A Stockholm Sensation: The Gösta Sandahl Story


"In no other sport but figure skating is one given the opportunity to show as much of their personality. It gives so much joy, the feeling... One develops one's grace, fills up the chest and inhales the lovely winter day's strengthening air, all during a body exercise that is free from any harmful effects... For each little progress you make, more and more expanses open up, and you soon find yourself standing in the middle of a kingdom of unlimited possibilities. Figure skating is a difficult art but your whole individuality comes out when you compose your own characters and perform them for your own fun." - Gösta Sandahl

The son of Alma Charlotta (Carlman) and Harald Gustaf Hjalmar Sandahl, Knut Gustaf Elof Sandahl was born January 13, 1893 in Stockholm, Sweden. He was the youngest of three siblings, with an older sister named Märta Sofia and an older brother named Carl Edvard Harald. The Sandahl family shared a home with a marine superintendent and his daughter on the base of the Svea Artilleriregemente (Artillery Regiment), where Harald Sandahl worked as a clothing storeroom manager, chamberlain and administrator.


Harald Gustaf Hjalmar Sandahl and Carl Leonard Sandahl 

Knut Gustaf Elof went by the name 'Gösta'. Swedish skating historian Lennart Månsson explained, "In Sweden at the time, 'Gösta' was a very common, familiar name to use for a person that was christened 'Gustaf', much in the same way that a lady named 'Elizabeth' may be commonly known as 'Lisa'. In Sweden we do not have a strict convention of using a middle name, so if you have three first names, as in this case, it is perfectly normal for any of the three to be the intended 'main' first name." Gösta's uncle Carl Leonard Sandahl was a renowned architect and artist who designed the Danmarks Hus as well as schools, banks, church and parish buildings, bathhouses and a large stone barn building at Steninge Castle.


Gösta and his brother Carl learned to skate at the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb, which was a great hub of skating in the early twentieth century. They shared the ice with great champions like Ulrich Salchow, Bror Meyer, Richard Johansson and Per Thorén and soon became extremely proficient in both school figures and free skating. The Sandahl brothers also developed a friendship with Gillis Grafström, who was around the same age and was also an intellectual.


After winning the junior men's title at the Nordic Games in 1909, Gösta made his first appearance in the senior men's class at the Swedish Championships in 1910. He placed second behind Richard Johansson and ahead of his older brother. The following year, he won his first of five Swedish men's titles and incredibly in 1912, he won the European men's title on his first try in his home city. In 1913, Gösta was "barely out of his sick bed" when he won the senior men's title at the Nordic Games, defeating Harald Rooth, Arthur Cumming, his brother Carl and Olof Hultgren. Not long after, his brother gave up competitive skating and focused on his education. Carl grew up to become a highly regarded physician in Lidköping who experimented with laser surgery in the fifties.


Gösta came from behind after the figures with an outstanding free skate to become the surprise winner of the 1914 World Championships in Helsinki. The fact that the Swedish judge placed his competitor Fritz Kachler tenth in free skating may have helped a little. Finnish newspapers noted that Gösta's free skating program was "versatile, self-conscious, safe and elegant." Otto Bohatsch remarked, "He is a smart youngster... with flight and speed, though his program is not different from Salchow in his younger days." Though the Scandinavian press raved about the twenty one year old's victory, several of his older (Continental) competitors claimed he had been a less than gracious winner and had in fact gloated about defeating them. This may have been the case, however there may have also been egos at play. Whatever the truth, Gösta's mother never lived to see him win a major international title. She passed away in October of 1912, when he was only nineteen.


Although major ISU Championships were not held during The Great War, Gösta continued to compete in Scandinavia for a time. In 1915, he won a figure skating competition in Stockholm for a cup donated by the Duchess of Bedford, the owner of Prince's Skating Club in London, for the fourth time. He was also victorious at an international competition in Oslo, Norway in February of 1916, defeating the Stixrud brothers.


Gösta's decision to stop competing had very little to do the War and much to do with his religious and philosophical beliefs. He was an absolutist, theosophist and vegetarian who wasn't a big fan of the Olympic movement. An essay that he penned in "Idrottsboken: en handledning för skolungdom samt praktisk vägvisare för varje idrottsintresserad" in 1914 seems to support the fact he had ethical concerns about the direction in which Sweden's sports system was headed at the time. He lamented, "One no longer knows sport as his good friend in life and work but at most becomes a fettered prisoner, a comrade who has little or no joy. If he is a good jumper, he may not run. If he is a good one at discus or sledgehammer, he must not do anything else... Scriptures whose suitability and usefulness are of course raised over all doubts and criticisms (they are given by experts, whose regulations, one of course must unconditionally submit to, because otherwise they threaten to resign their positions, and this would be the least death for our public health), he is threatened and by harassment may even be disqualified. In this way, a sportsman is forced under the coach's knuckle whip, thus reshaping him from an individual person to a cog in the machine who at the next Olympic Games will prove our people's physical power and superiority over other peoples, from a racial hygiene point of view. If we made everybody in Sweden sacrifice two hours [of their day to sport] would we seize every single point in 1916 at the Olympics... It must be pointed out that it is not against competitions per se, I turned, but against competitions in the form that they are now being conducted, and against the spirit towards the rules of the participants that is common, as well as the leaders... Competitions are [meant to be] had to raise interest in sports."


In December of 1922, Gösta announced his intention to come out of retirement and compete in the World Championships in Vienna. Considering it had been eight years since he'd participated in an ISU Championship, it was quite the comeback attempt. He trained for the Championships in Davos, where he entered a competition that January and placed second. That same month, he bested France's Francis Pigueron and Pierre Brunet at a competition in Font-Romeu-Odeillo-Via, a commune in the Pyrénées. At the World Championships, he placed a disappointing third behind behind Fritz Kachler and Willy Böckl, two of the Austrian men he'd beat at the 1914 World Championships. The bronze medal was actually an upgrade. The results were initially tabulated incorrectly and it was first announced that Ernst Oppacher, another of his pre-War competitors, had also defeated him. He returned to Sweden to win his final national title and hung up his skates for good.

Having graduated from the Vänersborg Universitet with a degree in law, Gösta had absolutely zero involvement in the figure skating world as a coach or official after he retired for the second time. He focused on his career, playing tennis and swimming and passed away on December 16, 1963 at the age of seventy. He was unmarried, had no children and his obituary didn't even bother to mention that he had been a figure skater, let alone a European or World Champion.

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' 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? 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 1940 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Matchbook from the Cleveland Skating Club, circa 1940's

In dance halls, they foxtrotted to "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square" and waltzed to "Beautiful Ohio". Those with a quarter to spare made their way to theaters to watch Walt Disney's new film "Pinocchio". President Franklin Delano Roosevelt announced that he was sending his Undersecretary of State to Western Europe on a 'fact-finding mission' but it wasn't for another seven months that men between the ages of twenty one and forty five were required to register for the draft.

Welcome Little Stranger's cover of "Beautiful Ohio"

World War II was raging overseas but in Cleveland, Ohio, figure skating was thriving. The city boasted two skating clubs - the Elysium Figure Skating Club and the Cleveland Skating Club - and the latter was only one of two skating clubs in the country at the time who had built their own rink. It was that very rink in Shaker Heights where ninety one of America's best singles skaters, couples and fours convened on February 9 and 10, 1940. Let's take a look back at the skaters and stories from this historic event!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS


Junior men's champion Bobby Specht

To the delight of the hometown crowd, Cleveland's own Caroline Brandt waltzed away with the novice women's title in a record field of twenty five entries. The novice men's title was won by William Grimditch Jr. of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society. In winning, Grimditch defeated a young Eddie LeMaire, who twenty one years later perished in the Sabena Crash.

The junior women's champion, twelve year old Ramona Allen of the Oakland Figure Skating Club, had her own brush with tragedy. The February 11, 1940 issue of "The Philadelphia Enquirer" noted, "When the Athenia was sunk early in the War, Ramona was carried off the sinking ship in the arms of her mother, but nobody 'carried' the young lady in the two days of the figure skating tournament here." The Athenia had been torpedoed by a German U-boat off Glasgow in September of 1939. Of the almost one thousand, five hundred passengers and crew aboard, over hundred were killed - almost half when a lifeboat was crushed by one of the ship's propellers.

Dorothy Glazier and Stephen Tanner of the Skating Club Of Boston defeated Nettie Prantel and George Boltres of the Skating Club of New York, Jean and Robert Matzke of Philadelphia and Dr. and Mrs. Howard E. Wilkinson of the Buffalo Skating Club to win the junior pairs event. In the junior men's event, San Francisco brothers Murray and Sheldon Galbraith led the way after the school figures. Sheldon Galbraith, who would later coach a who's who of Canadian figure skating, dropped to third behind Superior, Wisconsin's Bobby Specht and his brother with a disastrous free skate. PJ Kwong and Mel Matthews' article "Sheldon Galbraith: The Early Years" recalled, "Suffering from a cold, and used to the much larger ice surface where he had been training, he turned in a poor performance in the freestyle event. There were seats for spectators on one side of the rink, and skating on this much smaller ice surface, he crashed through the barrier, landing in someone's lap."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Illustration of U.S. senior men's champion Eugene Turner

When five time U.S. Champion Robin Lee turned professional in 1939, his expected successor was young Ollie Haupt Jr. of St. Louis. An exciting free skater, Haupt had been named to the 1940 Olympic team that never was. However, in Cleveland his dream of being the next U.S. men's champion was dashed by a handsome nineteen year old Californian named Eugene Turner. With an outstanding free skate, Skippy Baxter surpassed Arthur Vaughn Jr. for the bronze medal. In winning, Turner became the first U.S. Champion in history from the Pacific Coast. Benjamin T. Wright recalled, "The elements of program and choreography versus strong athletic ability came into play... and made the decision of the judges that much more difficult. The ultimate results were a source of controversy for some years thereafter."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Joan Tozzer

Although the Skating Club Of Boston's Joan Tozzer had reigned as both the U.S. women's and pairs champion the two previous years, in the months leading up to the Cleveland Nationals pretty much everyone expected an upset. Seventeen year old Austrian Hedy Stenuf had finished second to Megan Taylor at the 1939 World Championships in Prague, had relocated to Rochester, New York to live with her father and announced her intention to win the U.S. title. Though not even a U.S. citizen at the time of the event, a special concession was made by the USFSA allowing her to compete as she was due to receive her citizenship the next month.


Hedy Stenuf

In the school figures, Tozzer trounced Stenuf by a wide margin and in the free skate, both Stenuf and Jane Vaughn of Philadelphia defeated Tozzer. The final results were extremely close with Tozzer winning her third and final U.S. women's title over Stenuf three judges to two. Vaughn, who had earlier defeated Charlotte Walther of Buffalo to win that year's Eastern title, edged a young Gretchen Merrill for the bronze. At the time time of her win, Joan Tozzer had been engaged for less than a month to  a Princeton grad living in Honolulu. Less than two years later, she was living in Hawaii with her husband and infant son during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

THE PAIRS, ICE DANCE AND FOURS COMPETITIONS

Joan Tozzer and Hedy Stenuf, the top two finishers from the women's competition squared off again in the pairs competition, finishing in the same order with partners Bernard Fox and Skippy Baxter. William and Eva Schwerdt Bruns repeated as the bronze medallists. Missing from the pairs event were 1939 U.S. Junior Champions Betty Lee Bennett and John Kinney of Seattle. They were suspended by the USFSA for six months for participating in unsanctioned carnivals. Ultimately, Bennett and Kinney turned professional and skated in a show at the New York State Fair.

Sandy MacDonald and Harold Hartshorne defended as American Silver Dance champions. Finishing second with George Boltres was Harold's former partner Nettie Prantel. Vernafay Thysell and Paul Harrington and Oakland's Barbara Ann Gingg and J. Drexel Gibbins finished third and fourth. In the fours event, Mary Louise Premer, Janette Ahrens, Robert Uppgren and Lyman E. Wakefield Jr. of the St. Paul Figure Skating Club narrowly defeated the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society's four, which consisted of Mary Stuart Dayton, William Weaver Lukens Jr., Anna McKaig Hall and W. Penn Gaskill Hall III. They became the first Midwestern four in history to win the U.S. title.

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 1999 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships


Monica's "Angel Of Mine" topped the music charts. Mike Tyson had just been sentenced to a year in prison after assaulting two people a year earlier; President Bill Clinton was acquitted in the U.S. Senate's impeachment trial. Pokémon were the latest fad and the 'Y2K' talk was already in full swing. The year was 1999 and from February 21 to 28, a who's who of figure skating gathered at the Halifax Metro Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia for the first ever Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

  
Pin and sweater from the 1999 Four Continents Championships

The event, conceived by the ISU as the equivalent to the European Championships, was awarded to Halifax in June of 1997. It was a big win for the Maritime city which played host to Skate Canada International that autumn. It was also a win for the CFSA, who had just played host to the highly successful World Championships in Edmonton the year prior. The countries eligible to participate at the time were Australia, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, North Korea, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Uzbekistan. Each country was permitted to have up to three skaters in all four disciplines; all but four of the eligible countries sent entries. All-event tickets, which went on sale in September of 1998, ranged from forty nine to sixty five dollars. Single event tickets went for as low as ten dollars. CTV and CTV Sportsnet had the Canadian broadcast rights. Skaters and media alike were glad to have the pedway system from the Delta Barrington to the Halifax Convention Center, as the weather outside was frightful... snowstorm frightful.

The 1999 Canadian international team. Photo courtesy Skate Canada Archives.

The total purse of prize money was five hundred and seventeen thousand dollars; the exact same amount disbursed at that year's Europeans. An interesting 'behind the scenes' note about this event was the fact it was one of the first times that an instant video replay system was available for judges at an ISU Championship. Some found it odd that there were judges from Europe at the event, but it was really a non-issue as both Canadians and Americans had judged at the Europeans in Prague.

Another criticism, perhaps more valid, involved the entry lists. While the CFSA initially named the top three in each discipline, the USFSA sent what the Canadian press deemed 'a farm team' of skaters. U.S. Champions Michelle Kwan and Michael Weiss weren't named to the team. Matt
Savoie, Sarah Hughes, Laura Handy and Paul Binnebose and Eve Chalom and Matthew Gates also passed. Thirteen year old Naomi Nari Nam, the U.S. Silver Medallist, also wasn't named, but she was two young to be eligible to compete anyway. Canada's number two pair Jamie Salé and David Pelletier withdrew prior to the event due to a herniated disc in Pelletier's back. They were not replaced, as the fourth place team at Canadians (Nadia Micallef and Bruno Marcotte) had split up after the Canadian Championships. Let's take a look back at the great skating from this historic event!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

The new addition of the throw double or triple jump made the pairs short program far more exciting. China's Xue Shen and Hongo Zhao were the unanimous winners, but had low marks as they were first to skate. Canadian Champions Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz missed both the side-by-side jumps and their throw and sat in fourth after the short. Shen and Zhao's daring free skate earned them marks ranging from 5.5 to 5.8 and the gold medal - the first major ISU Championship title ever won by a Chinese pairs team. Sargeant and Wirtz rebounded to take the silver; American siblings Danielle and Steven Hartsell earned the bronze.


Canada's second pair, Valerie Saurette and Jean-Sébastien Fecteau, had been second after the short. They had a terrifying fall on a throw double Axel in the warm-up for the free skate where she slammed into the boards, knocked the wind out of herself and bruised her right hip and ribs. Though the Quebec pair dropped to fourth, they earned a standing ovation for skating their ominous "Carmina Burana" program through the pain. Afterwards, Saurette told reporters, "When I breathe, it hurts. My knee hurts. My hip hurts. My shoulder hurts. Everywhere. It's going to be worse tomorrow."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Amber Corwin, Tatiana Malinina and Angela Nikodinov on the podium in Halifax

Twenty women from nine countries competed. Twenty six year old Tatiana Malinina of Uzbekistan was in a class of her own, unanimously winning both phases of the competition with consistent, relatively difficult programs. Her winning free skate included four clean triples. Amber Corwin, the lowest ranked of the three U.S. women at her recent Nationals, took the silver ahead of Angela Nikodinov, Erin Pearl and Japan's Fumie Suguri. All three of the Canadian women - Jennifer Robinson, Angela Derochie and Annie Bellemare - had disappointing results. Robinson was seventh, Derochie tenth and Bellemare twelfth. Bellemare had landed her triple Lutz combination in the short program but fallen on her footwork sequence and double Axel.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION



Canadian Champions Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz took an early lead with the Tango Romantica and Blues and expanded upon it with a gorgeous performance of their "Seachran" original dance, a Waltz. Chantal Lefebvre and Michel Brunet's Waltz to "It's A Most Unusual Day" moved them ahead of American Champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev. The top three remained the same in the free dance, with Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe rallying back after a seventh place finish in the compulsories to finish fourth. Bourne was competing with torn cartilage in left knee. She'd injured it during practice at Canadians but kept it relatively quiet.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

During one of the practices, China's Zhengxin Guo smashed into the boards and dislocated his shoulder. Eighteen year old Emanuel Sandhu had a bad case of the flu all week and was barely able to keep his meals down. Japan's Takeshi Honda had missed his Nationals due to an ankle injury and was very careful in practice. Elvis Stojko was still recovering from groin injury that he'd struggled with at Nagano Olympics the year prior. He told reporters he was "at 80 to 85 percent" but was petitioning the ISU to withdraw from the upcoming Grand Prix Final on medical grounds. ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta was in Halifax for the event and told reporters it was the ISU's duty "to trust, to accept what the tongue is saying." Both Stojko and Bourne and Kraatz ultimately withdrew from the Final.


In the short program, twenty two year old Min Zhang of China made history as the first skater to land a solo quadruple jump in the short program at an ISU Championship. It was the first season that the ISU allowed quads in the men's short and Zhang had skated right after his idol Stojko, who two-footed his attempt. Remarkably, it was Zhang's first major ISU Championship since he competed at the 1994 World Championships in Japan... where he didn't even make it out of the qualifying round. Two judges had Zhang first in the short program, but the rest of the panel went with Takeshi Honda, who skated a less difficult, though more well-rounded program.


Takeshi Honda skated superbly in the free, landing eight triples and taking the gold over Chengjiang Li and Elvis Stojko. Zhang dropped to fourth, while Sandhu and Canada's third man, Jean-François Hébert, finished tenth and eleventh. Three quads were landed in the free skate - a solo quad by Zhengxin Guo and quad/triples from Anthony Liu and Chengjiang Li.

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' 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? 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.

James Drake Digby, The Founder Of The National Skating Association

James Drake Digby. Photo courtesy BIS Archives, Cambridgeshire Collection.

"I am intensely desirious of signalising... radical changes by uniting all the skating forces of the country under one truly National Organisation." - James Drake Digby, "Cambridge Independent Press", December 28, 1894

The second oldest child of William and Ann (Drake) Digby, James Drake Digby was born March 7, 1837 in Walsoken, just northeast of the Fenland market town of Wisbech in Cambridgeshire, England. He and his eight siblings were raised by a live-in nurse and attended the Wesleyan Methodist Church. James' father was a brazier and tinman who crafted metal plates. His younger brother William became a prominent journalist, banker and activist for economic and racial equality in India, Ceylon and Sri Lanka, where he lived for a time.

In his twenties, James married his wife Amelia and worked as a journalist in Wisbech and King's Lynn. In 1859, he founded The University and Sandringham Intelligence Service, one of the oldest news agencies in Great Britain. The organization, later known as the Cambridge Sporting and General News Service, had a label showing that in 1906 King Edward VII personally sent three braces of pheasants from a royal shoot to Newton Digby, James' son.

James moved to Cambridge in 1867 and secured work as a journalist with the "Cambridge Independent Press". He penned society papers about the Royals and the House Of Lords and  was "a familiar figure at all sales of stock belonging to the Prince of Wales at Sandringham" for well over a decade. In order to keep his wife, two sons, four daughters and live-in servant in broth, bread and treacle, he supplemented his journalism with a job as the manager of Provincial 'Brush' Electric - Light And Power Company, Ltd. which supplied incandescent lamps to college rooms, shops and private houses.

James' exposure to skating began at Cambridge University's Skating Club, but it wasn't until he was sent to write about the fen skating races in Mepal during the Great Frost of 1878 that his passion for the sport really began. Though inspired by the success of George 'Fish' Smart (one of the leading speed skaters of the day) he was perturbed by the cheating that went on. It was his belief that speed skaters needed a national governing body to curtail betting, standardize race lengths and to determine that "the title of champion skater should be settled by a competent authority". The following year at the Guildhall in Cambridge, he assembled a group of influential Britons and founded the National Skating Association. Named as the Association's first Honourary Secretary under Mayor Neville Goodman, he held that position for nearly twenty years. His indefatigable dedication to British skating during the Victorian era helped set standards and open doors.

Two years after the National Skating Association was founded, James moved to London and met with Henry Eugene Vandervell, a well-respected English Style skater from The Skating Club, to discuss the possibility of developing a Figure Skating Committee. It was through James' appeals that Vandervell and Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams were tasked with setting the first nationally recognized standards in figure skating. James edited the first editions of the National Skating Association's Metropolitan Skating Handbook, judged roller skating contests in London, sat in a sleigh chair and served as a timekeeper at speed skating races in the Fens and perhaps most importantly, used his connections as a journalist and friendship with Member Of Parliament Hayes Fisher to promote figure skating in the British press.

On Christmas Day 1893, James wrote an appeal as a letter to the editor in the "Morning Post" that stated: "I am intensely anxious to see a greater union of effort on the part of all the skating public, and as one of the hon. secretaries of the parent body I am ready to give every help in my power in the formation of branches or the affiliation of existing skating clubs... The interval between the present time and the realization of frost might be profitably employed if a number of enthusiastic skaters would do as I did when the National Skating Association was formed, i.e. call a meeting of all those in their districts known to be lovers of skating, either speed or figure ice or roller, and get a resolution passed as to the desirability of forming a district branch... It is earnestly hoped that members of the Skating Club, Wimbledon, Crystal Palace, Thames Valley, Hampstead, Arctic and other well-known clubs, will co-operate with the National Skating Association in still more popularizing such an excellent sport."

Well aware of the weather's role in hampering the development of skating in Great Britain, James was a supporter of taking skating inside. In 1893, he penned "Skating And Curling: A Brief History of the Invention and The Proposed Glaciarium Club", a book which offered readers valuable information about building and maintaining indoor rinks. The following year he proudly said, "Some of us have laboured very hard for the last 12 years to render skaters independent of the weather, and I am happy to be able to state confidently that there will certainly be at least two real ice rinks in London in the course of a few months, on which speed skating, as well as figure skating, will be possible."

Newton Digby and a group of top speed skaters in 1891

Interestingly, James' son and grandson, Newton and Frederick Newton, all served as Honourary Secretaries of the National Skating Association in succession. Newton Drake Digby was the National Skating Association's delegate at the first ISU Congress in Scheveningen in 1892, and played an important role in bringing the World Championships to England in 1898.

James' final contribution to the skating world was his position as the superintendent of National Skating Palace at London's Hengler's Circus. The lavish indoor rink, the extent of which England had never seen before, was hugely popular and became the new headquarters of the National Skating Association. James' work in arranging for Henning Grenander and George Meagher to give exhibitions there generated great interest in figure skating among the Palace's wealthy patrons. His zeal to make the business succeed culminated in an 1896 charge under the 9th section of the Metropolitan Streets Act for "aiding another man to commit the crime of unlawfully carrying a certain board, placard or notice in a form or manner not approved of the Commissioner Of Police." The offending banner was an advertisement for the National Skating Palace and James was fined twenty shillings.

James' efforts extended far beyond the skating world. He and his family were prominent Liberal supporters and organizers. He served as General Secretary of Free Land League and Liberal League, the latter of which he was a founder. He was a supporter of the women's suffrage movement and local option in government. He was once President Cambridge Ratepayers’ Association and founder of the Cambridge Junior Liberal Club, and was also involved in the Sturton Town Liberal Club and Board of Guardians.

However, James wasn't necessarily beloved or without his enemies. Through her study of the National Skating Association's earliest minutes, BIS historian Elaine Hooper deduced, "He did not always have a cordial relationship with the Association. It became the norm in those days for The Association Chairmen and Secretaries to be awarded honourary Life Membership. This has always been considered an honour to receive and personally I think it is indicative of how his peers perceived him, that as founder of the Association of NSA/NISA/BIS, he was not so honoured. Reading between the lines of our books, I think that Newton may have organised a coup to remove his father as Honourary Secretary in favour of himself."

James passed away on February 16, 1899 at his home at Cambridge House, Weston Park, Crouch End at the age of sixty one after several years of ill health. His wife had passed away less than a year before. He was remembered through the Drake Digby Memorial Shield for fen skaters, a half mile race for boys under the age of sixteen. Very few members of the skating community attended his funeral, but one tribute - a pair of skates joined in a cross, encircled by lilies - gave a nod to his important contributions to skating in England.

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' 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? 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.