The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships
Commemorative badge and pin from The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships
The 1979 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Thunder Bay, Ontario was a competition of many firsts. Advances in technology meant that for the first time, a central music system was used to play music via a telephone system from a sound room at the main venue, the four thousand, six hundred seat Fort William Gardens to both practice venues, the Port Arthur and Current River arenas. It was also the first time senior winners were given an engraved lapel-sized pin in addition to their gold medal, the first time a skater landed a triple Axel at the Canadian Championships and the first time in almost ten years - since the great Carbonetto/Magnussen upset of 1969 - that a defending senior champion would be dethroned at the Canadian Championships.
A trifecta of Canadian coaching greats... Louis Stong, Kerry Leitch and Doug Leigh. Photos courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.
History aside, the "Canadian Skater" magazine noted that the competition wasn't all roses in a review of the event in their Spring/Summer 1979 issue: "The major complaint was not the facilities or the well-below zero Thunder Bay weather, but the judging of participants. Judges were openly booed for some of their marks and at times the corridors vibrated with angry comments about the judging. But still the crowds came and the stands were packed." In today's blog, let's take a look back and see what all the excitement was about!
THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS
As was the fashion at the time, the top three in the novice ice dance competition remained the same from the compulsories through the free dance. Karen Taylor of Sarnia and Bob Burk of Ridgetown were the victors, followed by Wendy Birch and Danny Sorley and Carla Holdsworth and Herb Deary. Taylor and Burk's victory was remarkable in that the year before they hadn't even qualified for Nationals. A move to Toronto was apparently just what the young team needed. In the month's leading up to the 1979 Canadian Championships, they decisively snatched the Western Ontario Sectional and Central Canada Divisional titles.
The leader after the novice men's school figures was Vegreville, Alberta's Troy Ruptash, with Port Moody, British Columbia's Brad McLean second and Edmonton's Ian Edwards third. With a fine free skate, McLean ultimately took the gold, followed by Windsor's Darin Matthewson and Ruptash. Further down the standings were some notable names you just might recognize! In fifth and ninth were 1988 Olympians Neil Paterson and Lyndon Johnston and in seventh was future World Champion and two time Olympic Medallist Lloyd Eisler.
Rosemary Barth and Keith Davis
Kerry Leitch students took the top two spots in the novice pairs event, which consisted solely of a free skate. Rosemary Barth of Kitchener and Keith Davis of St. Catharines claimed the gold; Penny Wilson of Ingersoll and William Thompson of Waterloo the silver. Representing the North Shore Winter Club, Bonnie Epp and David Howe were third. Leitch remarked, "I didn't expect the novice level to be as high as it was and I'd say it's one of the highest in the last five years. It's surprising. The standards are improving so fast." If anyone would have known, it would have been Leitch. His teams had won the novice pairs titles at the Canadian Championships for five straight years.
Despite stiff competition from Becky Gough and Mark Rowsom, Lorri Baier and Lloyd Eisler won both the short program and free skate in the junior pairs event and glided to gold. In third place were Bill O'Neil and Eisler's future partner Katherina Matousek.
Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber
In an impressive field of fifteen junior ice dance teams, Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber of Toronto led the way from start to finish. With no skaters from the area competing in the event, Johnson (a former Thunder Bay resident) was very popular with the local crowd. Nova Scotians Gina Aucoin and Hans-Peter Ponikau claimed the silver, followed by Ontarians Darlene Wendt and Wayne Hussey, Terri-Lynn Black and David Dunstan, Quebec's Sylvie Ethier and Jean Bernier and Vancouver's Tracy Wilson and Mark Skokes.
Twelve year old Charlene Wong, who was only ninth in figures earlier that month at the Eastern Divisional Championships, took a surprise lead early in the junior women's event ahead of Toronto's Kay Thomson and Vancouver's Yvonne Anderson. Thomson rallied back in the free skate to take the gold in her first appearance at the Canadian Championships. Anderson and Calgary's Kathryn Osterberg knocked Wong right off the podium. In fact, she ended up down in ninth. One of the biggest surprises in the event was Montreal's Jamie Lynn Kitching, who moved all the way up to fourth overall... from unlucky thirteenth.
Brian Orser in Thunder Bay in 1979
THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION
Joanne French and John Thomas. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.
|Patricia Fletcher |
and Michael de la Penotiere
THE PAIRS COMPETITION
A young Barbie and Paul
In the absence of the previous year's champions Sherri Baier and Robin Cowan, it was fifteen year old Barbara Underhill of Oshawa and eighteen year old Paul Martini of Woodbridge's year to make a move. The unique team with two different coaches (Barbara worked with Anna Forder-McLaughlin; Paul with Judy Henderson) took a massive lead over Susan Gowan and Eric Thomsen of Vancouver and Lee-Ann Jackson and Bernard Souche of Cambridge in the short program, earning first place marks from all seven judges. With a thrilling free skate, Underhill and Martini won their first Canadian senior title. Jackson and Souche placed second in the free skate but had to settle for the bronze overall behind Gowan and Thomsen. Bowmanville and Oshawa natives Andrea Derby and Jim Sorochan finished fourth. Underhill and Martini's victory in 1979 marked only the third time in the history of the Canadian Championships that a pairs team had won the junior and senior titles in successive years.
THE MEN'S COMPETITION
Vern Taylor and Brian Pockar. Photos courtesy Eileen Mortimer.
In the senior men's field of eight, nineteen year old Brian Pockar of Calgary defeated twenty year old Vern Taylor of Toronto by a hair. How close was it? Pockar had ten ordinals and 80.40 points; Taylor eleven and 79.90. Both men skated extremely well in the free skate, but the judges ultimately opted to reward Pockar's more well-rounded performance over Taylor's eight triple free skate. Taylor's athletic effort earned a standing ovation from the appreciative Thunder Bay crowd and top marks for technical merit in the free skate. Taylor's loss was dictated by the fact that he had been sixth after the figures and short program. Pockar's performance was nothing to sneeze at in itself. He fought hard, saying he felt like he'd "run a five minute mile." Brockville's Gordon Forbes took the bronze, followed by Don Mills' Gary Beacom, Montreal's Daniel Beland, Coquitlam's Jimmy Szabo, Vancouver's Dennis Coi and Windsor's Kevin Hicks.
THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION
The February 5, 1979 issue of "The Ottawa Journal" noted, "It has not been an easy road to the top for Morrissey. She was never one of those young 'phenoms' who burst on the skating scene with a big buildup and ride up the ladder in the early stages in a wave of publicity. It was easy to stay relatively unnoticed skating out of Nepean when the focus was on the Minto stars of the past few years. Lynn Nightingale was Ottawa's and Canada's queen of the ice, with a gracious manner, a great talent and a show-stopping personality on the ice... As Morrissey worked her way into the limelight there was never a suggestion from her that her talents were being overlooked by media, fans and particularly judges who aren't supposed to be influenced by reputation, but frequently are. She just kept working, smiling, skating and improving, believing that if there was any justice in the world at all that her day would come." It did in Thunder Bay.
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