The 1959 European Figure Skating Championships

Alain Calmat, Karol Divín and Alain Giletti

In the decades leading up to the 1959 European Figure Skating Championships, the stunning outdoor ice in Davos, Switzerland played host to some of the most important competitions in figure skating history. Ulrich Salchow, Karl Schäfer and Barbara Ann Scott all won European titles in the skating mecca. Sadly, the competition held from February 1 to 8, 1959 would prove to be the final time that "the largest natural sprayed ice rink in existence" in Davos would play host to the European Championships and as far as grand finales went, the skating at this event did not disappoint. Many of the competitors arrived well in advance of the competition to acclimatize themselves but found themselves limited in their practice time as both the rink where the competition was to be held and another rink adjacent to it used for practices - separated by a wall of snow - closed at five in the afternoon daily. Let's take a look back at the stories and skaters who made headlines at this historic event!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


West Germans Margret Göbl and Franz Ningel finished fourth in the pairs event in Davos in 1959.

Twelve pairs contested the pairs title in Davos in 1959. The retirement of the Czechoslovakian team of Věra Suchánková and Zdeněk Doležal, who had won both the 1957 and 1958 European titles, left the field wide open. The athletic Soviet team of Nina and Stanislav Zhuk were considered favourites by some, but there was much buzz about the promising West German partnership of Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler.

Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler in 1959

With her former partner Franz Ningel, Marika had won the bronze medal for three consecutive years from 1955 to 1957. In the end, the Austrian, West German, Polish and Swiss judges placed the West Germans first, the Czechoslovakian and Soviet judges had the Zhuk's first and British judge Pamela Davis (like the cheese) stood alone in giving her vote of confidence to her country's champions Joyce Coates and Anthony Holles. Future World ice dance champion Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman, skating double duty in both the pairs and ice dance events, finished a dismal last. In winning, Kilius and Bäumler became the first German pair since the Falk's to claim the European title.

Not everyone was impressed with Kilius and Bäumler's performance. Dennis Bird described it as "brittle and striving for speed for speed's sake". In "Skating World" magazine, Maribel Vinson lamented, "Must we all rush round incessantly 'busy', performing everything we know how to do within a span of five minutes in order not to seem 'dull'?"

THE MEN'S COMPETITION 



Czechoslovakia's Karol Divín and France's Alain Giletti had been one-two in 1958 at the European Championships in Bratislava and were both considered top contenders for the men's crown in 1959. Inspired by the 1952 innovation of Dick Button, both Giletti and his compatriot Alain Calmat attempted triple loops in practice in Davos. In the school figures, the Austrian, Czechoslovakian, West German, East German and Dutch judge placed Divín first while the French and Soviet judges gave Giletti the nod. A third contender, Austria's Norbert Felsinger, earned first place marks from the Swiss and British judges.


Norbert Felsinger and Joan Haanappel

Alain Calmat won the free skate with first place ordinals from six of the nine judges, the other three preferring the concise style of Divín. A young Manfred Schnelldorfer landed a double Axel in his free skate and Felsinger beamed while delivering the finest free skate of his career in a scarlet tailcoat, but Divín and Giletti remained in the top two positions on the podium.



THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Hanna Walter, Sjoukje Dijkstra and Joan Haanappel

Hanna Walter had placed second at the 1958 European Championships in Bratislava, but her winning teammate Ingrid Wendl had retired. A specialist in the school figures, Walter was all but assured a victory in the first phase of the competition if she skated up to her usual potential. She met all expectations and received first place ordinals from six of the seven judges, the Dutch judge placing her in a tie with Joan Haanappel. Holland's Sjoukje Dijkstra, West Germany's Ina Bauer and Austria's Regine Heitzer trailed behind Walter and Haanappel.

Ina Bauer

Bauer won the free skate with first place ordinals from five of the nine judges. Two judges apiece placed Dijkstra and Czechoslovakia's Jana Dočekalová (who attempted a triple Salchow) first. Heinz Maegerlein's 1964 book "Triumph auf dem Eis" noted that both Bauer and Dijkstra skated exceptionally well in the free skate. Walter and Haanaapel delivered less than stellar performances, each receiving ordinals as low as tenth place. There were so many entries that the skaters who ranked twenty first through twenty eighth skated in a second group in the free skating. The results were later combined with the twenty who advanced to the top flights of skaters. In the end, the gold went to Walter, the silver to Dijkstra and the bronze to Haanappel.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Fifteen ice dance teams vied for gold in Davos in 1959 but the one team that everyone was talking about was Doreen Denny and Courtney Jones. Prior to their appearance in Switzerland, naysayers had expressed doubts as to whether or not Jones would be able to achieve the same level of success as he had previously with June Markham. As soon as the Britons took the ice for their first practice, the critics were silenced. However, with 1958 European Bronze Medallists Barbara Thompson and Gerard Rigby unable to attend, Great Britain - who had swept the podium the previous five years - was left with only two teams competing in Davos. The compulsory dances were interrupted after only six teams skated. Bright sun and strong winds had left the ice conditions less than desirable and the event had to be postponed to the next day. In a class by themselves, Denny and Jones easily won their first international title together ahead of teammates Catherine Morris and Michael Robinson.

France's Christiane and Jean-Paul Guhel

In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "It took the absence of a third British couple to break their stranglehold on the European podium since the first Dance event in 1954. The Guhels drew attention with their unique free dance to be honoured with the first non-British medal. Rita Paucka and Peter Kwiet skated a very fast free marred by a spill to end fourth. Elly Thal and Hannes Burkhardt pulled up a notch to fifth with their free dance." As was often even more the case then that it is today, there was very little movement in the ice dance event with the exception of Romanová and Roman. The judges had no clue what to do with the sprightly young team. The British judge had them in fourth and the Italian judge had them in eleventh, where they ultimately ended up. Denny and Jones' winning free dance was broadcast on BBC Sportsview alongside features on cricket, curling and football.

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