Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Skate Guard Janet Lynn New Year's Spectacular


"I don't skate for points. I skate for the love of skating." - Janet Lynn, The Milwaukee Journal, February 8, 1972
"Love skating for its own sake." - Janet Lynn, The Reading Eagle, January 27, 1973
"I guess there's some kind of love in me that I didn't manufacture myself. This is a talent God gave me, one which He helped me to develop." - Janet Lynn, Lawrence-World Journal, September 26, 1976

I am going to let all of you in on a little secret: I am a huge Janet Lynn fan! I guess the real question is "who in their right mind isn't?" For quite some time now, I have wanted to devote a blog to looking at Janet's larger impact in the figure skating world. A little lightbulb went off when I was trying to come up with ideas for a top ten countdown to ring in 2016 and I said to myself, "sweetie, why don't you take on the impossible task of doing a top ten countdown of Janet Lynn's all time best performances?" With a career as impressive as hers - an Olympic bronze medal, two medals at the World Championships, two medals at the North American Championships, five U.S. titles, wins at the World Professional Championships - it was obvious this wasn't going to be an easy task, so I figured I'd get by with a little help from my friends. Join us in cracking open a bottle of champagne and ringing in the New Year by revisiting some of the best performances from one of the most beloved skaters of all time!

10. 1971 U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



At the 1971 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Buffalo, New York, Janet trailed Julie Lynn Holmes by a razor thin margin after the school figures. As an audience of over five thousand at the Memorial Auditorium hung on her every edge, she made the error of falling early on in her free skate on a triple toe-loop. In the Daily News on January 26, 1972 she said, "I didn't land right. I really didn't have enough guts going into it, if you know what I mean." Instead of give up, she fought back and that's what Allison Manley told me she loved the most about Janet when we talked about a similar mishap in the short program at the 1973 World Championships: "she got back up!" In fact, at those 1971 U.S. Championships, Janet skated so brilliantly throughout the rest of her program that she was able to win her third consecutive title ahead of nineteen year old Holmes and fourteen year old Suna Murray, receiving first place ordinals from six of the seven judges. So excited was she by her win that she danced until 12:30 in the morning that night and then, according to the Lewiston Evening-Journal on February 1, 1971, the next day "bounced joyously in a corridor to the music of the Gold Dance skaters while she awaited her cue to take to the ice for an exhibition of her championship talent."

9. 1970 U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



In Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1970, Janet Lynn defended her U.S. title at the age of sixteen with what was beyond any doubt one of her finest performances at the U.S. Championships, skating to Debussy's
"Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune", Liszt's "Les Preludes", Adam's "Le Corsaire" and Beethoven's "Leonore Overture No. 3". Frazer Ormondroyd, who possesses one of the most enviable collections of historical skating video of all time and is quite the skating historian in his own right, expounded his choice of this performance as one of his favourites: "I think she skates her long program even better in 1970 than she did in Lyon in 1971, which was already brilliant. Her jumps are springy and airy and her speed and flow just jumps through the screen. Plus there is a youthful effervescence, a sort of carefree abandon, to the way she skates. By 1971, it is different. She's still brilliant but I can sense the expectation on her to be wonderful."

8. 1972 WINTER OLYMPIC GAMES (FS)



After the school figures contested in the Mihako Skating Rink at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, Trixi Schuba had 9.0 ordinals. She decisively edged out American Julie Lynn Holmes for that lead with Karen Magnussen's 23.0 and Janet Lynn's 27.0 keeping them well back in third and fourth. With the scoring system as it was at the time, Schuba had the Olympic gold medal in the bag before she even took to the ice to perform her free skate. Rather than give up, Janet Lynn shone brilliantly at the Makomanai Arena in a pink dress, skating to Beethoven's "Leonore Overture" from "Fidelio". She made only one error. In the February 8, 1972 issue of the Sarasota-Journal, she explained, "I jumped up to go into a sit spin and I just sort of sat instead. It happens all the time. This is a slippery sport." The judges rewarded an otherwise stunning performance with the top marks in the free skate. In both technical merit and artistic impression, she received nothing lower than a 5.8. One judge even honoured her with a perfect 6.0 for artistic impression. However, her fourth place finish in the free skate coupled with Karen Magnussen's equally strong performance kept her in third place, earning her the Olympic bronze medal. In Kelli Lawrence's wonderful book "Skating On Air", Lynn debunked the myth that an error in the free skate had much to do with her final standing, instead blaming that pesky paragraph loop: "If you weren't balanced properly and ran out of momentum at the top of the loop, you got what looked like a little fish... and that's what happened to me. Everyone thinks it was the fall on the flying sit... but I knew it was at least partially the fish!"

7. 1973 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



In perhaps one of her most beloved performances at the World Championships, Janet rebounded from a disastrous twelfth place short program to deliver an ethereal and inspiring free skate at the 1973 World Championships. Her effort won her the free skate and two perfect 6.0's from the Austrian and East German judges. The scene was described in the March 1, 1973 issue of The Gettysburg Times thusly: "The capacity crowd of 11,000 in Bratislava's Winter Stadium reacted with rapture at the ballet-like free skating of the Rockford co-ed. They chanted 'Janet, Janet' and threw carnations pinched from the arena's decorations when Miss Lynn was presented her silver medal... Miss Magnussen wept at the awards ceremony when her nation's flag was raised and the anthem 'O, Canada' was played. She pulled Miss Lynn and bronze medallist Christine Errath of East Germany up to her level of the victory platform." On the courage to go out and skate her heart out after her heartbreaking short program, Janet beautifully said in The Argus Press on March 2, 1973, "I love skating. I loved skating even Wednesday night. I hurt inside from the way I skated, but I realized I still have a life to lead."

6. 1971 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



In Lyon, France in February 1971, Janet finished fifth in the compulsory figures but won the free skate with an absolutely jaw dropping, flawless performance. When Trixi Schuba, Julie Lynn Holmes and Karen Magnussen were announced as the medallists, the audience erupted into a chorus of boo's. Kelli Lawrence and Janet Lynn recalled the scene: "When the booing failed to subside, renowned skating coach Pierre Brunet approached Lynn on the sidelines and coerced her up to the edge of the ice so she could appease the crowd, a coercion that was captured by the TV cameras... As it turns out, the move remains something she regrets doing. 'Basically I was told to go and take a bow,' Lynn explains. 'I have not been in touch with Karen or Trixi, but I've apologized to Julie [Holmes] for that because it was wrong for me to do that. I was a young girl; I should have had better judgment and said no, but my superiors told me that's what I needed to do. It was wrong to take away from their time, and what they had absolutely earned,' she laments." This particular incident was absolutely a catalyst in the introduction of the short program and the international figures .vs. free skating debate. However, the ever humble Janet had nothing but praise for her competitor and friend Schuba: "Trixi deserved every gold medal she got, under the rules we had at the time. Her figures were unbelievable. I'd stand there looking at them saying: You've got to be kidding me! Something can actually DO that?! Trixi should absolutely be praised for what she's accomplished."

5. 1981 WORLD PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (TP)


After skating with Ice Follies for two years, retiring, getting married and becoming a mother, Janet Lynn's triumphant return to competition at the 1981 World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Landover, Maryland was the stuff dreams are made of. I spoke with two time World Bronze Medallist and North American Champion JoJo Starbuck, who was actually an All Stars teammate of Janet Lynn at the competition about her favourite Janet Lynn programs and she said, "I have three! "The Blue Danube" (by John Curry) and "The Sound Of Music" - both done in the World Pro competitions, and of course Afternoon of a Faun from the early 70’s in competition." Ironically, all of JoJo's picks made the list and I personally feel this particular piece was one of Janet's strongest as a professional. I think I've watched it about ten times.

4. 1973 U.S. CHAMPIONSHIPS (FS)



At the Metropolitan Sports Center in Bloomington, Denver, Colorado's Diane Goldstein won the school figures. However, a sixth place short program dropped her down to third heading into the free skate. Trailing after figures, Janet actually lost the short program to Dorothy Hamill. In the January 27, 1973 issue of The Reading Eagle, her coach Slavka Kohout explained, "Janet probably didn't skate as well as she could have. It's good ice, but a springy one. She went up higher than she wanted, and came down later than she wanted on her double axel jump." Janet said, "I was glad I didn't win the short program because I didn't think I deserved it." Dorothy Hamill reflected on the win with gratitude in her book "A Skating Life: My Story", stating: "It was a milestone for me. Janet Lynn had been my favourite skater and my inspiration since I had seen her skate in Lake Placid when I was ten years old. Now, just five years later, I had won the short program and had beaten her. It was the first year of the short program, and it was to my advantage because now my weakness, figures, counted for only 40 percent of the total score whereas before it had been 60 percent. I have Janet to thank for that monumental change in skating." However, Dorothy's luck was short lived. Resplendent in yellow, Janet rebounded with a flawless free skate to Ravel's "La Valse" and Debussy's "La Mer", earning three 6.0's for artistic impression. Her fifth U.S. title win equalled Peggy Fleming's recent record of five U.S. titles. Frazer Ormondroyd counted this performance as one of his favourites, expressing that "1973 Nationals is just a triumph of choreography, execution and musicality. She biffed her second double axel in Bratislava at Worlds even though she had better lines there. Janet lost a LOT of weight between Nationals and Worlds; the difference in her physique is startling. Plus the yellow dress at Nationals is... not good but the choreography and intent of the program are quite simply light years ahead of their time - maybe they stand alone. I honestly cannot think of another ladies program so artistically complete."

3. 1982 WORLD PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (AP)



Going back to JoJo Starbuck's favourite performances, Janet's elegant performance to Johann Strauss' "The Blue Danube", choreographed by John Curry and skated at the 1982 World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Landover, Maryland is really the embodiment of everything that made her skating so unique and special. American Open Champion Doug Mattis loved it and shared that he "skated on sessions with her in Denver summer/fall of 83 and she skated that program with no warm up perfectly every day. (She warmed up off the ice.)" World Champion Randy Gardner (a Pro Stars teammate of Janet at this event) called "The Blue Danube" in "magnificent", saying that "all skaters should watch this! Her flow across the ice is unequalled with her speed, control and quality and skill, all in one. So refreshing to see. [It] gives us hope that pure figure skating can and will be done in the future."

2. 1973 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (EX)



When I asked Frazer Ormondroyd what his favourite Janet Lynn performances was, he shared with me a gem of a program I'd never seen before. If this video was an old Beta or VHS tape in my hands, it would have easily been worn out by now. I assure you of that! Her exhibition to "Vilja Song" from Franz Lehár's "The Merry Widow" (skated at the 1973 World Figure Skating Championships in Bratislava) was actually quite unique and different from many of her other pieces in its construction and keeps me coming back and looking at it differently. Her encore to "Shaft" is an absolute must see as well.

1. 1983 INTERNATIONAL PROFESSIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS (AP)



Again going back to JoJo Starbuck's favourites, Allison Scott echoed her choice of "Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune" as one of Janet Lynn's most amazing performances: "'Afternoon of a Faun' is the one I associate with Janet. So many great programs but it is always the first that comes to mind." I loved seeing the piece skated as an exhibition during her amateur days, as did Frazer Ormondroyd: "There's just a purity to it that is extraordinary. She seems to have so much time for everything. It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime heart-stopping performances where your life seems to stop momentarily as you watch. Literally nothing else matters... it still transfixes me every time I watch it." I personally believe that when she revived as a professional piece near the end of her performing career, the growth, maturity and nuance in the program had developed extensively. Olympic Gold Medallist Robin Cousins agreed: "We're well after her competition days were done but she returned to the pro events with one of her amateur show programmes. Better in ’83 than it had been in her heyday! It's quintessential Janet, the joy, the effortless control of every move and a pure performance in every sense." Whether you prefer the earlier version or its rebirth as a professional piece, it's impossible not to adore this program.

I've interviewed hundreds of skaters and one of the questions that I always asked was who THEIR favourite skaters were. Again and again, like clockwork... Janet Lynn, Janet Lynn, Janet Lynn:

"Janet Lynn was my idol. When I was twelve, Janet competed in the 1968 Olympics. I loved the way she moved across the ice." - Suna Murray
"She was ethereal on the ice. Her calm, her beautiful lines and beautiful jumps were the epitome of ice skating to me." - Linda Villella
"Janet was a combination of Dorothy, Peggy and maybe Katarina Witt. She had all of the interpretive qualities and the power and energy, yet she had this delicacy about her. I remember specifically becoming aware of the ballet side of her skating. Janet had that. Her feet were magnificent and nobody has come anywhere close to that. I remember a footwork sequence she did where she got a standing ovation almost in a wave while she was going down the rink doing to a step sequence. It was one of the most incredible things I've seen." - Tim Wood
"Janet Lynn... the edges with effortlessness, the transparency of her expression that came from a heart of faith and moved all who watched her to the core." - Paul Wylie
"Oh, that half the skaters in the world could perform with such pure joy and natural emotion." - Robin Cousins

That's just the tip of the iceberg, I assure you. However, I think the one person who summed it up best was a skater that I always dreamed of interviewing one day but sadly never got a chance to. In his 1975 book "Toller", Toller Cranston said it perfectly: "She has a quality about her that almost defies description. There is something almost mystical in the way she moves, the flow of her hair, the delicate motion of her arms, the dream-like fluidity. She is a beautiful wraith... I sincerely believe that Janet Lynn is the greatest female skater the world has ever seen." I sincerely believe that Toller was right. Hope you all enjoyed this collection, Happy New Year to you all and let's carry this love and passion for figure skating's wonderful history into 2016!

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.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Victorian Era Skating In Ireland: Who Would Have Thought?


There has long been this assumption that just because Ireland is 'a new player on the skating block' in terms of competitive skating, there isn't much of a history there. That simply isn't true. Although the country's first permanent indoor ice rink wasn't built until 1980 (when the Dublin Ice Rink was opened in a converted cinema in Dolphin's Barn Rialto) the country's skating history goes back quite a fair deal further.

Desmond Keenan's book "Ireland 1603-1702, Society And History" hints that weather largely explained why ice skating didn't take off in Ireland as it did in Great Britain, even if it was introduced around the same time to the country: "Yachting and skating were introduced from Holland at the same time. Yachting was to become very popular among the rich gentlemen but the mild winter climate probably inhibited the spread of ice skating."


However, more hospitable winters weren't always the case. In 1876, the Earl of Kilmorey spent over thirty thousand pounds (a princely sum back in that day) to erect (Peter Griffin laugh... erect) the Mourne Hotel in Rostrevor. The hotel was really almost like a Victorian resort in Ireland, for the grounds had a large concert hall, public gardens with coloured lamps and open air musical concerts and... you guessed it, a skating rink! The Mourne Hotel was a getaway that offered those staying a spell to convalesce in style and rid themselves of their ills through bedrest, fresh air, amusement and physical activity. Exercise through skating was an important part of their albeit primitive therapy while visiting. Some of the complaints of those staying - according to The Irish Monthly - included consumption in its early stages, bronchitis and bronchitic asthma, acute diseases, recovery from surgery and mental and physical overwork.

"The Cork Examiner" asserted that the Cork Skating Rink was operational in 1878, with skaters accompanied by music from a live band. The February 21, 1878 edition tells us that "the Austro-Hungarian band will play a selection of dance music at the Rink this evening from 8 to 10 o'clock, for the members of the club and their friends." What does that tell us? Ireland had a nineteenth century skating CLUB. That same year, four young women - Catherine and Maria Gallagher, Kate Frith and Margaret Johnstone - sadly drowned when the ice gave away on Lough Erne near Ennis.

In the winter 1881 or 1882, Famous Irish poet W.B. Yeats learned how to skate on the frozen Lough Gill in County Sligo, a locale that popped up frequently in his poetry. His sister Elizabeth (Lily) wrote of their skating adventures during 'the Great Frost': "For the first few days we four just stayed on the river near the shore and floundered about and fell. Every now and then someone with a kind heart and strong arm would help us for a while and then vanish. I remember Willy's long legs whirling in the air and seeing that he wore red socks. But in a few days we could all skate and away we went, up the river, through the narrows, and out into the lovely lake with its wooded islands."

Clanricarde as caricatured by Spy (May 1900)

Ireland's first skater of note was the Marquis of Clanricarde, a much despised noble. A June 22, 1906 newspaper article recalled the Marquis' skating exploits: "His appearance is as little calculated as to arouse good will as his manner and reputation, and his thin lips, scanty gray whiskers, thin, aquiline nose, parchment-like cheeks and peculiarly-arranged hair, are quite in keeping with his hard, harsh voice and his appalling egotistical utterances. He had but one fad, namely, skating, a pastime in which he still excels, in spite of his seventy-three years. He presents an extraordinary appearance on the ice... His costume on these occasions consists invariably of dark-blue cloth trousers, with a broad stripe of black braid up the side, three or four Cardigan knitted jackets of undetermined hue and great age, over which is worn a remarkably short tweed jacket, made of an extraordinarily loose cut, to give room to the layers of knitted waistcoats underneath. His hat is a genuine old-fashioned 'stovepipe' of ancient vintage, perfectly flat in the brim, and perfectly straight up and down for the crown. He speaks to no one on the ice, being wholly absorbed by the work of cutting figures and letters with his skates." I have to say... this is the best description of a skater ever!

There you have it, folks! A look back to nineteenth century skating in Ireland. Who`would have thought, right? I guess Irish eyes were smiling on me as I did this research. It really did turn out to be a pot of gold.

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.

Monday, 21 December 2015

A Very Merry Skate Guard Christmas

It's that time of year again when we gather with loved ones, break out the booze and bird and have a ball! I kicked off my Christmas celebrations today here in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia by burning off some steam skating on the Emera Oval!


It has been a very crazy few weeks. Between working like a dog, shopping up a storm and spending time with those near and dear, I have been plugging away like mad at research for the Belita book. It has been a blast! I am happy to take a break from all that fun to share with you the Christmas edition of the blog!

As we all know, figure skating history is rich with wonderful holiday themed performances, shows and television specials (many of which I have touched on already during last couple of years) but there is just so, so much more when it comes to skating at Christmastime that I am thrilled to share. So ignore that grinch named Cinquanta for a moment and get ready to celebrate the best and the rest in this special holiday history roundup!:

AN OLDE ENGLISH CHRISTMAS

Colour me surprised (not really) that 1976 Olympic Gold Medallist John Curry stole the show in Perry Como's 1977 television special "An Olde English Christmas". Produced by Yvonne Littlefield, the variety production also featured appearances by actress Gemma Clark and musicians Petula Clark and Leo Thayer. The fact of the matter is that it had to be a much happier moment for Curry than the Christmas season before. In Bill Jones' wonderful book "Alone: The Triumph And Tragedy Of John Curry", Jones recounted the sting of homophobia Curry felt when at the 1976 Sports Journalists' Association Christmas bash at a London hotel when a comedian introducing Curry cruelly quipped on the microphone: "It's good to feel the Christmas spirit among us all. And here comes the fairy for for the tree." Jones recalled that "Curry received his award in near silence, heartbreak written on his face. It was, he later said, 'one of the most hurtful incidents in my life.'" One can only hope that the fact that his Christmas performance a year later during Como's special was praised incredibly highly must have served as some small consolation and put him a little more in the holiday spirit.

A JOYFUL CHRISTMAS WITH JANET

Remember when we took a look at skaters who were also musicians last November? Yeah, neither do I, honey. No, but seriously... one musical skater who I failed to mention in that particular blog was 1972 Olympic Bronze Medallist Janet Lynn! In 1973, Janet released a record in Japan called "A Joyful Christmas With Janet". It's got all of the classics: "Silent Night", "O Holy Night", "Jingle Bells", "The Christmas Song" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" and it could be yours on vinyl for the not so low, low price of $59.99 USD. The holiday season in 1973 was in fact incredibly good to the U.S. Champion. Just days before Christmas, Janet won the first of Dick Button's World Professional Championships, which were held in Japan and billed as the $100,000 International Professional Figure Skating Festival. THAT kind of money buys a whole lot of egg nog and mistletoe. If you are feeling the Janet Lynn love, do not forget that we will be ringing in 2016 on the blog with a top ten countdown of her best performances! You do not want to miss it!

CHRISTMAS SKATING WITH DOROTHY HAMILL



From one legend of U.S. ladies skating to another, 1976 Olympic Gold Medallist Dorothy Hamill appeared with a cast of skating loving youngsters in the 1982 Andy Griffith special "An Early New England Christmas", which actually won a Primetime Emmy Award. Although we don't see much actual skating from Dorothy in this clip, the song and skating we do see is absolutely charming and kind of gives you that warm feeling you get after one too many glasses of homemade holiday rum punch.

IT'S THE MOST WONDERFUL OSMOND TIME OF THE YEAR



Just when you think things just can't get anymore saccharine sweet, here's the Osmond brothers skating a holiday themed performance in one of their many television specials. I can't say I'm personally a huge fan of the Osmond's (just not really my thing) but you have to admire the fact that these brothers all look so smooth on their blades. Although Donny and Marie did indeed perform together on the ice in other shows they did, this clip doesn't feature Marie. In case you're wondering, the youngest and smallest is indeed the man with the perfect teeth - Donny himself.

C IS FOR (CHRISTMAS) COOKIE



I can honestly say I hadn't ever seen this scene from the 1978 television special "Christmas Eve On Sesame Street" (that I remember at least) and I thought it was absolutely adorable! I'm sorry, but there's something about The Count counting while Ernie, Bert and The Cookie Monster played 'crack the whip' that just cracked ME the hell up.

A VERY TONYA CHRISTMAS

Did you know that 1991 World Silver Medallist Tonya Harding's first public performance since "the whack heard around the world" fallout was on December 23, 1994? You better believe it. During a public skating session at the Dorothy Hamill rink at Clackamas Town Rink in Portland, Oregon, Tonya came out in a red felt Mrs. Claus costume with faux fur trim to skate a solo performance to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas". She had to dodge about a dozen skaters during her performances but managed to stay on her feet. She did, however, scrap a planned second (pairs) performance with Patrick Page to "Please Come Home For Christmas". As expected, the rink was packed with fans, detractors and curious onlookers alike as well as a throng of reporters and photographers. After her 'show', she handed out candy canes to the media and wished them "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays". Not everyone was thrilled about the free show by the disgraced Olympian. In the morning Spokesman-Review the day of the show, Rod Turley, who was shopping with his two young children, remarked "It's despicable. She'll probably wear some really skimpy outfit. What kind of message is that sending to the kids, Tonya Harding as Mrs. Claus?" The only message that imagining this particular performance sent me was that it was time to break out the wine and have MYSELF a merry little Christmas... nooooow.


From my family to yours, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Festivus For The Rest Of Us... Whatever and however you celebrate, I celebrate the fact that you all have enjoyed exploring figure skating's rich and fascinating history with me throughout the year. It's been a blast and I can't wait to continue on the journey! There won't be a new blog until after Christmas Day or Boxing Day but I'll be back with something you're going to love reading over your turkey, cranberry and stuffing sandwiches on December 27 to start the countdown to a new year of great skating. Peace and love to you all!

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.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

From Sendai To Sapporo: A Whole New Meaning To Illegal Lifts


When Toshikazu Katayama joined forces with eleven other Japanese skating coaches (many of them former champion skaters) to organize and form the Japan Figure Skating Instructor Association in 1964, he must have looked back on his own skating career and thought about how much the sport had changed.

After winning the junior men's crown at the second Japanese Championships in Sendai (the largest city in the Tōhoku region) in 1930 at seventeen years of age, Katayama had gone on to graduate from Kwansei Gakuin University in Nishinomiya, won five Japanese senior men's titles and was a member of Japan's second team of skaters ever to compete at the Winter Olympic Games in 1936 in pre-World War II Germany, where he finished fifteenth of twenty five men's competitors. However, one can't help but think how the process of fostering growth and developing a skating instructional program for all four disciplines in Japan would have been had it not been for an important legal ruling the same year Katayama won his fourth senior national title.

The Japanese men's team at the 1936 Olympic Games - Katayama is second from left

In the thirties, in addition to the annual Japanese Championships which were organized by Japan's National Skating Association in a different city each year, universities and colleges in the main cities were, according to The Age on April 26, 1935 holding "skating contests early in the year, lasting from four to six days" but they only consisted of speed skating, ice hockey and SINGLES skating. Pairs skating wasn't just excluded. It was illegal.

On February 25, 1937, Japanese police enforced an actual law change allowing male and females to skate together provided they were trained athletes, making pairs skating a possibility in the country. A February 25, 1937 article from The Miami News explains that "The practice, strictly forbidden as immoral, was legalized by police in view of the Olympic Games to be held in Japan in 1940. Only professional skaters who can obtain a certificate of good character from Japan's National Skating Association will be allowed to skim the ice together. And even then they may have some explaining to do until everyone understands the situation. Official badges will be issued by the police to protect the skaters who are granted certificates." Two of the skaters who were granted certificates? Katayama and his 1936 Olympic teammate Etsuko Inada. On April 4, 1937, only two months after the law change, they gave a pairs skating exhibition together together at the Asahi Building Skate Center in Osaka. The 1940 Olympics in Japan could have been their shining moment. They could have been their country's first Olympic pairs team.

The cancellation of the 1940 Olympics due to the war and subsequent occupation of Japan afterwards obviously greatly slowed the development of pairs skating in Japan and ended the pair's hopes of ever competing together.

It wasn't until 1956 in Kyoto when one brave pair, Fumiko Nishimura and Kinehiko Takizawa, competed in the country's first national competition. At the time, Tokyo only had two rinks, which was hardly adequate for a city of eight million people. Lynn Copley-Graves authoritative book "The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" explains that in 1956 "skating was so popular that tickets were issued for just one hour; hundreds would stand in the cold to buy tickets and skate to American music. The Korakuen club had only seventy members because membership cost so much. Most Japanese still skated on frozen lakes." Although the sport was immensely popular, in terms of competitive skating the country in 1956 was simply put... behind.

Incredible it must have been in 1964 for Katayama to sit across the table from Inada, his former pairs partner, and piece together the guidelines for a discipline that the two former skaters wouldn't have had been allowed to even attempt legally had it not been for that 1937 law change. Perhaps they had no inkling that only eight years later, their pioneering work in developing this system would allow Kotoe Nasagawa and Hiroshi Nagakubo to make skating history as Japan's first Olympic pairs team... while they looked on in 1972 in Sapporo. It seems a fitting tribute that Nagakubo would in turn go on to coach many famous Japanese skaters himself including Shizuka Arakawa, Takeshi Honda and Akiko Suzuki. It's funny how things go full circle, isn't it?

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 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

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Hungary For Gold: A History Of The Városligeti Műjégpálya


With the medal drought for Hungarian skaters in recent years in the marquee events, it may come to some surprise to many readers to put things in perspective and realize that skaters from Hungary have actually won twenty one World or European titles and six Olympic medals and this often overlooked skating nation has one of the deepest and most interesting histories out there.

József Veto's 1965 book "Sports In Hungary" tells us that "Hungarians were made familiar with skating in the middle of the nineteenth century." In present day, Budapest is actually home of the second oldest AND the largest outdoor artificial ice surface in all of Europe, the Városligeti Műjégpálya (City Park Ice Rink)... and the history of that rink takes us back to the period that Veto referred to. The story of the Városligeti Műjégpálya actually began on November 12, 1869, when the Budapesti Korcsolyázó Egylet (Pest Skating Club) was officially formed under the direction of Géza Kresz in the gaming room of the Steingasser (Petôfi) Coffee House on the Danube.

Engraving of skaters at the Városligeti Műjégpálya in 1874

Kresz and the club's core members campaigned fiercely to the city council for permission to establish a skating rink in a small part of the park's lake every winter and quickly got the go ahead. At the time, skating was free of charge to anyone who wanted to get out there and skate. The base of the rink was the country's first 'skating house' which was actually a two-room wooden cottage built specifically for skaters to properly dress for skating and put on their skates. On January 29, 1870, the rink had a grand opening in the presence of Rudolf, Crown Prince Of Austria-Hungary and on February 2 of that year the first skating competition ever in Budapest was held. According to a November 25, 2014 article by Balázs Dezs, the 'skating house' "mysteriously burned down in 1874". Shortly thereafter, the city agreed to the Pest Skating Club's request for a new and more grand 'skating house' to be designed by famed architect Ödön Lechner. The lavish building Lechner designed and erected still survives today includes a grand hall with a panoramic view of the ice surface and a music room. The popularity of skating at the Városligeti Műjégpálya simply boomed so much a second building had to be built, so in 1895 a neo-baroque style building was added to the area.

Let's talk about some of the incredible milestones in figure skating history that happened at the
Városligeti Műjégpálya. On January 6, 1871 in what was the rink's second year of existence, Jackson Haines gave an exhibition to members of the Pest Skating Club and Austro-Hungarian aristocracy there. He was so popular with audiences that the next winter he returned and gave two more exhibitions on January 6 and 7, 1872. The impact he made on skating in Budapest was undoubtedly marked as interest in figure skating grew relatively quickly in the country thereafter. Tibor von Földváry represented Hungary at the second European Championships held in Vienna in 1892 and three year's later the rink played host to the 1895 European Championships, which von Földváry handily won in front of an appreciative home crowd. He would go on to play an integral role developing the early rules of the International Skating Union.

Five years later, on January 20 and 21, 1900, the country's first National Championships in figure skating were held at the rink and eight years later, the Hungarian Figure Skating Association was formed. The country's very first World Champion, Lili Kronberger (who was also only the second female World Champion in history) actually won her second of four consecutive World titles at the Városligeti Műjégpálya in her home city the next year in 1909. I use the term 'won' loosely because she was actually the only skater in the ladies event that year... but a gold medal is a gold medal. When Kronberger retired in 1911, the next three World titles pre-World War I were won by ANOTHER member of the Pest Skating Club, Budapest's own Zsófia Méray-Horváth

The rich skating community in Budapest suffered a huge blow during World War I when initial plans to develop the skating club were put on hold for financial reasons. A 1920 article from the Hungarian Association explained that due to finances and the War "the former champions are no longer able to compete and if you can not compete, you do not know how to relate to advanced non-residents that the situation in the finances of the ice rink's plan will not be achieved for years from now. It will be good if the natural ice rink can be maintained but all of this ultimately inhibits the development of sports, not to say it is impossible." It took a few years for things to come around but in 1926, an outdoor artificial surface was built to replace the lake rink and in 1968 that surface was extended in size. The new surface brought in many travelling ice shows and in 1929, the Városligeti Műjégpálya played host to the ladies and pairs World Championships, where hometown favourites and future two time European Champions Olga Orgonista and Sándor Szalay won their first international medal. Those World Championships were also the site of Sonja Henie's third of ten World titles. The rink would go on to play host to the 1935 and 1939 World Championships for the men and pairs before another World War set the Városligeti Műjégpálya back in an incredible way.

Bombed and severely damaged during World War II, the Városligeti Műjégpálya incredibly reopened for business in 1945 and has since played host to World Championships in both speed skating and bandy as well as the 1955 and 1963 European Championships in figure skating. At the 1955 event, another Hungarian pairs team, the brother/sister duo of Marianna and László Nagy walked away with the gold medal. Sadly though (depending on which country you're cheering on I suppose), the last time the Hungarian anthem was played during a medal ceremony at the World Championships was in 1980, when ice dancers Krisztina Regőczy and András Sallay took home the gold at Worlds in Dortmund, West Germany.


Hungary for some great skating? The Városligeti Műjégpálya, which is now a national heritage site, still thrives during winter months in the city. The cost of a full day pass to skate is approximately $5.50 in Canadian dollars, a pittance considering the skating history you'll be surrounded by. If you decide to make the trek, have a hot bowl of Halászlé and think of Jackson Haines!

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

Monday, 14 December 2015

The 1951 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Held from January 31 to February 3, 1951 in conjunction with Seattle, Washington's centennial celebration, the 1951 U.S. Figure Skating Championships marked only the second time in history that America's national competition was held on the west coast, the first being the 1947 competition in Berkeley, California. A successful five thousand dollar bid from a new civic events group called Greater Seattle, Inc. allowed the crowds to show up in droves at the Seattle Ice Arena. The media had a field day as the best skaters in the U.S. showed up to compete. A unique feature of the 1951 U.S. Championships was live commentary. Announcer John Heater from the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club educated spectators by microphone during the competition as to the in's and out's of what they were watching. It was almost like television commentary ahead of its time... minus the television. 

Speaking of commentary... in the senior men's event, a twenty-one year old Harvard junior we all know and love named Dick Button took home his sixth consecutive U.S. title. The February 3, 1951 issue of The Toledo Blade noted that "Button went into the night's free skating competition with only a slim [3-2] lead over 19-year-old Jimmy Grogan of Colorado Springs. Grogan, who had to watch from the sidelines in 1950 with two cracked ankles, dipped, twirled and spun in the air like a ballet dancer. A few minutes later Button came out. He swooped from one end of the shiny surface to the other with a dazzling display of triple-turn leaps, splits, glides and tip-toe spins." In third was eighteen year old Hayes Alan Jenkins from Cleveland, Ohio, ahead of future famed coach Don Laws. In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Uncle Dick explained that in Seattle, "For the first time I was unable to train properly for a championship. I had been heavily pressed for time to skate at Harvard and only in the nick of time was able to present a new jump, a 'double axel-double loop' [combination]... Perhaps with some thanks to this double axel-double loop I defeated Grogan's most determined threat to win by seven places to eight. That meant that three judges gave me first place and two put Grogan on top. It couldn't have been closer."


With the retirement of two time and reigning senior ladies champion Yvonne Sherman, it was sixteen year old Sonya Klopfer of Brooklyn, New York who rose to the occasion to take the title ahead of Tenley Albright of the Skating Club Of Boston and Virginia Baxter of the Skating Club Of Detroit. After the school figures, reported the February 1, 1951 Ellensburg Daily Record, "Sonya Klopfer took a lead over Tenley Albright of Boston with 946.4 points to 932.7. Four judges placed Miss Kopfer and another placed her second in school figures. Miss Albright drew three seconds, a first and a third. Only the placings of the top three judges are counted." She held her lead through the free skate to clinch the crown.

Perhaps the biggest story of the 1951 U.S. Championships however was the courageous performance of three time and defending U.S. senior pairs champions 'The Kennedy Kids' Karol and Peter Kennedy, hometown favourites that moved on to represent the Broadmoor Skating Club. The February 5, 1951 edition of the Lewiston Daily Sun noted that "Peter, 23, bedfast with a high-fever virus infection of three days, mustered enough strength to complete the routine with his sister, then collapsed briefly in his dressing room."

In "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves explained that in the ice dance competitions, "the new qualifying restrictions reduced the number of couples in Silver Dance, but the number of couples in Gold Dance increased. The handsome couple, Carmel and Ed Bodel, had waited it out long enough to gain the title in Gold Dance. Both had been encouraged by friends to skate, he in 1938 and she in 1942. They had joined up as partners in 1945. Their goals included developing their free skating and improving their compulsory dance interpretation. The two-year partnership of blonde Caryl Johns and tall, dark Jack Jost swept Silver Dance over seven other couples. They also won Junior Pairs. Such success in two events required six or seven hours of practice a day in singles, pairs and dances after they had graduated from high school. Caryl's mother, a speed skater, had her studying tap dance and ballet at the age of five, but Caryl switched to figure skating after seeing Sonja Henie. Caryl had passed the Seventh Figure Test and four Gold Dances. Jack had passed the Eighth and all but one Goldd Dance, which he termed the 'pretzel twister', the Viennese Waltz. Jack also held his school's singles title in tennis." Six couples competed in the Gold Dance event, the silver medallists being Virginia Hoyns and Donald Jacoby and the bronze medallists Carol Ann Peters and Danny Ryan, who was sadly later one of the victims in the 1961 Sabena Crash.

The junior ladies title went to one of Seattle's own, fifteen year old Frances Dorsey. Chicago's Noel T. Ledin won the novice men's title... and the novice ladies crown went to an eleven year old upstart from New York named Carol Heiss, who moved up from a second place finish after the school figures behind Georgianna Sutton of Los Angeles for the win.

The junior men's title went to a young Harvard schoolmate of Dick Button's, Dudley S. Richards of Boston and his win in Seattle was actually a brilliant comeback story. At Harvard, Richards was a roommate of none other than Edward M. Kennedy. Kennedy, in his memoir "True Compass", recalled what made Richards' 1951 title win so incredible thusly: "I started off lucky with a great roommate: a slim, sandy-haired boy named Dudley Richards. I'd casually known Dudley from summers in Hyannis Park. He and his older brother Ross were good sailors. Ross had sailed against Bobby and given him all my brother could handle. Dudley's passion was ice skating, and by his early teens he was a top Olympic prospect. But at sixteen he'd seemingly shattered that dream: diving into water that was shallower that he'd realized, he suffered a broken back. He recovered, but only after two years of intensive physical therapy, during which time he did not skate at all." In a February 21, 1951 article in The Harvard Crimson, Richards called Dick Button "very inspiring" and said that "he really made me work, both by professional advice and by telling me I could do well." Sadly, ten years later, Richards would also perish in the Sabena Crash.

Great footage of Dick Button skating in an Olympic Team fundraiser at Madison Square Garden in 1951

The annual Oscar L. Richard awards for greatest artistry in free skating for men and women went to Hayes Alan Jenkins and Gloria Peterson of Seattle. The Bedell H. Harned trophy, which was awarded to the club whose skaters won the most points over the course of the entire competition, was won by the Skating Club Of Boston. The Broadmoor Skating Club finished a close second. The U.S. Championships may have returned to Seattle in 1960 and 1969, but it has been over four decades since the competition has been held in The Emerald City. So a word to all of you wise Skate Guard readers in Washington state: I think it's probably soon your turn, isn't it?

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

Saturday, 12 December 2015

An Apfel A Day Keeps The Russian Judges Away: The Arthur Apfel Story


I love unique stories and Arthur J. Apfel's is most certainly right up there. Born October 29, 1922 in Johannesburg, South Africa, he got his start skating at Milner Park during The Empire Exhibition and later trained at the Wembley Ice Rink in Springfield, Johannesburg. Although he showed tremendous aptitude for the sport in his younger years, he was skating in a country that hadn't yet fully established its competitive structure. Although the South African Ice Skating Association had been established in 1937 and South Africa became a member of the International Skating Union the following year, early competitions held in the country were mostly focused on valsing (ice dancing) and were sporadic affairs. If Apfel was going to make his mark on the skating world, he needed to move on up and out.

FROM JOHANNESBURG TO LONDON

He set sail for Great Britain, rented a room and started training in Richmond, London under legendary Swiss coach Arnold Gerschwiler. Although Gerschwiler's star pupil at the time was of course his nephew Hans, Apfel improved by leaps and bounds while in London but wasn't particularly popular among his peers. His only great successes as a competitive skater all came in one season and were actually quite ironic. The Swiss trained, South African skater beat England's best to win the 1946 British Championships and headed to neutral Switzerland for the 1947 European Championships, the first international figure skating competition held on the Continent after World War II ended. He finished fourth. At the World Championships that followed in Stockholm, Sweden, he won the bronze medal behind Gerschwiler and Dick Button. The irony? Skaters from Germany, Austria and Japan were not welcomed to compete at those first World Championships after World War II and Apfel, who medalled, was Jewish.

THE PROFESSIONAL RANKS



Opting to turn professional prior to the 1948 Winter Olympics, he took a job as senior instructor at the Olympia Ice Rink in Johannesburg and starred in shows at the Morecambe Ice Dome at the Figure Eight Park. He also teamed up with another South African skater named Leah Rom to develop an incredibly unique act: acrobatic (adagio) pairs skating with both partners on stilt skates. Their act took off brilliantly and before long the pair returned to England to appear in Sir Arthur Elvin and Tom Arnold's ice pantomime "Humpty Dumpty" alongside Daphne Walker, Gloria Nord, Anne Rogers, Margo McMenemy and Len Stewart. While there, Apfel also appeared in a BBC broadcast of Cabaret On Ice alongside Jennifer and John Nicks and Jiřina Nekolová. He returned to South Africa and coached at the Charlton Ice Rink.


SPINNING SENSATION

The most unique aspect of Apfel's story is truly that at a time when other skaters were focusing their attention to achieving near perfection in school figures and making revolutions in jumping, Apfel was devoting a great deal of time and effort to innovating spinning. Although it was Dick Button who invented the flying camel spin during this period, it was Apfel that really set the standard for the modern crossfoot spin. In his 1968 book "Winter Sports", Howard Bass wrote, "I have seldom seen [the crossfoot spin] performed better than by South Africa's Arthur Apfel, who won the British championship in 1946... [He] made quite a specialty of the cross-foot and it may therefore be of useful interest to record his conviction that, contrary to a common assumption that the toes should be quite together, a far greater speed can be obtained with the left toes against the right boot, about an inch from the tips of the right toes. Another little trick Arthur found out, which can only be used with perfect control and balance, is to clasp the hands together as soon as they are near enough to do so. This creates a sort of leverage and the arms can be thereby pulled in much more quickly, which has the effect of giving a sudden burst of speed towards the end of the spin."

ARTHUR APFEL'S LETTER



A few years ago, Apfel penned a letter (now in the archives of the National Ice Skating Association in England) which refers to a video in the archives, his beliefs with regard to spinning technique and his work in developing stilt skating in South Africa and abroad. I am sharing it in its entirety with permission as sharing this knowledge was clearly the intent of Apfel in the first place:

"I am writing to you for 2 reasons, I have taught my routines to some stars of ice shows that have come out to South Africa from Europe etc. Not existing known skating, which I know has advanced enormously to fantastic heights, but for example, Anita Curtis who came down to our Charlton Ice Rink to practice. I saw her doing some wonderful sit spins and when I spoke to her she told me that she was in Holiday on Ice, which was playing in one of the arenas in Johannesburg. I told her about lifting her free leg in the position I used in my film. She put this into her number. I went to the show with a friend and got seats right against the ice. She did the spin right next to me. Later she had photographs of the first 2 positions and sent them to me, In the 3rd position the free leg drops down into the cross toe position. After she left it came to me that it could be done from a camel and I sent her a sketch of this spin. I never saw her again.

In the same show the stilt walker, a Russian 1st name [Porfia?] came to me and I took round Johannesburg. I showed him my comedy routine,. part skate part stilt.. He looked at my film as did Anita. [Porfia] managed the skate/stilt and said he was going to try it overseas in a show.

My second reason. I watched my son Julian's skating film again after all these years. He started at 1 year 5 months and 'retired' at 3 but I will come to my son later.

To carry on with my first story I would like to teach some of my spins to the skating world before I take the knowledge with me! As with Anita Curtis it must be a very good skater but they could pass it on to anyone good or medium. Now for the instructions:

The first spin I will call the 'leg up' spin can be seen in my film. It must be fast. The sit spin will already be done fast by your skater, then in the leg up position it will be even faster. If it is fast enough the free leg seems to disappear and the leg looks like a hoop around the body. Then the free leg drops down into the cross toe position into a fast end. The same spin can be done from a camel spin instead of a sit spin...

Now for the next spin. In my film go from a sit spin (the sit spin does not count in this spin - I mention it so you can recognize it on the film) then from the cross foot stop with a toe rake and spin in the reverse direction. Now for the lesson. It will start with a cross toe (not crossfoot) dig the toe rake in to stop & let the shoulders twist round (see the film). Untwist the shoulders without changing feet and set yourself spinning in the opposite direction on the back outside edge cross toe spin. You must be able to do a back outside cross toe spin (also called back cross toe spin) on the same foot as you do a normal cross toe spin before you will be able to do this spin. Very difficult. Now you will see me in the end of the film that is the end of the spin. Lately I have realized it would not be necessary to end the spin there, instead dig the toe rake in again and go back to the original cross toe spin. Then if you have enough energy reverse backwards and forwards until you are exhausted.

Now for the next spin. A jump change foot sit spin. I go into a sit spin, change feet then jump onto the foot I started with and stop. To find the spin in my film it is at the beginning of the programme but it is taken from above and is not very clear but I do it again later and it is taken from the side and is very clear.

A fifth spin is any particular spin on the left foot the same spin on the right foot. I do this in my film in the comic section on a stilt. Of coarse the stilt has nothing to do with the spin so ignore that. I come out of the first spin on the back inside edge on the same foot then step into a spin on the other foot.

That is five spins. I am addressing this to you hoping you will find someone to show this letter to. It will need a good spinner to try these. Anita Curtis was a very good spinner and she did a spin she got from me. She was excited about it and sent me some photographs.

Yours very sincerely

Arthur Apfel"

THE LATER YEARS

Continuing to coach in South Africa for many years after he stopped actively performing as a professional, Apfel became something of a Tonya Harding fan later in life. He travelled to Portland, Oregon in 1992 and was honored at a party with Tonya and her then coach Diane Rawlinson. In a newsletter that went out to Tonya's fan club in 1994, he wrote, "I wish to express my whole hearted support of Tonya, and I believe completely in her innocence. I know what a sweet disposition she has. I was pleased Tonya won the U.S. Championships, and I saw her skating on TV a number of occasions. It always thrills me to see her on the ice." So, South African skater goes to England, wins a medal at the World Championships, pioneers pairs skating on stilts and does some great work in developing spinning technique... and becomes a Tonya fan? Certainly an eclectic mix, that's for sure and heaven knows I love eclectic. What of Apfel now? As of November 2015, he was still very much alive and living in a Johannesburg nursing home. Hilary Passmore informed me that (in his nineties, mind you) "Arthur is still alive and skating around with his walker! He has a copy of the video, which we have all seen. Amazing." What a unique story Apfel's is, certainly a reminder that any life is just full of so many chapters.

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.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

How Ice Skates First Arrived In South America


Back in August, Allison Manley and I dived in and explored the startlingly unconventional history of figure skating in South America in the first episode of the Axels In The Attic series. As fabulous as all that fun was, there is another unique story from that continent's early skating history that didn't make the cut and I really think you're going to get a kick out of it.

Long before Joseph R. King built the Palais de Glace in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1910, ice skates made their first known appearance in South America... and it's actually kind of a funny story. Back in the very early nineteenth century, trade was booming and the English, with their great passion for figure skating, just kind of assumed that everyone skated. Well, why not? They skated in Amsterdam, Paris, Hamburg and even in The New World. Why not in South America? After all, the Brits had thriving sugar plantations (albeit full of kidnapped African slaves) in Guiana. Why wouldn't those 'civilized' Brits living in South America want to entertain themselves and cut fancy figures on the ice?

The June 1812 issue of The Quarterly Review in London (Vol. vii, No. 15) noted that "we have been informed that the good people of Birmingham sent out sixty tons of skates and warming-pans to South America."  There was one problem. There wasn't a single ice rink on the continent and with ice refrigeration not yet being a thing, unless you found a frozen lake high in the Andes or something you weren't doing any figure eight's honey. I can just picture this ship showing up with these completely foreign objects that locals probably just assumed were fancy knives of some sort. What happened next? Did the good people of South America figure out what these alien objects were and start skating in the mountains? Not so much. But perhaps oblivious to the clime they were sending them to, the British kept sending down ice skates!

Later that year, renowned British mineralogist and sea captain John Mawe recorded in his book "Travels In The Interior Of Brazil" that yet "another [merchant] sent skates [to Brazil] for the use of a people who are totally uninformed that water can become ice." These strange shipments were actually very common back in those days, with everything from warm woollen shawls to coffins (which weren't used by the Brazilians) arriving in Rio de Janeiro.

The research of Brazilian journalist Laurentino Gomes notes that a French visitor confirms having seen the skates unloaded on a dock. In his book "1808: The Flight Of An Emperor", Gomes explains that this shipment of ice skates had "nothing to do with the climate and local necessities of course, but they arrived in Brazil practically without import taxes and ended up fulfilling uses never envisioned for them... The ice skates transformed into knives, horseshoes, and other metallic objects. The traveller even saw a doorknob in Minas Gerais made of ice skates." That's a doorknob I wouldn't want to be shaking hands with.

So there you have it, folks... the story of how ice skates first arrived in South America and your inspiration for your next DIY project! Who would have thought skating history could be so crafty?

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.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A Little Housekeeping: Upcoming Blogs And A Book Announcement!


It is no secret that figure skating history is my passion. Ever since I have started writing this blog, I have explored hundreds of fascinating topics relating to the sport's colourful history. The good news is I have no intention of stopping any time soon. I have spent a very considerable amount of time preparing a wide variety of upcoming blogs that span the decades and centuries and explore topics from all around the world and I can't wait to share them all with you! 

We will ring in the New Year with a Janet Lynn Spectacular, where special guests Robin Cousins, Randy Gardner, JoJo Starbuck, Allison Manley, Doug Mattis, Frazer Ormondroyd, Allison Scott and more will share their favourite Janet Lynn programs. We will revisit many historic moments in Janet's career along the way. January will be Canadian Figure Skating History month. Topics will include The Minto Skating Club Fire, biographies of five Canadian skaters, coaches and officials whose stories will fascinate you to no end, a little known story from Kurt Browning's career, a four part series on skating right here in Halifax in conjunction with the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships... and a few surprises. In the months to follow, we will explore competitions, shows and tours past, biographies galore and many shocking 'did you know?' stories that will leave your jaw on the floor.


Speaking of jaw on the floor, mine is. I did all of this writing in advance for a reason. On December 1, I began devoting time each day to a mammoth task that I have been wanting to tackle for an extremely long time. I am finally writing a book and could not be more excited! It is going to be a biography of actress, dancer and figure skater Belita Jepson-Turner. For those of you who aren't familiar with her story, don't go looking for the Skate Guard blog on her. There was one but honey, I had to take it down. It was really dated, really sparse and really no indication of the level of research I am putting into this project. I will keep you all posted periodically on how progress is going and I will also ask that if you or anyone you know knew Belita personally and would like to contribute to this book, please get in touch. I would love to hear from you!


I hope you all enjoy the coming blogs. They will be posted in the usual schedule I have been following for some time - two to three a week. The sixth and final episode of Allison Manley and I's Axels In The Attic podcast series will be coming to you soon too, so stay tuned for that! As always, thank you all for reading and supporting the blog. I mean that. Without your interest and support, I would not be doing this. 

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

Monday, 7 December 2015

Skating On The Wrong Side Of The Law


Over the course of history, many skaters have almost found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Insert bad Tonya Harding joke here. However, we're not talking Tonya today. Instead, we'll be exploring some of the rather unusual laws and rules surrounding ice skating that have cropped up over the years and believe me, they range from the reasonable to the ridiculous.

On the more reasonable side of the scale are rules that have come into play with regard to concern to the ice itself. Aside from the obvious 'SKATING PROHIBITED' signs posted by lakes and ponds where ice thickness has posed a safety risk to skaters, there have been rules put into place with regard to the contamination of ice. The December 22, 1906 issue of The Farmer noted that in Fairfield, Connecticut, "Bunnell's Pond, at Beardsley Park, is covered with heavy ice, but skating is prohibited by the Bridgeport Hyadraulie Co., the water being of the city's system of reservoirs." This concern over contamination was not uncommon and was often linked to concerns about 'cutting ice' for food refrigeration, hospital use and consumption. One example evidencing actual legislation regarding this concern was recorded in the January 27, 1909 issue of the Norwich Bulletin: "At the request of Dexter L. Bishop of Meriden and other leading ice dealers of the state, representative Wilbur F. Parker has introduced a bill in the legislature prohibiting the pollution of ice, or water on ponds or lakes from which ice is cut. The bill was referred to the committee on public health and safety. Mr. Bishop explained the necessity of the proposed measure, which is a matter that most persons thought was already covered by the statutes. The ice men have looked into the question and find, they say, that there is no law governing tile contamination of ice although the pollution of water is well taken care of in the law book. Mr. Bishop says that when ice is forming it drives out all polluting substances, so that the danger comes from foreign matter on the surface and it is therefore, imperative that the top of the ice be kept clean. Consequently ice which is to be cut should not be used by skaters, the icemen say. Some ponds cannot be skated upon but others are open to the public and the dealers want the skating surface to be confined to those parts which are not intended for cutting. 'Action is very necessary,' Mr. Bishop stated, 'because ice is coming into more general use in sick rooms and much ice water is drunk in summer.'"

Other bans on skating were based on location. In 1981, they had a problem with people skating on a frozen water fountain in Reading, Pennsylvania and three years earlier in Nashua, New Hampshire they even had problems with people skating in a graveyard! The February 6, 1978 issue of The Telegraph noted that "skating around monuments in Woodlawn Cemetery is out. A cemetery spokesman said youngsters are sometimes allowed to skate on pockets of ice which form on an unused back portion of the Kinsley Street cemetery and the arrangement has work out well. But skating in the section of the cemetery used for burial is prohibited. Youths seen skating around monuments last Saturday morning must have strayed from the back side of the cemetery, the spokesman said, and they went unseen by the cemetery attendant who was working in the greenhouse." Kids these days! Although ice skating down sidewalks in Moscow or Amsterdam was not an uncommon sight, some American cities actually passed city ordinances banning the practice.

Tipping the scale from reasonable to ridiculous are some arcane laws that were downright sexist in nature. Lynn Copley-Graves wonderful book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" recalled that over the years, "rules cropped up in the United States governing interaction with women on the ice. Headland, Alabama law prohibited men from 'turning and looking at a woman that way' while ice skating. When caught a second time for the infraction, the looker had to wear 'horse blinders' for 24 hours. In Newburgh, New York, no married woman could skate on the Sabbath unless 'properly looked after' by her mate who followed twenty paces behind carrying a loaded 'musket over his left shoulder'. La Follette, Tennessee law specified, 'no man could place his arm around his woman' at a dance or in a skating rink 'without a good and lawful reason.'"

As insane as those last three were, this last one had me cackling even more. The Thursday, December 18, 1919 issue of The Washington Times noted that in Washington, D.C., "at the Zoo all but five hundred square feet of the pond is covered with ice an inch thick. The rest is not frozen and the ducks are still having a merry time. Superintendent Hollister says the skating cannot begin until the ducks are out, and the ducks won't come out until it's completely frozen. Then again Superintendent Hollister said he would take the ducks out of the pond if it wasn't for the fact that every time they try to catch a duck, he dives under the ice and disappears." It sounds like something out of a sitcom episode, doesn't it?

I guess the moral of the story is that as ridiculous as many of the rules governing the judging of the sport today may indeed be, the ISU aren't the only ones who have had a knack for coming up with some pretty crazy rules surrounding ice skating over the years. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some ducks to deal with!

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.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Nudes On Ice: Yes, It's A Thing That Happened


On an episode of "Murphy Brown", stoic anchorman Jim Dial responded to someone saying "We're
all naked under our clothes" by stating "I, for one, am NOT!" A fitting introduction for the naked truth of today's Skate Guard blog if there ever was one... for this one takes a look at figure skating's best kept dirty little secret: Nudes On Ice.

No, ladies and gentlemen, this is no joke. In years past, Las Vegas' Thunderbird Hotel, Hacienda Hotel and Union Plaza Hotel played the backdrop for a series of incarnations of figure skating shows featuring a cast of talented skaters (almost) in their birthday suits. The shows were produced by both Bill Moore and George Arnold. After producing their original effort Rhythm On Ice at the El Cortez in 1960, Arnold (a former Ice Capades skater) and Moore opted to take advantage of the old "sex sells" adage and produce the shows Ecstacy On Ice, Spice On Ice, Fantasy On Ice, Playgirls On Ice and Nudes On Ice. Mike Weatherford's 1998 article in the Review-Journal explained that with their show "the duo received belated recognition, of a sort, when Nudes On Ice became a surprise hit at the Union Plaza in 1988. The low-budget title was one they had recycled from an early production at the Aladdin. But national publications such as The Washington Post and 60 Minutes humorist Andy Rooney made it a metaphor for a dying era of Las Vegas show business." The final show ran until late 1990.


The shows were staged on smaller tank ice stages (fifteen by fifteen feet in one case) and featured skaters like Canadian Champion Kay Thomson and Polish show skater Jola Iglikowska. The first of the shows was held in the seventies at the Thunderbird Hotel and in a 1979 interview, Arnold explained "when I was asked to come out here from New York and produce the ice show, I had never seen a nude ice show before. I actually had to ask my father and mother for permission to produce the show, Ecstasy on Ice. The show ran for over three years. It even made the cover of Time magazine." Weatherford described the productions as "defiantly old-fashioned even as Las Vegas redefined itself: Topless showgirls on rainbow-colored staircases, sequined costumes with plumes and feathers, and jugglers and other speciality acts once synonymous with the Strip." The seven act show featured both male and female cast members in various skimpy costumes and a steppy little grand finale set to the show's theme music, "Staying Alive", "The Lady In Red" and "New York, New York".

A feature in the May 1989 issue of Spy Magazine explained that the Nudes On Ice name was technically a little misleading: "advertisements for the show beckon temptingly from taxis and billboards all along the strip: NUDES ON ICE! NUDES ON ICE! Unfortunately, the too perfect title is something of a misnomer. Yes, the skaters are on ice, but no, they're not technically nude: they're topless since total nudity in hotel shows is illegal in Nevada. And to make matters even less nude, only four women out of a coed cast of fifteen are topless. The quartet glides across the stage at the beginning of each number, then skates to the side, clomps off the ice and stands motionless, forming a not technically nude proscenium for the forthcoming entertainment."

All in all, I don't know about you... but if I paid for tickets to Nudes On Ice and didn't get to see any full frontal male nudity, I'd be asking for my money back... or at very least some free chips and someone to validate my parking. That said, this all but forgotten if not really seedy series of shows did do one thing for the sport: offer a whole new meaning to baring your all on the ice.

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.