The 1953 World Figure Skating Championships


"There was a young lady named Albright
Who in Davos did everything all right
In her figures and free
She was inspiring to see
And her friends are now full of delight.

There was a young man named Hayes
Who had the most marvellous ways
Of using his feet
So tricky and neat
That he won a great deal of praise."

- Theresa Weld Blanchard, written while flying over the Atlantic, 1953

Theresa Weld Blanchard leaving America on her way to Davos on a KLM flight. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Holland, Belgium and Great Britain were recovering after the North Sea flood which claimed over two thousand, five hundred lives and caused widespread property damage. Diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel were rocky after a bomb explosion at the Soviet embassy in reaction to Stalin's Doctor's Plot. The first colour television sets in America were being sold for over a thousand dollars a pop and songstress Jo Stafford's "You Belong To Me" was being blasted on everyone's Philco radio.


From February 8 to 15, 1953, the International Skating Club of Davos played host to the 1953 World Figure Skating Championships. The Championships were held entirely outdoors on the Club's historic thirty six thousand square yard rink. An ISU regulation sixty by forty foot section of the rink was sectioned off for the competition, but the vast ice surface and hockey rink meant that skaters of different disciplines could all practice simultaneously between the competitive events. The ice had no freezing plant and the rink was sprayed every night and morning. Resurfacing was accomplished by planing, sweeping, tractor snowplows and a 'Snow Boy' shifter.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

The European skaters and officials travelled directly from the European Championships in Dortmund to Davos via train, while many of the North Americans flew through Gander, Newfoundland and Shannon, Ireland instead of England due to a wind storm. When exiting her train with other members of the British contingent, Mollie Phillips was accidentally walloped in the head with Michael Booker's skates. She spent four days in hospital but made history in Davos as first female referee at an ISU Championship, presiding over the Dance event. In "Skating" magazine Theresa Weld Blanchard recalled, "She did a splendid job, giving a very clear, thoughtful speech to the judges, first in English and then in German... On the ice, she conducted herself and the event in a dignified manner, and many complimentary things have been said about her."


History was also made with the first ISU Dance Tests ever given. Judges were Katherine Miller Sackett, Mollie Phillips and Reginald Wilkie. Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy and Joan Dewhirst and John Slater were the skaters that tested, with all passing their Bronze and the two women passing the Silver. The men didn't pass their Silver nor any of the four the Gold, because the organizers ran out of time.

Off the ice in Davos, event chairman Georg Hasler arranged for a busy week of social activities, including a reception at Town Hall with Mayor Dr. Kaspar Laely, a party in the host hotel's nightclub, formal banquet and gala awards tea. Let's take a look back at the most important aspect of this event - what happened on the ice!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

After winning the 1952 World title in Paris, Ria (Baran) and Paul Falk had turned professional. The 1952 Silver Medallists, Karol and Peter Kennedy, had also moved on. The third and fourth place teams from that year, Britons Jennifer and John Nicks and Canadians Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, emerged as favourites to take the gold in 1953.


There were ten entries in the pairs event in Davos, but there was a great difference in ability between the top four teams and the lower six. The competition was close, with three judges placing the Nicks' first, two voting for Dafoe and Bowden, one opting for Hungarians Marianna and László Nagy and another placing the Nagy's and the Nicks' in a tie. Jennifer and John Nicks became the first British pair to win the World title since Phyllis and James Johnson back in 1912 while Dafoe and Bowden's silver medal was the first for Canada at Worlds since 1948. The Nagy's took the bronze. The Swiss pair of Silvia and Michel Grandjean, under the weather with the flu, placed fourth, one spot ahead of Britons Peri Horne and Raymond Lockwood.

Writing in "Skating" magazine, Theresa Weld Blanchard recalled, "Jennifer and John Nicks were excellent. They have good pair positions with many neat moves in time to the music, good pace and fine execution. Their music was a medley of popular tunes and suited them very well. Jennifer looks thinner than last year and had a most becoming dress of white lace over pink. John wears a skating outfit of a blue slightly brighter than navy. Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden have improved both program and execution over last year and skated beautifully. All their surprise moves came off well. I believe they were the only pair to do combined spread eagles, as all the others used a spread with a spiral. It was interesting to note that all the pairs used different versions of the round the head lift that I believe Dafoe-Bowden originated... Marianna and László Nagy had some interesting lifts but impressed me as being slightly acrobatic... Their performance was ragged at times... Their music, the 'William Tell Overture', has been used often in competitions but is always good."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Dick Button's retirement paved the way for a new World Champion in men's figure skating and few doubted he wouldn't be American too. For years, Jimmy Grogan and Hayes Alan Jenkins had skated in Button's shadow and many considered them his most likely successors. In the months leading up to the Davos Worlds, Jenkins had been balancing his studies at Colorado College with his lessons with coach Edi Scholdan. Grogan only had one month to train for the competition due to his Army service.

A notable absence in Davos was Jack B. Jost, a dental assistant at an Army Hospital in Kyoto, Japan.  Due to his obligations with the American military, he turned down an invitation from Prince Takeda, President of the National Skating Union of Japan, to represent the country where he was working in Davos. He went on to win the Japanese title at the Kōrakuen Ice Palace in Tokyo the following month.

Hayes Alan Jenkins and Carlo Fassi

At least six inches of snow accumulated during the men's school figures, making it difficult for the judges to see the designs carved on the ice. The ice had to be cleared before and after each figure was traced and some wondered why the event wasn't postponed. With first place marks from five of the nine judges, Jimmy Grogan won the figures. The Belgian and the Swiss judges voted for nineteen year old Jenkins, while the British and Italian judges voted for Italy's Carlo Fassi, the European Champion. Despite botching one figure entirely, Canada's Peter Firstbrook sat fourth. A West German and Austrian skater withdrew following the figures, reducing the field from fifteen to thirteen.

Both Grogan and Jenkins had slight errors on one jump in their programs. Jenkins impressed the judges with his attention to the music, while Grogan dazzled with the variety and difficulty of his footwork. Ultimately all but the Belgian judge, who voted for Grogan, had Jenkins first in the free skate. Ronnie Robertson - only seventh in figures - was second in the free skate; Grogan third. Firstbrook fumbled two jump landings early in his program and skated more cautiously than usual.
When the marks were tallied, Jenkins was announced as the World Champion, with Grogan second, Carlo Fassi third, Ronnie Robertson fourth and France's Alain Giletti fifth. Firstbrook placed seventh, one spot ahead of Canada's second entry, Peter Dunfield.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Jean Westwood and her Royal Air Force serviceman partner Lawrence Demmy were the only reigning World Champions who returned to defend their title in Davos. They faced stiff competition from fellow Mancunians Joan Dewhirst and John Slater in the compulsories. British judge Pamela Davis dared to place Dewhirst and Slater ahead of Westwood and Demmy, causing a minor controversy.


In the free dance, the American judge tied the two talented British teams but the other judges all placed Westwood and Demmy ahead, ensuring them the gold medal. As both teams were extremely well-matched, there was much discussion in the stands about who was better. Americans Carol Ann Peters and Danny Ryan took the bronze... thus making the top three the exact same as it had been a year prior!


Speaking of continuity in the results, the only movement after compulsories was the flip-flopping of the fourth and fifth place teams and the ninth and tenth place teams. No Canadian teams competed, which was perhaps wise as the Dance event at the Canadian Championships didn't yet include a free dance. Gladys Hogg had forbidden Westwood and Demmy and the Nicks siblings to ski while in Davos so they luged down one of the hills instead. The press met them at the bottom of the hill and snapped a picture.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

The common system of holding National Championships after the World Championships meant that countries selected their World teams based on the results of the previous year's Nationals. 1952 U.S. Silver Medallist Frances Dorsey was still recuperating from a leg operation the previous summer and was unable to compete in Davos. Situations like these were becoming far too common, forcing skating associations around the world to send less entries or less experienced skaters to Worlds. International experience wasn't always a bad thing though. Thirteen year old Carol Heiss, an eighth grade student at Public School 107 in Queens, New York, made history in Davos as the youngest woman ever to be named to the U.S. World team. As the U.S. Junior Champion in 1952, she was named as Dorsey's replacement... and she caused quite a stir in Switzerland with her athletic prowess and youthful vigour.

The thermometer was at zero when the women's school figures began, but as the morning progressed the sun came out and it got warmer. By the afternoon, right after seventeen year old Tenley Albright had finished her rocker, the sun went behind the mountains and the temperature plummeted about twenty degrees again. European Champion Valda Osborn had the lead after the first figure, the counter. The February 14, 1953 issue of "The New York Times" recalled, "The duel between Miss Albright and Miss Osborn threatened to convert the competition into an international scandal when two judges began feuding with their score cards as weapons. British judge Miss [Mollie] Phillips took to giving very low marks to the American girl and very high ones to the British competitor, all out of proportion to the scores carded by the five other 'neutral' judges. The American judge, [Alex] J. Krupy, retaliated by playing the same game - high marks for the Yank and low ones for the British athlete. The crowd of 500 caught on and booed and cried 'shame!' when the results were posted. The chief referee, Dr. [James] Koch, stepped in and sternly lectured the judges after the second figure was skated. From then on, everyone's scoring was pretty much the same." All but the German judge, who voted for second place Gundi Busch, had Tenley Albright first after figures. Valda Osborn was third, followed by twenty two year old Canadian Suzanne Morrow, Carol Heiss, Vevi Smith and Margaret Anne Graham. Albright's thirty point lead gave her competitors little room for error in the free skate if they wanted to catch up.

High winds and biting temperatures coupled with the altitude made for a dire situation when the women took to the ice for the free skate. A light snow halfway through the event made things even more challenging for the competitors. Still, a crowd of four thousand braved the elements, clapping all the way and booing any judge who dared to give a low mark. Among the spectators were eight Soviet 'observers' and Mrs. Henry Wainwright Howe and Ruth Banks of the Skating Club of New York, who had travelled to Davos with Willy Böckl's private touring group. Reviewing the fashions of the top women's competitors in "Skating" magazine, the latter duo remarked, "With the temperature 8 degrees above zero at 10:30 AM, one has to wonder about the suitability of most of the dresses. They were beautiful, of course, but not designed for outdoor skating... For this reason we would give our vote to Gundi Busch of Germany, who wore a soft blue-gray angora knit dress with buttons down the front of the blouse. It was accented with a red elastic clincher belt, red wool gloves, and a red baby bonnet. The flare of the skirt was perfect for spins and revealed matching gray pants."

Gundi Busch (left) and Valda Osborn (right)

Britons Erica Batchelor and Elaine Skevington both collapsed under the strain of the weather conditions. The February 16, 1953 issue of the "Dundee Courier" claimed, "They had to be carried from the rink after being overcome to fall sobbing on the ice. The crowd gave them sympathetic applause as they were helped away, but both soon recovered and went back to their hotels to rest."
Gundi Busch missed two jumps early in her program and her music ran over the specified time frame. Valda Osborn, who wore a metallic apple green dress, also missed a couple of landings. Morrow, dressed in black velvet, suffered an unfortunate fall. Thirteen year olds Carol Heiss and Yvonne Sugden rose to the occasion, but it was Tenley Albright who unanimously won the free skate with Heiss second and Busch third. She skated in a shocking pink wool jersey dress with matching gloves to an Offenbach piece. Her winning program included the double Axel, double toe-loop, double loop and double Salchow. Her only error was a slight slip on a flying spin.


When the scores were tallied, Tenley Albright was announced as World Champion, making history as the first American woman to earn the title. Gundi Busch was a strong second, but the placings of the next three women couldn't have been closer. Carol Heiss had twenty seven ordinal placings, while Valda Osborn and Suzanne Morrow tied with twenty eight. Four judges voted for Osborn to win the bronze; three for Heiss. None voted for Morrow, though the Canadian judge had her second. Heiss also had a higher point score than Osborn (176.67 to 176.21) but Osborn's majority of third place ordinals was what earned her the bronze.


Jeannette Altwegg, the previous year's Olympic and World Champion, was there to watch and congratulate her successor. The rink ushers had a time keeping unaccredited photographers off the ice, many audience members rushing to snap a picture of Tenley Albright. Theresa Weld Blanchard recalled, "We were amused to see Dr. [Hollis] Albright being pushed around until rescued by Walter Powell and allowed to use the precious last ten feet of film he had saved, hoping for just this occasion."

Tenley Albright and Hayes Alan Jenkins in Davos. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following the event, both Carol Heiss and Tenley Albright gave exhibitions in Switzerland and Paris before returning home to train for the North American Championships. When Albright arrived in America, she was greeted at an airport and taken to a vantage point where she could view a parade in her honour. She then was given an official welcome from her home town at the Newton High School auditorium and a gala reception at The Skating Club Of Boston. The Canadian skaters had to rush home for their National 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 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.

Phyllis Hammond Clegg, A Forgotten Queen Of The Australian Skating Scene

Phyllis Hammond Clegg and Cyril MacGillicuddy. Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia.

"The Clegg sisters have always been greatly admired in Victoria, and belong to the series of girls who are such clever skaters. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Clegg, have a beautiful home at St. Kilda, and entertain frequently and upon a lavish and attractive scale." - "Sunday Times", November 30, 1913

Phyllis Hammond Clegg was born in 1892 in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, to Mary Ann (Goddard) and William Hammond Clegg, a British born Colonel. She and her two sisters were raised in the lap of Victorian luxury. She was privately tutored in French and spent much of her childhood singing, acting, giving recitations at charity fundraisers and attending lavish dances and teas. However, by the time she was a teenager, Phyllis had found her true calling: figure skating.

Phyllis Hammond Clegg and Cyril MacGillicuddy. Photos courtesy National Library Of Australia.

Phyllis learned to skate at the Melbourne Glaciarium and was the belle of the ball at the rink's many costume carnivals. In 1909, she won the prize for Most Original Costume at the Glacarium's Arctic Display, dressed as 'La France' in a red, white and blue costume depicting the French flag. She was so taken with the sport that she made the long voyage by ocean liner to Great Britain, where she studied the sport at Prince's Skating Club in London. Eminent British skater, judge and writer T.D. Richardson once recalled, "The well-known Miss Phyllis Hammond-Clegg (Billy Clegg to her intimates)'s waltzing was a joy for both partner and spectator in the years just before the First World War at Prince's, where she attracted great attention and with whom we all wanted to dance."

In 1912, a London weekly newspaper praised her skating thusly: "Sure, light and easy in all her curves, she uses the most graceful and supple of figures with an instinct for rhythmic movement quite delightful to watch... Above all, she has to perfection those undulatory swings and those floating changes, matching the murmuring pulsations and dreamy cadences of langurous waltz melodies." From Prince's, Phyllis travelled to Switzerland, where she "caused quite a sensation" on the ice, according to "Punch" magazine, when she stayed at the Adelboden Grand Hotel.

Returning to Australia in 1913, Phyllis established herself as the queen of the Australian skating scene, performing in ice pantomimes and carnivals at the Melbourne Glaciarium, winning a Waltzing Championship with Cyril MacGillicuddy and winning the Australian women's title, not recognized historically as such as it was held during the years the event was held in Sydney independently of the Australia's Skating Association. Her speciality? The 'rag-time twostep'. She and her sister Dolly also helped establish a Sunday skating club, which ruffled feathers with locals who opposed anything but church happening on the Sabbath.

Phyllis' husband Simon Fraser Jr.

On February 17, 1914, Phyllis and Simon Fraser Jr., a hockey player and Olympic rower, tied the knot at a lavish wedding at the Scots' Church in Melbourne. The February 21, 1914 issue of "The Leader" described her as having "beauty above the average pretty girl" and being dressed in "white crepe de chine, draped artistically with Limerick lace... Very becoming, as well as novel, was the little chaplet of laurel leaves, which held in place the bridal veil - the veil which Lady Frank Madden had worn on her wedding day."

Phyllis and her children. Photos courtesy Stonnington History Center.

In 1919, both Phyllis and her husband contracted the Spanish flu after attending a boat race. She barely survived; he didn't. She was left a widowed mother of three at the age of twenty seven. How did Phyllis deal with her grief? She returned to the figure skating, making trips to Wengen, Switzerland to further study her craft. In September of 1924, the former queen of Australian skating performed in an ice carnival starring Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders. She skated a duet with Hilda, the daughter of Sir John Grice. Their performance was described as "especially beautiful. Intricate figures and movements were accomplished with consummate ease, and the whole thing was a delight to watch."

1924 Lagonda M45 Tourer. Photo courtesy Aston Martin. Used for editorial purposes per license permissions.

Phyllis was a modern woman of the times, a 'real life Miss Fisher' in many ways, minus the sleuthing of course. She participated in an automobile race, driving her late husband's Aston Martin. She travelled to Hollywood, learned to fly an airplane, golfed, swam and took up water skiing. Much of her time, however, was devoted to philanthropic efforts with her late husband's mother Lady Fraser. 
During World War II, she volunteered with the Australian Comforts Fund.

Phyllis operating an automatic sock knitting machine at the headquarters of the Australian Comforts Fund during World War II. Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Phyllis died July 14, 1962 at the age of seventy in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak, leaving behind only distant echoes of a time when she was one of her city's most adored skaters.

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

The 1936 World Figure Skating Championships

Megan Taylor, Jeff Dickson and Sonja Henie at the 1936 World Championships in Paris. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Not only was 1936 an Olympic year, but it was also a leap year. On two consecutive Fridays and Saturdays (February 21 and 22 and February 28 and 29, 1936) the World's best figure skaters convened at the Palais des Sports in Paris, France for what was in many ways a grand finale to the long reigns of Karl Schäfer and Sonja Henie as figure skating's undefeated King and Queen. Let's take a look back at how things played out!

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Karl Schäfer and Sonja Henie in Paris. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

With telegrams from America tucked away in his suitcase, Papa Henie arrived in Paris with his famous daughter in tow. Everywhere she went, fans wanted their autograph books signed and reporters sought interviews of the three time Olympic Gold Medallist. Impresario Jeff Dickson even tried to convince the Norwegian star to sign a professional contract but perhaps more than ever, Henie assiduously made training her first priority. Although she had announced that these World Championships would be her last in Berlin at the European Championships, her quest to win a tenth World title wouldn't be easy. Although Cecilia Colledge, Maribel Vinson and many other key rivals from the 1936 Winter Olympic Games weren't in attendance, she still had formidable competition in long-time rival Vivi-Anne Hultén and Megan Taylor, who had been forced to watch the Winter Olympic Games from the stands after missing the British Olympic Trials.

Megan Taylor in Paris. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Sonja Henie unanimously won the school figures by almost nine points, with Taylor second and Hultén third. Although every judge had Henie first, her lead was certainly less than she was accustomed to. Under more pressure than usual to deliver in the free skate, she emerged in a white satin gown embroidered with gardenias with a mauve hood and performed superbly in front of twenty five thousand Parisian spectators. Six of the seven judges placed her first in the free skate, the notable exception being American judge Charlie Morgan Rotch, who placed her behind Hultén. In the February 23, 1936 issue of "Le Journal", one enchanted Parisian reporter remarked, "She was not skating. She was flying... In the floodlight, winds extended, she slipped like a swallow at night... How easy it is, my God, to skate like this, mademoiselle!"

Sonja Henie receiving a crystal from a French politician at the 1936 World Championships

Megan Taylor fell once in her free skate and finished fourth in free skate behind Hultén and Austria's Emmy Puzinger, but her result in the figures was strong enough for her to claim the silver medal ahead of the two. Gweneth Butler, who the majority of judges had outside of the top ten in the free skate, placed fifth on the strength of her figures. Yvonne de Ligne's ordinals in the free skate ranged from fifth to fifteenth. She placed eleventh overall. Japan's Etsuko Inada, the darling of the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Games, took a tumble and placed tenth but made history as the first Asian woman to compete at the World Championships.


In her book "Wings On My Feet", Sonja Henie recalled, "It was not hard. I had my victory. Within thirty days I had signed a contract with Arthur Wirtz to give eight exhibitions in the United States, as a professional." Before setting sail from Le Havre to America, Sonja returned to Oslo with her family and Jackie Dunn. She collapsed and was ordered by her doctor to spend several days in bed recuperating from exhaustion.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Ilse and Erik Pausin, Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn, Violet and Leslie Cliff and Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier in Paris. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

If the pairs competition at the Olympic Games was close, it really wasn't in Paris. Germany's Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier delivered one of the strongest skates of their career to unanimously defeat Austrian siblings Ilse and Erik Pausin. Britons Violet and Leslie Cliff narrowly defeated Canada's Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn and Americans Maribel Vinson and George Hill for the bronze.

Violet and Leslie Cliff

In stark contrast to the rampant national bias of the era, the British judge placed the Americans ahead of the Britons and the American judge had the Britons ahead of the Americans. The Cliff's bronze medal was the first British medal in the pairs event at the World Championships since Ethel Muckelt and Jack Ferguson Page's silver in 1924.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

If Herber and Baier had it somewhat easy, Karl Schäfer had quite a different experience in Paris. He won the school figures by only the narrowest of margins - 2.1 points  - in a three-two judging split with Great Britain's Henry Graham Sharp. In the free skate, his biggest competition came from a different Briton... the charismatic Jackie Dunn.

Karl Schäfer in Paris

Two judges placed Schäfer on top in that phase of the event, two placed Dunn first, and the British judge boxed himself in and put Schäfer, Sharp, Dunn and Austria's Felix Kaspar in a four-way tie. When the marks were tallied and the dust settled, Dunn's low figures scores and Sharp's low free skating scores helped Schäfer claim his seventh consecutive and final World title.


Canada's Montgomery 'Bud' Wilson, who had claimed the bronze medal at the Winter Olympic Games, failed to capitalize on the absence of Ernst Baier in the men's event and placed a disappointing fifth in what would prove to be his final trip to the World Championships. Robin Lee and Erle Reiter, America's two entries, placed eighth and eleventh.

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

The Beissbarth Brothers

Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R9266-2769 Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana.

Figure skater, lawyer, author and socialite Irving Brokaw has long been credited as the person who first introduced the Continental or International Style from Europe to New York City after travelling to the skating mecca of Switzerland and falling in love with the art. The role the well-connected Brokaw played in introducing and popularizing the style in North America was certainly instrumental, but it wasn't the first such attempt. Close to a decade before Brokaw made Continental cool among New York City's elite, two German brothers tried to do the exact same thing... and they weren't exactly well-received.

Identical twins Hermann and Henry Beissbarth hailed from the Bavarian city of Nuremberg. They arrived at Ellis Island on August 3, 1895, travelling from Hamburg via Southampton aboard the Augusta Victoria. They had initially planned to move to Hoboken, New Jersey and take up skating on the beautiful, mirror black ice there but instead moved to Brooklyn, where they rose before dawn every morning to practice at the Ice Palace while everyone else was still snug in their beds with visions of grapevines and three-turns dancing in their heads.

Brooklyn's skating community quickly took notice of the Beissbarth brothers and their passion for figure skating. "The Brooklyn Eagle" noted, "Each carries books on the sport about with him and they are the authors of many beautiful figures. They are never seen apart and skate together. Their skates are marvels of fine work and repose in buckskin bags. The brothers can be seen at the rink almost any day discussing in their broken English the skating topics. They do some fine skating together."

Yet, when Hermann and Henry attended a meeting of the great minds in late nineteenth century figure skating at the Claremont Rink on January 1897, no one really wanted to hear what they had to say about the 'way things were done in Europe'. "The Brooklyn Eagle" reported that at this meeting the Beissbarth's "stood up for the rule of large figures in skating which the Europeans follow in all their contests" and schooled the attendees, including champion skater Frank Swift, on the way European skating competitions were conducted, judged and which figures were skated. The reporter went on to note, "The Beissbarth's, to better illustrate their arguments had from time from time produced different books on the art and finally they fell to telling the manner and rules of holding the annual continental contests for the world's championships." Canadian skater George Meagher, who too had travelled to Europe, defended the German brothers but "the Americans loyally stood up for their own style." Whatever this new-fangled Continental skating was, the exponents of 'fancy' skating in America weren't interested at the time.


Hermann Beissbarth didn't give up that easily. He entered the 1897 Championships Of America at the St. Nicholas Rink, and lost badly - finishing seventh behind speedster George Dawson Phillips. Hermann wasn't alone in his defeat. Phillips also bested a Bostonian named Thomas Vinson at that event... the father of American skating legend Maribel Vinson Owen.

Competitors and judges at the 1897 Championships Of America

At an exhibition at the Claremont Rink, the Beissbarth brothers were pretty much booed off the stage. The May 1944 issue of "Skating" magazine recalled that the brothers "skated in such an exaggerated style... that the gallery yelled in derision." I highly doubt that an angry mob of skaters ran them out of town after this performance, but that's sadly where the Beissbarth brothers disappear from the historical record. Whether they simply gave up their efforts or returned to Nuremberg with their tails between their legs, we don't know. Sometimes people are just ahead of their time and people aren't ready for it yet.

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

#Unearthed: Linichuk And Karponosov's Road To Olympus


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's 'buried treasure' is an interview with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov that originally appeared in the January 1979 edition of "Soviet Life" magazine. The interviewer was Andrei Batashev. At the time, Natalia and Gennadi were the reigning World Champions, looking to defend their World title in Vienna and compete for Olympic gold the following year in Lake Placid.


"THE ROAD TO OLYMPUS WASN'T COVERED IN ROSES" (ANDREI BATASHEV)

Gennadi Karponosov is the very incarnation of temperament, while Natalia Linichuk is serenity itself. But she has the knack of unobtrusively getting her femininity and lyricism to lead in their dance.

Q: How did you come to figure skate, and why did you choose ice dancing?

A from Linichuk: My parents used to to work in the morning, and to keep the 'baby' busy, they enrolled me in a figure skating group when I was seven. I skated alone at first, but my leaps were so bad that - this was in 1970 or 1971 - I was told: "Better start dancing or stop skating altogether." The latter was completely out of the question.

A from Karponosov: I was a sickly child, and the doctors advised my parents to keep me out-of-doors as much as possible. In those days - the late fifties - our figure skaters trained in the open, and so my parents took me to the rink. I didn't care for figure skating at all, especially singles. But during the European championship in Moscow in 1965, I saw Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman of Czechoslovakia skating and discovered that ice dancing was just the thing for me.

Q: What is peculiar to this form of figure skating?

A from Linichuk: The partners must be completely integrated, an ensemble. Each of them must, under the influence of the music, create a world of images. And they must fuse these worlds. Then the blend will turn out to be far more expressive than its individual parts. Of course, I'm speaking of
the ideal variant.

A from Karponosov: In ice dancing there must not be any blank spots, any "running starts," which are acceptable for singles and ordinary pairs. Complexity here is achieved by the pattern of the steps, turns and various tricks performed with filigree precision. The technique has to be refined to the point where the spectators won't detect it. And they often don't. Unfortunately, I once suggested that a well-
known singles performer dance to a pattern. He tried it and ended up by banging into the wall of the rink.

Q: Have you ever had a wish you couldn't realize?

A from Linichuk: My dreams have always come true.

A from Karponosov: When I was in the eighth grade, I was told that I ought to transfer to a school for mathematicians. It was a very tempting invitation, but when I went there the principal was out, and I never could muster up the courage to go back again. I'm not sorry now.

Q: Still, you got your degree in economics at Moscow University, so that you didn't avoid mathematics altogether.

A from Karponosov: I always liked math. I just didn't want to specialize in it. In the Economics Department you study both math and the humanities. I liked the combination. I'm now writing my thesis on the economics of industry.

Q: And what are your plans, Natasha?

A from Linichuk: I want to be a skating coach. This year I'll be graduating from the Central Institute of Physical Culture.


Q: Is there anything you don't like about yourself?

A from Linichuk: It takes me too long to learn new things.

A from Karponosov:I'm very short-tempered and don't forgive people easily.

Q: What qualities do you prize most?

A from Linichuk: The ability to forgive easily.

A from Karponosov: Industriousness and a sense of humor. The kids on our figure-skating home team are past masters at practical joking.

Q: What kind of jokes do they go in for?

A from Karponosov: I once forgot my cap on a bus. I went back and asked if anybody had picked it up. The answer was No. That evening we gave an exhibition performance. As always, the ice was sprinkled with flowers and notes from the audience. They were mostly for Natasha. But suddenly a
large package "For Karponosov" came hurtling down. I was pleasantly surprised, anticipating something interesting. Back in the dressing room, our team gathered around me, saying: "Aren't you the lucky one!" But when I unwrapped the package, there was my cap.

Q: Natasha, have you any bones to pick with your partner?

A from Linichuk: He's very obstinate. Even if he knows he's wrong, he won't ever admit it.

Q: And you, Gennadi?

A from Karponosov: I want to thank Natasha for making me a world champion.

A from Linichuk: We're both indebted for our victory to coach Yelena Tchaikovskaya. She found the form and the music that enabled us to express our natures and temperament in the dance.

A from Karponosov: Usually coaches offer their skaters the same program with a few variations. Tchaikovskaya finds a style to suit each pair.


Q: What do you wish for most?

A from Linichuk: To enter the Olympic Games at Lake Placid.

A from Karponosov: To enter and win. And to skate well enough to please our audiences.

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

The Magical Melitta Brunner

Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland

"Melitta, who possessed a speedy, spacious, easy and powerful style that was typically Viennese, combined this with a warm and sparkling personality designed to 'draw' the public and she made herself a remarkable personality in the skating world." - Jacqueline du Bief, "Thin Ice"


Born July 28, 1907 in Vienna, Austria, Melitta Brunner grew up in an athletic family. Her father was the President of a local rowing club and an avid ice skater. He taught Melitta and her only brother how to skate on the frozen Danube River when she was seven. After five years of skating for pleasure, she became a member of the Wiener Eislaufverein. After only a year of formal instruction in figure skating from coach Pepe Weiss, she entered and won her first competition. Her prize for winning was a silver brooch.

Melitta Brunner and Ludwig Wrede. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

A graceful skater, Melitta supplemented her on ice instruction by studying dance and rhythmic gymnastics at the Festspielhaus Hellerau in Dresden. After entering an endless stream of smaller international competitions in Berlin, Troppau and Vienna, she teamed up with Ludwig Wrede - eleven years her senior - and placed third in the 1922 Austrian Championships. Competing concurrently in both singles and pairs, Melitta always seemed to find herself in the shadow of the grand dames of Austrian skating at the time, Herma Szabo and Fritzi Burger.


Melitta made her debut in 'the big leagues' at the 1928 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland. She placed seventh in the women's competition and won the bronze medal in the pairs event with Ludwig Wrede. In both events she received ordinals as high as second. At the World Championships that followed in London, she placed fifth in the women's event and again, third in pairs. The following year, she won an international figure skating competition for women held in conjunction with the European Championships in Davos. At the World Championships in Budapest, she medalled in both the women's and pairs competition. In the women's event, Finnish judge Walter Jakobsson had her in first place, ahead of both Sonja Henie and Fritzi Burger. In fact, she only lost the silver medal at that event to Burger by one ordinal placing.


During her competitive career, Melitta studied textiles at the Vienna College Of Design and often sewed dresses for fellow skaters. She got on well with many of her competitors, maintaining friendships with Sonja Henie, Fritzi Burger and young Hilde Holovsky.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In her first overseas trip, Melitta won the silver medal in the pairs event behind the reigning Olympic Champions and placed fifth in the women's event at the 1930 World Championships in New York City. Gunnar Bang felt she got lost in the shuffle at this event: "Her free skating is so uniquely beautiful and artistic... Her musicality... her stylish jumps and pirouettes... Yes, I would go so far [as to agree with what] Miss Blanchard says: that whatever Miss Brunner showed was exactly contrary to what [the North American women] showed." That event proved to be Melitta's swan song in the amateur ranks. She retired from the competitive scene an Olympic Bronze Medallist and four time Medallist at the World Championships in two disciplines.


In 1931, Melitta headed to Switzerland, where she taught skating for a time before heading to England to teach at the Westminster Ice Club. While there, she won the World Professional title and started seeing a German skater named Paul Kreckow who placed second in the pairs competition with partner Trudy Harris. Paul and Trudy debuted their creation at that event, the Harris-Kreckow Tango, which later became known as the Tango compulsory dance. In December of 1932, Melitta and Paul married in London. Their marriage was short-lived and Paul was rumoured to be hauled off by two men from the Home Office as a suspected spy.

Left: Melitta Brunner and Paul Kreckow. Right: Melitta Brunner

After continuing her dance training at the Kurt Jooss Ballet School at Dartington Hall in Devon, Melitta starred in Claude Langdon's lavish ice pantomime "Marina" before sailing to America from Southampton aboard the French Line's S.S. Paris.


Upon her arrival, Melitta took part in several club carnivals. The March 14, 1937 issue of "The Philadelphia Inquirier" raved, "A golden-haired fraulein, 26-year-old Melitta Brunner from Austria, proved to be an enchanting butterfly as she danced on skates last night at the Arena before an overflow crowd of 6300 which included standees. Striking the very keynote of Schiaparelli's latest motif for butterflies this spring, Melitta's interpretation was an evanescent and fragile as the winged messenger she personified... Fraulein Brunner selected a light blue shade for her costume that embodied her from neck to foot, fitting like a glove of her svelte figure. Her colorful wings, light and airy, seemed more of a part of her as she glided over the rink in the blue shadows of the spotlight that traced her movements." One of her signature numbers was a performance to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade".


Melitta headed to Hollywood for a screen test, which didn't go so well. Instead, she joined The Black Forest revue, dazzling audiences at both the New York and Dallas Expositions. She helped with choreography for several of Sonja Henie's ice revues and her image appeared on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" magazine, which then sold for a quarter.

Melitta Brunner and Karl Schäfer

Heading back to Great Britain, Melitta appeared in the show "Winter Sports" at the Alhambra Theatre in Glasgow. Throughout much of World War II, she taught skating in Scotland in one of the handful of ice rinks in Great Britain that weren't commandeered for war purposes or damaged by bombing.


After the War, Melitta taught skating in London and took part in several of Tom Arnold's pantomimes. She later toured with a revue in Italy called "La Féerie de la glace" as a replacement for Olympic Gold Medallist Micheline Lannoy, toured Sweden with her own ice show, travelled in India and returned to Tom Arnold's employ, starring in the "Ice Circus" show at the S.S. Brighton.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Moving to America, Melitta supplemented jobs coaching skating at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, Princeton Skating Club and the Philadelphia Marriott Motor Hotel's ice rink by teaching interpretive dance, yoga and gymnastics in the summers. In December 1957, she remarried to U.S. army veteran Gale Leisure in Miami, Florida.

Keeping one skate in the fashion world, in 1964 she exhibited a line of custom lounge wear, après-ski clothing and sportswear at the New York World's Fair as part of a presentation by Hess' Department Store. Unhappy with many of the options available during her own days as a competitor, she also helped revolutionize skating costumes utilizing many of the new stretch fabrics available at the time.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Melitta retired from coaching in 1968 but skated well into her nineties. In a rare performance at age ninety one in Philadelphia in the "Skaters' Tribute To Broadway" show at the First Union Center, she performed to "Rhapsody In Blue". She quipped to reporter Bill Fleischman, "Old age has been merely a nuisance."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Living out her final years in a seniors apartment in Philadelphia, Melitta recalled her Olympic experience in the twenties with perspective, saying, "To take place in any Olympics is an honour. No matter if you take second place or tenth place." Inducted into Pennsylvania Sports Hall Of Fame, Delaware County Chapter in 2000, she passed away three years later on May 26, 2003 in Philadelphia of leukemia.

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.