The First Tom Collins Tour


Whether it be inflated PCS marks or the cringeworthy aesthetics of many of today's spin combinations, figure skating can often leave us dying for a drink... perhaps the delicious concoction of gin, lemon juice, sugar and soda water concoction the world knows as a Tom Collins. 

It was a beloved man of the same name who organized the first ever star-centered North American figure skating tour back in 1969. For decades, Tom Collins' tour packed some of the biggest venues in North America and offered skaters from around the world wonderful opportunities. It went by many names over the years - the USFSA/CFSA/ISU World Champions Figure Skating Exhibition, the Tour Of Champions, the World Figure Skating Tour, the Olympic Figure Skating Tour, the Tour Of Olympic And World Figure Skating Champions, the Tour Of World Champions and finally, Champions On Ice - but what really made Collins' tour unique was the fact it was the first in North America to bring together eligible and ineligible skaters and to focus largely on solo work instead of group or ensemble pieces. Showgirls and polar bear costumes the Tom Collins tour was not; many of the tour's performers were gifted amateur athletes at the peak of their careers.

Janet Lynn

After the 1969 World Figure Skating Championships held at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, Tom Collins (who was then Holiday On Ice's vice president and general manager) teamed up with Holiday On Ice's founder Morris Chalfen to present the USFSA/CFSA/ISU World Champions Figure Skating Exhibition tour. In order to retain the eligibility of the skaters who participated, they received sanctions from the International Skating Union, Canadian Figure Skating Association and United States Figure Skating Association. A 2008 Jay Weiner article from the "Minnesota Post" aptly described what made that initial tour unique: "A concept was born. Tour with the planet's best skaters, not as a night-clubby, lounge-acty, circuslike ice show, but as a serious skating, performance show. Let the world champs show their competition routines in person to the folks at home. Sure, add pizzazz, but show the athleticism."

The cast was eclectic, featuring some of the top skaters of the era but also some lesser known stars. Among the big names were Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov, Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov, Ondrej Nepela, Janet Lynn, Karen Magnussen, Tim Wood, Gaby Seyfert, Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley, Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, Hana Mašková, Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin, Patrick Pera and John Misha Petkevich. The United States was further represented with Ron and Cynthia Kauffman, Julie Lynn Holmes, Melissa and Mark Militano, Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky and Gary Visconti. Canada additionally contributed the talents of Anna Forder and Richard Stephens, Jay Humphry, Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie and Linda (Carbonetto) Villella. Rounding out the impressive cast were some lesser known names to North American audiences: four time British Champions Linda Bernard and Raymond Wilson, three time British Champion Patricia Dodd, West German Pairs Champions Gudrun Hauss and Walter Häfner, Australian Champion Janet Schwarz, East German Champions Heidemarie Steiner and Heinz-Ulrich Walther and four time Japanese Champion Kazumi Onishi (Yamashita).

Rising stars also joined the cast in select locations. Among the cast of the tour's 'grand finale' on March 30, 1969 at Madison Square Garden were a young Dorothy Hamill and a duo of precision teams - The Precisionettes from the Skating Club of Riverdale and The Hockettes from Ann Arbor. The latter team fundraised much of their own way to New York City to participate, selling over two thousand dollars worth of chocolate bars.

The musical selections of the skaters on the 1969 tour were diverse, to say the very least. Janet Lynn skated to Simon and Garfunkel; the Kauffman's to The Beatles. Gaby Seyfert performed to the "Pas de deux" from "The Nutcracker", while Diane Towler and Bernard Ford danced their way through the Broadway standard "Mame".

Melissa and Mark Militano

Although the 1969 tour would mark one of only two occasions where Collins didn't travel along with the cast, his earliest effort would have been quite the novelty for the skaters participating as previous post-Worlds ISU organized tours had been centered almost entirely in Europe. Although skaters visited an incredible fifteen cities that spring (eight in Canada and seven in the U.S.) and their efforts were well received, the enterprising duo of Collins and Chalfen lost money to the tune of twenty five to thirty thousand dollars. Ouch! Although the management of Ice Capades organized another similar tour featuring top amateur skaters in 1972, Collins wouldn't revive the tour that cost him a small fortune until 1975. It all started somewhere though - with a vision - and if you think about how huge that tour was in the eighties and nineties especially, it's just incredible.

Cynthia and Ron Kauffman on the 1969 Tom Collins tour

Lynn Thomas, who wrote a review of the initial tour in "Skating" magazine, remarked, "Perhaps the most important thing about the tour was not the exposure of American audiences to such excellent skating, but the international relations among skaters. All the club members who so generously entertained the champions noted an amazing rapport among them regardless of their nationalities."
Reflecting on his experience putting on this beloved tour in a 2008 interview with ESPN, Collins said "I had a great run." He most certainly did... and reflecting back on how it all started for Collins is a wonderful reminder of something that we all seem to need to be reminded of sometimes... if at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

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