Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Return To Open Pro Competitions (Part 4: The Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships)

Like the U.S. Open Professional Figure Skating Championships, World Pro Championships in Jaca, Spain and American Open Professional Figure Skating Championships featured in parts one, two and three of this article back in 2013, the early eighties series of Canadian Professional Championships were yet another open professional competition that afforded skaters of all backgrounds and resumes the chance to artistically express themselves in a competitive setting and gain more exposure, some prize money and polish up their competitive resumes. Let's take a trip down memory lane and look at the importance, impact and relevance of the Canadian Pro event:


CANADIAN PROFESSIONAL FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS (version 1.0)

With eighteen entries in the ladies event alone at the 1979 World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain, the Figure Skating Coaches Association of Canada (which was then basically Canada's answer to the PSA), decided to organize the first of two competitions called the Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships. We looked at the Candid Productions nineties event in the 2013 blog linked earlier, but today we're going to go old school.

It all began in 1980 when the Figure Skating Coaches Association of Canada booked the Scarborough Centennial Centre for a weekend in January to hold the very first Canadian Pro Championships as part of a selection process for the Jaca World Pro. Then-chairman Gordon Crossland told reporter Sidney Shapira that "we had to hold a national championship. We had so many girls who wanted to go to the worlds. We're the first country to hold a national championship." He was incorrect as England had actually held its own national professional competition many times previously, but Canada did beat the U.S. to the punch in this respect by a year. Competitors in singles and pairs performed both a technical program similar to the short program with required elements and an artistic program and interestingly, ice dancers performed traditional COMPULSORY dances in addition to their artistic program. School figures were not included and judging was on a 10.0 scale. In the inaugural event, the medal winners were Weston's Ken Polk, Ste. Foy, Quebec's Raymond Naismith and Scarborough's Jack Frizelle in the men's event and Toronto's Carol Farmer Wright, Scarborough's Elizabeth Purtle and Toronto's Diane Hunt. All were offered spots at the Jaca event that April. The following year, medallists included Ron Shaver, Lynn Nightingale, Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee and Judie Jeffcott and Keith Swindlehurst.

Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee's jacket from the 1981 event, which her daughters use to skate in today!

When the Labatt's ProSkate series gained popularity, it complicated matters with regards to using the Canadian Pro event to decide on skaters for the Jaca World Pro. In fact, two time Canadian Champion Heather Kemkaran's win at the 1982 event at the North York Centennial Arena opened the door for OTHERS to compete in Jaca. Michael Cosgrove's March 22 article in The Globe And Mail explained that "usually, the winners would advance to the world professional championships in Jaca, Spain, in early April. But, because Kemkaran, pairs champions Shelly Winters and Keith Davis and dance champs Susan Carscallen and Marty Fulkerth are involved in the Labatts' ProSkate circuit, which starts a four-city Canadian tour in Montreal at the end of the month, none will be competing in Spain." With Kemkaran out, the representatives in Jaca that year among the ladies were silver medallist Carol-Ann Simon, bronze medallist Susan Wilson and fourth place finisher Shelly-Lynn Owen. In the men's event, British Columbia's Henri April edged Ottawa's Jean-Pierre Martin by a mere .15 for the gold.

Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

The competition continued until March 1984, although no prize money was offered to skaters in the fifth and final edition of this incarnation of the Canadian Professional Championships held at Toronto's Varsity Arena. Men's medallists that year were Mitch Giffin, Jack Frizelle and John Knight. In the ladies event, Susan Smith became Canadian Professional Competition in what was her first competition since competing at the 1981 Eastern Divisionals in Ottawa. She bested Gia Guddat, future skating partner of Gary Beacom, and Suzanne Dionne for the title. Ice dance medallists were Karen Taylor and Robert Burk, Marie McNeil-Bowness and Hans Peter Ponikau and Lenore Kay and Danny Sorley. Although they didn't compete in the Toronto event, reigning World Champions Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini were added to the Jaca roster that year, where they won along with other well known Canadian skaters who did not qualify through the event like Brian Pockar, Candy Jones and Don Fraser and Daniel Beland. Even just reading about the confusing process of how skaters "got selected based on the results of the qualifying round" but other skaters were added or removed reminded me instantly of the equally confusing Challenge/Masters Cup problem at the U.S. Open that reached a head in 1997 when skaters who won the Challenge Cup like France's Axel Médéric were ultimately excluded from the Masters Cup round "due to their scores". Even open professional competitions appear to have had their own politics.

In 1985 and 1986, the Jaca World Professional Championships were not held. As a result, this qualifying competition was essentially redundant and closed its doors. The Jaca event returned in full force in 1987 and Canadian skaters Daniel Beland, Shaun McGill, Julie Brault, Kelly Johnson, Jonathan Thomas, Micheline Sally and John Coyne all finished in the top three in their respective disciplines. Whether or not an open professional competition in Canada lasted long, it was a thing that indeed happened and I'd personally love to see happen again. I'm looking at you, Gary Beacom who killed it this year at Adult Nationals!

Very special thanks to PJ Kwong, Scott Williams, Doug Mattis, Carole Shulman, Simone Grigorescu-Alexander, Lorna Brown, Anita Hartshorn, Debi Gold, Craig Heath, Georgene Troseth, Pedro Lamelas from Hielo Español, Peter Morrissey from British Ice Teachers Association, Naya Zamborain Mason, Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee, Halifax Public Libraries and others who made this series of articles and research possible! Stay tuned for yet another installment in this series... which will look at the IPSA British/World Professional Championships in Great Britain.

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