1962 World Champions Maria and Otto Jelinek. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.
The cancellation of the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal, Quebec due to the COVID-19 pandemic marks the first time in history a major ISU Championship has been cancelled specifically due to a global health emergency. As we all know though, this wasn't the first time the World Championships have been cancelled. The Great War and World War II forced the cancellation of Worlds from 1915 to 1921 and from 1940 to 1946. In 1961, the ISU (despite protestations from the Czechoslovakian organizers) cancelled the Worlds in Prague after the tragic Sabena Crash that killed the entire U.S. figure skating team, along with coaches, officials and members of their families. The cancellation of the 2020 Worlds has left many speculating as to how the ISU will handle entries for the 2021 World Championships, slated for Stockholm, Sweden. Some have wondered what they did back in 1962.
Oleg Protopopov, Maria Jelinek, Ludmila Belousova and Otto Jelinek in 1962
In the fifties, the number of entries at ISU Championships was growing by leaps and bounds. The number of entries in the women's event more than doubled from fourteen in London in 1950 to twenty nine in Paris in 1958. A big part of the problem at the time wasn't the number of federations sending skaters, but the number of skaters each federation sent. The United States, for instance, sent no less than five men and women to the 1951 Worlds in Milan. At a time when strict rules of amateurism were very much at play, it often came down to who could afford to pay their own way.
Nobuo Sato, Marika Kilius and Donald Jackson in 1962
Hoping to curb the number of entries at its Championships, the ISU passed a rule change at its 1959 Congress in Tours, France allocating each member federation two entries in each discipline, with a third spot available "if such Member had a representative in the first twelve in the same event in the preceding Championship." The catch was the skater or team who earned their country a third spot had to be the one(s) to return the following year to use it. If not, they lost it.
Though the ISU based entries for the 1962 Worlds on the results of the 1960 Worlds in Vancouver, their 'use it or lose it' policy for a third spot cost the Americans (who were still grieving from the Sabena Crash) entries at the 1962 Worlds because the skaters who had earned a third spot had well, died. At the 1960 Worlds, every single American skater or team had placed in the top twelve in their respective discipline, earning a maximum of three spots for the 1961 Worlds in Prague - but one of each of those three spots would have 'belonged' to the highest finishing returning skaters or teams - Bradley Lord, Laurence Owen, Maribel Yerxa Owen and Dudley Richards and in dance, either Larry Pierce or Roger Campbell with their new partners. Rather than allowing the USFSA to send three entries per discipline as a courtesy, the ISU ruled that they could send only two entries per discipline because the skaters who earned third spots weren't returning. An exception was made for Barbara Roles Pursley, who was a past Olympic and World Medallist and had earned a spot by placing third in 1960 but took a year off in 1961.
Announcement of the 1962 U.S. World team. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.
The Americans weren't the only ones to get dinged by the rule. Great Britain, a powerhouse in ice dance in the sixties, was only able to send two couples after the retirement of Doreen Denny and Courtney Jones. Denny and Jones were the World Champions in 1960... but they were the only British couple entered that year.
The men's podium (Alain Calmat, Donald Jackson and Karol Divín) and the women's podium (Regine Heitzer, Sjoukje Dijkstra and Wendy Griner) at the 1962 World Championships. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.
If entries for the next World Championships were based on the system that was in place in 1962, here's what we'd be looking at, taking into account retirements, skaters not entered to compete at the 2020 Worlds, etc.
USA - 3 spots (1 reserved for Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou or Jason Brown)
JPN - 3 spots (1 reserved for Yuzuru Hanyu or Shoma Uno)
CHN - 3 spots (1 reserved for Boyang Jin)
ITA - 3 spots (1 reserved for Matteo Rizzo)
CZE - 3 spots (1 reserved for Michal Březina)
FRA - 3 spots (1 reserved for Kévin Aymoz)
- Russia would lose a third spot if Alexander Samarin, Mikhail Kolyada or Andrei Lazukin weren't sent.
*All other countries would have 2 spots.
JPN - 3 spots (1 reserved for Rika Kihira, Kaori Sakamoto or Satoko Miyahara)
USA - 3 spots (1 reserved for Bradie Tennell or Mariah Bell)
- Canada would lose a third spot if Gabby Daleman wasn't sent
- Russia would lose a third spot if Evgenia Medvedeva or Sofia Samodurova weren't sent
- Kazakhstan would lose a third spot if Elizabet Tursynbaeva wasn't sent.
- Belgium would lose a third spot if Loena Hendrickx wasn't sent
- Korea would lose a third spot if Eun-soo Lim wasn't sent.
*All other countries would have 2 spots
CHN - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Wenjing Sui and Cong Han or Cheng Peng and Yang Jin)
RUS - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov or Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii)
CAN - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro or Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud)
ITA - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise)
USA - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Ashley Cain and Tim LeDuc)
AUT - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer)
- France would lose a third spot if Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès weren't sent.
- North Korea would lose a third spot if Tae-ok Ryom and Ju-sik Kim weren't sent.
*All other countries would have 2 spots
FRA - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron)
RUS - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov or Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin)
USA - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, Madison Chock and Evan Bates or Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker)
CAN - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier or Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen)
ITA - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri)
POL - 3 spots (1 spot reserved for Natalia Kaliszek and Maksym Spodyriev)
- Spain would lose a third spot if Sara Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin weren't sent.
As you can plainly see, if the rules at play in 1962 were reintroduced to address the entries to the World Championships, the number of entries in every discipline would swell dramatically - perhaps to the point that the ISU would have to reinstitute qualifying rounds unless the 'two slot' rule for all other countries was reduced to one.
While it is entirely unlikely the ISU would ever consider going back to a system used to address the cancellation of the World Championships from decades past, it is interesting to consider how the worldwide popularity of the sport and increased number of member federations would substantially increase the number of entries at Worlds if this system was reintroduced today.
Now that we've talked history, I want to just say that I hope all of you are hanging in there. Whether you're in self-isolation, have lost your job or are forced to continue to work for any number of ridiculous reasons, take care of yourself. Rather than focus entirely on the present, embrace the past and look forward to a brighter future. The world may be on pause, but it is not over. Stay happy, healthy and for the love of Sonja Henie, wash your hands.
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