Monday, 27 April 2015

The Springfield, Illinois Fat Men's Skating Contest


You read the title of the blog correctly and laughing in the face of political correctness, the Fat Men's Skating Contest was exactly what this unusual and quite well received figure skating competition held on the same year of the Great Chicago Fire occurred. Held in early February of 1871 in Springfield, Illinois' west end, the event was organized by a Mr. Townsend who was the proprietor of the city's rink. Competing for the prize of "a silk tie in the latest cut" were seven competitors, all (how shall I put this?) men of some bearing... Rubenesque, if you will. The crowd at the rink that day was standing room only.

Townsend organized a panel of six judges (all 'eligible young ladies'), arranged for a doctor to be on hand if any of the imposing gentleman skaters injured themselves on the soft ice that day and like something out of a Tonya Harding celebrity boxing match, had all seven men weigh in on a Fairbanks scale and be announced by the city's clerk Frank Fleury. The seven contestants were three hundred and fifty pound B.F. Haines, three hundred and twenty five pound W.M. Grimsley, three hundred and ten pound B.O. Stanley, two hundred and ninety five pound J.A. Nafew, two hundred and ninety pound Martin Hickox, two hundred and eighty five pound James Rayburn and two hundred and fifty pound J.H. Currier.

As described in the February 4, 1871 issue of The New York Clipper, "Mr. Haines was particularly clever in plain work, while in the 'ground stop' feat Nafew excelled all others. The 'long roll' and 'spread eagle' were most admirably performed by Hickox, and Stanley in the 'grape vine' showed considerable skill, as the figures cut upon the ice indicated. Rayburn performed various feats, which showed remarkable nerve and endurance, and Currier gave the 'spread eagle' and competed with Nafew in the 'short stop' feat."

The all female judging panel conferred and decided that the portliest of the competitors, B.F. Haines, was the event's champion. The audience loved it and both Fleury and Haines apparently both gave charming speeches. Haines donated the prize to the benefit of the Home For The Friendless, a local temporary shelter for women and children displaced by the Civil War that was conceived by Reverend Francis Springer, a neighbor of President Abraham Lincoln. At approximately nine o'clock the evening of the competition following the competition and speeches, there was an exhibition by the Ives Brothers and a skating party.


One can scarcely imagine anything called a Fat Men's Skating Contest being held in present day... but this fabulous footnote from figure skating history serves as a reminder in these days of ridiculous body image expectations in figure skating that not now or EVER does any champion skater have to be a size zero. Just sayin!

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