Eighteen countries, sixty seven competitors... the international competition that got its start as an Olympic test event in 1979 - Norton Skate - had by 1986 already transformed itself into one of the most prestigious fall invitational amateur figure skating competitions out there. As we get ready to watch all of the action unfold in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the first stop on the ISU Grand Prix series, let's set our time machines to October 1986 and revisit an earlier edition of this event held at the Cumberland County Civic Centre in Portland, Maine and hosted by the Kennebec Skating Club of Augusta.
Record ticket sales at the time - over twenty six thousand in fact - evidenced the huge popularity of skating at the time on the Eastern seaboard. Nineteen year old Tiffany Chin of Toluca Lake, California (a last minute replacement for World Champion Debi Thomas, who withdrew) took a healthy lead in the school figures and despite winning neither the short program or free skate, coasted to victory over a young skater you might have heard of named Tonya Harding,
Agnès Gosselin of France took the bronze when Patricia Schmidt of Edmonton, Alberta dropped down from third to finish fifth overall. Another Canadian entry in the field of twelve, Pamela Giangualano of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, too dropped from seventh place to eighth overall. In the October 15, 1986 issue of the Bangor Daily News, Chin explained the challenges of competing at the event on such short notice when her long program was in fact not even complete: "We still had six seconds left on the long program when [Mr. Nicks and I] were called. Six seconds that had to be choreographed and worked out. And I thought I had three more weeks to work on stamina."
Although flawed, Ludmila Koblova and Andrey Kalitin of the Soviet Union won the pairs short program ahead of Denise Benning of Windsor, Ontario and Lyndon Johnston, of Hamiota, Manitoba. However, a brilliant free skate from Katy Keeley and Joseph Mero of Costa Mesa, California allowed the American pair to move up in the free skate and claim the gold medal ahead of the Canadians and Soviet team. Laurene Collin and John Penticost, both from Ontario, placed fourth in both phases of the competition and overall. In fifth were a young American pair with names you just might recognize: Kristi Yamaguchi and Rudy Galindo.
After finishing third at the St. Ivel competition in England (where many thought they should have won), Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, Canadians now skating for France, made a strong statement at Skate America when (after finishing second in all three compulsory dances and the Viennese Waltz OSP) they delivered a spirited and daring free dance featuring a swing-around and an upright variation on a death spiral. Wisely, the siblings consulted with the referee in Portland regarding the legality of some of the 'tricks' in their free dance and got the nod. Their win in the free dance ahead of Americans Suzy Semanick and Scott Gregory but most importantly, the Canadian team of Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers, gave them the gold medal in Portland and certainly made a 'your loss!' statement to the CFSA at the time. Although the audience gave them a standing ovation, the judges were (as ever) divided on the Duchesnay's at the time; their marks ranged from 5.2's and 5.3's to 5.8's and 5.9's. Another Canadian pair, Melanie Cole and Martin Smith, were eighth.
Untouchable at the top of the men's field was today's birthday boy, Brian Boitano, who confidently won the school figures and short program and landed his triple axel and triple lutz in the free skate to earn 5,8's and 5.9's and easily win ahead of Viktor Petrenko of the Soviet Union and fellow American Daniel Doran.
Matthew Hall of the Minto Skating Club placed seventh in the short program in his first major international competition and moved up to sixth overall ahead of Paul Wylie with an even stronger performance in the free skate In an interview in the October 18, 1986 issue of The Ottawa Citizen, Hall explained, "My short program went excellent ... I usually have trouble with it. In the long program, I was only a little nervous, and I put together a perfect program for me. Now that I've gotten through my long program without any flaws I can add more triple combinations into it. And I'll have to work hard on my spins as well. Artistically, I think I can improve and catch the top guys." Canadian Medallist Jaimee Eggleton of St. Bruno, Quebec dropped from twelfth after the school figures and short program to thirteenth overall.
Americans claimed the gold medals in three of four disciplines on home soil back in 1986. Will they continue to dominate in Minnesota? The history books will soon find out.
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