Photo courtesy "Miroir-Sprint" magazine
In 1952 at the age of eleven, Alain won the French junior men's title. Two years later at the age of thirteen, he claimed his first of thirteen medals in the senior men's event at the French Championships. In 1952, he attended his first European and World Championships, placing an impressive fifth and eleventh, respectively. It wasn't until four years later, when he claimed his first of five French titles and won the bronze medal at the European Championships in Bratislava, that he began to be regarded as a bona fide medal contender.
Top: Alain Giletti and Alain Calmat in 1954. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Bottom: Alain Calmat signing autographs at Queen's Ice Rink in 1958. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.
In the years that followed, Alain went on to claim five more medals at the European Championships - three of them gold - and win two bronze medals and two silver medals at World Championships. He was highly favoured to win the gold medal at the 1964 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, but fell twice in the free skate and 'settled' for silver. It was the first medal France ever won at the Olympics in men's figure skating.
Left: Alain Calmat, Manfred Schnelldorfer and Scotty Allen on the Olympic podium in 1964; Right: Alain Calmat performing a jump for photographers.
Alain retired in 1965 after finally winning the World title that had eluded him for over a decade at the World Championships at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs.
Photo courtesy "Le Miroir des Sports"
Though Madame Vaudecrane was Alain's primary coach during his entire career, he also was sent with Alain Giletti to America to train with Pierre Brunet alongside World Champion Donald Jackson of Canada.
Though in three trips to the Olympic Games Alain proved unable to win gold, he again made history by becoming the first French athlete to light the flame in the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble.
When Alain lit the flame, the sound of his heartbeat was supposed to have been amplified from a wireless microphone taped to his chest over the loudspeakers. Unfortunately, he ran the length of the microphone with the torch, and when he mounted the stairs, his heartbeat wasn't audible. Nevertheless, seven thousand school children lit torches in celebration.
Throughout much of his competitive career, Alain had spent as much time in the books as he did on his brackets. After retiring and passing his medical exams, he became a surgeon and served as chief of abdominal and gastric surgery at the Hôpital à Montfermeil. He was part of Christian Cabrol and Charles Dubost's team that carried out the first heart transplants in France. He later worked as a professor and the head of the clinic at the hospital of Collège Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris.
From 1986 to 1993, Alain served as the deputy of the Département of Cher, In 1995, he became the Mayor of Livry-Gargan. In 1997, he was re-elected as a Minister Of Parliament for the district of Seine-Saint-Denis and became a deputy in the French National Assembly. Serving through 2002, he was then re-elected as mayor of Livry-Gargan, a post he held until suffering a shocking defeat in 2014. Life in politics wasn't easy for the former World Champion. When representing Cher, one evening the door of his apartment was smashed in. "I only had time to get dressed," he told a reporter from "Le Berry Républicain" in 2013.
Alain was also inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame in 1987... and that's where things get quite interesting. Articles from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1984 and the "Jewish Post" in 1986 identified him as being of the Jewish faith, yet in 2007, a user with the handle 'Ericdep' on Wikipedia went to great pains to remove all indication that Alain was Jewish: "M. Calmat ask us to remove all the references about this name [Calmanovich] which is defamatory as well as the indications about Jewish religion." A representative from the International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame explained, "Years ago we were told that Alain Calmat's family name was not Calmanovich, so we removed the reference on our website and subsequent publications. Mr. Calmat was elected in 1987, three decades ago, and none of those who participated in his election are still active with the Hall Of Fame. Our recollection is receipt of information that the skater's surname was not Calmanovich." The International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame still recognizes Alain as the first and only Jewish person to have lit the Olympic flame.
There's one thing we can be sure of. Alain Calmat's modest upbringing, perseverance and dedication in balancing medical studies and an exceptional skating career became to many young French athletes a shining example of what could be accomplished if you worked hard and stuck with it. Asked what words he wanted written on his epitaph, he once told a French journalist, "veni, vidi, curavi"... "I came, I saw, I cured."
Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.