The 1947 World Figure Skating Championships

Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet, Barbara Ann Scott and Hans Gerschwiler

In late October of 1946, just over a year after World War II ended, the International Skating Union formally announced plans for the resurrection of the World Figure Skating Championships. The 1947 competition was held at the Olympic Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden and was initially slated to be held from February 14 to 16, 1947 but due to weather and ice conditions was actually extended over a five day span from February 13 to 17, 1947.

Skaters and judges behind the scenes in Stockholm

The event's revival was certainly plagued from some residual after effects of the war. Skaters from Germany, Austria and Japan were not permitted to compete nor were officials from those countries permitted to come judge. This ban notably affected the participation of Austrians Eva Pawlik and Edi Rada, who may well have been medal contenders. There was also a marked drop in numbers in the men's event as compared to the World Championships that immediately preceded the War. From 1936 to 1939, there were at least ten men's singles entries at Worlds; in 1947 there were but five. It was a unique event. Temperatures for the outdoor competition dipped to minus twenty Fahrenheit. The local media were at odds with Sweden's figure skating association, who required them to pay for their own seats. As a result, they were critical of nearly everything, from the skating to the judging to the organization of the event itself. Let's take a look back at the stories and skaters from this memorable event!

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Judges evaluating the women's school figures at the 1947 World Championships

Of the women's competition, Olympic Gold Medallist, ten time World Champion and ISU President Ulrich Salchow wrote, "My impression was that, as a class, the Ladies' standard was higher than the men's. Of course men cannot sacrifice the time which will be necessary to bring them to championship class. The effect of training of artificial rinks where there is no wind and the ice is very fast, making it easy to glide through figures, influenced many of the performances. Instead of skating through and showing a practical knowledge of skating, the fast ice scared several of the young ladies who performed correctly but in a lifeless manner. From the beginning and all through the figures, Barbara Ann Scott had the lead and not far behind followed Daphne Walker of England. Barbara's shoulder work made her glide on sharp edges and good pace through all the figures. She had good luck all the time and she certainly deserved it. Gretchen Merrill, from the United States, skated in good style; more bending of the knee would have given her better pace but her gracefulness and clean edges were well observed. Janette Ahrens of the United States was in the same class and little Eileen Seigh of Philadelphia, also appeared at her best with the exception of her foot changes and her search for tracings. Great Britain had sent a real troupe, and Daphne Walker was very soon in the group of competitors when the fight for victory took place. Her edges were deeply sharp, she understood how, by rhythmic use of her shoulders and free leg, to keep up a good speed all through her figures. Her steadiness was not noticeable. Her compatriots were of the same style. Gun Ericson and Britta Rahlen of Sweden were not up to expectations. Gun had had flu ever since Davos and Britta seemed rather out of form. Both, however, skated good loops. Czechoslovakia sent two young girls, Alena Vrzáňová and Jiřina Nekolová, from whom we shall certainly hear in future. They skated well, but lacked routine. Norway and Finland showed up with skaters who were good but not good enough for the World competition. The evening show of free skating on Sunday, February 16th, 1947 was brilliant! What the ladies gave was a demonstration of the highest class of skating, gracefulness, courage and good taste. Barbara Ann Scott was the girl of the lucky strike. She combined her difficult program in an artistic way where her stunts were mixed up in an astonishing surprises, all executed in an easy style as if she skated only to have a good time for herself! Gretchen Merrill made a deep impression, her figure combinations were so well placed and run out that not only was her talent clear but, it was evident that she was an artist. She had the misfortune to fall but this did not seem to go to her nerves."

Barbara Ann Scott

The women's free skating events in Stockholm in 1947 were actually held at night with quite poor ice conditions but the attendance was excellent. Barbara Ann Scott had a seventy eight point lead after the school figures but was still considered the underdog by many in the media who felt that Gretchen Merrill was a better free skater. However, Scott won her title decisively with first place marks from eight of the nine judges. Great Britain's Daphne Walker held on to finish second overall ahead of Merrill. Future Olympic Gold Medallist Jeannette Altwegg, also of Britain, would finish fifth of the nineteen ladies competing in Stockholm that year.

Barbara Ann Scott and Sheldon Galbraith

Interestingly, in the Canadian Figure Skating Association's first year as an ISU member, Barbara Ann Scott was Canada's sole entry in all three disciplines of the event. She was also so popular with the Swedish audience after her win that she got swarmed. In her 1950 biography "Skate With Me", she described how the medal ceremony thusly: "The spectators came out on the ice and Sheldon [Galbraith], who was holding my coat, grabbed me by one arm, and Hans Gerschwiler, who had won the men’s singles, took my other arm. No one said anything; they merely wanted a close-up view to see what we looked like. I saw what they looked like too. They looked very tall. This continued for half an hour. It was so cold that Sheldon tried to protect me by putting me into a little box in which the scorekeeper had sat. But some of the men picked up the box, which had wires attached to it. They were about to break the wires, so I got out and stood again on the ice. Then we started to push with our toe picks on the ice right through the crowd. The throng was most dense in the direction of the dressing room, so we walked in the opposite direction, toward a door we saw. The door was opened for us, I put on my skate guards, and, still on skates, walked through a long, narrow tunnel and entered a home - I think it was the caretaker's home. Anyway, there were people sitting around a table having a meal. We walked through more tunnels around the end of the rink, which looked, against the night sky, something like a castle with odd little buildings attached to it. We made our way along a street, Hans and I clumping along on our skates, and finally reached the dressing room by a back way. Mother was terrified. She thought I’d been eaten up by that crowd."


THE MEN'S COMPETITION



Barbara Ann Scott and Dick Button. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In the men's event, North American Champion Dick Button squared off against European Champion Hans Gerschwiler. The face-off almost didn't happen, because on the way to the event, the train Button and his coach Gustave Lussi were travelling on broke down. They jumped out into the snowbanks and hitchhiked their way to the arena. They arrived late and were initially told that Button was disqualified, but the mess was cleared up and he was allowed to compete. Gerschwiler took a decisive thirty five point lead in the school figures but Button rebounded with a thrilling free skate performance that was extremely well received by the Stockholm audience. He actually won the free skate and earned more points than Gerschwiler, but a three-two split in judges placements assured Gerschwiler the overall win. 


In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Uncle Dick wrote, "The fateful bell sounded again and it was announced that Hans had won. I was second. He had scored seven and I had eight in this placings. But there was more to it. The score was even closer. I had made up the deficit in points! I went beyond the Swiss by 352.86 to 350. But that didn't matter; it meant an E for effort, but Hans still won. He had a majority of first places in the votes of the judges - three to two - and that's what counted. Gerschwiler was ranked first by the Swiss, Czech and English judges, with me second. I won the Danish and United States votes, with Hans second on those cards... I congratulated Hans and assured him that the best man had won." South African born British Champion Arthur Apfel captured the bronze medal. In fourth place was European Silver Medallist Vladislav Cáp of Czechoslovakia and in fifth was the only men's competitor to have competed at a World Championships prior to the war, Denmark's Per Cock-Clausen.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet

The pairs event consisted of a free skating competition only and was won by European Champions Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet of Belgium. In second were fourteen year old Karol Kennedy and her nineteen year old brother Peter, siblings hailing from Seattle, Washington. A second Belgian team, Suzanne Diskeuve and Edmond Verbustel, claimed the bronze medal ahead of eight other teams from Great Britain, Sweden, the U.S., France, Czechoslovakia and Norway. It was a close contest between the Belgians and the Americans, and American judge Lyman Wakefield Jr. raised more than a few eyebrows when he placed Lannoy and Baugniet in a tie for eighth.

Clipping from "The Evening Citizen"

In an article republished in the May 4, 1948 edition of the "Ottawa Citizen", Ulrich Salchow made some further apt observations not only about the 1947 competition but about the trends in figure skating at the time: "The Swedish people are very interested and appreciative spectators. Barbara Ann soon learned, however, that they prefer the fast-moving, colourful type of skating to the more conventional and perhaps more subtle standards required by the judging committees. The official decisions were frequently greeted with loud disapproval. During the exhibitions spectators would beat out the tempo of the music with their feet in order to keep warm. The air of informality was intensified by the announcer who added original comments to the standard form of pronouncements in order to keep the crowd in good humour. The showmanship of the American competitors took the European crowds by storm. Judges of the old school maintain that the trick of racing the full length of the ice in order to attain a high jump is not in the best tradition of figure skating. Although a jump is allowed during a free-skating program, form and approximation to rigid standards are the essentials. Spectators are seldom aware of the technical points involved and usually prefer the more sensational type of skating. In the school figures, however, the American competitors all tended to skate slowly while the English and Continental skaters circled rapidly around a figure and described a somewhat smaller circle. In general, the 1947 championship events were conspicuous for the natural and sympathetic way in which skaters, parents, judges and sponsors from every country mingled and became acquainted."

Karol and Peter Kennedy

Amazingly, it was at this very competition in Stockholm that Ulrich Salchow befriended Dick Button and gave him the trophy that has been symbolically passed down through generations to John 'Misha' Petkevich and Paul Wylie. In my 2014 interview with Dick, he explained, "I went to his house in Stockholm in 1947. He invited a whole group of skaters and all of his trophies were in a good sized room. He said, 'I don't want you to leave this competition without having a trophy. I want you to pick any one you want out of this room.' They ranged in size from one to two inches high to a big silver statue of Peter The Great on a rock. Of course, that's what I really wanted but I thought no and I didn't want to pick one of the smaller ones and insult him either. I picked the trophy you see in 'Push Dick's Button'. He won in that [at the World Championships in] London in 1902. Since it was given to me, I gave it to Misha Petkevich on the condition he give it someday to someone else when he felt that there was someone he admired. I admired Petkevich's skating very much so I gave it to him but I also had a copy made for myself. He gave to Paul Wylie and he did the same thing. When Paul gives it to someone else, each person will still keep their own copy." And so, at the 1947 World Championships in Stockholm, that trophy won back at the turn of the century bridged the gap of two World Wars and carried the torch of figure skating onwards for generations to come.

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