Time To Talk Tyke: The T.D. Richardson Story

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson

"Captain T.D. Richardson is to British skating something of what Vaughan Williams is to music and Bernard Shaw to literature. He combines the knowledge and wisdom of a vast experience with a tireless, almost youthful zest for progress." - Dennis Bird, "Skating World" magazine, September 1952

"For goodness' sake SKATE - without timidity, indecision, and wavering." - T.D. Richardson

The son of James and Catherine (Cameron) Richardson, Thomas Dow (T.D.) Richardson was born on January 16, 1887 - the year of Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee - in Yorkshire, England. He was the youngest of the couple's six sons and two daughters and spent his early years in the family's large home on Bishopshill Road. The household he grew up would have been bustling with activity, as his aunt and grandmother as well as a live-in servant lived with his parents and siblings. His father was a hosier and sub postmaster.

T.D. - or 'Tyke' as he was later nicknamed for his York upbringing - first took to the ice in 1891 during The Great Frost... an unseasonably cold winter that froze over waterways and fens alike and made for optimum skating conditions. As a young man of fourteen, he and brother Alexander attended a small private school called Grosvenor Mount School in Scarborough, Yorkshire run by Herbert Walton and boarded with the Offord family in South Kensington. He later attended a private school in Lausanne, Switzerland.

On October 21, 1905, at the age of eighteen, T.D. was enrolled in Cambridge University and admitted to Trinity Hall. By this time, his father had sadly passed away. While attending the university, he proved himself quite a sportsman, excelling at boxing, rowing, bandy, curling and golf.  Alexandra Browne, the College Archivist and Records Manager at Trinity Hall, noted that his successes as an oarsman: "He was in first boat for the May Bumps and Henley boat races 1907-1909, and he won the Ellis Pairs in 1908." Though short in stature, T.D. competed in wrestling matches against Oxford in two different weight classes. 

In the autumn of 1906, T.D. found himself in court, charging with "using obscene language" towards a police officer. He entered a plea of not guilty and his defense stated it was a case of mistaken identity. The judge dismissed the case due to insufficient evidence. It was the only blot in an uneventful academic career. Mary Scott of the Cambridge University Archives noted, "He worked towards the Ordinary B.A., that is without honours, sitting both parts of the general examination in 1908 and 1909. The subjects examined will have included the Acts of the Apostles in Greek, a Latin classic, a Greek classic, algebra, elementary statics, and elementary hydrostatics and heat. Thereafter, we have no records of him sitting any further examinations and he does not appear to have graduated."

As was the fashion at the time, T.D. regularly wintered in Switzerland as a teenager, where he added skiing and bobsled to his list of athletic pursuits. He first learned to figure skate in the stiff English Style, taught by Captain Roy Scott Hewett (who would later hold the British title in this style several times) in Grindelwald. After earning his bronze medal in the English Style, he was introduced to the Continental (International) Style of skating by Bernard and Alex Adams in 1905. At first he thought it was "rather vulgar". He recalled, "By this time the 'English' was on its last legs, although it is true that when I and my friends came down from Cambridge 'to eat dinners' at the Inner Temple, and went during the day to skate at 'The Toxophilite' in Regents' Park, where 'The Skating Club' functioned we were requested to wear 'morning coat.'"

Through careful study of the methods of the Adams brothers, Bror Meyer, Ulrich Salchow, Gustav Hügel and many other greats of the era, he successfully transformed himself from a rigid English Style skater to an adept Continental one and soon earned his gold medal in the latter as well. Sir Samuel Hoare recalled, "His counters and rockers go off on the ice like pistols, his brackets are as infallible as the Pope, and not only does he know the reason, but he can describe it to other people." Through his friendships and mentors in Switzerland, T.D. soon became so passionate and educated about the sport that he developed a unique interest in the sport's technique and history and an uncanny ability to impart his knowledge on to others.

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson
Mildred (Allingham) and T.D. Richardson

Back home in England, T.D. could often be found on the ice at Prince's Skating Club and the Hammersmith Ice Rink. A year after his mother passed away, he began skating with Mildred 'Wag' Allingham at Prince's. The on-ice couple, who won three cups in ice valsing together, soon became an off-ice one, marrying in 1915. Then, like so many other young British men at the time, T.D. went off to fight in World War I. After serving on the Western Front and earning the rank of Captain, he returned to Great Britain and took up permanent residence in a hotel with his beloved wife, who he referred to as "his accomplice".

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson
Illustration of Mildred (Allingham) and T.D. Richardson at the 1913 British Championships

With Mildred, he popularized shadow skating, a form of pairs skating first conceived by his coach Bernard Adams that involved mirrored movement. Ice show impresario Claude Langdon recalled, "Soon after I had opened up with ice at Hammersmith, we were looking for a dance that the public could do without really knowing how to skate. [T.D.] came down to see me, put on his boots and skates, and, with the professionals Howard Nicholson, Trudy Harris and Alfredo, worked out a dance that very night. As a national dance the National Skating Association did not take it up, which was a source of disappointment to us at the time; but a year or so later the tango had been worked out by Nicholson, Trudy Harris and Capt. Richardson and his wife. Now, so many years later, the tango on ice is, in my opinion, no more beautiful than it was as we remember it in the old days at the Hammersmith Rink." In 1923, T.D. and Mildred won the silver medal at the British Championships in pairs skating and in 1924, the duo entered the Winter Olympic Games in Chamonix, France. They finished dead last, no thanks to British judge Herbert Ramon Yglesias, who expressed to them that while they were both excellent skaters, he didn't consider what they did to be pairs skating and they would be last on his card... before they even skated. When the curlers were forced to share practice ice with figure skaters at those games, one such stone-thrower witnessed a young Sonja Henie whirling around the ice and asked T.D., "What is this, a puppet show? A circus?" He responded, "No - THAT is the future of skating."

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson

T.D. and Mildred attended the 1928 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, where he served as Great Britain's judge in the women's event. At those Games, Papa Henie asked T.D. to take a look at Sonja's figures. Without batting an eyelash, T.D. informed him that she couldn't skate brackets at all and proceeded to show her how to do them. Papa asked Tyke to coach her, and he flatly refused... because he was judging her. Papa Henie offered him a case of champagne, and then a motor boat, which he refused. Finally, he suggested that his former coach Alex Adams (who was teaching at Suvretta House) offer her some instruction. Mildred, who acted as interpreter between Sonja Henie and Adams recalled, "She adored Tyke. He was the only person to whom she ever listened or was able to tick her off."

In the late twenties, Mildred and T.D. introduced the Kilian to England and T.D. submitted a proposal to the ISU recommending that a rule be instituted barring officials from judging skaters from their own country in an effort to curb the displays of national bias that were rampant in international figure skating competition at the time. He also played an important role in the institution of the "one judge per country" rule, though he received a one year suspension for the National Skating Association for "daring to offend [our] Continental friends" as a result.

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson

In the early thirties, "Modern Figure Skating", his first of almost a dozen books on figure skating technique and history, was published. A copy translated into Japanese served as a training manual for Kazuyoshi Oimatsu and Ryuichi Obitani, the two young Japanese men who became the first from their country to compete in the Winter Olympic Games in 1932. Over the years, he also penned articles on figure skating for "The Westminster Gazette", "The Field", "The Daily Telegraph", "Country Life", "Skating Times" and "Skating World". He even contributed to the "Encyclopedia Britannica." During the thirties, T.D. supplemented his income from writing by managing a company called International Film Renters Ltd.

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson
Mildred and T.D. at the Kulm Rink during the 1948 Winter Olympic Games

As chef de mission of the British Olympic team in 1936, he was wined and dined by Nazi officials - including Jaochim von Ribbentrop - at buffet suppers and banquets. Twelve years later, while serving as Chief Of The Foreign Press at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in neutral Switzerland, he had to reach out to the office of his old Cambridge University classmate Hugh Dalton, when the British Olympic team arrived without uniforms for the opening ceremony. He got the money for uniforms... no small miracle as clothing was still on ration for coupons back home in England at the time.

Skaters at an amateur ice show in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Left to right: Ursula Barkey, Valerie Hunt, Peter Burrows, Joan Haanappel, Anthony Holles, Joyce Coates, Mildred 'Wag' Richardson, David Clements, T.D. 'Tyke' Richardson, Catherine Morris, Michael Robinson, Diana Clifton-Peach, Anne Reynolds, Barbara Conniff

Following the 1948 Winter Olympic Games, T.D. received a two year suspension from the ISU for "journalistic activities" when he broke strict but controversial rules about participants (both skaters and officials) publishing any commentary of international competitions. Because the rules didn't apply to "writing of books on figure skating", they became dubbed the "Richardson rules". At the 1949 ISU Congress in Paris, the ISU clarified these rules, stating "No judge, official or competitor of the ISU, taking part may write. If not taking part they may write but must not receive any payment." T.D. fired back in "The Skating Times", writing, "So that a man or woman, whatever his or her integrity or ability may be, is barred by his profession from assisting in international competitions!"

In 1956, the ISU finally decided that T.D. was a "non-amateur" and therefore allowed to write about what he pleased. Though some perceived his roles as an author and journalist for "Skating World" and "The Times" and judge and referee for the National Skating Association as a conflict of interest, T.D. developed many strong bonds over the years. His many famous friends included Howard Nicholson, Claude Langdon, Gustave Lussi, Jacques, Arnold and Hans Gerschwiler, Gladys Hogg, The Brunet's, John Harris, Theresa Weld Blanchard and Gillis Grafström.

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson
Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archives

T.D. served as chairman of the National Skating Association's Ice Figure Committee from 1945 to 1948, 1950 to 1955 and 1965 to 1966, the founder and chairman of the NSA's Technical Advisory Committee. Over the years, he made several important changes to England's testing schedule, including the introduction of pair tests to his country. He also helped found the NSA's Ice Dance Committee and advocated for the introduction of 'new' compulsory figures (three-rocker-threes, bracket-counter-brackets and double loops) to the ISU schedule. These 'star tests for advanced figures' were suggested by T.D. back in the thirties, but not introduced through the NSA until 1967.

Michael Booker recalled, "Around 1954 T. D. Richardson approached me about learning new figures... I did learn some and demonstrated them to leading UK teachers and judges.  About eighteen months later again at a judges school in Davos conducted by Arnold Gerschwiler and 'Karly' Enderlin, Arnold's bosom friend (Arnold made a special farewell trip to Switzerland to see Karl just a month before he, Arnold, died.) As I recall most of the figures were three circle jobs, rockers and counters with brackets and threes on the end circles and a double brackets figure; in order to accomplish the latter the 'push/pull' method had to be used on fairly small circles to keep the pace and get back to the center. They were an interesting challenge but not really that difficult, certainly no more than left back loop change loop! One of the main reasons they were rejected, and I forget how many there were, was economic, a practice ice issue. There being no Zambonis, patches lasted two hours and were always at a premium. These new figures simply took up too much ice and time and were too impractical except for the most skilled skaters; an attempt was made to include them in the schedule to no avail."

One of the reasons, perhaps, that T.D.'s 'new' compulsory figures didn't gain a lot of traction over the years was the fact that he often butted heads with ISU officials and took digs at the ISU in his writings. In 1947, the ISU introduced a rule that empowered the referee of a competition to immediately kick any judge who was caught communicating with a spectator "by sign, signal or otherwise" off the panel and out of the competition. With his characteristically dry wit, T.D. wrote in "The Skating Times": "What fun! I hope I am there when some gallant referee has a crack at enforcing this new one.. There will be no complaint of the dullness of school figure skating on the day when some wild partisan forgets to be a good boy." He italicized the ISU's admission that "this might be difficult to enforce", highlighting the absurdity of such a cop-out to their own rule.

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson

With Claude Langdon, he formed the Sports Advisory Committee of Britain, whose members included the Duke of Hamilton, Lord Aberdare and Cyril Tolley. He also conceived and played an instrumental role in organizing the Commonwealth Winter Games and taught Sir Samuel Hoare how to skate. "If he helped me," Hoare wrote, "he has helped scores of others. There is not a skater at the Suvretta rink at St. Moritz who does not owe him a debt of gratitude for the word of advice and encouragement that he is always ready to give. Who that has seen him at work will forget the spectacle of his judging a test? I think of him surrounded by a crowd of keen skaters, scanning the tracings as a detective would follow blood stains, congratulating success, condoling with failure."

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson

In January of 1955, Queen Elizabeth II bestowed upon T.D. the Order Of The British Empire (OBE) for his many contributions to figure skating in Great Britain and twelve years later, the National Skating Association honoured both him and Mildred with honorary lifetime memberships. Benjamin T. Wright, chairman of  the ISU Technical Committee and ISU Referee, ISU and USFSA historian, recalled, "He was a good guy. He and his wife were an interesting couple... a power couple." NSA historian Elaine Hooper recalled, "I was quite a young skater when he was around and he was always around in an ice rink somewhere and were a bit frightened and also in awe of him. He was very involved with the elite skaters at the time." The late Cecilia Colledge once said, "He acted always for what he knew was right. He would not submerge his principles in order to be popular. He would not compromise in order to be elected. He would not curb his independent courage. He served skating."

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson

T.D. Richardson passed away on January 7, 1971 at his home in Kensington just over a week before his eighty-fourth birthday, not long after undergoing a major operation. Shortly after T.D.'s death, skating historian Dennis L. Bird wrote, "'T.D.' was not an easy man to work with, and never concealed his impatience with anyone who disagreed with him. Many of the beneficial changes which he introduced in figure skating met with considerable opposition, partly because he was not always very diplomatic in dealing with official organizations. He was never deterred by controversy [and] was a gifted man in many ways... In reviewing championships for the press - technical as well as national - he was seldom harsh so far as individual skaters were concerned, preferring to show them how to improve in future rather than to criticize their present abilities. (Occasionally, however, he could be devastating in what he did NOT say.) But if he spared the feelings of competitors, he had no patience with judges who did not know their job. He wrote of one European championship panel 'Some of the judges were obviously ill-instructed in the fundamentals... They cannot be expected to be able to appreciate the fine points...' In private he could even more pungent... Old in years, he was perennially young in outlook. It was characteristic of him that, in one of his last official speeches, at the 1967 NSA Ball, he urged the importance of having more young skaters involved in running the NSA. When the NSA Presidency became vacant some years ago, it would have been a fitting honour to bestow on him. But when his views were sought on a possible 'back-bench' move to put his name forward, he did not at his age want to be involved in a contest (another greatly-respected skater had already been nominated). And in a sense the office would have added little: his place in skating history was already assured; his life's work done. He may have been physically small of stature, but he was a... towering personality in the small world of figure skating." 

lympic figure skater, author and sportswriter Captain T.D. Richardson
Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

T.D. was elected posthumously to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame five years later in 1976 and to this day, his books and articles remain one of the most important windows on skating history that exist. Simply put, without T.D. Richardson the world of figure skating wouldn't be what it is today.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

A Pioneering Sportswriter: The Jim Proudfoot Story

Toronto sportswriter Jim Proudfoot
Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

"He was the ultimate professional. He had a great appreciation of the language... He had the passions of a fan, but he never permitted that to show in his copy." - Milt Dunnell, Canadian Press NewsWire, April 2, 2001

"Patience is a commodity a figure skater must possess in immense quantities if he hopes to survive at the highest competitive level - patience to live through the hours and days and weeks of repetitious practice, patience to await one's turn in the spotlight and the patience to persevere during the development of one's skills." - Jim Proudfoot, "Skating" magazine, February 1968

The son of Elsie May (Kennedy) and James Garrett Proudfoot, James Alan 'Jim' Proudfoot was born in 1933 in Kearney, Ontario. His father hailed from nearby Burk's Falls; his mother from Magnetawan. His grandfather was a doctor and his parents were followers of the United Church. Jim and his younger brother Dan began their education in a two-room schoolhouse with their father, who was a school-teacher. After graduating from Burk's Falls High School, Jim attended the University Of Toronto.

Toronto sportswriter Jim Proudfoot
Photo courtesy University Of Toronto Archives

Jim's passion for sports journalism began when he was a student at the University of Toronto, working as the assistant sports editor for "The Varsity" newspaper. At the same time, he was just beginning his forty-nine year career at the "Toronto Star". Over the years, he covered everything from hockey and baseball to Super Bowls, Grey Cups and the Summer and Winter Olympics as the newspaper's sport editor. Though best remembered for his coverage of team sports, Jim's coverage of figure skating was ahead of its time.

Jim began writing about figure skating in an era when the sport was still often relegated to the 'society' pages. He covered the careers of a who's who of Canadian figure skating, including Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, Donald Jackson, Maria and Otto Jelinek, Petra Burka, Karen Magnussen, Sandra and Val Bezic, Toller Cranston, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini, Brian Orser, Elizabeth Manley, Kurt Browning, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler and Elvis Stojko. A 1978 article in "The Canadian Champion" recalled how he proved a jinx for the Jelinek's. Whenever he was in attendance covering one of their competitions, they faltered. It got to the point that he tried not to look at them when they performed. When the sibling duo competed at the 1962 World Championships in Prague, he finally "gave way to temptation and took a peek at them on the ice. The second he did that, Maria fell." The Jelinek's, as we all know, won the gold medal that year anyway.

In one memorable column, Jim celebrated the impact of Barbara Ann Scott. He wrote, "Are you acquainted with a woman, Canadian-born and in her 40s, called Barbara Ann? Bet you are. And the reason is that in 1947 and '48, infants from coast to coast were being named after Barbara Ann Scott. Which tells you how popular she was after winning the global figure skating championship one winter and adding an Olympic title the next. Popular? That doesn't begin to explain. There was hardly a person in this country who didn't either worship her or have a crush on her. Next thing you knew, parents everywhere were buying skates for their daughters and the boom was on. Now Canada is numbered among the world's foremost nations in skating. Year after year, many of the best competitors anywhere are ours. And the whole thing began with Barbara Ann."

Canadian sportswriters Jim Proudfoot and Cam Cole
Cam Cole and Jim Proudfoot. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Jim wrote about the elimination of school figures, The Battle Of The Brian's and the scandal surrounding Tonya Harding and the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer. He penned articles for the "Toronto Star" about countless Canadian, North American and World Championships and was a contributor to both "Skating" and "The Canadian Skater" magazines. The final major figure skating event he covered was the 1997 World Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Toronto sportswriter Jim Proudfoot
Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Jim was a colourful character who earned the nickname 'Chester', after a character from the television show "Gunsmoke". He had a habit of hitchhiking from one sporting event to another. His predecessor as sports editor of the "Toronto Star", Milt Dunnell, recalled in 1998, "He must have travelled a zillion miles in pursuit of sports yarns, combined with a bit of luxury living at the expense of ye olde Toronto Star, but he never drove a kilometer of that distance himself; never got stuck in a car deal, either, because he never had one." Though perceived by some as a gruff character, he was no Grinch. He was the driving force behind the "Toronto Star" Santa Fund and Proudfoot Corner. The Corner funded thousands of gift boxes for underprivileged Toronto children, each containing a hat, shirt, pair of socks, pair of mittens, book, toy and candy.

Peter and David Heffering presenting Jim Proudfoot with a cheque for the Santa Claus Fund
Peter and David Heffering presenting Jim Proudfoot with a cheque for the Santa Claus Fund. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

For his contribution to the Canadian skating world, Jim was honoured with a CFSA Award Of Merit in 1974. In 1998, he was presented with the Sports Media Canada Achievement Award by IOC Vice-President Dick Pound. In his acceptance speech, he quipped, "I often think an award like this becomes inevitable once a person goes through four decades without screwing up, but I deeply appreciate the award and I do feel very, very honoured."

Toronto sportswriter Jim Proudfoot
Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Jim retired from the "Toronto Star" in 1999. He passed away at the age of sixty-seven on April Fool's Day, 2001, from complications of a stroke he suffered a year prior. He was inducted posthumously into the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame in 2008. At the time of his death, colleague Dave Perkins recalled, "He was an invaluable historian of the Toronto sporting scene, a human computer for names and dates. Yet he understood good columns are not strings of statistics and such. His real strength was in reproducing colour, in retelling the anecdotes, and he had a professional's touch for dryly creeping up on a punch line. And for every anecdote he told, he inspired another."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html

The 1960 European Figure Skating Championships

Olympia-Eisstadion in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany

Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh had just made history by descending into Mariana Trench, the lowest spot on Earth. Federico Fellini's Oscar winning film "La Dolce Vita" opened in Italy. The introduction of Lycra fabric was revolutionizing the fashion industry and everyone was swaying to Craig Douglas' hit "Pretty Blue Eyes".

The year was 1960 and from February 4 to 7, Europe's best figure skaters gathered at the site of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games - the Olympia-Eisstadion in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, West Germany - to compete in the European Figure Skating Championships. The West German media covered the event extensively and the BBC made an arrangement to broadcast three of the four disciplines live, with commentary by Alan Weeks - a huge contrast to the Olympics in Squaw Valley that followed, where Brits only got to see a half-minute clip of Carol Heiss' winning performance.

Though there was some marvellous skating in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the event was overshadowed by a high profile judging controversy, a withdrawal no one saw coming (but should have) and worrisome weather woes. In "Skating World" magazine, Dennis Bird lamented, "I have never felt so miserable watching a championship as I did at the European... Not, I hasten to add, on account of the skating, most of which was first-class. No - it was the weather, which robbed a great festival of skating of much of its enjoyment. I have stood in open-air rinks in a temperature of minus 10 degrees Centigrade before now, but at Garmisch the cold was accompanied by drizzle, snow, and bitter winds. The Garmisch weather is often like this in February, yet the ice rink, built twenty-five years ago, is still roofless. I understand that the question of a roof is discussed from time to time, but so far nothing has happened. I hope some form of protection against the weather will be provided before another ISU event is held in the Olympia-Eisstadion."

Let's take a look back at the skaters, stories and scandals that shaped the pre-Olympic Europeans in 1960!


Twenty skaters entered the men's event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen - the highest number of entries ever in that discipline at Europeans. Notably absent was two time and reigning Champion Karol Divín of Czechoslovakia, who injured himself in practice attempting a triple loop jump. The heavy favourite in his absence was France's Alain Giletti, who had won the event from 1955 to 1957 and finished second the previous two years.

As expected, Alain Giletti took a commanding lead in the school figures, placing first of every judge's scorecard except one. The Austrian judge, Hans Meixner, predictably placed his country's top entry Norbert Felsinger first. Manfred Schnelldorfer and Alain Calmat each had two second place ordinals, but Schnelldorfer had two thirds to Calmat's two - giving him a slight edge.

The men's free skate was a close contest. The Soviet judge tied Alain Giletti and Norbert Felsinger; the West German judge tied Giletti and Alain Calmat. The Italian, Swedish and Norwegian judges had Giletti first, while the Austrian, Czechoslovakian and British judges voted for Felsinger. The French judge placed Calmat first.

When the overall marks were tallied, Giletti defeated Felsinger seven judges to two and Schnelldorfer narrowly defeated Calmat for the bronze by fourth tenths of a point, though he had more ordinals. Confused by the math, Calmat appealed the decision, but the referee dismissed his protest, explaining, "The number of better places must be estimated even higher than the number of places itself." The UK's two entries, David Clements of Hanworth, Middlesex and Robin Jones of Putney, placed seventh and tenth. Per Kjølberg placed ninth and became the first Norwegian man to crack the top ten at Europeans since Martin Stixrud in 1923, but had ordinals ranging from seventh through fifteenth.


Twenty-six year old Courtney Jones had struck gold at the Europeans for three years running - in 1957 and 1958 with June Markham and in 1959 with his nineteen year old partner Doreen Denny. Denny and Jones were runaway winners of the compulsory dances and France's Christiane and Jean-Paul Guhel were unanimously second. All but one judge had the UK's number two team Mary Parry and Roy Perry third. The Italian judge placed them all the way down in eighth. West German medal contenders Rita Paucka and Peter Kwiet sat in fifth. Although they had 'a horse in the race', the West Germans didn't seem particularly interested in the dance event. Dennis L. Bird recalled, "Every German I spoke to brushed aside the dancing as of little importance and went on to enthuse about the pairs or free skaters. Sitting in a drizzle watching sixteen couples of varying skill executing the compulsory dances while the same monotonous music thumped drearily over the loudspeakers, I was inclined to agree with the German assessment."

Newspaper clipping about ice dancers Doreen Denny and Courtney Jones

Doreen Denny and Courtney Jones easily cruised to their second European title (his fourth) with a free dance full of clever steps and toe-work. The Guhel's placed a solid second, earning France's first silver medal in ice dancing at the Europeans. Mary Parry and Roy Mason won the bronze on the strength of their compulsories, with only two top three ordinals in the free dance ironically coming from the Italian judge who had given them dreadful marks in the competition's first stages. The judges didn't know quite what to do with young Czechoslovakian siblings Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman. Their ordinals ranged from third through tenth in the compulsories and third through seventh in the free dance. They finished seventh overall in their second trip to the Europeans. Four years later they would win the gold.

The ice dance podium at the 1960 European Figure Skating Championships
The ice dance podium. Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive.

In his report for "The Times", Captain T.D. Richardson bemoaned, "Rain... combined with the dreary music, and the fact that many of the couples were completely lacking in the technique of the basic movements of skating, made it a very wearying business - brightened only by the brilliance of the title-holders, the elegance of the French champions, the youthful charm of the Czech couple, and the accurate performances of the other two British couples, as well as by the West Germans... reigning World's roller dance champions. With few exceptions the standard of the others was lamentable. After all, this was an international championship - not a club novices' event!"


Women's podium at the 1960 European Figure Skating Championships
The women's medallists. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archive.

Defending European Champion Hanna Walter had turned professional, paving the way for a three-way race between Holland's Sjoukje Dijkstra and Joan Haanappel and West Germany's own Ina Bauer. Sjoukje Dijkstra unanimously won the figures, with Joan Haanappel second and Austria's Regine Heitzer third, but the marks were all over the place. Both Italy's Anna Galmarini and the UK's Carolyn Krau had ordinals ranging from sixth to sixteenth. The "Bild-Zeitung" had published a rumour about Galmarini's planned elopement which had to have been quite distracting.

Sjoukje Dijkstra packed her free skate with an array of double jumps and earned first place marks from every judge, on the way to winning her first European title. Joan Haanappel had a bad day, and dropped down to third overall behind Regine Heitzer. The 'all over the place' judging continued, with no less than six skaters receiving top three ordinals in the free skate. The UK's Patricia Pauley, Anne Reynolds and Carolyn Krau finished the event in seventh, ninth and twelfth. In twenty seventh and dead last was a very young Tamara Bratus (Moskvina).

German figure skater Ina Bauer
Ina Bauer

The big story of the event was the withdrawal of nineteen year old Ina Bauer of Krefeld, who retired from amateur skating after finishing a disappointing fourth in the school figures. The "Bild-Zeitung" published a piece that was highly critical of her decision, which quoted Gundi Busch, Erich Zeller and Carlo Fassi. In "Skating World" magazine, Dennis Bird alluded to the fact that the decision may not have been her own: "In fairness to Frl. Bauer, it must be remembered that in Germany a father's power over his daughter is probably much greater than it might be in Britain; German women are still to some extent expected to subservient. Frl. Bauer herself may not have wished to retire. But whoever was to blame, the whole affair was regrettable."

An article that was published in "Der Spiegel" following the event gave some context as to why Ina Bauer's father might have played a role in her withdrawal from the event: "He no longer liked the atmosphere in which his daughter did her sport. Bauer explained: 'Even after the 1959 European Championship in Davos, I said: stop now! The nerve war unleashed against Ina went against the grain.' Until then, father Bauer had 'only once interfered in Ina's ice skating' - in a quarrel with a West German local newspaper that was widespread in Krefeld. The paper had successfully requested a training report from Ina Bauer's mother. The report contained the phrase: 'Ina Bauer has developed well'. He was illustrated with a photo that emphasized the female forms of the young ice skater. Caption: 'Ina has developed well. You can see how Ms. Bauer means it.' Father Bauer prohibited further publications of this kind, 'and from then on Ina was devalued in Krefeld.' Last summer, Carl Bauer was further troubled by the legal dispute with the [ISU], which forced him to 'intervene in Ina's ice skating' again. It was about an ice skating film made with the participation of Ina Bauer. Although the German Ice Sports Federation had raised no objection and 'we did not get a penny for the film', the ISU demanded that the film be withdrawn because of a violation of the amateur law and a ban on Ina. The violation of the amateur law, the ISU argued, consisted in the opening text that the film was made with the support of Shell AG's youth services. Carl Bauer, however, saw reason enough to oppose the ISU's request. His argument: In the German Olympic film as well as in equestrian films about Winkler and Thiedemann and even in a film about the figure skating - the Shell text will be tolerated. Bauer: 'No objection anywhere - but with my daughter!' When the Shell had their text removed, the ISU was not satisfied. Father Bauer: 'The name Ina Bauer should not be mentioned in connection with poster and advertisement advertising.' The ISU did not actually withdraw its threat until the film, which had been running for over a year, disappeared; the production company had to buy it back from the rental company. But even after the dispute... Father Bauer had to make a disturbing statement: "Even before the championship, her weakness in figures was pointed out [by the press]. Maybe she's too nervous for this sport. She is still a child. I no longer liked the stresses that she had to endure in her sport. "


Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler
Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler

The pairs event in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was an extremely close contest between Soviets Nina and Stanislav Zhuk and two talented West German pairs, Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler and Margret Göbl and Franz Ningel. The previous year at the Europeans in Davos, Kilius and Bäumler had finished first and Göbl and Ningel had placed fourth. Kilius and Ningel were actually former partners and had won the bronze medal at the Europeans three years in a row, from 1955 to 1957.

Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler took the gold with first place marks from the Austrian, East German, Swiss and Polish judges. The Soviet and Czechoslovakian judges gave had the Zhuk's in first, and they took the silver. The bronze went to Margret Göbl and Franz Ningel, who had the first place mark of the West German judge. You'd think that the West German audience would have been thrilled with one of their couples winning gold, but that's not exactly how things went down.

Margret Göbl and Franz Ningel
Margret Göbl and Franz Ningel

The performance of Margret Göbl, a twenty one year old dental technician from Oberammergau and Franz Ningel, a twenty three year old decorator from Frankfurt, was met by a thundering applause by the West German crowd. As far as the spectators were concerned, it was the best performance of the night by a mile. When their much lower than expected marks were read over the loudspeakers, the crowd went berserk and the judges were booed for several minutes. Heinz Maegerlein even recalled,
"Independently of each other, the television commentators from eleven channels designated Göbl / Ningel as the true European champions." The Olympia-Eisstadion was inundated with telegrams and there were so many phone calls from outraged viewers on television that the lines were blocked. A reporter from "Der Spiegel" wrote, "Everyone wanted to speak to Margret and Franz, to tell them that they were the heroes of the evening. The next day, the "Bild-Zeitung" ran the headline "Göbl / Ningel Cheated!" and called the event a mockery. The Berlin "Tagesspiegel" noted somberly, "It is a bad business, this figure skating, there is no doubt about it. And it is time for the ISU to take an iron broom." Margret Göbl told the press, "We knew beforehand that we would be third." Franz Ningel added, "We could have shattered in the air like fireworks - we would have been third. You don't run against achievements, you run against names." Margret Göbl and Franz Ningel weren't the only victims in the scandal. West German Adolf Walker was lumped in with the other six judges by the press, despite the fact he was the only one who had courageously dared to go against the grain and place Göbl and Ningel first.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Currier And Ives: Skating Art For The Ages

From old Dutch engravings to the whimsical works of Toller Cranston and Sergey Tyukanov, artists have been reinvisioning and recreating the beauty of ice skating for centuries. No blog on figure skating history would really be complete without a nod to Currier and Ives, the famous New York City printmaking firm headed by Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives. In the Victorian era, the firm mass produced inexpensive black and white and coloured engravings "for the people", advertising itself as "the Grand Central Depot for Cheap and Popular Prints". Prominent in their collection of thousands of lithographs were a host of winter scenes, many of which captured the magic of skating. 

Currier and Ives art featuring ice skating scene
"Winter Pastime"

"Winter Pastime", which first appeared in 1855, was one of the first Currier and Ives prints to feature skating as its subject. The stark scene depicts a young boy kneeling near a large tree while he puts on his skates. He will presumably soon join his friends on the ice, who hold sticks both to test the thickness of the ice and to use as safety devices should one of their friends fall through. A horse drawn sleigh rounds the corner while children on sleds race down the opposite hill. 

Currier and Ives art featuring ice skating scene
"Central Park - Winter, The Skating Pond"

Perhaps the most popular of Currier and Ives' lithographs was "Central Park - Winter, The Skating Pond", which was first reproduced in 1862 from a painting by Charles Parsons, who apprenticed in the lithographic studio of George Endicott and later served as the head of the art department of "Harper's Weekly". The scene depicts a large crowd of skaters dressed in the fashions of the era, skating alone and in couples. Two couples skate in the forefront, while a man pushes a woman in a sleigh with ice runners and an excited dog barks at the hullabaloo. The lithograph was later reproduced in a hand coloured form.

Currier and Ives art featuring ice skating scene
"Winter In The Country - Getting Ice"

1864's "Winter In The Country - Getting Ice" depicts a typical midwinter ice harvest of the era, with a horse and cart being used to haul the large blocks of ice back into town for sale. Four individuals make use of the section of the pond they're still able to practice their 'fancy' skating on. Canadian newspapers of the era frequently featured complaints that many of the 'best skating spots' were falling victim to ice harvesting. "Winter In The Country - Getting Ice" was derived from a George Henry Durrie painting. Nearly a dozen of Durrie's paintings were used by Currier and Ives, and this one - along with "The Old Homestead In Winter" and "Winter Morning" - was one of the most popular.

Currier and Ives art featuring ice skating scene
"Skating Scene - Moonlight"

"Skating Scene - Moonlight" was published in 1868. The piece depicts a large group of skaters skating, mostly hand in hand, on a frozen lake on a winter's evening. 1869's "Early Winter", which nearly enjoyed the same popularity as "Central Park - Winter, The Skating Pond", showcases an unlucky thirteen skaters taking to the ice for perhaps their first skate of the season on a gray November day on a pond below a charming country home.

Currier and Ives art featuring ice skating scene
"Early Winter"

"Central Park In Winter" was a beautiful hand-coloured lithograph that first appeared in the early 1870's. It depicts a large group of skaters enjoying an early evening skating party on a pond near a bridge. An assembly of horse-drawn sleighs line the front of the scene. These would, of course, been the transportation the skaters would have taken to and from their Victorian era skating session.

Currier and Ives art featuring ice skating scene
"Central Park In Winter"

Two less popular Currier and Ives lithographs, not so creatively entitled "Canadian Winter Scene" and "American Winter Scene", feature skaters on a frozen river below a forest embankment and a house with sleighs in front, with an assemblage of skaters enjoying a morning on the neighbouring pond in the distance.

Article about Currier and Ives art featuring ice skating scene
Photo courtesy Skating Club Of New York

Writing in "Skating" magazine, Clarence T. Hubbard summarized, "It's as though Currier & Ives artists had a vision of twentieth-century life and painted for future as well as contemporary demand. The now famous rural scenes ignore the uglier realities of those years and depict the nineteenth century as the essence of bucolic bliss. Currier & Ives portraits... contain nary a hint of sagging fences, poor crops and hungry livestock. Life is simple; life is good. The original lithographs, which once sold for a mere six cents each, are snapped up today regardless of soaring prices by the city dweller pining for the unhurried days of yore... Distinguished Currier & Ives artists were Louis Maurer, Thomas Worth, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait and Fanny Palmer. The fact that these talented painters depicted so many skating scenes is testimony to the importance of ice skating in nineteenth-century life. The hinterland of Currier & Ives may be disappearing, but the love of skating so evident in their prints is immutable."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

One In A Million

Advertising poster for the Twentieth Century Fox film "One In A Million", starring Sonja Henie, Adolphe Menjou and Jean Hersholt

For over a decade, Sonja Henie graced the silver screen as one of Twentieth Century-Fox's most exciting 'leading ladies'. In the first of her films, "One In A Million", she portrayed the daughter of a kindly Swiss innkeeper, who aspired to follow in her father's footsteps and win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating.

Sonja Henie, an Olympic Gold Medallist in figure skating

What many people don't know is that "One In A Million" wasn't supposed to be Sonja Henie's film debut at all. In June of 1936, Twentieth Century-Fox bought a script by Mark Kelly entitled "The Peach Edition", which was written with Henie in mind. After less than two months, the project was scrapped in favour of "One In A Million", a musical written by Kelly and Leonard Praskins. Sidney Lanfield, the genius behind the popular film "Sing, Baby, Sing", was slated to direct the canned film "The Peach Edition" and ended up directing "One In A Million" instead. Don Ameche, Jean Hersholt and Adolphe Menjou and The Ritz Brothers were cast as Sonja's co-stars.

Advertising poster for the Twentieth Century Fox film "One In A Million", starring Sonja Henie, Adolphe Menjou and Jean HersholtAdvertising poster for the Twentieth Century Fox film "One In A Million", starring Sonja Henie, Adolphe Menjou and Jean Hersholt

Production for the film began in Hollywood in late September of 1936 and wrapped up less than two months later. Twentieth Century-Fox built a impressive set for the picture, using an entire stage and making a rink "as large as Madison Square Garden." Jack Haskell was brought in to direct the ensemble skating scenes, but Sonja choreographed her own numbers and honed them each day at the Tropical Ice Gardens in Westwood, where she had her own ice time. She told reporter Eileen Creelman, "At first I did not know. I did some figures so elaborate that Darryl Zanuck - he is so nice, that Mr. Zanuck - cut them out. He said I had to lead up to something big, that I must save that routine for the end of my first picture or for my second one."

Advertising poster for the Twentieth Century Fox film "One In A Million", starring Sonja Henie, Adolphe Menjou and Jean HersholtAdvertising poster for the Twentieth Century Fox film "One In A Million", starring Sonja Henie, Adolphe Menjou and Jean Hersholt

During the production of "One In A Million", Sonja was up at five in the morning every day. Before sunrise, she had her hair shampooed and styled, make-up applied and wardrobe selected before having a quick breakfast of hard bread and coffee with her mother and maid and heading to the studio for eight. She often worked twelve hour days with few breaks. In her book "Wings On My Feet", she recalled, "The moment I arrived at the studio I was caught in a whirlpool of action that never let up until nightfall. Work is in full swing on countless fronts by nine o'clock. An actress playing a scene is constantly moving. I don't mean only skating scenes, as in my case, but the others awell. Sometimes it seems as though you are obliged to shift positions a thousand times in one scene, because you find that somehow you're not quite within vision of the camera. Meanwhile, all around you architects, costumers, technicians and a multitude of others are passing up and down, in and out, going about their apparently unending work... 'One In A Million' grew gradually from a scenario into a collection of assorted skating scenes, love scenes, group action scenes and the rest, all being worked on successively in batches that had the same setting. My first efforts at acting were a pretty serious trial, but I had help from all sides, especially from Jean Hersholt, who was in the film with me and is Danish, a fact that made me turn toward him as a very welcome geographical relative. After a while I made quite a number of friends, and the criticism and exchange of opinions was very valuable. Sometimes they admired in silence and criticized aloud, but that is the way with rival actors, and I knew about rivalry, so it didn't bother me."

Sonja Henie, Don Ameche and Jean Hersholt
Sonja Henie, Don Ameche and Jean Hersholt

"One In A Million" wasn't without its problems behind the scenes. During the first week of production, a pair of Sonja's custom Strauss skates broke. It was the first time anything like that had ever happened to her. Luckily she had a second pair at the ready, as she always ordered two pairs of boots at a time. When the ensemble was filmed from above, the cameramen realized that the water pipes showed through the hard ice that Sonja had specifically requested. Hack reporters claimed milk was mixed with the water to conceal the pipes. In actually, a special kind of paint was used instead.

The timing of one of the spins in Sonja's program proved problematic as well. She explained, "It never before has mattered where I stopped. I would just spin about twenty or more times, then stop. Sometimes I faced one way, sometimes another. But there was an audience all around me, all four sides of the rink, so it did not matter. But with this picture, they had all the cameras lined up on one side - they could not have them on both, because then they would photograph each other. And I had to stop facing the cameras, and stop in focus, too. I could not do that. It seemed to be impossible. You will not believe this, but from 9:30 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon we worked on that. If I did manage to stop facing the cameras, I would be out of focus. So twice I said not to photograph, just to let me try by myself, and twice I stopped just at the right place - but without the cameras worked."

Sonja's famous temper also made an appearance or two on set. In the book "Queen Of Ice: Queen Of Shadows", Sonja's brother Leif and author Raymond Strait described one incident where the Norwegian ice queen lost her cool after "cut!" was called to many times for her liking during a skating scene. She stormed off with her mother in tow. When Sidney Lanfield caught up to her in her dressing room she remarked, "That son of a bitch wouldn't know a two-step from a rhumba. He stinks." When he said, "He's the best in the business" Sonja replied, "Then he is in the wrong fucking business." Though the matter was resolved, this incident earned Sonja a reputation for being a 'difficult' actress.

Olympic Gold Medallist in figure skating Sonja Henie

During the filming, Darryl Zanuck's young daughter Darrylin showed up on set to visit her studio brass father. The first thing she asked was, "And now, may I please see Henie Henie?" instead of Sonja Henie.

Between scenes, Sonja was schooled in barrel jumping by one of the stand-in's for The Ritz Brothers, Canadian speed skater Bert Clark. An easter egg in the film was one of the more famous of the film's four hundred and seventy five extras. Sonja's mother Selma was given a cheque for seven dollars and fifty cents to watch her daughter perform.

Advertising poster for the Twentieth Century Fox film "One In A Million", starring Sonja Henie, Adolphe Menjou and Jean HersholtAdvertising poster for the Twentieth Century Fox film "One In A Million", starring Sonja Henie, Adolphe Menjou and Jean Hersholt

Interestingly, a short film from rival studio MGM directed by Pete Smith called "Sports On Ice" came out not long before the release of "One In A Million". It showed clips of Sonja's Olympic performances and 'unconsciously' served as a trailer for the Twentieth-Century Fox film. Even more curiously, a wire to the "New York Times" announcing Henie's arrival on the East Coast to promote the film noted, "She will cooperate with scientists in several experiments, one dealing with calculation of friction coefficient with steel on ice, [another] with possibilities of incorporating anti-sinus gases with ammonia or other gases used for artificial ice-rinks." What gossip columnists were more interested in was the fact she arrived with Tyrone Power, who was enroute to his mother's in Cincinnati for Christmas. Their arrival together sparked rumours that they were engaged. Power had been a regular on the set of the film, and the two were often seen together during her breaks.

Olympic Gold Medallist in figure skating Sonja Henie with actor Tyrone Power
Sonja Henie and Tyrone Power. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

"One In A Million" was privately screened to the press in mid-December of 1936 and premiered to the public at the Roxy Theatre in New York on New Year's Eve, 1936. The night before, Sonja gave a skating exhibition on tank ice at the theatre to promote the film. The film was a box office success in America but was banned in Nazi Germany by Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels because it featured a The Ritz Brothers... a Jewish comedy trio. In his book "Nordic Exposures: Scandinavian Identities In Classical Hollywood Cinema", Arne Lunde noted, "When Henie telephoned Goebbels' private line at his ministry in Berlin to complain that the picture hadn't played in Germany yet, Goebbels acquiesced by ordering minor cuts (presumably excluding scenes of the Marx Brothers-like Ritzes) and sending 'One In A Million' into successful release within the Reich. Twentieth Century-Fox meanwhile appeared to try to undo a bit of Henie's Aryan image (and its potentially dour and too-German taint) with a publicity photo, the back of which read: 'She's 'crazy' about America, about automobiles and especially her pet white convertible. That non-Norwegian twinkle in her eye? Oh, yes - her grandmother was Irish.'"

In retrospect, "One In A Million" was certainly not the flashiest of Sonja Henie's films. Its storyline appeared somewhat 'logical' - if not predictable - for the first film to showcase her skating talents. The stoogey hijinks of The Ritz Brothers and the subplot of Adolphe Menjou's character and his troupe of downtrodden musicians somewhat distract from an otherwise charming film. However, there's a delightful and quaint quality to "One In A Million" that makes it easy to see why Sonja Henie went on to have such success in films in the years that followed.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Make Some Noise For The McKilligan's

Canadian Pairs Figure Skating Champions Betty and John McKilligan
Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Betty and John McKilligan were born just over a year apart - he on August 28, 1948 and she on November 16, 1949 - in Victoria, British Columbia. Their Manitoba born father Art, who served as a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, worked in automotive services management, and later as a teacher and Vice-Principal of British Columbia Institute of Technology's Pacific Vocational Institute. Their mother Dorothy was a former dancer who was born in England. 

Betty and John and their younger brothers Patrick and Andrew grew up in the Victoria suburb of Garden Head. Their path to the figure skating world was far from conventional. Their father, a former player on the Trail Smoke Eaters hockey team, would regularly pick up local children and take them to skate once a week at the Memorial Arena - Victoria's only rink at the time. It had a domed roof, with a concrete ceiling stuffed with straw and hay. When John was eight, he acted the mascot for an all-stars hockey team his father coached. He later took up pee-wee and midget hockey. 

It wasn't until the family moved to Nanaimo (when Betty and John were twelve and thirteen) that any talk of figure skating came up. A new coach at the Nanaimo Figure Skating Club, Yvette Killeen, came to the family home to talk to their parents about lessons for Betty. At the time, Betty, John and their brothers were playing baseball with a whistle ball in the backyard. Betty and John got into a tiff and he picked her up and spun her over his head a few times before throwing her to the ground. Their parents were horrified, but Yvette's reaction was, "Oh! He's so strong! They should do pairs skating!" The transition from hockey to figure skating wasn't an easy one for John. He fell so many times that he ended up with swollen knees. Out of frustration, he had the toe picks taken off his skates.

Canadian Pairs Figure Skating Champions Betty and John McKilligan

In 1963 - their very first year skating together - Betty and John won the junior pairs title at the British Columbia's Pacific Coast Championships in West Vancouver. On the ferry ride over, their father bought a copy of "The Province". There was a front page story about Faye Strutt and Jimmy Watters, a British Columbian pair who had placed third in the Olympic Trials in Toronto, stamping their ticket for the 1964 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck. Betty and John decided then and there that their goal was to finish third four years later and go to the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble. 

Canadian Pairs Figure Skating Champions Betty and John McKilligan

After finishing third in junior pairs at their first Canadian Championships in 1964, Betty and John won the national junior title in 1965. A challenge that they faced in taking their skating to the next level was the lack of pairs coaches in British Columbia at the time. Aside from Faye Strutt and Jimmy Watters' coach Dr. Hellmut May and another coach in Summerland, few professionals on the West Coast specialized in pairs at that point in time. Their father would film the pairs acts in the Ice Capades shows and Betty and John got their first real lessons in lifting from one of the pairs they were able to meet backstage. "In the summer of '65, we went to California and learned from Barbara Wagner, the four-time World Champion and Olympic Champion. She was awesome," recalled John. "When we went down there it was in a studio-style arena - so no boards - which was really weird for us. The first day down there she says, 'I'm going to sit here and you can show me everything you can do' and then she said, 'Okay, now I've got to teach you how to skate.' For the first month, both of us did nothing but stroking and skating exercises. Every free skating session, I would have a seven foot long stick stuck down my back tied with belts to hold it in place and then I had another go through my sleeves. If ever I was bent forward, any of the kids on the ice were allowed to hit the stick. We didn't realize until we got home after two months and skated at the North Shore Winter Club how much our speed and power had improved."

Canadian Pairs Figure Skating Champions Betty and John McKilligan

In 1966, Betty and John passed their Gold Pair Test and took their first crack at the senior pairs title at the Canadian Championships, finishing third. It was the first year they had the short program (then known as the compulsory connected program) at the Canadian Championships and there was a big push at the time for pairs to improve their singles skating to be able to do some of the new required elements. John remembered, "When we got into pairs skating, typically pairs were formed by putting two failing single skaters together (also for dance pairs) - which meant that single jump skills were weak compared to single skaters...  It was way more important to not make mistakes than to increase solo content. For this reason, we only did jumps that we were very confident we would complete... One of the compulsory elements [at the 1966 Canadians] was a pairs sit spin. We got penalized because they said my sister wasn't low enough in the spin. I still remember Barbara [Wagner] out in the middle of the dance floor grabbing Norrie Bowden and going, 'Okay, tell me when I'm low enough! Tell me when I'm low enough!' That was a riot."

Canadian Pairs Figure Skating Champions Betty and John McKilligan
Canadian Pairs Figure Skating Champions Betty and John McKilligan
Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Betty and John trained with Barbara Wagner again during the summer of 1966 and showed up at the 1967 Canadian Championships ready to show off the progress they'd made in their skating. Their younger brother Patrick won the novice men's event, and seventeen and eighteen year old Betty and John seemed poised to win their first national title. Patrick told a Canadian Press reporter, "Betty and John can do it. After all, they're McKilligan's and this championship is our centennial project." Disaster struck in the duo's first practice session. "We were doing this one-armed side lift where Betty would scissor her feet. She scissored so hard that the back of her left blade went through the tongue of her right boot and severed the tendon to her second toe," remembered John. "We went to emergency, the surgeon there wanted to operate - open up her foot and stitch the tendon back together. When my sister refused, he wanted to phone and talk to my parents. Funny thing was, my mother (who has always been psychic) woke up in bed in Vancouver at precisely the same time my sister stabbed herself in the foot. Our practice was about 8 AM in Toronto, so 5 AM in Vancouver. My mother sat bolt upright in bed and... sat at the kitchen table and made herself tea waiting for the phone to ring. As soon as the doctor phoned, she knew something was wrong. The doctor said that if he didn't fix that tendon, she'd never be able to lift that toe. My sister said 'I'll give up my toe to skate.'" Betty showed up to compete with a pronounced limp, in serious pain. They soldiered through both programs and, despite nearly falling on an overhead lift and some shaky side-by-side jumps, managed to outskate 1966 Silver Medallists Alexis and Chris Shields and 1966 Junior Champions Anna Forder and Richard Stephens to win their first Canadian senior pairs title. Betty told reporters, "It wasn't our best performance. We've skated better before but we were good enough to win it anyway." 

Winners at the 1967 Canadian Figure Skating Championships
Betty and John McKilligan (third and fourth from left) with the 1967 Canadian World Team. Photo courtesy Valerie Jones Bartlett.

Betty and John's win at the 1967 Canadian Championships earned them the right to represent their country at both the North American and World Championships. They placed fifth out of six teams at the North Americans in Montreal, again defeating the Shields', but placed a disappointing eighteenth out of nineteen pairs at their first World Championships that year in Vienna. Not only was Betty still suffering from the severed tendon in her landing foot, but the duo were skating on outdoor ice for the first time in competition. The weather during the compulsory connected program was abysmal, with torrential rain and soft ice making conditions at times treacherous. The 1967 World Championships would be the last ISU Championship held entirely on an open-air rink.

Canadian Pairs Figure Skating Champions Betty and John McKilligan with Jay Humphry and Donald Knight
Jay Humphry, Donald Knight, Betty McKilligan, Joni Graham and John Bailey with a representative of the Canadian government at the 1967 World Championships in Vienna. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In the lead-up to the Olympic season in 1968, Betty and John trained with World Champion Jean Westwood at the Hollyburn Country Club. With Jean, they refined their style and added some exciting new moves to their repertoire: the throw Axel, a 'jump camel spin' where John jumped over Betty, the Cat Swing - a twist-like lift/throw where Betty did an Axel over John's head after he boosted her in the air, and a series where they began a death spiral, he separated and performed a solo Axel, then returned directly to a death spiral. In practice, he could do a double Axel, but they left that out because it was inconsistent and the reward wasn't worth the risk.

Headline about Betty and John McKilligan

At the 1968 Canadian Championships in Vancouver, Betty and John defended their national title, despite an unfortunate fall on a throw Axel jump. John reminisced, "That year in Vancouver was just a hoot. Our brother won junior men and B.C. skaters won all four senior titles - Karen Magnussen, Joni Graham and Don Phillips in dance and Jay Humphry, who was from B.C. but was training in Toronto. The big news was that was the year that Toller emerged, and so all the skaters were just going nuts and the judges, they just lambasted him... Because it was [in British Columbia], we had huge pressure on us, because only two pairs got to go the Olympics and one got to go to Worlds. Canada had been super strong with pairs. You had Norrie Bowden and Frances Dafoe, Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul, The Jelinek's and Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell. Those pairs so dominated, so that there wasn't the big build up of pairs under them. We went from being in our very first ever competition in 1963 to Canadian Champions in '67. There were two reasons - we did a lot and there wasn't much competition either."

Betty and John's Olympic experience was an eventful one. With little television coverage of the Games in those days, they really didn't have much idea what to expect when they got to Grenoble. John remembered, "We were not the very respectable teams we have now... When we marched into the opening stadium in Grenoble, some of the other teams had been given strict instructions on what to do. None of the Canadians had, so when something happened on the eastern side of the stadium, we all flocked that way and when something happened on the western side, we all flocked that way. Our chef de mission ended up getting an ear full about that to start with. The village consisted of two highrises - one for men and another for women. The women's had French soldiers with machine guns on guard at the front door and the men's were wide open, so anyone could come and go." 

That freedom to come and go as they pleased led to quite a few shenanigans. Several skaters on the team were involved in scalping extra tickets and midnight missions to cut down and steal Olympic and Canadian flags that been hoisted in various venues around Grenoble. These late-night runs were more often than not successful, until John got caught red-handed by the local police and hauled into the station. It was Linda Carbonetto's charming manner, quick-thinking and French that got him out of a sticky situation. "Ellen Burka's mother was a professor at the University of Grenoble - of all the places in the world, but she was. She held a party for us about two nights before the Closing Ceremonies. The subject of these flags came up at the party and Doug Peckinpaugh, who was the figure skater chef de mission, came over to give us shit but he was basically just doing it so Grandma would hear. We boys in our brilliance went 'Hmm... why is he upset? I bet he's upset because we didn't get him one.'"

Both Betty and John and the other Canadian pair in Grenoble, Anna Forder and Richard Stephens, had a disappointing showing. Doomed by drawing early spots in the starting order for the free skate, both pairs skated more or less clean but finished sixteenth and seventeenth... well behind the winners Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov. Betty and John admired Ludmila and Oleg. John remembered, "They were very friendly. During one of our very first practices, we had this footwork where our arms went up and down and we slapped our legs. Right after the practice, we went into the change room and the Protopopov's were getting ready to go out to practice. Oleg just went and slapped his arms and his legs and burst out laughing. In my first semester of University at SFU, I took Russian, so I knew just enough to be able to say a couple of words." 

etty and John McKilligan (back row, fourth and fifth from right) with George J. Blundun, Doug Peckinpaugh and the 1968 Canadian World Team
Betty and John McKilligan (back row, fourth and fifth from right) with George J. Blundun, Doug Peckinpaugh and the 1968 Canadian World Team. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

After the Olympics, Betty and John competed in their final World Championships in Geneva, moving up from fifteenth place in the compulsory connected program to thirteenth overall with a good effort in the free skate. Afterwards, they made the difficult decision not to go on for another four years and end their skating partnership. John received several offers to partner both Canadian and American skaters, but turned them all down out of his consideration for his sister. John studied physical chemistry at Simon Fraser University, graduating with a double honours degree before embarking on a four-year adventure down under teaching at a new rink in Melbourne, Australia opened by Pat Burley. He did a little performing on Pat's portable twenty by twenty tank ice rink in a couple of nightclubs. Betty entered the B.C. Institute Of Technology and studied medical lab technology. She went to Montreal, worked in the Jewish Hospital and made really good friends with members of the Canadiens hockey team. She traveled around with them for a time, before becoming a national tester for medical labs.

Though their names may not be instantly recognizable to younger generations, Betty and John McKilligan were one of the most sensational Canadian pairs of the swinging sixties. Their legacy as the first pairs team from British Columbia to win a senior national title lives on today.

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