Claude Debussy's "Daphnis et Chloe" and Maurice Ravel's "Bolero". Since "Le Sacre de Printemps" is structured in a polyrhythmic way, Curry tried to reproduce the mystical, the threatening, of the musically described ritual - a mood - through head circles and wing-flapping movements. He dived in the slow part into a picture-world of spreadeagles, spirals, Euler sequences, footwork and slowly twisting spins. This music selection, his means of expression and transitions were completely avant-garde for amateur figure skating during this period. He thus provided for an enormous compositional compaction in the men's free programs. Also new in men`s figure skating was the variety of spins, whereby his spin combination with three changes of positions and one cange of foot change is to be particularly emphasized. Due to technical shortcomings in the landings of his triple jumps, he finished in 3rd at the 1975 World Championships. Although not quite fair, this was his first medal at the World Championships.

The media's dirt campaign

On the one hand, this development was accompanied by an ovation from the audience. On the other hand, some officials and journalists expressed disapproving and derogatory opinions about the alleged feminization of men's skating, probably based on fears of image or business-damaging stigma of figure skating as a 'gay subculture', and concern for young men taking up the sport. Kurt Neufert, the editor of "Pirouette" magazine, quoted from German judge Eugen Romminger in his report on the 1974 European Championships: "I do not like the style of John Curry. In the men's competition, I do not want to see a woman skate." All over the world, tabloids started a real dirt campaign. The "Bild-Zeitung" outed the athlete shortly before the Olympic Winter Games in 1976 as a homosexual. Curry had to fight this barrier of prejudice but the attacks hardly harmed him with the public. At the opening of the 1976 Winter Olympics, he was given the honour of being the British flag bearer. He was also voted "BBC Sports Personality of the Year". Ultimately, even the greatest opponents recognized Curry's ice-skating and artistic abilities.

Carlo Fassi's genius

The experienced Word-Champion maker Carlo Fassi was aware of Curry's main problems: lack of technical perfection and lack of interaction with the audience. He believed that the lack of consistency in triple jumps was based of his nervousness and technical overload of choreography. Fassi proposed psychological training to increase self-confidence and the development of positive thinking, sending Curry to Erhard Seminars Training. Secondly, Fassi recommended a withdrawal of artistic innovation, an more outwardly look and gestures into the audience and a simplification of transitions.  Because Curry knew that only the win of an Olympic Gold MedaI could secure his future as a professional, he agreed with Fassi's concept. At the 1976 European Championships in Gothenburg, he laid the foundation for a successful Olympic season with a flawless free program. In his first European Championship victory, he profited from the fact that the Czechoslovak judge Jozef Lojkovič broke out of the classic bloc rating and completely unexpectedly tipped the 5-4 majority of the 'Eastern bloc'. His new short program to the music "Variations on a Theme of Paganini" but especially the freestyle to "Don Quixote" by Ludwig Minkus formed the implementation of Fassi's concept. Fassi focused on effects, precise musical pointing and popular choreographic solutions. With Toe-loop, Salchow and Loop, Curry offered for the first time three different, flawlessly executed triple jumps, which formed the basis of his success. Long holds of landing position gave a impression of security and confidence. His jumps were a compositional component of a rhythmically precise performance. Curry also had four different spins - including a change sit spin with an additional change of direction – and various step sequences in his programs. This free program was a milestone in the development of the unity of theme, music and presentation. Curry thus became an Olympic Champion, World and European champion, significantly increasing his international reputation and thus his market value.

Successful performer and choreographer of ice ballets

After completing his amateur career, Curry didn't make the usual transition to an ice revue, instead establishing his own production company which made a significant contribution to the perfecting of ice ballet as an independent genre and the further development of artistic expression in figure skating. His venture began in 1976 with the television production "The John Curry Ice Spectacular". To further his knowledge and skill for implementing dance to skating movement, he sought collaboration with world-renowned ballet choreographers. He provided Norman Maen choreography to Debussy's "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" (with Peggy Fleming and Catherine Foulkes) and Alexandr Borodin's "Polovitsian Dances". Curry choreographed "I got it bad and that ain't good” and "Send in the Clowns".

Subsequently, Curry founded the ice-ballet ensemble "John Curry's Theater of Skating". The company included David Barker, Lorna Brown, Linda Davis, Catherine Foulkes, Jaquie Harbord, Paul McGrath, Robert Metcalf, Paul Toomey and Bill Woehrle. Kenneth MacMillian choreographed the "Feux Follets" (Franz Liszt); Norman Maen the "Jazz Suite"; Peter Darrell "Scenes of Childhood". From Twyla Tharp came "After All". Curry choreographed "Suite for a guitar". The performance venue was the Cambridge Theater in London. Curry was given ballet lessons by Joyce Graeme.

In 1977, the "Theater of Skating II" was performed in the London Palladium with five premieres - John Butler's "Icarus", Ronald Hynd's "La Valse Glacée" and "Winter 1895".  Curry supplied the choereographies of the dances "Folk Song Fayre" and "Petite Suite for Harpe". The company consisted of Ron Alexander, David Barker, Marc Battersby, Lorna Brown, Yvonne Cameron, Linda Davis, Catherine Foulkes, Angela Greenhow, Jaquie Harbord, Robert Metcalf and Paul Toomey. On March 12, 1977, Curry had to close his production company for financial reasons, which must have had a tremendous effect on his mental state. He then moved to New York and conquered in November 1978 with the production "Ice Dancing" in the Felt Forum on Broadway. Here he collaborated with choreographers Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux ("Icemoves"), Peter Martins ("Tango, Tango"), Donald Saddler ("Palais de Glace") and Robert Cohan ("Night and Day Pas de Deux from Myth"). From Curry came the choreographies of "Anything Goes" and "Moon Dances". The new company included Ron Alexander, Yvonne Brink, Lorna Brown, Jack Courtney, Deborah Page, Jojo Starbuck, Patricia Dodd, Catherine Foulkes, Muki Held and Brian Grant. After twenty three celebrated performances Curry had to stop the show due to massive weight loss.

After a break for medical treatment Curry appeared as Harry Beaton in the musical "Brigadoon" at the Majestic Theater on Broadway from October 9, 1980 to February 8, 1981. With the television company WGBH Boston in 1981, he realized the production: "John Curry Skates Peter and The Wolf and Other Dances" and in 1982 "Snow Queen". In 1981 he took also part in the World Professional Championships in Landover (USA). These World Championships were held in a new format starting in 1980 as a team competition. The participants showed a technical and an artistic program. Curry won with the team 'All Stars'. He impressed in the technical program with the dance "Sheherazade". The highlight of his artistic program "Nocturne No. 5" from the "Lyric Suite" by Edvard Grieg were two perfectly executed compulsory figures set to music.

In December 1982 he returned to the ice ballet scene under the name "Pro Skate". Performance venue was the Madison Square Garden in New York. He skated with Dorothy Hamill, Jim Bowser, Patricia Dodd and Mark Hominuke. The program included "La Valse", "Pennies from Heaven", "Trio", and "Blessed Spirit" all choreographed by Curry self. In 1983 followed the production "Symphony on Ice" in Vancouver with the dances "Burn" (by Laura Dean), "Nightmare" and "Vortex" (by Curry). The company included Lori Nichol, Jim Bowser, Nathan Birch, Keith Davis, Patricia Dodd, Jojo Starbuck, Editha Dotson, Valerie Levine, Timothy J. Murphy, Shelley Winters, Adam Leib and David Santee. In 1983, Curry realized "Wilhelm Tell” in the Dobson Arena of Vail. It was his first complete ice ballet piece.

In 1984, he created the "John Curry Skating Company" with appearances at the Metropolitan in New York. Among the company were Dorothy Hamill, Jim Bowser, Patricia Dodd, Bill Fauver, Mark Hominuke, Shaun McGill, Lea Ann Miller, Timothy J. Murphy, Jojo Starbuck, Nathan Birch, Editha Dotson, J. Scott Driscoll, Catherine Foulkes, Gabriella Galambos, Joan Vienneau, Adam Leib, Lori Nichol and David Santee. Of seven new choreographies, five came from Curry and one each from Lar Lubovitch ("Court of Ice") and Eliot Feld ("Moon Skate"). In a drive to implement better ideas, Curry increasingly choreographed pieces himself: "Butterfly", "Chopin’s Waltz No.7", "Presto Barbero", "Fireworks", "Winter Storms".

He was, despite setbacks and ongoing financial problems, in constant search for artistic perfection and public appreciation. For the twelve new dance creations of the subsequent tour "Symphony on Ice" Curry was responsible: "Sunset", "Gershwin-Pieces", "Lyric Suite", "Rodeo", Tarantella", "To the Stars", "Holberg Suite", "Blue Bird", "Chopin’s Waltz No. 7", "Glides", "Russian Sailor’s Dance", Sleeping Beauty", "Victory at Sea".  The show was performed in London, Bergen and Tokyo. New included in the company was Janet Lynn.

In 1985, came the last production "The John Curry Skaters" at the Kennedy Center in Washington with the dances "Remember Me" (by J. P. Bounefous), "Skating Class", "The Skaters" and "Six Debussy pieces" (by Curry). Members of "The John Curry Skaters" were Nathan Birch, Jim Bowser, Ingrid Blomström, Patricia Dodd, Editha Dotson, Catherine Foulkes, Gabriella Galambos, Mark Hominuke, Adam Leib, Valerie Levine, Shaun McGill and David Santee.

Retreat to private

Afterwards, Curry tried being a stage actor, with moderate success. He appeared, among other things, as Buttons in "Cinderella" at the "Liverpool Playhouse Theater", the role of Mr. Gradgrind in "Hard Times" in Belfast, the Duke Orsino in Shakespeare's drama "Twelfth Night" at the open-air theater in Worthing and Marlow in the comedy "She Stoops to Conquer" by Oliver Goldsmith at "Kings Head Theater" Islington. After becoming aware of his HIV infection at the end of 1986, public appearances became rare.

In 1988, he surprised many by appearing in Gudrun Zeller's New Year's Eve show in Garmisch-Partenkirchen with the numbers "Attila" and "Le Rosenkavalier". His last performance to "You'll Never Get To Heaven If You Break My Heart" took place in 1990 with Judy Blumberg (USA) for the Ice Theater Of New York. When his illness became worse in 1991, he moved in with his mother. In 1992, he gave "The London Mail" an exclusive interview in which he made his disease public. John Curry died on April 15, 1994 in Binton of a heart attack as a result of AIDS. The funeral took place in the Warwickshire Crematorium "Oakley Wood". But there is no tomb reminiscent of the figure skating genius, for his ashes were scattered, according to information from Curry's longtime colleague Lorna Brown. For anyone who wants to penetrate more deeply into the private and intimate life of the individualist Curry, I recommend the 2015 Bloomsbury Sport published the Bill Jones biography "Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry ", published by Bloomsbury Sport.

His effect on amateur figure skating

John Curry proved the fundamental importance of avant garde style, originality, individuality and body line in figure skating. His contact with the amateur skating world after turning professional was rare, but in 1979 he choreographed the free skating program of Susanna Driano (Italy) to Carl Czerny's ballet music "Etudes". As a choreographer, however, members of his company such as Lori Nichol, Lea Ann Miller and Bill Fauver continue to shape the artistic development of figure skating until today. So the vocabulary developed by John Curry lives on in 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' the blog's Facebook page at 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

Have Yourself A Merry Skate Guard Christmas

"When the winter days are come
And Christmas carols thrill the air
And snows besiege the farmer's home,
And pallid woods stretch bleak and bare,
Ice spreads a solid glassy floor
Across the lake from shore to shore,
Then joyous troops delight to wheel
And whirl upon the glancing steel."

- Isaac McLellan, "Poems Of The Rod And Gun Or Sports By Flood And Field", 1886

Christmas is upon us and it's almost time to wrap up another year of Skate Guard stories. Pour yourself a cup of holiday cheer and take a moment to yourself to enjoy this eclectic collection of holiday-themed stories from some of history's greatest skaters! 

A young girl longingly looking at a Sonja Henie doll in a shop window at Christmas. Photo courtesy USC Digital Library. Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection.


Much has been written about Sonja Henie's omnipresent father Wilhelm. The World Champion track cyclist and fur magnate has been historically caricatured as the ultimate 'skating parent' who wheeled and dealed behind the scenes to ensure his daughter's success at any cost. Wilhelm was the basis for Jean Hersholt's role in Sonja's film "One In A Million", her chaperone and manager and even the person who signed at least half of the photographs brought to her dressing rooms by fans. Though loathed by many of Sonja's rivals - and perhaps with very good reason - his devotion to his daughter was unwavering. In the December 29, 1936 issue of "The New York Sun", Sonja said, "He was always so interested. He used to always come and watch at each competition. He was always there, always so enthusiastic. That made it all so easy."

When Wilhelm Henie died suddenly at the age of sixty five on May 10, 1937 in Hollywood as the result of a blood clot in his lung, at his bedside were Sonja, his wife Selma and actor Tyrone Power. His death was a huge blow to Sonja at the very height of her success. One story that illustrates he was by no means an ogre takes us back to Norway during the Great War.

One Christmas when Sonja was a little girl, all she wanted from Julenissen was a pair of single runner skates. When she woke up on Christmas morning, the candles on the tree had been lit and she and her brother Leif began opening presents. Her parents were shocked when she showed little interest in the dolls she had been given. Suddenly, Leif gave a cry of delight when he opened a box containing a brand new pair of speed skates. After every package was opened, there were still no skates for Sonja. She retreated to her bedroom to hide her tears.

The July, 2, 1938 issue of the "Long Island Daily Press" explained how her father saved the day: "Her parents felt her pain as much as she did. Her father made a sudden decision and called out to her: 'But there is still another present for you. I don't know what can have happened to it. I'll go down to my shop and see if I left it there.' Hurriedly putting on his hat and coat, Wilhelm Henie went in search of a sporting goods store. They were all closed on Christmas Day, but he found the address of one of the proprietors whom he had once met and went to his house. The proprietor was having a gay time in the midst of his family and was not anxious to leave for the sake of one possible customer. But, when Mr. Henie explained the circumstances, he was truly sympathetic. Together they opened the store and selected a beautiful pair of skates which they wrapped in a colourful package. Hurrying home, Mr. Henie found Sonja lying in her bed, trying to stifle her sobs. She reluctantly followed him downstairs and opened the package which he had left at the foot of the tree. Immediately her attitude changed. She yelled and danced with glee when the shiny skates emerged from the box. Rushing to her room, she changed into her winter play clothes and joined Leif who was just then leaving for the skating pond with his new speed skates."

The next day, a family friend happened to pass by the pond. There was Sonja, racing around the ice like she had been at it for years! He told her parents, who came down to see what all the fuss was about. It was then and there that Wilhelm Henie decided Sonja was "a born skater".


Toller Cranston (left) and Xaviera Hollander (right)

For several years in the seventies, famed former Dutch madam Xaviera (de Vries) Hollander lived in Toronto... and the author of the bestseller "The Happy Hooker: My Own Story" once ended up spending the holidays with Toller Cranston and Mrs. Ellen Burka. In his memoir "Zero Tollerance", Toller wrote, "Some of the wildest parties on earth, the kind you read about in the 'National Enquirer', were happening almost nightly. I attended a number of them. They were quite the most exciting events that I had ever witnessed. Curiously, they were non-sexual. The guests were interesting people who danced and smoked grass. In many ways, they were the groovy who's who of Toronto. Ellen, a former Dutch skating champion, felt sorry for the poor little Dutch girl in a foreign country. Well, the poor little Dutch girl was pushing fifty, I think, although she claimed to be thirty-seven. Ellen invited Xaviera and her brother to a Christmas turkey dinner. That was all rather titillating for me. I began to compile a list of sordid questions that I wanted to ask our guest, particularly about the German shepherd that she claimed, in 'The Happy Hooker', to have seduced in South Africa. It was not to be. Xaviera was more interested in Santa Claus and the candy at the bottom of her stocking that she was in furthering my sexual education. Sex never entered the dinner conversation. She left thrilled, and I went to bed bored and disappointed... Shortly before Worlds, Xaviera, like a kind of camp mother, threw me a party in Ellen's house. The most exotic specimens in the land attended - interesting people that I normally would not have had access to. Many of the neighbours must have been glued to the windows. I'm not sure whether Xaviera's species had ever before hit the North York suburbs. At exactly twelve midnight, when Ellen and I thought that maybe things were getting slightly out of hand, Xaviera sized up the situation and announced, 'The party's over. Toller has to get some sleep.' The party and the guests vanished within two seconds."


Philadelphia's Joseph Chapman made history in 1923 when he won the first U.S. junior pairs title in history with his wife Ruth. That wasn't his only thrilling moment on the ice. In his book "Fifty Years Of Skating", he recalled, "Somewhere within this initial period of ice skating, lasting from my first venture until the year 1900, I had my unforgettable experience of being the first to skate upon an absolutely unmarked and perfect surface of black ice on the Wissahickon Creek. The setting for this great thrill could not have been more ideal because it occurred upon a Christmas morning at a time when I had just received a brand new pair of the most approved type of club skates for a Christmas present. There had been two or three days of sharp weather - sharper and more sustained than usual - but it was with only a mere hope that I hurried down to the Wissahickon Creek that Christmas morning with my new skates dangling from a strap, hoping against hope that a certain stretch of the Creek which hardly ever became frozen, might, in fact, be possible that day. Sure enough, the park guard, whom I questioned, said that I could go on, and I made the first marks upon a stretch of ice without a mark on it, and so thin and dangerous looking that it seemed I was skating upon the very surface of the water itself. This was an experience I shall never forget and one which I have only been able to repeat once or twice since then."


Dorothy Hamill (left) and a vintage Head ski jacket (right)

As we all know quite well, the costs of figure skating mean that people often have to make sacrifices... especially at Christmastime. Sometimes, however, Santa works a little magic. In her book "Dorothy Hamill: On And Off The Ice", America's sweetheart recalled, "One day I was shopping with my mom and I noticed a Head ski jacket in a store window. It was white with a beautiful fox fur collar. I showed it to my mom who assured me that she would love to buy it for me but couldn't afford it right now. I understood but I couldn't stop thinking about it. I stood and gazed longingly at it every time I passed the store. 'Could I have it for Christmas?' I asked one day. Mom shook her head. 'I wish I could say yes, Dorothy, but I can't. Not this year. It's ninety dollars.' I talked about the coat at the club and described what it looked like. My arch rival overhead the conversation and a week later she came in Skyrink wearing the coveted jacket. I was crushed. When I went home and told my mother, she was full of sympathy, knowing the kind of social pressures that existed in the club, but was unable to do anything to help... Nationals that year were held in Tulsa, Oklahoma and I was ready for them. I was third after school figures and Sonya [Dunfield] was ecstatic. I was, she felt, perfectly placed to move up. The free skating competition went smoothly. I skated as well as I knew how, and as I came off the ice Sonya gave me a hug. 'I think you did it!' she said. But it was not to be. I got my first taste of skating politics that day. In spite of a good performance I was awarded mediocre marks and finished second to Juli McKinstry... As I came out of the dressing room after the free skating, my mom came up with something draped over her arm. It was the Head ski jacket with the fox collar - the one I had coveted since the fall. She put it around my shoulders and gave me a hug. 'I didn't quite make it for Christmas,' she said, 'but I think it was worth waiting for.'"

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 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