The 1995 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

CFSA key chain, circa 1995

Jean Chrétien was Canada's Prime Minister and the price of gas was fifty four cents per litre. Thousands of Canadians tuned in to popular television series like "Road To Avonlea", "North Of 60" and "Due South". Children played with the new VTech computers Santa had just brought them for Christmas while parents sang along to Jann Arden's hit "Insensitive" on their commutes home from work.

From January 11 to 15, 1995, a who's who of Canadian figure skating gathered in Halifax, Nova Scotia to compete in the first Canadian Championships of a new quadrennial Olympic cycle. Defending champions Kurt Browning, Josée Chouinard and Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler - along with several other medal contenders - had turned professional, opening the door for a new wave of fresh faces to make a big splash in the senior ranks. The decision to hold the Championships in Halifax was announced on February 10, 1994 - just two days before the opening ceremonies at the Lillehammer Olympics. Lower bowl tickets were sold out by that October when "Skate The Dream" was held at the Metro Centre and the senior events proved to be standing room only. It was the first time since 1981 that the Nova Scotia capital would play host to Canadians and thanks to the efforts of the Nova Scotia Section and Halifax Skating Club, the event proved to be a tremendous success.

When all four Canadian entries placed dead last in their respective disciplines at Skate America at the 1994 Skate America competition in Pittsburgh, some reporters rather predictably began to fret about the prospects of Canadian skaters in the absence of Browning, Chouinard and Brasseur and Eisler. Officials and coaches didn't altogether take the bait. David Dore remarked honestly, "We're in the first season of a new four-year cycle leading to the '98 Olympic Games and that usually means a change of the guard. There's always some uncertainty when world medal contenders move on and a... title is up for grabs among young skaters. Our men are fine and dance is in very good shape. But pairs is struggling right now and we have several on the same level. Our ladies? It's difficult to figure out where they're at right now.'' Elvis Stojko's coach Doug Leigh added his two cents: "If I were a doctor and someone came to me with a medical problem, I wouldn't say: 'You're gonna die.' I'd say: 'We're going to try to make you better.' It's not like there's no talent out there.''

Speaking of talent, any reminiscence of the 1995 Canadian Championships would be remiss not to mention the inductions of many incredible members of the Canadian skating community to the CFSA's Hall Of Fame. The important contributions of Peter Mumford, Ralph McCreath, Norman V.S. Gregory, Marg and Bruce Hyland and Maria and Otto Jelinek were celebrated in Halifax, and in a moving speech Otto recalled his ties to the Atlantic Canadian city. When he was only ten years old he and Maria had arrived at Pier 21 with everything they owned stuffed into two suitcases after defecting from Czechoslovakia. On the way to Halifax to be inducted, Otto's plane had twice been diverted to Moncton due to foggy weather. He and Maria wouldn't have missed it for the world. After his speech, he told a reporter, "Forty years ago when we arrived in this country, we couldn't even speak English and didn't know a single person... This honour means a great deal to us."

At the event's opening press conference Mary Walsh, assuming her beloved Marg Delahunty character from "This Hour Has 22 Minutes", appeared dressed in a red, fur-trimmed skating dress reminiscent of Barbara Ann Scott. When it was her turn to ask a question, she joked, "Canadians have had to put up with a complete lack of violence on the ice this season. Can we look forward to any kneecapping, leg breakings or any fun at all during these championships?'' The Tonya/Nancy reference went over like a lead balloon and CFSA officials didn't know how to respond. Kris Wirtz broke a silence you could have cut with a knife by saying, "Skaters are nice people." Let's take a look back at how nice they were in Halifax!


Fourteen year old Douglas Bourque of High River, Alberta expanded upon his lead after the short program to win the novice men's event. Second and third were fourteen year old Emanuel Sandhu and fifteen year old Ben Ferreira, both of whom would go on to be major players in Canadian men's skating as the decade progressed. Ferreira and Bourque had been eighth and ninth in novice men's the year prior. Quebec skaters Marie France Péloquin and Genevieve Coulombe and Sacha Blanchet took top honours in the novice women's and pairs events, while the novice dance title went to Tara Mettlewsky and Dylan Bullick. Rebecca Salisbury, David D'Cruz and Amanda Cotroneo and Mark Bradshaw, who had recently represented Canada at the World Junior Championships in Budapest, were the winners in the junior singles and dance competitions. Junior pairs winners Isabelle Coulombe and Bruno Marcotte had won a bronze medal at the World Juniors two years prior to Seoul, South Korea. Disappointingly, Sarah Schmidek - the 1994 novice women's champion - placed an unlucky thirteenth in her first year in junior. The number thirteen would prove even more unlucky in the senior men's event.


Twenty two year old Olympic Silver Medallist and World Champion Elvis Stojko ended up in the hospital after injuring his ankle in a freak practice accident the Tuesday prior to the men's competition. After landing a double Axel, he slipped and crashed into the boards. He told reporters, "I was landing the double Axel where I usually do it, about five feet from the boards, when I lost an edge and, all of sudden, the boards were coming towards me very quickly. The toe pick on the blade caught in the plastic covering on the boards, something had to take the weight of my body, which was still moving fast... and it was my knee and ankle that caught it. It didn't damage the long ligament, but the short (talofibular) one, and placed much stress on the Achilles tendon... I can handle pain -- a lot of it, in fact -- because skaters very often perform with parts of their bodies hurting from falls. I did the Canadian championships in '92 with a broken bone in my foot. But this injury goes beyond merely hurting. Because of it, my skate boot cuts off quite a bit of the power I have in that leg, which changes what I can try to do... I'll be competing if there's any way I can.''

On Friday the thirteenth, Elvis Stojko took to the ice to skate in the men's short program. After faltering on a triple Axel attempt early in his program, he doubled over in incredible pain and made the difficult decision to withdraw. His absence undoubtedly had an effect on the fourteen other competitors, all of whom likely thought they were only fighting for the silver or bronze at best. Brossard, Quebec's Sébastien Britten skated with verve and style to take the top spot on the leaderboard but he wasn't perfect technically. David Pelletier, who had previously won three medals as a junior in both singles and pairs, stole the show with one of the more difficult and clean skates of the evening, finishing a surprising second in his senior debut. Marcus Christensen, Ravi Walia, Jean-François Hébert and Andrew Smith rounded out the top six.

The men's free skate was a roller coaster, to say the very least. The judges ranked Sébastien Britten unanimously first, making him the first Canadian Champion since 1980 to win without a triple Axel in his repertoire. Though Britten landed two triple Lutzes, he made several other errors and undoubtedly benefited greatly from his superior skating skills and presentation. In the CTV broadcast of the competition, Debbi Wilkes remarked, "I think it's a late Christmas gift." Britten later recalled, 1995 was a very special event for the Britten family as my father's side of the family is from Nova Scotia. Just skating for my grandmother Agi (and a whole section full of family members) was a unique highlight! I was really nervous and wanting to skate my very best for all of them. When the chance of winning presented itself, the pressure I put on my shoulders was huge! What I will always remember the most (and I still have a photo of this moment on a wall in my house today) is the moment, at the boards on the ice, right after the free program, when I got to hug my grandmother... a moment I will keep alive in my heart and mind forever since she's gone now."

George Reinitz congratulating Sébastien Britten

Marcus Christensen and Ravi Walia moved up to take the silver and bronze and David Pelletier fell to fourth with a disappointing performance. Equally disappointing were the marks of Matthew Hall, the 1989 Canadian Bronze Medallist. Skating one of his best performances - and one of the few near-clean free skates in the event - Hall only moved up from tenth after the short to eighth overall. Inevitably, there were those who drew a parallel between the judge's marks and the fact he was very much out of the closet, sharing his story in "The Village Voice". At the time, things were a 'best kept a little more discreet.' Perhaps the result was in reality a result of erratic judging. After all, Matthew Smith - the only man to land a triple/triple combination - placed ninth.

Following the competition, Sébastien Britten complained to Rod Black about the temperature in the arena. "It's been like that all week and I don't want to make any excuses," he said. "But I think everyone suffered from that because we didn't see great performances in singles especially in all the categories. The ice was really, really soft and just too warm. You get off the ice and you're dying, so I think it had a bad effect on the skaters, I could say."

Sébastien Britten and Marcus Christensen were named to the World team, along with Elvis Stojko, who obtained a medical bye. The situation was far from unprecedented - in 1992, Kurt Browning had been named to the Olympic team under similar circumstances. The man pushed off the Albertville team as a result of his bye was Britten.


Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler had turned professional, but were on hand in Halifax to present medals to the winners and cheer on their former competitors. Also notably absent from the pairs roster were Olympians Jamie Salé and Jason Turner. They had ended their partnership, with Salé opting to focus her attention on singles. Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz, the other medal-winning couple from the 1994 Canadians, were the obvious favourites in Halifax but when Kris got a nasty case of the flu and took an uncharacteristic tumble on a spin in the short program, it would have taken a miracle comeback that they just weren't up to in order to claim the gold. Their disappointment continued in the free skate, and they placed fifth overall.

Michelle Menzies and Jean-Michel Bombardier, silver medallists in 1993, took the lead in the short program, followed by 1990 Canadian junior champions Marie-Claude Savard-Gagnon and Luc Bradet. After a topsy turvy free skate filled with ordinal flips and multiple mistakes from the top couples, Menzies and Bombardier came out on top and Savard-Gagnon and Bradet dropped off the podium entirely. The silver and bronze medals went to Allison Gaylor and David Pelletier and Jodeyne Higgins and Sean Rice.


Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz were the only defending Champions in the senior ranks to return to defend their title. There was much interest in their decision to leave Josée Picard and Éric Gilles to train in Lake Arrowhead with Olympic Gold Medallists Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, who were then moreso professional competitors than coaches. Canadians working with Russians simply wasn't something that was really done in those days, but the improvements in Bourne and Kraatz's skating in three short months showed the proof was in the pudding. They weren't the only top dance couple to make changes that season. Jennifer Boyce and Michel Brunet moved to Calgary with coach Marilyn Symko. Janet Emerson and Steve Kavanagh of Toronto began working with choreographer Anne Schelter, but during the off-season she underwent knee surgery and Steve got pneumonia.

The changes of all three teams reflected in their dancing, but after the Rhumba and Argentine Tango compulsories, Bourne and Kraatz, Boyce and Brunet and Emerson and Kavanagh were predictably one-two-three - a result that remained the same through the Quickstep original dance and free dance. Interestingly, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon competed against each other, with then-partners Tomas Morbacher and Chantal Lefebvre. By the following season, Lefebvre would be teamed up with Michel Brunet and Dubreuil and Lauzon would be a duo. In Halifax, Dubreuil and Morbacher placed fourth; Lefebvre and Lauzon fifth. Sixth was a young Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe.


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

Josée Chouinard was commentating for television in French, Karen Preston was touring as Snow White and Tanya Bingert had opted to call it a day. Susan Humphreys would have been the favourite had she not injured her back, allowing her little time to train triples in the months leading up to Canadians. The women's field in Halifax was wide open and with two spots at the World Championships up for grabs, it was anyone's guess how things might play out.

Eighteen year old Netty Kim of Toronto was the unlikely winner of the women's short program, besting Jennifer Robinson and Susan Humphreys. A long-time student of Bob Emerson who was forced to withdraw from the 1993 World Junior Championships in Seoul, South Korea due to torn ankle ligaments, Kim had placed only seventh at the 1994 Canadians in Edmonton. She had taken time away from skating, but after some reflection decided to return. Her father Young-Sang Kim ran a Toronto convenience store with his father and brother where Netty and her sister worked part-time.

Disappointing free skating performances kept potential medal contenders Jamie Salé and Angela Derochie off the podium and Susan Humphreys in third. Netty Kim and Jennifer Robinson rose to the occasion, taking the two spots on the World team. Netty's win was a historic one. She was the first Asian Canadian woman in history to win a Canadian senior title in any discipline. Following the event, Torontonians taped homemade signs and newspaper clippings to the front-door of Netty Kim's family's convenience store. Strangers even sent flowers. Though she was ultimately unable to make it out of the qualifying rounds at the Worlds that followed in Birmingham, Netty's win in Halifax was a very special one indeed.

Thanks to a generous donation of VHS tapes by Skate Guard reader Maureen, you can take a trip back in time and rewatch highlights of the 1995 Canadian Championships in digitized video form. The YouTube playlist, which includes all of the medal-winning free skates from the senior events, the entire Parade Of Champions and several other performances of note, can be found above or at

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

Rockers And Risks: The Tim Brown Story

Jean Robinson and Tim Brown

The son of Louis and Elizabeth (Willson) Brown, Timothy Tuttle Brown was born July 24, 1938 in Loup City, Nebraska - a small town with a population of around fifteen hundred. Tim's father was a public school teacher turned military man. His latter occupation kept the family continuously on the move. In fact, Tim and his older brother Willson were carted around from Sidney City, Nebraska to Spokane, Washington to Baltimore, Maryland and Los Angeles, California. As teachers and friends came and went, the familiar air of the ice rink quickly became the one constant in young Tim's life.

After defeating Baltimore training mate Peter Pender to win the novice men's title at the 1952 U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs, Tim began training under Eugen Mikeler in California, who coached him to the 1954 U.S. junior men's title in his then home base of Los Angeles. Relocating yet again to Colorado Springs, Tim became a fixture at the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, taking from Edi Scholdan and training alongside Hayes and David Jenkins. Under Scholdan's tutelage, Tim earned a trio of medals at the 1957 World, North American and U.S. Championships.

David Jenkins, Donald Jackson and Tim Brown at the 1959 World Championships in Colorado Springs

Throughout his entire career, Tim was accurately labelled as an intellectual and a specialist in school figures. He actually led after the figures at both the 1958 and 1959 World Championships, but frequently was overshadowed by his rivals in the free skate. A particularly dismal free skating performance at the 1958 World Championships in Paris almost cost him a silver medal. At that event, his lowest marks came from American judge Harold G. Storke, who had him in sixteenth place in that phase of the competition. France's Alain Giletti's lower points score allowed Tim to win the silver, though his ordinal placings were higher.

Charles Snelling, Tim Brown and David Jenkins. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Though his often self-choreographed programs included novel footwork and choreography, Tim's frequent inconsistency when it came to jumps always seemed to place him behind his biggest rival both at home and internationally - training mate David Jenkins. Despite this, Tim still managed to amass five medals in singles and ice dancing (with partner Susan Sebo) at the U.S. Championships from 1957 to 1960, two North American medals, three World medals and an impressive fifth place finish at the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley while struggling with injury.

Following the 1960 Olympics, rumours swirled on the East Coast that Tim had retired from competition. In actuality, he was busy training at Sutro's and the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club that summer. He even passed his bronze and silver dance tests. Yet, at the time his studies at the University Of California, Berkeley in zoology were taking much more of a priority in his life than his time at the rink, and his skating suffered.

At the 1961 U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs, Tim placed an uncharacteristically low third in the figures and delivered a less than stellar free skating performance peppered with small errors. By the end of the performance, it was quite apparent he was in fact running out of steam, but he had a trick up his sleeve. In her book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman noted, "On Tim's second split jump, he purposely landed off the ice. No one had ever ended a program by jumping off the ice and landing in the exit area. Tim kept going and headed into the locker room, with a nurse chasing after him." The USFSA later passed a rule that a skater must begin and end their program on the ice. It was dubbed 'the Tim Brown rule.'

Novel ending aside, Tim wasn't at all well at the 1961 U.S. Championships. A rheumatic fever, chest pains from a pre-existing heart condition coupled with the altitude in Colorado Springs and limited training caught up with him. In the locker room, he struggled to breathe and fainted. Luckily, an ambulance was parked outside the arena. Medical staff administered oxygen and he was revived. He finished third but skipped the awards ceremony. Doctors advised him not to risk the stresses of physical exertion and travel, and he left Colorado Springs without advising the USFSA as to his plans with regards to the North American and World Championships.  Ultimately, Tim announced that he wouldn't attend either event due to illness and the USFSA named Douglas Ramsay as his replacement. Tim's withdrawal saved his life, as Ramsay was of course among those who perished on Sabena Flight 548. Quoted in the February 16, 1961 issue of the "Oregon Statesman", Tim told the press, "They were all close friends. I've known some of them for ten years... I got a letter from Dudley [Richards], telling me he hoped he would see me when the plane took off. It is terrible for those killed and even more tragic for the relatives and friends who survive."

Though he entertained returning to competition in 1964, the Sabena Crash only strengthened Tim's resolve not to pursue competitive figure skating any further. He resumed his studies at University Of California, Berkeley, got his masters in zoology and later attended medical school. After briefly practicing medicine, he turned his attention to coaching, working with a young Peggy Fleming. In her book "The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories", Peggy recalled, "After every lesson, he would insist that I write down what I had learned. He wanted to see what I took from the lesson: my progress as well as my mistakes and my analysis of them. Tim would even correct my spelling! It kind of makes sense for a guy who was so into technique and school figures. Although I thought it was an immense pain back then, I now realize that the act of writing something down makes an indelible mark in your brain. I actually wrote and drew out the designs of all of my moves, which is a technique I still use to this day in analyzing skaters on ABC."

In the seventies, Tim continued his work as a coach and choreographer, moonlighting as a concert pianist under the alias Jamie Catalpa. He also became involved in the early days of the Canada Ice Dance Theatre. Ron Vincent recalled, "Tim was, in some ways, responsible for my bringing Frank Nowosad to Victoria to coach. Meeting Frank for the first time in Edmonton, I remarked that I had seen a narrative competitive skating program at the Canadian Championships in London (in about 1972), and that it may have been a first. Frank immediately responded with the name of the skater, Karen Gropa and the choreographer, Tim Brown... A few years later when Tim joined us for the second workshop in Victoria, it was with full beard and long hair in protest of the Vietnam War; he was definitely counter-culture and anti-establishment (this included anti-ballet, which at times made co-existence difficult). He proved to be an exceptional choreographer. Some of his works composed in Victoria drew upon revolutionary heroes such as Federico Garcia Lorca upon whose poems he choreographed 'Night of the Seven Moons', and most had a literary point of departure. Tim and Clara Hare, an actor and adjudicator, perhaps because of their mutual interest in literature and its close ally, drama, had a particular affinity for working together." Tragically passing away at the age of fifty one on September 14, 1989 in San Francisco of complications of HIV/AIDS, Tim ironically shared a name with another American who in 2007 termed 'The Berlin Patient' who underwent a complicated stem cell procedure in Germany and became known as the first person to have been cured of the HIV virus.

There are many reasons why Tim's story hasn't received the attention it deserved. He skated in the shadow of the Jenkins brothers and Ronnie Robertson. He was a figures specialist at a time when athletic prowess was becoming de rigueur. He didn't get on that plane. He passed away as the result of an illness some in the figure skating world didn't want to acknowledge. Yet, the reality is that Tim offered something different to figure skating than the status quo: he was a risk-taker... and skating hasn't always been kind to its risk-takers.

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

The 1957 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

The top news story was the FBI arrest of labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Thousands forked over sixty cents to see the hit film "Around The World In Eighty Days". Teenagers bopped to "Don't Knock The Rock" by Bill Haley and The Comets.

The hottest toys were the Atomic Missile Pedal Car and Captain Kangaroo Tasket Basket. If you were to believe "Everywoman's Magazine", you'd be a huge hit at your next pot luck with an absolutely terrifying 'Hot Dog Macaroni Aspic'.

The year was 1957 and to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the first U.S. Championships to be held in the state of California, the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club and the Skating Club of San Francisco joined forces from March 13 to 16 to host the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the recently renovated East Bay Iceland rink. 

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

As is still often the case at the beginning of a new four year Olympic cycle, a considerable number of the previous year's medallists had turned professional or retired. In fact, reigning U.S. Senior Champions Joan Zamboni and Roland Junso were the only winners from the previous year's Nationals who had returned to defend their title. 

An unusual feature of this competition was a special exhibition by members of the Japanese national team. Harry A. Sims recalled, "It was very interesting to see how far these young skaters had progressed under the handicap of their isolation from the normal skating world. They had picked up much of their knowledge from visiting G.I. skaters, also from the visits of Tenley, Hayes and Dick Button, and from many motion pictures. This charming group of skaters made many friends... and we enjoyed very much our visits with them."

Top: Bradley Lord, Ray and Ila Ray Hadley and Carol Heiss. Middle: Diana Jean Lapp, Nancy Rouillard and Ron Ludington, Gregory Kelley. Bottom: David Jenkins, Sharon McKenzie and Bert Wright, Claire O'Neill and J.J. Bejshak and Carol Joyce Wanek. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The biggest social 'to-do' of the week was the competitor's party, held at the Hotel Claremont where the officials were put up. A judge's dinner, also at the Claremont, and a private cocktail party at Henry F. Swift's home were also highlights. There was also a meeting of judges at the Shattuck Hotel, where there was great discussion about replacing the College Tango with the Canasta. In what little spare time they had, competitors went sightseeing at Sutro's, a seaside ice rink that also included a unique museum full of curiosities such as a life-size replica of da Vinci's "The Lord's Last Supper" and the personal belongings of some of P.T. Barnum's more famous circus performers. How did things play out Berkeley in 1957? Let's take a look back!


Ila Ray and Ray Hadley. Photo courtesy Joan Sherbloom Peterson.

Seattle's Ila Ray and Ray Hadley took the junior pairs title, the only victory in Berkeley by skaters from the West Coast in the novice or junior ranks. They were coached by their stepmother Linda Hart. It was very close between the top three teams, with the Hadley's taking two firsts, silver medallists Sharon Constable and John Hertz taking two and Margaret Jurmo and Roy Pringle one. The Hadley siblings had a mascot that accompanied them to Berkeley - white French toy poodle named Honeybee. Ray took ballet classes and Ila Ray was a member of her school's debate and drama clubs.

Fourteen year old Diana Lapp of Denver took top honours among the novice women, while sixteen year old Carol Joyce Wanek of the Skating Club of New York won the junior women's title. Both winners won in two-three splits of the judging panels; Wanek over Lynn Finnegan and Lapp over Brenda Joyce Farmer. Their leads in the compulsories was what helped them both win gold. Lapp was an eighth grade student that enjoyed painting, ballet and playing the piano. Wanek was a junior at Rhodes Preparatory School. She was an only child who collected sweaters and miniature toy animals from all around the word.

In Silver (Junior) Dance, Baltimore's Claire O'Neill and John 'J.J.' Bejshak were victorious over Margie Ackles and Howie Harrold despite the fact that their home rink had burned to the ground. Their free dance included the twizzle from the Argentine Tango. O'Neill was a high school senior who was absolutely obsessed with fashion and Bejshak was a freshman at the University Of Baltimore who hoped to get into advertising. He collected records suitable for skating.

Skating to a medley that included "La Traviata", seventeen year old Bradley Lord of Swampscott, Massachusetts bested a trio of California skaters - Jim Short, Lorin Caccamise and Don Mike Anthony - to win gold in the novice men's event. A month prior to the event, he'd accidentally left his skates on a bus. A thoughtful bus driver had kept them safe until he showed up to claim them. In his spare time, Lord enjoyed water color painting.

The novice men's champion, five foot tall, one hundred and ten pound Gregory Kelley was at twelve years old the youngest of the entries in his class. He was competing in his first U.S. Championships. The silver medallist in the novice men's event was Maribel Vinson Owen's young student Frank Carroll. Bruce Heiss, Carol's younger brother, placed fifth. Sixth and seventh were two young men who -like the winner - would later perish in the Sabena Crash, Bill Hickox and Douglas Ramsay. Kelley, the youngest child in his family, had never lost a competition he entered. He enjoyed playing tennis and swimming when he wasn't skating.


David Jenkins

With both Hayes Alan Jenkins and Ronnie Robertson out of the picture, the path to victory was clear for twenty year old David Jenkins, a pre-med student from Colorado Springs. As the reigning North American and World Champion, Jenkins was heavily favoured to win his first U.S. title in Berkeley. In the school figures, he defeated Tim Brown four judges to one, but was only able to amass an eight point lead. Jenkins unanimously won the free skate on his way to a gold medal and was the only man in the competition who attempted (and succeeded at) triple jumps. Tim Brown settled for silver, and Tom Moore moved ahead of Robert Lee Brewer of Alhambra, California to take the bronze.


Claralynn Lewis and Joan Schenke

On January 20, 1957 - Carol Heiss' seventeenth birthday - Tenley Albright announced her retirement from eligible competition. As Catherine Machado, the bronze medallist at the U.S. Championships the previous two years had also turned professional, Heiss found herself in an enviable position as she vied for her first U.S. title. Like David Jenkins, she entered the event as the reigning North American and World Champion... and like David Jenkins, she amassed a whopping lead in the school figures. She won the free skate and the gold medal in something of a landslide.

Heiss' free skate, set to Franz von Suppé's "The Beautiful Galatea", Adolphe Adam's "Giselle" and Gioachino Rossini's "La Gazza Ladra", earned her marks ranging from 9.4 to 9.9. No other skater earned a mark any higher than 9.3. The silver medal went to seventeen year old Joan Schenke of Tacoma and the bronze to nineteen year old Claralynn Lewis of Colorado Springs. Carol's younger sister Nancy placed fourth. Finishing out of the top four were Charlene Adams, Sherry Dorsey, Gladys Jacobs and Carol Keyes. To the disappointment of Maribel Vinson Owen, both of her daughters failed to qualify for the Nationals in Berkeley.


Diana Lapp, Nancy Rouillard and Ron Ludington and Gregory Kelley. Photo courtesy Diana Lapp Green.

None of the senior pairs medallists from the 1956 U.S. Championships in Philadelphia made an appearance in Berkeley. In a wide open field, Nancy Rouillard of Stoneham, Massachusetts and Ron Ludington of Roxbury, Massachusetts took top honours, besting Mary J. Watson and John Jarmon and Anita Tefkin and James Barlow. Ron Ludington had only recently 'converted' from roller skating to the ice and had spent much of his time practicing between midnight and the early hours of the morning, when hockey games ended. He and Nancy's coach was Maribel Vinson Owen.

Left: Sharon McKenzie and Bert Wright. Right: Joan Zamboni and Roland Junso. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

To the delight of the California audience, Bill Kipp's students Sharon McKenzie and Bert Wright - only fourth at the Nationals the year prior - pulled off an impressive upset in the Gold (Senior) Dance event, defeating Andree Anderson and Donald Jacoby, defending Champions Joan Zamboni and Ronald Junso and four time Champions Carmel and Edward Bodel. The Bodel's fifth place finish in the free dance was quite surprising.

McKenzie and Wright were the unanimous winners of the Three-Lobe Waltz, Blues, Paso Doble, Viennese Waltz and free dance. They performed the latter to a medley of foxtrot, blues and polka music. They were both competitive roller dancers. He was an accountant at the Richfield Oil Corporation; she had just left high school and found a job. Their win was a major factor in the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club winning the Bedell H. Harned Trophy for the club who earned the most points by their placements at Nationals. It was only the fourth time that the trophy had been won by a club from the West Coast.

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

A Champion Of Two Countries: The Edith Secord Story

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine, World Figure Skating Museum and Hall Of Fame.

Born September 4, 1896 in Brockville, Ontario, Edith Carol Finley had a rather transient childhood. Her father William Burton Finley, a respected photographer, travelled regularly with his work, carting around Edith, her mother Leona, sister Loretta, brother Emerson and Leona's three children from her first marriage with him most everywhere he went. By the time Edith was fifteen, she'd lived in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and the state of Washington. It was while living in the Canadian Prairies that Edith first learned to skate, taking lessons from famed professional skater Norval Baptie.

On Canada Day in Saskatoon in the year 1916, she married Daniel Frederick Secord, a direct descendant of Amboise Sicard, Sr. - one of the earliest French Huguenot settlers of New Rochelle in the seventeenth century. The young Canadian couple settled in Manhattan. Daniel worked as an executive for Rex Cole Electric supplies; Edith joined the prestigious Skating Club of New York. Quickly earning a reputation as one of the club's most talented female members, she made her rounds on the skating carnival circuit, performing a similar pairs act with Betty Westgate where the two women dressed as Spanish Grandees.

As her father resided in Ottawa, Edith also held a membership with the Minto Skating Club. In 1922, she finished third in the Canadian pairs competition with Douglas H. Nelles. In 1925, she won the Canadian fours title with C.R. Morphy, Marion MacDougall and H.R.T. Gill and the Minto Skating Club's Malynski Cup for women's skating. At the 1929 Canadian Championships, she won an informal Waltzing competition with Stewart Reburn.

Though she certainly had success competing at the Canadian Championships, Edith's greatest achievements and disappointments came when she decided to start representing America. From 1929 to 1931, she was runner-up in the senior women's competition at the U.S. Championships to Maribel Vinson. In 1929, she won the first ever U.S. dance title, skating with USFSA President Joseph Savage. Edith and Joseph also finished third in U.S. senior pairs that year and next. Edith would go on to win the U.S. Waltzing title three times, twice with Savage and once with Ferrier T. Martin. In 1931, she won the bronze medal in the women's competition at the North American Championships in Ottawa behind Constance Wilson and Elizabeth Fisher. At the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society's carnival in 1936, Edith joined forces with Nettie Prantell to win the Fourteenstep competition. It was one of very few instances of a similar pair winning an ice dance contest against non-similar pairs in those days. These, just a sampling of Edith's many successes during the late twenties and early thirties, spoke to her versatility and skill as a skater. Though she achieved great things competing for the U.S., the decision ultimately harmed her. In both 1928 and 1932, she earned the U.S. Olympic alternate position in women's singles but was excluded because of her Canadian citizenship. In her only appearance at the World Championships in 1930, Edith finished dead last in the pairs event with Savage.

Retiring from competitive skating in the mid thirties, Edith moved to a frame house on a hilltop on Osceola Avenue in Irvington, New York with her husband. Two of her dearest friends were Olympic Gold Medallists Andrée and Pierre Brunet. Though she never had any children of her own, she was regarded as one of the few USFSA national level dance judges of her era who really took a special interest in young people. She also was a regular on many Ardsley Park ponds, helping any young skater who showed an aptitude for skating. Skilled in the art of flower arranging, she gave exhibitions of dried and pressed flowers, ferns and grasses at several local public libraries. Also an avid horticulturist and gardener, she often took young children on nature walks through her woods, identifying the trees, flowers and mushrooms they'd see on their journeys.

In a January 9, 1939 interview with Herbert Allan for the "New York Post", Edith remarked, "A skater has to be almost at the top by the time he or she is sixteen to hope reach championship class. The youngsters are coming along so fast nowadays that competitors are considered old-timers at the age of twenty-five, when most other athletes are reaching their peak. I suppose that's because modern figure skating puts such a big premium on nimbleness and grace, which are the prerogatives of youth. It doesn't call for so much strength as other forms of athletics, although sturdy, muscular legs are necessary to achieve success in national competition... The skating cycle we are going through today stresses rhythm more than ever, and that's where youngsters are at their best. When sustained spirals, jumps and lifts were the thing, the smooth flow of movement wasn't so important, but now it's almost everything."

Edith Secord and Joseph Savage

Shortly before her husband's death in 1957, Edith sold her house and a small cottage on their property and moved down to a little grey house near the road. Widowed, Edith lived in this house alone until her death on December 23, 1964 in Tarrytown, New York. Her obituary from the December 29, 1964 issue of the "Daily News" of Tarrytown recalled, "As long as her health permitted she continued to skate for private pleasure. On a still wintery morning walking along Osceola Ave., it was lovely to catch a lilting tune from a record player, and come upon the tall figure, skating marvellously to soft music on the Havemeyer pond, alone in her special world."

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

The 1964 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Carol Channing made her debut in the new Broadway musical "Hello, Dolly!" and the Vietnam War raged overseas. The miniskirt and hula hoop made their debuts and Bobby Vinton's "There! I've Said It Again" topped the music charts.

From January 16 to 18, 1964, a who's who of Canadian figure skating gathered at the four thousand seat Memorial Gardens in North Bay for that year's Canadian Figure Skating Championships. It was the first of two occasions that the Northeastern Ontario city played host to the prestigious national competition.

Although it was an Olympic year, the North Bay Championships were considered by some to be slightly anticlimactic. Douglas Kimpel and the CFSA brass had decided to hold a separate Olympic trial event at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in November of 1963. Debbi Wilkes recalled, "It was a real topsy-turvy time. I can imagine the Association wanted to have a good luck at what people were doing, what was happening as far as their training was going and give us all a chance, from a positive side of things, to compete prior to Canadians. Remember in those days there was no Grand Prix; there was nothing to prepare you like Skate Canada... There were even some years where Sectionals were held after Canadians. Figure that out! I think the organization may have been a little bit worried about me and Guy because at the '63 World Championships in Cortina, Italy we did not compete... I'm sure the Association was wondering, 'What are THEY up to?' It kind of, from my perspective, gave them a good look at us to see, 'Are they really ready to be named to an Olympic team?' Those trials were the first time I met Barbara Ann Scott. I remember I was just gobsmacked. It was quite a thrill to meet her. Over the years I got to know her well and she had quite the potty mouth on her! She understood the role she had to play and she played it so beautifully and yet when you got her alone, she was a very real, absolutely adorable, charming person... funny, irreverent... potty-mouthed. Quite hilarious."

At Maple Leaf Gardens, the judges sat on chairs on the ice, holding up their own scores on cards after each performance. Wendy Griner bested Petra Burka and Shirra Kenworthy to win the women's event, while Donald Knight, Charles Snelling and Bill Neale finished one-two-three in the men's. Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell and Linda Ann Ward and Neil Carpenter were first and second in the pairs. For practical reasons, there was no dance event - dance wasn't yet an Olympic sport. Paulette Doan and Ken Ormsby were on hand to give an exhibition though, and there was also a fashion show of the new Canadian Olympic team digs.

Thirty eight year old, newly elected CFSA President Douglas Kimpel. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The top three in singles and the top two in pairs were named to the Olympic team. Norma Sedlar and Gregory Folk, who had been in the top two in figures in their respective events, dropped in the standings in the free skating and were left home. The November event was skated in the shadow of one of the most stunning events of American history.

The morning of the first day of the Trials - November 22, 1964 - a television in a skater's lounge in Toronto broke the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed. Debbi Wilkes recalled, "We were training that morning at the Cricket Club. We had just had lunch and I think I was watching TV upstairs in the lounge and there was a program interrupt. They came on saying JFK had been shot. He was still alive at this point, so that would have been around lunch time. There was a real pall, of course, over everything and then scuttlebutt started happening over whether or not the event would actually be cancelled or postponed... There were a number of hours where nobody really knew what was happening. Then, of course, in the meantime it was announced that he had died. The decision was made to carry on with the event but there was some recognition of it prior to the start of event, whether it was a moment of silence. Sad day."

Though the Olympic spots had already been decided, the skating at the Canadians in North Bay was first class and served as an important final 'test run' before skaters headed to Innsbruck to compete at the newly constructed Olympic Ice Stadium in Innsbruck, Austria. Let's take a look back at how all our favourites fared!


Susan and Paul Huehnergard and Toller Cranston in 1964. Photos courtesy Cynthia Miller.

Nineteen year old Paul Huehnergard and his fourteen year old sister Susan had only been skating together for two years, but their hard work with coach Bruce Hyland paid off in North Bay. They won the junior pairs event, bettering Sharon Davis and Ross Garner of Woodstock, who also competed in the junior dance. Third place finishers Betty and John McKilligan would go on to become two time Canadian Champions and Olympians in 1968. Shirley Robson of the Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton took gold in the junior women's event, besting Roberta Laurent and Marjorie Hare. Shirley was also a talented ice dancer who skated with Bill Windover.

After half the field was cut in the initial round of competition, four couples remained in junior dance. Gail Snyder and Wayne Palmer, Rosina Lockwood's students from the Granite Club in Toronto, narrowly defeated Lynn Matthews and Byron Topping of the Cricket Club in a three-two split of the judging panel. The teams finished in the reverse order at the Central Ontario Sectionals.

Fourteen year old Toller Cranston was coached by Eva Vasak and represented the Lachine Figure Skating Club in Quebec. He had won the bronze medal in the junior men's event at the Canadians in Edmonton in 1963 and the senior men's title at the Central Ontario Summer Free Skating Competition and the Eastern Championships in Hull. It hadn't been an easy go though. Toller's sister Phillippa Baran recalled, "When Toller was thirteen, he developed a painful lump below both knees. Skating had become painful and jumping had become excruciating. He had a condition called Osgood Schlatters that most often afflicts growing boys aged ten to fifteen. The family was told that Toller would absolutely, positively never skate again. Toller spent the next many months with both legs in plaster casts extending from the ankle to the groin. When the casts came off, he was able to gradually resume walking, and then skating, but was warned that he must not run and he must not jump. He continued to train. He began to jump. He won the 1964 Canadian Junior Championship." Defeating Toronto's Paul Crowther and Edmonton's Archie Zariski in North Bay, Cranston made history as the first man ever from a club east of Ontario to win the Canadian junior men's title.


A fours competition hadn't been held at the Canadian Championships since 1962, when a quartet from Toronto trounced their British Columbian opposition. None of the skaters from that event returned and in North Bay, it was a battle between two Toronto fours - one from the Cricket Club and the other from the Granite Club. The winning four came from the Cricket Club, consisting of Bonnie Anderson, Gregory Folk, Laura Maybee and future CFSA President and ISU Vice-President David Dore.


There was an unusually large field of dance teams in North Bay in 1964. No less than fifteen couples skated the compulsory European Waltz, Rocker Foxtrot, Blues and Kilian and free dance. There was no elimination round as in the juniors. To no one's surprise, Geraldine Crispo's students Paulette Doan and Ken Ormsby unanimously defended their Canadian title. Perpetual runners-up Donna and J.D. Mitchell had retired after earning their ISU Gold Dance medal in Davos, giving Doan and Ormsby little opposition at home. Both skaters were taking courses at Shaw's Business College - she an executive secretarial course; he business administration. The silver medallists in North Bay, Carole Forest and Kevin Lethbridge, were coached by Bruce Hyland and ranked only tenth at the 1963 World Championships - seven spots behind Doan and Ormsby.

Marilyn Crawford and Blair Armitage. Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

Marilyn Crawford and Blair Armitage of the Minto Skating Club took the bronze over Lynn Matthews and Byron Topping, who were 'skating up' in the seniors. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The judges unanimously placed each of the five final couples in the same order. Paulette Doan attracted attention with a red dress trimmed in pink with a low back ending at a rose on the waist."


World Champion Donald McPherson's decision to turn professional opened the door for a new Canadian Champion in North Bay. Instead, an 'old' one took it. Twenty six year old Dr. Charles Snelling, who won five consecutive Canadian titles in the fifties, decided to make a comeback while working as a staff surgeon in the department of internal medicine at Toronto Western Hospital. He took a surprise win over Donald Knight and fifteen year old Jay Humphry of the North Shore Winter Club. His accomplishment, especially after a six year absence, was nothing short of remarkable - especially since he had been only third in the figures at the Olympic Trials in November.

Two years later, Snelling remarked, "I consider myself primarily a a doctor and look upon skating as a physically demanding form of recreation which I feel everyone needs, especially when engaged in a sedentary type of profession. I work my skating practice in when I feel my medical work has been satisfactorily dealt with and thus my approach to the sport probably differs considerably from that of younger competitors."


Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell continued their remarkable comeback. Less than a year prior, Wilkes had taken a horrific fall in a parking lot in Cortina d'Ampezzo at the World Championships. She and Revell had been demonstrating a lift for photographers in a parking lot when she got dropped from an overhead position, suffering a serious concussion. Over the summer, Wilkes concentrated on her studies and Revell went back to work. They slowly resumed training at the Tam O'Shanter rink, but what the future held no one really knew.

In North Bay, Wilkes and Revell had the skate of their lives, earning a few perfect marks of 6.0 for their daring display. They finished far ahead of Linda Ann Ward and Neil Carpenter and Faye Strutt and Jim Watters, the silver and bronze medallists. Gertrude Desjardins and Maurice LaFrance, Wilkes and Revell's long-time rivals, had broken up the summer prior.

Announcing their win, Richmond Hill sportswriter Ron Craine wrote, "If gameness and plain guts (if it is all right to apply such a word about an ethereal young lady like Miss Wilkes) count half as much as their ability, then these kids stand a good chance of snatching a gold bauble for Canada [at the Olympics]. They've worked long and hard for this chance and we'd like to think that everyone in this big, wide country of ours is pulling for them. Go, kids, go! You can do it and deserve nothing but the best!"

Debbi Wilkes recalled, "By the time we got to North Bay in '64, I felt we were on a path that was driven by a lot more confidence and the fact that were defending Canadian Champions. Having those couple of words after your name was very powerful. That kind of motivated to work harder, try harder, be bigger, be better. I think was that was the appropriate path for us along to the Olympic Games, which was just an amazing experience."


In the women's event, Petra Burka pulled off an upset that had been years in the making, defeating World Silver Medallist and North American Champion Wendy Griner on home turf. As at the Olympic Trials, Shirra Kenworthy again took the bronze. Kenworthy had spent the previous summer training at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and Sun Valley. 

Wendy Griner and Petra Burka had been neck and neck the past two seasons, but the figures had always been Burka's downfall in the past. A former member of the Lakeshore Skating Club, she lived in Eringate and attended Vincent Massey Collegiate. She was coached by her mother Ellen Burka at the Cricket Club in Toronto.

Debbi Wilkes recalled, "There was a big turnover at that time and I don't just mean in terms of competitors. There was a beginning in a switch of mentality where defending champions were not just automatically crowned champions again. There was a rise afoot. This was the age of Wendy Griner and Petra Burka and Petra was coming up like a locomotive - just superb technique and triple jumps and it was like a real change! She defeated Wendy and that had never happened - or if it had happened it was very, very rare."

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

A Game Changer: The Walter Arian Story

Photo courtesy Professional Skaters Association

The son of Jack and Esther (Izaner) Arian, Walter Arian was born November 5, 1906 in Vienna, Austria. The details of his early life are hazy at best, but we do know that at some point his family emigrated to Great Britain. It was there that Walter took up figure skating... and soon began instructing others. He soon earned the National Skating Association's Gold Medal and Second Class Instructor's Certificate and in 1932 entered an open professional competition organized by the National Skating Association, placing second to Howard Nicholson, the coach of Sonja Henie. The following year, he placed third behind Nicholson and Jacques Gerschwiler. With those credentials under his belt, the five foot seven skating instructor with brown hair and blue eyes decided to make a major change.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In 1934, Walter emigrated to Canada aboard the Empress Of Britain and took a job teaching at the Toronto Skating Club. Two years later, he became a naturalized Canadian citizen. During the thirties, Walter taught a who's who of Canadian figure skating, including Constance and Bud Wilson, Norah McCarthy, Ralph McCreath and Osborne Colson. However, his most important contribution to skating during this period were his efforts to revitalize the Toronto and Lake Placid carnivals. To step things up a notch, Walter brought in Boris Volkoff, a charismatic ballet master from Russia who trained under Mikhail Mordkin and danced with Anna Pavlova in the Ballets Russes in Paris.

1937 was one of Walter's busiest years. He married Edna Lynn Schaefer, a choreographer and former showgirl who originally hailed from Kansas City, Missouri. He also took over as head professional in Lake Placid briefly while Gustave Lussi was touring with an ice show and skated in Harry P. Harrison's Winterland show at the Great Lakes Exposition in Cleveland, Ohio alongside Maribel Vinson Owen, Evelyn Chandler, Bruce Mapes and Frances Claudet.

Though Toronto skaters had a long history of competitive success, Walter built greatly upon the efforts of his predecessor Gustave Lussi. A report from "Skating" magazine in 1938 noted, "He has a very sound knowledge of both school figures and free skating and has been a regular inspiration to our Juniors. Last year in the Canadian Championships his pupils won six out of eight possible titles. Training carnival courts is also one of Arian's strong points; last year he trained 'Garden Fantasy' comprising 200 juniors, was co-trainer of three other courts, and with his wife (who was a 'Gae Foster Girl' at the Roxy in New York) he originated and trained 'Sophisticated Rhythm' which was one of the snappiest numbers in our carnival and which was repeated this summer at Lake Placid."

In 1938, Walter became one of the founding officers of the American Skaters Guild, a precursor of the Professional Skaters Guild of America and Professional Skaters Association. In 1940 and 1948, he served as the President of the American Skaters Guild. In 1950, he briefly chaired the Professional Skaters Guild of America.

Walter Arian's Canadian Tango. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

An innovator in every sense, Walter invented a compulsory dance in 1942 - the Canadian Tango. Although the dance never ultimately 'caught on', it enjoyed a brief period of popularity. In the forties, he taught at the Cleveland Skating Club. Among his many students was a young David Jenkins. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1948. In January of 1953, he travelled to Toronto to organize the funeral of his sister. While there, he tragically passed away on January 16, 1953 of a heart attack. He was only forty six.

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

#Unearthed: Champions Again!

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's edition comes to you from the August 1987 issue of "Soviet Life" magazine. Anatoli Shelukhin's article "Gordeeva And Grinkov - Champions Again!" offers a wonderful snapshot of the legendary Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov just prior to the 1988 season, when they won their first of two Olympic gold medals.


I saw pair skaters Ekaterina (Katya for short) Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov for the first time four years ago at a routine workout at a skating rink on Leningrad Prospekt in Moscow. Stars Alexander Fadeyev, Yelena Vodorezova, Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov - in effect, half of the USSR's national team - were on the ice. Off to the side, a tall, slender youth and a petite young girl worked on their jumps. While I watched the twosome, the girl fell several times, landing on her knees. After she fell, she'd lie on the ice for a couple of minutes. Regaining her composure, she'd stand up and try again.

"Katya, aren't you discouraged with figure skating yet? You've had so many falls and bruises," I asked Katya when the workout was over.

"The coaches still believe in us. They say everything will be okay in a couple of years. We're hoping for the same too," the cheerful, blue-eyed skater told me.

The coaches were on the mark. Two years later Gordeeva and Grinkov won the junior world championships in pairs. That was in December 1984, and only three weeks later the couple took part in their first national championship. Though Katya was only 13 and her partner was 17 at that time, they never faltered. The pair performed complex elements with unusual ease, placing sixth in the competition. In 1985 a team of trainers, including celebrated coaches Stanislav Zhuk and Stanislav Leonovich and choreographer Marina Zueva, joined forces to help the gifted pair.

"We were all geared up to win the Moscow News International Competition in December 1985," Sergei recalled. "We wanted to present a challenge to Olympic champions Yelena Valova and Oleg Vasilyev and to national titleholders Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov. Also, we knew that participating in the European Championships in Copenhagen was at stake." The competition proved to be dramatic. The two-minute program presented by Gordeeva and Grinkov was warmly received by the audience, and the judges' scores of 5.5 and 5.6 held out the promise of victory. But national champions Selezneva and Makarov gave a flawless free program, while Gordeeva and Grinkov's was marred by three falls during jumps. The young pair slid from first place to fourth. After the contest Katya cried and Sergei consoled her. "Disappointed as we were, we didn't lose hope," Katya said later. "Our coaches advised us to redo our free program as quickly as possible to achieve stability, lightness and speed. We spent a week reworking our program, and in January 1986 we took a silver at the USSR Championships in Leningrad."

The following March the Gordeeva-Grinkov pair won the world title in Geneva, Switzerland.
How did she get started in skating? "I was four years old when my mother took me to a skating rink," she said. "And since then I've been going in for the sport. Sergei and I have had several trainers, but we owe our greatest success to choreographer Marina Zueva. She was a member of the USSR national team for many years, skating in pairs with Andrei Vitman. Her intuition is amazing."

Under Zueva's guidance, Katya and Sergei have reached a new level of skill: When they perform, they are not simply executing elements, they are conducting a dialogue on the ice. American TV commentator and former Olympic ice skating champion Peggy Fleming noted that the Soviet pair is one of the most “dancing" duets to have appeared in the past two decades. Each of their motions is extraordinarily light and natural.

Who's the boss of the duet? "Katya," smiles Sergei. "She's a born figure skater. She's SO calm and collected, and she's got exquisite taste." And what does Katya think of her partner? "He has a good sense of humour and loves to laugh, so he's easy to be around."

The 1987 European Championships in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, proved disappointing. Though their presentation was superb, they received no marks after Sergei's foot strap broke, and a referee ordered that the performance be stopped. Sergei and Katya took this very hard, but it didn't break their spirit for the world championships in Cincinnati, Ohio, and they emerged victorious.

The skating pair later toured the United States and Canada. What were their impressions? "We trained in Oxford, a small university town not far from Cincinnati, for a week before the world championships, and every day 1,500 people came to watch us. They brought us letters, drawings and flowers." Katya said. "It was an incredible experience, one we'll never forget."

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