Four Unlikely Ice Queens Of The Sixties

They called them the Swinging Sixties. In the era of peace, love, incense and peppermints, five talented women - Carol Heiss, Sjoukje Dijkstra, Petra Burka, Peggy Fleming and Gaby Seyfert - reigned atop the Olympic and World podiums. In a sea of stories, the tales of many talented young women who competed during the period have been sadly overlooked. Today on the blog, we'll revisit the stories of four talented skaters from four different countries who deserve a place in our memories.

MIWA FUKUHARA

Junko Ueno, Carol Heiss and Miwa Fukuhara at the 1960 Winter Olympics

"Beauty is universal, thus the products which serve beauty should also be universal." - Arinobu Fukuhara

Born December 13, 1944 in the metropolitan ward of Ōta in Tokyo, Japan, Miwa Fukuhara trained under Japanese skating legend and 1936 Olympian Etsuko Inada in her youth. The granddaughter of Arinobu Fukuhara, who founded the Apothecary Shiseidō - yes, that Shiseido - in the late nineteenth century, Miwa medalled thrice at the Japanese Championships in the late fifties before finally winning her country's national title in 1960 at the age of fifteen. 

Miwa placed a disappointing twenty first at the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley but while attending Waseda University and studying western history, she stepped up her game considerably in a short amount of time. She won the Japanese title five consecutive times from 1962 to 1966 and at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innbsruck, placed an incredible fifth. Her result was the best finish ever by a Japanese skater at the Olympics at the time. Miwa was actually in fourth place after the figures at those Games but a disappointing ninth place effort in free skating was what dropped her a spot in the standings. Still, she placed ahead of Peggy Fleming, Christy (Haigler) Krall, Wendy Griner, Hana Mašková, Gaby Seyfert and many other skaters who would make major impacts on the sport in the years that followed. One particularly interesting footnote regarding Miwa's career is that she excelled moreso in figures than free skating: certainly a debunking of the stereotype of Japanese skaters struggling in that discipline of skating during her era.


After winning the Winter Universiade in 1964 in Špindlerův Mlýn, Czechoslovakia and again in Sestriere, Italy in 1966 and amassing five top ten finishes at the World Championships, Miwa turned professional. She won the World Professional Championships in Great Britain and toured with Holiday On Ice. In the late seventies and early eighties starred in the Viva! Ice World shows alongside Nobuo Sato and Minoru Sano at the Prince Hotel in Tokyo. She has coached a number of top Japanese skaters including Junko Yaginuma and Nozomi Watanabe and has acted as head coach at the Meiji Jingu Skating Rink in Shinjuku. Although her family may be in the business of selling beauty that's only skin deep, Miwa's work in creating beauty has left an impression on the sport that will never fade.


ELENA SCHNEGLOVA


Born August 2, 1950 in Moscow, Elena Lvovna Schneglova was only fourteen years old when she placed third at the Soviet Championships behind none other than Tamara Moskvina in 1965. A product of the demanding Soviet sports program, she trained at the Young Pioneers Stadium in Moscow under the watchful eye of Tatiana Tomalcheva. After Tamara Moskvina shifted her focus entirely to pairs skating, Elena emerged as one of the top female Soviet skaters of the late sixties. She won her country's national title in both 1966 and 1968, the Prize Of Moscow News in both 1968 and 1969 and was a competitor at four European Championships, five World Championships and the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France. In participating at those Games, Elena and Galina Grzhibovskaya were the first two Soviet or Russian women in history to ever compete in women's figure skating at the Olympic Games. After a twelfth place finish at the 1970 World Championships, she faded into obscurity but her confident style and high flying double Axel certainly demanded the attention of audiences at a time when Soviet women's skaters were making their first impressions on the Olympic stage. At a time when talented young women in the Soviet Union were ushered into pairs skating, she was a unlikely star in singles.

RHODE LEE MICHELSON


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Born March 9, 1943 in Long Beach, California, Rhode Lee Michelson started skating when she was eight years old. After taking lessons from World Champion Jean Westwood, she began working with Jean's ice dance partner Bill Kipp. Rhode Lee was a skater ahead of her time, tackling difficult double Axels and even triple jumps in practice at a time when many of her competitors were quite content skating programs with a much easier degree of difficulty. She also had a reputation as a bit of a 'bad girl'. She mowed down skaters in practice sessions, stayed out late, talked back to her coach and wasn't the least bit shy around the boys: certainly not the typical 'ice princess' of her era. In her wonderful 2010 book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman noted, "Club officials rationalized that she would be getting into more trouble if she weren't skating and grudgingly accepted her as a lovable rascal."


Despite not having the typical 'dainty' physique or skating style of many of her contemporaries, there was a certain something about Rhode Lee's style that was majestic in its own way. Though she struggled with school figures, she was a fearless free skater and commanded the attention of audiences and judges alike. After winning the 1958 U.S. novice ladies title, she moved her way up the ranks and placed third and second in the junior women's events at the U.S. Championships in 1959 and 1960. At the 1961 U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs, she climbed all the way from last place to third with a gutsy free skate that featured two double Axel's near the end of her program. After an injury forced her to withdraw from the 1961 North American Championships in Philadelphia, she boarded Sabena Flight 548 enroute to her first World Championships. Along with the rest of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team, her coach Bill Kipp and countless others, she perished on that ill-fated flight. We will never know what trajectory Rhode Lee's career might have taken had she not have boarded that plane, but she lives on in skating's collective memory as one of the most intriguing and exciting young skaters of her era.

SANDRA TEWKESBURY


"He won the lottery and died the next day." - Alanis Morissette

Born on Valentine's Day in 1942 in Chatham, Ontario, Sandra Gail Tewksebury joined the Chatham Figure Skating Club when it was formed in 1949 and took from coach Leona Beryl Goodman. A precociously talented young skater, she passed the Canadian and American silver dance tests and the Canadian, British and American gold tests in school figures when she was only a pre-teen. In early 1957, she won the senior women's title at the Niagara Invitational Figure Skating Competition in Detroit and finished third in the junior women's event at the Canadian Championships in Winnipeg. It was clear to anyone who was paying attention that the prodigious youngster from Chatham was going places.

Making the hop, skip and jump into the senior ranks in 1959, she won the Western Ontario Sectional Championships and the bronze medal at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Noranda, Quebec behind Carole Jane Pachl and Karen Dixon. At the subsequent North American Championships in Toronto, she placed in the top five in her international debut and was the top Canadian woman at that event. At the World Championships in Colorado Springs, she placed an impressive tenth, again the top finisher among the three Canadian women entered. Not bad for a sixteen year old who hailed from a skating club that had never produced a medallist at the Canadian Championships until she came on the scene.

All seemed lost for Sandra when at the 1960 Canadian Championships in Regina, she finished off the podium in a disappointing fifth place. The "Montreal Gazette" reported that at those Nationals, "Miss Tewkesbury, skating for the last several months with a bandaged foot to support weak ligaments, messed up a high-factor figure in the first part of the program and never recovered." She was not named to the 1960 World team but CFSA officials had faith in the injured young skater and gave her a winning lottery ticket of sorts: a coveted spot on the 1960 Winter Olympic team.

At the Squaw Valley Olympics, seventeen year old Sandra started the school figures in twelfth, worked her way up to eighth and dropped to tenth place after the free skating. Considering her result at the Canadian Championships, being the top Canadian woman in that event, placing in the top ten in one of her first international competitions and defeating sixteen other skaters - including future World Medallists Wendy Griner and Nicole Hassler - was nothing to sneeze at.

Sandra retired at seventeen, married a former newspaper ad man named Gary Ritchie and took a job teaching skating at the Guelph Figure Skating Club. Driving alone on a highway just outside of Guelph on June 5, 1962, her car collided with a vehicle driven by forty seven year old James Nichol of Rockwood. Both were taken to a Guelph hospital: Nichol with minor injuries and Sandra with critical injuries after being pinned in her car. Nichol survived; Sandra and her unborn child were pronounced dead five hours after being admitted. She was only twenty years old at the time of her untimely death. Inducted into Chatham Sports Hall of Fame 1986 and the Skate Canada Western Ontario Section Hall Of Fame in 2015, Sandra's death is a tragedy often forgotten in correlation with the timing of the Sabena Crash that claimed the lives of Rhode Lee Michelson and the entire U.S. Figure Skating team only a year before. In talking about her story, we can keep the memory of a brilliant young star gone far too soon alive.

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