#Unearthed: An Inside Look At An Olympic Journey
When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's #Unearthed comes to you from a now defunct online magazine devoted to (mainly Canadian) figure skating history called "Skating Through Time", which was online in the late nineties. Enjoy reading the late Sheldon Galbraith's chronicle of his time coaching the late Olympic Gold Medallist Barbara Ann Scott!
Barbara Ann Scott. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.
"AN INSIDE LOOK AT AN OLYMPIC JOURNEY" (SHELDON GALBRAITH)
The first time I saw Barbara Ann Scott was in Montreal during school figures of the Canadian Championships of 1941.
I was in Montreal skating with the Ice Follies - a travelling professional ice show. I was working under Fran Claudet's watchful eye doing a shadow pair with my brother Murray Galbraith and skating in three group numbers. Little did I know that only 5 years later, after a stint in the US Naval Air Corps as a flight instructor, I would be called upon to coach Barbara Ann Scott at the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa, Canada. Barbara Ann was a delight to train. Her goals were to attain the highest degree of skill the opportunities afforded. Hard work was not a problem - for Barbara it was a labour of love.
When I first arrived at the Minto club my teeth were chattering with the cold. Barbara Ann was going about her figures as if it was just another day at the office! All around me the steel beams inside the corrugated walls of the building were covered with white frost! Such were the training facilities of the time! Amazingly, even with these types of rinks, North American skaters were generally known in Europe as "hot house skaters" -- some hot house! I should explain why I was so cold - on my flight from San Francisco I had abandoned my luggage in order to make connections in Chicago. I had no winter clothing for rinks such as this one. Barbara Ann's mother, Mrs. Clyde Scott noticed my lack of proper attire and took me shopping to purchase the necessary warm clothing.
It was only a few weeks later I would accompany Barbara Ann to the 1947 European Championships. The Minto Club now had to arrange for a leave of absence as I had just been hired as the Club's coach! It was Barbara Ann’s faith and trust in me as her coach that made this trip possible and allowed me to learn first hand what world class skating was about. Barbara Ann Scott was already a world class skater!
The official Canadian figure skating contingent sent to Europe in 1947 consisted of only four persons. Mrs. Clyde Scott as chaperone,
Mr. Donald Cruikshank as judge and team manager, who would join us later, Barbara Ann Scott and myself - Sheldon Galbraith as coach. Betty Caldwell, a friend of Barbara Ann’s would accompany her on the trip. This close knit group managed to deal with the problems encountered and lend support to the project.
Mr. Donald Cruikshank as judge and team manager, who would join us later, Barbara Ann Scott and myself - Sheldon Galbraith as coach. Betty Caldwell, a friend of Barbara Ann’s would accompany her on the trip. This close knit group managed to deal with the problems encountered and lend support to the project.
The flight over the Atlantic Ocean was in a converted Lancaster bomber used by Trans-Canada Airlines and it took us 17 hours to fly to Prescott, Scotland! Heavy fog delayed the flight for an additional 8 hours or so. We finally arrived in London, England over a full day after our original departure from Montreal.
We stayed overnight in London and set out the next morning for another days travel through Zurich and Landquart to arrive at our final destination, Davos Dorf, Switzerland. Due to the haste of our departure from Canada we had overlooked some rather important details - money in foreign currencies! We had not cashed our travelers checks - so had no Swiss Francs for the train fare.The Belvedere Hotel manager, Toni Morosani, met us at the train station and paid our fare. The Belvedere hotel itself was only heated on two floors and one wing as tourist travel had been greatly curtailed by currency restrictions and the effect of World War II.
Mr. George Hasler, the president of the Schlittschuh club of Davos and the secretary of the ISU, made us feel welcome and invited Barbara Ann to use the facilities of the club for her training. The early morning training took place at Davos Dorf because the sun came up from behind the mountains an hour earlier than in Davos Platz. Barbara Ann’s hair and scarf were ringed with frost from her breath being frozen onto her clothing. Such was the morning practice period.
The ice was so hard and slow on some mornings, that I had to rub my flight boots over her tracings (ala curler’s brooms) to bring her home to figure center. She kept right at it until the glide eventually came. All this was good training for what was yet to come in the European Championships.
She soon attracted many of the towns' people and their children. After training was over for the day, Barbara Ann would play with them doing spirals, shoot the duck, follow the leader and a mild form of crack the whip. She genuinely loved children and they naturally took to her. Someone new to play with!
It was here at Davos that the first major post war European Championships were held. The Championships of both 1947 and 1948 were open to North Americans, there was the feeling that too few skaters would be entered. However when the titles went abroad to North America - it became a closed event.
There were many obstacles placed in Barbara Ann's path - not by the competitors alone, but by judges (not in the competition) and some coaches getting into the act, however that is another story - it is suffice to say that these obstacles were overcome!
While training at Ottawa, it became evident to me that Barbara Ann was capable of deep concentration and effort. She would train the facet of the facet and come away with glee that she had accomplished her purpose.
To give you a picture of this lady's prowess and spirit - she was in third place at noon time on the first day of figures, at those European Championships of 1947.
The competitors skated 12 figures in the outdoor open air in those days of competition. The sky was clouded over with a milky cover and it was difficult to see one's tracing. Barbara Ann had to wear dark sunglasses, but even this was not enough, her eyes watered from the high altitude and snow glare. The judges also experienced similar problems when trying to view the tracings of her figures as well.
Barbara Ann found herself in 3rd place after the first three figures of the twelve to be performed. She needed to pull up. To accomplish this, after lunch was over, she skated her next counter figure under the balcony in front of the main building where everyone, including the audience, could see the result! The marks started going in her favour.
I remember remarking to Barbara; "you won that figure by 3.5 points". She said "that is not enough". The next figure - I said "you won that by 5.6! "That's not enough" was the answer. On the following figure I said "you are ahead now by 7.8" - the answer, once again- "that’s still not enough". On and on it went like this. She won by 42 points with only 7 judges and coming from behind! This girl's stamina and endurance with such a high degree of skill was remarkable.
On the second day the opposition were falling by the wayside. The weather had not improved, but the appreciation for her abilities and skills certainly had!
A short time later on a bright sunny day, Barbara Ann would perform her free skate and win the first of her two European Championship titles!
The spectators for this and all of the skating events were seated in the overlooking balcony of the main building and at each end of the ice surface high atop packed snow watered to freeze with boards set so that seats could be placed upon them. The huge ice surface was ringed with boardwalks for standing and seating space as well. On this day, because the weather had co-operated, the place was jam-packed!
Our trip to the 1947 World Championships took us back through Zürich and London then on to Copenhagen and our final destination Stockholm, Sweden.
The trip was marred by the tragic news that an airplane had crashed in Copenhagen while taking off all on board had been killed.
The opera singer Grace Moore and an entire soccer team perished in the accident. A locking block on the tailplane elevator (used to protect the linkages from being damaged by wind gusts when on the ground) had been left in place preventing the pilot from adjusting the climb attitude of the plane. Placement of this block was a normal procedure in parking airplanes at that time.
Upon our arrival at Stockholm, we found we were to be billeted at the Grand Hotel Saltsjebaden – 40 kilometers away from the training site.
We made immediate changes in our plans and decided to stay at the Continental Hotel in town to be closer. This posed a new problem – cancelled reservations had to be paid for. That was left to the Canadian Figure Skating Association (now called Skate Canada) and Mr. Donald Cruikshank.
Also staying at the hotel were Wimbledon tennis champions, Donald Budge and Bobby Riggs who were on a tour giving exhibitions. Later, when time permitted Barbara Ann and I went to see them play. That brought about a surprising situation. We arrived after a hurried dinner and found several seats on the 50-yard line empty! What a break! So we sat down to enjoy the match.
We soon found from the looks and stares of people in the audience that something was awry. We were in the Royal Box! We promptly moved and there were signs of approval all about us!
Dinners in Stockholm were the evening's entertainment and breakfast stretched out far too long for our liking, with the shortest being about two hours and a ritual in process!
Finally, everything started falling into place and we were on our way to the training site, an open air rink with a large ice surface surrounded by a 400 meter speed skating oval and seating on all sides and ends. We were told it held 27,000 people and was filled to capacity for speed skating events.
The ice rink caretakers were very proud and particular about their ice! To gain access to the figure skating area, one had to pass over the speed skater’s track. Once indoctrinated on the proper procedures, the figure skaters adapted to the caretakers rules and peace prevailed, but not for long...
Imagine our surprise upon arriving one morning to find the figure practice ice blocked by a sawhorse with a giant 7 foot guard standing beside it! This was to block off a large portion of the surface for the exclusive use of the Swedish Champion who had formerly been the European Champion, but had decided not to defend her title at Davos in the 1947 Championship that Barbara Ann Scott had won. This obstacle too was overcome!
During this training period many friends contributed their well wishes and support. Among them Howard Nicholson with whom I had trained for my gold test, gave special attention to preparing me to this task. ie. How to skate figures outdoors in the windy conditions. He also provided me with several famous names to call upon for help. People such as Per Cock-Clausen a well-known sportsman and skater from Denmark, Bror Meyer of Norway – who could have been world champion if he had retained his amateur status and Ulrich Salchow.
One day, while practicing figures, Mr. Ulrich Salchow, (of the jump named after him) former World champion and a group of three approached Barbara Ann's figure patch. He introduced himself and his friends to me. I then called Barbara Ann over and introduced her to everyone. Mr. Salchow was a very friendly man and made some complimentary remarks about Barbara Ann and the good word going around about her skating at the European Championships.
Barbara Ann Scott and Sheldon Galbraith. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.
He also gave some sage advice and helpful hints on how to navigate the backward double three-paragraph figure. I asked Barbara Ann to skate the figure and include the technique Mr. Salchow had suggested. After several tries, she found the advice helpful, but the World Championship competition was too close at hand to change at this time, so we promised to include it in her practice routine when we got home. This was done as promised during the next summers training.
Soon after this meeting, the 1947 World Championships and Barbara Ann once again won the figure portion by a considerable margin.
On the night of the free skating program Barbara Ann skated a faultless program in the cold open air, then she came directly to me at the side of the rink and said " there - I think that was satisfactory!" Before I could say a thing she said " Uncle Joe, my hands are cold." She had skated the entire program in bare hands! (Mrs. Scott, Barbara Ann's mother, had bought me a Persian lamb hat to keep my head warm, it looked like one similar to what Joseph Stalin wore, thus the nickname "Uncle Joe".)
27 thousand fans were roundly giving their approval by stamping their feet! That was their way of acknowledging her performance! They mostly stood for it was too cold to sit.
At the end of competition in Stockholm we travelled back to London, England where there was to be an exhibition at the Wembley Pool Arena. Dick Button - an American skater that would go on to win the 1948 Olympic gold the following year, was also to perform. It was to a packed house of enthusiastic fans.
Early during the evening, in a backstage area, two persons approached me. One of the two offered me $500.00! Asking what it was for I was told it was for Barbara Ann (who was going to perform on the evenings program) I replied she is an amateur and cannot take money. They then said, "well it’s for you". I told them that I was a professional skater and if they wished to give me money I could skate for them as my skates were with me. My offer was not taken up. Then I volunteered that they could send the money to the Canadian Figure Skating Association and they left. To my knowledge nothing was every contributed.
In any event, we could not in any way allow something such as this to jeopardize Barbara Ann’s amateur standing in skating. Accepting the money would have imediately classified Barbara Ann as a professional skater no longer qualified to compete as an amateur.
Next was the long flight home and the drone of the engines of the airplane. One redeeming feature was we were being served Canadian food! We had not realized just how much we had missed during the stay in Europe.
In the very early morning darkness at Sydney, Nova Scotia (the plane had been diverted from Gander, Newfoundland). Barbara Ann had to deplane and greet the waiting crowds. Some of whom had been up all night. Continuing the flight to Montreal for a stopover in the hotel, Barbara Ann went through much of the same with many friends and well wishers offering their congratulations.
In Ottawa, there was a tumultuous parade and celebration with a presentation by the mayor of a new convertible from the citizens of Ottawa. The license plate was (47U1). Unfortunately, due to amateur rules, Barbara Ann could not accept the automobile. It was however, stored for the following year and given to Barbara Ann at that time. The competitive season was not yet complete. There was the North American championship to be held in Ottawa, and Barbara Ann had to defend her title.
Barbara Ann had many decisions to make regarding what appointments she could attend and still keep up her skating skills. Defending the North American title was accomplished, skating the Minto club carnival, attending the invitation of the Governor General at Government House, receiving the Lou Marsh award again for the Canadian athlete of the year, finally winding down to a well earned rest plus arrange for summer training and the coming Olympic Games.
With the coming of the European Championships, Olympics and World Championships in 1948, there were new problems to work out. The International Skating Union changed the loop school figure proportions. The loop had to fit into the diameter of the figure three times its length. This made the loop smaller than had been trained for and skated in earlier competitions and required greater dexterity on the part of the skater.
A new competitive free skating program also had to be developed and refined. This meant hours of finding suitable music, cutting the records, and fitting it into Barbara Ann's style. Locating certain key elements within the contents of the program requires a good deal of repetition to iron out the rough spots while obtaining the desired effect. There were also new exhibition free skate programs to be created and the same consideration for proper effect to be worked into the routine. Costumes and equipment were of prime importance. It seemed that they were never ready much ahead of time. Everything seems to require rushing at the last minute as perhaps a clearer focus comes into view.
An additional training concern was that the upcoming Olympics and the World Championships that would follow were to take place at high altitude. Davos was a mile above sea level and St. Moritz was about 6100 feet.above. Breathing and endurance would be important considerations in how the program unfolded. The 1948 European Championships were to be in Prague and altitude was not a problem.
After the thanksgiving holiday was over, we got down to finalizing all the various and sundry items that needed to be put in place and began to make preparations for our pending departure to Europe with its outdoor training and the European Championships of 1948. This trip would be the second time overseas and we would be better prepared with the details of travel and what it entails.
Our second overseas journey began with a departure from Montreal. As luck would have it the same pilot that flew us over on the first flight would once again be our Captain! This time I had Captain Bowker sign my short snorter - a dollar bill with the names of pilots who had crossed the Atlantic - this was a popular fad during World War I. The four of us on this phase of the trip consisted of Mrs. Scott, Barbara Ann Scott, a traveling companion of hers, Margaret McGuinness, and myself. I had also been appointed the Olympic coach for Canada. Besides Barbara Ann, the team included Marilyn Ruth Take, ladies singles, Wallace Diestelmeyer and Suzanne Morrow, pairs. They would be coming on separate timetables from our group. The judge and team manager, Melville Rogers would follow to complete the 1948 Canadian Olympic figure skating team.
Davos, Switzerland was again to be home base for training. The rink at Davos Dorf where the sun came over the mountain at an earlier time in the morning would give the extra training hours that were needed when skating out of doors and only daylight with which to work. Later in the day training shifted to the Davos Platz area with it's many ice surfaces.
The skating went well and soon the day of departure for Prague arrived. The European Championship was to be held at a rink in downtown Prague. It was situated close by our hotel and was open air with artificial ice. This was to be an important factor because the weather turned warm. Rain, then warm winds and blowing dust from this industrial city added up to some difficult skating conditions for both the men and the ladies.
The men had wet ice that had to be squeegeed between figures. They could not see their tracings. The women had dry ice with dust and dirt blowing about plus a washboard surface upon which to skate their figures. This was due to the wet ice being squeegeed during the men’s figures, but only the water between the pipes was being removed. That water above the pipes was freezing and thus making the surface into a washboard.
Barbara Ann's hard work during her outdoor training paid off as she managed to display her talents and win the figure part of the competition. The free skating portion of the program took place during the evening, and the place was packed to capacity. She started her routine and was about one minute and fifteen seconds into it when the record-playing needle slid off the record. The phonograph records of the period were 78rpm and the needle vibrated sideways in its track to create the sound. The groove had been worn too much to hold onto its track.
These records were made with a thin layer of material poured onto a round aluminum platter. They were guaranteed for six plays and then only if you used a cactus needle! Barbara Ann's solo record was turned onto its reverse side where a backup copy was located. Barbara Ann returned to her starting place in due course and resumed her performance. It was a solid skate and she had successfully defended her title as European Champion! Amazingly due to the record problems, she had skated a total of five minutes and fifteen seconds!
Upon the conclusion of the European Championships, it was back to Davos and preparations for the Olympics in St. Moritz. The weather was again to act up and alter the practice schedule. Outdoor ice training is at the mercy of the weather. The fern winds as they were called, were causing a warming trend. This was to extend into the Olympic championship in St. Moritz as well.
Once during the warm winds, there was poor ice with spots of shale about so skating was canceled. Toward the afternoon when it had cooled off small figures could be performed and limited free skating. During one of these such periods, Barbara Ann made a bet with me - for a dime - that a double loop could not be performed. I tried but sunk into the ice too deeply and failed. Barbara Ann won the bet! She performed her double loop! Then she claimed I tried to let her win!
The figures of the 1948 Olympic games were held on the Kulm Hotel ice rink situated beside our hotel overlooking the speed skating oval and hockey rink in the valley below. The opening parade had wound its way down the path at the side of the rink to where the oath of amateurism took place in the large assembly area. The sky was overcast with bright ice reflection from thin clouds overhead. The weather was too warm so only one compulsory school figure was performed before skating was halted for the day. It was nail biting time for some and nerves began to show the tension. After some delays it was possible to get all the ladies school figures completed and once again Barbara Ann Scott had lead the field. One judge however, had put her in 5th place, but more of that later.
With the figures behind her Barbara Ann now trained to test her stamina and find the necessary orientation for the various parts of her free skating solo. With uneven mountain ridges and blunt hillsides on the sides and ends of the ice surface it was important to get this matter secured. The free skate was held in the stadium in the valley. On the final day of that part of the championship, Barbara Ann and I went down to the rink to see what the surface looked like and get oriented to the layout.
There had been two hockey games played at 34 degrees Fahrenheit and someone had tried to flood the ice! Now remember, this is natural ice and that is 2 degrees above freezing! There was going to be shale ice all over! The hockey boards were removed at this time, and it could be seen where most of the hockey players traffic was during the two games that had been played. A strip next to where the boards had been and the some of the public had stood was untouched and appeared to be the only safe and sure piece of ice.
This required a rather abrupt change in plans as to where certain contents of the free program could be skated with a reasonable chance for success. Moves were changed without rehearsal, some headings and alignment were altered so as to avoid the bad ice area. One skater, a friend of Barbara Ann’s confirmed the bad ice areas we had discussed earlier. This decided upon, Barbara Ann skated a faultless program whereas; other strong skaters had taken serious falls.
Barbara Ann was superstitious. No whistling in the dressing room. Skating boots had to go in such and such an order. She had to borrow something of value and wear it unseen for this event it was my skate and ski club pin of San Francisco given to me for passing my 7th test. It had 3 small pearls in it. She loved pearls.
Barbara Ann had that happy capacity and ability to take lessons or advice from other people. She would take the good that is there, and apply it. At times, when working with her, I would have some discussion of reasons and details, she would say "just tell me what you want me to do". Once I remember saying to Barbara Ann after she had completed a practice on an outer forward rocker figure "boy you were lucky to control that one." She said, " I didn't think it showed!"
Another time was in training back loop change loops during which I was looking very closely. I challenged, "you slid your blade over on that - referring to the tracing at the top of the loop - which was about 3/16ths of an inch from the original tracing. Now there was only one visible tracing. She replied "yes" That is all it was to her. The idea was to be on one line. So that is what she performed. and that is a sample of what it was like to teach Barbara Ann Scott!
I mentioned earlier of a Judge that had Barbara Ann in 5th place in the figure part of the competition. Somewhere in the background and after the Olympic championship event was over, plans were being set to invite Barbara Ann to a private and non-official demonstration of her school figures skills before a few officials and the judge in question. I was invited to attend this performance and even to participate.
In attendance was Per Cock-Clausen a noted Danish skater and four or five more interested persons – some of them judges. Barbara Ann was asked to skate the right forward double three change double three figure. Upon completion of the figure, one of the persons said "there she is flat" this meaning that she was not on a true edge coming back to her center for the next pushoff or thrust. At this I took my glove and brushed away the light bit of snow that had fallen since the ice had been cleaned. "Gentlemen," I said, "I have followed Barbara Ann Scott like a bulldog for two seasons, and never have I found her to be on a flat! Iin fact this girl can come to a stop on an edge, she has incredible control!"
At that one of the officials volunteered, "Well, she looks like she is on a flat!" To that I said, "Gentlemen, you are the experts, it is your job to judge what is actually being performed, not what it looks like!" With that I was invited to skate the same figure, which I did, not by any means as well or as tidy as Barbara Ann’s, but more robust as I needed the extra power to completely get around the two circles since my glide was not as efficient as Barbara Ann’s. Then some one person again volunteered, "But you don’t look flat!" Again with my glove I swiped away the fallen snow and said "But gentlemen, I am flat!" This was plain to see and came as a surprise to some of them. It had been a fair examination with truth seeking individuals and we respected their willingness to find out the full value of Barbara Ann's skill and talent.
In my skirmishes with two of the coaches on earlier occasions, I had repeatedly stressed – "Let the skaters decide the championship". Now perhaps that could happen. Everywhere in the world there are true sportsmen and women, they were now coming to the fore to protect the values of their sport. We would be able to see in the next two weeks for the 1948 World Championship was to be held not far away in Davos.
After the 1948 World Championships, was a European tour. Tours are nice because the pressure is off and everyone is enjoying the sights and company of people who love skating. While there is a necessary letdown after the three grueling competitions, the skating programs have been designed for just this condition which follows championship skating.
Copenhagen was the first stop on the tour and Paris was the second. It was here, during the performance, that Murphy's law came into play. One record Barbara Ann used was a commercial recording of "Ave Maria". It had a slight crack in it and Barbara Ann had hoped to get through using it long enough to purchase another copy. During the rehearsal at the Palais Des Sport a person wishing to be helpful at putting records on inserted herself. This unfortunately happened at a time when help was not requested nor desired. The record was picked up by its edge and the crack completed its course. Now it was a very audible sound and even could damage the needle. Such is life on a tour! Again this too was overcome but not without some pain. Barbara Ann loved that solo, it meant a great deal to her. In Prague the stadium was so packed that several people needing medical attention had to be passed overhead like logs to awaiting medics! No one could fall down! In Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Hans Gerschwiler's hometown, the people were standing on their automobiles, on rooftops, in the trees to watch the afternoon exhibitions! After years of dreary war news - here was a breath of fresh air and it was in the person of - Canada's own Barbara Ann Scott! It has been said that timing is everything and most certainly it was the right time for Barbara Ann!
Upon returning home to Canada, during the train ride from Montreal, the train was stopped a number of times at small towns so that school children that swarmed onto the tracks could greet their new heroine as their Principals gave words of greeting and congratulations! The season, however, was not yet over for Barbara Ann. There was the Canadian championship to be skated in Calgary to win back her title as the lady champion of Canada, which she had given up by going to Europe to train on the outdoor ice the year before.
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