In early 1926, the Rhine River overflowed, causing fifty thousand residents of Cologne, Germany to be evacuated by the military and the airline Deutsche Luft Hansa (a forerunner of Lufthansa) was founded in Berlin. On February 13 and 14 of that year, the German city also played host to the 1926 World Figure Skating Championships in men's and pairs skating. The competitions were held at the Berliner Eispalast in conjunction with the Berlin Eisfest, which also included contests in speed skating and a grand hockey tournament which pitted teams from the Wiener Eislaufverein in Vienna and the Berliner Schlittschuhclub. The women's competition was held separately on February 7 and 8 on outdoor ice in Stockholm, Sweden and marked the twenty year anniversary the first ISU women's championship in 1906, won by Great Britain's Madge Syers.
One of the most interesting footnotes about the 1926 World Championships is the fact the ISU requested proposals for a possible ice dance competition to be held in conjunction with the Berlin event. Dr. Hugo Wintzer, an ISU judge from Dresden, proposed a waltzing contest and "prescribed set dance skated by each couple separately" judged on "a) novelty and originality (to be rated first), variety and difficulty (to be rated second) - in sum, the technical worth. b) Grace, appearance and carriage - the execution (ie. how beautiful?) and c. Unity of execution, rhythm, sureness - the execution - ie. how well?" Dr. Wintzer's proposal was translated and appeared in the February 1926 issue of "Skating" magazine but primary source materials offer few clues as to whether or not an unofficial ice dancing competition actually occurred. If it did, it was obviously unofficial, but it would have marked one of the earliest instances of any sort of waltzing or ice dancing competition being held in conjunction with the World Championships.
Herma Szabo and Ludwig Wrede. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.
The Brunet's in Berlin. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.
Though Herma Szabo had managed to pull off a miracle in Stockholm, her luck ran out in Berlin. With Ludwig Wrede, she had won the World pairs title the year prior in front of a hometown audience in Vienna. In 1926, Szabo and Wrede dropped to third behind Andreé (Joly) and Pierre Brunet of France and Lilly Scholz and Otto Kaiser.
Lilly Scholz and Otto Kaiser. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.
The Norwegian and Austrian judges had Sonja Henie and Arne Lie, who placed fifth, in first... quite interesting considering what happened in Stockholm and the notorious politicking of the day. The judging of the pairs event in Berlin was somewhat all over the place. Henie and Lie's ordinals ranged from first through ninth and Gisela Hochhaltinger and Georg Pamperl of Austria, who placed fourth, had ordinals ranging from second through eighth. Four first place ordinals were enough for the Brunet's to take the gold... making them the first French skaters in history to win a World title.
Willy Böckl in 1926. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.
Prior to the men's event, rumours swirled that two time Olympic Gold Medallist Gillis Grafström and Olympic Bronze Medallist Georges Gautschi would participate. Neither ultimately surfaced, leaving nine men to compete for the title. Four out of five judges had defending World Champion Willy Böckl first in the figures, though the German judge somewhat scandalously had Werner Rittberger first on his scorecard. No other judge had Rittberger higher than fourth. In the free skate, Böckl received first place ordinals from the British and French judges but Finnish judge Walter Jakobsson had him as low as sixth. Jakobsson voted for young Robert van Zeebroeck of Belgium. Austrian judge Fritz Kachler had Dr. Otto Preißecker first and the German judge again voted for Rittberger. Overall, Böckl had three first place ordinals, Otto Preißecker one and Rittberger one.
By three ordinal placings, Willy Böckl won, with Otto Preißecker second, John 'Jack' Ferguson Page third and Werner Rittberger fourth. Robert van Zeebroeck remained in seventh, exactly where he'd finished in the school figures. Though the numbers show that Böckl's win was far from unanimous, the February 20, 1926 issue of the "Illustriertes (Österreichisches) Sportblatt" claimed that he "won [so] convincingly that the proclamation of the result [caused] no sensation." It seems 'fake news' was even a thing back in the roaring twenties.
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