Saturday, 6 June 2015

Stenuf Is Stenuf: A Look At Hedy Stenuf Byran's Story

As everyone knows, in Sonja Henie's era a number of ladies posed threats to the Norwegian skater's utter dominance of ladies figure skating but none were able to topple her from the top of the podium. One of those skaters was Austria's Hedy Stenuf and I think you'll find, as I did in researching this blog, her story to be absolutely fascinating.

Stenuf was born in Vienna, Austria and spent her early childhood in ballet slippers instead of ice skates. She passed the Vienna Opera Ballet's test at the age of ten before trading in her slippers for skates at age eleven. After making her international debut at the European and World Championships in 1935, Stenuf interestingly finished second at the 1936 Austrian Championships, sixth as a representative of Austria at the 1936 Winter Olympics... and represented France at the 1936 European Championships.

Her prodigal talent on skates and balletic style caught the eye of Olympic Gold Medallist Karl
Schäfer and he actually took her on as his protégé. While she was still competing, Schäfer brought her along on an exhibition tour in the U.S. and she became familiar to American audiences. After competing for France once again during the 1936/1937 season, Stenuf moved to the U.S. and started representing a THIRD country. Her timing was actually excellent considering that World War II was about to break out in a couple of years and although skating opportunities were minimal in Europe during the war, competitions continued to be held in North America. Representing the U.S., Stenuf won the bronze and silver medals at the 1938 and 1939 World Championships (the last two World Championships to be held prior to the war) and in 1940, she won the silver medal in both singles AND pairs skating (with Skippy Baxter) at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships held in Cleveland, Ohio. Had circumstances have been different and the 1940 Winter Olympics not have been cancelled due to World War II, many felt Stenuf would have been a medal contender at the 1940 Winter Games.

Stenuf and Karl Schäfer. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Instead, Stenuf turned professional in 1940 and starred with Baxter in Sonja Henie and Arthur M. Wirtz' Broadway production "It Happens On Ice" at The Center Theater. Hedy also appeared on Ripley's Believe It Or Not, performing four hundred and seventy six revolutions in a spin. According to pre-production notes for the upcoming Eleanor Perry-Smith project "Hedy And The Secret Shoes", when she was stopped by the Ripley's producers after five minutes of spinning, Stenuf said "but I wasn't finished!"

After her professional skating career winded down, Stenuf turned to coaching and had her own skating studio based in Denver, Colorado in the fifties. She was a well respected coach and a friend to some of skating's greatest luminaries... Dick Button, Barbara Ann Scott and Carlo Fassi among them. According to one of her former students, she was apparently doing the Biellmann spin long before Tamara Moskvina, Karen Iten or Denise Biellmann. Stenuf later moved to Florida and coached at the Sunrise Ice Skating Center in Sunrise, Florida. She passed away on November 7, 2010 at the age of eighty eight in Hallandale, Florida. 

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