Thursday, 23 March 2017

Finland's Forgotten Skating King: The John Catani Story


On Christmas Day, 1864 in Helsinki, Florio and Charlotte (Riecke) Catani welcomed to the world their third child, John Giovanni Battista Catani. The birth of John on Christmas Day was a particularly special gift for the Catani's, who had been working around the clock at the family confectionary business in the Pohjoisesplanadi preparing holiday sweets for the good people of Helsinki.

From icing sugar to ice, young John developed a passion for skating in his teenage years. When he was nineteen, he entered a local speed skating race and finished a second to a local fisherman by the name of Liljeberg. After joining the Helsingfors Skridskoklubb, John began studying the art of figure skating and soon abandoned speed skating in favour of the practice of carving out elaborate special figures on the ice. Within no time, he was teaching fellow skaters the skills he'd just learned himself.

In 1886, John travelled to Stockholm and participated in an ice show where he was billed as "the cleverest skater the Nordic countries have to exhibit." According to the 1894 book "Tio vintrar på Nybroviken" penned by Ivar Boktryckeri, he "received the lion's share of applause" in this particular show.

Boktryckeri compared John directly to the great Jackson Haines, noting that he "loved to move in large figures and developed an elegance and agility which was admirable. He developed however an almost feminine grace which turned many against him who preferred a strong male skater. He had a boldness, tremendous strength combined with flexibility and a natural posture." John soon became renowned throughout Scandinavia for the polkas and mazurkas he translated to the ice, forward inside and outside spirals and aesthetically pleasing figure patterns.

Special figures designed by John Catani

In February 1889, John participated in an international figure skating competition in Gothenburg that featured skaters from Finland, Norway, Sweden and Great Britain. Though he placed third behind Rudolf Sundgren and Ivar Hult, British skater Douglas Adams recalled that both Sundgren and Catani "surprised us by the great power they possessed over their skates, in the most difficult movements." The following February John competed in the same 'unofficial' World Championships in St. Petersburg, Russia where Canada's Louis Rubenstein made his mark. Russia's skating elite looked very favourably upon his special figures and the February 19, 1890 issue of "Finnish Wirallinen Journal" raved, "Mr. Catani is not inferior to the best ice ballet dancers". He didn't win the gold medal at that event, but he returned to Helsinki with a silver drinking cup to show for his efforts.

Later that year, John opened a café in the same area as the family confectionary business in a huge stone house he built himself. That café, run by John and his brother, became an important social hub for the cultural elite of Helsinki for almost three decades. A famous Finnish poet named Eino Leino often frequented John's business. The first meeting of the Finnish Football Association - an organization which John himself later served as treasurer and President - was held there. In between serving Rönttönen pastry with lingonberry filling, Salmiakki, piimä and buckets of coffee to Helsinki high society, John was a devoted husband to his wife Anna Matilda Lindqvist and father to his three sons Sten, Lars and Bror and daughter Giulia Anita.

Sadly, John's café closed in 1917 due to World War I rationing and remained closed throughout the Finnish Civil War the following year. Passing away at the age of sixty six on May 13, 1931 in Helsinki, John Catani - "the cleverest skater the Nordic countries have to exhibit" - has been all but forgotten except to the most ardent followers of figure skating in Finland.

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.

Monday, 20 March 2017

A(nother) Spring Skating History Roundup

When I'm digging around for ideas for blogs, I sometimes come across the most unexpected and random stories. Last spring, I pulled together several fascinating tales that didn't quite have enough meat on their bones for a blog of their own and combined them into one post. The spring cleaning continues in 2017 with another spring mix of interesting stories from skating's colourful history. Grab yourself a nice cup of tea, open the windows and let the fresh air in and enjoy a(nother) little spring skating history roundup!

CLARA BARTON'S ACCIDENT


Without question, Clarissa Harlowe Barton earned her revered place in history. From her work tending to the sick and injured on the battlefields during the U.S. Civil War to her role in establishing the American Red Cross, she not only saved lives - she changed the world. If you'd like to dig deeper into her story, I'm definitely going to recommend listening to The History Chicks' 2011 podcast on this fascinating woman, but before you skate off there, I want to share with you a neat anecdote from her youth.


In her 1907 memoir "The Story Of My Childhood", Barton reflected on an injury she sustained once she mustered up the gall to try to skate... against her father's wishes. This tale, now in the public domain, serves as not only a footnote in the life of an extraordinary humanitarian, but a first hand glimpse into how young women at the turn of the century who showed a proclivity towards skating would have been treated growing up in rural America at the time:

"That little pond was my early love; the home of my beautiful flock of graceful ducks. The boys were all fine skaters; I wanted to skate too, but skating had not then become customary, in fact, not even allowable for girls; and when, one day, my father saw me sitting on the ice attempting to put on a pair of skates, he seemed shocked, recommended me to the house, and said something about 'tom-boys'. But this did not cure my desire, nor could I understand why it was not as well for me to skate as for the boys; I was as strong, could run as fast and ride better, indeed they would not have presumed to approach me with a horse. Neither could the boys understand it, and this misconception led them into an error and me into trouble. One clear, cold, starlight Sunday morning, I heard a low whistle under my open chamber window. I realized that the boys were out for a skate and wanted to communicate with me. On going to the window, they informed me that they had an extra pair of skates and if I could come out they would put them on me and 'learn' me how to skate. It was Sunday morning; no one would be up till late, and the ice was so smooth and 'glare.' The stars were bright, the temptation was too great. I was in my dress in a moment and out. The skates were fastened on firmly, one of the boy's wool neck 'comforters' tied about my waist, to be held by the boy in front. The other two were to stand on either side, and at a signal the cavalcade started. Swifter and swifter we went, until at length we reached a spot where the ice had been cracked and was full of sharp edges. These threw me, and the speed with which we were progressing, and the distance before we could quite come to a stop, gave terrific opportunity for cuts and wounded knees. The opportunity was not lost. There was more blood flowing than any of us had ever seen. Something must be done. Now all of the wool neck comforters came into requisition; my wounds were bound up, and I was helped into the house, with one knee of ordinary respectable cuts and bruises ; the other frightful. Then the enormity of the transaction and its attendant difficulties began to present themselves, and how to surround (for there was no possibility of overcoming them), was the question. The most feasible way seemed to be to say nothing about it, and we decided to all keep silent; but how to conceal the limp? I must have no limp, but walk well. I managed breakfast without notice. Dinner not quite so well, and I had to acknowledge that I had slipped down and hurt my knee a little. This gave my limp more latitude, but the next day it was so decided, that I was held up and searched. It happened that the best knee was inspected; the stiff wool comforter soaked off, and a suitable dressing given it. This was a great relief, as it afforded pretext for my limp, no one observing that I limped with the wrong knee. But the other knee was not a wound to heal by first intention, especially under its peculiar dressing, and finally had to be revealed. The result was a surgical dressing and my foot held up in a chair for three weeks, during which time I read the 'Arabian Nights' from end to end. As the first dressing was finished, I heard the surgeon say to my father: "that was a hard case, Captain, but she stood it like a soldier." But when I saw how genuinely they all pitied, and how tenderly they nursed me, even walking lightly about the house not to jar my swollen and fevered limbs, in spite of my disobedience and detestable deception (and persevered in at that), my Sabbath breaking and unbecoming conduct, and all the trouble I had caused, conscience revived, and my mental suffering far exceeded my physical. The Arabian Nights were none too powerful a soporific to hold me in reasonable bounds. I despised myself and failed to sleep or eat. My mother, perceiving my remorseful condition, came to the rescue, telling me soothingly, that she did not think it the worst thing that could have been done, that other little girls had probably done as badly, and strengthened her conclusions by telling me how she once persisted in riding a high mettled unbroken horse in opposition to her father's commands, and was thrown. My supposition is that she had been a worthy mother of her equestrian son. The lesson was not lost on any of the group. It is very certain that none of us, boys or girls, 'indulged in further smart tricks. Twenty-five years later, when on a visit to the old home, long left, I saw my father, then a grey-haired grandsire, out on the same little pond, fitting the skates carefully to the feet of his little twin granddaughters, holding them up to make their first start in safety, I remembered my wounded knees, and blessed the great Father that progress and change were among the possibilities of His people. I never learned to skate. When it became fashionable I had neither time nor opportunity."

Barton's skating story reads almost like one of Aesop's fables in its moralistic tone, but you know what? The lesson still holds true. Sometimes when you get you on the ice, you fall, you hurt yourself, you get back up, you move on... but that draw to the ice never goes away at any age. 

LENIN ON ICE



Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (Lenin) is widely regarded as one of the most controversial figures in history. He was the father of Leninism, which - joined with the works of Karl Marx - formed Marxism-Leninism and shaped the world view on Communism. He acted as leader of the Russian Communist Party and was of course the first leader of the Soviet Union. He also led the Bolshevik Revolution and we all know how that turned out. Like him or lump him, this guy certainly made a massive impact on world history. What you probably didn't know about him was that he was a - wait for it - figure skater.

Lenin grew up in Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk), a small city on the Volga River, in a wealthy middle class family. His family's affluence afforded him the opportunities to pursue a wide variety of sporting activities, including skiing, swimming, rowing and ice skating. He devoted more time to his interest in skating during his time in exile in Siberia for sedition in the late nineteenth century. In a November 15, 1898 letter to his mother, Lenin wrote that "the only change is in the form relaxation - now that winter has come I go skating instead of hunting. I recall the old days and find that I have not forgotten how, although it is ten years since I skated last." This asserts that he would have been skating in his late teens.

Carter Elwood's paper "The Sporting Life Of V.I. Lenin" elaborated on Lenin's skating connection in much further detail: "According to Olga Lepeshinskaia, ice-skating was Vladimir Il'ich's favourite sport and one where his skill was far more evident than in hunting. Once the Ienisei froze and before too much snow had fallen, it was possible to skate for miles on the river. Ever competitive, Lenin challenged his fellow skaters to a race. 'Our skates would cut into the ice. In front of everybody (was) Ilyich, straining all his willpower and his muscles in order to win at any price, no matter how big the effort.' After the snow came, the exiled socialists of Shushenskoe cleared the ice on the Shush River in front of their village to make a skating rink. Krupskaia provided an admiring audience. 'Volodia is an excellent skater,' she informed his sister Anna; he 'even keeps his hands in his pockets of his grey jacket like a true sportsman.' After a Christmas trip to the near-by town of Minusinsk, where Lenin was given a new pair of Mercury skates and some lessons in figure skating, they returned home where he 'amazed the people of Shushenskoe with his 'giant steps' and 'Spanish leaps'." The self-effacing Krupskaia admitted that she in contrast 'strutted around like a chicken on skates.'"

Further evidence exists of Lenin turning to skating over a decade later when living and researching in Krakow before the first World War. He bought another pair of skates and again wrote to his mother saying "skating brought back memories of Simbirsk and Siberia". According to the text "V. I. Lenin v Krakove i Poronine", he again impressed an audience of local residents, this time by "executing elaborate figures on the ice".

Well after his death in 1924 of what is now believed to have been syphilis, it only seems appropriate that the Lenin Stadium complex constructed in 1955 which houses twenty rinks, many of which used for the instruction of figure skating, bears this controversial revolutionary's name.

BEING AN AMATEUR SKATER IN THE EIGHTIES

I once owned a mammoth red binder. One of the three rings had started to warp and you had to pull the pages through each time to read them. It was a copy of the CFSA rulebook. There's a whole world of skating history that can be gleaned from rulebooks have changed over the years and it was in a borrowed (earlier) copy of that very same CFSA rulebook that I happened upon several sections that I found particularly fascinating. They related to the stringent rules of amateurism.

We've all heard the stories: Papa Henie accepting lavish gifts as compensation for Sonja Henie's services; Barbara Ann Scott having to return a gifted yellow Buick convertible to keep her amateur status. Although much has without question changed over the years, back in the day federations took amateurism extremely seriously. The 1984 CFSA rulebook defined an amateur as "a person who participates in the sport as an avocation, for pleasure and not as a means of livelihood, and who is not disqualified as an amateur by any regulation of the ISU". Ways you could lose your amateur status including teaching skating for gain, participating "in any capacity, in a skating competition or exhibition not sanctioned by the CFSA, or other member of the ISU", performing with professionals in skating exhibitions without express permission, displaying advertising for commercial products or services during any CFSA or ISU sponsored event without permission and being in excess of allowed expenses. Signing contracts, accepting money in exchange for signing contracts at a later date and performing or teaching with the agreement of being paid sometime down the road were also all big no-no's. Skaters also had to be incredibly careful as to whether or not the events they appeared in were sanctioned by the CFSA. If, for instance, they even skated an exhibition during the intermission at a hockey game "where the professional element [dominated]," they were totally in troubs.

Let's talk a bit about expenses. Skaters under the age of eighteen were allowed to have a chaperone (one for every five skaters) whose expenses were paid, but the rules defining allowable expenses were very persnickety. Skaters and chaperones competing internationally had to educate themselves as to what was and wasn't allowed.


Skaters were allowed to receive financial assistance for their expenses in attending a competition from any source, but the CFSA reserved the right to request skaters submit a detailed list of all receipts and expenditures for scrutiny upon request. When they performed in shows, each skater was allowed to receive gifts of a value that did "not exceed $200.00 or the amount allowable under ISU rules (400 Swiss Francs), whichever is less". Gifts were allowed to be given in the form of gift certificates or purchase vouchers so long as the skaters weren't able to in any way sell or exchange them for cash value.

What happened if a skater's eligibility was questioned? Why, a  good old fashioned witch hunt of course! Well, not really, but it's easy to see how the rules could be manipulated to cause skaters considerable headache if you wanted to be an ass about such things. If someone made an objection to a skater's amateur status, they had two days to submit a notice in writing and a deposit of ten dollars to the Executive Director of the CFSA. At least seven days before the Board of Directors met to discuss the matter in a hearing, the skater was sent a copy of the complaint and notice of the time and place of the hearing. Skaters were called upon to defend their amateur status but "the burden of proof shall be on the objector". Depending on how the hearing went, the Rules Committee could either recommend a temporary suspension of a skater's amateur status or a full one. If a skater didn't agree with the decision, they had two recourses: an appeal (again paying a ten dollar deposit "which may be returned at the discretion of the meeting") and applying for reinstatement. Reinstatement appeals at the time could only be made at the CFSA's Annual General Meeting and if a skater reinstated, they could certainly test, skate in carnivals, judge, referee and compete in national competitions. They were not, at the time, ever eligible to compete in ISU or international competitions again. So this was some serious business! 

The changes that have occurred since these texts were written are innumerable. We saw the reinstatement of amateurs in the nineties in time for the Lillehammer Olympics, the great heyday of great professional figure skating competitions killed by the introduction of pro-am competitions and today, more skaters than ever choosing to retain their 'amateur' status simply because there aren't sufficient competitive opportunities professionally to offer a sense of fulfilment or challenge, let alone make a living outside of the show world. I don't want to get into a discussion about the importance of professional skating (been there, done that about ten times already on the blog) but I do hope these points serve as a gentle reminder to skaters today that 'they have it good'.

THE PHILADELPHIA TWIST


"Though Philadelphians have never reduced skating to rules like Londoners, nor connected it with business like Dutchmen, I will yet hazard the opinion that they are the best and most elegant skaters in the world." - Alexander Graydon

As the art of free skating developed in North America in the nineteenth century, dance steps and 'free figures' were an integral part of the composition of skater's programs. Perhaps the most popular of these dance steps were grapevines, which Irving Brokaw described in his 1913 book "The Art Of Skating" as "movements in which both feet are continuously employed on the ice, and where one foot is made to go in front or behind the other in combination with threes, loops, anvils, counters and toe-circling movements."

According to Brokaw, a member of the Philadelphia Skating Club named Amos Pinchon first brought the grapevine to New York in the winter of 1858-1959 and fittingly perhaps the most popular of the grapevines, the Philadelphia Twist, originated in that Pennsylvanian city around the same time.

The Philadelphia Twist was invented by an important man in early American skating history: the first chairperson of the first skating club. Colonel James Page was appointed as chair at the December 21, 1849 meeting at Stigman's Hotel on George and Sixth Street's in the city where the Skaters' Club Of Philadelphia, the precursor to the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, was formed. Page wasn't your typical skater. He fought in the War Of 1812, The Buckshot War in 1838 and the riots of 1844 in Kensington and Southwark and as a high ranking military man, was extremely well respected and revered both on and off the ice.


But what exactly WAS this Philadelphia Twist that Page devised? Our old friend Henry Eugene Vandervell explained the entrance to the turn thusly: "The skater makes a whole circle on the outside back, with say, the right foot, when he places the left behind, outside of and parallel to the right, and with the feet thus locked makes half a revolution to the right, and taking up the right, skates the other circle of the eight with the left, and so on. The movement is, in fact, a back eight, with the circles tied together with the Philadelphia Twist." The Twist itself was a simple two foot half revolution turn with both feet locked together and could be skated in single or double form and was often accompanied with the variations of pivot circling on the toe-point or heel or incorporating a spread eagle in the steps. The most interesting part? Many men skated the twist together as a sort of primitive ice dance 'greeting' called a Salutation and for decades, it was extremely fashionable to do so. There you have it folks... in the end, it all comes back to same sex ice dancing. Who would have thought?

STASH SERAFIN AND THE VICKIE



"It all comes to this: the simplest way to be happy is to do good." - Helen Keller

On Friday, April 3, 1981, some of Canada's best figure skaters descended on Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens for a skating benefit like no other called The Vickie. The name of the show was a loose for acronym for 'Visually Impaired Children's (Kids) Ice Extravaganza' and the show was a fundraiser for the Ontario Foundation for Visually Impaired Children, who at the time ran High Park Forest School, the only school in all of Ontario that provided services for young students with visual impairment. The Vickie had actually been held three times previously, but this was the first time it was brought to a major arena with major sponsorship and advertising.

The Gardens were donated by Bill Ballard and the show itself in 1981 featured a massive cast of five hundred skaters from the Granite Club and Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, a precision team from California called the San Diego Ice-Ettes and a performance by the Metro Toronto Police Pipe and Drum Band. The big name skating stars were Olympic Bronze Medallist Toller Cranston, World Champion and Olympic Bronze Medallist Donald Jackson and that year's Canadian Champions Brian Orser and Tracey Wainman. As part of the benefit, Toller Cranston was actually given The Vickie Award for his dedication to the cause. Toller actually donated his time and performed for this particular cause since day one.


Despite the big name stars, the skater many really came to was Stash Serafin of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, who himself was visually impaired. Serafin was actually the very first student of Uschi Keszler when she started coaching in 1971. According to an April 4, 1988 article from the "Philadelphia Inquirer", Keszler's work with Serafin greatly influenced her work with Brian Orser: "Because of Stash, I think Brian's blade is a lot more sensitive. I had to learn to teach through sound and learned that each mistake has a different sound."

The producer of the show was Andra McLaughlin Kelly, who represented the U.S. at the 1951 World Championships and later starred in the Ice Follies. McLaughlin Kelly's work with Canadian visually impaired skaters (many of whom also performed in the show) was an incredibly important part of the show's success.  Kathleen Rex's March 21, 1981 article in "The Globe And Mail" explained, "A high point of the evening will be the performance of youngsters such as Steven, who, dressed in Teddy bear suits, will demonstrate how well they can skate. They are among the 18 children enrolled in the High Park school, all of whom spend an hour a day, five days a week, on the ice in the St. Michael's arena with students from St. Michael's school. Norma Kelly, executive director of the foundation, said some of the proceeds from the show will go to find other blind pre-schoolers so they can be taught how to cope in a sighted world." Based on the resounding success of the 1981 show, The Vickie continued to be held at Maple Leaf Gardens through to at least March 1983.

The story of this particular skating event jumped out at me because visual impairment is something that has touched my own life. My grandmother Joyce, who I loved to death and pieces, lost her sight later in life and was an absolute inspiration to anyone she met. She was born in England and moved here to Canada with my grandfather while my father was only a young boy. After my grandfather passed away, she didn't have an easy go of it but she was the most feisty, full of life person you could ever meet. After suffering a stroke and Bell's Palsy, her sight declined. Instead of giving up, she wore the sunglasses, got the cane and with help from Nova Scotia's chapter of the Canadian National Institute Of The Blind learned the skills she needed to get around safely and live her life to the fullest while maintaining her independence. Even though she couldn't see, she'd be out shopping or doing this or that almost every day and had a fuller social calendar than most. She had such a beautiful spirit and I know she would have loved learning about The Vickie - almost like a real life version of the film "Ice Castles" - as much as I did.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

The 1987 World Junior Figure Skating Championships


Hailed as the 1987 World Junior Figure Skating Championships though held from November 27 to December 7, 1986, the ISU's 1986/1987 season international figure skating competition for junior skaters seemed doomed from the start. Originally slated to be held in Ostersund, Sweden, the event was pulled from Scandinavia after being awarded due to venue issues. The CFSA and Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club, whose bid to host the event at the Kitchener Auditorium in Ontario had initially been rejected, were 'regifted' the event with only a year and a half to plan the particulars. Issues with European sponsors, television rights and marketing plagued the event's planning. Ticket sales were also disappointing, with only three hundred spectators flocking to the six thousand seat arena for one part of the competition. Despite the event's seemingly bad luck, the Kitchener event was chock full of fantastic skating. Let's take a look at how it all played out.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION  


Dominating the pairs competition from start to finish - with a quad twist, no less - were defending World Junior Champions Elena Leonova and Gennadi Krasnitski of the Soviet Union. The fearless young team appeared at the time to many to be the logical successors to 1985 World Junior Champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. The East German team of Mandy Hannebauer and Marno Kreft were second after the short program, but fell apart in the free skate allowing Soviets Ekaterina Murugova and Artem Torgashev and Americans Kristi Yamaguchi and Rudy Galindo to move up and claim the silver and bronze medals. British Columbian pair Jody Barnes and Rob Williams finished seventh, followed by Marie-Josée Fortin and Jean-Michel Bombardier of Quebec in a field of ten.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION 



Yuriy Tsymbalyuk of the Soviet Union, the previous year's bronze medallist at the event, led the entering the men's free skate, bolstered by a win in the compulsory figures. Seventeen year old Rudy Galindo, who had won the silver in 1986, dominated the practice sessions. He psyched out his competitors by reeling off triple/triple combinations that weren't even included in his program. In reality, Galindo presented a less difficult free skate than the previous year. His coach Jim Hulick's strategy to present a more artistic program not overly cluttered with triple jumps paid off, as Galindo moved up to take the gold with a superb performance that featured a triple flip, triple loop, double toe/triple toe and triple Salchow. Fifteen year old Todd Eldredge moved ahead of Tsymbalyuk to take the bronze, ahead of America's Cameron Birky, West Germany's Daniel Weiss and the Soviet Union's Michael (then Mikhail) Shmerkin. Canada's sole representative Brent Frank of North Battleford, Saskatchewan dropped from seventh after figures to ninth overall with a disappointing fifteenth place showing in the free skate. In eighth was a young Eric Millot; in nineteenth a pint-sized Steven Cousins.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Coached by Cynthia Ullman, fourteen year old Shannon Allison of Coquitlam, British Columbia found herself second after the first two figures but dropped to fourth overall at the conclusion of the initial stage of the women's competition with a disappointing final figure. The leaders in the figures were sixteen year old Ondrej Nepela student Susanne Becher of West Germany and sixteen year old Holly Cook of the United States. Four foot eight dynamo Cindy Bortz of Sherman Oaks, California won the short program to place second behind Becher entering the free skate. Both Becher and Bortz landed every single jumping pass in their free skate with aplomb, but Bortz took the gold with a much more challenging performance that included a triple Lutz, triple flip, triple Salchow, two triple toe-loop's and three double Axels. The young powerhouse's only error was an untimely trip on the boards. Becher settled for her third consecutive World Junior silver medal. Allison claimed the bronze ahead of Holly Cook. Sixteen year old Angie Folk, Canada's second entry, dropped from sixth after figures to twelfth overall.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


After the compulsory dances, fifteen year old Ilona Melnichenko and seventeen year old Gennadi Kaskov of Odessa lead the way ahead of seventeen year old Catherine Pal of Vaughn, Ontario and eighteen year old Donald Godfrey of Richmond Hill. Pal and Godfrey, students of Roy Bradshaw, had finished seventh at the previous year's World Junior Championships in Sarajevo. Melnichenko and Kaskov won the free dance and gold medal in a unanimous decision from all nine judges. It was their first competition outside of the Soviet Union. The Canadians lost the silver medal in a seven-two split to fifteen year old Oksana Grischuk and seventeen year old Alexandr Chichkov of the Soviet Union. Italians Anna Croci and Luca Mantovani moved up to finish fourth ahead of France's Sophie Moniotte and Pascal Lavanchy. Bradshaw's other team, sixteen year old Jacqueline Petr and eighteen year old Mark Janoschak placed seventh ahead of Krisztina Regőczy's students Krisztina Kerekes and Csaba Szentpetery of Hungary in a field of fifteen.

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.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Joseph Chapman Story, Part Two


"The sport and art of skating rises ever superior to the enthusiasts who practice it. Yet no one, however small, can fail to add something to it if he so desires." - Joseph Chapman, "Fifty Years Of Skating"

In the first part of this two-parter, we explored the early skating days of Philadelphia's Joseph Chapman. Today, we're going to dive right into the meat and potatoes. In 1921, the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society hired its first professional skating instructor, Kunzie de Bergen, and Chapman skated the Lancers (an early form of fours/combined figure skating) in the club's first true carnival. He explained, "At this time also, Mrs. Chapman and I began to skate a pair together, and it was at this carnival we first exhibited ourselves. The arena was crowded to the door-knobs with spectators, and I will never forget our feelings of grateful relief at the very generous (and probably over-sympathetic) applause which burst out at the end of our performance." Praise from professional pairs skaters George Muller and his sister Elsbeth, who had joined the club's coaching staff after de Bergen, bolstered Chapman's confidence and he became the club's first secretary under its role as a USFSA recognized club.

In 1921, he competed in the senior men's event at the U.S. Championships in Philadelphia. He finished an unfortunate last behind Sherwin Badger, his brother-in-law Nathaniel Niles, Eddie Howland and Chris Christensen. He recalled that when his friend, Stanley Rogers, withdrew to judge "he thereby practically precluded any chance I had of winning anything, except last place - even though I think he did his secret best for me in his capacity as a judge." It was also during this period that he was part of the first 'Philadelphia Four' (fours team) with his wife, Charley Myers and Margaretta Dixon. They gave exhibitions for three years in Philadelphia carnivals and once in Boston, although Margaretta was replaced twice. He also gave exhibitions with his wife in pairs skating at the old Iceland Rink in Broadway in New York.

In 1923, he won the U.S. junior pairs title with his wife in New Haven, Connecticut. It would be his first and last competition in pairs skating. That year's event was actually the first U.S. junior pairs event and was only added after Martha Niles, his sister-in-law, petitioned the USFSA for its inclusion. He stated that "Ruth and I... were distinctly a dignified 'lady and gentleman pair,' - having no jumps or spins lifts - or anything, in fact, but several fair-enough spirals and a few dance steps. Although we had not skated very much together in our pair for some time immediately preceding the Championships in New Haven, I crowded her into entering the Junior Pair event. It was slightly chilly that day in the New Haven rink, exactly thirty-two degrees below zero, Centigrade, I mean - and her favorite cousins were interested and anxiously sympathetic spectators. We went through our program without a fall, which is saying a good deal, and succeeded in defeating the only other couple entered, composed of Heaton Robertson and (I think) Dorothy Dieffendorfer. Our victory was due not so much to our ability as to the fact that Heaton and Dorothy had only been skating together about a week." The rules at the time indicated that if you won junior pairs, you couldn't enter again. The couple refrained from moving up to the senior ranks and remained undefeated, but inspired seven teams to enter the junior pairs competition at the U.S. Championships the next year.

While in Lake Placid that same winter, Chapman was invited to Ottawa to judge the first North American Championships in Ottawa. Fiercely patriotic, let it suffice to say that he didn't have very complimentary things to say about the Canadian skaters competing that year. He returned to the U.S. Championships as a senior men's competitor in 1924, but again finished off the podium behind Badger, Niles and Christensen. It would be his final competition. You'll remember in the cliffhanger of part one of the blog that Chapman suffered heart problems regularly during his career. Although this didn't keep him off the ice, they did play a role in his decision to slow down on the free skating to some degree so it was perhaps his health and not his disappointing results that kept him from continuing to pursue a national medal in the men's senior ranks at that time.

He focused his attention on furthering the development of skating in Philadelphia, spearheading a committee that organized a joint USFSA/Philadelphia club carnival called "Allies Of The Ice" in 1925. Unfortunately, his heart problems kept him from taking on the active role in the organization of this event. As his health improved, he remained extremely active in organizing skating carnivals in Philadelphia and as he called an 'ice-contact man', using his connections in the skating world to book skaters for shows, drive them around and arrange for their music when they arrived from abroad. He was in many ways a booking agent before such a thing really existed in modern terms. He also was instrumental in pioneering skating carnivals in Hershey, Pennsylvania and in fact, choreographed the first two. He also did a little skating briefly in the thirties, forming the short lived Philadelphia Trio, a "three member fours act", with Christine Hamilton and Rosemond Robert and skating in carnivals.

It was however in his capacity as an 'ice-contact man' that he first became acquainted with Sonja Henie during her amateur days when she was in America giving an exhibition in Atlantic City. After lunch with Sonja, Mama and Papa Henie, he offered Sonja and Hedy Stenuf a drive in his Buick Coupe. Henie, in awe of a car with a radio, hopped in. Their conversation went like this:

"You know, Sonja, sometimes I feel really sorry for you. You have to devote yourself exclusively to skating. You must have been thrown constantly with older people. At the dances after the carnivals you are always dancing with us old fellows because there are so few charming young men as yet engaged in our sport. That is one reason why I never ask you to dance - even though on taking the famous Binet Test recently, my own mental age was pronounced to be of fourteen years. Have you had any boyfriends?"

"But yes! Of course I have! Many boys come to see me in my home at Oslo. You should see my room. It is full of gifts and presents. Not only from boys, but it is full of beautiful gold-mesh bags, cups and gifts of all kinds I have received from all over Europe when I have skated. These Americans do not seem so generous in their presents as the Europeans. They do not give me as nice presents as I get abroad when I skate. When Maribel Vinson came into my room in my home in Oslo, she could not believe her eyes when she saw my presents from Europe."

"I am amazed. Perhaps the Americans think more of a dollar than they do of your skating. I will tell you what I am going to do, Sonja. We will be in Atlantic City for the carnival on Saturday, three days from now. I am directing that carnival and skating in it also. You are going to be one of our star exhibitors there. [Her eyes narrowed slightly] I mean, you are going to be our STAR exhibitor. I intend to spring into the breach as the defender of American generosity. I am going to give you a present when you skate at Atlantic City."

"Oh no - I did not mean that. You must not do that. You must think me terrible!"

Although he could have certainly afforded a more luxurious gift - if you take his income from 1930 U.S. Census, by today's standards, he would have been a millionaire - Chapman gave Sonja Henie a thirty five cent box of salt water taffy. He said, "I wrote a hurried little note and sent it with the gift via bell-boy to Sonja's room. I saw Sonja only at a distance from a corner of the rink other than the one where I stood in front of the orchestra. But at the dance afterwards I passed close to Sonja as she gracefully drifted by to the strains of a waltz, clasped in the arms of [Willy Böckl]. Leaning close she murmured to me in dulcet tones, 'Thank you for the candy.' For you see, Sonja really is a good kid." Now if that isn't a good Sonja Henie story, I don't know what is!

Despite this, he ushered the Henie's and Karl Schäfer to Washington, D.C. to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt after the 1930 World Figure Skating Championships. When they arrived, they found out that the President was engaged speaking to coal miners, and were met by Eleanor Roosevelt instead. She was, according to Chapman, more interested in his jokes than the skating royalty he accompanied.

Invoice from Roman Bronze Works Foundry describing skating statues and trophies designed by Joseph Chapman. Courtesy The Portal To Texas History.

In 1936, Philadelphia established its own pairs championship and Ruth, who had by this time taken up a keen interest in sculpting skating figurines, designed The Chapman Trophy for the winners. Although Chapman remained active in the organization of the club carnivals in Philadelphia during this period, the couple started wintering in Florida so took on less of a 'hands on' role. In 1939, both Joseph and Ruth were made members of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society for life with full skating privileges. However, the following year the couple opted to retire to a warmer clime, becoming legal residents of Coconut Grove, Florida. Although Ruth had stopped skating by this point, Chapman remained active in the skating community as the USFSA's Southern representative and skated recreationally at an indoor rink in Florida until it was taken over by the military and used to train army airforce personnel during World War II.

You'd think retirement and the lack of a skating rink would stop most people, but not the Chapman's. Their last major contribution to skating came in 1942 and was Ruth's brainchild. They organized a committee at the Venetian Roller Skating Rink in Coconut Grove with the idea of bringing military members to the ice for skating parties. These affairs, catered with food and drink, brought at least fifty uniformed sailors to the ice every week. "The Miami News", on March 3, 1942 reported, "Last year we kept hearing of Joseph Chapman as an ice skater, for he was one of the 'constants' at the Coliseum Ice Palace and his figure skating was something to brag about. With no facilities for ice skating available in Miami this year, Mr. Chapman has turned his attention to roller skating, and because skating is his hobby, he knows there must be boys in military service in Miami who also love to skate. That's why he and Mrs. Chapman decided to arrange a skating party and invite some of our military visitors." He composed the lyrics and music for "Rolling To Victory", a patriotic war tune about roller skating, especially for these parties.

Whatever impression you may glean of him from this biography, you have to admire Chapman's dedication to skating and sense of humour. In an epilogue in his 1944 memoir, he wrote, "I never expected this skating history would see the light. That it now appears in modest form is due to a temptation, for which I fell... Some skaters may feel slighted because they are not mentioned; some because they may think themselves too lightly mentioned. All I can say is: 'I apologize'. That ought to fix 'em!" Another quote which stood out poignantly were his words, "While I respect death, I do not much 'fear' it." After years of battling with heart problems, he finally succumbed in January 1952 in Miami. He is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Few have worn so many hats: competitor, coach, judge, agent, choreographer, event organizer, writer, historian... If anyone loved figure skating, it was this man that time has 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.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Joseph Chapman Story, Part One


"The sport and art of skating rises ever superior to the enthusiasts who practice it. Yet no one, however small, can fail to add something to it if he so desires." - Joseph Chapman, "Fifty Years Of Skating"

Like The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, Joseph Chapman Jr., the son of Joseph and Mary Chapman, was born April 12, 1881 in west Philadelphia. In the summer of 1886, he moved with his family to Lower Merion, a township in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. It was there, as a boy of five, that he first skated on a pond during the winter of 1886/1887 with his father on the family's private little cement pond. In his autobiographical 1944 memoir "Fifty Years Of Skating", a primary source that I consulted for much of the research in this blog (and will coincidentally quote from heavily), he explained, "My first skates were of the all-steel variety with clamps that bit onto the soles and heels of my shoes, usually pulling the latter off after a time, and were operated by an adjustable lever underneath the foot plate." Although his early skating days consisted mostly of shinny games (a forerunner of hockey) and a game called 'tickly-bender', it wasn't until his father passed away in September 1899 that Chapman got his first taste of 'fancy skating'.

Going against his mother's wishes, he wandered off with his "colored coachman William" to skate on a pond two miles from the family home. Although he fell through the ice in an early visit (which he referred to as his 'baptism' into skating), it was on this pond at the Old Waterworks he became proficient. Inspired by a young man fancy skating there, he taught himself basic figures and the Dutch Roll. In those early days, Chapman also skated on Wissahickon Creek. He recalled, "I can remember how I stood amazed at some of the high speed circling jumps and spins executed by a gentleman of color from Roxborough, who as I was told - was accustomed to entertain, with an attractive conceit, his large crowd of admirers on the Wissahickon Creek down the last stretch where skating was possible before it emptied into the Schuylkill River." His mother, now realizing there was no stopping him, gave him approved club skates for Christmas one year and he learned grapevines and the Philadelphia Twist on these ponds. Among those he skated with was Chris I. Christensen of St. Paul, who would go on to later win the U.S. senior men's title in 1926 at the age of fifty one.

Skaters on the Schuylkill River. Photo courtesy Historical Society Of Pennsylvania.

In 1900, Chapman enrolled in Princeton University and stopped skating for some time. After graduating, he practiced law independently, though associated with five other attorneys from the firm of Tustin and Wesley. He became treasurer of his late father's business, Chapman Decoration Co. on Walnut St. in Philadelphia, golfed regularly and even had "sketches and stories" published in Golfers' Magazine, Saturday Evening Post and Philadelphia Sunday Ledger. In Princeton Alumni Weekly, Volume 20, he described "having created a colored character named 'Uncle Jed, Caddie Master". Realizing now that this is not the first, the second, but the third time in three paragraphs that the phrase 'colored' has come up, I want to assure you that I'm shaking my head as much as you probably are reading.

It was while he was still at Princeton that Chapman met his wife Ruth at a house party. They married in June 1908. Ruth was brought up in Boston and was probably the biggest fan of skating going, in particular the International Style being popularized at the time by George Henry Browne and Irving Brokaw, based on the style of Jackson Haines. By the winter of 1908/1909, Ruth had Joseph Chapman back on skates. She can also be credited with getting her brother on the ice in his first small competition on the pond of the Braeburn Country Club in Massachusetts. You may have heard of him... Nathaniel Niles, U.S. men's, pairs and ice dancing champion. 

It was around this time that a small and dedicated group of skaters began skating on the ponds at Haverford College and the Merion Cricket Club. They were there for next seven or eight seasons without fail. A man named Harry Thayer converted a small creek which ran past the quarry of the Merion East Golf Course into a skating pond. By the second year, Thayer had suggested Chapman become involved in the organization of the skating at this pond and in 1912, he became chairman, a position he'd hold for approximately the next fifteen years. He recalled, "During the eleven or more years of our outdoor figure skating activities, we struggled with the cold, the wind, the cracks and twigs on the ice, and to some extent with the late Walter Thayer's particular hete noir, i.e. the presence of one or more dogs upon the pond - a thing strictly against the rules. During this time also, my wife and I frequently went to Boston in the winter where they already had an indoor ice rink and several first-class figure skating professionals from Europe, George Muller and his sister, Elsbeth, were among the latter. I also remember Jaycock, who once gave me a half hour lesson in figure skating for one dollar and fifty cents. In this lesson he did all the skating, as I required him to show me a number of 'school figures' that I had read about in the books, but had never as yet seen performed. This is the only lesson I ever took, and I make this statement not as a boast but rather as a contrite confession."

Chapman, like many North American skaters of his day, developed his craft by studying Irving Brokaw's book "The Art Of Skating" and learning of the methods of Brokaw, Nikolai Panin, Ulrich Salchow, Bror Meyer and others. He even self-taught himself the spread eagle based on Henning
Grenander's picture in the book. In turn, he rekindled his own passion for writing, penning pieces regularly in "Skating" magazine and publishing poems about figure skating in the "Philadelphia Evening Bulletin" such as the one below:

UNDER THE OLD ROCK LEDGE (Saturday, February 3, 1917)

Hoar-frost over the meadow;
Tingle and nip in the air;
And down below where the willows grow,
Look for some skating there.

Run for your rusty rocker,
Skates with the sharpest edge;
The ice is black, with never a crack,
Under the old rock ledge.

Pulsing and glowing body;
Glorious healthy "feel;"
The flashing blade, and the crisp sound made
By the cold, keen, cutting steel.

Daring the dangerous "counter,"
Tracing a dizzy edge;
Risking your neck for "her" dear skate,
Under the old rock ledge.

Fast, and faster and faster,
Ankles and arms we'll pledge
To the matchless sport, as the days grow short,
Under the old rock ledge.

In 1916, Joseph and Ruth became members of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society. He described how an indoor rink was later built on a vacant lot on Market St. between 45th and 46th Streets: "This rink was opened on February 1, 1920, in a rather unfinished condition, and I can see myself the second or third time that I skated upon it - in the rain. No, this is no misstatement because the roof leaked like a sieve and the rain was pouring down upon us as we skated." Although he'd only ever had that one lesson, he started teaching others in a program called The Philadelphia Skating Class. To further his education, Chapman made frequent trips to New York, Brooklyn, Boston and the Cambridge Skating Club, where he hobnobbed with a who's who of skating at the time including his brother-in-law Nathaniel Niles and partner Theresa Weld Blanchard, Maribel Vinson-Owen, Sherwin Badger, Roger Turner, Willie Frick, Ulrich Salchow, Ellen Dallerup and Bror Meyer. However, during this same period, he began regularly having heart troubles, suffering from what his doctor called "a strained muscle."

And with that cliffhanger, I think that's where I'll end part one of this story. In part two, we'll explore the meat and potatoes of Joseph Chapman's skating career - competing at the U.S. Championships, his contributions to skating in Philadelphia and (for that matter) North America and for good measure, recall a fabulous Sonja Henie story. Stay tuned!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

The Modern English School


"The art of attention or concentration must be cultivated; its possibilities are quite startling. Attention is the distinguishing mark of all successful people and is in itself one of the greatest of human accomplishments... When you practise, don't let the power of your thought be scattered from one figure to another. If you can concentrate on a single purpose for a length of time, nothing is impossible." - T.D. Richardson

Talking about broader concepts in figure skating history is always a challenge. There are exceptions to every rule and the trajectory of how the sport has developed over time really isn't linear. Changes in coaching styles over time have obviously greatly affected trends and styles over the years and today on the blog we're going to touch on one such trend: The Modern English School style that developed in Great Britain in the thirties, forties and fifties.

In order to properly understand how figure skating in England progressed from the stiff English Style to The Modern English School after the popularization of the freer Continental or International Style, we really should start by reminding ourselves of how both styles differed like day and night. In his 1954 book "Winter Sports", Neville Bulwer-Lytton remarked, "The followers of the English style consider the International style unmanly and affected and the International skaters say the English school is stiff and ungainly... The English school is practically dying out. Its followers are few and far between, and it says a great deal for their enthusiasm that it keeps going at all. I think that it is a mistake to try and prove that either school of skating is superior to the other. Both have their good points, and it is not because of any inferiority that the English style is on the wane." Bulwer-Lytton acknowledged the shift from the jerkiness of English Style figures to school figures with rhythmic sway on the turns. The obvious differences - the use of the upper body in school figures, free skating itself and of course, the relationship between music and movement - go without saying. However, there was a very distinct style to British skaters of this era that made their way of skating particularly unique as compared to their Continental counterparts and it truly borrowed concepts from both the modern International Style and the growingly archaic English Style.


Figure skating historian Nigel Brown noted, "Bernard Adams, who had been a fine English skating stylist and who turned to the practice and teaching of the international style shortly after its introduction into England, cannot be claimed as the founder of the modern English school, but he
must be considered as a guide in the important [transitional] period between the English and international styles. He taught with intelligence, and through the introduction of his own theories modern English skating took on a special character. A German-Swiss, named Jacques Gerschwiler, came to England during the Henie days, as a private coach to the young Cecilia Colledge. He believed in pure technique almost to the exclusion of artistry. He became the founder of the English school, the modern scientific school of skating. Cold and almost soulless technique made its appearance in the big international competitions significantly when competitor after competitor began to dominate the solo-skating world. This approach produced a machine-like skater - both powerful and reliable. But individual personal expression became practically non-existent. This was clearly apparent among the men, who had not the natural charm of the female skater to soften a highly skillful performance and yet there was a peculiar fascination about this frigid manner of skating, but it had to be well-nigh perfect to give the desired effect. Cecilia Colledge as a technician was near this point and her interpretation possessed a cold charm through its power and meticulousness. She was the ideal type of competition skater, and the English school built its strength around this pattern. They worked upon the theme that full expression in this very difficult art could only be achieved by perfect technique, and this could only be acquired by the exclusion of nearly everything else... By intense study and aim at technical perfection the English school laid a solid foundation upon which a wider development of the art could confidently take place."

Cecilia Colledge

Champions like Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor, Daphne Walker, Henry Graham Sharp and Freddie Tomlins were all trained in this manner and without any question, both British pairs skaters and ice dancers would have been as well. Although World War II greatly hampered the growth of skating in England, Queen's Ice Rink (with twelve professional coaches throughout the war) kept this precise,
collected and cold style very much alive. Jacques Gerschwiler's star pupil, Gladys Hogg, built upon this mathematical and precise manner of coaching with her own impressive stable of students.

T.D. Richardson remarked, "to my mind Gersch, as the elder is affectionately known throughout the civilised skating world, is directly responsible for the improvement in the accuracy of the general tracing and for the uniformity of the turns which characterises modern school skating, and I would go so far as to say that the still change of edge was brought to perfection under his tutelage. While these teachers, together with those who have been influenced by them, to name two only, Gladys Hogg, and Ernst Hartung, were busy in Britain, mainly concerned with the school, the Americans, as well as absorbing as much as they could of it from hearsay during the war, had taken a bold line in the free skating, especially in that branch of it concerned with jumping. Although all of the teachers over in the U.S.A. were in some degree, no doubt, in at the beginning of what was to prove a startling advance in free skating in general, it was the luck of [Gustave] Lussi to have as his pupil for six years, from boy to manhood, one of the outstanding skaters and personalities in the whole history of the sport, Richard Button." It was indeed Lussi and his star student Dick Button that would take skating to the next level, introducing daring new jumps and a free skating style based less on combined figures and more on the balance of challenging jumps and spins. While British ice dancers retained the style of The Modern English School for many years to come and excelled, by the mid-fifties, singles skaters were largely surpassed by new schools of thought that they mostly likely never saw coming.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The 1931 North American Figure Skating Championships


Last held in 1971, the U.S. versus Canada equivalent to the European Championships was, as far as international figure skating competitions go, was prestigious as they come. Olympic Gold Medallists like Dick Button, Peggy Fleming, Tenley Albright, Barbara Ann Scott King, Hayes and Carol Heiss Jenkins, David Jenkins and Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul were among the many skaters who claimed North American titles over the years. Today's blog will take a look back at the fifth of those biennal competitions - the 1931 North American Figure Skating Championships in Ottawa, Ontario.

Held in conjunction with Ottawa's Winter Carnival Week at the city's Auditorium, the 1931 competition was organized under the auspices of the Minto Skating Club. In conjunction with the competition, on the second and third day the club presented their hugely popular 'Minto Follies' ice show. The theme for that year was "Aladdin And His Magic Lamp" and many of the competitors were playing double duty in both the show and competition in front of a capacity crowd of eight thousand people. Funds raised benefited "the crippled children's fund" and guest stars of that year's Minto Follies included the inimitable Eddie Shipstad and Oscar Johnson.

There were six judges in total for all phases of the competition: three from Canada and three from the U.S. Most notable on the panel was Theresa Weld Blanchard, who at that time was still actively competing. The organizing committee of the event included Douglas Henry Nelles and Melville Rogers of the Minto Skating Club, Sherwin Badger and Richard L. Hapgood. Interestingly, both Badger and Rogers played double duty as both officials and competitors in the event.

Judges at the 1931 North American Championships

Ice dance wasn't yet added to the bill of the event and wouldn't be officially until 1947 but in addition to men's, ladies and pairs skating competitions, an important part of the North American Championships was the friendly contest for the Connaught Trophy in fours skating, which was actually a two parter. According to Irving Brokaw's book "The Art Of Skating", fours teams going for the Connaught Trophy had to perform both compulsory figures "to be skated without music" and a free skating program where "each four shall skate five minutes free skating to music. They shall skate in unison, but not necessarily to center." The Connaught Trophy in 1931 was won by the Canadian team of Frances Claudet, Kathleen Lopdell, Melville Rogers and Guy Owen, who managed to keep the trophy in Canada despite Rogers' injury which kept him out of the men's event. In second were the Granite Club four of Cecil and Maude Smith, Stewart Reburn and Jack Eastwood and in third were the Toronto four of Mary Littlejohn, Elizabeth Fisher, Jack Hose and Hubert Sprott.

The pairs competition in 1931 was a bit of an upset. The gold medal went to the brother and sister team of Constance Wilson-Samuel and Montgomery 'Bud' Wilson of Toronto and the silver to another Canadian team, Frances Claudet and Chauncey Bangs of Ottawa. The bronze went to U.S. Champions Beatrix Loughran and Sherwin Badger of New York City, who won the bronze medal AHEAD of the Wilson siblings at the previous year's World Championships. The Americans were the absolute favourites going in. Finishing off the podium were two promising teams representing the Granite Skating Club, Cecil Smith and Stewart Reburn and Maude Smith and Jack Eastwood. Claudet and Bangs' performance during the 1931 season actually caused a great deal of confusion with the judges as it gave the appearance more of an early free dance than a pairs program. According to Lynn Copley-Graves' veritable bible of ice dancing history "The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Claudet and Bangs "never separated and had no highlights" (jumps, spins, lifts) and this really threw the judges for a tailspin.

Constance Wilson-Samuel

Adding to her gold medal in the pairs event, Constance Wilson-Samuel of the Toronto Skating Club handily took home the ladies title as well, finishing ahead of clubmate Elizabeth Fisher and Edith Secord, originally from Ottawa but representing New York in this event. Missing the podium was Minneapolis' Margaret Bennett.

Among the men, the favourite heading into the event was Bud Wilson, who had finished fourth in the men's event at the 1930 World Championships in New York City. He faced quite a fight from U.S. Junior Champion Gail Borden of New York City, who had finished sixth at the 1930 World Championships. Borden was known as quite an athletic skater. The "Ottawa Citizen" raved that the American's "rendition of the various jumps is about the best to be seen on the continent." Ultimately, Wilson made it a clean sweep in all four disciplines for Canada, decisively taking the gold medal. Borden was third and another skater from New York, James Lester Madden, claimed the silver medal. Finishing fourth was Lewis Elkin of the Winnipeg Winter Club. On Wilson's win, The February 6, 1931 edition of the "Montreal Gazette" noted, "In addition to performing his compulsory school figures with great precision, he gave a beautiful exhibition of free skating."

Video of Constance Wilson-Samuel and a Canadian four skating in the early thirties

The medal sweep for Canada at the 1931 North American Championships could not have come at a better time. Earlier that same month, Louis Rubenstein, the grandfather of Canadian skating had passed away and his loss would have certainly been felt in the Canadian skating community. What a wonderful testament to his lifelong dedication to developing skating in the country the events in Ottawa that winter proved to be. The future looked bright... and it was.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Progress And John Curry's "Icarus"


"I feel like I was working all year to recite a poem and I was reciting it to deaf people." - John Curry

The fable of Daedalus and Icarus is perhaps one of the best known in classical Greek mythology. Father and son appeared doomed after being imprisoned in King Minos' Labyrinth. To escape, Daedalus fashioned enormous wings of osier branches and wax and taught his son to fly, warning him not to fly to close to the sun or his wings would melt. Icarus ignored his father's advice, first flying up high in the sky to salute the sun then, as the wax melted, diving into the sea to his death. The tragic story has been retold in many contexts: as a fable to warn of the importance of listening to your elders and even as an allegory of the dangers of pushing technology further and further.

The Daedalus and Icarus myth might also serve as a reminder to the skating world about the great art that can be lost when the scales of focus are tipped greatly towards the sport's technical side. A lost interpretation from skating history of the myth on ice by 1976 Olympic Gold Medallist John Curry perhaps serves as that chilling reminder.

Keith Money photograph from the 1978 book "John Curry"

In 1977, Curry debuted an elaborate new piece called "Icarus" in Bristol, England in anticipation of his opening at the London Palladium with his "Theatre Of Skating". It was the conception of Curry, choreographed by prolific ballet choreographer John Butler. A new score was commissioned by Gordon Cross specifically for the piece and a stunning costume with silk wings was fashioned by costume designer Nadine Baylis. A giant sun served as a stage prop and Keith Alexander partnered Curry for the piece. In Keith Money's 1978 book "John Curry", the legendary skater himself expounded upon this particular work: "John Butler is a very intense worker, and his intensity shows in the piece. When I skate 'Icarus' well, I myself feel that kind of intensity. One of my beliefs has always been that everyone wants to fly too close to the sun; wants to get to something very badly; and when they do get there, they usually find that the thing they want, whether it is the sun, or whatever golden object one might think of - is their ultimate undoing. That theme was more important to me than anything else."

Although "Icarus" was not well received in its first performance in Bristol - reportedly meeting boo's and jeers from the audience, it was a huge hit at the Palladium and elsewhere. It received glowing praise from one Associated Press writer on August 21, 1977: "In 'Icarus' - as the audiences are reminded: Daedalus made a pair of great wings for his son Icarus, launching him into the bright air with pride and hope. The boy flew bravely and with increasing wonder, and in his exaltation he did not mind the sun's power to melt his wings and end his flight forever. London has seen ice shows aplenty' over the years. But even the very best of these could not challenge the rich perfection that Curry, his choreographers, dancers, designers, musicians and lighting experts have achieved to delight eye and ear. For years, Curry dreamed of uniting the techniques and styles of ice skating and the ballet. He made his first attempt at Cambridge Theatre earlier in the year, and although that show was acclaimed, Curry regarded it as very much of an initial pioneering effort. The Palladium presentation on blue ice on a much bigger stage, with every refinement that Curry and his team could devise, transforms the familiar ice show to the level of a new art form."

The fact that no widely available footage exists of this particularly ingenious piece from the repertoire of John Curry is to me a crying shame and a superb example of why documenting skating history is so incredibly important. As such imbalanced attention continues to be given to edge calls, incongruous IJS footwork sequences and quads, quads, quads, works of skating art like this piece have been relegated to obscurity. Is figure skating dangerously flying to close to the sun just like Icarus? One cannot help but think so. Progress, like art, can be interpreted in any number of ways.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Two Tickets To Paradise: The 1980 Canadian Women's Controversy


As long as there have been international figure skating competitions, there has been controversy over the selection processes that national skating federations have used to determine which skaters were sent to compete.. and which skaters were left home. Whether the Nancy/Tonya pairing in Lillehammer in 1994 or the Ashley/Mirai Sochi debate some twenty years later, skating fans and competitors alike have often been incensed by these difficult decisions... but few international team assignments were as controversial as the ones that happened right here in Canada back in 1980.

The year prior to the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, Carleton University student Janet Morrissey had won the Canadian senior women's title. At the 1979 World Championships in Vienna, she'd placed seventeenth in the school figures and actually dropped a spot after skating a clean short program. She finished the competition in a frustrating nineteenth.



When Morrissey returned to the Canadian Championships the following year in Kitchener, she finished a creditable second to Heather Kemkaran, who'd ascended to the top of the Canadian women's podium in 1978 after Lynn Nightingale's retirement. Things got ugly very quickly when the CFSA made the announcement that they were sending Kemkaran to the Olympics (no shocker there) but bypassing both Kemkaran and Morrissey to send twelve year old bronze medallist Tracey Wainman (who had been the novice champion in 1979) to the World Championships in Dortmund, West Germany.


Skaters were informed of the decision by letter. Heather Kemkaran's, a January 25, 1980 typewritten invitation to compete at the Games from CFSA President Charles Dover read: "The CFSA made a strong presentation to the Canadian Olympic Association on your behalf to achieve an invitation for your attendance at the Olympic Games and have assured the C.O.A. that you will place in the top half of the competition. In my opinion, your objective should be to place in the top ten at this event... In addition, I would invite you to act as the alternate entry to the ladies competition at the World Championships in Dortmund, West Germany... I would appreciate your full co-operation as a member of the Canadian team to the Olympic Games. Your experience and position as our Senior Ladies Champion will be relied upon by all attending to generate a good team spirit which will be to the benefit of all Canadian competitors at the Games." No pressure at all, right?

In a January 25, 1980 article in "The Ottawa Citizen", Janet Morrissey told reporters, "I wasn't too surprised. I heard Tracey Wainman would be sent to one of the competitions last summer, when I was skating in Toronto. There were a lot of people behind her. She has a lot of drag... I'm disappointed because I beat her in figures and the combined freeskating. It doesn't seem fair. There's nothing I can do. It's disappointing. It was their decision." Her coach, Cynthia Reid, questioned the CFSA's 'long term decision' regarding Wainman, saying, "What happens to Tracey, and any little girl, when she turns 13, 14, 15? Many things can happen that you can't predict... They chose which one they wanted, but I'm not sure it's good for skating now. It's very discouraging as a coach and it has to be terribly discouraging for Janet. She wants to skate, likes to skate and is a good skater. There are a lot who would love to have her silver medal." David Dore of the CFSA responded by saying, "In the Worlds, we must go forward and look to the 1984 Olympics. We're introducing a new face on the scene and seeing if she'll be able to get into the top 10 so we can send two skaters next year. Heather and Janet have not given us bad results, but they weren't in keeping with the results we wanted. It's a long-term decision." He dismissed Morrissey's claim that the decision to send Wainman to either the Olympics or Worlds was made the summer before as "idle skater talk and speculation" and fairly noted that Wainman beat Morrissey in the free skate five judges to two but had a four to three judge advantage overall.


The results of the Canadian women at the 1980 Olympics and World Championships were interesting. In Lake Placid, Kemkaran finished fifteenth. At the World Championships in Dortmund, Wainman was fourteenth. Neither skater placed in the top ten at the respective events they competed in but with five skaters that placed higher than Kemkaran either skipping Worlds, retiring or withdrawing from the competition midway through, there was a half decent argument that Kemkaran could have made the top ten in West Germany.

It appeared the CFSA's decision had backfired but when Wainman won the gold at the 1981 Canadian Championships in Halifax and placed tenth at that year's World Championships, many critics appeared to settling in to eat a delicious meal of crow. As we know though, Cynthia Reid was ultimately right. Wainman did suffer through the same growing pains that most young skaters with the weight of the world on the shoulders still do to this day. She didn't make it to the Sarajevo Olympics. She didn't win an Olympic or World medal like Liz Manley. However, she did mount an incredible comeback to win the 1986 Canadian Championships in North Bay, compete and tour professionally well into the late nineties (her last professional competition was the 1997 American Open) and go on to a very impressive coaching career.

The narrative that has traditionally surrounded the controversy over which Canadian women were sent to the 1980 Winter Olympic Games and World Championships over the years has largely excluded the fact that Janet Morrissey most likely wasn't going to Lake Placid whether she defended her Canadian title in 1980 or not. In September 1977, the Canadian Olympic Association voted to approve a new rule called The Top Half Objective. Quietly, the COA had given specific criteria to the CFSA back in 1978 that athletes needed to meet well in advance of being put on any Olympic team.
In a November 10, 1979 article in "The Montreal Gazette", Morrissey acknowledged that her result at the 1979 World Championships didn't meet the criteria and responded with an appeal to the board, saying, "I just heard about them a few weeks ago from my coach, who heard it from somebody else. The whole thing is very disappointing. I've worked for 12 years for this and it now comes down to my appeal to the board." Having an understanding that her only real shot of international competition that year would have been the Worlds and not Olympics, it puts the whole narrative in a different perspective. Ultimately, Morrissey retired from competitive skating in November 1980. She sent Liz Manley a good luck telegram before she competed against Wainman in the short program at the 1981 Canadian Championships.

Announcing her retirement in a Toronto press conference right before the 1981 Canadian Championships, Heather Kemkaran told reporters: "Of course I know who will win. We all know that. They have made it easy for her to win this year... I was told by a Canadian official I had no security going into the championships this year and I would have to skate better than my best. It seems they have their plans as to who is going to be in there and I have no way of changing it." Like Morrissey, Kemkaran focused her attention to her university education. She also did some professional skating on the Labatt's ProSkate tour. Despite being best remembered for the snub, she said in a 2014 interview with Tammy Karatchuk, "I do hope deep in my heart, people will remember me for some of the skating."

In the end, the controversy surrounding who went to Lake Placid and Dortmund in 1980 matters little. We should remember the talent and passion for skating these three exceptional young women possessed... and not the politics of the time. In the skating world, all you really have control over is what you put out there on the ice.

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.