A Stockholm Sensation: The Gösta Sandahl Story

"In no other sport but figure skating is one given the opportunity to show as much of their personality. It gives so much joy, the feeling... One develops one's grace, fills up the chest and inhales the lovely winter day's strengthening air, all during a body exercise that is free from any harmful effects... For each little progress you make, more and more expanses open up, and you soon find yourself standing in the middle of a kingdom of unlimited possibilities. Figure skating is a difficult art but your whole individuality comes out when you compose your own characters and perform them for your own fun." - Gösta Sandahl

The son of Alma Charlotta (Carlman) and Harald Gustaf Hjalmar Sandahl, Knut Gustaf Elof Sandahl was born January 13, 1893 in Stockholm, Sweden. He was the youngest of three siblings, with an older sister named Märta Sofia and an older brother named Carl Edvard Harald. The Sandahl family shared a home with a marine superintendent and his daughter on the base of the Svea Artilleriregemente (Artillery Regiment), where Harald Sandahl worked as a clothing storeroom manager, chamberlain and administrator.

Harald Gustaf Hjalmar Sandahl and Carl Leonard Sandahl 

Knut Gustaf Elof went by the name 'Gösta'. Swedish skating historian Lennart Månsson explained, "In Sweden at the time, 'Gösta' was a very common, familiar name to use for a person that was christened 'Gustaf', much in the same way that a lady named 'Elizabeth' may be commonly known as 'Lisa'. In Sweden we do not have a strict convention of using a middle name, so if you have three first names, as in this case, it is perfectly normal for any of the three to be the intended 'main' first name." Gösta's uncle Carl Leonard Sandahl was a renowned architect and artist who designed the Danmarks Hus as well as schools, banks, church and parish buildings, bathhouses and a large stone barn building at Steninge Castle.

Gösta and his brother Carl learned to skate at the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb, which was a great hub of skating in the early twentieth century. They shared the ice with great champions like Ulrich Salchow, Bror Meyer, Richard Johansson and Per Thorén and soon became extremely proficient in both school figures and free skating. The Sandahl brothers also developed a friendship with Gillis Grafström, who was around the same age and was also an intellectual.

After winning the junior men's title at the Nordic Games in 1909, Gösta made his first appearance in the senior men's class at the Swedish Championships in 1910. He placed second behind Richard Johansson and ahead of his older brother. The following year, he won his first of five Swedish men's titles and incredibly in 1912, he won the European men's title on his first try in his home city. In 1913, Gösta was "barely out of his sick bed" when he won the senior men's title at the Nordic Games, defeating Harald Rooth, Arthur Cumming, his brother Carl and Olof Hultgren. Not long after, his brother gave up competitive skating and focused on his education. Carl grew up to become a highly regarded physician in Lidköping who experimented with laser surgery in the fifties.

Gösta came from behind after the figures with an outstanding free skate to become the surprise winner of the 1914 World Championships in Helsinki. The fact that the Swedish judge placed his competitor Fritz Kachler tenth in free skating may have helped a little. Finnish newspapers noted that Gösta's free skating program was "versatile, self-conscious, safe and elegant." Otto Bohatsch remarked, "He is a smart youngster... with flight and speed, though his program is not different from Salchow in his younger days." Though the Scandinavian press raved about the twenty one year old's victory, several of his older (Continental) competitors claimed he had been a less than gracious winner and had in fact gloated about defeating them. This may have been the case, however there may have also been egos at play. Whatever the truth, Gösta's mother never lived to see him win a major international title. She passed away in October of 1912, when he was only nineteen.

Although major ISU Championships were not held during The Great War, Gösta continued to compete in Scandinavia for a time. In 1915, he won a figure skating competition in Stockholm for a cup donated by the Duchess of Bedford, the owner of Prince's Skating Club in London, for the fourth time. He was also victorious at an international competition in Oslo, Norway in February of 1916, defeating the Stixrud brothers.

Gösta's decision to stop competing had very little to do the War and much to do with his religious and philosophical beliefs. He was an absolutist, theosophist and vegetarian who wasn't a big fan of the Olympic movement. An essay that he penned in "Idrottsboken: en handledning för skolungdom samt praktisk vägvisare för varje idrottsintresserad" in 1914 seems to support the fact he had ethical concerns about the direction in which Sweden's sports system was headed at the time. He lamented, "One no longer knows sport as his good friend in life and work but at most becomes a fettered prisoner, a comrade who has little or no joy. If he is a good jumper, he may not run. If he is a good one at discus or sledgehammer, he must not do anything else... Scriptures whose suitability and usefulness are of course raised over all doubts and criticisms (they are given by experts, whose regulations, one of course must unconditionally submit to, because otherwise they threaten to resign their positions, and this would be the least death for our public health), he is threatened and by harassment may even be disqualified. In this way, a sportsman is forced under the coach's knuckle whip, thus reshaping him from an individual person to a cog in the machine who at the next Olympic Games will prove our people's physical power and superiority over other peoples, from a racial hygiene point of view. If we made everybody in Sweden sacrifice two hours [of their day to sport] would we seize every single point in 1916 at the Olympics... It must be pointed out that it is not against competitions per se, I turned, but against competitions in the form that they are now being conducted, and against the spirit towards the rules of the participants that is common, as well as the leaders... Competitions are [meant to be] had to raise interest in sports."

In December of 1922, Gösta announced his intention to come out of retirement and compete in the World Championships in Vienna. Considering it had been eight years since he'd participated in an ISU Championship, it was quite the comeback attempt. He trained for the Championships in Davos, where he entered a competition that January and placed second. That same month, he bested France's Francis Pigueron and Pierre Brunet at a competition in Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via, a commune in the Pyrénées. At the World Championships, he placed a disappointing third behind behind Fritz Kachler and Willy Böckl, two of the Austrian men he'd beat at the 1914 World Championships. The bronze medal was actually an upgrade. The results were initially tabulated incorrectly and it was first announced that Ernst Oppacher, another of his pre-War competitors, had also defeated him. He returned to Sweden to win his final national title and hung up his skates for good.

Having graduated from the Vänersborg Universitet with a degree in law, Gösta had absolutely zero involvement in the figure skating world as a coach or official after he retired for the second time. He focused on his career, playing tennis and swimming and passed away on December 16, 1963 at the age of seventy. He was unmarried, had no children and his obituary didn't even bother to mention that he had been a figure skater, let alone a European or World Champion.

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 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? Have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The 1940 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Matchbook from the Cleveland Skating Club, circa 1940's

In dance halls, they foxtrotted to "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" and waltzed to "Beautiful Ohio". Those with a quarter to spare made their way to theaters to watch Walt Disney's new film "Pinocchio". President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced that he was sending his Undersecretary of State to Western Europe on a 'fact-finding mission' but it wasn't for another seven months that men between the ages of twenty one and forty five were required to register for the draft.

Welcome Little Stranger's cover of "Beautiful Ohio"

World War II was raging overseas but in Cleveland, Ohio, figure skating was thriving. The city boasted two skating clubs - the Elysium Figure Skating Club and the Cleveland Skating Club - and the latter was only one of two skating clubs in the country at the time who had built their own rink. It was that very rink in Shaker Heights where ninety one of America's best singles skaters, couples and fours convened on February 9 and 10, 1940. Let's take a look back at the skaters and stories from this historic event!


Junior men's champion Bobby Specht

To the delight of the hometown crowd, Cleveland's own Caroline Brandt waltzed away with the novice women's title in a record field of twenty five entries. The novice men's title was won by William Grimditch Jr. of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society. In winning, Grimditch defeated a young Eddie LeMaire, who twenty one years later perished in the Sabena Crash.

The junior women's champion, twelve year old Ramona Allen of the Oakland Figure Skating Club, had her own brush with tragedy. The February 11, 1940 issue of "The Philadelphia Enquirer" noted, "When the Athenia was sunk early in the War, Ramona was carried off the sinking ship in the arms of her mother, but nobody 'carried' the young lady in the two days of the figure skating tournament here." The Athenia had been torpedoed by a German U-boat off Glasgow in September of 1939. Of the almost one thousand, five hundred passengers and crew aboard, over hundred were killed - almost half when a lifeboat was crushed by one of the ship's propellers.

Dorothy Glazier and Stephen Tanner of the Skating Club Of Boston defeated Nettie Prantel and George Boltres of the Skating Club of New York, Jean and Robert Matzke of Philadelphia and Dr. and Mrs. Howard E. Wilkinson of the Buffalo Skating Club to win the junior pairs event. In the junior men's event, San Francisco brothers Murray and Sheldon Galbraith led the way after the school figures. Sheldon Galbraith, who would later coach a who's who of Canadian figure skating, dropped to third behind Superior, Wisconsin's Bobby Specht and his brother with a disastrous free skate. PJ Kwong and Mel Matthews' article "Sheldon Galbraith: The Early Years" recalled, "Suffering from a cold, and used to the much larger ice surface where he had been training, he turned in a poor performance in the freestyle event. There were seats for spectators on one side of the rink, and skating on this much smaller ice surface, he crashed through the barrier, landing in someone's lap."


Illustration of U.S. senior men's champion Eugene Turner

When five time U.S. Champion Robin Lee turned professional in 1939, his expected successor was young Ollie Haupt Jr. of St. Louis. An exciting free skater, Haupt had been named to the 1940 Olympic team that never was. However, in Cleveland his dream of being the next U.S. men's champion was dashed by a handsome nineteen year old Californian named Eugene Turner. With an outstanding free skate, Skippy Baxter surpassed Arthur Vaughn Jr. for the bronze medal. In winning, Turner became the first U.S. Champion in history from the Pacific Coast. Benjamin T. Wright recalled, "The elements of program and choreography versus strong athletic ability came into play... and made the decision of the judges that much more difficult. The ultimate results were a source of controversy for some years thereafter."


Joan Tozzer

Although the Skating Club Of Boston's Joan Tozzer had reigned as both the U.S. women's and pairs champion the two previous years, in the months leading up to the Cleveland Nationals pretty much everyone expected an upset. Seventeen year old Austrian Hedy Stenuf had finished second to Megan Taylor at the 1939 World Championships in Prague, had relocated to Rochester, New York to live with her father and announced her intention to win the U.S. title. Though not even a U.S. citizen at the time of the event, a special concession was made by the USFSA allowing her to compete as she was due to receive her citizenship the next month.

Hedy Stenuf

In the school figures, Tozzer trounced Stenuf by a wide margin and in the free skate, both Stenuf and Jane Vaughn of Philadelphia defeated Tozzer. The final results were extremely close with Tozzer winning her third and final U.S. women's title over Stenuf three judges to two. Vaughn, who had earlier defeated Charlotte Walther of Buffalo to win that year's Eastern title, edged a young Gretchen Merrill for the bronze. At the time time of her win, Joan Tozzer had been engaged for less than a month to  a Princeton grad living in Honolulu. Less than two years later, she was living in Hawaii with her husband and infant son during the attack on Pearl Harbor.


Joan Tozzer and Hedy Stenuf, the top two finishers from the women's competition squared off again in the pairs competition, finishing in the same order with partners Bernard Fox and Skippy Baxter. William and Eva Schwerdt Bruns repeated as the bronze medallists. Missing from the pairs event were 1939 U.S. Junior Champions Betty Lee Bennett and John Kinney of Seattle. They were suspended by the USFSA for six months for participating in unsanctioned carnivals. Ultimately, Bennett and Kinney turned professional and skated in a show at the New York State Fair.

Sandy MacDonald and Harold Hartshorne defended as American Silver Dance champions. Finishing second with George Boltres was Harold's former partner Nettie Prantel. Vernafay Thysell and Paul Harrington and Oakland's Barbara Ann Gingg and J. Drexel Gibbins finished third and fourth. In the fours event, Mary Louise Premer, Janette Ahrens, Robert Uppgren and Lyman E. Wakefield Jr. of the St. Paul Figure Skating Club narrowly defeated the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society's four, which consisted of Mary Stuart Dayton, William Weaver Lukens Jr., Anna McKaig Hall and W. Penn Gaskill Hall III. They became the first Midwestern four in history to win the U.S. title.

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

The 1999 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships

Monica's "Angel Of Mine" topped the music charts. Mike Tyson had just been sentenced to a year in prison after assaulting two people a year earlier; President Bill Clinton was acquitted in the U.S. Senate's impeachment trial. Pokémon were the latest fad and the 'Y2K' talk was already in full swing. The year was 1999 and from February 21 to 28, a who's who of figure skating gathered at the Halifax Metro Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the first ever Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

Pin and sweater from the 1999 Four Continents Championships

The event, conceived by the ISU as the equivalent to the European Championships, was awarded to Halifax in June of 1997. It was a big win for the Maritime city which played host to Skate Canada International that autumn. It was also a win for the CFSA, who had just played host to the highly successful World Championships in Edmonton the year prior. The countries eligible to participate at the time were Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, North Korea, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Uzbekistan. Each country was permitted to have up to three skaters in all four disciplines; all but four of the eligible countries sent entries. All-event tickets, which went on sale in September of 1998, ranged from forty nine to sixty five dollars. Single event tickets went for as low as ten dollars. CTV and CTV Sportsnet had the Canadian broadcast rights. Skaters and media alike were glad to have the pedway system from the Delta Barrington to the Halifax Convention Center, as the weather outside was frightful... snowstorm frightful.

The 1999 Canadian international team. Photo courtesy Skate Canada Archives.

The total purse of prize money was five hundred and seventeen thousand dollars; the exact same amount disbursed at that year's Europeans. An interesting 'behind the scenes' note about this event was the fact it was one of the first times that an instant video replay system was available for judges at an ISU Championship. Some found it odd that there were judges from Europe at the event, but it was really a non-issue as both Canadians and Americans had judged at the Europeans in Prague.

Another criticism, perhaps more valid, involved the entry lists. While the CFSA initially named the top three in each discipline, the USFSA sent what the Canadian press deemed 'a farm team' of skaters. U.S. Champions Michelle Kwan and Michael Weiss weren't named to the team. Matt
Savoie, Sarah Hughes, Laura Handy and Paul Binnebose and Eve Chalom and Matthew Gates also passed. Thirteen year old Naomi Nari Nam, the U.S. Silver Medallist, also wasn't named, but she was two young to be eligible to compete anyway. Canada's number two pair Jamie Salé and David Pelletier withdrew prior to the event due to a herniated disc in Pelletier's back. They were not replaced, as the fourth place team at Canadians (Nadia Micallef and Bruno Marcotte) had split up after the Canadian Championships. Let's take a look back at the great skating from this historic event!


The new addition of the throw double or triple jump made the pairs short program far more exciting. China's Xue Shen and Hongo Zhao were the unanimous winners, but had low marks as they were first to skate. Canadian Champions Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz missed both the side-by-side jumps and their throw and sat in fourth after the short. Shen and Zhao's daring free skate earned them marks ranging from 5.5 to 5.8 and the gold medal - the first major ISU Championship title ever won by a Chinese pairs team. Sargeant and Wirtz rebounded to take the silver; American siblings Danielle and Steven Hartsell earned the bronze.

Canada's second pair, Valerie Saurette and Jean-Sébastien Fecteau, had been second after the short. They had a terrifying fall on a throw double Axel in the warm-up for the free skate where she slammed into the boards, knocked the wind out of herself and bruised her right hip and ribs. Though the Quebec pair dropped to fourth, they earned a standing ovation for skating their ominous "Carmina Burana" program through the pain. Afterwards, Saurette told reporters, "When I breathe, it hurts. My knee hurts. My hip hurts. My shoulder hurts. Everywhere. It's going to be worse tomorrow."


Amber Corwin, Tatiana Malinina and Angela Nikodinov on the podium in Halifax

Twenty women from nine countries competed. Twenty six year old Tatiana Malinina of Uzbekistan was in a class of her own, unanimously winning both phases of the competition with consistent, relatively difficult programs. Her winning free skate included four clean triples. Amber Corwin, the lowest ranked of the three U.S. women at her recent Nationals, took the silver ahead of Angela Nikodinov, Erin Pearl and Japan's Fumie Suguri. All three of the Canadian women - Jennifer Robinson, Angela Derochie and Annie Bellemare - had disappointing results. Robinson was seventh, Derochie tenth and Bellemare twelfth. Bellemare had landed her triple Lutz combination in the short program but fallen on her footwork sequence and double Axel.


Canadian Champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz took an early lead with the Tango Romantica and Blues and expanded upon it with a gorgeous performance of their "Seachran" original dance, a Waltz. Chantal Lefebvre and Michel Brunet's Waltz to "It's A Most Unusual Day" moved them ahead of American Champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev. The top three remained the same in the free dance, with Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe rallying back after a seventh place finish in the compulsories to finish fourth. Bourne was competing with torn cartilage in left knee. She'd injured it during practice at Canadians but kept it relatively quiet.


During one of the practices, China's Zhengxin Guo smashed into the boards and dislocated his shoulder. Eighteen year old Emanuel Sandhu had a bad case of the flu all week and was barely able to keep his meals down. Japan's Takeshi Honda had missed his Nationals due to an ankle injury and was very careful in practice. Elvis Stojko was still recovering from groin injury that he'd struggled with at Nagano Olympics the year prior. He told reporters he was "at 80 to 85 percent" but was petitioning the ISU to withdraw from the upcoming Grand Prix Final on medical grounds. ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta was in Halifax for the event and told reporters it was the ISU's duty "to trust, to accept what the tongue is saying." Both Stojko and Bourne and Kraatz ultimately withdrew from the Final.

In the short program, twenty two year old Min Zhang of China made history as the first skater to land a solo quadruple jump in the short program at an ISU Championship. It was the first season that the ISU allowed quads in the men's short and Zhang had skated right after his idol Stojko, who two-footed his attempt. Remarkably, it was Zhang's first major ISU Championship since he competed at the 1994 World Championships in Japan... where he didn't even make it out of the qualifying round. Two judges had Zhang first in the short program, but the rest of the panel went with Takeshi Honda, who skated a less difficult, though more well-rounded program.

Takeshi Honda skated superbly in the free, landing eight triples and taking the gold over Chengjiang Li and Elvis Stojko. Zhang dropped to fourth, while Sandhu and Canada's third man, Jean-François Hébert, finished tenth and eleventh. Three quads were landed in the free skate - a solo quad by Zhengxin Guo and quad/triples from Anthony Liu and Chengjiang Li.

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 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? 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.

James Drake Digby, The Founder Of The National Skating Association

James Drake Digby. Photo courtesy BIS Archives, Cambridgeshire Collection.

"I am intensely desirious of signalising... radical changes by uniting all the skating forces of the country under one truly National Organisation." - James Drake Digby, "Cambridge Independent Press", December 28, 1894

The second oldest child of William and Ann (Drake) Digby, James Drake Digby was born March 7, 1837 in Walsoken, just northeast of the Fenland market town of Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, England. He and his eight siblings were raised by a live-in nurse and attended the Wesleyan Methodist Church. James' father was a brazier and tinman who crafted metal plates. His younger brother William became a prominent journalist, banker and activist for economic and racial equality in India, Ceylon and Sri Lanka, where he lived for a time.

In his twenties, James married his wife Amelia and worked as a journalist in Wisbech and King's Lynn. In 1859, he founded The University and Sandringham Intelligence Service, one of the oldest news agencies in Great Britain. The organization, later known as the Cambridge Sporting and General News Service, had a label showing that in 1906 King Edward VII personally sent three braces of pheasants from a royal shoot to Newton Digby, James' son.

James moved to Cambridge in 1867 and secured work as a journalist with the "Cambridge Independent Press". He penned society papers about the Royals and the House Of Lords and  was "a familiar figure at all sales of stock belonging to the Prince of Wales at Sandringham" for well over a decade. In order to keep his wife, two sons, four daughters and live-in servant in broth, bread and treacle, he supplemented his journalism with a job as the manager of Provincial 'Brush' Electric - Light And Power Company, Ltd. which supplied incandescent lamps to college rooms, shops and private houses.

James' exposure to skating began at Cambridge University's Skating Club, but it wasn't until he was sent to write about the fen skating races in Mepal during the Great Frost of 1878 that his passion for the sport really began. Though inspired by the success of George 'Fish' Smart (one of the leading speed skaters of the day) he was perturbed by the cheating that went on. It was his belief that speed skaters needed a national governing body to curtail betting, standardize race lengths and to determine that "the title of champion skater should be settled by a competent authority". The following year at the Guildhall in Cambridge, he assembled a group of influential Britons and founded the National Skating Association. Named as the Association's first Honourary Secretary under Mayor Neville Goodman, he held that position for nearly twenty years. His indefatigable dedication to British skating during the Victorian era helped set standards and open doors.

Two years after the National Skating Association was founded, James moved to London and met with Henry Eugene Vandervell, a well-respected English Style skater from The Skating Club, to discuss the possibility of developing a Figure Skating Committee. It was through James' appeals that Vandervell and Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams were tasked with setting the first nationally recognized standards in figure skating. James edited the first editions of the National Skating Association's Metropolitan Skating Handbook, judged roller skating contests in London, sat in a sleigh chair and served as a timekeeper at speed skating races in the Fens and perhaps most importantly, used his connections as a journalist and friendship with Member Of Parliament Hayes Fisher to promote figure skating in the British press.

On Christmas Day 1893, James wrote an appeal as a letter to the editor in the "Morning Post" that stated: "I am intensely anxious to see a greater union of effort on the part of all the skating public, and as one of the hon. secretaries of the parent body I am ready to give every help in my power in the formation of branches or the affiliation of existing skating clubs... The interval between the present time and the realization of frost might be profitably employed if a number of enthusiastic skaters would do as I did when the National Skating Association was formed, i.e. call a meeting of all those in their districts known to be lovers of skating, either speed or figure ice or roller, and get a resolution passed as to the desirability of forming a district branch... It is earnestly hoped that members of the Skating Club, Wimbledon, Crystal Palace, Thames Valley, Hampstead, Arctic and other well-known clubs, will co-operate with the National Skating Association in still more popularizing such an excellent sport."

Well aware of the weather's role in hampering the development of skating in Great Britain, James was a supporter of taking skating inside. In 1893, he penned "Skating And Curling: A Brief History of the Invention and The Proposed Glaciarium Club", a book which offered readers valuable information about building and maintaining indoor rinks. The following year he proudly said, "Some of us have laboured very hard for the last 12 years to render skaters independent of the weather, and I am happy to be able to state confidently that there will certainly be at least two real ice rinks in London in the course of a few months, on which speed skating, as well as figure skating, will be possible."

Newton Digby and a group of top speed skaters in 1891

Interestingly, James' son and grandson, Newton and Frederick Newton, all served as Honourary Secretaries of the National Skating Association in succession. Newton Drake Digby was the National Skating Association's delegate at the first ISU Congress in Scheveningen in 1892, and played an important role in bringing the World Championships to England in 1898.

James' final contribution to the skating world was his position as the superintendent of National Skating Palace at London's Hengler's Circus. The lavish indoor rink, the extent of which England had never seen before, was hugely popular and became the new headquarters of the National Skating Association. James' work in arranging for Henning Grenander and George Meagher to give exhibitions there generated great interest in figure skating among the Palace's wealthy patrons. His zeal to make the business succeed culminated in an 1896 charge under the 9th section of the Metropolitan Streets Act for "aiding another man to commit the crime of unlawfully carrying a certain board, placard or notice in a form or manner not approved of the Commissioner Of Police." The offending banner was an advertisement for the National Skating Palace and James was fined twenty shillings.

James' efforts extended far beyond the skating world. He and his family were prominent Liberal supporters and organizers. He served as General Secretary of Free Land League and Liberal League, the latter of which he was a founder. He was a supporter of the women's suffrage movement and local option in government. He was once President Cambridge Ratepayers’ Association and founder of the Cambridge Junior Liberal Club, and was also involved in the Sturton Town Liberal Club and Board of Guardians.

However, James wasn't necessarily beloved or without his enemies. Through her study of the National Skating Association's earliest minutes, BIS historian Elaine Hooper deduced, "He did not always have a cordial relationship with the Association. It became the norm in those days for The Association Chairmen and Secretaries to be awarded honourary Life Membership. This has always been considered an honour to receive and personally I think it is indicative of how his peers perceived him, that as founder of the Association of NSA/NISA/BIS, he was not so honoured. Reading between the lines of our books, I think that Newton may have organised a coup to remove his father as Honourary Secretary in favour of himself."

James passed away on February 16, 1899 at his home at Cambridge House, Weston Park, Crouch End at the age of sixty one after several years of ill health. His wife had passed away less than a year before. He was remembered through the Drake Digby Memorial Shield for fen skaters, a half mile race for boys under the age of sixteen. Very few members of the skating community attended his funeral, but one tribute - a pair of skates joined in a cross, encircled by lilies - gave a nod to his important contributions to skating in England.

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 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? Have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

#Unearthed: A Victorian Woman's Perspective Of Figure 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 edition comes to you from Frances E. Slaughter's "The Sportswoman's Library", an 1898 two-part 'how-to' guide on women's recreation and sport. The author of the 'Skating' section, one May (Balfour) Talbot offers a first-hand perspective of skating in England during the Victorian era.


I propose in this article simply to give my own personal views on the subject of skating in general, and to say what I consider to be the best method of attaining proficiency in the art. As what I have to say will be rather jottings from my personal experience than anything in the nature of a normal treatise, I hope I may be excused if my remarks are of a somewhat scrappy and discursive character.

In England at the present time, the art of skating is passing through a transition stage, and it is quite possible that what to-day is regarded as a necessary condition of good skating, will in a few years' time be discarded as obsolete and old-fashioned. I think it therefore wiser, not to formulate any theory, or lay down any general rule on the subject, but to confine myself to giving my readers a few hints gathered from my own experience, which may prove useful to those who wish to attain a certain measure of proficiency in the art.

My earliest skating experiences were probably similar to those of most English people, that is to say, I was limited to the very short periods of frost that occur in English winters, and I had none of the advantages of regular instruction from competent teachers which it is easy now for anybody to get. I learnt to keep my balance, not on ice, but with roller skates on asphalt, and this was sufficient to enable me to go forward with a certain amount of ease when I first skated on ice. I remember vividly the first time I attempted the outside edge. This is a grand epoch in the life of any skater, and the sensation of accomplishing it for the first time, however clumsily, is never to be forgotten. I may say here, that I consider a real mastery of the outside edge the only foundation for all figure skating, and I believe it would be a mistake to attempt such accomplishments as going backwards, or turning a three, without first being fairly steady on the outside edge. Another point that I early learned to be of great importance, was to approach as near as possible equality on both legs, to attain which of course it is necessary to give one's weaker leg - in most cases the left - double practice.

The next advance I made was to turn a three from the outside edge. For a long time I practised this on my right leg alone and neglected my left, which of course was extremely unwise, and resulted in my being much weaker on that leg than on the other. The ordinary turning of a three is a comparatively simple matter, but the difficulty lies in being able to do it to a centre on both feet. Yet this accomplishment is absolutely essential to anyone who would attempt combined figures. In my opinion there is more enjoyment to be gained, both for performers and spectators, from combined figures gracefully and neatly done, than from far more difficult turns performed alone. I will not go into details as to particular figures, because they can be learnt so much better from the innumerable books that have been written on the subject.

Hand-in-hand skating is another most delightful branch of the art, and has been very strikingly developed in the last few years in England. A number of new scuds have been elaborated by the ingenuity of experts, many of which are most fascinating to do, and in many cases they have the great advantage of being performed either with one or two companions. The advance in this department of the art is largely due to the number of covered rinks that have been started lately in England and France, these being particularly adapted to the practice of this style of skating.

Another accomplishment, to which the practice of covered rinks is specially suited is waltzing on skate - which merely consists in a series of turns of threes, and outside-edge forwards and
outside-edge backwards. The important point to remember about waltzing is, that the partners must accommodate their steps, and the woman must take care not to drag. When gracefully and neatly done by two people, well used to each other, and to the sound of a good band, this sensation surpasses anything that can be enjoyed in ordinary dancing.

For my own part I have concentrated my energies on combined figures and hand-in-hand skating, and have never given much attention to the great variety of difficult turns that are to be done alone, though I do not by any means wish to depreciate the beauty of these, or the skill needed to perform them. But, under the conditions that prevail in England, it is difficult to get enough space in which to practice elaborate figures alone, so I am inclined to think that my course has been a wise one.

I mentioned above, that skating in England is in a transition stage, and by this I mean that the last few years have witnessed the introduction of what is called the foreign style of skating in England. At the present time most of our instructors are foreigners, or Englishmen who have thoroughly imbibed the foreign method, and the result is that beginners are induced to purchase foreign skates and to base their style on foreign models. The main difference between the two styles is, that the Englishman is taught to keep his unemployed leg close to the other and to be always erect, not to bend his knee, and in general to keep the body rather stiff and quiet. The foreigner, on the other hand, as might be expected from his more lively temperament, allows himself much more freedom in swinging and bending about. He thus gives the impression of enjoying himself more than the Englishman, and, in consequence, is more attractive to watch. To my mind, the ideal skater is one who combines the excellencies of both styles, that is one who, to the firmness and unobtrusiveness of the Englishman, adds the easy pace and brilliancy of the foreigner. The followers of both styles have a great deal yet to learn from each other, and, therefore, the blending of the two methods in England at the present day, is certain to lead to most beneficial results.

A few words now on the important subject of skates. Enormous improvements have been effected in them of late years, but in my opinion we are still very far from possessing the ideal skate. The main object of the best English skates (for instance the Mount Charles, or the Dowler) is to enable the wearer to hold long edges, whereas the foreign blade is especially adapted to rapid turns. What is wanted is some invention that would combine in one skate the special merits of both these kinds, so that the long firm edge and the sharp turn may be equally possible. At present this is only a dream of the future, and in the meantime I should be inclined to advise a modified form of the French skate, as on the whole the best adapted for all purposes.

I should strongly recommend everybody to keep their skates permanently fixed to one pair of boots. This is a practice however so generally adopted that it may seem superfluous to mention it. Laced boots should be worn specially made for skating, with thick soles and high in the leg, so as to give as much support as possible round the ankle.

In the matter of dress women have a distinct advantage over men. Our skirt both conceals deficiencies in style, and makes it easier to be graceful, the man with his closer garb being sadly exposed to the fierce light of criticism. The only essential for us, is to have a skirt short and well cut so as not to drag, and with this precaution we can indulge in as much variety as we

In conclusion let me say, I know of no exercise more exhilarating and healthful for women than skating in the open air, though, I am bound to say, this cannot be said of the exercise in covered rinks, as one is liable to get very hot and then to catch cold. The combination of hot air above and the cold current rising from the ice, does not tend to produce a very healthy atmosphere. But as we should not make such rapid progress, or have the advantage of seeing together so many good skaters of all nationalities, if we had not the covered rinks, many of us will not be inclined to complain.

I am afraid my remarks are very disconnected, but the subject is a difficult one to treat from a general point of view. I shall be satisfied if what I have said should inspire even one of my readers with a greater devotion to the beautiful art of skating.

Engraving of "Our Sisters In Canada"


It is natural that the art of skating should come to us from the North, for it is in the land of ice and snow that the problem of traversing the frozen surface of the snow-covered ground and the ice-bound water would have to be solved. With the Greeks and the Romans indeed, the great ruling nations of the South, there was no word to designate the exercise - a conclusive proof that it was unknown to them. But from Scandinavia we have an old war song which tells of the progress of the God of Winter over the water, supported on the bones of animals, and this shows that the skates of those early days were made of bone, though they were, as might be expected, of most primitive structure. It is generally agreed that the necessity of crossing the enormous fields of frozen snow during the long
Scandinavian winters led to the fashioning of snow-shoes, and that from these were made the smaller skates, by the aid of which the frozen waters could also be crossed, locomotion thus being made possible.

The early form of the bone skate was brought to England by the Northern tribes which settled in our midst, though it was to our Dutch neighbours, at a much later period in our history, that we owed the introduction of the wooden skate bound with iron, which is the prototype of our skate of to-day. From the earliest efforts with the primitive bone skates to the graceful evolutions now possible on a modern Mount Charles there is a marvellous change, and the art which has a history of nearly two thousand years behind it, is entitled to a place among the time-honoured pastimes of the world.

A beginner in this, as in all other pursuits, is met at the outset of her career, when she is without practical knowledge to guide her in the choice, by the difficulty of selecting a proper instrument. She must then trust to others. As the choice however is not large, she can scarcely do wrong in investing in a Mount Charles, which should be fixed to a well-fitting boot with low heels, a fairly thick sole, and laced upper leathers.

But the first efforts will, if she is wise, be made on roller-skates, for though the tide of fashion has set against this form of skating, and it is only in far-off Simla and a few scattered places that it still holds its own, it is unrivalled as a means to the end of skating on ice. On roller-skates the learner can follow up her study systematically day after day, independent of weather conditions, and can acquire the two primary essentials of successful skating, viz., balance and confidence.

When these have been acquired you may then make your first attempt on ice with every prospect of success. With steady practice you will soon learn to manage your skates, but never forget during these early days that you must ever be on your guard against the countless tricks which beset the beginner at every stage of her progress. Some people will indeed advise you, when you first put on your skates proper, to walk about a carpeted room with them, while others will tell you to make your first efforts on the ice itself. In this you will probably be guided partly by the age at which you begin the pastime - whether, that is to say, a fall is a serious matter or one to be disregarded with the smiling; carelessness of youth - and partly by the degree of confidence you have acquired on the roller-skates.

In any case, when you find yourself on the ice for the first time, you will endeavour to walk forward on your skates with short and careful steps. If you have assistance to prevent you from the inevitable tumbles that will otherwise be your lot, your progress will be safe but slower than it you take your courage in both hands and carry out unaided the good old nursery maxim of "try, try, try again," till the delightful foretaste of success comes to you, in the first quivering glide forward - without a too sudden descent at the end.

Remember, when making these first efforts at walking, that the foot on which you are resting on the ice should have both the ankle and knee kept stiff, or you will find your ankle twist sideways. You must also take care to keep the feet well under you, as until you have found your balance they will have an inclination to slide apart, and thus render a fall imminent. After a short experience of this tottering effort after equilibrium, you will probably almost instinctively begin to slide forward with both feet, and for the moment you will find sufficient pleasure in movement of any kind. I have indeed seen quite a rapturous expression of triumph come over the face of a middle-aged beginner, when she first managed the smallest of small slides without it ending in a catastrophe, or in a wild clinging to her guide. The good lady doubtless saw in the dim future the end in view for which she was willing to expend so much patient effort, and so shall we, and in a shorter time, if fewer winters have passed over our heads before we make our first venture.

A few hours at least should be devoted to this preliminary experience, and then you will probably be able to try the inside edge forward, which is the first step to master. With your feet turned at an angle of 45 degrees, you will press downward with the ball of your left foot, so that you may have a secure position from which to start, and you will slide forward with your right foot only on the inside of the skate, balancing yourself entirely on that foot. You will then bring the left foot forward from the position it has held with the toe of the skate held just off the ice behind the right foot, and pressing the inside edge of the skate under the ball of the right foot into the ice, you will slide forward with your left, striking out farther and farther as you find you can keep your balance during the stroke. The
position of the body should be slightly sideways, with the face in the direction of progress.

To perform a half-circle and a circle will then be your aim, until you can succeed with a perfect figure of 8. By the time you have mastered this, you will be ready for the turn on both feet and the backward stroke or the inside edge, after which the forward and backward stroke of the outside centre will be your study. In all backward movement the head must be turned in the point of direction, while the weight of the body is thrown on the back part of the skate, instead of on the front part as in a forward movement.

As soon as complete mastery of both edges has been gained, and that the fate of the immortal Winkle may not be yours, you have learnt the art of stopping, you will find all the simple figures within your powers. Do not, however, be hurried into trying any combination, however simple, until you have acquired the art of easy and graceful motion on the inside and outside edges, both forward and backward.

The Hand-in-hand Figures are much in vogue among women in all countries, and these are pretty and effective, as well as simple to execute by anyone who has thoroughly grounded herself in the rudiments of skating. The more usual way of executing these figures in this country is for the partners, generally a man and a woman, to stand side by side, joining their right hands underneath the left, which are also clasped sideways, though occasionally what is known as the Austrian mode is adopted, viz., by the woman standing in front of her partner and bending her hands under and backward at her side, when they are taken in the clasp of the man behind.

It is to the daughters of the inventor of the Plimpton roller-skates that we are indebted for the various fascinating forms of hand-in-hand skating now in vogue, and for the effective movement known as " a pass," we are equally beholden to Miss [Lilly] Cheetham, who was, I believe, the first to put it in practice. For the many varieties of Scuds and Rockers now constantly to be seen at the much patronised covered rinks, reference may be made to Mr. Maxwell Witham's book "A System of Figure Skating," in which are to be found diagrams of some very simple figures taken originally from the archives of the Oxford Skating Society. These will be well within the powers of all, and in the case of the stronger and more enthusiastic women skaters will form a fitting prelude to the execution of the more elaborate "Club Figures."

In Figure 1, the skaters take up their positions facing one another upon each side of a square, the start being made by each skater with the right foot, on a curve of outside edge, continuing this for half a circle when the left foot will be put down and the stroke taken, either in the ordinary way or from the cross, and the whole circle of outside on the left foot skated. This will bring each skater into the original place of the other and the movement can be repeated. The figure can also be skated backward, in which case the position for starting will be with the backs instead of the faces of the skaters towards each other.

Figure 2 is very similar to the former. The skaters take up their positions facing one another at four points of the inner circle, skating off on a curve of outside edge with the right foot and
going round the inner circle. The left foot is thus put down and the stroke taken in the ordinary way or from the cross, another circle of outside edge being skated on the left foot. This will bring the skater to the inner circle again when the movement can be repeated, and the whole figure can be skated backwards.

A variation of this figure can be made thus: "The skaters only go three-quarters round the centre circle, so that the outside circle described always lies immediately behind the one on which each skater last travelled round. The skaters thus changing their positions has a pretty effect. Arrived at the common circle the movement is repeated, each skater taking her partner's hand (the four hands being thus crossed) which is retained until the whole circle, which all have in common, has been skated, when each again branches off as before described."

In all skating, neatness, precision, and an easy, upright carriage are the things to be aimed at, and as you feel yourself getting at home on your skates, remember it should be your object to disguise your stroke as far as possible, so that your progress may have the smooth, graceful ease of apparently unbroken motion.

Shortly, the great points to be attended to when learning are :

1. An upright carriage without stiffness.
2. Straightness of the knee of the employed leg.
3. Approximation of the feet.
4. A slight sideways position of the body, with the face in the direction of progress.
5. Equality of power on either leg, to attain which extra practice for the weaker leg - generally the left - will be needed.

When these have been acquired the full delight of the health-giving exercise of skating will be open to 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 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.

A Minneapolis Skate Maven: The Margaret Bennett Story

Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library

Margaret Helen Bennett was born September 17, 1910 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She grew up in a cozy Garfield Avenue home with her parents Helen (Richardson) and Ashley Clayton 'A.C.' Bennett and older sister Irene. Her father was a prolific inventor who applied for patents for a carburetor, air-cleaner, smoke cleaner, suction cleaner and an apparatus for supplying fuel oil to furnaces. He also dabbled in aviation, patenting an airplane and (with Ralph D. Wickox) making several attempts to fly it on Lake Minnetonka.

A.C. Bennett's airplane patent

A.C. Bennett was also one of Minneapolis' top figure skating instructors and a patron and mentor to a who's who of Minnesota skaters, including Roy and Eddie Shipstad, Oscar Johnson and Robin Lee. Margaret's grandfather, Henry Hamilton Bennett, passed away two years before she was born. He was a photography pioneer in Wisconsin who served as a soldier in the Civil War.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Margaret was a regular on the ponds of the Twin Cities during the roaring twenties - considered something of a young prodigy, in fact - but it wasn't until she started taking lessons from Julius B. Nelson that she entered the world of competitive figure skating.

Joan Dix, Fritzi Burger and Margaret Bennett having tea at the 1932 Winter Olympic Games

In early 1931, she claimed the U.S. junior women's title in Boston and finished fourth in the North American Championships. That December, she finished second to Maribel Vinson at the U.S. Championships, earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. At the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, she finished eleventh. At the subsequent World Championships, she dropped to twelfth. However, the American, Finnish and Norwegian judges had her as high as seventh in free skating... ahead of future Olympic Silver Medallist Cecilia Colledge.

Margaret Bennett and her two year old daughter Caroline. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following those World Championships in Montreal, Margaret married bookkeeper Walter F. Anthony. After giving birth to daughter Caroline, she returned to the ice to participate in a 'barnstorming tour' of ice shows in Midwestern cities and towns organized by Edward Eylar and her father. She even teamed up with Roy Shipstad of future Ice Follies fame to give exhibitions in pairs skating. Margaret and her husband later divorced, and she moved to Chester, Connecticut, where she became a hospital administrator. She passed away there on June 7, 1984 at the age of seventy three, her brief reign as Minneapolis' skating queen 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' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The 1939 European Figure Skating Championships

Several of the women's competitors in London in 1939 including Megan Taylor, Britta Rahlen, Emmy Puzinger, Martha Musílek, Gladys Jagger, Eva Nyklova and Daphne Walker. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Victrolas in England blared "The Washing On The Siegfried Line" and Norwegians laid claim to over one million square miles of land in the Antarctic for whaling. Famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats passed away less than two weeks after the first of the Irish Republican Army's S-Plan bombings in London. Bias-cut silk tulle gowns were all the rage and a popular luncheon dish was Grilled Cod Steak with Parsley Butter, served with a cup of Horlick's Malted Milk. 

In early 1939, around eight months before World War II began with the German invasion of Poland, the world's best figure skaters convened in three different European cities to battle for supremacy in the European Figure Skating Championships. The women's event was held first, on January 23 and 24, 1939 at Empress Hall, Earl's Court in London, England. The men's event was held next, from January 27 to 29 in Davos, Switzerland. Finally, the pairs took to the ice on February 4 in Zakopane, Poland.

Megan Taylor (top) and Cecilia Colledge (bottom) at the 1939 European Championships

Less than a year before food began to be rationed in England, nine thousand Londoners paid three pounds apiece for tickets to see the women's competition. Manchester's Megan Taylor decisively beat the two time and reigning European Champion Cecilia Colledge four judges to one in the school figures. Cecilia's only first place ordinal came from British judge Ian Home Bowhill. Three judges had Daphne Walker third, with the German judge placing Hanne Niernberger third and the Czechoslovakian judge lending his support to Eva Nyklova.

Megan Taylor, Cecilia Colledge and Daphne Walker

Garbed in white satin, Cecilia Colledge rebounded with an exceptional free skate. Though the German judge tied her and Taylor, three other judges (including the British judge) had her in first place. The Swedish judge placed Walker, who no other judge had first or second, ahead of the rest. A journalist from the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" raved that Colledge's free skate was "a joyous experience" and that Walker's free skate rivaled that of Taylor's, who appeared to succumb somewhat to nerves.

After the free skating marks were tallied with those from the figures, it was determined that Colledge narrowly defeated Taylor for the title, 1845.5 points to 1837.4. Walker took the bronze, making it the first (and to date) only time in history that a trio of British women swept the podium at the European Championships... in their home country, no less!

Freddie Tomlins in Davos. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

British skaters again dominated in Davos, when Henry Graham Sharp took a unanimous lead in the men's school figures, ahead of Horst Faber, Freddie Tomlins, Hans Gerschwiler and Edi Rada. In an effort to boost 'his own' skater, the German judge placed Faber second and Tomlins fifth in the figures. The same judge later gave Tomlins lower marks than others at the World Championships as well.

Henry Graham Sharp in Davos. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.
A journalist from the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" remarked that Sharp "skates incredibly precise school figures that are first class... of an almost machine like quality" and the "fight was almost hopeless" for Faber and Rada in the final phase of the competition. In a close contest, Sharp defeated Tomlins three judges to two in the free skate, with the British judge lending his support to Sharp. Faber claimed the bronze behind the two Britons, some ten ordinal placings ahead of Rada and Gerschwiler. It was the first and only time that British men took the first two spots at the European Championships. Felix Kaspar, the defending Champion, did not compete.

Horst Faber, Henry Graham Sharp and Freddie Tomlins celebrating their medal wins in Davos with an adult beverage. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

With no British teams entered, more history was made in Zakopane when a trio of teams representing Germany swept the podium. Although teams from East and West Germany would later sweep the podium at the 1961 European Championships in West Berlin, the Zakopane event marked the only time in history that three teams representing a 'unified' Germany swept the podium at the European Championships... and they did so under the Nazi swastika flag.

The pairs medallists at the 1939 European Championships. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier took top honours, decisively beating their former Austrian rivals turned German teammates Ilse and Erik Pausin. Inge Koch and Günther Noack rounded out the top three. The six remaining teams, representing Nazi Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, were some distance back from the medal winners.

Horst Faber, Cecilia Colledge and Nazi official Thomas Kozich in Vienna. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Following the competition, many of the world's best headed to Vienna, Austria to skate exhibitions at the Wiener Eislaufverein. Several of the skaters were honoured at the Viennese town hall by NSDAP politician turned Sturmabteilung (SA) leader Thomas Kozich. Less than a year later, the course of the world's history had been changed forever. The European Championships wouldn't be held again for eight years and none of the champions in 1939 returned to defend their titles in Davos in 1947.

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.

One Should Definitely Give A Frick About Willie Frick

Willie Frick, Tenley Albright and Maribel Vinson Owen in Vienna. Photo courtesy Dr. Tenley Albright, Elee Krajlii Gardner (personal collection). Used with permission.

"He really made skating fun for me. Willie had such a great sense of humour. He would try to get me to laugh at my mistakes. He had some favourite comments to make whenever I fell down or goofed up. For example, he would say, 'Oops, the ice came up and hit you,' or 'Where there's still life, there's hope,' and somehow that always made me feel better." - Tenley Albright, 1973

The son of Paul and Amelia (Elsing) Frick, Willie Paul Frick was born June 23, 1896 in Berlin, Germany. Primary sources glean little information about his youth or when and where he started skating. He never medalled at the German Championships or competed in a major international competition prior to the Great War but instead turned professional, navigating the obvious challenges of international travel during wartime as a mere teenager to teach skaters in London, Berlin, Leningrad, Warsaw, Paris and Brussels. Short in stature but overwhelming in his talent, he reportedly earned the nickname 'The Boy Wonder Of Berlin'.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Following in the footsteps of Charlotte Oelschlägel, Willie emigrated to America in 1920 and joined the cast of Charles Dillingham's productions at The Hippodrome in New York City. It was there he met Cathleen Pope, a pairs skater in the show. Willie and Cathleen had much in common. They were the same age, both loved skating and Cathleen's father was an Austrian immigrant, so she knew first Willie's challenges of moving to a new country.

Hired as instructors by The Skating Club Of Boston, Willie and Cathleen relocated to Waltham, Massachusetts and took up residence in a small home on Lexington Street. Unlike many coaches who rink-hopped, the Frick's remained loyal to the Boston club for over forty years. He also taught at the Cambridge Skating Club.

Early in Willie's coaching career, he was a much sought after performer in carnivals throughout the Eastern Seaboard. He gave pairs and ice dancing exhibitions with his wife, performed comedy skits with Edwina Earle and dazzled crowds with his signature number, where the arena's lights were lowered and he performed special figures around a design of lit candles! In 1927, he appeared on artificial ice at the Palace Theater in Worcester, skating a quartet with his wife, Bobby Hearn and Harry Fleming. They were known as The Hippodrome Skaters.

A list of skaters who studied under Willie Frick reads like a who's who of American figure skating in the twenties, thirties, forties and fifties: Maribel Vinson Owen, Tenley Albright, Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles, Joan Tozzer and Bernard Fox, Thornton Coolidge, Roger Turner, Sherwin Badger, Grace and James Madden, George Hill, Ted Goodridge, Polly Blodgett, Suzanne Davis, Gretchen Merrill and Dorothy Glazier and Lyman Wakefield Jr. were just a few of his many talented students. Willie acted as the coach of the 1932 Olympic team in Lake Placid, an area he'd return to frequently to coach in the summers.

When Maribel Vinson Owen decided to give up defense of her U.S. women's and pairs titles to train abroad for a year, Willie supported her wholeheartedly. He not only encouraged her, he joined her in England for a time, having passed all of the National Skating Association's tests himself during a 1933 visit. Having studied figures under the great Bernard Adams, Willie later developed what Maribel termed as the 'Frick-Adams method' of skating the rocker. He was also credited by Maribel with several other innovations - the spread eagle/Axel/spread eagle, foot-in-hand Jackson Haines spin and the Frick Spin - a sit spin where skater holds on to free foot with either one or both hands. These spins were of course precursors to the modern cannonball spin.

Photo courtesy Professional Skaters Association

When the Professional Skaters Guild - a precursor to the modern Professional Skaters Association - was founded in the thirties, Willie served as the Association's first Vice-President. He later acted as chair of the Arbitration and Integrity Committee. He registered for the draft in 1942 but was never called upon to go overseas. On his twenty-fifth anniversary with The Skating Club Of Boston in 1946, he was given an honorary membership.

Throughout Willie's life, he was constantly confused with Mr. Frick - Werner Groebli - one half of the famous Swiss comic skating duo Frick and Frack. If you believed the local rumour mill, Cathleen and Willie Frick's home was where Frick and Frack lived.

Sadly, Willie passed away on July 29, 1964 at Waltham Hospital after a long illness, just three years after his star pupil Maribel Vinson Owen. He was inducted posthumously to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1981, becoming the first German born coach to earn that distinction. Had it not been for his efforts, Boston may never have become the skating powerhouse it did.

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