Monday, 9 November 2015

Ethel Muckelt: The Oldest Olympic Women's 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, 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 woman to win an Olympic medal in figure skating history .

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 http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard 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 http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

No comments:

Post a Comment