The 1989 European Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

Britons were still in shock after the Kegworth air disaster just weeks prior that had left forty seven dead at East Midlands airport. A new law allowed pubs in England to remain open for twelve hours each day, except on Sundays. The popularity of a new cookbook compiled Linda McCartney converted many to vegetarian cooking. Tom Hanks starred in the number one box office film "The 'Burbs"  and Phil Collins topped the music charts with his hit "Two Hearts".

The year was 1989 and from January 17 to 21, the best of the best in European figure skating could be found on a temporary ice surface in the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England, dazzling audiences with twist lifts, twizzles and toe-loop's.

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

The 1989 European Championships were the first ISU Championships to be held in England since 1950 and the first European Championships held in England in fifty years. At the 1939 Europeans, a trio of British women (Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor and Daphne Walker) had swept the podium. A lot had changed in figure skating since the gloomy post-War days of rationing. By 1989, the Europeans were televised in twenty eight countries and one hundred and five entries from twenty nations participated.

Photos courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

The event tied in with the City of Birmingham Centenary Festival and in addition to the great skating, visitors to the Venice of the North enjoyed a grand firework display, an organ recital at town hall, a centenary service at St. Philip's Cathedral and an art exhibition presented by the Royal Birmingham Society Of Artists. At the gala opening of the 1989 Europeans, there was a special number celebrating Great Britain's rich skating history, featuring Robin Cousins and children from Birmingham and four other clubs in the Midlands. At the closing exhibition, the skaters performed before Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal Anne. John Curry and Bobby Thompson acted as the British team's national coaches.

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

As was so often the case in the seventies and eighties, there was confusion surrounding the Soviet team. Two different lists were sent by the USSR Skating Federation to the British organizers. One list had Viktor Petrenko and Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov; another didn't. At the eleventh hour, the hosts discovered the trio of Olympic medallists were not competing. Petrenko was sick and Gordeeva had an ankle injury. Courtney Jones (who chaired the Organizing Committee) told reporters, "It's a little bit sad and naturally we are disappointed. We didn't realize until the Soviets arrived that [Ekaterina Gordeeva] and [Sergei Grinkov], and [Viktor Petrenko], weren't competing. But there are so many other good skaters and we are very nearly sold out."

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archivew

ISU rule changes were significant talking points in Birmingham. Tighter doping controls had been introduced, with more random testing occurring during practices. A new rule forbidding revealing or exhibition style' costumes in response to the showy outfit Katarina Witt had worn when she won the previous season at the European Championships allowed judges to deduct up to 0.2 from their marks for outfits that weren't "modest and dignified in nature." As we'll see in today's blogs, the fashion infractions in Birmingham almost overshadowed the great skating.


With Gordeeva and Grinkov out due to injury and former Olympic Gold Medallists and reigning World Champions Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev retired, the heavy favourites in Birmingham were fellow Soviets Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov. The 1984 Olympic Bronze Medallists and 1987 European Champions, who trained in St. Petersburg, had won medals at both the 1988 Europeans and Worlds and finished just off the podium at the Calgary Olympics.

This wasn't Selezneva and Makarov's first time at the rodeo and they skated strongly in the original program to take the lead entering the free skate. With side-by-side triple toe-loop's, they narrowly defeated East Germany's Mandy Wötzel and Axel Rauschenbach in a five-four split of the judging panel. The bronze went to Soviets Natalia Mishkutenok and Artur Dmitriev.

Axel Rauschenbach recalled, "After winning the silver medal at the European Championships in 1989 in Birmingham, we had a serious accident just before leaving for the World Championships in Paris 1989. Mandy had a serious head injury after a collision with my skate. This accident threw us back. We never again reached the form we had before the accident."

Great Britain's Cheryl Peake and Andrew Naylor hung on to fifth place despite a couple of errors.
If the crowd had their back, the British judge didn't. Mary Groombridge gave them their lowest marks - 4.8 and 4.9. She had the other British pair, Lisa and Neil Cushley, ahead of them. Speaking of judging, you'd think the pairs event in Birmingham was ice dance. The teams finished in the exact same order in the original and free programs. Perhaps more luckily, the escaped the Birmingham costume drama...


Twenty five year old Alexandr Fadeev was seeking his fourth European title in nine years. The 1985 World Champion had dominated the previous year's event in Leningrad from start to finish, but outside of his home country things at first appeared a little different. In an upset, Oregon born West German skater Richard Zander won the school figures over Fadeev. To give some context to that result, Fadeev had won the figures at the Calgary Olympics and Zander had been ninth.

Alexandr Fadeev rebounded with a stellar original program, winning that phase of the event over Poland's Grzegorz Filipowski, Czechoslovakia's Petr Barna and the Soviet Union's Dmitri Gromov. Richard Zander finished only tenth, dropping to sixth in the overall standings entering the free skate, but was forced to withdraw due to the same back injury that had almost forced him to retire the previous season. Fadeev's costume for the original program was wild. He wore gloves with what one reporter referred to as "long glittering Florence Griffith-Joyner style claws" and had a sequined parrot on the back of his outfit. Despite this, many judges didn't give him the now mandatory 0.2 costume deduction. Four of them gave him a 5.9.

In the free skate, Alexandr Fadeev brought the house down with an eight-triple performance and earned four perfect 6.0's for artistic impression on the way to his fourth European title. Grzegorz Filipowski, Petr Barna, Dmitri Gromov, Daniel Weiss and Viacheslav Zagorodniuk rounded out the top six. Famously, British judge Vanessa Riley implemented a mandatory 0.2 deduction to Alexandr Fadeev, who wore white pants that left little to the imagination, prominently showcasing Sasha Jr.  She told reporters, "There's no point in having rules if you don't use them. The rules say costumes must be modest and dignified. Fadeev's clearly wasn't. I therefore deducted 0.2 from the artistic impression mark, making it 5.6. I still had him first." At the Worlds in Paris, Fadeev wore a pair of jockey shorts over his jockstrap to avoid getting dinged for his dingle.

In Fadeev's 2009 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, he recalled, "Back in time, the professionals, the ballet dancers, they wore the dance belt, which is basically [a] G-string, the male version... which is supposed to give the nice forms instead of just the Speedo under the white costumes, which if black it always shows. So my choreographer was the ballet expert, a costume designer, and he designed it. But I think it was the first time anyone was wearing that, so I think that’s why the judge did not understand that. I think it's a misunderstanding."


Left: Claudia Leistner. Right: Joanne Conway.

Katarina Witt, Kira Ivanova and Anna Kondrashova had all left the amateur ranks and East Germany's Simone Koch had withdrawn, leaving twenty four year old Claudia Leistner of West Germany as the favourite in Birmingham. She had won the bronze medals at the 1983 and 1985 European Championships and placed ahead of both Jill Trenary and Midori Ito at the 1988 Worlds in Budapest. She took a strong lead in the figures, which had been reduced in number from three to two. Joanne Conway, Natalia Gorbenko, Natalia Lebedeva and Željka Čižmešija rounded out the top five. Seventeenth in her debut at Europeans was a young Surya Bonaly. She shook things up with a get-up which Vanessa Riley described as "more of a court jester's outfit."

It was West meets East in the original program when Claudia Leistner defeated seventeen year old Simone Lang. Seventeen year old Joanne Conway's fourth place finish kept her in second overall entering the free skate, with Natalia Lebedeva in third. With a conservative but daring effort, Leistner took the gold over Lebedeva and her teammate Patricia Neske, who had been only eighth in figures. Joanne

Claudia Leistner claimed the gold with an athletic free skating performance that featured a triple loop, two triple Salchows, a triple toe-loop and a two-footed triple flip. Natalia Lebedeva and Patricia Neske took the silver and bronze, while Joanne Conway dropped all the way down to sixth and Surya Bonaly moved all the way up to eighth.

Claudia Leistner's victory was the first for a West German woman at Europeans since Gundi Busch in 1954. Her former coach Ondrej Nepela, dying in hospital, was able to watch her victory on television. After winning, she told reporters, "It's been a long wait. I hope I can do the same in Paris [at the World Championships]. I would have liked Katarina to have been here so I could have tried to beat her." She was on the payroll of Daimler's Untertürkheim plant, along with almost fifty other West German sporting stars. When she returned home to her country, she received a Mercedes 300 as a gift for winning.

Joanne Conway was quite sick in Birmingham and had actually thrown up half an hour before skating a clean original program, but as is so often the case in skating, many played her rough free skate off as nerves. The British press, hoping for a medal, weren't exactly kind to her. David Whaley, sports editor for the "Sandwell Evening Mail" wrote, "Jolly Joanne 'I can bottle it with the best' Conway has rarely shown she can handle pressure. Then, shock horror, one round to go and in the silver medal spot. Surprise, surprise - down she went and down the drain went the forlorn medal dream."


With Olympic Gold Medallists Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin having turned professional, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko were the favourites at the European Championships for the first year. It was their sixth crack at the title and they had medalled every time except their first Europeans back in 1983, when they finished fourth. Notably absent were Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay. Isabelle had undergone knee surgery the October previous and had not recovered sufficiently to compete. From her training base in Oberstdorf, she told an Associated Press reporter, "We are bitterly disappointed at missing the Europeans. It would have been great to unveil our new routine, which has again been choreographed by Christopher Dean, in front of a British crowd."

As expected, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko took a strong lead after the compulsories - the Yankee Polka and Rhumba. Maya Usova and Alexandr Zhulin finished second; Natalia Annenko and Genrikh Sretrenski third. There was an outcry when Usova's lime green bikini and body stocking for the Rhumba wasn't penalized by many judges. Joan Slater, the coach of British ice dancers Sharon Jones and Paul Askham told reporters, "The British association would not permit our skaters to wear something like that at these Championships. It's totally over the top. They should not show any bare midriff, but that was more like a Latin American ballroom outfit." Usova and Zhulin's coach Natalia Dubova responded, "We didn't realize the costume would create such a furor. The design at the World Championships will definitely be changed and will be fully in agreement with the new regulations."

Klimova and Ponomarenko's "Ain't She Sweet" topped Usova and Zhulin's "Black Bottom" in the Charleston OSP. There was criticism over the fact that Annenko and Sretenski skated in pastel outfits that didn't say Charleston whatsoever, but still ended up ahead of the popular fourth place Hungarian couple, Klára Engi and Attila Tóth and Jones and Askham, who performed more classic Charlestons.

Klimova and Ponomarenko finally won their first ISU Championship with an excellent free dance to Kurt Weill's "Mack The Knife", earning 6.0's from both the Soviet and Italian judges. The Soviet judge also gave a 6.0 to Usova and Zhulin, whose free dance to "The Planets" somewhat stole the show from their elder teammates. Annenko and Sretenski's lovely free dance made up for the criticisms over their OSP.

The third Soviet sweep of the dance podium at Europeans of the eighties did not go unnoticed, nor did the new level of athleticism that that was permeating the discipline. In "The Spectator", John Powers wrote, "Ice dancing, which had its feet firmly in the ground by design, has gone Bolshoi in the last six years. Even dancers are airborne now, and all need to be stronger, lither and fitter than ever before. No part of figure skating has changed more than ice dancing."

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

Lady Evelyn Grey: A Regal Force From Rideau Hall

"To make the best of every talent; to be aware of the beauty of the world. To be active, cheerful, amused, and if possible, amusing; to make and keep great friends; to enjoy things; to grumble as little as possible; to keep an open mind, and, as a consequence, to be happy, even in the difficult, if exciting, world of today." - Lady Evelyn Grey Jones, handwritten letter to Lady Evelyn Public School, 1965

Lady Evelyn Alice Grey was born March 14, 1886 in St. George Hanover Square, London, England. Her father, Albert Henry George Grey, was a Liberal Member of Parliament for Northumberland County in the House Of Commons at the time. Her mother, Alice (Holford) Grey, was something of a socialite... to put it very mildly. Her father's parents were a secretary and servant to Queen Victoria and her mother's father was a wealthy art collector and Member of Parliament for Gloucestershire. To say that Evelyn grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth would be something of an understatement.

Lady Evelyn Grey and Ormonde B. Haycock. Photos courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Evelyn grew up wanting for very little in London. She didn't see a lot of her father when she was a young girl, as he had accepted an invitation from Cecil John Rhodes to serve as an administrator with the British South Africa Company in Rhodesia. In 1904, when Evelyn was eighteen her father was appointed Governor-General of Canada by the government of Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Upon his arrival in Ottawa, he succeeded his brother-in-law the Earl of Minto... the founding member of the Minto Skating Club.

The Earl Grey family. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Evelyn hadn't been one of those elegant 'society ladies' who'd skimmed the ice at Prince's Skating Club at Knightsbridge. In fact, until she arrived in Ottawa, she hadn't really given skating much of a thought. While residing at Rideau Hall, she could hardly escape the ice.

Ice Castle at Rideau Hall. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Continuing the long-standing tradition established by the Minto's, the fourth Earl Grey hosted wildly popular weekly moonlight skating and tobogganing parties at Rideau Hall during his stint as Governor-General. One such party was described by his daughter Lady Victoria Grenfell in a letter to Lady Wantage thusly: "Two huge bonfires burn and crackle close to the two rinks both of which are lit up by rows of Chinese lanterns on wires all round them... The party is opened by a procession of couples on skates each holding a torch and skating a long serpentine march to the music of the band. The tattoo of torches with all the lanterns and coloured Bengal lights really made it look like Fairyland. It was a glorious night with a splendid full moon." In 1906, the Earl Grey donated the Earl Grey Cup to the Montreal Winter Club for competitions in "combined figure skating of four to a center, combined figure skating in pairs and individual skating." He also attended numerous skating competitions, often presenting prizes to the winners.

The Minto Four in 1911 - Lady Evelyn Grey, Eleanor Kingsford, Ormonde B. Haycock and Phillip Chrysler. Photos courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Though the Earl Grey was a patron of several skaters at the Minto Skating Club, none was nearer and dearer to his heart than his own daughter. The Earl was responsible for bringing Arthur Held, a German coach who had been teaching in America, to the Minto Skating Club... specifically to help Evelyn with her school figures. Evelyn won both the pairs and Waltz titles at the 1910 Canadian Championships - skating with partners Ormonde Butler Haycock and Dudley Oliver. The following year at the Canadian Championships in Montreal, Evelyn and Ormonde repeated as pairs champions... and Evelyn won the Canadian women's title. The Minto Skating Club won the overall title that year... and took home the Earl Grey Cup. The February 28, 1911 issue of the "Ottawa Citizen" noted, "Lady Evelyn's was a remarkable performance, when it is remembered that her career as a skater began only four or five years ago, and that she was handicapped by a lack of that early experience on the blades which falls to the lot of the ordinary Canadian. It therefore required natural aptitude, conscientious practice, and clever head work to enable her to rise to the top."

Top: Lady Evelyn Grey photographed with a who's who of North American skating in 1911, including Irving Brokaw, Ormonde B. Haycock and Eleanor Kingsford. Bottom: Clipping of a performance of Lady Evelyn Grey in Boston.

Interestingly, Evelyn's winning performances at the 1911 Canadian Championships weren't even her most noteworthy efforts on the ice that winter. At the Minto Skating Club's carnival a week prior, she'd joined her father, mother and sister on the ice in a fancy dress performance reminiscent of the Aberdeens' Historical Fancy Dress Ball of 1896, dressed in "an officer's costume of the eighteenth century."

Top: Lady Evelyn Grey and Lady Sybil Grey. Bottom: Lady Sybil Grey, Lady Evelyn Grey and Countess Alice Grey

Following her win in Montreal, Evelyn travelled with her mother and sister Sybil to Boston, where she gave figure skating exhibitions in conjunction with a winter sports festival. She was widely praised by the well-to-do Bostonians in attendance. The March 17, 1911 issue of the "Citizen" noted, "The Minto [four] was described as a crack organization. Lady Evelyn Grey also appeared in pairs [with Ormonde B. Haycock], and was warmly greeted for her share in the graceful and picturesque performance." The ideas exchanged on this trip helped further relations between skaters from Ottawa and Boston and so moved the Duke of Connaught to suggest an international fours competition between Canadian and American skaters... the Connaught Cup.

Lady Evelyn Grey and her father strolling in Regent's Park, London in 1916

Evelyn's short but highly impressive skating career was cut short by her marriage to British writer and barrister Sir Lawrence Evelyn Jones in 1912 and subsequent pregnancy with her first of five daughters. The couple made their home at Cramner Hall, a historic country house near Fakenham, Norfolk. She passed away on April 15, 1971 in the affluent London suburb of Marylebone at the age of eighty five, the distant memories of her short incarnation as a champion figure skater long forgotten.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at 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: Politicians, Diplomats And Skating

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's 'buried treasure' is a fascinating piece about the skating backgrounds of a number of British, Canadian and American political figures. It was written by NSA historian Dennis Bird, with assistance from Captain T.D. Richardson and Benjamin T. Wright, and first appeared in "Skating World" magazine in September of 1965.


A few weeks ago Edward R.G. Heath became the new leader of the Conservative Party. In the ballot which secured his election, he had a narrow majority which proved to be decisive. Until the last minute, however, political correspondents and opinion polls were predicting that the honour of becoming Party leader and possibly the next Prime Minister would go, not to Mr. Heath, but to a member of the National Skating Association - Reginald Maulding.

Reginald Maulding

Most of the newspaper articles on Mr. Maulding's career have stressed his youthful lack of enthusiasm for sport. It is true that as a schoolboy he was not over-fond of team games, but he certainly enjoyed figure skating. He joined the NSA in 1930, when he was thirteen, and eventually passed the International-style bronze medal test. In a recent letter to the Skating World he says "I did my skating at Hammersmith, and was taught by Freda Whitaker. I enjoyed free skating more than set figures, and I am afraid I never had the patience to persevere for the silver."

After serving in the RAF in the war, he entered Parliament in 1950 as Conservative MP for Barnet. Since then he has held increasingly high office in successive Governments, culminating in his appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1962. Since the Conservatives defeat in last year's General Election, he has been the Opposition's spokesman on foreign affairs, and has had no time to spare for skating. He writes that he had hoped to attend the Royal Skating Club's party at Queen's last October, but, much to his disappointment, was prevented by pressure of work.

Sir John Simon. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Nowadays it is rare for British politicians to be skaters. It was not always so, however. Before the Second World War, skating was a popular pastime in high society, and many MPs, peers, even Cabinet Ministers were to be seen on the ice at Grosvenor House or the Westminster Ice Club. Some, of course, preferred the old English style. Notable among these was Lord Balfour of Burleigh, who sat in the House of Lords from 1922 to 1963 as a representative peer for Scotland; he has been an NSA member for over sixty years, and holds the Association's English-style gold medal. Another English-style medallist (this time bronze) was the late Viscount Simon, Foreign Secretary from 1931 to 1935 and probably better known as Sir John Simon.

Sir Samuel Hoare. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Lord Simon's successor at the Foreign Office was an even more enthusiastic figure skater, but in the International style. He was Sir Samuel Hoare, later Viscount Templewood, sometime President of the NSA and holder of many of the greatest offices of state. between the two World Wars. He was a notably reformist Home Secretary, and served also as Secretary of State for India, Lord Privy Seal, and finally Ambassador to Spain. When the Ice Club, Westminster, was opened in 1927, he was persuaded to go there by a life-long friend, our distinguished contributor T. D. Richardson. Lord Templewood wrote in 1930, in his preface to "T.D.'s" book "Modern Figure Skating," "I am under an obligation to the author. At the most helpless moment of my life he came to my rescue. do not mean when I was born, but rather when I first set skate upon ice. This is the moment when we want a helping hand, and this is the moment when Captain Richardson outstretched his to me. At the critical turning point, battle as hopeless, he put me on the right way to learn something of a delightful art and a very exact science."

Lord Templewood certainly did not "give up the battle". He found skating an excellent relaxation from problems of government policy, and he achieved the remarkable feat of passing the NSA silver figure test when he was over fifty years old. His ice-rink activities on one occasion interfered with his political life; in December 1935, at the height of this political life; in the Hoare-Laval pact which resulted in his resignation, he was hors de combat in Switzerland, having fallen on the ice at Zuoz and broken his nose.

Sir Charles Cayzer. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

Other politicians of this period who sought their pleasure on ice included Sir Charles Cayzer, Conservative MP for Chester from 1922 until his early death in 1940, and Captain Leonard F. Plugge, MP, whom Captain Richardson describes as "very keen and not a bad performer up to about silver standard."

Sir Peter Markham Scott. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

At least two NSA members have made unsuccessful attempts to become Conservative MPs. One was Peter Scott, the famous artist, ornithologist, dinghy sailor, and TV commentator. He was a bronze figure medallist, and in 1932 he won a pair-skating competition at the Ice Club with Joyce Macbeth. In the 1945 General Election he was defeated by only 435 votes at Wembley North. Five years later, at Greenwich, another skater lost his chance of a seat in the Commons. This was Ronald Dashwood Gilbey, now chairman of the NSA Council and a former member of Westminster City Council and the LCC.

A pre-war championship contender with political leanings is B. J. Humby. He skated for the British men's title three times, and passed his gold test in 1940, just before joining the RAF for war service. In recent years he has played an active part in local politics, and just completed three years as vice-chairman of Croyclo, South Conservative Association.

Violet Helen (Millar), Countess Attlee. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

It is noticeable that all the British politicians interested in skating have been Conservatives. This is perhaps a consequence of the social esteem in which the sport has been held in the past; perhaps it presents an insufficiently democratic "image" to attract the Labour Party. The only prominent Socialist whom 1 can remember being associated with skating is the late Countess Attlee, who during her husband's Premiership regularly attended the British championships at Wembley, and presented the prizes.

Colonel Viktor Gustaf Balck

Diplomats as well as politicians have sometimes been active skaters. One of the most notable was the Swedish diplomat Colonel [Viktor] Balck, who was President of the ISU from 1925 to 1933 and presented (in the name of the Stockholm Allmanna Skridskoklub) the "Swedish" cup awarded each year to the British men's champion.

David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford, 2nd Baron Redesdale. Photo courtesy National Portrait Gallery.

In the heyday of Princes SC, Knightsbridge, many ambassadors accredited to the Court of St. James's were regular skaters, among them the representatives of Chile (Don Augustin Edwards), Brazil (M. de Bittencourt), Siam, Belgium, and France. The first Lord Redesdale, too, who had represented. Britain in Japan, appeared every morning at Princes; he was a remarkable character, best remembered now as the father of "the Mitford girls" (the Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Mosley, Nancy Mitford, and so on).

Jaochim von Ribbentrop. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Adolf Hitler's ambassador in London, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was at one time a competitive skater. In his youth he was attached to the German Embassy in Ottawa, and he joined the Minto SC there. In February 1914 he was a member of the Minto team which travelled to the United States to contest the Ellis Memorial Trophy against the SC of Boston - one of the earliest international competitions in North America. The famous American champion Mrs. Theresa Weld Blanchard, who was one of the victorious Bostonians, remembers him as an interested and reasonably skilled skater, and a pleasant personality. Some twenty years later Ribbentrop was at the 1936 Winter Olympics, and often told T. D. Richardson (who was acting as the British chef de mission) that "he would like to go on to the rink and skate -- only the limited space available for the competitors stopped him."

The Earl and Countess of Minto skating on the Ottawa River. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Mention of the Minto SC brings us to the Countess of Minto, after whom the club was named. Her husband, the Earl, was Governor-General of Canada from 1898 to 1904, and they were both staunch supporters of figure skating; they donated the cups which are still awarded for the Canadian men's and pairs' champion-ships. On their return to Britain, Lady Minto was often to be seen at the Ice Club, Westminster, and Captain Richardson recalls many pleasant waltzes with her.

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

Since those days, there seem to be few links in Canada between skating and politics. One, however, is represented by Leonard P. Kelly ("Red" Kelly), the Liberal MP for York West. He first made a name for himself as an ice hockey player with the Toronto Maple Leafs before entering Parliament in June 1962. He is married to Andra McLaughlin, who was on the US team for the World figure skating championships of 1949, 1950, and 1951.

Joseph Kennedy and Megan Taylor

American politicians have not shown much enthusiasm for ice sports, although I believe Charles E. Wilson, President Eisenhower's Secretary of Defence, once had the misfortune to fall and break his ankle while skating, during his period of office. The Kennedy family of Boston, however, have long had an interest in it. When Joseph Kennedy senior was US Ambassador in London before the war, his sons used to take winter sports holidays in Switzerland, and I have in .my collection a happy photograph of Joe Kennedy junior, snapped at St. Moritz with Megan Taylor, then champion of the World. When Joe was killed in the war, his family had built in his honour the Joseph P. Kennedy Memorial Skating Center at Hyannis, Massachusetts.

President John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy. Photo courtesy National Archives.

Joe's younger brothers all had connections with skating. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was at Harvard with Tudor Gardiner, who later married 1956 Olympic champion Tenley Albright. Mr. Kennedy became President of the United States less than a month before the disaster of February 15, 1961, in which the entire US World team lost their lives. He issued a special tribute to the team from the White House, and he and his family gave strong support to the creation of the USFSA's memorial fund.

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

At the benefit carnival that initiated the fund, Edward Moore Kennedy (now the junior Senator from Massachusetts) came to read a personal message from the President. Edward himself had a particular sympathy with the fund, for when he was a freshman at Harvard he shared a room with one of the crash victims - Dudley Shaw Richards, the 1961 U.S. pairs champion.

Another member of this gifted family, Senator Robert Francis Kennedy, often takes an opportunity to get his skates on. When representing the President en a goodwill tour of Japan in 1962, he skated at the Korakuen rink in Tokyo, and now that he is a Senator-for New York State he is sometimes to be seen at Rockefeller Center rink in Manhattan, guilding uncertain steps of some of his nine children.

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

Wit Before Witt: The Hans Witte Story

Photos courtesy State Library Victoria

The son of Max and Louise Witte, Hans Eduard Wilhelm 'Henri' Witte was born on January 8, 1890 in the village of Bodzanów (Sporwitten), then part of East Prussia but now incorporated in the Płock County of Mazovia Province, Poland. His name was sometimes later anglicized to Hans White. In his youth, he apprenticed as a welder.

At the age of eighteen, Hans first took to the ice at the Berlin Eispalast. That same year, he turned professional and began instructing young German businessmen in figure skating - an art he was then barely familiar with himself. His seemingly natural aptitude for the sport quickly led to starring roles in Leo Bartuschek's Eisballets at the Admiralspalast in Berlin prior to the Great War, alongside Charlotte Oelschlägel. In 1913, he made his first of many trips to Australia. At the Sydney Glaciarium, he gave countless exhibitions and tutored skaters in the finer points of figures and free skating.

Photos courtesy State Library Victoria

For over a decade, Hans was a fixture at the Grand Hotel in St. Moritz, a mecca for winter sports enthusiasts from around the world. Working alongside Angela Hanka, an Austrian skater who won the silver medal at the final World Championships prior to the Great War, he crossed paths with a veritable who's who of skating while working as a skating instructor and giving exhibitions, often with a comedic and acrobatic flavour.

Top: Hans and Heta Witte. Right: Hans jumping another skater in St. Moritz. Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

In October of 1926, after a stint teaching skating at the Melbourne Glaciarium in Australia, Hans
travelled to America via Copenhagen aboard the S.S. Estonia with a large group of German skaters. The group worked off their sea legs at the Iceland rink in New York City and then made their North American debut during the intermission of an NHL hockey game between the New York Rangers and Montreal Maroons. Their exhibition, choreographed by Katie Schmidt, was one of the first figure skating performances at Madison Square Garden. Hans remained with the troupe in America that winter, taking the ice ballet 'on the road' to the Rhode Island Auditorium, where they received rave reviews.

Left: 1932 advertisement for "Lilac Time" at the Westover Ice Rink, Bournemouth. Right: Heta Witte skating in St. Moritz.

Upon returning to St. Moritz, Hans crossed paths with Sonja Henie, who was preparing for the 1928 Winter Olympic Games. He came to England in 1929, where he married his sweetheart Hedwig 'Heta' Kaete Weber. The two had skated together during the American tour three years prior and formed a pair act which they soon exhibited at the Westover Ice Rink in Bournemouth in an early British skating pantomime called "Lilac Time".

Howard Nicholson jumping over Hans Witte

During the thirties, Hans made several very important contributions to the skating world. He appeared in many of the early British ice pantomimes of the period, skating alongside skaters like Phil Taylor and Freda Whitaker in shows in Bournemouth and at the Hammersmith Ice Drome. He briefly acted as a trainer for the Victorian Ice Hockey Association, where he introduced an ice plough of his own invention to the skaters of Australia. His knowledge of rink management and designing ice surfaces led to jobs as a technical adviser at the Empress Hall, Earl's Court, Wembley and Melbourne Glaciarium. In 1937, he designed the ice at the London Coliseum for the famous "St. Moritz" revue, which he also performed in. He also taught skating for four years at Oxford University. Among his famous students were Lord Redesdale and the Earl of Airlie.

Hans Witte skating in "St. Moritz" at the London Coliseum

Just prior to World War II, there was a surge of interest in hockey in Scotland and Hans found employment as a technical adviser at the Falkirk and Dundee-Angus Rinks. After the War, he served as a refrigeration consultant and ice engineer for Tom Arnold's Ice Revue at Stoll Theatre and the Palace Theatre in Manchester, starring Cecilia Colledge. He passed away at the age of eighty nine on May 7, 1979 in London, England, his contributions to the skating world largely forgotten.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' 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

The 1963 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

John F. Kennedy was President, Billy Fury's "In Summer" was a smash hit and a Baby Ruth chocolate bar went for a nickel. The year was 1963 and though America's figure skating community was still recovering from the tragic Sabena Crash that claimed the lives of an entire generation of skaters, coaches, judges and officials just two years prior, the show went on at the 1963 U.S. Figure Skating Championships held from February 7 to 10 in Long Beach, California.

Hosted by the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club of Paramount, the event was held at the brand new, fifteen thousand seat Long Beach Arena. The rink was eighty five by two hundred feet with a capacity of eleven thousand. Not that anyone wanted to stay indoors anyway... at first. Early in the week, temperatures climbed to over thirty degrees, and skaters and coaches alike flocked to the nearby beach to take a winter swim in the Pacific Ocean.

Tommy Litz, Jerry and Judianne Fotheringill and Taffy Pergament. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

More than one hundred skaters competed in novice, junior and senior events. Practices were held at Iceland, Paramount and the official hotels were The Breakers International and The Lafeyette Hotel and Lanais. Social events included a 'Hawaiian luau' and dance at The Breakers International Hotel and day trips to Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm. The competition was the first U.S. Championships held in Southern California since 1954.

George Jenkinson, Ron and Cynthia Kauffman, Tina Noyes, Johnny Moore, Carole MacSween and Ray Chenson and F. Ritter Shumway. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Despite a torrential downpour which led to flooding in some areas on the Saturday night of the competition, a new record was set for attendance. General admission was set at only two dollars, or a dollar more for a reserved seat, but the fact that audiences braved the poor weather to watch some fine free skating performances was a testament to their dedication to the sport. Among those in attendance were former U.S. Champions Dick Button, Yvonne Sherman, M. Bernard Fox, Robin Greiner and Barbara Roles Pursley.

Billy Chapel, Lorraine Hanlon and Sally Schantz and Stanley Urban. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The competition boasted the claim of being the first U.S. Championships 'in Technicolor', with blue dye being added during the ice making process to add an aesthetic appeal to both live and audiences watching Bud Palmer and Dick Button's ABC coverage at home on television. The audiences loved it; some skaters and coaches hated it. One unnamed internationally known coach, according to reporter Jerome Hall, called "the condition of the ice a disgrace." Pierre Brunet quipped, "That's very pretty, but will they make the ice pink for the girls?"

The Long Beach Arena. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The annually awarded Harned Trophy - given to the skating club who amassed the most points throughout the event - changed hands in a most remarkable way. In 1961, the Skating Club Of Boston had taken the trophy, but the following year the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club had snatched it in Boston. In 1963, the Skating Club Of Boston reclaimed the trophy on the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club's home turf.

How did the event play out? With great thanks to Michael Martin, librarian at Long Beach Public Library, I'd like to invite you to hop in the time machine with me as we take a look back at this fascinating competition from decades past!


Photo courtesy Long Beach Public Library

To the delight of the Californian audience, thirteen year old Johnny Moore of Dairy Valley (now Cerritos) took such a strong lead in the novice men's figures that Robert Schwarzwaelder, John Dystel and seven others were unable to catch him. Moore was an eighth grade student at Carmenita Grammar School who enjoyed coin collecting and horseback riding.

The novice women's title went to a talented young skater from the other coast. New York City's Taffy Pergament may have impressed many by winning, but the press was busy going gaga over the youngest competitor in the event, nine year old Janet Lynn of Rockton, Illinois, who had already dropped the Nowicki. Local reporter Jerome Hall called her "a cute little dumpling". She placed dead last in figures and tenth overall but had a blast competing and got to meet Dick Button.

Cynthia and Ron Kauffman. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Siblings Cynthia and Ron Kauffman took the junior pairs title ahead of Yvonne Littlefield and Peter Betts of Los Angeles, the reigning U.S. senior ice dancing champions. Following in the footsteps of another talented pair from Washington state - Karol and Peter Kennedy - the brother and sister team both attended the Ann Graves School, where they were one year apart. Ron enjoyed swimming, while Cindy was a dog lover.

The junior men's event was rather anti-climactic, with the top three remaining the same in figures, free skating and overall. Los Angeles' Billy Chapel decisively won the gold with first place ordinals from four of the five judges, ahead of Richard Callaghan of Rochester, New York and Tim Wood of Detroit. Sixteen year old Chapel attended the Hollywood Professional School and enjoyed bowling and swimming in his spare time. He hoped to attended California State and study biology, history or engineering. Betty Sonnhalter and Janet McLeod praised him for his "devil-may-care execution of his most difficult moves."

Photos courtesy Long Beach Public Library

The junior women's event was quite interesting, with first place ordinals split between five of the ten competitors in the figures. Every different judge may have had a different skater first, but fourteen year old Tina Noyes of Boston was the leader ahead of Peggy Fleming of Pasadena and Pamela Schneider of Ashbury Park, New Jersey. In one of the very few instances she was able to best Fleming, Noyes took the crown.

A young Tina Noyes and Peggy Fleming

The biggest surprise of the junior women's event was the last place finish in the figures of Maidie Sullivan of Colorado Springs. The eighteen year old had won an international junior women's competition in Davos the previous year and held the Midwestern title.

Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell

Eleven teams vied for gold in the junior dance event. In the initial elimination round, teams skated the European Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Fourteenstep and in the final round, the top four teams skated the American Waltz, Rocker Foxtrot, Tango and Fourteenstep. The second and third place teams, Darlene Streitch and Charles 'Bucky' Fetter, Jr. of Indianapolis and Sally Crook and Edward Smith, Jr. of Boston, swapped places from the initial to final round, with fourth place going to Margaret A. Gerrity and Dominick Malevolta. Dennis Sveum, who would claim the U.S. senior title two years later with Kristin Fortune, placed sixth with partner Barbara McEvoy. The winners were twenty one Carole MacSween of Glendale, California and twenty seven year old Ray Chenson of Encino. Carole was a senior at UCLA and Ray was a blond haired, blue eyed construction foreman who had previously skated with Diane Sherbloom, who was killed in the Sabena crash.


The Fotheringill siblings

In their third year as seniors, siblings Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill of Tacoma, Washington finally capitalized on the U.S. junior title they had won in 1959 in Rochester by winning their first and only U.S. senior pairs title. At five foot seven and five foot eleven, Judianne and Jerry were quite tall for pairs skaters and had a striking look on the ice that commanded attention.  They trained at the Broadmoor and both attended Colorado College. Judianne was a freshman who enjoyed swimming and water skiing, while Jerry was a sophomore who studied political science and psychology.

Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Another sibling pair, Highland Park's Vivian and Ronald Joseph, took the silver ahead of Patti Gustafson of Lynn, Massachusetts and Pieter Kollen of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Vivian and Ronald Joseph. Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell.

Pieter Kollen had won the U.S. pairs title in 1962 with Dorothyann Nelson, but their partnership had dissolved when she turned professional and joined the Ice Capades. As Kollen was the reigning U.S. senior pairs champion, he was granted special permission from the USFSA to compete with his new fifteen year old partner, as the rulebook at the time made them ineligible for both junior and senior pairs.


Tommy Litz

After finishing a disappointing fourth on the first figure, Denver's Monty Hoyt rebounded to win the first phase of the senior men's event ahead of Smoke Rise, New Jersey's Scott Ethan Allen, Hershey, Pennsylvania's Tommy Litz and seven other men. In the free skate, the reigning champion's luck ran out. Hoyt took an uncharacteristic tumble, while Litz skated lights out, performing "effortless triples" to earn the only standing ovation of the entire competition. He moved up to claim the gold ahead of Allen, Hoyt, Gary Visconti and Buddy Zack.

Tommy Litz, Scotty Allen and Monty Hoyt

Eighteen year old Tommy Litz was a senior at Hershey Junior College. The five foot six skater with brown hair and blue eyes was coached by Felix Kaspar and skated out of the Hershey Figure Skating Club. His father Floyd was a supervisor at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation but Tommy had dreams of studying medicine... but not before he won the U.S. title. Quoted in Patricia Shelley Bushman's book "Indelible Tracings", Litz recalled, "I wanted to be a national champion so bad that it was indescribable. It was a magnificent honor to win."

In his book "Falling For The Win", Gary Visconti recalled his first year as a senior at Nationals thusly: "It was my first time in California and I reached a remarkable fourth place, unheard of for your first try... We were elated by the result. No one there knew I was performing on a severely sprained right ankle... All went great and somehow I won fourth in figures for a real victory, both personal and in that elite group of athletes. The next event, final free skate, was 24 hours later. Another shot [of cortisone], and no pain or feeling whatsoever. Weird ... an ice skater with no feeling in his foot. Wow! The triple toe-loop was my hardest jump in the opening of my routine; should we do it? Yes or no? Mr. Don [Stewart] said, 'Why did we come here? Let’s go for it, boy.' Well I performed fantastic and became an alternate for the World Team, a real earned honor."


Ten teams weaved their way through the steps of the Paso Doble, Foxtrot, Argentine Tango and Viennese Waltz and their free dances in hopes of claiming the gold medal in the senior (Gold) dance event in Long Beach. In a three-two split, Boston's Sally Schantz and Buffalo's Stanley Urban managed a huge upset in defeating Yvonne Littlefield and Peter Betts, whose free dance - according to "Skating" magazine - was "rich in content and showmanship".

Yvonne Littlefield and Peter Betts (left) and Lorna Dyer and John Carrell (right). Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Schantz and Urban had first skated together the summer previous at a training camp but didn't actually team up until the November before the competition. Schantz hadn't yet passed her Gold Dance test; Urban had never been to the Nationals before. He was a graduate of Canisius High School, captain of his high school track team and played hockey in Buffalo. Future U.S. and North American Champions Lorna Dyer and John Carrell took the bronze in their first Nationals together, ahead of Mary Ann Cavanaugh and King Cole and Jo-Anne Leyden and Robert Munz, Shortly after the event, Littlefield and Betts eloped.


Photo courtesy Long Beach Public Library

As the event was hosted by her home club, there was a lot of talk in the local media about the absence of Barbara Roles Pursley, the young mother who had made a comeback the year previous to win the 1962 U.S. senior women's title. In her absence, seventeen year old, five foot seven Lorraine Hanlon of Boston - a student of Cecilia Colledge - took a strong lead in the figures ahead of Seattle's Karen Howland. However, it was fifteen year old Christine Haigler of Colorado Springs - the youngest woman in the senior division - who won the free skate. Only fourth after figures, Haigler's free skate was the talk of Long Beach and proved to be enough to move her into second overall behind Hanlon, who faltered in her final performance, falling on a double Salchow and struggling on the landings of two other jumps. Hanlon had spent considerable time training in Switzerland the year prior after graduating from The Winsor School.

Lorraine Hanlon

Twenty one year old Karen Howland settled for third. After narrowly missing a spot on the 1961 World team - and thus saving her life by not getting on Sabena Flight 548 - she was diagnosed with Guillain–Barré syndrome. The fact she was even able to compete in Long Beach was no small feat. In Patricia Shelley Bushman's book "Indelible Tracings", she recalled, "I skated very well but a judge came up to me afterwards and said she basically screwed me; it was a political thing."

A lot may have changed in figure skating in the last fifty seven years, but these stories from the 1963 U.S. Championships in Long Beach remind us just how exciting skating in the sensational sixties was.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at 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