Czech Please!: A Triple Bill Of Czechoslovakian Skating Pioneers

Czechoslovakian skating ticket from 1951. Courtesy Czech Library of the Ministry of National Security.

From Ondrej Nepela, Jozef Sabovčík and Petr Barna to Ája Vrzáňová and Radka Kovaříková and René Novotný, there's absolutely no question that skaters from the former country of Czechoslovakia have left important footprints on figure skating history. We've explored the stories of many great Czech skaters on Skate Guard previously, and today we'll meet three more Czechoslovakian skating pioneers, each with their own fascinating tales. Pour yourself a frosty mug of Pilsner Urquell and hop in the time machine as we meet these three compelling characters!

JOSEF SLÍVA



The son of Anton and Anna (Rožnovská) Slíva, Josef Slíva was born in the town of Třinec along the Olza River on November 28, 1898. His family were German immigrants to Czechoslovakia, and thus he studied at a German elementary school and German gymnasium in Cieszyn. As a young man, he partnered in a construction company with his brothers Anton and Alois and took on an instrumental role in the founding of his local skating club.

Though his brothers were also talented skaters, Josef proved to the most skilled skating Slíva. At the age of twenty five, he entered his first major international competition - the 1924 Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France - and almost medalled! His ordinals at those games ranged from first through seventh and his result proved to be Czechoslovakia's best finish at those Games. Stronger in school figures than freestyle, Slíva never quite managed to rise enough in the standings to win a medal at a major ISU competition. He placed fifth at the 1925 World Championships in Vienna, behind four Austrians... with a judging panel consisting of three Austrian and two Hungarian judges. Fifth place finishes followed at the 1926 World Championships and 1928 Winter Olympics.

Josef found himself at the center of controversy in 1930, when he shockingly defeated reigning European Champion Karl Schäfer at the European Championships in Štrbské Pleso based on a win in the figures supported by a bloc of judges from Czechoslovakia, France and Yugoslavia. It was soon discovered that the Yugoslavian judge listed (Ivo Kavsek) was switched with a non-ISU judge from Yugoslavia (Victor Vadisek) who judged under his name. The scandal made the front page of the "Wiener Sport-Tagblatt" and the ISU Council declared the results of the competition null and void. The event was reskated in Berlin, with Schäfer again winning and Josef absent from the roster of competitors. Interestingly, Josef placed a dismal twelfth of thirteen competitors at his final major international competition, the 1931 World Championships, also in Berlin. In an obvious instance of insane national bias, the Czechoslovakian judge had him first. No other judge had him higher than tenth overall.

Josef left the competitive skating world in some disgrace because of what happened at the 1930 European Championships, but he remained active behind the scenes as an administrator with the Czechoslovakian Skating Union and a judge. He judged the pairs events at the 1937 European Championships in Prague, the 1937 World Championships in London and 1939 European Championships in Zakopane. With his brothers, he constructed his own model of skates and even penned a manual on skating technique comprised of articles previously published in Berlin Eissport magazine. In 1947, his brother Anton was sentenced in Ostrava to twenty years in prison for his ties to the German Nazi Party and Josef faded into obscurity, the rest of his story obfuscated behind the Iron Curtain.

VLADISLAV ČÁP



Born April 13, 1926, Vladislav Čáp was identified as one of Czechoslovakia's most promising young skaters in the thirties and spent much of World War II training in England under the watchful eye of famed Swiss coach Arnold Gerschwiler. When major international competitions resumed following the War, he shocked everyone by placing a surprising second at the 1947 European Championships in Davos behind Arnold's nephew Hans. At the World Championships that followed, he was third after figures, but dropped to fourth overall behind Hans, Dick Button and Arthur Apfel.

Then Čáp's bad luck started... At the 1948 European Championships in Prague, he placed a disastrous eighth in a field of nine skaters. At the 1948 Winter Olympics, he dropped to tenth. In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Dick Button recalled, "Vladislav Čáp, the Czech, returned to the dressing room considerably let down. He had been a victim of hard luck. After the first minute his record broke and he had to finish without music, a serious handicap. The referee had offered him the choice of being marked as he had skated, or of repeating his program to different music. Čáp elected the former, because it would be no simple matter to substitute another selection for one which, through months of rehearsal had provided the timing for his program. Vladislav had everyone's sympathy, and his accident was a reminder to all his rivals that luck, despite infinite preparations, could intrude to disastrous effect." At the World Championships that followed, he again placed tenth and at his final international event, the 1949 European Championships, he finished fifth in a field of six. The poor Czech just couldn't seem to catch a break. However, after his retirement from the competitive skating world, things appeared to look up for Čáp for a time. He graduated from České vysoké učení technické v Praze (Czech Technical University in Prague) with a degree in electrical engineering and worked as an international referee and ISU committee member. He also served as the Czechoslavakian Federation's Secretary from 1954 to 1957.

In 1956 in Cortina d'Ampezzo, he was even the first official ISU technical delegate to serve at an Olympic Games. However, later that same year, the Czechoslovakian government denied him the right to travel abroad and started monitoring his communication with figure skating officials who lived abroad. He wrote the book "Interpretation Of The Rules Of Figure Skating" and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Physical Education, but his communist bosses had his name removed as one of the authors. In 1959, he was arrested under communist regime for alleged spying and sentenced to five years in the slammer. He served three and a half. While in prison, a book he'd co authored with Josef Dědič called "Figure Skating For Referees And Coaches" was published. After his release, Čáp began to design artistic lighting for buildings, including the Czech National Bank, a casino in Saarbrücken and Prague's main post office. He became an authority on stage lighting and worked at the Scenography Institute and for Československá televize (ČST), a state sponsored television station. He also lectured on stage lighting at the Prague Academy Of Performing Arts and penned several scholarly books on lighting technology. Čáp left ČST in the early nineties and continued to work implementing interior and exterior lighting at home and abroad until his retirement in 1995. He passed away on December 30, 2001 in Prague.

EVA NYKLOVÁ



Although she skated in the shadow of her more famous Czechoslovakian teammate Vera Hrubá Ralston for much of her early career, Eva Nyklová was widely respected as one of the finest free skaters of her era, and had it not have been for the cancellation of major figure skating competitions during World War II, she very well could have medalled on the international stage. Prior to the War, she trained in England and became an NSA Gold Medallist. T.D. Richardson called her "a young skater of very considerable promise who has a good command of the school figures and skates a difficult free programme with great charm and assurance."


During Eva's reign as Czechoslovakian Champion, she placed eighth at the 1937 and 1938 European Championships and seventh in 1939 in London. At the 1939 World Championships in Prague, she moved up to fifth behind Megan Taylor, Hedy Stenuf, Daphne Walker and Lydia Veicht. Rather than wait out the War, she instead turned professional and enjoyed success in several of Tom Arnold's productions. She appeared in "Ice Follies" in Belgium and starred in "Cinderella on Ice" in 1949 and 1950 and "Stars On Ice" in London. By the fifties, she was a senior figure skating instructor in Nottingham, England. She married Robert Evans in Harrow, Middlesex in 1954 and devoted countless hours to teaching young skaters to excel at the sport that was in her blood.

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