Karl and Gayle Freed, Nancy and Ron Ludington, Judy Lamar, David Jenkins, Donald Jacoby and Andree Anderson, Carol Heiss, Jimmy Short, Barbara Roles, Rhode Lee Michelson and Harvey Balch. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
Requests for Perry Como's "Catch A Falling Star" and "Lollipop" by The Chordettes flooded the switchboards to radio stations, Dwight Eisenhower was America's President and Rice-A-Roni and Cocoa Krispies hit the shelves of grocery stories. The year was 1958 and from March 26 to 29, the Minneapolis Figure Skating Club played host to the 1958 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The event marked only the second time in history that the state of Minnesota played host to the U.S. Nationals, the first being the 1939 Championships in St. Paul. Let's take a look back at the skaters and stories that made this event more than memorable!
THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR COMPETITIONS
Bill Kipp's student Rhode Lee Michelson narrowly defeated Maribel Vinson Owen's student Joanna Niska in the novice women's competition. The junior pairs title went to Danny Ryan's students Gayle and Karl Freed. Bill Hickox, fourth in the novice men's event, would go on to win the junior pairs title with his sister Laurie two years later. Barbara Ann Roles of Temple City, California bested Stephanie Westerfeld and Laurence Owen in the junior women's event. A second place finish in the school figures kept Boston's Gregory Kelley from defeating Jim Short, a Southern California student from Alhambra, in the junior men's event. Similarly hampered by his figures, Doug Ramsay placed only fifth despite gaining many admirers with his inspired free skating. Ten teams vied for the Silver Dance title, won by sixteen year old straight 'A' student and Harvard football coach's daughter Judy Ann Lamar and her much older (married) partner Ron Ludington. The duo took dance lessons from Cecilia Colledge in Boston. Second place went to Jim Short and Barbara Ann Roles, the junior men's and women's champions. Marilyn Meeker and Larry Pierce of Indianapolis took third, ahead of Paula Flynn of Buffalo and Wilson Hess of Rochester, New York. Finishing last with partner Robert James was Dorothyann Nelson, who would go on to win the senior pairs title in 1962 with Pieter Kollen.
Reviewing the event for "Skating World" magazine, Cecilia Colledge remarked, "Barbara [Roles] is a sure, strong skater, while Jimmy [Short] is an attractive and easy performer, with a respect for his skating seldom seen. It might be mentioned that a 'courteous regard' for figure skating was sadly lacking throughout the events."
THE PAIRS COMPETITION
The husband and wife team of Nancy and Ron Ludington of Boston, proud parents of a six-month old girl, solidly won their second U.S. title, besting Sheila Wells and Robin Greiner and Maribel Yerxa Owen and Dudley Richards. Fourth were Ila Ray and Ray Hadley, Jr., who had just returned from giving an exhibition in Paris during the World Championships. Though the Ludington's were solidly first, the marks of the teams in second through fifth place were all over the place. It was particularly close between the third and fourth place teams. Reiner had previously held the title four times with his prior partner Carole Anne Ormaca. Mary-Jane Watson and John Jarmon, who placed ninth in Paris as America's second entry at the World Championships, did not compete.
THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION
Left: Andree Anderson and Donald Jacoby. Photo courtesy Ice Follies archives. Right: Claire O'Neill and John Bejshak. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
Defending champions Sharon McKenzie and Bert Wright had retired, leaving the Gold Dance title up for grabs. Engaged to be married on May 31, 1958, Andree Anderson and Donald Jacoby of the Genesee Figure Skating Club took gold in the Gold Dance competition with first place ordinals from all five judges and a final score of 292.84 points. Second were Claire O'Neill and John Bejshak, third Susan Tebo and Tim Brown and fourth Margie Ackles and Chuck Phillips, Jr. Cecilia Colledge praised Tebo and Brown's "refreshingly original free dance which showed courage and imagination."
In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "Each [of the teams] was different, and the couples, led by Andy and Jake, all introduced new moves. On the day of their first National title, Andy celebrated her 22nd birthday; Jake was 27. Soon they would become 'the Jacobys'."
THE MEN'S COMPETITION
After the school figures - which Cecilia Colledge bemoaned were of a low standard considering the competitors included the top skaters in the world - Tim Brown sat ahead of David Jenkins. This wasn't exactly new territory as the exact same thing had happened at the previous year's U.S. Championships in Berkeley and the World Championships in Paris. "Skating" magazine noted that prior to the free skate, "You could feel the tension and expectancy in the entire arena". One by one, the competitors came out and each seemed to outdo the last. However, twenty one year old David Jenkins rebounded with a dazzling free skating performance and stole the show. The Niagara Falls Gazette noted, "When he finished, one of the judges, Edward LeMaire of Rye, N.Y., who had drawn jeers from the crowd for what the spectators thought was too low scoring, gave the champ a perfect 10 points for performance. It was the first time in 15 years that a 10 had been registered in national competition. Jenkins got nothing lower than 9.7 for the content of his program, and nothing lower than 9.8 for how he performed it. Brown, an accomplished figure skater who so far does not have Jenkins' dynamic style in the free skating, turned in what he said was 'the best performance I have ever given, but it wasn't enough."
With unanimous first place ordinals in the free skate from all five judges, David Jenkins won the free skate. All but one judge had him first overall ahead of Brown, Tom Moore of Seattle, Robert Brewer of Pasadena, Bradley Lord of Boston, Barlow Nelson of Hanover and Tom Weinrich of Colorado Springs. After finding out he'd won, David told an Associated Press reporter, "I may have skated well in practice or outside of competition but never that well when it counted. Sure, I felt the pressure from Tim. You always feel it in situations like that."
THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION
Five women vied for supremacy in the women's event in Minneapolis. World Champion Carol Heiss, an eighteen year old New York University co-ed from Ozone Park, racked up an insurmountable seventy two point lead over her training mate Carol Wanek, a part-time model, in the school figures. Both Carol Heiss and her coach Pierre Brunet felt she'd performed "about as well" in the figures as she had at the World Championships in Paris. Cecilia Colledge remarked, "School figures were better than those of the men, but on the whole dull."
Though Carol Heiss fell on a double Axel in the middle of her free skating program, she wasn't phased by her error and skated a near flawless performance otherwise, earning first place ordinals from all five judges both in free skating and overall on her way to her second U.S. title. Wanek took the silver, ahead of Boston's Lynn Finnegan, Carol's sister Nancy and Claralynn Lewis of Colorado Springs. Following her win, Carol was lovingly teased by skaters for her fall in the free skate. She told an Associated Press reporter, "My friends used to say I wasn't normal because I never fell in competition. I hadn't fallen since 1952. Now I'm getting it from all directions. It keeps you humble. That ice can be awfully hard."
After the dust settled, Edi Scholdan's students had won six medals and Maribel Vinson Owen's students had won five... and you just know Maribel must have had something to say about that. Immediately following the competition, Carol Heiss, the Ludington's and Tim Brown left for a three-week exhibition tour in Japan.
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