The 1972 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Don McLean's "American Pie" topped the music charts, Richard Nixon was America's President and young people from Burbank to Brooklyn were busy playing with their brand new Etch-A-Sketches and "Operation" board games. The year was 1972, and from January 13 to 16, a who's who of figure skating gathered in Long Beach, California for the 1972 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. With spots on the Sapporo Olympic team on the line, the stakes couldn't have been higher. The event, sponsored by the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, marked the first time since 1963 that the city had played host to America's Nationals. The event was held at the eleven thousand, two hundred seat Long Beach Arena, with tickets going for between a dollar and fifty cents and five dollars. Although the rules surrounding amateurism were still extremely stringent, at the USFSA's fall executive committee meeting in October 1971 in Chicago, a sum of twenty one thousand dollars was approved as a donation to the USFSA Memorial Fund, with one hundred and fifty dollars dispersed to each skater competing in Long Beach to defray "living, training and travel expenses". During the Opening Ceremonies of the event, the San Diego Figure Skating Club Drill Team gave three performances, marking one of the first times a precision team would appear at the U.S. Championships.

Al Beard introducing an accountant to 'Hal'. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

One of the unsung heroes of the competition was 'Hal' the Honeywell time-saving computer, the brainchild of Al Beard of the Minnesota based Minneapolis-Honeywell Company. Interestingly, the USFSA's rules at the time didn't officially permit the use of computers to tabulate results, so all of the printouts from 'Hal' had to be labelled "unofficial" although they proved to be absolutely correct and were printed long before the results were tabulated by hand. Let's take a look back at all of the excitement from this interesting event from years past!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

Robin Joy Wagner of the Skating Club Of New York - the future coach of Olympic Gold Medallist Sarah Hughes - narrowly won the school figures in the novice women's event. However, the top three skaters were extremely close. With a fine free skate, Kim McIsaaac of the South Bay Figure Skating Club swapped places with Wagner in the final standings. The silver medal went to Roberta Loughland of the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club. In a three-two split of the judging panel, Loughland's training mate David Kirby took top honours in the novice men's event. Kingsford Swan, a talented young skater of colour from the Commonwealth Figure Skating Club, was hampered by a poor showing in the figures and placed only seventh overall. 


Santa Monica's Michelle McCladdie and Richard Ewell III unanimously won the junior pairs event, making history as the first skaters of colour to win a pairs title at the U.S. Championships. Ewell included a solo double Axel in their program. Giving few clues as to their future success in the sport, 1980 Olympians Sheryl Franks and Michael Botticelli placed dead last. 

Michelle Ford and Glenn Parriott. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In another three-two judging panel split, Michelle Ford and Glenn Parriott of Phoenix took top honours in the junior (Silver) dance event. Second after figures to John Carlow Jr., 1971 U.S. novice men's champion Terry Kubicka dazzled the crowd with an athletic performance that ended with a double Axel and blur spin. He earned a standing ovation, the U.S. junior men's title, and first place marks from four of the five judges. A fall in the free skate from 1970 U.S. novice champion Laurie Brandel  allowed Wendy Burge to expand upon her slim lead in the figures and win the junior women's title. Her free skate was set to selections by Giacomo Puccini and Alexander Glazunov.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley

As expected, two time and defending champions JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley easily won the compulsory pairs program, landing side-by-side double Salchows in their effort set to "Swan Lake". Although they drew first to skate in the free skate, they skated lights out, earned a standing ovation and first place marks from all seven judges. 


Siblings Melissa and Mark Militano, who placed second, included a throw double Axel and side-by-side double Axels and a split double twist in their free program and earned a standing ovation of their own. Though their program was lyrical and jam-packed with technical content, they perhaps lacked the speed and unison of the champions. Skating to "Scheherazade", the Militano's stood out not only with their tricks but with their costumes. Instead of donning the stretch bodysuits that were in vogue at the time, Melissa wore an orchid dress and Mark a blue silk jersey pleasant top and pants. Following the event, Mark told Associated Press reporters, "I gain self-satisfaction through [skating] the same way a painter does by painting or a dancer by dancing... I don't skate for any damn judges. I skate for myself. We had nothing to lose. If you're second, you might as well be last."

Barbara Brown and Doug Berndt took the bronze medal. The three teams had finished in the exact same order at the 1971 U.S. Championships in Buffalo, and it was the first time since 1950 that the same three teams stood on the pairs podium at the U.S. Championships in the same order for two consecutive years.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


After the Viennese Waltz, Kilian, Quickstep and Samba OSP, four time and defending champions Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky held an almost insurmountable lead. Though Jim made two small slips in the free dance, they still won that phase of the competition, making history as the first ice dance team to win five consecutive U.S. titles.

Ann and Skip Millier

Philadelphia's Ann and Skip Millier took the silver, ahead of Mary Karen Campbell and Johnny Johns. Johns was a busy skater in Long Beach, skating 'double duty' in senior pairs with Laura Johnson. 

Jane Pankey and Richard Horne. Photos courtesy Rochester Institute Of Technology Archives, "Skate" magazine.

The team who finished fifth, Jane Pankey and Richard Horne of the Skating Club of Wilmington, were two-time World Roller Dance Champions.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

John 'Misha' Petkevich completing a school figure in Long Beach. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Surprisingly, the senior men's school figures drew a large audience which loudly applauded after each contender solemnly traced each of their six figures. At the conclusion of the initial phase, defending champion John 'Misha' Petkevich of Great Falls, Montana held a slight lead over Ken Shelley. Returning to his much-loved "Espana Cani" program, Petkevich somewhat struggled in the free skate, two-footing a triple loop and falling on a triple Salchow. Shelley, in contrast, skated brilliantly, landing three double Axels and wowing the crowd with his acrobatic Russian split jumps. Although Petkevich received 5.9's from more than one judge despite his errors, Shelley took the gold medal with first place ordinals from four of the seven judges.

Gordon McKellen Jr.

Gordon McKellen Jr. of Lake Placid placed third, ahead of San Diego's John Baldwin, who received one first place ordinal. Junior pairs champion Richard Ewell III placed seventh, one spot ahead of a young David Santee. Following the event, Petkevich told Associated Press reporters, "I made a couple of crucial mistakes in technique that pretty well tells the story. I'm by no means finished. I still have the Olympics and the World Championships [but] this is the precise reason I never wanted to quit school to devote full time to skating. There are too many other experiences in life." Shelley, who became the first man since Eugene Turner in 1941 to win U.S. titles in two disciplines in the same year said, "I just can't believe it!"

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Fittingly dressed in gold, Tulsa's Julie Lynn Holmes took the lead over three time and defending champion Janet Lynn in the school figures. Although she drew an unlucky first in the starting order for the free skate, Lynn skated almost flawlessly, electrifying the crowd with her otherworldly style and seamlessly integrated technical content.


Like Lynn, Holmes landed the double Axel in her program, but appeared somewhat cautious in comparison. Lynn won the title with unanimous first place votes, ahead of Holmes and 1971 Bronze Medallist Suna Murray of the Skating Club of New York. Fifteen year old Dorothy Hamill, sick as a dog with the flu, finished fourth and narrowly missed a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. In her book "A Skating Life: My Story", she recalled, "One judge had me in thirteenth place, because she didn't like my footwork. That was a new one for me. I didn't know my footwork was so hopeless. I was hurt by the judge's comment, but I was in a subjective sport and that came with the territory. I was happy I had skated as well as I had, so the defeat wasn't devastating when it happened. It was a couple weeks later, when I got my strength back, that it hit me. Another judge had said to my mother, 'I wish I had known Dorothy had been so sick,' implying he would have placed me third if he had known I could not possibly be skating my best." Following the event, Janet Lynn told a reporter from "The Milwaukee Journal', "I don't skate for points. I skate for the love of skating." 

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