#Unearthed: A Chat With Toller


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time.

This month's gem is an IRC chat with Toller Cranston conducted during the 1996 World Figure Skating Championships in Edmonton, Alberta. The chat was arranged by the "Edmonton Journal" and a transcript was later published on the website for the competition. The month of the event, Toller was in town skating on artificial ice in the second act of the Edmonton Opera's performance of "Die Fliedermaus" and giving an exhibition of his paintings at the Kathleen Laverty Gallery.

IRC CHAT WITH TOLLER CRANSTON (MARCH 23, 1996)


Left: "The Snail Lady", a composition study once owned by Toller Cranston. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library. Right: Toller Cranston with one of his paintings.

Toller: Good evening, everybody, from Toller

FROM Robbyn: Can you ask Toller when he first started skating?

Toller: Robbyn, well, it's been so long, it's really pretty difficult to remember, but I figure it's been from the age of six and I started skating in Kirkland Lake, Ontario.

FROM Melinda: Welcome Toller. I think you are wonderful. Are you in any skating shows this spring?

Toller: Hi Melinda, Last Christmas I broke my leg and then I had to really reassess my life and whether or not I could continue skating. This past summer I made a movie with Katarina Witt which was kind of ostensibly my comeback to skating and with regard to the spring, I have very little planned but I'm available.

FROM Rodent: Tell Toller the rodent says hello and welcome to cyberspace. Congrats on transforming from the renaissance man to cyber skater. :)

Toller: Rodent, It's been too long! And I've decided that the twenty first century is not for me, and how do I get back to the fourteenth? And how much does it cost?

FROM Janice: What do you think about the rule to ban Kristi and Kurt from skating [in the exhibitions]?

Toller: Janice, This is the age of O.J. Simpson and Herzegovina, and one disaster after another. When people like Kurt and Kristi can give so much pleasure to so many people, isn't it pathetic that they couldn't skate for their fans?

Toller: Robbyn, You asked how it was skating with Katarina Witt. Katarina Witt is a fabulous and extremely down-to-earth girl, and working with her, as you can imagine, and as anyone can imagine, was wonderful.

Toller: DJS, About overcoming a difficult skate... DJS, I've had so many disasters and so much turbulence in my life, it's the good performances that are hard to remember. But the way that you cope with any of this and the precise advice I gave to Elvis two minutes after he skated was that maybe he lost a battle, but that he's fighting to win a war. And that this is just part of the texture of what is and will be a spectacular and dramatic career. Go Elvis Go!

FROM Katikam: Toller, what do you consider the single most important characteristic necessary for a skater to have today?

Toller: Katikam, I think the most important thing is the implicit belief that anything is possible to a willing heart. P.S. Stupidity is a distinct advantage.

FROM Katikam: Stupidity.....in terms of ignorance and willingness to take risks?

Toller: Katikam, I used the word stupidity seriously because many people could never follow the rocky road of international competition. If they really knew the kind of agony, frustration, and torment they would experience along the way, frankly, it's much better not to know what's around the next corner. And one hopes that there are no monsters lurking behind bushes. If you catch the drift.

FROM Janice: Does he like the turn skating has taken? With the pros and the amateurs?

Toller: Janice, I hate to tell you, Janice, but in the words of Joan Rivers... 'can we talk?' There hasn't been an amateur alive, for what I'm sure is, the last twenty five years. There is no difference between amateur and professional. It is simply a question of semantics and greediness on the part of official organizations... ie. the ISU and various and sundry organizations.

FROM Janice: I understand and love you Toller.

FROM Rockwell: How does it feel to see a new generation of skaters still using your style of spins?

Toller: Rockwell, The new generation depresses me because I really can't afford a major face lift, but I guess the fact that they're emulating many of the things that I invented, spins included. I suppose it's quite flattering.

FROM Sandra: Many of the other fans on the net have been concerned that the glut of pro competitions in the last year or two has been bad for the sport in general because they lack any credibility in the rules or judging. What's your take on this?

Toller: Sandra, The pro competitions are wonderful for the sport because, Sandra, let's fact it, the most known skaters in the world are professional, and the most known skaters in the world are huge icons and role models for all other skaters, especially the amateurs. Don't you think Kurt Browning, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Scott Hamilton have really contributed more to the sport in a global way than almost any of the amateurs? I also am a professional judge, interestingly, amongst top professionals and Olympic medallists. There is a vast and divided opinion as to who should come where, and so I think that, although there are politics involved, usually the people that win in important professional competitions win legitimately. Too bad judges didn't get a cut.

FROM Janice: Do you think a skater with raw talent can make it in this weird aristocratic world of figure skating without losing his passion?

Toller: Janice, Talent is not necessarily an important criteria for being a champion. Great talent can even be a handicap, and raw talent is worthless without meticulous polish and refinement. Personally, I'm a big supporter of guts and money. But especially money!

FROM Bianca: I would like to know which of the new skaters really impress you and why.

Toller: Bianca:,I don't know if you're privy to seeing the World Championships here in Edmonton. There are many extraordinary new kids on the block... Ilia Kulik, in the last two days here in Edmonton, has become an international star and a sex symbol (similar to Kurt). Irina Slutskaya, from Russia, is unknown today but quite conceivably tomorrow (long program for the women's competition) could also become an international idol overnight. She's also, I think, one of the best bets for becoming an Olympic champion in 1998. But my personal favorite, the fifteen year old girl that I adore and is so charming and refined when those two aspects have become rare, is a young skater from Switzerland whose name is Lucinda Ruh. Can forty seven year-olds marry fifteen year-olds or will I be arrested?

FROM Janice: Toller, when you paint, do you have any special way you like to organize your ideas or do they just lash out on the canvas?

Toller: Janice, I can't give painting lessons tonight, Janice, but I employ something which I cannot possibly explain, but some people out there will know about the secret technique of using the "third eye". I am a virtual expert in this department, but only the people who are aware of this ability know what I am talking about. And by the way, Janice, do you have an art collection? Would you like to buy a painting?

FROM Cattibri: Toller, as a judge, can you please comment on the skating style of Bourne and Kraatz?

Toller: Cattibri: I love Bourne and Kraatz. They have the quintessential qualities of becoming truly great skaters, and perhaps the only North Americans in recent memory who can ever consider competing and triumphing over Russian couples. But they're not there yet. And there are many miles of skating for them to cover before they are in combat range.

FROM Sandra: I'm very curious to hear what you think about Rudy Galindo - he actually reminds me very much of you!

toller: Sandra, Rudy Galindo has become a role model for many as he proved that by not giving up and adhering to his dreams that anything's possible. Last night Rudy Galindo paid me the greatest compliment and said that I had had a profound influence on his career, but that he didn't feel he's as good as I am. I, of course, told him that he was slightly ridiculous and thanked him for the tribute. But, although people may feel there's a similarity between us, and I do understand why they may feel this, but personally, if Rudy's on the moon, I'm on Mars. We can only wave at each other from a distance.

FROM Cybermom: Is off-ice dance important to a developing skater?

Toller: Dear Cybermom, Are you interested in coaching? That is a profound question. And yes! Off-ice dance is madly important. By the way kids, has anybody seen the movie "Strictly Ballroom"? Go babies, go!

FROM Cybermom: No, but I am a figure skating mom, with three boys who love to skate, In a HOCKEY village that's not so easy.

Toller: Dear Cybermom, I can't imagine that any young male - hockey player - small town boy - could possibly fail to be awed by people like Todd Eldredge and Elvis Stojko. Can you?

FROM Janice: Did you enjoy touring with Skate the Nation? Did you fill them with your deep knowledge?

Toller: Janice, Part of me loved skating with many of my friends in Skate the Nation. However, part of me hated visiting Kalamazoo. Kalamazoo people, no offence. But, I'm convinced that they all came out of the tour supersaturated, but I'm not absolutely certain it was with my profound knowledge. I have another word for it.

FROM Janice: Does he like the turn skating has taken? With the pros and the amateurs?

Toller: Janice, As mentioned before, there is no difference between a pro and an amateur. However, there is a common denominator that both aspire to, and that is great skating. Capiche?

FROM Rockwell: Do you think judges have kept abreast of what is actually taking place on the ice and do you think there is a better way to score skaters?

Toller: Good question, Rockwell. You just opened a can of worms. Don't tell anybody, but I have virtually no respect for practically any judge. Some of the judging at the World Championship does not pass the laugh test. Judges should be professional and ANY judge judging top international competitions, should have been an international competitor themselves. Judges should also be accountable and in a public forum after important competitions coerced into explaining precise marks. As you should know, there's a certain elite snobbery that permeates the upper echelons of the judging stratosphere, and most refuse to respond to any serious and pointed question. A judge over the years is often concerned about fitting in the sandwich between the two slices of bread and not wanting to be a pickle on a side plate. Often, the extreme mark by some adventuresome and daring judge, high or low, is the only precise judgment. Incidentally, what about having a dictator on the panel and simply having one person (like me, for instance) decide who should really be the World Champion? I think I'm made for the job!

FROM Sandra: Well, if you *were* the dictator, who *would* be world champion? :-)

Toller: Dear Sandra: As vitriolic and down on judges as I am, strangely, the people that win World's today or come second or third are invariably judged properly. It is only individuals and individual marks that I take exception to and as a passionate skater I feel that public execution is a possible solution. I hate to see any injustice committed to any skater from any country. Got it?

FROM Katikam: If you were giving advice to a young person, just starting out in skating...what "words of wisdom" would you give them?

Toller: Dear Katikam... Your question is sincere. But I can't help but be a bit flip. My words of advice would be "chase your passion and make it happen! If you don't enjoy it, give it a rest!"

FROM Robbyn: Out of all the places you have toured, which was your most favorite?

Toller: Dear Robbyn: I'm going to give you three of my top 50. #1: I had a splendid time two years ago in Stars On Ice with the likes of Yamaguchi, Wylie, Orser, etc., in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We felt like the Beatles bringing a new art form to a country that, up until that time, was ignorant of top-quality skating. #2: would have to be, and don't criticize me, an exhibition done in 1985 in Sun City, South Africa. I can't tell you how much fun that was. And #3: and perhaps more seriously, an extraordinary trip to Beijing in the early eighties was as fascinating as it was peculiar, not to mention historical. Has anyone seen the Ming Tombs lately?

FROM Janice: If you could go back to the Renaissance for one day, would you take something back with you and what?

Toller: Dear Janice: If I went back to the Renaissance, what city might I be in? And as I couldn't take, at least I don't think I could lift it, Michelangelo's 'David', I guess I'll have to settle on the 'Mona Lisa' which is infinitely more portable. And, I might add, probably more valuable. I don't think either are available today, however.

FROM Sandra: I always get a good laugh out of those absolutely withering put-downs you come up with. Is there anything or anybody you'd like to insult while you're here? :-) :-)

Toller: Dear Sandra: Lovely question... in fact, there is one person. I was extremely disgusted with the gutless marks of one Mary Pearson (Vancouver judge) who awarded Elvis Stojko, after his near flawless performance and triumphant comeback (A MAJOR FEAT) with a 5.7. Does anyone know her address? And can we send her something nasty?

FROM Rodent: Toller. do you have any programs in Worlds this year?

toller: Dear Rodent: How are you, baby? No, I don't have any programs, but I have half a dozen costumes floating around. Check out Lucinda Ruh's pink long program dress.

FROM Katikam: Toller, do you interpret passion as the ability to express your inner self on the ice in front of an audience?

toller: Dear Katikam: You are obviously a serious person, and I am obviously not. But, on that note, if I can be serious, for one moment in time, "passion" comes from the reservoir of the soul and is revealed in body language, whatever that vocabulary may be, indigenous to the specific individual. Passion conquers all in the final analysis.

FROM Robbyn: This question has to do with your artwork, do you have a favorite piece?

Toller: Dear Robbyn, My favorite piece, without a doubt, is the very last one that was sold. By the way, do you have an art collection? And if you do, how do I get your phone number?

FROM Melinda: Are you enjoying the Worlds so far?

toller: Dear Melinda: Prozac is quite a divine drug. I'm talking to you, Melinda. Worlds has been more divine than I had ever imagined it would be. And on that DIVINE note, I bid thee all farewell! Keep skating, kids!

FROM Janice: THANK YOU TOLLER!!

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.

Double Threes Down Under: Australian Skating Stars Of The Thirties

The thirties was a decade when many great champions graced the indoor and outdoor arenas of the world, dazzling audiences with high flying Axels and dizzying flat foot spins. Sonja Henie, Karl Schäfer, Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor, Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier... these are all skaters whose stories even those with the most elementary knowledge of figure skating history are no doubt familiar with. While Europeans dominated the major ISU Championships, a host of skaters from 'down under' were busy creating their own stories in the rinks of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Today, we'll meet three fascinating stars of Australian figure skating who reached the apex of their successes in the years preceding World War II.

JUNE WEEDON



Born in 1916, June Weedon hailed from Bowral, a large, historic town in the Northern Highlands of New South Wales. As a young woman, she travelled extensively with her mother, visiting Colombo, Malta, Austria, Germany and Great Britain. It was in 1936 that she first learned to skate at the rink in Streatham, England, managed by Dunbar Poole, who for many years managed the Sydney Glaciarium.

Though the only Australian skater at the Streatham Rink at the time of her visit, the experience of learning alongside skaters from twenty one other countries was extremely beneficial. Only three years later, June claimed the Australian senior women's title and skated in an exhibition at the Sydney Glaciarium alongside World Champion Felix Kaspar. When World War II broke out later that year, her competitive skating career abruptly came to an end when the Australian Championships were cancelled for the duration of the War. In June of 1941, June married Ian McDonald at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School. One of her attendants was fellow skater Brenda Bradshaw. The couple settled in North Sydney. She passed away on New Year's Eve, 1976 in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales at the age of sixty.

FRANK MERCOVICH



Born February 19, 1898 in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy North, Frank Joseph Mercovich wasn't exactly your typical figure skating champion. In his early twenties, he played Australian rules football with the Carlton 'Blues' Football Club. It wasn't until nearly a decade after he stopped scoring goals on the field that he began seriously devoting the bulk of his time to a second sport - figure skating.

One of the Melbourne Glaciarium's most esteemed members in the early thirties, Frank passed his First Class test and began teaching alongside his future wife, World Professional Champion Joyce Macbeth. Stronger at figures than free skating, he claimed the Australian senior men's title in 1935 and 1937 and was a repeat winner of the Victorian senior men's title as well. He also served three terms as the Secretary of the National Ice Skating Association of Australia, spanning the years 1931 to 1949. He passed away on October 12, 1967 at the age of sixty nine, devoting much of his life to sport.

BETTY CORNWALL



The daughter of Frederick and Marinda (Searson) Cornwell, Betty Cornwall was born in 1922. Along with her brothers Jack and Alfred, she grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Essendon. She attended Merton Hall, the senior school of Melbourne Girls' Grammar until she was fourteen, when she dropped out to pursue her only passion full-time - skating at the Melbourne Glaciariume. She'd started skating when she was six and idolized Sonja Henie. Pat Weetman described her performance in a 1936 carnival at the Melbourne Glaciarium as "utterly lovely".


That very same year, she claimed the Victorian and Australian senior women's titles for the first time. She defended her titles the next two years, skating against 'a standard' the second time she won the Australian title as she was the only competitor.


When asked about her achievements in an interview that appeared in "The Sydney Morning Herald" on July 19, 1937, Betty laughed, "People tell me it's very clever of me but my two brothers don't seem to be impressed. They laugh about my 17 cups on the dining-room mantel shelf at home. Mother cleans the cups for me, but I have to do the polishing. I don't like housework and I want to be a professional skater... It is my ambition to skate in Switzerland in the midst of lovely scenery." She turned professional in 1939 and emigrated to Canada, where she married and passed away in 2008 at the age of eighty six.

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 Tokugawa Connection

Iemasa Tokugawa with his wife Masako and infant son Hide Ie

In 1929, Prince Iemasa Tokugawa (a direct descendant of the Tokugawa Shogunate) and his family made the long voyage from Tokyo, Japan to Ottawa, Ontario. Prince Iemasa took on the role of the Japanese Ambassador to Canada and spent his days toiling over paperwork at his country's Embassy.

The Tokugawa family found acceptance in Ottawa social circles and in no time, Prince Iemasa's son Hide Ie developed a passion for one of Canada's most beloved sports. You guessed it - figure skating. Hide Ie joined the Minto Skating Club and soon proved himself a very proficient skater. Over the course of the family's stay in Canada, Hide Ie even crossed the border down to the States, where he skated during the summers in Lake Placid, taking lessons from famed coach Gustave Lussi.

As technical knowledge of the sport in Japan was not advanced to the same level as in North America at the time, Hide Ie made a habit of snapping of taking as many pictures as possible during his lessons. He believed that these pictures would prove as invaluable training tools for Japanese skaters whose education in the sport was supplemented largely by the study of photos and videos of Western skaters in action. His unbridled enthusiasm for figure skating was unquestionable.

Prince Iemasa Tokugawa. Photo courtesy Library Of Congress.

The Tokugawa's left Canada in 1936 and the following year, Iemasa was appointed as the Japanese Ambassador to Turkey. Sadly, in 1939, Iemasa Tokugawa wrote a letter to Canadian Champion and judge Donald B. Cruikshank informing him of Hide Ie's untimely death shortly upon his return to Japan in 1936 to study at the Tokohu University. The dignitary's only son was only twenty four at the time and perished in a Red Cross hospital in Tokyo of sepsis. Hide Ie was buried with his beloved figure skates and the pictures he so lovingly took in Canada were passed on to members of Japan's figure skating community.

Decades later, Cruikshank headed to Sapporo, Japan to act as the Canadian judge in the men's event at the 1972 Winter Olympic Games. During a break in the school figures, he pulled a letter out of his pocket and showed to Mrs. Kukiki Minami from Ashiya... the letter which Prince Iemasa sent him in 1939. In the March-April 1982 issue of the "Canadian Skater" Magazine, Cruikshank explained, "I was curious to know if there was any member of the Tokugawa family still living in Tokyo. Mrs. Minami was most kind and offered to inquire about them on my behalf. The following day she reported back to me that she had made contact with Mrs. Toyoko Matsudaira in Tokyo. She was the daughter of the Ambassador, known to me as 'Toyo', and commented to Mrs. Minami that she remembered me from her Ottawa days, and gave a telephone number where I could reach her."

Shortly after the Games, Cruikshank and Matsudaira connected for the first time in over thirty years and reminisced about Ottawa in the thirties and her brother Hide Ie. Although no longer among the living in the seventies, Hide Ie's passion for the sport - and the pictures he took - were an important key in the mechanism that led to Japan's prominence in the sport decades after his death.

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.

Hops And Haiku: The Kazuyoshi Oimatsu Story

Photo courtesy Tonamino Integration Communications

I think free skating should be 'free'; it is very necessary to show your own individuality. It is far better not to adapt a difficult style and fail; your own style will be easier and make a far better impression... Free skating is for individuality and the school figures for accuracy." - Kazuyoshi Oimatsu, "Skating" magazine, 1932

Born October 30, 1911 in a small town in the Higashitonami District, Toyama, Kazuyoshi Oimatsu was adopted as an infant by the Nakamura family and raised in Osaka. He was exposed to skating as a young boy but did not start taking the sport seriously until his second year of junior high school when a friend invited him to join him for an afternoon of skating, suggesting it might be a pleasant distraction from their studies. Kazuyoshi soon fell in love with the sport.

Ryoichi Obitani and Kazuyoshi Oimatsu at the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Self-taught, Kazuyoshi learned much of what he knew from copying fellow skaters and studying the diagrams of school figures in a book penned by none other than Olympic Gold Medallist Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin himself. After five years of practice on a relatively tiny rink, he entered his first Japanese Championships at the Kanaya Hotel in Nikko in 1930 and placed fifth. The next year at the moat in Goshikinuma, Sendai City, he returned to the Japanese Championships and won gold ahead of Ryuichi Obiya and Susumu Kobayashi.


In 1932, twenty year old Kazuyoshi and his friendly rival Ryoichi Obitani became the first two Japanese skaters in history to compete at the Olympics when they travelled to Lake Placid, New York to compete in the 1932 Winter Olympic Games. He placed ninth of the twelve skaters competing with sixty seven places and 1978.6 points to Obitani's seventy nine places and 1856.7 points. All but the Austrian and American judges favoured his free skating over at least one of the three American entries who placed ahead of him. Following that event, Kazuyoshi headed north to compete in the 1932 World Championships in Montreal, where he placed seventh of the nine entries, again making history as one of the first two Japanese skaters to compete in an ISU Championship. It's important to consider that both skaters were competing in North America during a period of growing anti-Japanese sentiments, largely stoked by reported atrocities during Japan's invasion of China. It's impossible to know if these sentiments (or racism for that matter) may have played a role in the skater's reception and marks. It was a different time.

In a letter to "Skating" magazine, Kazuyoshi remarked, "The Olympic Games were really fine. I wish you could imagine how we felt when we arrived at Lake Placid, started training, and saw for the first time the champion skaters. We saw Gillis Grafström, the young Karl Schäfer, and we noticed the beautiful form of Sonja Henie. It made us feel as if we were at the bottom of a valley, and we were very sad. We could see the course we must steer to reach the heights and this inspired us to look forward to the time when we will have overcome all obstacles and can meet skaters from other nations on a level... I think our attending these Games will have a deep meaning, for I am sure that in a few years our skating will improve and compare favourably with that of other countries."

After winning the silver medal at the 1933 Japanese Championships and the bronze in the 1935 Japanese Championships, Kazuyoshi headed to Europe. As non-European skaters were then permitted to compete in the European Championships, he entered the 1936 European Championships in Berlin that preceded the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. He placed ninth of fifteen entries in Berlin, but the event was the highlight of his career. Had it not been for a dismal showing in the school figures, he would have been in medal contention based on his free skating performance. The British and Czechoslovakian judges actually had him third in this segment of the competition and the Polish judge joined them in placing him ahead of bronze medallist Ernst Baier... in Hitler's Germany.

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The 1936 Japanese Olympic figure skating team. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland. 

At the 1936 Winter Olympic Games, Kazuyoshi became the first Japanese skater (speed or figure) in history to act as his country's flag bearer. Buried in a deep field, he placed a dismal twentieth overall at those Games, though Finnish judge Walter Jakobsson had him eleventh in free skating. In his final international effort, the 1936 World Championships in Paris, he placed fifteenth of seventeen skaters, but he was the second highest of the four Japanese men entered. Former French Champion Louis Barbey placed him in a tie for tenth in the free skate, ahead of Americans Robin Lee and Erle Reiter.

After the War, Kazuyoshi suffered from a bout of tuberculosis and spent three years recuperating. When he recovered, he was invited to coach skating to women and children in Osaka, a career he continued for decades. Kazuyoshi passed away on March 24, 2001 at the age of eighty nine. The gentle skater's hobbies included writing haiku, classical music, photography and painting. Though he never achieved great success internationally, this forgotten skater from Osaka's role in figure skating history is a fascinating one indeed.

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 1953 World Figure Skating Championships


"There was a young lady named Albright
Who in Davos did everything all right
In her figures and free
She was inspiring to see
And her friends are now full of delight.

There was a young man named Hayes
Who had the most marvellous ways
Of using his feet
So tricky and neat
That he won a great deal of praise."

- Theresa Weld Blanchard, written while flying over the Atlantic, 1953

Theresa Weld Blanchard leaving America on her way to Davos on a KLM flight. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Holland, Belgium and Great Britain were recovering after the North Sea flood which claimed over two thousand, five hundred lives and caused widespread property damage. Diplomatic relations between the Soviet Union and Israel were rocky after a bomb explosion at the Soviet embassy in reaction to Stalin's Doctor's Plot. The first colour television sets in America were being sold for over a thousand dollars a pop and songstress Jo Stafford's "You Belong To Me" was being blasted on everyone's Philco radio.


From February 8 to 15, 1953, the International Skating Club of Davos played host to the 1953 World Figure Skating Championships. The Championships were held entirely outdoors on the Club's historic thirty six thousand square yard rink. An ISU regulation sixty by forty foot section of the rink was sectioned off for the competition, but the vast ice surface and hockey rink meant that skaters of different disciplines could all practice simultaneously between the competitive events. The ice had no freezing plant and the rink was sprayed every night and morning. Resurfacing was accomplished by planing, sweeping, tractor snowplows and a 'Snow Boy' shifter.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

The European skaters and officials travelled directly from the European Championships in Dortmund to Davos via train, while many of the North Americans flew through Gander, Newfoundland and Shannon, Ireland instead of England due to a wind storm. When exiting her train with other members of the British contingent, Mollie Phillips was accidentally walloped in the head with Michael Booker's skates. She spent four days in hospital but made history in Davos as first female referee at an ISU Championship, presiding over the Dance event. In "Skating" magazine Theresa Weld Blanchard recalled, "She did a splendid job, giving a very clear, thoughtful speech to the judges, first in English and then in German... On the ice, she conducted herself and the event in a dignified manner, and many complimentary things have been said about her."


History was also made with the first ISU Dance Tests ever given. Judges were Katherine Miller Sackett, Mollie Phillips and Reginald Wilkie. Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy and Joan Dewhirst and John Slater were the skaters that tested, with all passing their Bronze and the two women passing the Silver. The men didn't pass their Silver nor any of the four the Gold, because the organizers ran out of time.

Off the ice in Davos, event chairman Georg Hasler arranged for a busy week of social activities, including a reception at Town Hall with Mayor Dr. Kaspar Laely, a party in the host hotel's nightclub, formal banquet and gala awards tea. Let's take a look back at the most important aspect of this event - what happened on the ice!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

After winning the 1952 World title in Paris, Ria (Baran) and Paul Falk had turned professional. The 1952 Silver Medallists, Karol and Peter Kennedy, had also moved on. The third and fourth place teams from that year, Britons Jennifer and John Nicks and Canadians Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, emerged as favourites to take the gold in 1953.


There were ten entries in the pairs event in Davos, but there was a great difference in ability between the top four teams and the lower six. The competition was close, with three judges placing the Nicks' first, two voting for Dafoe and Bowden, one opting for Hungarians Marianna and László Nagy and another placing the Nagy's and the Nicks' in a tie. Jennifer and John Nicks became the first British pair to win the World title since Phyllis and James Johnson back in 1912 while Dafoe and Bowden's silver medal was the first for Canada at Worlds since 1948. The Nagy's took the bronze. The Swiss pair of Silvia and Michel Grandjean, under the weather with the flu, placed fourth, one spot ahead of Britons Peri Horne and Raymond Lockwood.

Writing in "Skating" magazine, Theresa Weld Blanchard recalled, "Jennifer and John Nicks were excellent. They have good pair positions with many neat moves in time to the music, good pace and fine execution. Their music was a medley of popular tunes and suited them very well. Jennifer looks thinner than last year and had a most becoming dress of white lace over pink. John wears a skating outfit of a blue slightly brighter than navy. Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden have improved both program and execution over last year and skated beautifully. All their surprise moves came off well. I believe they were the only pair to do combined spread eagles, as all the others used a spread with a spiral. It was interesting to note that all the pairs used different versions of the round the head lift that I believe Dafoe-Bowden originated... Marianna and László Nagy had some interesting lifts but impressed me as being slightly acrobatic... Their performance was ragged at times... Their music, the 'William Tell Overture', has been used often in competitions but is always good."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Dick Button's retirement paved the way for a new World Champion in men's figure skating and few doubted he wouldn't be American too. For years, Jimmy Grogan and Hayes Alan Jenkins had skated in Button's shadow and many considered them his most likely successors. In the months leading up to the Davos Worlds, Jenkins had been balancing his studies at Colorado College with his lessons with coach Edi Scholdan. Grogan only had one month to train for the competition due to his Army service.

A notable absence in Davos was Jack B. Jost, a dental assistant at an Army Hospital in Kyoto, Japan.  Due to his obligations with the American military, he turned down an invitation from Prince Takeda, President of the National Skating Union of Japan, to represent the country where he was working in Davos. He went on to win the Japanese title at the Kōrakuen Ice Palace in Tokyo the following month.

Hayes Alan Jenkins and Carlo Fassi

At least six inches of snow accumulated during the men's school figures, making it difficult for the judges to see the designs carved on the ice. The ice had to be cleared before and after each figure was traced and some wondered why the event wasn't postponed. With first place marks from five of the nine judges, Jimmy Grogan won the figures. The Belgian and the Swiss judges voted for nineteen year old Jenkins, while the British and Italian judges voted for Italy's Carlo Fassi, the European Champion. Despite botching one figure entirely, Canada's Peter Firstbrook sat fourth. A West German and Austrian skater withdrew following the figures, reducing the field from fifteen to thirteen.

Both Grogan and Jenkins had slight errors on one jump in their programs. Jenkins impressed the judges with his attention to the music, while Grogan dazzled with the variety and difficulty of his footwork. Ultimately all but the Belgian judge, who voted for Grogan, had Jenkins first in the free skate. Ronnie Robertson - only seventh in figures - was second in the free skate; Grogan third. Firstbrook fumbled two jump landings early in his program and skated more cautiously than usual.
When the marks were tallied, Jenkins was announced as the World Champion, with Grogan second, Carlo Fassi third, Ronnie Robertson fourth and France's Alain Giletti fifth. Firstbrook placed seventh, one spot ahead of Canada's second entry, Peter Dunfield.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Jean Westwood and her Royal Air Force serviceman partner Lawrence Demmy were the only reigning World Champions who returned to defend their title in Davos. They faced stiff competition from fellow Mancunians Joan Dewhirst and John Slater in the compulsories. British judge Pamela Davis dared to place Dewhirst and Slater ahead of Westwood and Demmy, causing a minor controversy.


In the free dance, the American judge tied the two talented British teams but the other judges all placed Westwood and Demmy ahead, ensuring them the gold medal. As both teams were extremely well-matched, there was much discussion in the stands about who was better. Americans Carol Ann Peters and Danny Ryan took the bronze... thus making the top three the exact same as it had been a year prior!


Speaking of continuity in the results, the only movement after compulsories was the flip-flopping of the fourth and fifth place teams and the ninth and tenth place teams. No Canadian teams competed, which was perhaps wise as the Dance event at the Canadian Championships didn't yet include a free dance. Gladys Hogg had forbidden Westwood and Demmy and the Nicks siblings to ski while in Davos so they luged down one of the hills instead. The press met them at the bottom of the hill and snapped a picture.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

The common system of holding National Championships after the World Championships meant that countries selected their World teams based on the results of the previous year's Nationals. 1952 U.S. Silver Medallist Frances Dorsey was still recuperating from a leg operation the previous summer and was unable to compete in Davos. Situations like these were becoming far too common, forcing skating associations around the world to send less entries or less experienced skaters to Worlds. International experience wasn't always a bad thing though. Thirteen year old Carol Heiss, an eighth grade student at Public School 107 in Queens, New York, made history in Davos as the youngest woman ever to be named to the U.S. World team. As the U.S. Junior Champion in 1952, she was named as Dorsey's replacement... and she caused quite a stir in Switzerland with her athletic prowess and youthful vigour.

The thermometer was at zero when the women's school figures began, but as the morning progressed the sun came out and it got warmer. By the afternoon, right after seventeen year old Tenley Albright had finished her rocker, the sun went behind the mountains and the temperature plummeted about twenty degrees again. European Champion Valda Osborn had the lead after the first figure, the counter. The February 14, 1953 issue of "The New York Times" recalled, "The duel between Miss Albright and Miss Osborn threatened to convert the competition into an international scandal when two judges began feuding with their score cards as weapons. British judge Miss [Mollie] Phillips took to giving very low marks to the American girl and very high ones to the British competitor, all out of proportion to the scores carded by the five other 'neutral' judges. The American judge, [Alex] J. Krupy, retaliated by playing the same game - high marks for the Yank and low ones for the British athlete. The crowd of 500 caught on and booed and cried 'shame!' when the results were posted. The chief referee, Dr. [James] Koch, stepped in and sternly lectured the judges after the second figure was skated. From then on, everyone's scoring was pretty much the same." All but the German judge, who voted for second place Gundi Busch, had Tenley Albright first after figures. Valda Osborn was third, followed by twenty two year old Canadian Suzanne Morrow, Carol Heiss, Vevi Smith and Margaret Anne Graham. Albright's thirty point lead gave her competitors little room for error in the free skate if they wanted to catch up.

High winds and biting temperatures coupled with the altitude made for a dire situation when the women took to the ice for the free skate. A light snow halfway through the event made things even more challenging for the competitors. Still, a crowd of four thousand braved the elements, clapping all the way and booing any judge who dared to give a low mark. Among the spectators were eight Soviet 'observers' and Mrs. Henry Wainwright Howe and Ruth Banks of the Skating Club of New York, who had travelled to Davos with Willy Böckl's private touring group. Reviewing the fashions of the top women's competitors in "Skating" magazine, the latter duo remarked, "With the temperature 8 degrees above zero at 10:30 AM, one has to wonder about the suitability of most of the dresses. They were beautiful, of course, but not designed for outdoor skating... For this reason we would give our vote to Gundi Busch of Germany, who wore a soft blue-gray angora knit dress with buttons down the front of the blouse. It was accented with a red elastic clincher belt, red wool gloves, and a red baby bonnet. The flare of the skirt was perfect for spins and revealed matching gray pants."

Gundi Busch (left) and Valda Osborn (right)

Britons Erica Batchelor and Elaine Skevington both collapsed under the strain of the weather conditions. The February 16, 1953 issue of the "Dundee Courier" claimed, "They had to be carried from the rink after being overcome to fall sobbing on the ice. The crowd gave them sympathetic applause as they were helped away, but both soon recovered and went back to their hotels to rest."
Gundi Busch missed two jumps early in her program and her music ran over the specified time frame. Valda Osborn, who wore a metallic apple green dress, also missed a couple of landings. Morrow, dressed in black velvet, suffered an unfortunate fall. Thirteen year olds Carol Heiss and Yvonne Sugden rose to the occasion, but it was Tenley Albright who unanimously won the free skate with Heiss second and Busch third. She skated in a shocking pink wool jersey dress with matching gloves to an Offenbach piece. Her winning program included the double Axel, double toe-loop, double loop and double Salchow. Her only error was a slight slip on a flying spin.


When the scores were tallied, Tenley Albright was announced as World Champion, making history as the first American woman to earn the title. Gundi Busch was a strong second, but the placings of the next three women couldn't have been closer. Carol Heiss had twenty seven ordinal placings, while Valda Osborn and Suzanne Morrow tied with twenty eight. Four judges voted for Osborn to win the bronze; three for Heiss. None voted for Morrow, though the Canadian judge had her second. Heiss also had a higher point score than Osborn (176.67 to 176.21) but Osborn's majority of third place ordinals was what earned her the bronze.


Jeannette Altwegg, the previous year's Olympic and World Champion, was there to watch and congratulate her successor. The rink ushers had a time keeping unaccredited photographers off the ice, many audience members rushing to snap a picture of Tenley Albright. Theresa Weld Blanchard recalled, "We were amused to see Dr. [Hollis] Albright being pushed around until rescued by Walter Powell and allowed to use the precious last ten feet of film he had saved, hoping for just this occasion."

Tenley Albright and Hayes Alan Jenkins in Davos. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following the event, both Carol Heiss and Tenley Albright gave exhibitions in Switzerland and Paris before returning home to train for the North American Championships. When Albright arrived in America, she was greeted at an airport and taken to a vantage point where she could view a parade in her honour. She then was given an official welcome from her home town at the Newton High School auditorium and a gala reception at The Skating Club Of Boston. The Canadian skaters had to rush home for their National Championships.

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.

Phyllis Hammond Clegg, A Forgotten Queen Of The Australian Skating Scene

Phyllis Hammond Clegg and Cyril MacGillicuddy. Photo courtesy National Library Of Australia.

"The Clegg sisters have always been greatly admired in Victoria, and belong to the series of girls who are such clever skaters. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Clegg, have a beautiful home at St. Kilda, and entertain frequently and upon a lavish and attractive scale." - "Sunday Times", November 30, 1913

Phyllis Hammond Clegg was born in 1892 in St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia, to Mary Ann (Goddard) and William Hammond Clegg, a British born Colonel. She and her two sisters were raised in the lap of Victorian luxury. She was privately tutored in French and spent much of her childhood singing, acting, giving recitations at charity fundraisers and attending lavish dances and teas. However, by the time she was a teenager, Phyllis had found her true calling: figure skating.

Phyllis Hammond Clegg and Cyril MacGillicuddy. Photos courtesy National Library Of Australia.

Phyllis learned to skate at the Melbourne Glaciarium and was the belle of the ball at the rink's many costume carnivals. In 1909, she won the prize for Most Original Costume at the Glacarium's Arctic Display, dressed as 'La France' in a red, white and blue costume depicting the French flag. She was so taken with the sport that she made the long voyage by ocean liner to Great Britain, where she studied the sport at Prince's Skating Club in London. Eminent British skater, judge and writer T.D. Richardson once recalled, "The well-known Miss Phyllis Hammond-Clegg (Billy Clegg to her intimates)'s waltzing was a joy for both partner and spectator in the years just before the First World War at Prince's, where she attracted great attention and with whom we all wanted to dance."

In 1912, a London weekly newspaper praised her skating thusly: "Sure, light and easy in all her curves, she uses the most graceful and supple of figures with an instinct for rhythmic movement quite delightful to watch... Above all, she has to perfection those undulatory swings and those floating changes, matching the murmuring pulsations and dreamy cadences of langurous waltz melodies." From Prince's, Phyllis travelled to Switzerland, where she "caused quite a sensation" on the ice, according to "Punch" magazine, when she stayed at the Adelboden Grand Hotel.

Returning to Australia in 1913, Phyllis established herself as the queen of the Australian skating scene, performing in ice pantomimes and carnivals at the Melbourne Glaciarium, winning a Waltzing Championship with Cyril MacGillicuddy and winning the Australian women's title, not recognized historically as such as it was held during the years the event was held in Sydney independently of the Australia's Skating Association. Her speciality? The 'rag-time twostep'. She and her sister Dolly also helped establish a Sunday skating club, which ruffled feathers with locals who opposed anything but church happening on the Sabbath.

Phyllis' husband Simon Fraser Jr.

On February 17, 1914, Phyllis and Simon Fraser Jr., a hockey player and Olympic rower, tied the knot at a lavish wedding at the Scots' Church in Melbourne. The February 21, 1914 issue of "The Leader" described her as having "beauty above the average pretty girl" and being dressed in "white crepe de chine, draped artistically with Limerick lace... Very becoming, as well as novel, was the little chaplet of laurel leaves, which held in place the bridal veil - the veil which Lady Frank Madden had worn on her wedding day."

Phyllis and her children. Photos courtesy Stonnington History Center.

In 1919, both Phyllis and her husband contracted the Spanish flu after attending a boat race. She barely survived; he didn't. She was left a widowed mother of three at the age of twenty seven. How did Phyllis deal with her grief? She returned to the figure skating, making trips to Wengen, Switzerland to further study her craft. In September of 1924, the former queen of Australian skating performed in an ice carnival starring Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders. She skated a duet with Hilda, the daughter of Sir John Grice. Their performance was described as "especially beautiful. Intricate figures and movements were accomplished with consummate ease, and the whole thing was a delight to watch."

1924 Lagonda M45 Tourer. Photo courtesy Aston Martin. Used for editorial purposes per license permissions.

Phyllis was a modern woman of the times, a 'real life Miss Fisher' in many ways, minus the sleuthing of course. She participated in an automobile race, driving her late husband's Aston Martin. She travelled to Hollywood, learned to fly an airplane, golfed, swam and took up water skiing. Much of her time, however, was devoted to philanthropic efforts with her late husband's mother Lady Fraser. 
During World War II, she volunteered with the Australian Comforts Fund.

Phyllis operating an automatic sock knitting machine at the headquarters of the Australian Comforts Fund during World War II. Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial.

Phyllis died July 14, 1962 at the age of seventy in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak, leaving behind only distant echoes of a time when she was one of her city's most adored skaters.

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 1936 World Figure Skating Championships

Megan Taylor, Jeff Dickson and Sonja Henie at the 1936 World Championships in Paris. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Not only was 1936 an Olympic year, but it was also a leap year. On two consecutive Fridays and Saturdays (February 21 and 22 and February 28 and 29, 1936) the World's best figure skaters convened at the Palais des Sports in Paris, France for what was in many ways a grand finale to the long reigns of Karl Schäfer and Sonja Henie as figure skating's undefeated King and Queen. Let's take a look back at how things played out!

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Karl Schäfer and Sonja Henie in Paris. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

With telegrams from America tucked away in his suitcase, Papa Henie arrived in Paris with his famous daughter in tow. Everywhere she went, fans wanted their autograph books signed and reporters sought interviews of the three time Olympic Gold Medallist. Impresario Jeff Dickson even tried to convince the Norwegian star to sign a professional contract but perhaps more than ever, Henie assiduously made training her first priority. Although she had announced that these World Championships would be her last in Berlin at the European Championships, her quest to win a tenth World title wouldn't be easy. Although Cecilia Colledge, Maribel Vinson and many other key rivals from the 1936 Winter Olympic Games weren't in attendance, she still had formidable competition in long-time rival Vivi-Anne Hultén and Megan Taylor, who had been forced to watch the Winter Olympic Games from the stands after missing the British Olympic Trials.

Megan Taylor in Paris. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Sonja Henie unanimously won the school figures by almost nine points, with Taylor second and Hultén third. Although every judge had Henie first, her lead was certainly less than she was accustomed to. Under more pressure than usual to deliver in the free skate, she emerged in a white satin gown embroidered with gardenias with a mauve hood and performed superbly in front of twenty five thousand Parisian spectators. Six of the seven judges placed her first in the free skate, the notable exception being American judge Charlie Morgan Rotch, who placed her behind Hultén. In the February 23, 1936 issue of "Le Journal", one enchanted Parisian reporter remarked, "She was not skating. She was flying... In the floodlight, winds extended, she slipped like a swallow at night... How easy it is, my God, to skate like this, mademoiselle!"

Sonja Henie receiving a crystal from a French politician at the 1936 World Championships

Megan Taylor fell once in her free skate and finished fourth in free skate behind Hultén and Austria's Emmy Puzinger, but her result in the figures was strong enough for her to claim the silver medal ahead of the two. Gweneth Butler, who the majority of judges had outside of the top ten in the free skate, placed fifth on the strength of her figures. Yvonne de Ligne's ordinals in the free skate ranged from fifth to fifteenth. She placed eleventh overall. Japan's Etsuko Inada, the darling of the Garmisch-Partenkirchen Winter Games, took a tumble and placed tenth but made history as the first Asian woman to compete at the World Championships.


In her book "Wings On My Feet", Sonja Henie recalled, "It was not hard. I had my victory. Within thirty days I had signed a contract with Arthur Wirtz to give eight exhibitions in the United States, as a professional." Before setting sail from Le Havre to America, Sonja returned to Oslo with her family and Jackie Dunn. She collapsed and was ordered by her doctor to spend several days in bed recuperating from exhaustion.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Ilse and Erik Pausin, Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn, Violet and Leslie Cliff and Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier in Paris. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

If the pairs competition at the Olympic Games was close, it really wasn't in Paris. Germany's Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier delivered one of the strongest skates of their career to unanimously defeat Austrian siblings Ilse and Erik Pausin. Britons Violet and Leslie Cliff narrowly defeated Canada's Louise Bertram and Stewart Reburn and Americans Maribel Vinson and George Hill for the bronze.

Violet and Leslie Cliff

In stark contrast to the rampant national bias of the era, the British judge placed the Americans ahead of the Britons and the American judge had the Britons ahead of the Americans. The Cliff's bronze medal was the first British medal in the pairs event at the World Championships since Ethel Muckelt and Jack Ferguson Page's silver in 1924.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

If Herber and Baier had it somewhat easy, Karl Schäfer had quite a different experience in Paris. He won the school figures by only the narrowest of margins - 2.1 points  - in a three-two judging split with Great Britain's Henry Graham Sharp. In the free skate, his biggest competition came from a different Briton... the charismatic Jackie Dunn.

Karl Schäfer in Paris

Two judges placed Schäfer on top in that phase of the event, two placed Dunn first, and the British judge boxed himself in and put Schäfer, Sharp, Dunn and Austria's Felix Kaspar in a four-way tie. When the marks were tallied and the dust settled, Dunn's low figures scores and Sharp's low free skating scores helped Schäfer claim his seventh consecutive and final World title.


Canada's Montgomery 'Bud' Wilson, who had claimed the bronze medal at the Winter Olympic Games, failed to capitalize on the absence of Ernst Baier in the men's event and placed a disappointing fifth in what would prove to be his final trip to the World Championships. Robin Lee and Erle Reiter, America's two entries, placed eighth and eleventh.

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 Beissbarth Brothers

Photo courtesy Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. R9266-2769 Peter Winkworth Collection of Canadiana.

Figure skater, lawyer, author and socialite Irving Brokaw has long been credited as the person who first introduced the Continental or International Style from Europe to New York City after travelling to the skating mecca of Switzerland and falling in love with the art. The role the well-connected Brokaw played in introducing and popularizing the style in North America was certainly instrumental, but it wasn't the first such attempt. Close to a decade before Brokaw made Continental cool among New York City's elite, two German brothers tried to do the exact same thing... and they weren't exactly well-received.

Identical twins Hermann and Henry Beissbarth hailed from the Bavarian city of Nuremberg. They arrived at Ellis Island on August 3, 1895, travelling from Hamburg via Southampton aboard the Augusta Victoria. They had initially planned to move to Hoboken, New Jersey and take up skating on the beautiful, mirror black ice there but instead moved to Brooklyn, where they rose before dawn every morning to practice at the Ice Palace while everyone else was still snug in their beds with visions of grapevines and three-turns dancing in their heads.

Brooklyn's skating community quickly took notice of the Beissbarth brothers and their passion for figure skating. "The Brooklyn Eagle" noted, "Each carries books on the sport about with him and they are the authors of many beautiful figures. They are never seen apart and skate together. Their skates are marvels of fine work and repose in buckskin bags. The brothers can be seen at the rink almost any day discussing in their broken English the skating topics. They do some fine skating together."

Yet, when Hermann and Henry attended a meeting of the great minds in late nineteenth century figure skating at the Claremont Rink on January 1897, no one really wanted to hear what they had to say about the 'way things were done in Europe'. "The Brooklyn Eagle" reported that at this meeting the Beissbarth's "stood up for the rule of large figures in skating which the Europeans follow in all their contests" and schooled the attendees, including champion skater Frank Swift, on the way European skating competitions were conducted, judged and which figures were skated. The reporter went on to note, "The Beissbarth's, to better illustrate their arguments had from time from time produced different books on the art and finally they fell to telling the manner and rules of holding the annual continental contests for the world's championships." Canadian skater George Meagher, who too had travelled to Europe, defended the German brothers but "the Americans loyally stood up for their own style." Whatever this new-fangled Continental skating was, the exponents of 'fancy' skating in America weren't interested at the time.


Hermann Beissbarth didn't give up that easily. He entered the 1897 Championships Of America at the St. Nicholas Rink, and lost badly - finishing seventh behind speedster George Dawson Phillips. Hermann wasn't alone in his defeat. Phillips also bested a Bostonian named Thomas Vinson at that event... the father of American skating legend Maribel Vinson Owen.

Competitors and judges at the 1897 Championships Of America

At an exhibition at the Claremont Rink, the Beissbarth brothers were pretty much booed off the stage. The May 1944 issue of "Skating" magazine recalled that the brothers "skated in such an exaggerated style... that the gallery yelled in derision." I highly doubt that an angry mob of skaters ran them out of town after this performance, but that's sadly where the Beissbarth brothers disappear from the historical record. Whether they simply gave up their efforts or returned to Nuremberg with their tails between their legs, we don't know. Sometimes people are just ahead of their time and people aren't ready for it yet.

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