Friday, 27 May 2016

The Boy From Bratislava: The Ondrej Nepela Story


"Many people perceived him as handsome or even as beautiful. He evidenced an androgynous, Nijinsky-like quality. In physical features he reminded me of a Tartar from the Eastern European steppes, with slanted Mongolian eyes yet light skin. He was small. He was fine. He was a steady, nerveless competitor, completely lacking in personality or finesse: a generic Soviet-satellite skater who had been browbeaten into becoming a fine technician - less fine in free skating and more precise or womanlike in the school figures." - Toller Cranston, "When Hell Freezes Over, Should I Bring My Skates?"

Born January 22, 1951, Ondrej Nepela was the third child of Central Slovakian parents. His father worked as a driver at the ministry and his mother was a seamstress and homemaker. He was drawn to the ice rink in Bratislava at the age of seven after watching figure skating on television and like so many great skaters, imitating what they saw by dancing around the living room in imitation. Hilda Múdra, Nepela's coach for the entirety of his amateur career, spoke about how she first started working with the young skater in one of dozens of Slovakian news articles I used in researching today's blog: "I did not train young children. Mrs. Nepelová arrived. Supposedly her son had skated two weeks and [all the coaches] ignored him. I told her, dear lady, show me the boy. She did so. I took [him]. I [took] the best in the world." The shy young skater forged an immediate bond with his coach. Múdra explained, "I often told him to go into the rink to train a paragraph and I left. I returned [after an] hour and he still practiced and practiced. He was a great boy on whom I could rely absolutely."

Nepela made his international debut at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, finishing an unheralded twenty second of twenty four competitors at just thirteen years of age. He was again third to last at that year's World Championships in Dortmund, West Germany. However, diligence and hard work soon paid off for the young skater. He won his first of eight Czechoslovakian national titles the following year and placed a creditable eighth at the European Championships and sixteenth at the World Championships. By 1966, he had won the bronze medal at the European Championships and was ranked eighth in the world. Over the following two seasons, he'd defend his bronze medal at the European Championships two more times and finish in the top ten at two more World Championships and the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France.


Training early in the mornings, going to school and returning to the rink in the afternoons, much of Nepela's training was done on a sectioned off third of Bratislava's ice rink. Although off ice training in dance wasn't something that was incorporated into the Czechoslovakian skater's training regime, he did practice jumps and spins off the ice regularly and soon became well known as a specialist in school figures. When Austrian skaters Wolfgang Schwarz and Emmerich Danzer retired from competition following the 1968 season, Nepela rose to the occasion and established himself as the skater to beat. In 1969 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, he won his first of five consecutive European Championships. After claiming silver at the World Championships in both 1969 and 1970, he finally became World Champion in 1971. That same year he was honored as Czechoslavia's top athlete and was afforded a prefab housing estate in the Dubravka borough in northwestern Bratislava. Nepela lived on the top floor with his parents and sister and his coach and second mother 'Aunt Hilda' resided downstairs.


At the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, Nepela found himself in a very similar situation to Austria's Trixi Schuba. He amassed an incredible fifty five point lead over his closest competitor, France's Patrick Péra in the school figures and despite falling on a triple loop attempt and finishing fourth in the free skate, still won the competition by over sixty points and ten places. Perhaps most amusing was the fact that in Communist Czechoslovakia, when the live television transmission of the men's free skate in Japan failed, radio host Gabo Zelenay conveniently failed to mention Nepela's fall to listeners, despite describing the rest of his performance in detail. Mudra recalled that "after the [competition] I did not feel any particular joy, though I imagined what it would be when I saw the flag rise to the mast. Maybe I'm immodest; I knew Nepela obtained gold. He also was one of spectacular emotions. We had a habit. The morning before the competition we [would go] for long, private walks... [When we returned] we discovered the rink was empty. We wandered through the darkness until we suddenly saw a red light that showed us the way out. That was the only dramatic moment." After winning a third World title in Calgary, Nepela toured fifteen cities with Tom Collins' Tour Of Champions alongside Janet Lynn, Toller Cranston, Karen Magnussen, Trixi Schuba, Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley and others.

A wonderful video montage of Ondrej Nepela footage made by Frazer Ormondroyd

After winning a final European title in Cologne in 1973, Nepela finished his competitive career with a win in front of a hometown audience at that year's World Championships in Bratislava. It was the only time he performed a short program at a World Championships during his career and he skated exceptionally well, winning the figures and finishing second in both the short and long programs. It was also at this event that Toller Cranston reported to have a fling with Nepela, described in his book "When Hell Freezes Over, Should I Bring My Skates?" Nepela told his coach 'Aunt Hilda' his thoughts on his final competition: "It was the hardest night of my life - I had a responsibility to stand up at home, where I was skating for sixteen years. Saying goodbye felt like a divorce."


Moving on to a professional career, Nepela toured with Holiday On Ice in Europe from 1973 to 1986.
'Aunt Hilda' said that "he often called me, telling me about choreography and steps and I also describing in detail sequin studded costumes that had... He was interested not only of the figure skating, even though he was in the ice show, and talked to me constantly about whom he met... He did not like athletics and later began to work on horseback riding." In "Zero Tollerance", Cranston remarked that Nepela "fell to a very low level in Holiday On Ice. In spite of his Olympic credentials, he was paid just the tiniest smidge."

Life changed in 1986 when Nepela got an apartment in Mannheim, West Germany, became certified as a skating coach and started working with promising West German skater Claudia Leistner. Through Nepela's coaching, Leistner reclaimed past glory and returned to the European and World podiums. Things seem to be looking up just when they came crashing down.


Tragically, Nepela passed away on February 2, 1989 at the age of thirty eight in a hospital in Mannheim, West Germany. The West German Skating Union, who made the announcement he'd passed away stated only that he'd died "after a long illness" although accounts from his family and coach sadly confirm that his death was HIV related. We know that his mother cared for him a week before his death and 'Aunt Hilda' arrived five days beforehand. We also know that he was so sick he couldn't even open a bottle of medication. After two surgeries (I'll spare you the details but the latter wouldn't have been pretty) he died as a result of cancer of the lymph nodes and colorectal cancer. A January 2009 article from Instinkt magazine noted that after his death, his mother and 'Aunt Hilda' visited the bank and found that although a "wealthy admirer from Bolzano had regularly sent gold jewelry, every world champion received skates with insets of diamonds and he should thus have [had] three, and as a soloist in Holiday on Ice he earned a lot of money, the safe and accounts had nothing left. It was said that he had been ripped off [by] friends." Nepela was interred in the Slávičie Údolie Cemetery in the Karlova Ves borough of Bratislava.

Posthumously, he was honoured with the creation of the Ondrej Nepela Memorial international competition in 1993, a postage stamp in 1995 and in December 2000 he was named the Slovak Athlete Of The Twentieth Century. The following year, he had a rink in Bratislava named after him. However, the only skater from Czechoslovakia ever to win an Olympic gold medal has never been named to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame. Petr Barna, in his July 2014 Skate Guard interview, said that "he was always a very down to earth kind of person. He always treated me and other people very nicely and that is what I took from knowing him personally." Cyclist Anton Tkáč, who grew up with Nepela, said "Ondrej was quiet, as if a fearful boy. But when he started talking about sports plans, he embodied a sense of purpose." However overlooked for his role in figure skating history he was because his speciality was school figures and not free skating, Ondrej Nepela deserves to be remembered.

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.

Giving A Fuch About Gilbert Fuchs


The very first man in history to hold the distinction of winning a World title recognized by the International Skating Union was Austrian born Anton Gilbert Fuchs. He represented the Münchener Eislauf-Verein in Munich, Germany during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II and shares the historical distinction with his contemporary Austria's Gustav Hügel of being one of only two people in history to win World titles in both in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Fuchs won his two World titles exactly ten years apart; his first came in 1896 on the frozen Yusupov Gardens in St. Petersburg, Russia and his second in 1906 on home soil in Munich, Germany. In addition to his two World gold medals, he also won two silver and two bronze medals at the World Championships as well as four medals at the European Figure Skating Championships and three German titles. What made his wins even more impressive is the fact he was entirely self-taught as a skater and only started skating around five years before he won his first World title. In his 1926 book "Theorie und Praxis des Kunstlaufes am Eise", Fuchs rather confidently describes in his own words the challenges of being self-taught: "All by myself, then - never satisfied with my own attempts, an unsparing critic of myself - I strove in every way possible to bring these turns to perfection. It was soon clear to me that they must be skated without change of edge, for otherwise they were combinations in disguise. So, after various experiments, I came to form the style which I subsequently expounded, and have always upheld by voice, pen, and by my own practice on the ice. This last has obviously told against me in various competitions, because, although the justice of my view has been appreciated when fully understood and when seen in actual demonstration, it may be some time before the correctness of my position is fully acknowledged."

From Fuchs' ""Theorie und Praxis des Kunstlaufes am Eise"

Descendant Anatoly Fuchs of Russia shared a contemporary account of his ancestor Fuchs' 1896 win: "The strongest in the championship proved a German athlete Gilbert Fuchs. In the performance of 'school' figures he wowed audiences and judges with confidence and purity movements, was bold and original in the free skating. He showed outer 'ship' complex pirouettes cleanly executed jump in half turns landing on outstretched leg... Observers felt that difficulties diversity of the program and it was definitely better than others. All five judges gave him the first place."  In fact, Fuchs came from behind to defeat the winner of the figures competition Georg Sanders of Russia to take the overall title based on his free skating performance.

Gilbert Fuchs, Gustav Hügel, Georg Sanders and Nicholas Poduskov at the first  World Championships in figure skating recognized by the International Skating Union

A fierce rival of ten time World Champion and contemporary Ulrich Salchow of Sweden, Fuchs and known for being a great sport. Fuchs only ever defeated Salchow once: at the 1901 European Championships on neutral territory in Vienna. Seeing as judging panels of the era would often be stacked with several judges from one country it stands to reason that both skaters fears may have been founded dependent on the composition of the panel on any given day.
Salchow both opted not to compete in important competitions on each other's home turf for fear of being judged unfairly. That said, Salchow wasn't always particularly

One of Fuch's free figures and a list of the elements in Fuchs' free skating program (in German) 

Though described in T.D. Richardson's "History Of Ice Skating" as a "big, heavily built man who skated with tremendous swing"", according to Beretvás Blanka's book "Figure Skating", Fuchs certainly gave a fuch about staying in skating shape. He was an athletically inclined man, taking to skating after learning gymnastics, shot put and weightlifting. After finishing secondary school, Fuchs served in a cavalry regiment and later studied agriculture in Vienna, Austria before moving to Munich and studying forestry. He also demonstrated passion for the land he lived on. In addition to a book about figure skating called "The Practice And Theory Of Art Skating", Fuchs studied the morphology of the bark beetle and in 1929 (approaching sixty) he wrote his thesis "Europäische Holzwirtschaft der Nachkriegszeit (European timber industry after the war)".

A survivor of both World Wars, Fuchs died in Germany in 1952 at the age of eighty one, and will be perpetually be not only remembered as numero uno in terms of world champions in figure skating but also for his scholarly contributions to the worlds of forestry and zoology he was so passionate and knowledgeable about long after he had hung his skates.

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

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Lutzes Behind The Great Wall: Communist China's Skating History


Whenever the history of figure skating in China is discussed, there's always a certain script that is followed. In 1980, when Irish IOC President Lord Killanin won his long battle to allow Chinese athletes to compete in the Winter Olympics under the People's Republic, the Chinese Skating Association sent Xu Zhaoxiao and Zhenghua Bao to compete in Lake Placid. Both finished dead last. Then, at the World Championships in Dortmund, West Germany, the two Olympic skaters were traded out in the men's and ladies events for Liu Zhiying and Wang Zhili and a pairs team, Luan Bo and Yao Bin, was also sent. All four of these skaters fared no better, again finishing in last place in their disciplines. A rocky start is an understatement.

Bo and future coach Bin, in particular, were the topic of ridicule in their debut effort at the World Championships in 1980. A contemporary Reuters article from February 6, 2010 noted that Bin "heard the crowd laughing at him and pairs partner Luan Bo as they struggled to keep their balance during an unconvincing performance". Among those laughing was three time Olympic Gold Medallist Irina Rodnina, who in a March 21, 2005 article from the Russian Olympic Committee's website recalled, "I remember the debut of the Chinese pairs in the World Championship of the eightieth year. Frankly, I was very much laughing. In this pair was Yao Bin, the current coach of Chinese couples." Another classy moment for the politician who may or may not have tweeted a racist picture of President Barack Obama. But I digress...


Then in early November 1980, a contingent of elite (mostly American) skaters converged on the People's Republic China to perform a rare exhibition of elite level figure skating for China's people and offer some basic instruction to China's skaters. Among the contingent of skaters who went to China were Toller Cranston, Peggy Fleming, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, Linda Fratianne, Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley, Lisa-Marie Allen, Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert, David Santee and Elaine Zayak. Recalling the China expedition in the October-November 1981 edition of the "Canadian Skater" magazine, Santee remarked, "It was such a totally different experience from any I'd ever had. The Chinese are a happy, congenial people, almost naively content with what they have. For so many years they were cut off from outside. They have very little idea what the rest of the world is doing." Taped for ABC's Wide World Of Sports, an edited version of the show was edited and broadcast to American audiences on December 27, 1980. In my 2014 interview with Wide World Of Sports producer Doug Wilson, he recalled the trip thusly: "I was there for the first visit of U.S. skaters in China. It was grey, with no cars... bicycles and piles of cabbage on the sidewalk... the whole experience was incredible. To go again in the nineties and find a KFC sign dominating the main street and vitality, cars, people and commerce thriving... it was just extraordinary."


The expedition sparked great interest in skating in China and before long something miraculous happened. North American coaches started heading to the Communist country at the invitation of Chinese Skating Association president Jing Bowen to help develop the country's skating programs and athletes. By February 1, 1988, Wang Yingfu, the general secretary of the Chinese Skating Association, was remarking that "we've improved a lot in some events and believe we can finish around the middle in most of our contests." He wasn't too far off either. At the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Zhang Shubin finished twentieth in a field of twenty eight men, ahead of Michael Huth and Peter Johansson, who would both go on to prominent coaching careers. Only three years later, Lu Chen was on the podium at the World Junior Championships. Four years later, she was the first skater from China to win the World Championships. In 2010, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao became the first skaters from China to win an Olympic gold medal.



That's the abbreviated version of the first act of Chinese skating history's script that we've all come to know. It of course excludes the Eight Banner Ice Skating Battalion and the royal skater Wu Tongxuan. It also excludes how skating developed as a sport in the country long before North Americans came along to offer their valuable assistance... which is actually quite a unique story.

Recreational ice skating actually thrived in Harbin's Jewish quarter in the thirties. Yaʼacov Liberman, in his 1998 book "My China: Jewish Life in the Orient, 1900-1950" recalled that in his youth, "as winter approached, the center of activity would move to the two existing skating rinks in the city. One was located in the Apothecary Street Stadium and the other on Commercial Street. The cold winter kept the ice hard, and the Chinese staff smoothed it by watering it each day. If you were looking for someone in Harbin in winter, you could easily find him or her at one of these rinks... At the Apothecary Street skating rink, a glassed-in wooden hut had been built for the orchestra. The band was composed of White Russian musicians whose repertoire was limited to waltzes and polkas. At the Commercial Street rink, the music was provided by a blaring loudspeaker wired to a gramophone... Indoors there was an array of small stoves to warm your body, while the expert hands of the Chinese personnel massaged your frozen feet back to life."

As for competitive skating, way back in 1939 the Chinese Communist Party set up a Yenan Sports Committee that was sponsored and guided by the Youth Work Committee of the party's Central Committee. They oversaw the development of competition in a wide range of both winter and summer sports. As early as the winter of 1942, ice skating competitions were organized among government workers, army members, factory workers and student groups. Equipment was an issue. Jonathan Kolatch's 1972 book "Sports Politics And Ideology In China" tells us that in the forties "ice skates were manufactured by adding blades, made in the Yenan Iron Works, to slabs of wood. Boots captured from the Japanese often served as the skate shoes."

During this time, the Chinese Communist Party was studying the Soviet Union's physical education programs, and in the early fifties translated Soviet physical education teacher's books and distributed them to schools as guides. The party's motto for developing students as athletes translated roughly to "cultivate from an early age, train for many years, establish a good foundation" and skating was actually an extremely integral part of most school's physical education programs during the winter.

The party was of the belief that training in ice skating had to begin by the age of eight or nine. In the late fifties - the era of China's labour-defense system and The Great Leap Forward - the Physical Culture and Sports Commission of the People's Government developed a new decree which required all students between the ages of thirteen and fifteen to prove proficiency in six events: a sixty meter dash, a four hundred meter dash, long or high jump, grenade or softball throw (yeah, you read that right!), rope or pole climb and a sixth event "according to local conditions". In the country's north (in Harbin, for instance) that sixth event was more often than not ice skating.

The first ice sports school opened in Harbin in 1953 and skaters trained in the flooded field of the Red Star Stadium and travelled north to Heihe in the northern Heilongjiang province, where they practiced on the frozen Black River. In 1956, the Chinese Skating Association became the second Asian country to join the International Skating Union. The following year, a Czechoslovakian coach and four of his pupils came to Harbin and gave Chinese coaches and skaters their first exposure to world class skating. Before long, figure skating was being contested at the National Games of the People's Republic of China.

However, as Joy Goodwin's book 2004 "The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption And The Battle For Olympic Gold" explained, it wasn't all roses: "In October 1968 the entire figure skating team was 'smashed and discarded.' and its former participants were placed under the supervision of the Management Group of the People's Liberation Army. A formal order stated that as sports teams had been infiltrated and controlled by bad people, the athletes must be re-educated and politics must be stressed. In Harbin, the ice sports school was locked and stood empty, and the skaters were shipped out under army supervision to Chalianhe, Tonghe County." There, in a former labour camp for prisoners, China's figure skaters were forced to work on a farm, subsist on sorghum and corn flour and participate in 'struggle sessions' were they verbally assaulted their former coaches. In June of 1969, they returned to Harbin only to be shipped back for more of this perverse 'thought-remoulding' months later. In 1970, they finally returned to Harbin and those skaters allowed to return to the Harbin ice sports school were allowed to resume training. For another ten years, Chinese skaters quietly toiled away on the ice in relative obscurity and under close scrutiny.

Learning about the role that the government and education system played in turning the Chinese people on to skating long before 'North America showed up' actually reminded me A LOT of the blog I wrote on the history of skating in Colonial America where we learned of the Iroquois people skating up a storm long before 'the white man' showed up. Although the story of how the Chinese skating program developed was not always pretty, it is a fascinating glimpse into how unique each country's skating history can truly be. 

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

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The 1960 Winter Olympics, Part Three: The Men's Competition


"Pave paradise, put up a parking lot." Joni Mitchell beautifully chirped these lyrics in her much loved hit "Big Yellow Taxi". Ten years prior to that song's release, many of the world's best figure skaters gathered at the newly constructed Blyth Memorial Arena in Squaw Valley, California, hoping their dreams would come true. For a select few they did; for many others they did not. After a roof collapse, the Blyth Memorial Arena was demolished in 1983 and replaced by - you guessed it - a parking lot. Under that concrete and out of the past, the tales of the 1960 Winter Olympics beg to be revisited. This week, we are digging deep and excavating some sensational skating stories from the swinging sixties in Squaw Valley:

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

With the gold medals in the pairs and women's events going to skaters from North America, the already Paramount - pardon the California pun - pressure on David Jenkins was only compounded.
Leaving his coach behind in Colorado, the five foot six, one hundred and twenty five pound medical student at Western Reserve and three time World Champion was burning the clock at both ends, training in the evenings and on weekends. In his 2011 Manleywoman SkateCast interview, Jenkins offered great insight into the events leading up to his 1960 Olympic experience: "In the summer of 1959, before the Olympics, I’d been injured. I'd had a nasty slash in my leg that put me in a cast. So I went back to medical school in a cast, with a nerve partially severed. People were wondering whether I would get to skate at all, but in an odd sort of way it took pressure off me. I had no conflict with school, because I couldn't train. Maybe that’s just the odd psychology of the way you look at things, but I didn't start training until mid-December, which was only seven or eight weeks before the Olympics. And then I left school for three weeks, and that was the part that was very hard, to leave medical school for a whole three weeks. But I needed to get out to high altitude and to be with my coach, and to be in particularly good shape because it was outdoor ice in 1960." He actually delayed his departure for California by ten days just to get in extra training time in Colorado Springs with coach Edi Scholdan.


When the men's compulsory figures got underway on February 24, 1960, Jenkins was only one of nineteen skaters from ten countries... each trying their absolute best to carve the finest eights of their careers. After the first day, Jenkins was in fact third behind another twenty three old - the two time European Champion Karol Divin of Czechoslovakia - and France's Alain Giletti. On February 25 when the school figures concluded, Jenkins was able to move up to second place. He was still over twenty points behind Divin (much of it, according to him, from one judge) and had some serious ground to make up if he was to achieve his own impossible dream on the Olympic stage.

Karol Divin of Czechoslovakia

When it came time for the free skate on February 26, 1960, the bleachers were packed and the field was down by one. Austria's Norbert Felsinger, who was sixth in the figures, took a nasty fall during practice and hit his head against the boards and opted to withdraw. Of the remaining men, many sported injuries. Divin was recovering from a groin muscle injury a month earlier, Jenkins had been in a cast only months previous and American Robert Brewer was hampered by a strained muscle. Despite many being injured, by all accounts the quality of skating amongst the leaders was quite first rate, to borrow from the legendary Dick Button.

Among the earlier competitors, Germany's Tilo Gutzeit - who had dropped from sixth to tenth after bombing his final figure the day before - gave a solid performance consisting of all double jumps. Fourteen year old Canadian Champion Donald McPherson made up for a weak showing in the figures with a program that Harald Lechenperg in his book "Olympic Games 1960 Squaw Valley-Rome" described as "truly beautiful". Future Olympic Gold Medallist Manfred Schnelldorfer showed his "neat style, his overall program marred unfortunately by some empty moments" and moved up a spot. American Tim Brown's skate was "another fine one marked by a series of very steady double jumps at a furious tempo."

The morning of the men's free skate, The Montreal Gazette had superstitiously noted that Donald Jackson's fourth place finish in the compulsories was "a bad omen". Ultimately, the student of Pierre Brunet proved the newspapers back home wrong and let his skating do the talking, narrowly edging another Brunet student - Giletti of France - for the bronze medal. This had to be more than a little satisfying for Jackson, who spoke in the 1977 George Gross biography "Donald Jackson: King Of Blades" about his frustration with Mr. Brunet's lack of presence in Squaw Valley and choice to devote most of his time to Carol Heiss Jenkins. Contrarywise to Jackson, Divin's free skating performance in Squaw Valley was largely described by reporters with such adjectives as "uninspired" so we can only hesitate to guess that the best man ultimately won.


That man, of course, was David Jenkins. The "United States 1960 Olympic Book" from the United States Olympic Committee refers to his come from behind victory: "Now it was up to Jenkins, reigning and three-time world champion and considered the outstanding free skater of them all, to make it up in his specialty. And make it up he did, in an electrifying display of leaps and whirls and acrobatic twists... He displayed his triple Salchow and triple loops, and at stage, when he leaped high and came into a sit-spin, the crowd was breathless, fearful he would tumble, but he didn't."


After a massive ovation, Jenkins got his marks which were mostly 5.8's and 5.9's... and one 6.0! That perfect mark that came on the second set came from Emil Skákala, the judge from Jenkins' chief rival Divin's homeland of Czechoslovakia. How's that for the Olympic spirit? I love it. Afterwards, Jenkins said "I think it was the best I've done under pressure". I'd say the timing was right, wouldn't you?

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

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The 1960 Winter Olympics, Part Two: The Women's Competition


"Pave paradise, put up a parking lot." Joni Mitchell beautifully chirped these lyrics in her much loved hit "Big Yellow Taxi". Ten years prior to that song's release, many of the world's best figure skaters gathered at the newly constructed Blyth Memorial Arena in Squaw Valley, California, hoping their dreams would come true. For a select few they did; for many others they did not. After a roof collapse, the Blyth Memorial Arena was demolished in 1983 and replaced by - you guessed it - a parking lot. Under that concrete and out of the past, the tales of the 1960 Winter Olympics beg to be revisited. This week, we are digging deep and excavating some sensational skating stories from the swinging sixties in Squaw Valley:

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

In contrast to the one day of competition for the pairs, the women's event was a four day affair. From February 20 to 22, 1960, twenty six skaters from thirteen countries traced and retraced school figures patiently on the ice under the scrutiny of judges from Austria, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Holland and the United States. Without a break, on February 23 every last one of them returned to compete in the free skating event. It was long before the days of qualification rounds and cuts after the short program: when you started something, you finished it! If anyone knew about sticking it out for the long haul, it was three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie who took in the 1960 Games as a spectator.


After winning the silver medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics and the previous four World Championships, twenty year old Carol Heiss (much like Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul in the pairs event) was a heavy favourite. When her devoted mother passed away in  October 1956, she had vowed to stick with it for another four years and win a gold medal in her memory. She reflected in her 2012 Manleywoman SkateCast interview, "You're not entitled to anything, you have to earn it and you have to work for it. And the Olympics was no different. You still had to skate for it. And so I was much more nervous than I was in 1954, because each year from then it got harder. First of all, you are older, and you realize that you have an investment in it and you’re giving up so much more for it." Racking up an almost forty six point lead in the school figures on her closest competitor, Holland's Sjoukje Dijkstra, Carol didn't disappoint. In fact, she appeared unstoppable even if she was under tremendous pressure. Further demonstrating her dominance of the field, Carol was 64.9 points ahead of her friend, third place finisher Barbara Roles in the figures.


The drama was in full swing on February 23, 1960 when the women took to the ice for their free skating performances. In the earlier groups, seven skaters took tumbles and two collapsed, gasping for air in the high altitudes. One of them was two time British Champion Patricia Pauley, who was recovering from a very bad flu. According to Harald Lechenperg's wonderful book "Olympic Games 1960 Squaw Valley-Rome", Pauley (in her weakened condition) "only just managed to get through the program, struggling against exhaustion. When her four-minute free-skating performance finished, Miss Pauley collapsed on the ice, totally spent. Yet despite her handicap she manages to gain 15th place out of 26 entrants - an achievement worthy of high praise."


Too far back in points to even challenge Dijkstra for silver let alone Heiss for gold, eighteen year old Barbara Roles delivered an exceptional free skate in Squaw Valley. Her only major mistake was a miss on a flying sit spin. Czechoslovakia's Jana Mrázková was considered by more than source to have been undermarked in the free skating. Considering that she was considerably behind  Laurence Owen and even Holland's Joan Haanappel in the school figures, she was actually lucky to claim fourth to Roles' third overall.

Regine Heitzer of Austria and Sjoukje Dijkstra of Holland

Like Roles, Dijkstra performed exceptionally. Lechenperg's book remarks "when Carol's keenest rival, Miss Dijkstra, whirls over the ice the Americans cannot help but watch her anxiously. The Dutch girl starts her program with an unusually high axel followed by a series of beautiful spins and jumps. The middle section of her free-skating programme is an elegant combination of steps which afford her some respite before her big finale, in which she demonstrates strikingly the strength at her command. She ends with an exhibition of verve that brings the audience to its feet in thunderous ovation. The public is sufficiently unbiased to acknowledge that Miss Dijkstra is a front-rank performer, regardless of whether Miss Heiss is better or not."


Making good on the Olympic Oath that she delivered only days before, Heiss was the class of the field in Squaw Valley... although she wasn't flawless. Lechenperg's book notes that "there are two tiny uncertainties in her jumps." The "United States 1960 Olympic Book" (the quadrennial report of the U.S. Olympic Committee) edited by Arthur G. Lentz recorded her performance thusly: "Her magnificent exhibition in the free skating stirred the capacity crowd to tears and cheers. Clad in crimson costume, embellished with spangles and a tiara in her blonde hair, she bedazzled the judges and the spectators with her sheer artistry. It was an enthralling four minutes for the crowd as Carol, to the accompaniment of a medley score from Tchaikovsky, Delibes and Rossini, glided over the ice, spinning and leaping with feathery lightness. When she executed the double axel and double salchow, the crowd stood and cheered. When it was all over there were cries of 'bravo', 'six, six, six' - the perfect score. She didn't get six but she came mighty close. Even Japanese judge, Shotaro Kobayashi, who had been scoring very conservatively, awarded her 5.5 points... The other scores all ranged from 5.7 to 5.9."


Ultimately, Carol Heiss won Olympic gold in 1960, fulfilling that promise to her mother from four years earlier. Dijkstra was second; Roles third. There's a certain sadness when you look down the list of competitors and see Laurence Owen's name in sixth place. She tumbled on a double toe-loop in Squaw Valley but got up smiling... and then perished on the Sabena Crash the next year enroute to the World Championships. But on February 23, 1960, she wasn't that skater standing outside an airplane in an eerie and prophetic image. That night, Laurence Owen was the roommate of Carol Heiss in the Athlete's Village. Together, they celebrated their success in a sport which is often far too cruel for its own good.

Stay tuned for the next Skate Guard blog... where everything will be coming up David Jenkins as we revisit the men's competition from the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics in the final installment in this three part series!

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

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The 1960 Winter Olympics, Part One: Setting The Stage And The Pairs Competition


"Pave paradise, put up a parking lot." Joni Mitchell beautifully chirped these lyrics in her much loved hit "Big Yellow Taxi". Ten years prior to that song's release, many of the world's best figure skaters gathered at the newly constructed Blyth Memorial Arena in Squaw Valley, California, hoping their dreams would come true. For a select few they did; for many others they did not. After a roof collapse, the Blyth Memorial Arena was demolished in 1983 and replaced by - you guessed it - a parking lot. Under that concrete and out of the past, the tales of the 1960 Winter Olympics beg to be revisited. This week, we are digging deep and excavating some sensational skating stories from the swinging sixties in Squaw Valley:

SETTING THE STAGE

I will be referring to several sources throughout the three parts of this series and I cannot think of a better place to start than with the 1960 Harald Lechenperg book, "Olympic Games 1960 Squaw Valley - Rome"! Lechenperg set the stage wonderfully with a description of the three point five million dollar Blyth Arena: "The stadium itself is a magnificent building with its northern facade decorated with the emblems of the participating nations. Passing through any of the several entrances one crosses a bright spacious vestibule which takes up the whole width of the glass-enclosed northern side. The vestibule is also decorated with emblems, with the dominating colours of golden yellow, muted green and black. The deeply-fluted surface of the steel roof is covered with grey-green plastic tiles. The interior of the arena by comparison gives a Spartan impression. The roof is supported by cables, has a 300-feet span, and rises 89 feet... All around the rink are grandstands, and those on the southern side can be swung outwards to ensure a good view. A vital section of this huge structure is the big freezing plant which has a centralized control system from where the engineers can cover more than 2 1/2 acres of ground inside and outside the stadium with man-made ice... This gives the stadium its complete independence of the weather." Although partially enclosed, the rink still was outdoors and several skaters who competed at that Games have noted that between the wind whipping in and cool temperatures, the assessment of "completely independent of the weather" was perhaps wishful thinking on the part of the builders.

The Canadian Olympic Figure Skating Team in Squaw Valley, California. L-R: Sheldon Galbraith (coach), Barbara Wagner, Bob Paul, Wendy Griner, CFSA President Granville Mayall, Maria and Otto Jelinek, Sandra Tewkesbury, Donald Jackson, Donald McPherson

Separate outdoor practice rinks were set up, as the Blyth Arena was a multi-purpose venue at those Games that simply couldn't accommodate daily training sessions for the skaters competing. Skaters unaccustomed to acclimatizing to higher altitudes had a rough go of practices and in many cases, the free skating competitions as well. Though the last Olympic Games to hold figure skating competitions in an outdoor rink, it was the first to offer (scant) television coverage. In his 2010 interview on The Manleywoman SkateCast, Bob Paul noted "A friend of my partner was in Lausanne last year and found (a film), I don’t know if the ISU had it or something, so now we have the entire performance on a DVD. Walter Cronkite introduced us, and then Bud Palmer talked us through the entire program. After we won, and we critiqued it. I also have a silent film that I bought, which I thought was going to be the whole performance but it wasn't, but it has the warm-ups and also when we stopped."

The Athlete's Oath was read by none other than Carol Heiss and the chairman of the Pageantry Committee who coordinated all of the ceremonial arrangements was none other than Walt Disney himself. Way to set up a fairytale!



THE PAIRS COMPETITION



Although there was certainly support for German pairs Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler and Margret Göbl and Franz Ningel and the Soviet married couple of Nina and Stanislav Zhuk, the odds on favourites were of course the three time and defending World Champions Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul.

Billed by North American media as practical shoo-ins for the Olympic gold, the pressure on the two was immense. Bob, who had started skating at age ten to overcome non-paralytic polio, was Canada's flag bearer at both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies. The Opening Ceremonies, held the night before the pairs competition, might have served as a welcome distraction but in reality placed even more stress on the pair. Coach Sheldon Galbraith began to notice signs of strain in Barbara the night before. In David McDonald's 1981 book "For The Record - Canada's Greatest Women's Athletes", Barbara recalled, "what I used to do was take a book and start reading, because there is nothing you can do by panicking, and you may as well not get upset. Sometimes I wasn't really reading. The other competitors try to put pressure on you, and I would just pick up my book as if I was above everything. No matter what they did to me, I wasn't going to show how much I cared."

The pairs competition - which consisted of a single free skate - was held on the morning of February 19, 1960. Thirteen pairs from seven nations participated. Due to the early hour the event got underway, only about two thousand of the eight thousand plus seats in Blyth Arena had bodies in them when the event first began. By the conclusion, seven thousand were filled. During the warm-up, a collision between American pairs skaters Ila Ray and Bill Hadley Jr. and one of the Soviet pairs only amplified the nervous tension that was already building among the skaters.

The first team up were Germans Margret Göbl and Franz Ningel. The couple started strongly but only seconds in, their music stopped abruptly. More than five minutes passed as the organizers worked desperately to repair a defect in the sound equipment. The couple returned to the ice and despite landing a solid set of side-by-side double Salchows, they skated like the wind had been taken out of their sails a little. The judge's marks from 4.7 to 5.5 for technical merit and 4.8 to 5.5 for manner of performance were conservative.

Maria and Otto Jelinek in Squaw Valley

Americans Maribel Y. Owen and Dudley Richards struggled with the altitude and nerves, whereas
teenage Canadian siblings Maria and Otto Jelinek skated one of their best performances thus far. They were as shocked as the spectators when they received conservative marks. Australian Champions Jackie Mason and Mervyn Bower. In his Manleywoman SkateCast interview, Bob Paul recalled, "The Australian team skated right before us, and I don’t know how many days they had arrived before, but they were so wiped out that when they finished they were sitting on the ice by the entrance way, and we almost had to walk over them to get on the ice."


When Wagner and Paul finally did take to the ice to thunderous applause as the seventh pair to compete, the unthinkable happened: they too had their music fail! Varying accounts describe the music issue in Squaw Valley as a technical issue with the sound system itself or "someone bumping the record player" but whatever the case may have been, not exactly what anyone dreams of at the Olympics of all places! In McDonald's book, Wagner recalled that "It may have been the best thing to happen to us. We had gone around the rink once, and had a chance to loosen up." In his Manleywoman SkateCast interview, Bob added, "During our performance, the music jumped a bar or two - enough that I said 'stop', because it would totally throw off our unison... So we stopped and went over to the referee, William Powell, and thank goodness that he was American so there was no language problem. And they had no communication (with the music players) so he had to walk across the ice to the music department, which was a record player in the hockey penalty box. Very sophisticated. And he said, yes, the music did jump, so we got to start again. And we found out many months later that our coach was standing in that music box, and got a little nervous and made a little thing with his elbow. So we think he was the one that did it. Some people now say he did it on purpose, but come on now. It was 10 o'clock in the morning! What freestylists compete at 10 o'clock in the morning? I said to Barbara, that’s our warm-up. We had a five-minute warm-up and that day they hadn't arranged any for the pairs. We just went out and competed."

Despite the pressure on them, the Canadians were (as Bob noted) unruffled by the disruption, skating to the side of the rink and waiting to be announced again. Lechenperg's book describes their performance thusly: "But where the wait seemed to unsettle the German pair, the Canadians managed to turn it to advantage and start for the second time with increased brilliance, maintaining a sparkling tempo and classical poise right to the end of their performance. Classical lifts and perfectly-executed axels alternate with unusual and rhythmically-precise combinations of steps. Their entire program is planned with such harmony and executed with such smooth elegance of movement combined with vigour that even before they had finished they seem certain of the gold medal." Executing not only side-by-side Axels but double toe-loop's also, Wagner and Paul earned first place marks from all seven judges and a score of 80.4, well above the 75.9 score of their teammates the Jelinek's, who were the leaders over the Germans at that stage of the competition.

Germans Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler

Next of the contenders to skate were defending World Silver Medallists and European Champions Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler of Germany, arguably Wagner and Paul's greatest competition in Squaw Valley. Although Lechenperg's book does describe the duo's performance in Squaw Valley as "charming, vivacious and competent", it is also noted that the rink's size seemed to hinder the couple. At one point, they grazed the boards with their hips but managed to regain their balance and continue without any major disruption. Good but not great, the Germans had to settle for 76.8 points and second place behind the popular Canadians.

Americans Nancy and Ron Ludington

American married pair Nancy and Ron Ludington delivered an exceptional performance in Squaw Valley. Despite having the reputation power of being the bronze medallists at the 1959 World Championships and delivering a performance that many felt was superior to the Germans, they finished in third place... just 0.6 shy of the second spot. Making their success even more extraordinary was the fact that Nancy had a bad flu at the time. She reportedly needed oxygen after coming off the ice!

The final contenders were the elegant Soviet pair of Nina and Stanislav Zhuk, the latter acting later in his career as the controversial coach of two time Olympic Gold Medallists Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. Although their performance was praised for its artistry, a fall by Nina on a side-by-side Axel attempt destroyed any hopes of the three time European Silver Medallists making the Olympic podium.

Canadians Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul

Ultimately, Wagner and Paul would become the first North American pair to claim the Olympic gold medal. To this day, they are only one of two pairs team to hold that distinction - the other being Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, who of course gave the performance of the night at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and  eventually earned their rightful place in the history books next to their 1960 predecessors. Bob recalled, "It was a long, hard haul, but that's what any competitive sport is. The timing was very good for us, but we've always been appreciative of that." The silver in Squaw Valley was earned by Kilius and Bäumler; the bronze by the Ludington's, followed by the Jelinek's, Göbl and Ningel and the Zhuk's. Future two time Olympic Gold Medallists Ludmilla and Oleg Protopopov (then twenty four and twenty seven) were an unceremonious ninth. A report of the event in "Skating" magazine felt the Soviets "showed [a] lack of skating ability and experience." I bet that writer ate their words four years later!

Stay tuned for the next part in the series... where everything will be coming up Carol Heiss as we revisit the women's competition from the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics!

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

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Bon Appétit: A Journey Through Skating's Culinary History


"Performers are like chefs. Their role is to bake fantastic, exotic desserts to present to the public, but they must never, never save even the smallest piece for themselves." - Toller Cranston

Skating's connection to food likely dates back to the late neolithic period, when migrating lake-dwellers in Scandinavia would attach flat pieces of wood or bone to their feet to travel across snow and ice and hunt for food. In Holland in the eighteenth century, seeing women skating along frozen rivers and canals carrying baskets of eggs was a common occurrence. As skating developed as a sport and art and was regarded less as a means of transportation and survival as the centuries passed, its unique culinary history came to be largely overlooked. In today's blog, we'll look at the fascinating role that food has played in skating's history:

THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

In the early nineteenth century, skaters at one of London's Frost Fairs were treated to roast ox, mutton slices, mince pies, tea, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, Purl - a mix of gin and wormwood wine - and hot apples... all served up right on the ice. In Holland, skaters were lured into riverside stalls to bolster their spirits and stomachs during long journeys on frozen canals and rivers. In an 1885 account, C.G. Tebbutt described the fare served to Dutch skaters: "A big copper kettle, containing boiling milk or coffee, or milk alone, rests on the table... while the eatables are represented by heavy biscuits or gingerbread cakes. Some 'swell' booths provide Schiedam schnapps, warm wine, bread and cheese, and ham; some only the inevitable kettle which is filled with aniseed milk." At the Halifax Skating Rink in Nova Scotia, fancy skaters were treated to tea and light refreshments including strawberries and ice cream.

THE EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY



At The Bear in Grindelwald, Switzerland, refreshments were an important part of the popular
skating Gymkhanas of the period. Piping hot tea and large baskets of cakes were served after huge skating parties. Swiss skating fare was modest in comparison to luncheon at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City around the time a skating rink was open on the hotel's rooftop. A 1907 menu boasted Quail, English Snipe, Leg Of Mutton, Bretonne, Rhode Island Turkey, Smelts, St. Germain, Émincé, St. Hubert. Tansan, Japanese Mineral Water; Lemon Ice, Alligator Pears, Indian Pudding, Edam Cheese, claret and tea. A lobster cocktail was a mere sixty cents; a serving of cotuit oysters was thirty.

Olympic and World Medallist Edgar Syers was one of the first to weigh in about what skaters should and shouldn't be eating: In his "Book Of Winter Sports", he wrote, "A considerable amount of food is probably necessary, as skating reduces weight rapidly, but speaking from experience we find that abstention from all flesh food, save fish, has a most beneficial effect in every way. Smoking and drinking in moderation are admissible; some red wine or light beer may be taken at meals, early hours and plenty of sleep are most important factors in training."

THE THIRTIES

With the rise to power of Sonja Henie came the inevitable trend of reporters questioning of female skaters what they ate 'to keep their trim figures'. On June 20, 1939, "The Age" reported on two time World Champion Megan Taylor's diet thusly: "During her training period strengthening foods are carefully substituted for all starchy foods. She has been careful of her diet for so long that now Miss Taylor would prefer a cup of Bovril to the most tempting of cream cakes for afternoon tea."

Chef Phillip Velez of the London Chop House's veal stock so impressed Sonja Henie - reported "The Toledo Blade" on October 28, 1980 - that "he was asked to make three gallons of it for her to take on a European tour." Maribel Vinson-Owen wrote in "Advanced Figure Skating" that, "All year round Sonja had to watch her diet. In the competitive months she was careful to eat the foods that would give her the most energy, and in her three-month summer vacation she was careful not to put on the weight to which superb Norwegian cooking and inherited tendencies would make her prone. Wheat bread, steaks, lots of fruit, and practically no sweets made up her competitive menu, while during the actual skating, she drank quantities of tea and sugar for energy." While filming "Happy Landing" as a professional, reported the January 2, 1938 issue of "The Chicago Sunday Tribune", Sonja got by on "a breakfast of orange juice, cereal and fresh fruit. At luncheon, she had a bowl of beef bouillon in which two raw eggs had been beaten. For dinner, two lamb chops, three slices of pineapple, and a fresh, green vegetable... She drinks just milk and water. If she feels she needs extra nourishment while skating, she eats about two tablespoonsful of seedless raisins." Henie's mother Selma Lochmann-Nielsen was famous for making a very rich, heavy fish pudding that was often served at Sonja's lavish parties.

THE FORTIES



Evelyn Chandler peddled Sperry Drifted Snow Flour, Carol Lynne Dextrose Food-Energy Sugar, Sonja Henie Royal Crown Cola. Supper and skating went together like two birds of a feather in the second heyday of hotel ice shows. At the Terrace Room at the Hotel New Yorker in 1945, three course 'deluxe dinners' were offered in addition to an a la carte menu. The October 27, 1945 menu featured broiled fresh Lake Erie trout maitre d'hotel, Cali's Sweetbread with Ham and Mustard Eugene, a cold dinner of Prague Style Ham, Mustard Pickle and Sliced Tomato as well as oysters, clams,  lobster salad, homemade burnt almond cream pie and fig puddings with brandy sauce. Coffee was twenty five cents a pot; a three course meal between $2.10 and $3.00.

In her 1952 book "Skate With Me", Olympic Gold Medallist Barbara Ann Scott wrote, "I've never smoked or taken a drink - though my father let me sip his cocktail once when I was curious - and I don't pay attention to diet because I don't even like pastry or cakes. I am very fond of spinach. When I was growing I ate oatmeal, with brown sugar and cream, and bacon and orange juice for breakfast. Now I take orange juice and nothing more. Lunch is soup and salad and perhaps fruit. Dinner is steak or chicken and green vegetables. It is a peculiar fact that skating has never made me hungry."

World War II rationing in England and food shortages in post-War Europe deprived many skaters of much needed protein. World Champion Jacqueline du Bief, in her book "Thin Ice" recalled that as a young skater during the War, "despite my parents' efforts, the food shortages... weakened me as was the case with all the children of my age." She clearly needed more du Bief in her diet!

THE FIFTIES



Nineteen year old New South Wales Champion Valerie Cullen advocated a diet of raw eggs and raw steak. In contrast, World Champion Gundi Busch of Germany recommended a mainly vegetarian diet supplemented by fruit juice and milk. Captain T.D. Richardson, in his "Girls' Book Of Skating" believed that "as far as diet is concerned, there is little need for slimming; the hard physical exercise sees to that, and 'puppy fat' quickly disappears; but starchy foods are avoided and plenty of protein - fruit and vegetables are taken, no alcohol and no smoking, and bed on most nights at 8:30 or 9 o'clock. All these are the self-imposed rules of an aspiring champion."

For touring skaters, it all came down to what was cheap and readily available. In 1955, the first McDonald's restaurant opened in Chicago, Illinois. By the end of the decade, over one hundred of the burger joints had opened across America. Though far from healthy fare, take-out joints offered a cheap alternative to hot plate cookery for skaters touring with professional ice revues like Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Holiday On Ice.

THE SIXTIES


By the late sixties, every young skater in America wanted to be just like Peggy Fleming, so much so that they even believed mimicking her diet would be their meal ticket to a medal. In the May 16, 1968 edition of "The Evening Independent", Peggy's mother boasted of her daughter's prowess in the kitchen. She apparently made a mean banana bread and chocolate and cream cheese fudge but her speciality was meat loaf. Peggy explained, "You get some rice going. Meanwhile roll out some hamburger on a sheet of waxed paper. The trick is to roll it up after spreading the inside with rice and tomato sauce. It looks pretty messy while you work with it." Peggy believed in the importance of a well-balanced diet. She explained, "While I don't have a special diet, I do eat three meals a day and my meats are high in protein." For breakfast, it was bacon, eggs, toast and orange juice, a salad or sandwich for lunch and broiled meat, green vegetables and salad for dinner, fruit for dessert. She noted, "Most of the kids ate fruit of some kind. Some of the kids drank some of those food supplement things. But I'd rather eat a meal."

THE SEVENTIES

As the world became entranced by the advent of frozen and convenience foods, skaters flocked to the steak and salad diet. They would eat nothing all day, drink a ton of water and have a steak and salad for dinner. A great many skaters fell prey to this seventies diet fad. It was simply what everyone was doing at the time.

When the Moscow Circus On Ice came to Chicago in 1970, the visiting Russian skaters were treated to a gala buffet dinner - and open bar -  after their opening night performance. The November 21, 1970 issue of The Chicago Tribune reported, "When the hungry ice skaters, each carrying to a table a plate heaped so high with groceries that it made the famed Dagwood sandwich look like a starvation diet, had abandoned the bar, we interviewed a bartender about what nectar had appealed to the athletic young comrades. 'Never poured so much vodka in my life,' he said. 'Practically nothing else, except a little orange juice'."


In the October 30, 1979 issue of "The Toledo Blade", Olympic Gold Medallist Dr. Tenley Albright was one of the first doctors to speak quite publicly about skater's diets. She recommended a balanced diet rich in carbohydrates and proteins, such as whole grains, fruits and juices, chicken and fish and not more than one thousand, two hundred to one thousand, five hundred calories a day. She explained, "That kind of eating ensures adequate calories and nourishment without putting an additional load on the system. Athletes want the blood vessels to the muscles to dilate during exercise, not the blood vessels to the stomach. Avoiding heavy meals during training and not eating just being a meet accomplishes this."

By the late seventies, so much focus was placed on female skater's diet - and weight - that both of the gold medal favourites at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid placed a strong focus on slimming down in the belief that it would help their chances. In the May 20, 1979 issue of "The Chicago Tribune", Linda Fratianne lamented, "I've always been on a diet. I took off 10 pounds before the World Championships this year when my coach said to do that or forget about winning the title back. It was hard. I starved myself. I lived on strawberries. But it was something I had to do, or else." At the Olympics, Linda and her mother told reporters from "Sports Illustrated" that they would secretly order cheesecake from room service and put the empty trays in the hallway outside of someone else's door so that Frank Carroll wouldn't find out. "I've gained two [pounds]; Linda's down four... We sound like the daily Dow Jones report," laughed mother Virginia. "It's a battle, okay. I love desserts and I love spaghetti. Doesn't every Italian?", Linda quipped in the February 22, 1980 issue of "The St. Petersburg Times".

THE EIGHTIES

At a lavish banquet sponsored by Agriculture Canada at the 1984 World Championships in Ottawa, skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Katarina Witt, Brian Orser and Scott Hamilton knoshed on chilled blueberry soup, fiddlehead pate, beef sirloin with pan-fried potatoes, maple parfait and domestic cheeses.

One year earlier, Campbell's Soup became the official sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Team. At that year's U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Pittsburgh, Judy and Jim Sladky dressed up as 'the Campbell kids' - complete with eight pound heads - to waltz around the rink extolling the virtues of Sodium-rich broth. That same year, both the U.S. and Canadian Figure Skating Associations began to bring in nutritionists to give seminars emphasizing the importance of nutrition to skaters.


Although the power of education certainly helped many, a great number of skaters still struggled with poor nutrition throughout the eighties. The pressure for young female skaters to fit a certain mould - and dress size - was immense and ridiculous. Elaine Zayak, Rosalynn Sumners... they were both victims of that pressure. Some even developed serious eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. In 1986, Canadian Olympian Charlene Wong spoke candidly of her struggles, pleading to skaters in one newspaper article, "If you're going through it, don't think you have to fight it alone. Get help."


Brian Orser had a secret weapon up his sleeve that hoped would help him win the Battle Of The Brian's at the Calgary Olympics: a power breakfast shake concocted by nutritionist Anne Hall. Pat Inglis, reporting to the "Southam News" on February 11, 1988 noted, "Its recipe is a guarded secret. But Orser has been seen at competitions shaking up orange juice, yogurt, brewer's yeast, wheat germ, eggs and other ingredients in a jar." Shortly after the Calgary Olympics, Barbara Ann Scott opened up to reporters from "The Toronto Star" how her diet had and hadn't changed since her skating days: "I never thought about my diet when I was a skater. I never liked a lot of food. I eat more now than I did then. Lunch is a waste of time. If I eat lunch, I won't eat dinner."


By the late eighties, many skaters had recognized the power of a more structured, balanced diet. In the February 28, 1989 issue of "The Bulletin", Jill Trenary noted, "I eat lots of complex carbohydrates like fruits and vegetables and I often add chicken or fish at dinner. When I'm in a rush before practice, I grab a rice cake and a thermos of soup to snack on during a break. Soup is a staple in my diet. It's a great pick-up and helps give me extra strength. I also try to drink a lot of water during the day, and I stay away from caffeine. Instead of sodas, I'll have fruit juices like cranberry-apple."

THE NINETIES

Kicking off the nineties with a food analogy about figure skating... the late, great Toller Cranston had this to say about French and Russian ice dancers: "The Duchesnays are like the painting of Cezanne's oranges - a bowl of oranges, honest, truthful, meat and potatoes and real. Usova and Zhulin are like a Dutch still life by an unknown painter totally overdone and every cherry has a highlight. But when all is said and done, all you really wanted was an orange."

The nineties were perhaps one of the weirdest decades when it came to figure skating and food. Didier Gailhaguet admittedly fabricated a story about Surya Bonaly subsisting on a macrobiotic diet that pretty much amounted to birdseed. With an influx of corporate dollars, skaters competed in the saccharine sweet Hershey's Kisses Pro-Am Challenge and fizzy Diet Coke Skaters' Championships. Glossy magazine advertisements depicted skaters endorsing everything from frozen punch to fast food.


Professional skaters started to open up about subsisting on popcorn, raisins and muffins on the road... and the dark world of weigh-in's. The August 27, 1993 issue of "The Bangor Daily News" reported that on tour with the Ice Capades, "Food and weight control dominated talk among the skaters, both male and female, especially when it got close to the weekly weigh-in time. Each skater was assigned a designated weight - called a 'set'. Skaters who didn't make weight were docked money out of their paychecks and sometimes threatened with being sent home. Some skaters wouldn't eat for three days before the weigh-in. Others would pile on clothing to tip the scales. Many took laxatives to lose weight. Many thought the more alcohol they drank, the less weight they'd gain."

By the late nineties, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. With more and more education becoming readily available, a great majority of elite level skaters were recognizing the necessity of healthy, balanced diets that featured both protein and carbohydrates. Michelle Kwan's typical diet consisted largely of fish, chicken, pasta and vegetables.

BEYOND THE HISTORY



Between Brian Boitano's delightful cookbook and Food Network show and the boom in popularity of "Figure Skater Fitness" Magazine and Meagan Duhamel's wonderful "Lutz Of Greens" blog, more people are talking about figure skating and food than ever before this decade. After Meagan and Eric's performance at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, I think a lot of people are looking to Meagan and seeing what the power of clean eating can do for a skater. The future of figure skating's culinary history will most likely end up looking very different than its past!

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