The 1968 World Figure Skating Championships


Watchmaking, fine chocolate, cheese fondue and yodelling... these were the associations many made at the time when thinking of Switzerland. From February 27 to March 3, 1968, figure skaters from around the world got to experience these long-standing traditions for themselves at the World Championships in Geneva, held at the ten year old Patinoire des Vernets. Many of the competitors who had competed outdoors the previous two years in Davos and Vienna were thrilled to be skating entirely indoors for the first time at the World Championships since 1965. As the ice surface at the Patinoire des Vernets was seventy by forty feet - larger than the regulation competition size at the time - a sixty by thirty foot area was used for the free skating, with seventy large flower troughs bordering the outside of the rink.


Two members of the Skating Club of New York living in the resort town of Montreux arranged for the American team to practice in Villars following the Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble, France. John Hayes, the U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, generously donated to a fundraising campaign organized to cover the U.S. World Team expenses, which raised an impressive four thousand dollars.
The Canadian team travelled from Grenoble to Zweibrucken, West Germany on a night bus. They stayed at the Third Wing of the Canadian Air Force Base, which had a covered arena where they were able to train for eight hours a day. During their stay, they gave an exhibition for the members of the Canadian military stationed there. Jay Humphry recalled, "They had a great hockey rink there and we had it to ourselves for the time between the championships.... It was like being at home in Canada in the middle of Germany."

The 1968 American and Canadian World teams. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

North American skating fans with the means to travel could join one of the first package 'skating tours', first travelling to Villars to watch the U.S. team practice then staying at the Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva while taking in the competition. The tour was arranged by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Shearer, a couple from Burlington, Vermont. Those unable to attend could watch television coverage from the comfort of their living rooms. Let's reimagine what those spectators would have seen!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

The required elements in the pairs compulsory program were a single Axel Paulsen lift, split jump, pair sit spin, flying camel spin, death spiral, straight line step sequence and serpentine step sequence. The leaders after the first phase of the competition - to no one's surprise - were two time Olympic Gold Medallists Ludmila (Belousova) and Oleg Protopopov.


The Protopopov's performed equally as beautifully in the free skate to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", Tchaikovsky's "Fifth Symphony" and Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 1". However, they were actually placed second in that phase of the event by Canadian judge Bill Lewis behind Americans Cynthia and Ron Kauffman.

Cynthia and Ron Kauffman. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

After having placed fifth in the compulsory program, the Kauffman's brought down the house with a flawless free skate set to "Tara's Theme" from "Gone With The Wind". Their effort earned them the bronze medal, behind Soviets Tatiana Zhuk and Alexandr Gorelik, who skated to music from the Aleksandr Faynsimmer film "Ovod". Canada's only entry, Betty and John McKilligan, placed thirteenth. The pair who finished dead last, Glenda and Brian O'Shea, were the first South African pairs team in history to compete at the World Championships. Two years later, the South African Olympic Association would be expelled by the IOC due to the laws of the South African government with respect to apartheid.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

By the time she'd skated the final school figure - the RFO-LFI paragraph bracket - nineteen year old Olympic Gold Medallist Peggy Fleming had amassed an incredible seventy four point lead over Gaby Seyfert. It's interesting to note that two judges placed Trixi Schuba ahead of Seyfert in the figures, recognizing her uncanny tracing ability in only her second trip to the World Championships. She managed to finish a solid third, ahead of Hana Mašková, the bronze medallist at the Grenoble Games.



Peggy Fleming skated brilliantly in the free skate, earning first place marks from all but the Austrian and East German judges who opted for Gaby Seyfert. Swiss skating historian Nigel Brown commented, "Peggy Fleming's middle sequence in her free program marks a chapter in the art. Phases of ballet have been attempted often by individual girl skaters. Imitation of it, however, is the most that can be said of such endeavours. Peggy's interpretation was beautiful, and, as she did it, ballet has a rightful place on the ice."

Peggy Fleming and Gaby Seyfert. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

A tenth place finish in the figures dropped Trixi Schuba behind Seyfert and Mašková... meaning the medallists from the Olympic Games had finished in the exact same order at the subsequent World Championships just as Sjoukje Dijkstra, Regine Heitzer and Petra Burka had in Dortmund in 1964. Canada's Karen Magnussen finished seventh in her second trip to the World Championships, earning third place ordinals in free skating from  the Australian and Canadian judges. Canada's second entry, Linda Carbonetto, moved up to thirteenth with a lovely free skate after a disappointing eighteenth place showing in the figures.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov, Peggy Fleming and Emmerich Danzer

Emmerich Danzer in 1968. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Austria's Wolfgang Schwarz was the only winner at the Winter Olympic Games not in attendance in Geneva. The surprise Olympic winner had turned professional and planned to tour with the Ice Capades. After the twenty men's competitors skated their six school figures, America's Tim Wood had managed a slim lead over two time and defending World Champion Emmerich Danzer of Austria. How close was it? The panel was split five-four in favour of Wood, with a fourth place for Danzer from the American judge being one of the deciding factors. France's Patrick Péra, the bronze medallist at the Grenoble Games, stood third, followed by Scotty Allen and Gary Visconti.


Twenty three year old Emmerich Danzer rebounded with a fine yet somewhat conservative free skating performance, earning first place ordinals from all but the American judge, a string of 5.9's and a perfect 6.0 from the British judge.


Tim Wood, who finished second, missed a triple Salchow but skated an otherwise outstanding program. He told Associated Press reporters, "I think I was good enough to win, despite that slip. I skated my full program and made no other mistakes." Patrick Péra had fewer points than fourth place Scotty Allen, but he took the bronze based on his ordinal placings. His free skating program was set to a piece called "Concertino en Ut", composed especially for him by Eddie Warner, who composed much of the official music used at the Grenoble Games. Danzer's win was regarded as quite controversial at the time and he announced his retirement from competition to reporters in Geneva.


Two of the biggest audience favourites in Geneva were Gary Visconti and Jay Humphry, who earned third and fourth place in the free skating with dazzling performances. They placed fifth and seventh overall, held back by their placements in the compulsories. Canada's second entry, David McGillvray of Toronto, skated well in the free skate but placed tenth.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Fifteen teams choctawed and cross-rolled their way through the Foxtrot, Westminster Waltz, Kilian and Blues but no one even came close to three time World Champions Diane Towler and Bernard Ford. They brought down the house with their fast-paced free dance ending in "Zorba The Greek", earning unanimous first place marks and their fourth World title.


In the battle for silver, Yvonne Suddick and Malcolm Cannon defeated Janet Sawbridge and Jon Lane by the narrowest of margins. Both teams tied in total ordinal points, with Sawbridge and Lane placing ahead of Suddick and Cannon in the free dance. Ultimately, half an ordinal placing determined Suddick and Cannon's silver medal. Though British ice dancers had been on the podium every year since ice dance had been included as a discipline at the World Championships, it was the first British sweep of the World podium in any discipline since 1956. Canada's two entries, Joni Graham and Don Phillips and Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie, placed ninth and thirteenth... meaning that Canadian skaters had placed an unlucky thirteenth in all but one discipline at this particular World Championships.

Janet Sawbridge and Jon Lane. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following the event, Rudolph Loeser of Wakefield, Massachusetts complained in "Skating" magazine, "I sat down in front of the television set, anticipating a full hour of ice dancing, waiting to see all the new and original dance steps. It was very beautiful to watch each couple skating as one, but the programs were free-skating programs without lifts. There were few new dance steps or sequences to be seen anywhere. A mini free-skating program has no place in dance competition. Free dancing needs to be re-examined and the 'dance' put back into dancing."

THE AFTERMATH

Karen Magnussen skating to "Second Hand Rose" on the ISU World Tour

On the closing Sunday, an exhibition was held at three in the afternoon, followed by a gala dinner banquet at the Hotel Des Bergues that evening where prizes were awarded. Following the banquet, many of the top skaters in Geneva embarked on an ISU World tour that visited East and West Germany, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, France and England.

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