#Unearthed: Skating Inspires Ballet


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. Today's gem, reproduced with permission from the good folks at Skate Canada, is a Louise Wright piece called "Skating Inspires Ballet: Putting Skaters On Stage". It comes to you from the December/January 1979 edition of the "Canadian Skater" magazine.

"SKATING INSPIRES BALLET: PUTTING SKATERS ON STAGE" (LOUISE WRIGHT)


Sara Neil, the first director of the New Zealand School Of Dance, performing in Sadler's Wells Ballet's "Les Patineurs" in 1957

Ballet has always exerted an influence on the skating world. Competitors have long realized the value of dance training increasing gracefulness and musical programs are frequently skated to music arranged for ballet. In the forties, Iceland, located near San Francisco, made entertainment history by combining stage ballet and ice ballet and by actually presenting a true ballet, "Coppelia", on ice.

More recently, the efforts of Toller Cranston and John Curry to present skating as a performing art have strengthened the tie between the two disciplines. Curry commanded the attention of skaters everywhere when, in November 1976, he performed "After All", a piece created especially for him by choreographed Twyla Tharp. Both Kenneth MacMillan, director of the Royal Ballet, and Peter Darrell, director of the National Scottish Ballet, have staged works for Curry's "Theatre Of Skating". Toller Cranston, although he himself disapproves of the comparison, has been dubbed 'Nureyev on ice' because of his interpretive, balletic style.

In view of this newly reawakened enthusiasm for skating's artistic qualities, it is satisfying to note that the influence between dance and sport has not been entirely one-sided. Skating on ice has inspired the creation of two ballets by major choreographers.

"Les Plaisirs de l'Hiver, ou Les Patineurs - The Pleasures Of Winter" or "The Skaters" - was first presented at Her Majesty's Theatre in London in 1849. Choreographed by the theatre's ballet-master, Paul Taglioni, it was performed to a selection of Hungarian melodies arranged by Cesare Puni. A 'ballet-divertissement' rather than a 'ballet d'action', "Les Plaisirs de l'Hiver" is a light, entertaining piece in which plot and characterization is kept at a minimum.

The ballet is comprised of two scenes, the first of which is set in a conservatory filled with flowers, a kind of 'winter garden'. Here, a group of merrymakers is celebrating the wedding of a young couple. After partying throughout the night, they emerge at dawn to continue their festivities in the cold, crisp, winter air.

Scene two opens with the sun rising resplendently over the frozen Danube. Even at this early hour, the river is crowded with skaters, some of whom hurriedly go about their daily business, while others seem concerned only with the pleasures of the sport. Women bundled up in fur-trimmed outfits glide by on horse-drawn sledges: men stand about in small groups, chatting and admiring the Montagne Russe, and vendors peddle a variety of wares.

Soon the wedding party arrives, and a group of young and women, chilled by the cold, attempt to dance themselves warm in the 'pas de frileux'. They rub their hands together, beat on their breasts and dash from bank to bank. Then, two of the principal dancers, dressed in Hungarian costume, engage in the 'pas de la Hussarde'. Their performance is followed by the 'quadrille des patineurs', in which the skaters display their grace and talent until twilight and a light snowfall put an end to their activities, and the ballet comes to a close.

From a figure skater's point of view, one of the most interesting aspects of "Les Plaisirs de l'Hiver" is the fact that Paul Taglioni equipped his dancers with roller skates so that they would be better able to imitate the movements of ice skaters. A critic for "The Times" noted that this was not the first time roller skates had been so  used, but praised the choreographer for "the elaboration of the idea with a 'Pas de Patineurs'." Commenting on the same 'pas', a writer for the "Illustrated London News" enthusiastically remarked: "Here the illusion is complete; the mechanism entirely concealed, the mazes varied, intricate, fantastic and original... find their solution in simple movements that fill the audience with delight and surprise, and keep up constant laughter and applause."

In contrast, the later ballet, "Les Patineurs", first produced at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London in 1937, presented "skating" on stage without mechanical assistance. Said never to have been at an ice rink, choreographer Frederick Ashton skillfully duplicated a variety of skating movements. Good stroking technique, waltz jumps, mazurkas, spirals and one-foot spins - even mistakes, such as rising up on one's toe-picks - are all easily recognizable. Performed to music by Giacomo Meyerbeer, the piece is also a 'divertissement'; but, unlike 'Les Plaisirs de l'Hiver', which contains only as a 'pas des patineurs', it deals in its entirety with skating on ice.

The ballet opens at twilight. Sleigh bells jingle, and a frozen lake, gaily decorated with multicoloured lanterns, gradually fills up as the skaters take the ice. All are bundled up in fur-trimmed jackets; the men sport fur-trimmed caps as well, and the ladies wear bonnets and wide, knee-length skirts. There are both serious and recreational skaters, and three small groups readily distinguish themselves.

First, one notices two young women with the complacent attitudes of accomplished skaters, who proudly hold themselves apart from the others . Their confidence is temporarily shaken when, crossing a rough piece of ice, they stumble and almost fall. Nevertheless, they regain their composure, and later join with their instructor to display their skating skills in a brilliant and exciting 'pas de trois'. Then there are the lovers, wearing dazzling snow-white costumes. Their 'pas de deux' is Ashton's rendition of pair skating, and includes exquisite lifts and delicately beautiful spins.

Two girls with muffs, who evidently have just progressed beyond the beginner's level, contrast with these serious skaters. They move along smoothly and confidently until, somehow, they end up sitting on the ice, with characteristically puzzled expressions on their faces. Frequently, skaters line up and, holding on to one another's waists, glide gleefully by, or pick their way across choppy ice on their toe-picks, forming an amusing procession 'sur les pointes'. But the risk of joining one's fate with that of one's companions becomes apparent when one of the skaters stumbles, and threatens to unbalance the entire group.

 As a light snow begins to fall, the skaters gradually disperse. The only ones remaining are the instructor, his students and the girls with the muffs. As the ladies pirouette off stage, the instructor begins to spin and continues to do so "so perfectly, and with admirable poise," one writer (Beaumont) comments, "that real ice seems to be the only logical explanation for such a dazzling succession of 'pirouettes sautés'.

Always a popular piece, 'Les Patineurs' remained in the Sadler's Wells Ballet repertoire for many years. It is still being revived today, with Canada's two leading dance companies, the National Ballet of Canada and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, both including it in their performance repertoires this winter.

Could today's free skating inspire the creation of another ballet? Probably not - unless one reverted to Taglioni's [experiment] of using roller skates! Although both skating and ballet have become more athletic since Ashton's work premiered, the athleticism in skating has come to depend largely on the ability to exploit the ice surface. It is difficult to imagine any stage ballet that could satisfactory duplicate the speed, multiple revolution jumps and changing position spins of today's free skating programs.

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.

A Satirist From St. Paul: The Heinie Brock Story


Born February 6, 1900, Henry Kriefer 'Heinie' Brock was the son of German immigrants Henry and Evelyn Brock. He was raised with his younger sister Lucille in St. Paul, Minnesota, where his father worked as a salesman for a telephone company. Heinie got his start on the ice as a teenager. In the February 4 edition of "Boys' Life" magazine, he explained, "Everybody skates in St. Paul. I didn't have any skates and I wanted the best because I decided to be a champion. So, I added a second newspaper route (I was already running one) and in almost no time I had my skates and was on my way." The enthusiastic young skater's plans for greatness were derailed for eight months at the age of fourteen, when he was diagnosed with polio. While bedridden, he would eye the pair of skates hanging from a hook on his closet door, vowing he would skate again.


Skate he did, but diminutive, one hundred and fourteen pound Heinie also excelled in a wide variety of pursuits in his youth, skating just being one of them. He was a Boy Scout and while attending the University Of Minnesota, played baseball, football, hockey and basketball with other young men twice his size. He was a member of the Delta of Sigma Nu fraternity and Illinois Athletic Club Swimming Team, as well as a teammate of a young Johnny Weissmuller. While a member of St. Paul Athletic Club, he became the intercollegiate central A.A.U. diving champion. After finishing university, he opened a clothing store in Minneapolis but the Great Depression forced him out of business. Instead, he opened a boy's camp on Lake Carlos which focused on drilling young men in athletics.


In 1936, Heinie joined Ice Follies as an ice comedian, quickly earning accolades and fans with his comedic stylings on ice. Many compared his style to that of Charlie Chaplin. He earned the nicknames 'the master mimic' and 'the diminutive comedian'. In one of his acts, he 'paddled' onto the ice in a canoe filled with empty rum kegs. In another, he portrayed a sloppy drunk. In an interview in "The New York Post" on December 3, 1938, he explained, "I have five stock, or basic, situations in my routine and branch out from them into different variations in accordance with the response of the crowd. I've been building up my act for ten years, but I still have no set plan when I go on the ice. I listen intently for the laughs and let them be the guide for my next stunt. The spectators play a very important part in my act. In fact, they're indispensable." The master improviser and comedian's routines varied widely. The December 18, 1936 of "The Chicago Tribune" noted, "Brock's biggest laugh comes from rubber legs and his comic pantomime has been compared to that of Toto, the silent clown. In one of Brock's numbers at the Stadium he will be dressed as a Chinaman, doing a burlesque of [Bobby] McLean's barrel jumping act. Brock gets over eight barrels with a flourish, but winds up with some of his former fancy diving technique by sliding forty feet off the rink. In his second number, the clown from St. Paul will burlesque Sonja Henie's interpretation of Pavlova's 'Dying Swan' dance classic." Show programs listed the act as "One Of The Back Row Girls". Heinie called it "The Dying Duck".


This 'Dying Duck' program once got Heinie in quite a bit of hot water. In her book "Thin Ice", Jacqueline du Bief recounted a hilarious story where Heinie and Papa Henie squared off backstage during a show: "A story that I thought rather funny was told me recently by someone who was a member of the company for ten years. It happened in Chicago during one of their first engagements and, because the show was still very short, as an addition to the programme Sonja Henie had been engaged and was presented as a guest of honour. Amongst other exhibitions, she gave her rendering of the dying swan. Immediately after this number, a young comic skater by the name of Heinie Brock, who is to-day one of the most famous comics on ice, made his entrance dressed as a duck and, bathed in blue light, he parodied the pitiful gestures of the dying swan. The public laughed heartily and so did his friends but when Heinie Brock made his exit he was greeted back stage by the threatening stick of Papa Henie. Out of breath after his performance, the young man did not understand what was the matter at first, but then, taking to his heels he led Mr. Henie in a chase which took them - he in his duck’s costume and Mr. Henie brandishing his stick - through all the passages and corridors of the arena." Just quackers!


Heinie left Ice Follies in 1946 and headed to Europe, where he appeared in Holiday On Ice and skated in Brighton and at London's Stoll Theatre. He also appeared in "Rose Marie On Ice" alongside Barbara Ann Scott, Michael Kirby and Pat Gregory and "Robinson Crusoe" at Wembley with Daphne Walker. In 1952, he skated in Dorothy Lewis' ice show in the Minnesota Terrace Room at the Hotel Nicollet in Minneapolis and in 1953, returned to England to appear in Tom Arnold's "Coronation Ice Cavalcade" with Micheline Lannoy. Throughout the fifties, he supplemented his skating with minor television appearances in such shows as "Raintree County", "Gunsmoke" and "I'll Cry Tomorrow". He even appeared on the game show "Do You Trust Your Wife?" with his first wife Mary.


After Mary passed away in 1975, Heinie remarried and welcomed three step-children to his life. He opened a restaurant called El Paseo in Santa Barbara, California and lived out his final days in Woodland Hills. He passed away August 20, 1989 at the age of eighty nine from complications of emphysema. Regarded by many as one of the finest ice comedians of his era, Heinie set the bar high for the many ice comedians who followed in his footsteps.

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.

The 1971 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Cindy Conner and Warren Keahey posing with event organizers at AM&A's department store

Dawn's "Knock Three Times" topped the music charts and the cost of a brand new cassette recorder was twenty nine dollars. The world was mourning the victims of the Ibrox tragedy in Glasgow and the death of fashion icon Coco Chanel... and from January 27 to 31, 1971, one hundred and thirty three of America's best skaters descended on Buffalo, New York to compete in the 1971 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The event, which was televised by ABC's Wide World Of Sports, was conducted at two venues: the Dann Memorial Rink at The Nichols School and the ten thousand seat Buffalo War Memorial Auditorium.


The selection of Buffalo as the host of the U.S. Championships as part of that year's celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the USFSA was no coincidence. The Buffalo Skating Club was one of the first seven 'founding clubs' of the USFSA yet had never been given the opportunity to host the Nationals before.

Program from the 1971 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Courtesy Sandra Bezic.

In a novel attempt at marketing, a block of tickets were sold from a booth at AM&A's Sheridan Plaza store while shoppers enjoyed a meet and greet with local junior pairs team Cindy Conner and Warren Keahey and a live performance by the Ken-Ton Symphony Orchestra. The event was largely a sell-out despite inclement weather and featured a number of notable performances. Let's take a quick look at how it all played out!

"Put Me Off At Buffalo" by Welcome Little Stranger. Used with permission.

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR COMPETITIONS

Laurie Brandel (left); Terry Kubicka (right)... 1971 U.S. novice champions

In the novice women's event, thirteen year old Laurie Brandell of Los Alamitos, California took the lead over her eight competitors in the school figures and maintained it to win the gold. Barbara Saloman moved up to take the silver ahead of Patti Gyllenswan of Culver City, California, who had been second in figures. In the novice men's event, twelve year old John Carlow, Jr. of Scottsdale, Arizona (the youngest competitor) dominated the figures, earning first place ordinals from all five judges and a sizable lead over fourteen year old Terry Kubicka of Cypress, California. Kubicka rebounded with an outstanding free skate to defeat the early leader. Mark Henry of the Long Island Figure Skating Club took the bronze.

Left: Cathleen Casey and Francis Cassella. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Right: Local favourites Cindy Conner and Warren Keahey. 

Sixteen year old Cathleen Casey and seventeen year old Francis Cassella of Hartford, Connecticut took a narrow lead over Myra and David Chrien early in the junior (Silver) dance event and maintained it. The bronze went to Beatrice Sexton and James Thorn. In 1970, Jim Hulick had won the silver medal in the junior pairs event with Laurie Brandell. Teaming up with a new partner, Cynthia Van Valkenberg, proved to be the ticket to the top of the junior pairs podium in Buffalo. The silver went to siblings Gale and Joel Fuhrman and the bronze to Michelle McCladdie and Richard Ewell III.

Michelle McCladdie and Richard Ewell

McCladdie and Ewell's medals were the first ever medals won in the pairs event at the U.S. Championships by an African American team. Fifteen year old Melissa Militano of Dix Hills, New York took the junior women's title ahead of Mary Marley and Patricia Shelley, landing a triple toe walley... a rarity in the junior ranks at the time.

David Santee (left); Melissa Militano (right)... 1971 U.S. junior champions

Eleven young men representing seven states vied for the junior men's title. Thirteen year old David Santee of Park Ridge, Illinois edged Mahlon Bradley of Watertown, Massachusetts and Scott Cramer of Wyncole, Pennsylvania in the school figures. The three skaters stood in exactly that order on the medal podium.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Jojo Starbuck and Ken Shelley. William L. Udell photograph.

Nine teams vied for the senior pairs title. Teenagers JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley of Downey, California took a slight lead in the compulsory short program with first place ordinals from six of the seven judges ahead of fifteen year old Melissa Militano and her sixteen year old brother Mark, siblings from Dix Hills, New York.

Sherri Thrapp and Larry Dusich of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club practicing prior to the event. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Starbuck and Shelley only expanded their lead in the free skate, debuting two new elements - the split double twist and a three position overhead lift - in their performance to music from Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake". Their only slight error was a missed side-by-side double flip. They took the gold with first place ordinals from every single judge. The Militano's missed a death spiral and settled for silver, ahead of Barbara Brown of Edgewater, California and Doug Berndt of Denver, Colorado, who suffered a scary fall on an overhead lift early in their free skate. Sherri Thrapp and Larry Dusich moved up to place fourth ahead of hometown favourites Kathy Mormile and Gregory Taylor to the disappointment of the Buffalo crowd.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION



Many were anxious to see nineteen year old Richard Ewell (the previous year's junior men's champion) go up against the top senior men, especially after his medal win in the junior pairs event. Unfortunately, the nineteen year old from Los Angeles wasn't among the twelve men vying to fill the shoes of Tim Wood, who had left the senior men's title up for grabs after turning professional.

Gordon McKellen, Jr. (left) and John 'Misha' Petkevich (right)

Entering the event, the heavy favourites were twenty one year old John 'Misha' Petkevich, a Harvard student from Weston, Massachusetts and eighteen year old Ken Shelley, a charismatic young skater from Downey, California who excelled in both singles and pairs. After a fierce battle, Petkevich came out on top ahead of Shelley, Gordon McKellen Jr., and sixteen year old James Demogines of Pacoima, California, the previous year's silver medallist in the junior men's event. A young Charlie Tickner placed tenth in his first trip to the U.S. Championships as a senior.

John 'Misha' Petkevich. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In the April 1971 issue of "Skating" magazine, Virginia Gilley recalled, "John Misha Petkevich was in a class by himself... His style is smooth and lyrical with masculine ballet grace. The piano concerto music was perfect for him, and he used the music to every lyrical advantage. His jumps were a work of art, very stylish, with an incredible height, and he lands with enviable finesse and unbroken stretch. His program started out with a very high tuck Axel that elicited one of several audible 'ah's' from the crowd. His triple jump was a Salchow; a later planned triple loop was eliminated because of a skip in the music recording. Misha's marks for interpretation were one perfect 6.0, two 5.8's and the rest 5.9's. He probably would have had similar technical marks had he not come to grief on his final double Axel."

 Charlie Tickner (left) and Johnny Johns (right)

In his December 2013 interview on "The Manleywoman SkateCast", Petkevich recalled, "It was a fun year. Nationals were in Buffalo and there was a ton of snow. Harvard had this thing where you had to take your exams at the same time as everyone else, so I had to go to Rochester or somewhere and find a proctor to take my exam before the competition."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION



Twelve women contended to win the 1971 senior women's title. The heavy favourite was, of course, seventeen year old Janet Lynn, the two time and reigning U.S. Champion. Her friendly rival Julie Lynn Holmes took a slight lead in the compulsory figures and planned an inside double Axel in her free skate, but it wasn't enough to fend off the beautiful free skating performance of Janet Lynn, who missed a triple toe-loop attempt but still managed to absolutely mesmerize the Buffalo crowd. Fifteen year old Suna Murray earned a standing ovation and a trip to the World Championships after delivering an outstanding free skate to win the bronze medal ahead of Dawn Glab and Dorothy Hamill.

In the April 1971 issue of "Skating" magazine, Virginia Gilley recalled, "Julie Lynn Holmes... shows improvement each time she appears. Dick Button commented that her program was better composed and organized. In previous presentations her jump landings seemed awkward and had a camel appearance. Her one major error was a very unsteady slip on a double Lutz, and this generated the omission of a double inside Axel, a move for which she is well-known. Janet Lynn... seemed very tense, but her program still flowed along. Although it was a bad fall [on the triple toe-loop], Janet showed no effect from it except for a bump on a double Lutz landing later in the program. Two of Janet's marks were 5.6 and 5.7, which were lower than Julie's. The remainder were 5.8's and 5.9's, higher than Julie's. The contest was hard fought, although Janet surpassed the other contenders in poise and style."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky

Making history as the first team in history to win four consecutive U.S. senior ice dance titles, eighteen year old Judy Schwomeyer of Indianapolis and twenty three year old James Sladky of Solvay, New York were arguably the biggest stars of the Buffalo Nationals in 1971. Adding more difficult footwork to their peppy Peanut Polka - which was adopted in an altered form by the ISU as the Yankee Polka - the talented Ron Ludington students dominated the ice dance event from start to finish. Quoted in "Skating" magazine in December 1970, Schwomeyer noted, "Jim and I have always tried to have such good unison that even if we should let go of one another we would still maintain the same distance apart and the same edges. Sometimes European couples seem to be fighting between themselves. We have tried to keep the tension between us to a minimum." For the second year, Ann and Harvey (Skip) Millier settled for silver. Lansing's Mary Karen Campbell and Johnny Johns, a nineteen year old college sophomore from Detroit, took the bronze. Johns competed in senior men's, pairs and ice dance in Buffalo without skipping a beat.


Following the event, The Buffalo Skating Club hosted an awards banquet for competitors, officials and their families. Frederick C. LeFevre, the USFSA President at the time, presented the winners with their medals and announced that The Harned Trophy, awarded to the club earning the most points overall, would be won by the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club from California.

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.

A Versatile Sportsman: The Martinus Lørdahl Story

Photo courtesy Skøytemuseet

The son of Christian and Karen (Holst) Lørdahl, Martinus Lørdahl was born July 28, 1873 in Hof, an agricultural municipality in Vestfold, Norway. After taking an apprenticeship as a goldsmith, he moved to Oslo and established himself as a successful tobacco dealer. An athletic young man, he excelled at skiing, cycling, athletics, swimming and shooting and even taught gymnastics and boxing... but his greatest successes a sportsman came on the ice. In 1892, he won his first speed skating race in Oslo and over the decade, he went on to establish himself as one of Norway's most successful speed skaters of his era. He claimed the silver medal in the five thousand meter race at the 1897 World Allround Speed Skating Championships in Montreal and seven years later in Groningen, won the five hundred meter race and finished second in the other three. Perhaps most interestingly, he raced more than once against 'Papa' Wilhelm Henie... Sonja's father.

Martinus also competed internationally as a figure skater during the same period he was vying for the world's top amateur speed skating prizes. After withdrawing from the 1900 World Championships in Berlin due to injury, he went on to compete in the Nordic Games, European and World Championships. Though he placed dead last at the 1907 World Championships in Vienna, he did manage a fifth place finish at that year's European Championships in Berlin ahead of Martin Gordan, a two-time World Medallist from Germany.

Arguably, Martinus' most important contributions to skating history came behind the scenes. One of the top sports administrators in Norway during his era, he played a key role in the administration of the Kristiania (Oslo) Skøiteklub and the building of both Frogner and Bislett Stadions, which played host to countless international figure skating competitions in the decades that followed. He served as the chairman of the Norwegian Sports Association from 1905 to 1907 - the same years he was competing in international figure and speed skating competitions - and on the board of the Norwegian Skating Association for seven years.

Photo courtesy Hof Historielag

Tragically, in 1932 Martinus got gangrene in one of his feet and had to have it amputated. He died on April 2, 1933 from complications related to the surgery. The year following his death, the square northeast of the Bislett Stadion was named Martinus Lørdahls plass in his honour. In September 2010, a bust of him, designed by Per Ung, was unveiled at the Stadion. Though his figure skating achievements weren't as impressive as some, it is hard to imagine how skating in Norway would have developed in the years leading up to Sonja Henie's winning streak without his pioneering contributions.

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.

The 1987 Skate Canada International Competition


From October 29 to November 1, 1987, many of the world's best skaters convened at the four year old, one hundred million dollar Calgary Saddledome for the 1987 Skate Canada International. The venue was set play host to the figure skating events at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and the competition proved to be an important test event for many skaters who were set to participate. Quoted in the October 28, 1987 issue of "The Vancouver Sun", Ted Barton, technical director for B.C. section of the CFSA said, "A good result here has the skater leaving a good impression internationally, and coming in to the Olympics that is important, as is the confidence to be gained. I think any athlete going into any international competition at this stage knows just how important it is to do well now."

Norris Bowden, Sheldon Galbraith and Barbara Ann Scott reminiscing in 1987. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission. 

Seven of the skaters who medalled at this important autumn international event ultimately went on to snatch medals at the 1988 Games, and the stories of how things played out are nothing short of fascinating. On today's blog, we will take a trip down memory lane and look at just what transpired.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

In contrast to the singles and ice dance events in Calgary, the pairs competition did not include any of the top Olympic medal contenders. The short program was rather unremarkable. Winners Elena Kvitchenko and Rashid Kadrykaev of the Soviet Union led the pack, followed by Americana Katy Keeley and Joseph Mero and Canadians Christine Hough and Doug Ladret, but both the Soviets and Canadians both had errors on their side-by-side jumping passes.


In the free skate, Hough and Ladret rebounded with one of the best performances of their amateur career to defeat the Soviets and Americans. Their "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue" program went over to well with the crowd of over ten thousand that they received a standing ovation that lasted over five minutes. A second Canadian team, siblings Katherine and Robert Kates finished fifth among the field of seven teams. In last place was future World Champion René Novotný of Czechoslovakia with his then partner Lenka Knapova.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Debi Thomas

The favourite in the women's event was 1986 World Champion Debi Thomas and it was at this event that she debuted her "Carmen" free skate that she would later use to compete against Katarina Witt at the Olympic Games in The Battle Of The Carmen's. Prior to the competition, Thomas told Associated Press reporters, "There's so much depth in ladies figure skating. The top five are very close. It can really go either way." That not so Freudian slip - either way - presumably meant to one Carmen or the other. Yet, as would prove to be the case at the Olympics, Thomas faced stiff competition from Canada's Elizabeth Manley. In the October 27, 1987 issue of "The Montreal Gazette", she boasted, "I have a jam-packed program. I don't even have time to breathe. But I'm known for my jam-packed programs. And it's a pretty comical program. When I go out and fool around and have fun, I skate my best." Manley won all three phases of the school figures over Thomas and Great Britain's Joanne Conway. When Thomas received marks of 3.2 to 3.6 for her third figure, the loop, she reportedly stormed off and slammed the door to the ice.

The short program was a different story. Thomas skated her steppy Frankie Goes To Hollywood program brilliantly and was genuinely surprised by how hearty of a reception she received from the Canadian crowd. Her marks ranged from 5.1 to 5.7 for technical merit and from 5.4 to 5.7 for artistic impression. Manley fell on her triple Salchow/double loop combination and became disoriented coming out of a spin and skated the remainder of her program backwards. She blamed the rink, which had no discernible points of reference to distinguish between the corners. Interviewed in the October 31, 1987 edition of The Montreal Gazette, she quipped, "I decided I was going to focus on a fluorescent sign up above where the restaurant is to get my direction. I looked up and saw a fluorescent sign, so there must be another one on the other side of the rink. I don't know how the Calgary Flames play here. Don't they always shoot into the wrong net?" She ended up in second with marks ranging from 4.8 to 5.2 for technical merit and 5.4 to 5.8 for artistic impression. Conway remained in third and Canada's second entry, Patricia Schmidt, held on to sixth place.


The debut of Thomas' "Carmen" received mixed reviews, but she held on to take the gold medal ahead of Manley and Conway. Patricia Schmidt dropped to ninth. Neither Manley or Thomas was at their absolute best. Manley's coach Peter Dunfield was quick to take a potshot at Thomas in the November 2, 1987 edition of "The Montreal Gazette". He remarked, "One of these days someone is going to see through her. Elizabeth skates 60 miles an hour. You saw another skater [Thomas] who beat her with difficult moves, but the name of the game is skating. And half of her program if you put it on video was going less than 10 miles per hour. That's easy. That's walking. That's not skating."


Manley took her loss in stride. In her 1991 book "Thumbs Up!", she remembered, "I won the silver medal at Skate Canada, but I didn't really feel I deserved it. I hadn't been at my best and I knew it. I'd felt rattled and overexcited. After a while, I came to a painful conclusion. I realized that Sonya [Dunfield] was throwing me off. I adored Sonya, and at home her infectious enthusiasm was inspiring. I thrived on it. But to be around her during competitions had the opposite effect. It was overstimulating and I couldn't settle down. I asked her if she would stay away until after I'd skated my programs in future, and only join me when the marks were being announced. I hoped she would understand why I had to make such a request. The upcoming Olympics were too important for us to take any chances. I had to do everything right this time." However superstitious Liz's request might have seemed at the time, it worked.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Brian Boitano and Brian Orser

Poland's Grzegorz Filipowski withdrew prior to the men's event, sending CFSA a Telex advising the organization he was suffering from contusions. Eleven men ultimately competed but the only two the media were really interested were the Brian's: Boitano and Orser. While the American media praised the great strides that Boitano had made artistically, the Canadian media hypothesized as to whether or not Orser would include a quad in his program. He had been practicing the jump but conceded he wouldn't attempt it just to go for a higher technical score. As was the case at the Calgary Olympics, the media had a field day highly embellishing upon the rivalry between the two skaters. Orser won all three school figures, with Boitano a firm second and the Soviet Union's Viktor Petrenko third. Canadians Neil Paterson and Kurt Browning finished fifth and seventh. In the October 30, 1987 issue of "The Montreal Gazette", Orser remarked, "That's the first time I've beaten Boitano in the compulsories since 1985. I don't know what it is. Maybe I've just been concentrating on the compulsories more than he has."


In the short program, Orser missed the triple Axel in his triple Axel/double loop combination but the judges held the defending World Champion up over a clean Boitano with a string of 5.9's for artistic impression. Both men skated very well in the free skate, but Orser remained on top as he had in the figures and short program with 2.0 placement points to Boitano's 4.0, winning first place marks from five of the seven judges. Eighteen year old Petrenko fell twice but remained third overall. He was beaten in the free skate by Kurt Browning. It was the first time Kurt tried the quad in competition. He fell his quad attempt but landed seven triples and was pleased as punch with the fact he'd beaten Petrenko, then ranked sixth in the World compared to his fifteenth. He ended up fourth overall, just ahead of Neil Paterson and Japan's Makoto Kano. In the November 1, 1987 issue of "The Toronto Star", both Orser and Boitano reflected on their experiences. Orser stated, "I did about 75 per cent of what I'm capable of doing with the program. It was very hot in the building, so hot, in fact, that I was a little dizzy and had to go outside for some fresh air before I skated, and I became a little tired and a little bit cautious towards the end. This was my first event as the defending world champion and I had a good amount of the jitters about this competition. That's why I was really pleased that Brian chose to compete here because made it just a dandy test. I didn't want to give everything I had to the program the first time because that would take away the drive to improve between now and February. I can work on making it more powerful and full from now until then." Boitano said, "With the exception of a triple Axel in the slow part of my program, I would be happy if I skated that well in the Olympics. Considering the time of year, I felt great and was able to skate with a large amount of confidence and strength." As we know, the next Battle Of The Brian's went a little differently.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall

Four teams pulled out of the ice dance competition in Calgary before it even started. Siblings Antonia and Ferdinand Becherer of West Germany withdrew due to injury; Hungarians Klara Engi and Attila Toth due to 'technical difficulties'. Czechoslovakians Viera Řeháková and Ivan Havránek withdrew due to illness, as did the Soviet team of Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, who were heavy favourites to challenge Canadians Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall. In the October 30, 1987 issue of "The Vancouver Sun", Wilson said, "It's a bit of a disappointment that they didn't come. I always feel it more challenging to skate against couples who are ahead of us in the world rankings." With little competition, Wilson and McCall breezed through the Viennese Waltz, Paso Doble and Tango compulsory dances and their "Tanguera" OSP was a huge hit with the Alberta crowd. Americans Susie Wynne and Joseph Druar, who had won Skate America a week earlier with their self-choreographed free dance, got dinged on the second mark in the free dance. Canadians Karyn and Rod Garossino took a tumble. Britons Sharon Jones and Paul Askham's waltz and foxtrot free dance and Italians Lia Trovati and Roberto Pelizzola's Latin inspired program failed to deliver the same marks as Austrians Kathrin and Christoff Beck, whose "Band Wagon" free dance was a hit with the judges, if not as much with the Calgary crowd. Wilson and McCall's free dance received the only 6.0 of the whole competition and a standing ovation that lasted longer than Brian Orser's in the men's event. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "Five years earlier, they had first seen the comedic ragtime ballet 'Elite Syncopations', where a shorter man struggles with a tall woman. Because of Tracy's height relative to Rob, they now put it to ice with arm movements choreographed by Vanessa Harwood from the floor ballet. Tracy played the jock, Rob the artiste. Before Skate Canada, they continued to stumble through the difficult steps, trying too hard. Marijane Stong and John Briscoe told them to 'just skate'. With no real competition, Tracy and Rob skipped over the ice, further defining their special style with a lightning-fast sequence from one side of the risk to the other."


The Canadians took the gold ahead of the Austrians, Italians and Brits. The Garossino's ended up fifth ahead of Wynne and Druar, Jo-Anne Borlase and Martin Smith, France's Doriane Bontemps and Amaury Dalongeville and Australians Monica MacDonald and Rodney Clarke. Assessing how the event had gone in the November 5, 1987 issue of "The Vancouver Sun", Wilson said, "Skate Canada was very much an Olympic learning situation. We learned we have to focus on not getting caught up in the Olympic hype... Our first two practices were a disaster." Whatever Wilson and McCall did worked, because only months later they were standing on the podium after performing one of the most memorable free dances in ice dance history.

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.

The Whole Kit And Kaboodle

Loew's Theatre in Montreal. Photo courtesy City Of Montreal Archives, Collection Cinémathèque québécoise, 1999_0580_PH_07.

An unlikely mecca for Vaudeville shows in the thirties, Montreal's Loew's Theatre (built in 1917) was notorious for its blackface minstrel shows and tramp comedians. In 1931, its star attraction was a pair of conjoined 'Siamese twins' from the Philippines named Lucio and Simplicio Godina who sang, danced and roller skated for gawking curiosity seekers. Seven years later, the venue played host to an equally unusual attraction - an ice show.

Manager Howard Knevels brought in a revue called The St. Moritz Ice-Skating Carnival over the holiday season in 1937. It opened on New Year's Eve and enjoyed a short run with a cast of twenty five skaters. A 'glittering' set painted with Swiss mountain slopes and trees played backdrop to a tiny stage of artificial ice. Three opening acts - impersonator Beatrice Howell, banjo player and MC Ken Harvey and a team of 'comic tumblers' - preceded the ice show, which "The Canadian Jewish Chronicle" described as "a rapid fire production... that is undoubtedly the most spectacular, novel and entertaining ever offered in any theatre in this city."

Kit Klein

Interestingly, the star wasn't even a figure skater. An American speed skater named Kit Klein who had won the Olympic gold medal in the fifteen hundred meter race at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid and gone on to do advertisements for Camel cigarettes had top billing. She was supported by barrel jumper Bobby Hurd, ice dancers Irene and Dick Meister, a sister act, a chorus of twelve 'beautiful ice skating maidens' and an ice comedian from Nova Scotia named Douglas Duffy. The highlight of the show? A matador act with a two man skating bull.

The Ice Follies, Ice Capades and Sonja Henie's Hollywood Ice Revue all made stops in Montreal in the years that followed but the interest generated by The St. Moritz Ice-Skating Carnival at Loew's never ultimately translated to a static series of Vaudeville style ice shows in Montreal. Only three years after the The St. Moritz Ice-Skating Carnival, Loew's Theatre was converted to a film cinema. It remained in operation through the nineties until being partially demolished and transformed into a Club Med and later, a Foot Locker shoe store.

Though we often look at history through people and events, it is important to remember that exploring the past through locations can be just as meaningful. Whether a frozen tennis court in the Himalayas, a bullring in Mexico or a Vaudeville theatre in Montreal, figure skating has made its mark in some pretty unique places.

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.

A Western Wonder: The Roger Wickson Story


With a huge thanks to the wonderful folks at the White Rock Museum and Archives and Burnaby Public Library, I'm happy to be able to share the story of a wonderful Canadian figure skater who has somewhat 'fallen through the cracks' of history!

The son of Gladys (Rogers) and John Arthur Wickson, Ralph Roger John Wickson was born May 2, 1927 in Vancouver, British Columbia. He spent much of his childhood in Winnipeg, where his father's parents lived. It was in Manitoba that he and his younger brother Malcolm took up figure skating. It wasn't until the family moved back to British Columbia when his father started working for the government that they really began taking the sport seriously.

Roger performing a backbend cantilever in 1941. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Under the tutelage of Canadian Champion Mary Rose Thacker, the Wickson boys represented a steady stream of British Columbia skating clubs throughout their careers - Connaught, University Hill, Vancouver and Kerrisdale among them. Their father, an avid sportsman who served as secretary of the James Bay Athletic Association, was one of the founders of the latter club. John Arthur Wickson and his brother Gordon (Roger's uncle) were also part of the group of westerners that formed the first section in Canada in 1947 - the Western Canada Section of the CFSA.

Ross Smith, Barbara Ann Scott, Sheila Smith, Suzanne Thouin and Roger Wickson with their trophies at the 1944 Canadian Championships in Toronto. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

After winning the Connaught senior men's club title in 1941 and the 1944 Canadian junior men's title and the bronze medal in the senior men's event at the 1946 Canadian Championships in Toronto, Roger made history at the first Western Canada Sectional Championships, held January 15 and 16, 1947 at the Wascana Figure Skating in Regina, winning the senior men's event and becoming the first skater from his club to hold a senior men's Sectional title. During this period, he was also a member of the Connaught Figure Skating Club's championship four.

After finishing second at the 1948 Canadian Championships behind Wally Distelmeyer, twenty one year old Roger made history again at the 1949 Canadian Championships. In front of a crowd of nine hundred spectators at the Minto Skating Club, he became the first man from British Columbia to claim a Canadian senior men's title. Described as a "dark horse" winner by the press though he was a perennial (and often unopposed) champion at the Western Sectionals, he was largely unheralded in the Ontario and Quebec skating communities who largely controlled the sport at the time.

Roger Wickson and Suzanne Morrow at the 1949 Canadian Championships

At the 1949 North American Championships in Philadelphia, Roger finished fourth behind a trio of Americans - Dick Button, Jimmy Grogan and Hayes Alan Jenkins. The following year, he moved up from second after the school figures behind another British Columbian skater, Bill Lewis, to defend his Canadian title.

Roger Wickson, Barbara Gratton, Suzanne Morrow and Peter Firstbrook at the 1950 Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

However, Roger's first and only trip to the World Championships that year would not yield any such comeback. Buried in the standings after the figures, Roger's free skating effort wasn't enough to move him out of eighth place. In 1951, his home club hosted the Canadian Championships for the first time. Under tremendous pressure, he lost his Canadian title to a young up-and-comer named Peter Firstbrook. At the North American Championships that followed, he finished dead last. It was with those losses that Roger's relatively short, roller coaster career ended in disappointment.

Artray Studio photo of Roger Wickson boarding a flight for England in 1950. VPL access number: 84467A. Photo courtesy Vancouver Public Library. 

Seven years after his father's death, Roger returned to competitive figure skating at the age of thirty two, teaming up with two young Capilano Winter Club skaters - Nancy Paulson and Vivian Percival - in an attempt to reinvent himself as an ice dancer. Reinvent perhaps is not the best word, as Roger and June Hockley had competed in the Waltz and Tenstep competitions at the Canadian Championships in 1950, but finished dead last. Roger and Vivian fared slightly better, claiming the bronze medal in the Silver (junior) dance competition at the 1960 Canadian Championships, and then Roger promptly retired from skating again. He settled in Vancouver and managed a building supply company. He never married, passing away of a heart attack on June 6, 1985 in Crescent Beach, British Columbia at the age of fifty eight. He may not be one of Canada's most remembered men's champions, but he certainly did a great deal to put British Columbian skating on the map.

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.

The 1923 North American Figure Skating Championships

On February 23, 1923, Canadian and American skaters gathered in Ottawa, Ontario for the very first North American Championships, then known simply as an 'International Figure Skating Competition'. In addition to being the first North American Championships, this event also marked the first time a Canadian skating club hosted an international competition sponsored by the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada, then the governing body of figure skating in Canada.

The event came about because the Minto Skating Club had wanted to host an international competition in singles and fours, which they had done several times previously outside of the Figure Skating Department's auspices but using ISU rules. This time, they 'played nice' and asked the permission of the ASA. In cooperation with A. Winsor Weld, the President of the newly founded USFSA, the event was formed as a "close, friendly competition" between skaters of two nations.

Louis Rubenstein and A. Winsor Weld, then Presidents of the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association Of Canada and the USFSA

In looking at the results of the competition, the event was essentially a draw. American skaters claimed the top two spots in both of the singles competitions, while the pairs title was won by Canadians Dorothy Jenkins and Andrew Gordon McClennan. In the fours competition for the Connaught Cup, donated by the Duke of Connaught, the Minto Four of Elizabeth 'Bet' Blair, Florence Wilson, Philip Chrysler and C.R. Morphy outskated teams from New York City and Boston.


Interestingly, the deed of gift for the Connaught Cup stated that the contest be held in Ottawa, and after this event the Cup wasn't awarded again at the North American Championships until 1933, when the Duke agreed the cup could move from Ottawa. With the Americans taking the men's and women's titles and the Canadians the pairs and fours, the 'tiebreaker' was in essence the informal Waltzing competition, which featured an impressive thirteen couples. The winners were Florence Wilson and Joel B. Liberman. She was from Ottawa; he from New York City.


To gain a better sense of what the competition was like, we can look to the memoirs of Joseph Chapman, penned in 1936: "Once while staying at Placid, during the winter of 1922-23, I received a very nice invitation to act as a judge in what I believe were the first North American Championships ever staged. I was a duly qualified judge under the regulations of the newly formed United States Figure Skating Association, and by these new championships, established through the friendly cooperation of the Canadian Skating Association and our own association, an opportunity was to be given for competition in skating between the Canadian and 'USAtian' enthusiasts. Ruth and I boarded a local train late one afternoon running from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake, in which latter village we landed at seven p. m. and forty below zero. We spent a hectic night in the distinctly unsophisticated six-room hotel in the village, barely able to keep ourselves warm by not only using all the blankets available in our room but also the carpet off the floor. Next morning we boarded another local train running through the back country between Tupper Lake and the town of Ottawa, Canada. Had there been no tracks upon the right-of-way occupied by the small railroad upon which we had to depend, no one could have recognized that right-of-way from any other back-country road. In Ottawa at the Chateau Laurier we found that Tee Blanchard, Nat Niles, Sherwin Badger and Bea Loughran, the United States competitors, were already on hand. Early next morning all of us adjourned to the semi-private rink then used by the Minto Skating Club and it was on this ice surface that I first had the pleasure of meeting Melville Rogers, a handsome young man who was to compete for Canada. It may be some surprise to you to be told that in those particular times at least, the Canadian figure skating ability was by no means on a par with the ability of the skaters from the United States. In the competition which I judged, Sherwin Badger, then U.S. man champion, easily won first place, with Nat Niles a fairly close second and Melville Rogers a trailing third. Bea Loughran and Tee Blanchard fought to the death for first place in the ladies’ singles. Bea [demonstrated] crisp and sweeping vigour [in] her school figures, [showing] the convincing bite of her skate blade as she performed her 'Salchow Rockers', as compared to the more gentle 'Fuchs Rockers' of Tee Blanchard, those Fuchs Rockers as taught by George Mueller to the Boston Skaters, by which they had been greatly assisted in winning championships up to that time... In the evening all hands adjourned to the public rink in Ottawa for the free skating, 'Fours', and dancing competitions. I had believed that I was experiencing something in the nature of cold at the morning events, but I found on arriving for the evening performances I hadn’t 'seen nothing yet' as far as cold temperatures were concerned. I had no thermometer close at hand and therefore can make no guess as to whether the air in the place was very close to the temperature at which air becomes liquid, but I know that within five minutes after my arrival my blood had at least become solid. I still have the vision of Mr. and Mrs. Henry [Wainwright] Howe sitting on a radiator, as though it were their last hold on life, in their endeavor to keep some slight memory of what heat felt like as they waited for their cue to take the ice in the waltz competition, for be it known to you that in those days at least the rinks in Ottawa were served by Mother Nature alone as far as the freezing of the ice was concerned - and therefore no more effeminate obstructions were placed in the walls of those rinks to stand between the vigour of our Universal Mother and the struggling circulation of us skaters - than was absolutely necessary. Our delightful Canadian friends, however, were well used to these conditions and their champion Four of that day performed as though in tropic heat, vanquishing the frozen, first New York 'Four' with agile ease. It was a surprise, however, to me - and maybe to you - to see how inferior the Canadian ice-dancing of that era turned out to be. At the gay party held next day on the outdoor rink of Government House, where we were courteously welcomed by the then Governor-General Byng, of Canada, and his Lady, all of our Canadian friends waltzed with gay abandon but in a 'form' leaving much to be desired. But how the level of their skating has risen! What envied perfection they have reached today in their dancing, group skating, and individual work!"

They may not have even attempted double Lutzes led alone quads, but the brave skaters and judges who convened in Ottawa in 1923 didn't have the luxuries of air travel or heated rinks. They braved the elements to pursue their passion at a time long before the television cameras were rolling or prize money was doled out. They did it because they loved figure skating.

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.

The Epic Thaells

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The children of Isaac James and Sarah (Park) Thaell, Clifford Ernest Thaell and Verona 'Rona' Thaell were born December 4, 1910 and June 28, 1912 in Salford and Manchester, England. Their father was a master tailor. As youngsters, both Rona and Cliff both learned to skate at the Manchester Ice Palace but they didn't actually team up as a pair until their late teens.


After achieving limited success in the amateur ranks, they turned professional in the mid thirties and got their start in the 1937 ice ballets "Enchanted Night" and "The Brahman's Daughter". They then headed to Australia to teach and produce ice shows at the Sydney Glaciarium. While Down Under, the siblings became something of a phenomenon with the Australian people. They lent their names and faces to advertisements for Schumann's Mineral Spring Salts and their summer 1938 show "Swiss Chalet" - featuring a cast of over one hundred skaters - was a bona fide hit.


While holidaying in Hawaii following the success of "Swiss Chalet", they put on a show in Honolulu with Sidney Froebel. A later show program noted, "They skated in Honolulu when the temperature was well over the 100 degree mark and regaled themselves by eating pineapple frozen into their portable artificial rink for decorative purposes."

Heading to North America, they appeared in Sonja Henie's revue at Madison Square Garden and Wirtz's Arthur M. Wirtz's All Star European Revue "Hello America!". On May 27, 1940 in Miami, Florida, Rona married John Caruana, who managed the S.S. Brighton and was the European director of Wirtz's productions. The couple's witness was none other than ice show star Laverne Bush.


During World War II, Rona and Cliff skated in Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Wirtz's "It Happens On Ice" and "Stars On Ice" shows at the Center Theater on Broadway. They also taught skating at the Glencoe Club in Calgary.


After the war, Rona returned to England and taught at Earl's Court in London. Interviewed in the "Sydney Morning Herald" on March 12, 1949, she recalled, "We had 70 to 80 children in our group classes at Earl's Court. They were divided into four groups of 20 each, and we took them through all stages of skating. We used to give them lessons of an hour, and during the last half hour would get the whole lot together on the ice and instruct them through a microphone." Cliff became a respected coach in America, teaching in Lake Placid, at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society and operating the Cliff Thaell Ice Skating Schools in a studio rinks in Philadelphia and Delaware.

Cliff's wife Edwina Blades

Rona moved to Australia in 1948, when her husband took a job as manager of the Sydney Glaciarium. She served as the club's head pro until the rink closed in 1955. Cliff married Edwina Blades, whom he toured with in Wirtz's revue. Edwina was billed as a South African skater, but she was actually born in England. Cliff and Edwina's daughter Ginny (Thaell) Page recalled, "The ice shows that she was skating in thought the idea of Mum being from South Africa was much more exciting that her being born in England!"

Cliff lived in Blades, England when he was quoted in piece on dance blades in the November-December 1989 issue of "Professional Skater Magazine". Cliff expressed his confusion over the word 'blades' being used in North America. In England, the word 'blade' referred to a knife, razor or lawn mower blade, not a skate. In North America, skaters referred to skates as the boot and blade combined. In Great Britain, skaters referred to a skate and boot separately.

Rona in the middle. Photo courtesy Australian Professional Skaters' Association.

Cliff later returned to the United States, living in Lake Placid and later, Collier, Florida. He passed away December 15, 1996 at the age of eighty six. Rona remained in Australia and coached many Australian Champions. In 2012, she passed away at the age of one hundred. Prior to her death, she was still driving her car and going to aqua aerobics classes three times a week. Though this remarkable duo may never have won an Olympic or World medal, their contributions to the world of professional skating remain nothing short of epic.

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.