Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The 1986 NHK Trophy

If the enthusiastic audiences at the 1977 World Championships in Tokyo were any indication, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation NHK made a wise move when it sponsored the country's first international trophy competition, The NHK Trophy, to mark the fiftieth birthday of the National Skating Union of Japan in October 1979. Daily broadcasts helped convert a whole new generation of figure skating fans in the country and by November 1986, enthralled audiences lined up in Tokyo to get the best seats to watch the competition unfold live.

What made the NHK Trophy particularly unique back in the mid-eighties was the fact that unlike most international competitions, ice dancers did not skate compulsory dances whatsoever and singles skaters did not perform school figures. This left the singles and pairs events to be decided upon a short and long program and the ice dancers skating only their OSP and free dance and obviously favoured a whole different crop of competitors than other prominent international events of the era such as Skate Canada, Skate America and the St. Ivel Trophy.

The pairs event at the 1986 NHK Trophy was easily won by Olympic Gold Medallists Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev with Americans Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard and Natalie and Wayne Seybold settling for silver and bronze. In fourth with then partner Lenka Knapová was future World Champion René Novotný of Czechoslovakia. In her wonderful book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves explains that in the ice dance event "with the reigning World Champions present, the outcome of the NHK in Tokyo was never in question. Bestemianova/Bukin did not, however, slide by on past laurels. The 'Emperor Waltz' seemed composed solely for their new Viennese Waltz OSP. Their glitzy new free dance earned three 6.0's for artistic. The Japanese loved Semanick/Gregory's elegant OSP that appeared to have stepped out of a by-invitation ballroom of bygone years. Suzy and Scott's free dance also won acclaim from the host country. Kathrin and Christoff Beck were a breath of fresh air, dancing the OSP of their homeland and showing much improvement since Geneva." With the results remaining (predictably) exactly the same from first to eleventh over both dances, Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin claimed an easy win over Suzy Semanick and Scott Gregory, the Beck's and the West German twins, Antonia and Ferdinand Becherer. The lone Canadian entry, Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, were eighth.

The women's event, Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt claimed the NHK title for the second time in five years with a near-perfect free skate and 1.2 total points. However, the absence of school figures allowed a young Midori Ito to nip at Witt's heels in front of a home audience. She finished an extremely close second ahead of former Japanese Champion Juri Osada. After falling on a triple toe/double toe combination in the short program and finding herself down in sixth, American Holly Cook moved up to fourth overall with the third best free skate. Canada's sole entry in the women's event, Patricia Schmidt, finished tenth in the field of eleven.

Of all of the events at the NHK Trophy in 1986, the men's competition was perhaps the most interesting. Why? Not because of who finished first, but who finished last. Only one year ago, Alexandr Fadeev had won the World Championships in the very same rink with one of the best performances of his career. In the short program, he missed two elements and finished a disastrous ninth (and last) with a score of 3.6 points, behind even Tatsuya Fuiji, an unheralded skater from Japan. No one knew quite what to think until the World Champion announced his withdrawal, complaining of tooth problems. A December 1, 1986 article from The Ottawa Citizen explained how the rest of the event unfolded in Fadeev's absence: "A beaming Angelo D'Agostino, ranked fourth in the United States, won his first NHK international freeskating competition Sunday with an overall score of 2.4 placement points to beat Makoto Kano, Japan's No. 2, with 2.6 points. D'Agostino, 23, was second in the freeskating program Sunday for 2.0 points, while Kano placed first for one point during the final day of the three-day competition. But D'Agostino managed to win with a higher overall total, after winning the short program for 0.4 points to Kano's fourth-place finish for 1.6 points at Tokyo's Yoyogi National Stadium. In skating, the competitor with the lowest score is the leader. The scoring system is based on the placements of the seven judges. D'Agostino skated to the rhythmic big band music of [Glenn] Miller. Philippe Roncoli of France was third with 5.0 points, after rallying from fifth place to move past Japan's Masaru Ogawa and American Scott Williams." In seventh place was a young Kurt Browning who was making his first trip to Japan. In his (must read) 1991 book "Kurt: Forcing The Edge", Kurt shares some wonderful lessons learned from this competition, but perhaps most humorously he notes the tradition of skaters making off with cotton robes from the hotels in Japan, saying that "the world is full of skaters who've never set foot in Japan but nonetheless luxuriate in these gowns."

As the excitement unfolds at this week's NHK Trophy in Japan, remember that since the late seventies, audiences have been watching this competition unfold with the same intense interest. Perhaps thirty years from now someone will be reflecting on the very competition you're glued to with the same curiosity. That's how history works.

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

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Disgrace, Dogs And Dancing: The Diversions Of Dorothy Klewer

Considering the era, I don't think that it's a stretch at all to say that Dorothy Klewer would have been an extremely controversial young woman in her day. The daughter of Chicago socialites William and Clara Klewer, Dorothy found herself in society pages from coast to coast when as a teenager, she eloped by climbing out of her bedroom window on a ladder. Her husband was a twenty four year old named R. Mayne Luther, who had opened a dance studio in Denver that flopped miserably. His next venture, a foray into the candy business, was just as unsuccessful. Strapped for cash with a mysterious family 'out west', he wasn't exactly an ideal suitor in the eyes of Dorothy's discerning parents.

On June 19, 1915, The Ogden Standard reported that "when Dorothy Henri Klewer was 16 years old, she naively announced her engagement to R. Mayne Luther. Fashionable society of Chicago's North Side gasped in amazement. Surely pretty Dorothy was not in earnest. Why, she was only a child! But Dorothy was very much in earnest. 'I love Mayne dearly, and we are going to marry in the fall', she told acquaintances." Her Papa forbade it, saying that she was not yet eighteen and hadn't had her 'coming out party yet'. When her mother went out visiting, she "dragged six suitcases from beneath the bed. Into each she packed clothing and some personal belongings. The maid assisted her, not knowing what else to do in the face of a generous tip... She lifted her bedroom window. 'Ooh, hoo!' she called softly. The figure of a young man soon loomed in the semi-darkness beneath the window. 'Bring your auto 'round in back,' said the girl. 'Dad hasn't gone out. And listen. It's the only way I can get out without him seeing me,'" Mayne got a ladder and down Dorothy went. The couple married in Crown Point, Indiana, opened yet another dancing school in Denver (which also flopped) and became dancers at the Baltimore Hotel in Kansas City and The College Inn in Chicago. The marriage lasted less than a year, with her suing him for divorce. The Daily Missourian on December 11, 1916 noted that "it has been stipulated by her parents that she could return only by climbing back up the ladder and begging forgiveness from the window sill. Weary of dancing school and cabaret life In Denver and her honeymoon long since waned, she gave up and began the climb." Running home to Mommy and Daddy didn't suit her champagne taste and soon Dorothy (now divorced) was off to The Big Apple.

She found work as a model in newspaper print ads and - you guessed it - took up figure skating at the St. Nicholas Rink. Although she was a fine 'fancy skater' by all accounts, it was her skating partner who earned fifteen minutes of fame in newspapers from coast to coast. Dorothy gussied up her Airedale terrier, Lizzie, and brought her on the ice with her, much to the amusement of the high society figure skaters that frequented the rink in those days. She even proclaimed (in jest) that Lizzie was 'the world champion dog skater'. The December 23, 1917 issue of The Sunday Star noted, "Lizzie has won considerable fame on the ice in the way of speed, but cannot yet perform geometric stunts or figure eights." The January 4, 1918 of the Chattanooga News (giving you an idea of how far this story travelled) reported that "Lizzie uses skaters with double runners like little sleds... She is still rather awkward at figure skating." The dancer turned model turned skater was even photographed driving a crude predecessor to the Zamboni... in her figure skates.

Klewer's skating days were short lived. Through the connections made at the St. Nicholas Rink, she got a job as a showgirl in the Ziegfield 9 O'clock Revue and Ziegfield Midnight Frolic on the New Amsterdam Roof and went on to act bit parts in Broadway plays. Remarrying to Oscar M. Hunt Jr. on August 6, 1930 in Manhattan, her humble film credits included small roles in "The File On Thelma Jordan" and "The Hanging Tree". Although the story of Dorothy Klewer and Lizzie remains an obscure footnote in skating history, her story (in hindsight) is definitely 'Best In Show' calibre.

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

Thursday, 19 November 2015

The 1985 World Figure Skating Championships

Built in the early sixties, the Yoyogi National Gymnasium played host to the swimming and diving events at the 1964 Summer Olympics. From March 3 to 10, 1985, a rink built over a swimming pool in the facility played host to a who's who of figure skating as they competed for top honours at the 1985 World Figure Skating Championships. The story behind the scenes was less than ideal. From complaints about the food to a forty minute bus ride from the hotel through the traffic filled streets of Tokyo, Japan to the athletes not even being able to get a second hotel key, it's a small wonder that so many spectacular performances were pulled off at the event. With a stack of no less than fourteen articles from the Montreal Gazette and The Globe And Mail and Lynn Copley-Graves' authoritative "Figure Skating: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" in hand, I decided to dig up only the best stories for you all and take an in depth look at this exciting competition from decades past:


The short program in Tokyo was a bit of an upset as Olympic Bronze Medallists Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov bested their teammates, Olympic Gold Medallists Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev. The required side-by-side jump for pairs that season was the lutz and Valova singled out of hers, giving Selezneva and Makarov a 3.6 point edge. All three Canadian pairs were coached by Kerry Leitch and trained at the Preston Figure Skating Club. In third after the short were twenty year old Katherina Matousek and twenty two year old Lloyd Eisler of Canada, followed closely by Cynthia Coull and Mark Rowsom, who skated a relatively clean program. Rowsom did admit that he ''did one fewer crosscuts than we were supposed to do at one point, but it wasn't anything serious.'' In fifth was the third Soviet pair of Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov, who also had an issue with popping the side-by-side jump. Newly crowned U.S. Champions Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard, coached by Louis Stong, sat in sixth ahead of Melinda Kunhegyi and Lyndon Johnston, who received a small deduction when Johnston caught on an edge on a sit spin and came out of the spin before his partner.

In the free skate, Valova and Vasiliev rebounded with a very strong performance for the win, landing side-by-side triple toe-loop's, a throw triple salchow and earning four 5.9's for artistic impression. Selezneva and Makarov had to settle for silver. Coach Tamara Moskvina noted that Valova and Vasiliev's program "was completely different from the one we used last year. After losing last year, I really wanted my pair to win the championship back; we worked hard on everything and added some more and difficult things." With Matousek, Lloyd Eisler won the first World medal of his career, a bronze, despite a miss from Katherina on the side-by-side double salchow and a two foot landing on the throw double axel. Of their free skate in Tokyo, he said, "We aren't happy with the way we performed tonight, but we sure have to be happy with the medal. It's a pretty good finish for having been out of competition for four months. We know we didn't do well tonight, but the marks held us up there. In competition up to now, we've been getting a 4-3 or 5-4 split in judges against us, so it's nice to have it go our way for a change. It's just great to win a medal." Katherina added that ''I just couldn't get into my knees tonight and, because of that, I did a lot of silly mistakes. I just couldn't get the feel of it. I was nervous tonight and that affected the program. Because of injuries, we haven't been able to train the program with all the throws in it. If we had had a couple of more weeks to train, we would have done better.'' Watson and Oppegard and Kunhegyi and Johnston moved up to fourth and fifth, with Coull and Rowsom dropping to seventh with a disappointing free skate where they missed both of their throws.


"To win the title, I have to have great patience," said the winner of the compulsory figures, the late Olympic Bronze Medallist Kira Ivanova. While her early lead was a surprise to no one as she was well known as a figures specialist, it came as a surprise to many that seventeen year old U.S. Champion Tiffany Chin of Toluca Lake, California was sitting in second. She had been twelfth in figures at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo and a stress fracture had kept her out of the 1984 World Championships. She said, "I skated very well today. I like compulsories as much as free skating, but I trained hard for free." Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt finished third, followed by Anna Kondrashova, Claudia Leistner, Switzerland's Sandra Cariboni and Debi Thomas. Nineteen year old Canadian Champion Elizabeth Manley found herself in tenth, while Cynthia Coull, skating double duty, trailed in eighteenth place after the compulsories. An injured Midori Ito was forced to withdraw before the competition even began due to a broken ankle.

Remember how I mentioned that forty minute bus ride from the hotel to the arena earlier? Like something out of an episode of The Amazing Race, Finnish judge Giordano Abbondati (a former two time Olympian for Italy) almost missed judging the ladies short program altogether when he decided to travel by taxi to the Yoyogi National Stadium after attending a reception. The driver misunderstood his directions and took him first to the wrong rink, then to a swimming pool and finally to a police station where with the help of officers he was able to explain to the taxi driver where he needed to be.

In the short program, Katarina Witt gave a strong performance to take the lead over Chin, whose "Swan Lake" program was well received by judges. Chin said, "I went on the ice to do what I always do, nothing particularly special. It went well, I think." Kira Ivanova was in surprisingly good form, finishing third in the short program, maintaining her overall lead and very much keeping herself in the gold medal conversation. Kondrashova and Thomas finished fourth and fifth in this segment of the event, with Coull and Manley in ninth and tenth.

Nineteen year old Katarina Witt gave the finest performance of her career to that point in the free skate, landing a triple loop/double toe combination and three more triples to edge Chin, who singled a triple salchow attempt and fell on her double axel. Ivanova faltered as well and settled for bronze. After medals were awarded, Witt remarked, "When I saw Tiffany skate and when she fell, then I thought I would win. The judges have the last word though. All three of us, Kira, Tiffany and myself, had a chance to win going into the free skating and when I went out on the ice, it was to do my best and I think it was the best that I can do right now." Although Debi Thomas beat Anna Kondrashova in the free skate, she remained in fifth behind the Soviet skater. Elizabeth Manley was disappointed with her free skate, where she fell on the first of four planned triples (the lutz) and aggravated an existing injury to her left ankle: "I felt good going into the program, I had a beautiful double Axel. The triple Lutz was right there, my edge just slipped on me. Then going into one of my butterfly jumps a little bit later, I hurt my foot and I couldn't get any strength out of it that's why I couldn't try any more triples in my program. I don't want it to sound like I'm making excuses, but it really did happen and I'm sort of glad that this is the last competition of the season for me. My figures and short program here were good, it's my long program that wasn't good and I can't be too upset about it because my foot was bothering me."


"Fourth, behind Orser, Fadeev and Sabovčík," predicted twenty two year old newly crowned U.S. Champion Brian Boitano on February 2, 1985. Miss Cleo he was not.

The men's compulsory figures took seven and a half hours in total to complete and when the dust settled, the Soviet Union's Alexandr Fadeev was atop the leaderboard, followed by Jozef Sabovčík (who was recovering from a one hundred and four degree fever), France's Fernand Fédronic, Orser, Boitano and Soviet teammate Vladimir Kotin. Although at a disadvantage with ground to make up in the short program and free skate as usual, Brian Orser was optimistic, saying that "there's a lot of pressure. The ones who can handle that the best are the ones who come out on top. A lot of people can do excellent figures in practice, but you put them in front of judges and it's a different story. I was guilty of that in the past. I'm getting a grip on that. I was very satisfied. I laid down three consistent figures, all basically the same, and kept a grip on things... I'm very confident. I still have a lot of work to do; it's not finished yet. Figures are over now and they're history and I go on to the next segment. And after that I go on to the free program and take what I deserve."

Orser's prediction, like Boitano's following the U.S. Championships, wouldn't prove to be exactly correct. In front of two thousand spectators, Fadeev (who practiced five hours a day) dazzled and maintained his lead with a flawless short program, earning four 5.9's, three 5.8's and two 5.7's. He said, "I think I skated well today, but this ice is a very difficult surface for me to skate on. In order to win, I must beat my rivals - Orser and Sabovčík - but I feel very confident. I am planning to jump the quadruple jump in the free competition." Orser, who finished second in the short program with five 5.8's, moved up to third overall. He said with disappointment: "'I was hoping that I would skate well and that's what happened. But I was hoping that I would win the short to be able to have a better shot at the gold. Yes, it's frustrating. But I can't be thinking about all the what if's. What if I had fallen? I could have been away down in tenth.'' Boitano landed his trademark triple lutz, moving up to fourth place overall just behind Sabovčík and his teammate, Mark Cockerell, landed a solid triple lutz/double toe combination to finish seventh in the short program and move all the way up to eleventh after finishing sixteenth in the figures.

In the free skate, Fadeev gave one of the finest performances of his career in front of a crowd of four thousand, landing his triple axel in combination under the diving boards as well as five other solid triples including a triple lutz/triple toe. He earned all 5.8's and 5.9's with the exception of one 5.7 for artistic impression for his effort. Despite a strong effort, Brian Orser's figures and short program results meant he was skating for silver before he even took to the ice and silver was where he wound up. Boitano's finish was better than he prophesized. A third place finish in the free skate to Sabovčík's disappointing sixth gave Boitano the bronze. Canada's other entries, Neil Paterson and Gordon Forbes, ended up in tenth and seventeenth overall. There could be no accusation of bias from Canadian judge Norris Bowden, who placed Boitano ahead of Orser in the free skate. Judges from the U.S., France and Finland joined him in giving Boitano second place ordinals for a 5-4 split.

In his book "Jumpin' Joe", Sabovčík recalled, "during the warm-up, I performed a clean quad, which was shown on television, and although I was planning on putting one in the program, again I fell apart. My triple Axel didn't work, so I omitted the quad, substituting it for a triple, and died about halfway through the program... The nature of my long program didn't help either. I had gone back to classic rock, using excerpts from songs like The Rolling Stones' 'Paint It Black', Procol Harum's 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' and ending with Led Zeppelin's 'Whole Lotta Love'. The music was great but I didn't like the choreography. It seemed disjointed and I was uncomfortable with the movements."
Likewise, In his book "Orser: A Skater's Life", Brian Orser reminisced on an equally challenging event: "Overall, it was a terrible week in Tokyo. I was sick. The rink was too far from the hotel and could only be reached through clogged traffic. The rink itself was cold and wretched. It was actually the swimming pool from the 1964 Olympics and it made a terrible THUNK sound when you came down on the ice, which was too hard. And aesthetically, it was a mess - a terrible streaked-blue color. It was also quite a distance from the stands, which destroyed any chance to establish a rapport with the crowd, a disappointingly small one. Everyone else had to put up with the rink conditions too, of course. and it sure didn't bother Fadeev. It just wasn't my week... I had learned a lesson in Tokyo: nothing comes easily."


The Montreal Gazette, on March 8, 1985, reported that Brian Orser was the victim of a back room deal struck between Soviet, American and Swiss officials: "The main crux of the alleged deal was that the U.S. judges would promote Soviet Alexandr Fadeev in the men's division, in return for favours from Russian judges for American Tiffany Chin in the women's competition. What the Swiss were to receive in the deal no one could quite explain. As ammunition for their claims, Canadian officials point to the marks Orser received from the Swiss judge in Monday's compulsories. She had him 18th in the first figure (he finished fifth) and eighth overall (he placed fourth). As well, there was Chin taking second place in Wednesday's figures, a discipline in which she was 12th at the Olympics. Still, the Soviets and Americans agree on things about as often as the Toronto Maple Leafs have won the Stanley Cup in the past decade. And, in the view of knowledgeable observers, Fadeev skated at least as well if not better than Orser in the short program Tuesday to take an insurmountable lead. In yesterday's long program, there was no doubt the Soviet performed more capably. Of course, Soviet and American officials offer vehement denials any deal took place. And while that may indeed be true, the most important and telling fact of all, perhaps, is that such a thing could take place... Officials, including judges, do some strong lobbying for the skaters from their respective federations. The Soviets, for example, have rented almost an entire floor at the Takanawa Prince Hotel here, which has been dubbed 'Caviar Row.'  David Dore, the past president of the Canadian Figure Skating Association, said Canada's problem may well be that it plays by all the rules. 'We have to be realistic. Maintaining all your principles is not going to win it.'"


Olympic Silver Medallists Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin dominated the ice dance competition from the very beginning, winning the Viennese Waltz, Yankee Polka and Blues with first place ordinals from eight of the nine judges. In a close second were, of course, their teammates Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, who had won the bronze medal behind B&B in Sarajevo. Americans Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert stood in third in their fifth trip to Worlds, followed by Canadian Champions Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall, who earned particular praise from reporters for their Viennese Waltz. Making their World debut, their Canadian teammates Karyn and Rod Garossino were surprised with their tenth place finish and looked forward to their original set pattern dance with confidence. Karyn said, "We know we have an excellent OSP so we should be able to hold our spot. We are pleased with the choreography of it and how we can perform it and that it's appreciate by audiences and the judges. What happens to placings is up to the judges and we'll leave it to them."

In true eighties ice dance fashion, not a single placement changed from the compulsory dances through the OSP with the exception of the teams in fifteenth and sixteenth places swapping spots. Bestemianova and Bukin earned ten 5.9's for their "Carnival Night" Charleston inspired Quickstep which raised many eyebrows. You know, the usual, tired 'overdoing it' arguments we often heard about this team. Bestemianova said, "It's a very difficult OSP. I think we can win if we are only confident in ourselves." Klimova and Ponomarenko's "Hello Dolly" OSP was well received by judges and audience alike, giving them the nod over Blumberg and Seibert. The late McCall, who with Wilson delivered a more ballroom version of the dance, remarked "We're satisfied; we're moving up, but it's a slow move. It's like the tortoise and the hare. But, if all things had stayed the same, we would have been fifth this year, not fourth. Only one couple (Olympic champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of Britain) above us retired, remember.''

Bestemianova and Bukin's "Carmen" was regarded by many as the finest free dance of their eligible career and it was that program that earned them thirteen 5.9's and two 6.0's (the only two sixes awarded at the World Championships in 1985) and their first World title. In "Tracings" magazine in 1985, Frank Loeser described B&B's "Carmen" as "a frenzy of movement, the least dominant feature being the carving, gliding edge that traditionalists so seek. Conventional ice dance steps pop up in this Soviet pair's programs as though in parentheses - as traditional passages between extended poses, crossovers and perilous toe-runs... [Natalia's] performing ferocity makes her a terror to be subdued... Gloomy Bukin can appear as the perfect nemesis, a malevolent force accepting the challenge of a red-head fury." Mixed opinions on this controversial dance have remained persistent over the years... and for the record, I love it. Lynn Copley-Graves makes an excellent point in her description: "Andrei's brooding, ominous presence, heightened by medieval shoulder extensions on his costume, and Natalia's anguished facial and body language permeated the rink right up to the rafters, such that her death on his knee seemed the climax of an exorcism. 'Carmen' was B&B's 'Barnum' - as potent in its imagery as the circus theme of [Torvill and Dean] and as worthy as 6.0's in its deviation from pure dance as was the circus program. In later years, the free dances of B&B would become more traditional, less thematic, retaining the energy of 'Carmen' but rehashing the movement type, lacking the power of plot and innovation of the successor to 'Barnum', 'Bolero'. 'Carmen' was B&B's apotheosis, their mark on the evolution of ice dance that allowed them a place alongside [Towler and Ford's] 'Zorba' and 'Barnum' in the Free Dance Hall of Fame."

Klimova and Ponomarenko's Latin American free dance was well skated and enough for the silver, but a far cry from their later work. Blumberg and Seibert, skating their "Fire And Ice" free dance remained in third, and like B&B, critics seemed to either love the program or hated it. It was a more athletic, edgy performance than their "Scheherazade" free dance, and in "Tracings" magazine, Mary Clarke lampooned the piece, saying it was "nearly a parody on what has been used to excess by other couples." Wilson and McCall, skating a quieter, elegant program to "Movements" by André Gagnon, delivered (in the eyes of the Canadian press) an effort more deserving of bronze. I actually liked both. Perhaps one of the most underrated free dances of the event (and season) was Karen Barber and Nicky Slater's "Dragon Dance". Despite their effort which was extremely well received by the audience, they remained in sixth behind West German's Petra Born and Rainer Schönborn, who were criticized widely that season for lifts that pushed the limits of legality in their "Slow Dancing In The Big City" free dance. Free dancing in 1985 was at the height of scrutiny following Torvill and Dean's "Bolero" the year before and as teams slowly started testing the waters and pushing boundaries, many started to question the direction of ice dance going forward. At the conclusion of the event, a meeting of coaches and ISU officials addressed the acrobatic direction ice dance was headed in, and it was made very clear that while theatrics were in, acrobatics were out. In the years to come, teams (as we well know) continued to push and the judges pushed back.

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

Monday, 16 November 2015

From Carnations To Kale: The Curious History Of Figure Skating's Flower Throwing Tradition

The tradition of throwing flowers on the ice at figure skating competitions was actually predated by the tradition of throwing shade. Back in the day, when things were being thrown, they were usually directed at the judges. At the 1952 World Championships in Paris, an unruly audience threw bottles at a judge who gave Jacqueline du Bief, who fell twice, a perfect 6.0. Four years later in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, when Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt controversially defeated Canadians Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, oranges were their weapon of choice.

But where did the tradition of throwing flowers to the skaters start? Perhaps inspired by the centuries old Japanese tradition of throwing clothing in tribute to Dengaku performers, for centuries it has been a long standing custom in the theater and dance worlds to throw flowers to artists that moved audiences. A wonderful 2012 article by Judith Mackrell from The Guardian explains that it was "a tradition apparently started by a man who bought boxes of old or spoiled blooms at markets, carried them to the top of the theatre, and then, with the help of other fans, threw them down on to the stage. Other fans threw flowers from the stalls, often weighted with lead or Plasticine to give a better aim. These cascades of carnations, daffodils and roses (depending on the season) would form a carpet at the dancers' feet." Theater directors hated it. The practice of throwing flowers to performers was actually banned in Viennese theaters in the nineteenth century as 'an intolerable nuisance.' The December 11, 1886 issue of The Garden asserted that English theatres were considering doing the same and that "thirty years ago, it is said, the directors of the Imperial theatres at St. Petersburg had a serious conference with Count Orloff as to the expediency of abolishing the offering of bouquets over the footlights." In addition to being a fire hazard with the gas lit lamps, these flower bouquets often contained jewels offered to female performers with the expectation of 'something more' in return. Scandalous!

As skating became more recognized for its artfulness and more competitions were held indoors in large stadiums, European audiences in the fifties and sixties started throwing flowers to skaters. It caught on in North America and blossomed as a part of the skating zeitgeist. Florists made a killing and soon the bundles of roses became too much for the skaters to gather on their own as they awaited their marks. Competitions got delayed; people tripped on rose petals more than their toe picks. Something had to be done. Enter the flower children.

These unheralded youngsters were more often than not young skaters from the cities in which competitions were held and hand picked by local organizing committees of events. Many top skaters got their first taste of the big leagues by picking up flowers. Among the list of former flower children? Olympic Silver Medallist Liz Manley was a flower girl at 1978 World Championships in Ottawa. Flower retrievers have increased in numbers over the years. At the Innsbruck Olympics, four young girls helped Dorothy Hamill gather flowers thrown by a crowd of nine thousand people. By the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, there were dozens.

But these kids weren't just picking up roses and carnations. Skaters have been showered with flowers, enormous plush toys, love letters, books and candy over the years. Katarina Witt received a Rolex watch; Jeffrey Buttle a Louis Vuitton bag. In a January 21, 2010 interview with ESPN, two time Olympic Silver Medallist Elvis Stojko claimed, "I've had lingerie thrown on the ice before. I remember at one competition the panties came out on the ice after my short program and the top came out the next night after the long program, with a phone number and name attached." After performing prior to a minor league hockey game in Reno, Nevada in 1997, Tonya Harding was thrown flowers... and collapsible batons.

Debi Thomas quipped that she wished people would throw pizza pie instead of flowers. She got her wish at the 1987 World Championships in Cincinnati. American Open Champion Doug Mattis told me, "I told her to look for me so I could get on TV. She came over and I handed her a full-on Domino's pizza, in box." No anchovies, extra cheese and to the kiss and cry in thirty minutes or less. Mattis recalled, "One year ('83, I think), they tied fishing wire to a bouquet of flowers and when (maybe it was?) Jill Watson went to go pick them up, they yanked them away from her. Another time someone built a three foot tall Energizer Bunny, put it on skates, and slid the thing past Holly Cook while she took a bow after her free skate."

It was all fun and games until skating officials stepped in. In 1988, the USFSA started discouraging the throwing of flowers onto the ice and cited the image the sport projected as part of the reason. Hugh Graham promised that "the TV interview area in competitions that we control will project a sporting image rather than a frilly flower garden." The delays of flower cleanup and hazards of foreign objects on the ice led organizers of the 1989 U.S. Championships to ban the selling of flowers at the Baltimore Arena. Fans responded by simply visiting their friendly neighbourhood florist on their way to the rink.

The boom of skating's popularity in the nineties meant more flower showers than ever before. At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, the flower children were instructed to "take lemon-flavoured cod-liver oil every day. And don't forget to smile", scan the ice for errant bobby pins, jewelry and sequins and return the skaters skate guards with "a grand bow." The skaters, aged seven to eleven, were hand-picked for their jobs by a German skater living in Norway named Heidi Vermond.

In 1996, the USFSA tried to bill organizers of the Riders Ladies Figure Skating Championships for a "sanction fee" of one thousand dollars per flower child for any skater who was a member of a USFSA club skating on to the ice to retrieve flowers at a professional competition. The organizers of the professional competition balked at the amateur organization's outrageous fee, countered one hundred dollars and then replaced the flower retrievers with skaters who weren't USFSA members. In the March 9, 1997 issue of the Eugene Register, Morry Stillwell said of the drama: "While somebody may feel that a little kid, five little kids, are not worth the difference between $100 and $1000, that's the way it is. I feel there is a moral responsibility to help develop the sport."

By the late nineties, the shift of federations and event organizers to 'encourage' fans to throw plush toys was in full swing. If flowers were to be thrown, they had to be fully wrapped in cellophane and taped up right some good. Safety first, right? Not so much. In 2008, legendary coach Frank Carroll got bopped in the head with a large stuffed penguin after Evan Lysacek's short program at the U.S. Championships in St. Paul Minnesota. In his interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman Skatecast, he said, "Actually, the one at Nationals was really dangerous because it had a recorder in it. It spoke or sang or did something and you know, the boy standing next to me was the Razzano boy from Phoenix and he had to skate right after Evan, so when Evan came off this thing flew down and luckily it hit me instead of him but you know, it really dazed me and I had to go to the medical afterwards." Not even an injury to the coach of Michelle Kwan could stop skating fans from chucking everything that wasn't nailed down.

Kale me crazy but I think the reigning World Champions might win the 'crazy things thrown on the ice' contest in recent years. Meagan Duhamel told me she "got a bundle of kale thrown on the ice last year at Canadians. I also got a jar of peanut butter many years ago." Not to be outdone, Eric Radford recalled being thrown "a six-foot long homemade stuffed snake!"

For a sneak peek into the world of flying projectiles, I headed over to the Scotiabank Centre today for the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships Flower Retriever Auditions. At the event, thirty skaters from the ages of nine to thirteen from local skating clubs auditioned for a minimum of twenty spots for 'flower retrievers' at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships which will take place from January 18 to 24 here in Halifax. Skaters had applied online through a call for volunteers on Skate Canada's website. If they met the criteria, they were invited to today's tryouts.


An hour long process evaluated the skills of the skaters and their suitability through circuit exercises. Three judges made the difficult decision of who to select. I spoke to Jill Knowles, who has been the Executive Director of Skate Canada Nova Scotia since 2003 about the process. "They are looking for skating skills," she explained. "When we are live on TV, the skaters have to be very, very proficient. They have to be able to skate well, gather the flowers, stuffed animals and all those things in really quick succession. They also have to sit quick quietly when they're not in use because there is a lot of dead time where it will be interesting for them to watch the skaters, but they will have to sit quietly and behave themselves." We talked about how this really was a once in a lifetime experience for many of these young skaters. Jill explained that the "age window to be a flower retriever is quite small. The last time Canadians were hosted here was 2007. In 2007, many of these children wouldn't have even been in school yet, let alone skating. By the time we have Canadians here again or another international event they will probably be too old to be doing it at that point in time." As for crazy things thrown on the ice in Halifax, Knowles remembered Craig Buntin being thrown Tim Hortons coffee.

When the ice at the Dartmouth Sportsplex was littered with red roses after the last figures in international competition were skated here at the 1990 World Championships, it was probably one of the few times that school figures were ever rewarded with a flower toss. You honestly just never know what will happen in Halifax, home to some of the most lively skating audiences in Canada. Why don't you come find out for yourself? Tickets are on sale to the 2015 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships now!

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

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Move Over Mary Poppins: Ellen Dallerup, The Skating Zeppelin

Practically perfect in every way, Julie Andrews delighted as the nanny who flew around via umbrella in the 1964 film "Mary Poppins". She wasn't the first one to fly in the air and delight audiences though. Skaters had been doing it for decades... and the one we're going to focus on today is Ellen Dallerup, a contemporary and cast mate of Charlotte Oelschlägel who in her own way made a quite an impression on audiences in her day.

The Danish born Dallerup performed alongside Charlotte in the ice ballets that were part of the massive "Hip, Hip Hooray" and "The Big Show" productions at New York City's Hippodrome Theatre. Like Charlotte, Dallerup was discovered by New York City theatrical producer Charles Dillingham as a performer in the early twentieth century Eisballets at Admiralspalast in Germany, which were essentially combinations of pantomime and musical comedy acted out on ice skates. Although Charlotte became the big star, Dallerup too earned her own following in these shows. The February 13, 1916 edition of The Oregonian praises Dallerup highly: "Hilda Rueckert and Ellen Dallerup share with Charlotte the titles of 'Queen of the Ice.' While Miss Dallerup goes further and is 'Queen of the Film Ice Skaters', acting for the Paramount Pictures as mannequin for their swell skating costumes, and giving a few sample glides and curves. If the skill as well as the costume showed upon the screen, dressmakers could ask fabulous prices for the wonderful creations designed for ice skating." Furthermore, the September 9, 1916 Brooklyn Life review of "The Big Show" compares Charlotte with Dallerup: "There probably never was a woman skater of so much feminine charm combined with so much masculine agility and muscular strength, but in grace of execution she is surpassed by Ellen Dallerup."

Dallerup continued to gain attention in her next gig, a production with the Canadian vaudeville group The Six Brown Brothers called "Jack o'Lantern". This too was a show produced by Dillingham and it played both in Philadelphia at the Forrest Theatre and on Broadway at The Globe. The show was again a mixed music/acting/skating hodge podge and was well received by critics. Circus performer Fred Stone even learned to skate specifically for this production. The book "That Moaning Saxophone : The Six Brown Brothers and the Dawning of a Musical" by Bruce Vermazen describes the show's grand finale and Dallerup's big moment in detail: "A snowstorm is falling on an ice rink that covers most of the stage. Costumed in 'blue silk set off with white fur', a beautiful young woman (Ellen Dallerup during the 1918-19 season, Katie Smith the following year) enters, a marvelously graceful and brilliant skater who pirouettes and whirls all over the ice, who dances and leaps and glides as though skating was the easiest and most natural game in the world."

After stints in a couple of other American shows, she returned to Europe and skated with Phil Taylor, a notable speed skater and Ice Capades stilt skating performer in St. Moritz, Switzerland. At one point during her early career, she even skated with a prop zeppelin attached to her, as pictured above. As I said before, move over Mary Poppins! Later Dallerup turned to coaching in Great Britain and was actually the second coach of four time World Champion Jean Westwood! Although I was able to find little more about Dallerup's later life, if she flew through life with the grace with which she appears to have skated, I'm sure she passed life's tests with FLYING colors.

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

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Roots Of Trophée Éric Bompard

As the Grand Prix action continues to heat up with the fourth stop on the six part competition tour in Bordeaux, France, one might be a tad curious about the origins and history of this competition. Although France had certainly been home to many major figure skating competitions - Olympics, World, European and World Junior Championships aplenty over the years in fact - earlier in the country's skating history other invitational competitions such as the Grand Prix St. Gervais and the Morzine Trophy were the most prominent annual international competitions France boasted.

In response to the other more prominent invitationals being offered at the time like Skate Canada, Skate America, NHK Trophy, Novarat Trophy in Hungary, Ennia Challenge Cup in Holland and St. Ivel in England, France decided to get in on the game in 1987 by introducing the Lalique Trophy. Although good ol' Wikipedia refers to this event in its early years as the 'Grand Prix International de Paris' all primary sources indicate it was indeed called the Lalique Trophy (or Trophée Lalique) until 1994, when the Trophée Lalique name was briefly lended to a professional competition in France that was judged by a live audience, similar to The Great Skate Debate and Rowenta Masters On Ice professional competitions later in the nineties professional skating boom. During this time period, the amateur event was known for two years as Trophée de France, resuming its use Trophée Lalique name from 1996 to 2003. In 2004, when cashmere company Éric Bompard took over from the Lalique glassware company as the title sponsor, the name officially changed. The event, of course, has been a mainstay of the Grand Prix from its early days as The Champions Series until now.

The winner of the first Lalique Trophy women's title in November 1987 was none other than Jill Trenary. After winning the school figures, The Palm Beach Post on November 14, 1987 noted that "The U.S. Champion had marks of 5.2 to 5.8 for her two-minute program with seven basic free skating moves. Skating to 'Irma La Douce', she had a difficult triple flip-double toe combination in her exercise that counted for 20 percent of the total score. with today's final free program left, she had 1.0 ordinals." Maintaining a strong lead after winning the short program and surviving a fall in her free skate to easily topple France's Agnès Gosselin and West Germany's Patricia Neske. Canada's Diane Takeuchi was fourth with 5.2 points and another Canadian, Lyndsay Fedosoff of Mississauga, Ontario, was sixth. In the pairs event in 1987, the brother/sister team of Natalie and Wayne Seybold of the U.S. held onto their short program lead over the Soviet pair of Julya Bystrova and Alexander Tarasov to take the title. Lauren Collin of Burlington, Ontario and John Penticost of Chateuaguay, Quebec finished third in both the short and long programs to take the bronze medal. In the men's event, Petr Barna outskated Angelo D'Agostino of the U.S. and Great Britain's Paul Robinson for the gold, with St. Bruno's Jaimee Eggleton in fifth and Port Moody, B.C. native Brad McLean in seventh. The ice dance winners were Italians Lia Trovati and Roberto Pelizzola with Susie Wynne and Joseph Druar in second and France's Corinne Paliard and Didier Courtois in third. A young Evgeni Platov finished fourth with then partner Larisa Fedorinova and Canada's only entry, Kim Weeks of Calgary and Curtis Moore of Wingham, Ontario, finished in a disappointing seventh and last place.

Over the years, so many wonderful moments have taken place at this competition. For instance, in November 1989, Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko made history when they won the bronze medal at Trophée Lalique. In doing so, they won Finland's first ever ice dance medal in any international competition. The winner of the women's event that year was Surya Bonaly.

The event has also been the source of many major upsets. In 1995, Josée Chouinard beat the reigning World Champion Lu Chen. Two years later, it was Laetitia Hubert's turn to unseat another reigning World Champion, Tara Lipinski. Past winners read like a who's who of figure skating: Kurt Browning, Michelle Kwan, Yuna Kim, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, Ilia Kulik, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Paul Wylie, Joannie Rochette, Todd Eldredge, Artur Dmitriev with both of his partners, Alexei Yagudin, Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, Evgeni Plushenko, Jeffrey Buttle, Patrick Chan, Mao Asada... that's just the tip of the iceberg. With a formidable who's who crew (see what I did there?) in Bordeaux this week, perhaps it's high time some new names got added to that prestigious list. Don't think for a second skating history isn't in the making. It is every day.

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

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Soldiering On: Inspiring Skaters From World War I and II

In the 2013 Skate Guard blog "Finding Peace On The Ice: Figure Skating And World War II", we first explored some of the figure skating connections to the second World War. From the stories of Hanni Sondheim Vogelweit to Freddie Tomlins to Anne Frank, the horrors that were World War I and II continue to pop up time and time again. They have swooped in almost like some inescapable tornado without notice whenever I go to research new topics to write about.... and there's no doubt in my mind they will continue to. As we remember this Remembrance Day, let us look back on yet more stories of inspiring wartime skaters. Lest we forget.


In 1963, John Sturges' film "The Great Escape" was nominated for both Academy and Golden Globe Awards. It was based on Paul Brickhill's 1950 book of the same name, which was also adapted to television in a 1951 episode of The Philco Television Playhouse. "The Great Escape" told the story of the daring and dramatic escape of British and Commonwealth prisoners of war from a German POW Camp in what is now Poland during World War II. The real life "Great Escape" from Stalag Luft III took place overnight from March 24 to 25, 1944 and saw seventy seven men make their way through tunnels dug by the prisoners to initial freedom from the POW Camp. It was one of the most extensively and thoroughly planned escapes in history. Unfortunately, the final man to crawl through the tunnel was spotted by the Germans and surrendered and seventy three of the seventy six who escaped were later recapatured, fifty of which were executed. Sadly, one of those escapees who was caught and killed by the Nazis was a skater.

Albert Horace Hake was a twenty seven year old Warrant Officer from Sydney who served in the No. 72 Squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force. Jonathan F. Vance's book "A Gallant Company: The Men Of The Great Escape" explained that "early in 1940 Al's life received a boost thanks to an outing at a local ice-skating rink. A friend from work introduced him to a striking brunette named Noela Horsfall, and Al was instantly taken by her gay smile and cheery eyes. They started going out together and spent every weekend hiking, surfing or picnicking. More frequently, though, they returned to the skating rink where they had first met. On March 1, 1941, they were married." Having enlisted on January 4, 1941, Albert and Noela's wedding actually occurred on a four day leave from his training. On his enlistment papers, he actually listed skating as one of his sporting pursuits, according to David Edlington's article "The Great Crime" in the official newspaper of the Royal Australian Air Force.

Hake actually played an integral part in the masterminding of The Great Escape as he was the brains behind the compass-making operation. He manufactured two hundred compasses all bearing the false inscription "Made in Stalag Luft III. Patent pending." for the men to use once they had escaped from the tunnels, so they would not be shot as spies if recaptured. Unfortunately, after escaping, the ice he so loved to skate on actually came back to haunt him and he suffered severe frostbite after soldiering on through the snowy landscape before he was recaptured by The Gestapo not far from Sagan, where the POW Camp was located.

According to Edlington's article, Hake was seen "hobbling with a group of prisoners and a Gestapo escort to a black car outside the Gorlitz civilian prison on March 30. The man renowned for lively renditions of songs, including Waltzing Matilda, on guitar at Stalag Luft III, was never seen alive again." Hake was murdered on March 31, 1944 by Gestapo Chief Dr Wilhelm Scharpwinkel and his associate Lux, cremated at Gorlitz and is buried at Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery in Wielkopolskie, Poland. The courage and ingenuity this young man showed in thinking not only of his own self-preservation but of the dozens of other men plotting their escape was profoundly human and one can only hope that Hake and his wife Noela who passed away in 2004 are now Waltzing Matilda on the ice of The Other Side.


Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee's book "And If I Perish: Frontline U.S. Army Nurses in World War II" retells the story of an unnamed skater who served in the second war whose misfortune seemed to continue while recovering from the injuries he sustained on the frontline: "About a week later, one of the ambulatory patients, a large, red-haired man who had been a professional ice skater in civilian life and had lost one of his legs in combat, decided to take Glant for a ride in his wheelchair. The two went visiting around the Quonset huts but got bogged down in the rocks and gravel between the metal buildings. They finally flagged down some help, were retrieved from the rocks, and returned safely to their own ward." The book explains that the man named Glant that the skater was taking out for a ride was Private Berchard Lamar Glant, a man whose arm was amputated after he suffered gangrene from his wounds. His wounds had apparently been so severe that he was counted among the DEAD when he was transported from the Mussolini Canal to the hospital by medics by jeep.


Winning her World title in 1937 may have been one of the biggest bright spots in the life of 1936 Olympic Silver Medallist Cecilia Colledge but what happened next had to have been one of the scariest. During World War II, she drove an ambulance in the Motor Transport Corps during The London Blitz (which killed forty to forty three thousand people) and saved many lives undoubtedly in the process... although there was one she couldn't. Her 2008 New York Times obituary explains "(she) drove a civilian ambulance in London during the blitz, and her brother, Maule, became a flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. He never returned from a September 1943 mission over Berlin. Colledge became a pro skater in the late 1940s, appearing in ice shows, then settled in the United States, coaching elite athletes at the Skating Club of Boston from 1952 to 1977. She never married and had no immediate survivors. Long after the war years, Colledge evidently remained tormented by the loss of her brother in combat. Asked once if she would return to Britain, she replied, according to The Independent newspaper, 'There was nothing left for me there except unhappy memories.' She sometimes wore a brooch designed from Royal Air Force wings willed to her by a colleague of her brother's who also died in World War II."

Despite the evidence of her own grief, Colledge never wavered in her dedication to leaving figure skating better than she found it. She coached in Massachusetts until 1995, among her many students U.S. Champions Ron Ludington and Lorraine Hanlon.


British nurse Edith Louisa Cavell was British and was a pioneer of nursing in Belgium who once said "I can't stop while there are lives to be saved". When World War I broke out, her nursing facility became a Red Cross hospital. She is remembered for her dedication to caring for both Allied and Axis soldiers without discrimination and helping around two hundred Allied soldiers escape from Belgium (which was occupied by Germany at the time). Her brave effort sadly cost her her life. She was tried for treason and sentenced to death by firing squad on October 12, 1915. The History's Heroes website explains that "When Edith was a girl, one of her favourite winter pastimes was ice skating. There was a moat behind the church where the Cavell sisters and brother would skate when it froze - and Edith had also been seen skating down by the ford at Intwood." Fittingly, Mount Edith Cavell in Jasper, Alberta overlooks Pyramid Lake, a popular outdoor skating spot for tourists and locals alike.


Melitta Anderman and her husband
As a singles skater, Austria's Melitta Brunner won the bronze medal at the 1929 World Championships. However, her biggest success was arguably her Olympic bronze at the 1928 Winter Olympics in pairs skating with Ludwig Wrede. Together, the pair won another three World medals to boot. However, ANOTHER Melitta's story is every bit as impressive. Melitta Anderman was born in 1929 in Vienna (the year Brunner won medals in both ladies and pairs skating at Worlds) and was the only daughter of a well-to-do Jewish haberdasher and his wife. Her family all managed to survive the World War II annexing of Austria by Nazi Germany and flee to the U.S. with their lives, despite her father being arrested and spending time in the Dachau concentration camp for a year. In her "Viennese Memoirs" on file with the Leo Baeck Institute's Center For Jewish History, Melitta describes her skating connections: "My best after school times were spent with my mother skating in the Wiener Eislaufverein (Vienna's largest ice skating rink which is now adjacent to the Intercontinental Hotel). For whatever reasons, my mother named me after a popular Viennese ice skater, Melitta (Bruner). Though I was no figure skater, I loved the feeling of gliding on the ice and was pretty good. I participated in a skating festival and again had a chance to wear my snowflake costume. My mother also had her a little excitement there when she broke an arm during one of our afternoons on the ice." Like in Anne Frank's story, Anderman related that "Jewish discrimination laws came out overnight. We were no longer allowed to go to public parks, theatres, movies and any congregation was forbidden." This included skating. The enthusiastic skater describes Kristallnacht in November 1938, her father's arrest, the loss of their home and scarcity of food and her mother being detained and later released while the family was onboard a train to Paris. She started a new life in New York City with the Metropolitan Opera Society and married a pharmacist. They now call Manhattan home. She concluded her memoirs by saying "I thought the past was gone and a new shiny world would rise around me. I tried that for over fifty years. I also thought I had no scars but I am riddled with them. But this is all part of who I am, where I come from and where I'm going - I presume that's life." Want to hear Melitta's entire story in her own words? A wonderful audio interview with her from 2012 can be listened to here. I think you'll find her candor and story just amazing... and you'll never guess her husband's name: Ludwig!


Speed skater, barrel jumper, stilt-skater and showman Phil Taylor served in the Canadian Army during World War I. Returning from service with a partially amputated leg, the Saskatoon Public Library's records tell us that like JUST LIKE fellow skater and Saskatchewan native Norman A. Falkner whose story we visited in the third episode of the Axels In The Attic series, "he continued his figure skating and was considered the 'best fancy skater in Saskatoon'. Like Falkner, Taylor was successful in parlaying his athletic prowess into a career as a 'show skater' despite the obstacle of having to overcome the loss of a leg. He was still performing his one-man show at the Dreamland Rink in San Francisco around 1947. He later married an Australian and moved to Australia, and thereafter kept on skating." With a prosthetic leg, Taylor toured with Ice Capades and performed regularly in ice shows with his daughter. He was also one of, if not the first, professional skaters to perform an exhibition at an amateur competition when he stilt-skated at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.


In her memoir "Memories of the Crystal Night", Holocaust survivor and psychotherapist Dr. Ursula Falk shares her painful story from World War II: "With the help of my beloved mother, 'ole vescholom', my father escaped to Belgium by night and fog. We fled to Breslau with my two siblings, ages two and eleven. There we lived in a cold apartment with my single aunt. Again, because of my Mom's courage and exceptional faith and intelligence, to say nothing of her generosity, she assisted my two cousins to escape the country. One took his new bride to Sweden, the other went with skis to Czechoslovakia and from there to Israel (then called Palestine). The landlady in the apartment, an avid Nazi, took the one toy, a pair of skates, and blackmailed us for the last possessions we had. Nazi SS came armed with swords on Kristallnacht and ran their sabers through the couch and stuffed chairs looking for 'weapons', of which we had none. They held me out of a multi storied window and threatened to toss me out of it. For some unknown reason the one Nazi pulled me back inside. Children were screaming out of other windows and I held my breath and could not look. My voice was stilled within me. Previous to these horrors I had already been raped by an unsavory Nazi criminal who rode his bicycle into the apartment downstairs hallway and stilled my voice with stuffing a dirty handkerchief in my mouth. From a distance the next day we saw fires and learned that Jewish books (any book written by Jewish authors) were being burned in the streets. The smoke and flames seemed to be reaching the heavens. We must never, never forget Kristallnacht and the everlasting destruction and death that followed! Shalom u’vracha." Being blackmailed over a pair of ice skates is nothing compared to the horrors that Falk endured, and one can only admire her determination through her words and profession to help others. It's astounding.

Each of these stories has one thing in common... the fact that (with the exception of Cavell, who sadly didn't make it out of the war alive) these people fought through their hardships and persevered, just like all great skaters do. Whether we skate or not, there's a lesson in that we all too easily seem to forget. The world may be cruel at times, but whatever it may throw our way we have it in our hearts to soldier on and keep on living.

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

Monday, 9 November 2015

Ethel Muckelt: The Oldest Olympic Figure Skating Medallist In History

Many unique stories colour the fabric of figure skating's history but perhaps none so literally as Ethel Muckelt. Born May 30, 1885, Ethel was the youngest daughter of John Muckelt and his wife Mary Ann (Hanway). She had two older brothers (John and Richard), four older sisters (Bertha, Annie, Edith and Lily) and two younger brothers (Frank and Harold). Although it's incredibly hard to wrap your head around that having that many mouths to feed, the 1891 UK Census tells us that the family lived at 112 Edge Lane, Stretford in Manchester, England. Manchester's wealth was actually built on the textile industry and Ethel Muckelt's family were right at the center of that boom. Out of their home, Standish House, John Muckelt ran Logan, Muckelt & Co. and manufactured and exported indigo blue dyes and printers for the African textile market.

By age fifteen, Ethel was living in a boarding school in Heaton Norris Parish, Manchester and while she studied, developed an interest in figure skating. Honing her craft at the Manchester Ice Palace in Cheetham Hill, her life would have changed drastically when her father passed away in 1904 at the age of fifty seven and her two oldest brothers were forced to take over the family business. However, the 1911 UK Census tells us that Ethel continued to live comfortably in Sale, Cheshire (not far from Manchester) and focus attention on skating. She benefited from geography. Manchester's rink was the only one open in England during World War I as many were converted to munitions factories or used for other war work. The famous Westminster Ice Rink wouldn't reopen until 1927 and living in Sale would have absolutely offered her training opportunities other skaters in England wouldn't have had at the time.

Ethel Muckelt and Kathleen Shaw

Although she competed regularly in singles competitions at home in England (her main competition being Kathleen Shaw), NISA historian Elaine Hooper asserts that "although Ethel did skate singles, we regard her as a pairs skater." Her first international competition was indeed in pairs. She finished fifth with Sidney Wallwork at the 1920 Summer Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium at the age of thirty four. When that partnership dissolved, she entered the 1923 World Figure Skating Championships in Vienna, finishing in last place behind Herma Planck-Szabo and Gisela Reichmann of Austria and Sweden's Svea Norén. One would think that in her late thirties, Ethel would have been discouraged and give up but this she was actually just getting started.

This late bloomer forged a partnership with John Page and entered the pairs event at the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France. They finished just off the podium finish in fourth but earned their only first place vote from British judge Herbert Yglesias. No national bias there! Ethel wasn't done there. She entered the women's competition as well and won the Olympic bronze medal behind Planck-Szabo and American Beatrix Loughran. Her medal win was absolutely credited to her top three finish in the school figures, as she finished seventh of the eight competitors in free skating. In all credit to her ability as a free skater though, if you compare the video of her free skating performance in Chamonix to her pairs performance with Page, it's like watching two different skaters. She seemed far more polished and at ease skating pairs. In fact, at the 1924 World Championships, Muckelt and Page had the best international result of their career together in winning the silver medal, receiving praise from none other than T.D. Richardson for their fine shadow skating.

Ethel Muckelt and John Page

Ethel's last appearance at the World Championships as a singles skater was in 1925. Finishing a disappointing fifth, she focused her attention entirely on her pairs career with Page. Together, they won the Johnson Trophy for pairs skating in England (donated by two time World Champions James and Phyllis Johnson) an incredible nine times together while Page continued to skate singles with varying success. However, T.D. Richardson told an amusing anecdote about Ethel's partner: "He was an extremely fine school figure-skater, but he had absolutely no musical ear at all the sort of man who has to be told to stand up when the National Anthem is being played. While this was undoubtedly a great handicap he was, on the whole, badly treated by Continental and World judges. I had him first on my card at Davos in 1927, when he was the only skater who did not fall at least once most of them, including the winner, were tumbling about in the high wind and driving snow. But nothing could disturb Jack Page, and as Böckl the winner himself said afterwards: 'If ever anyone deserved the title Jack did so on that occasion.'"

After finishing sixth at the 1926 World Championships, Muckelt and Page reappeared at the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland. By this time, Page was twenty eight and Ethel forty two years of age. The 1948 book "Olympic Story: The Definitive Story of the Olympic Games from Their Revival in 1896; Illustrated with an Appendix of Results and Records" by Ernest A. Bland notes of their performance that "Ethel Muckelt and J.F. Page, skated extremely well without a single mistake and at great speed. With any luck they should have been higher than seventh." However, seventh of thirteen teams was where the duo unfortunately ended up. Perhaps the most special moment of their careers came that year at the World Championships in London, when they finished fourth and skated in front of the King and Queen of England. The July 3, 1928 issue of the Cumberland Argus And Fruitgrowers Advocate notes that "when they appeared they were enthusiastically applauded" by the royals. An interesting anecdote from that particular competition came from this very same article, which noted that after the competition concluded, Page, Maribel Vinson-Owen, Sonja Henie and Willy Böckl teamed up to give an exhibition of fours skating for the audience and dignitaries present.

Although those 1928 World Championships were the last time Ethel Muckelt would compete internationally, she continued to compete (and win) domestically in pairs skating with Page into the thirties. After living in Timperley (also not far from Manchester), she moved to the affluent area of Altrincham in Greater Manchester and became a national and international level skating judge. Among her international assignments were the 1939 World Figure Skating Championships held in Budapest, Hungary just months before World War II broke out.

Fabric samples from Logan, Muckelt & Co.

The war obviously slowed her judging career, but her family's business survived, selling both dyes and dress fabric in West Africa both during after the war. In fact, we know from an October 4, 1960 issue of the Kenya Gazette that her family's business continued to operate in Nairobi well into the sixties. However, after surviving the horrific air raids of The Manchester Blitz, Ethel passed away a "spinster" (according to the England & Wales, National Probate Calendar Index of Wills and Administrations, 1858-1966) on December 13, 1953 at the age of sixty eight at the General Hospital in Altrincham. She remains to this day at the age of thirty eight, the oldest Olympic medallist in figure skating history in any discipline.

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