Don't Mess With The Golden Glider

Aside from my affection for train travel, Sheldon Cooper and I likely wouldn't have a lot to chat about. I don't know a thing about theoretical physics and I've never read a comic book in my life. Just not my thing. That said, when I found out about the subject of today's blog, I simply couldn't resist sharing.

First appearing in D.C. Comics' "Flash" back in June of 1977, The Golden Glider was a fictional character created by Cary Bates and Irv Novick... and long before Tonya Harding gained notoriety as skating's 'bad girl', this comic book character was skating's super villain. Although I don't read comics, I've watched some of the earlier Batman movies (Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman - you just can't not!) so I totally get the premise of these comic book characters having an alter ego. You know, like the Canadian Heritage Moment commercial with the quote referring to Superman: "by day he's a mild mannered reporter, glasses, you know, secret identity". 

The Golden Glider was the alter ego of the character Lisa Snart, an Olympic figure skater who was helped during her skating career by her lover and secret coach The Top, who was (you guessed it) another rival to The Flash character. The Top gets killed, so the skater vowed revenge and she transformed into this big, bad villain who wore an orange skating costume, a mask and skates which create their own ice flow, allowing her to skate on air. She even had diamonds and jewels that she used as hypnotic devices and explosives. I'm sorry, but Tonya had nothing on this girl. Well, maybe the triple axel, but a baton against skating on air with explosives? The 1994 U.S. Championships could have easily gone very differently.

Killed off in the comic book's May 1996 comic book #113, the character would later be magically revived in a D.C. Comics 2011 revamp called "The New 52". The popularity of The Golden Glider even spawned another skating comic villain named Ice Kate who appeared in a 2003 comic book series aimed at younger teenagers called "Teen Titans Go!" Actress Peyton List even portrayed Lisa Snart (The Golden Glider) on the 2014 TV series "The Flash" on the American television network CW, which was renewed for a second season in 2015.

I've got to be honest here and say I was quite shocked to learn that a figure skating comic book character has been in existence since the seventies and I'd never heard of it, especially considering the surge in popularity of films based on comic books in recent years. That said, in a way I can't really be that surprised. Skating has crossed over in one way or another into almost every aspect of entertainment at one time or another - why not comics too? All I do know is this. If I were a technical controller, I'd be extra careful who I gave that edge call too. After all, they might have a mean streak like Lisa Snart.

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":

The I.P.S.A. World And British Open Professional Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

The first professional figure skating competitions in Great Britain were the Open Professional Championship Of Great Britain In The International Style, organized by the National Skating Association and first held in 1931. The first winners were Howard Nicholson, Melitta Brunner and Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders. Singles competitors performed both school figures and free skating, and there was no prize money at all, which may surprise you. These were professionals competing for a title out of pure love for the sport!

Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders

In April 1933, an ice dance competition open to both amateurs and professionals was held at the Westminster Ice Rink in London. Married couple Eva Keats of Great Britain and Erik van der Weyden of Belgium took home the gold. Two months later, a competition for professional ice dancers only was held at the Queen's Ice Club in London. Perhaps controversially dancing with a woman other than his wife, van der Weyden and Elsie Heathcote won this particular competition.

Things got much more organized in 1936. The British Ice Teachers Association was founded that year as the Ice Teachers Guild. It was one of the first coaching associations formed in the world and played an important role in organizing competitions for professionals both pre-World War II and after, under the name the Imperial Professional Skaters Association. That year, before Great Britain even had an amateur ice dance competition, a professional competition for ice dancers called the British Pro Waltz Championships was won by Lesley Turner and Robert Dench. Skaters like Hope Braine, Nate Walley, Pamela Prior, Joan Dix and pairs team Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders took home titles in singles and pairs skating during this period. In April 1937 at the Harringay Ice Arena, Pamela Prior was the only entrant in the women's event but was still expected to achieve specific scores in both compulsory figures and free skating to earn the crown. She was only seventeen years old.

Mostly show skaters competed in these events from early on but many bigger names like Cecilia Colledge and Swiss brothers Jacques and Arnold Gerschwiler dipped their foot in the water. Also competing were Herbert Alward, Marilyn Hoskins, Ronnie Baker, Len Liggett and Pamela Murray and Muriel Roberts and Walter Gregory, the inventors of the Rhumba compulsory dance. Often, the Championships were held in conjunction with other events organized by the National Skating Association, such as amateur junior competitions.

These events came to a halt during World War II. Some rinks remained open, others were taken over, damaged or closed and the ones that were opened served double duty as bomb shelters with gas masks in the cloakrooms. By 1946, the Professional Championships had returned.

Moira June MacDonald, Open Professional Champion in 1949, 1951 and 1953

In her formidable textbook of ice dance history, Lynn Copley-Graves explained how the free dance, part of a May 1949 proposal by Reginald Wilkie and Bill Hickok to the International Skating Union, got its trial start in professional and not amateur competition: "Great Britain held a yearly Open Professional Ice Dance Championship. On December 9, 1949, two professional couples tried out the new ISU rules in England, the first reported use of the rules in a major competition. The free dancing of Gladys Hogg and Bernard Spencer won both acclaim and the title. Gladys and Bern, already two of the finest British dance trainers of the era, set a standard for what free dancing could be." Finishing second behind Hogg and Spencer but also noteworthy in their contribution to skating history by performing one of the first two ISU free dances in the world were another British couple, Violet Thomson and Kenneth Vickers.

George Miller preparing for the Open Professional Championships in 1957. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

In 1956, the National Skating Association relinquished control of the Open Professional Championships to the Imperial Professional Skating Association of Great Britain, and a Championship Committee consisting of Roy Callaway, Joan Hawkins, Don Crosthwaite and Peggy Tomlins set to work revamping the event. The 1957 Championships marked the first time that skaters would compete for prize money - a total purse of five hundred pounds. T.D. Richardson noted that there was initially a lot out doubt as to whether or not the event would work out under the organization of I.P.S.A., and when there were few international entries in 1957, there were "a lot of 'I told you so's'."

Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine

The judging system was revamped, with six judges (five in dance) and marks given on a 10.0 scales. The total points, not ordinals, decided the winners, and each judge presided over one aspect of the skater's performance. In singles skating, there was a judge apiece for spins, jumps, steps, general performance, musical interpretation and artistic conception. In pairs, judges looked at spins, jumps and lifts, steps, performance, musical interpretation and artistic conception. In compulsory dances, they assessed correct edges, correct pattern style, correctness of footwork, rhythm and timing and interpretation of music, and in the free dance contents and difficulty, rhythm and timing, unison and co-ordination and musical interpretation. The competition were then titled at the World's and British Professional Championships. "Skating World" magazine noted, "Should a British competitor place first in any event, then he or she would become both British and World Champion. The highest placed British skater would take the national title in any event, regardless of World placings."

A hugely important development for the competition came on May 31, 1958, when the BBC televised all four disciplines of the event held at Nottingham Ice Stadium, allowing television audiences in England their first glimpse at professional competition. With Alan Weeks and Max Robertson as commentators, this television coverage continued well into the sixties.

Carol and Michel, Rosina and Raymond Lockwood and Peri Horne and Basil Cudlipp-Green, pairs medallists in 1958. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Though British skaters dominated the event in the sixties, the pendulum often swung in favour of international skaters as well. Italy's Anna Galmarini and Japan's Miwa Fukuhara managed to claim international titles that had eluded them as amateurs, while four time World Champions Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman of Czechoslovakia showed they were every bit as talented as pros when they took the title in 1965.

Betty Loach and Howard Richardson, Marjorie McCoy and Ian Phillips and Gillian Thorpe and John Phillips, ice dance medallists in 1966. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

In 1969, another pair of four time World Champions, Diane Towler-Green and Bernard Ford, won the event - now billed as the W.D. and H.O. Wills Professional Ice Skating Championships at Wembley - defeating Yvonne Suddick and Malcolm Cannon and Vivienne Dean and John Phillips for the win. Perhaps the most compelling winner that came out of this event was 1965 pairs winner Marianne Althammer of West Germany, who tours later would spend eighteen days in jail in Poland after getting into a fight with Warsaw police while touring with Holiday On Ice.

The men's podium in 1970: Michael Edmonds, Donald Jackson and Paul McGrath

In 1970, the event was again held at Wembley and with Towler and Ford not returning to defend their title, Yvonne Suddick teamed up Ian Phillips to take the ice dance crown. In the men's event, World Champion Donald Jackson of Canada managed to hold off some strong competition from American Paul McGrath for the win, receiving first place marks from every judge and the only three perfect marks of the entire competition. In my interview with Lorna Brown, who won her World Professional title in Jaca, she recalled finishing second in Wembley: "I then competed in the World Championships in Wembley the first time and came second to a European Champion who was also an Olympic and world bronze medallist by 0.2 and the pro marks were out of ten. I skated to 'On The Waterfront' and I remember the ice was liquid blue so I was in my element." By 1974, the competition moved to Jaca, Spain and rebranded itself as the Campeonatos del Mundo de Patinaje Artístico Professional sobre Hielo or in English, the World Professional Championships.

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":

The Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships

With eighteen entries in the ladies event alone at the 1979 World Professional Championships in Jaca, Spain, the Figure Skating Coaches Association of Canada (which was then basically Canada's answer to the PSA), decided to organize the first of two competitions called the Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships. We looked at the Candid Productions nineties event in the 2013 blog linked earlier, but today we're going to go old school.

It all began in 1980 when the Figure Skating Coaches Association of Canada booked the Scarborough Centennial Centre for a weekend in January to hold the very first Canadian Pro Championships as part of a selection process for the Jaca World Pro. Then-chairman Gordon Crossland told reporter Sidney Shapira that "we had to hold a national championship. We had so many girls who wanted to go to the worlds. We're the first country to hold a national championship." He was incorrect as England had actually held its own national professional competition many times previously, but Canada did beat the U.S. to the punch in this respect by a year. Competitors in singles and pairs performed both a technical program similar to the short program with required elements and an artistic program and interestingly, ice dancers performed traditional compulsory dances in addition to their artistic program. School figures were not included and judging was on a 10.0 scale. In the inaugural event, the medal winners were Weston's Ken Polk, Ste. Foy, Quebec's Raymond Naismith and Scarborough's Jack Frizelle in the men's event and Toronto's Carol Farmer Wright, Scarborough's Elizabeth Purtle and Toronto's Diane Hunt. All were offered spots at the Jaca event that April. The following year, medallists included Ron Shaver, Lynn Nightingale, Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee and Judie Jeffcott and Keith Swindlehurst.

Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee's jacket from the 1981 event, which her daughters use to skate in today!

When the Labatt's ProSkate series gained popularity, it complicated matters with regards to using the Canadian Pro event to decide on skaters for the Jaca World Pro. In fact, two time Canadian Champion Heather Kemkaran's win at the 1982 event at the North York Centennial Arena opened the door for OTHERS to compete in Jaca. Michael Cosgrove's March 22 article in The Globe And Mail explained that "usually, the winners would advance to the world professional championships in Jaca, Spain, in early April. But, because Kemkaran, pairs champions Shelly Winters and Keith Davis and dance champs Susan Carscallen and Marty Fulkerth are involved in the Labatts' ProSkate circuit, which starts a four-city Canadian tour in Montreal at the end of the month, none will be competing in Spain." With Kemkaran out, the representatives in Jaca that year among the ladies were silver medallist Carol-Ann Simon, bronze medallist Susan Wilson and fourth place finisher Shelly-Lynn Owen. In the men's event, British Columbia's Henri April edged Ottawa's Jean-Pierre Martin by a mere .15 for the gold.

Jamie Lynn Kitching-Santee. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

The competition continued until March 1984, although no prize money was offered to skaters in the fifth and final edition of this incarnation of the Canadian Professional Championships held at Toronto's Varsity Arena. Men's medallists that year were Mitch Giffin, Jack Frizelle and John Knight. In the ladies event, Susan Smith became Canadian Professional Competition in what was her first competition since competing at the 1981 Eastern Divisionals in Ottawa. She bested Gia Guddat, future skating partner of Gary Beacom, and Suzanne Dionne for the title. Ice dance medallists were Karen Taylor and Robert Burk, Marie McNeil-Bowness and Hans Peter Ponikau and Lenore Kay and Danny Sorley. Although they didn't compete in the Toronto event, reigning World Champions Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini were added to the Jaca roster that year, where they won along with other well known Canadian skaters who did not qualify through the event like Brian Pockar, Candy Jones and Don Fraser and Daniel Beland. Even just reading about the confusing process of how skaters "got selected based on the results of the qualifying round" but other skaters were added or removed reminded me instantly of the equally confusing Challenge/Masters Cup problem at the U.S. Open that reached a head in 1997 when skaters who won the Challenge Cup like France's Axel Médéric were ultimately excluded from the Masters Cup round "due to their scores". Even open professional competitions appear to have had their own politics.

In 1985 and 1986, the Jaca World Professional Championships were not held. As a result, this qualifying competition was essentially redundant and ended unceremoniously. The Jaca event returned in full force in 1987 and Canadian skaters Daniel Beland, Shaun McGill, Julie Brault, Kelly Johnson, Jonathan Thomas, Micheline Sally and John Coyne all finished in the top three in their respective disciplines. Whether or not an open professional competition in Canada lasted long, it was a thing that indeed happened and I'd personally love to see happen again. I'm looking at you, Gary Beacom who killed it this year at Adult Nationals!

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":

Jackson Haines: The Skating King

In the first authoritative biography of Jackson Haines ever written, figure skating historian Ryan Stevens takes a deep dive into the fascinating story of The Father of Figure Skating.

The legend of The Skating King has been one of the most enduring stories in figure skating history. 

Jackson Haines left America during the height of the Civil War and toured extensively through Europe. He translated ballet to the ice. He performed for Czars and Emperors. He inspired the formation of many of the world's oldest skating clubs. He changed the world's most exciting winter sport forever and our fascination in him has never waned.

In this meticulously researched biography, figure skating historian Ryan Stevens chronicles Jackson's story from his humble beginnings in New York to his premature death in Finland in 1875 - both on and off the ice. Through extensive study of 19th century archives and unpublished material housed at the K.H. Renlunds Museum and World Figure Skating Museum, Stevens proves that fact can be far more intriguing than fiction.


"Jackson Haines in my opinion is one of the most important ice skaters in the history of figure skating. His influence on the art and sport of figure skating should not be underestimated. When you follow the historical journey of ice skating you can see his footprint (or should I say blade print) in today's competitive and artistic skating. He was the father of spins, he populated music with skating and the use of the most elaborate costumes. This book by Ryan Stevens is a wonderful read and insightful account of the man that would be called The Skating King." - Christopher Dean OBE, Olympic Gold Medallist (1984), World Champion (1981-1984)

"I've known the name for many years and I thought I knew his place in history. This book has given me a whole new level of insight to a man who created his own path and helped pioneer the sport I love." - Robin Cousins MBE, Olympic Gold Medallist, figure skating (1980)

"Ryan's journalistic ability to unearth historical details and mix them into a compelling story is first-class! While balancing accuracy and fairness, he reveals a man whose life demonstrated enormous talent and creativity, celebrity and human frailty. You may not like every part of Jackson Haines, but you will definitely marvel at his genius and at the sacrifices he made as an artist and inventor of modern skating." - Debbi Wilkes, Olympic Silver Medallist, television analyst and author of "Ice Time: A Portrait of Figure Skating"

"Jackson Haines, The Skating King, tells the real story of the man considered to be the father of figure skating. Stevens has meticulously researched Haines' life from his upbringing in the United States, to his successful entertainment career in North America and Europe, to his untimely death at 36. Extensive footnotes attest to the accuracy of Stevens' information. Look no further for the truth about Jackson Haines." - Yvonne Butorac



The Kindle e-book edition of the book is available for pre-order now, with automatic delivery on November 1. 

Pre-order link (Canada):
Pre-order link (US):
Pre-order link (UK):

Paperback and hard cover editions of the book will also be released on November 1.

Murphy's Law: Team Hong Kong At The 1987 World Championships

Training in a tiny rink of 30 X 70 feet with a broken Zamboni, thirty year old Chi-Man Wong, seventeen year old Edith Poon, twenty three old Shuk-ching Ngai and nineteen year old Cheuk-fai Lai were an unlikely foursome of entries for the 1987 World Figure Skating Championships.

In her 1994 book "Figure Skating: A Celebration", Beverley Smith wrote, "A group of Hong Kong skaters at the 1987 world championship in Cincinnati, Ohio, had no coaches at all. Chi-Man Wong, at thirty, had been almost entirely self-taught until two years before the event, skating in Hong Kong's only ice rink... Edith Poon, Hong Kong's best female competitor, practiced the wrong compulsory figure until she was set straight the week before the competition. Hong Kong's ice dancers withdrew after they arrived with music for their free-dance that was only two minutes, fifteen seconds in length, when it was supposed to be four minutes. And the music for their original dance had the incorrect rhythm."

That poor ice dance team that Smith wrote of, Cheung Lai-yuk and Chan Chiu-keung, couldn't catch a break when Lai-yuk, on her first visit to North America, became quite ill after eating Western food. The fun for the Hong Kong skaters didn't end there. Edith Poon, a roller skater with only three months of training on the ice, floundered in the short program. Ngai and Lai, the pairs entry, were so out of their league in their short program to "Romeo And Juliet" that one judge gave the duo a 0.2 for technical merit. Their highest mark was one 2.7 for presentation. Most of their technical merit marks were around 0.8; their presentation marks around 1.8. 

In the March 11, 1987 edition of "The Pittsburgh Press", the coach of the pair, Kathy Kitchner (an Australian who was teaching skating in Hong Kong) cited the incredibly small rink and deplorable ice conditions as reasons that her pair fared so poorly, saying "that she believed someone ran the Zamboni into a wall, which is why ice is smoothed by dumping buckets of water onto the surface each night." Keeping in mind that throughout skating's history, some of the world's best have competed on the Olympic and World stage on cut up ice, in downpours and blizzards and flooded ice in exactly the same manner, although the ice and training conditions would have certainly not been IDEAL for the Hong Kong skaters in 1987, I think it's pretty evident that subpar coaching and poor translations of ISU rulebooks played equal roles in this disastrous showing. In the March 10, 1987 edition of "The Ottawa Citizen", Kitchner acknowledged, "When I came six months ago, they were teaching themselves. I'm here to support them, but I don't feel they are ready for this."

Despite the fact that Wong, Poon and Ngai and Lai all placed a distant last in their respective disciplines, the skaters from Hong Kong in 1987 weren't mocked. Instead, they were embraced by the crowd at the Riverfront Coliseum that March. The encouraging crowd gave them all loud ovations, littered the ice with flowers for the new kids on the block and American pairs coach Pieter Kollen took the struggling team of Ngai and Lai under his wing in practice, stating that "the fun of sports is more than the competition; it's the sportsmanship involved."  

Rather than go home and hide under the bed, skaters from Hong Kong went home and tried to rebuild... literally. Choosing to refrain from competing at the World Championships again until 1994, in the interim they built two more rinks (both in shopping malls) that were a third of the size of an Olympic rink. Still not quite grasping that rink size would absolutely play a difference when adapting programs to international competition, Hong Kong's pairs entry, Poon Hoi-san and Cheung Wai-tung, again finished last at the 1994 World Championships in Chiba, Japan. Although skaters representing Hong Kong, including Ronald Lam (who was fourteenth at the 2015 World Championships) have enjoyed more promising results over the years since then, a skater or team from the country has yet to win a medal at a major international competition. Although progress is sometimes slow and steady with competitors from ANY developing skating country, I think we can all learn a lesson from the people of Cincinnati and the skaters from Hong Kong in 1987. Pointing and laughing only serves one purpose: being a jerk.

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":

Figure Skating: The Devil's Sport

In decades and centuries past, religious leaders have long used their positions of influence to condemn everything from rock and roll music to dancing as "the work of the devil". What many may not know is that once upon a time figure skating was the fire and brimstone flavour of the month.

I want to share with you an editorial called "Skating To Perdition" from the February 21, 1885 edition of The Lutheran Witness that expresses this very arcane point: "The skating rink craze has become epidemic in this country, and is spreading in every direction in spite of all righteous opposition. If it were one of the silly, harmless crazes that sometimes affect empty heads and light heels, it might be left to run its natural course, like a case of the cold. But it is a demoralizing evil, injuring the health, corrupting the morals, and ruining of the souls of some of the infatuated devotees of the rink. The denunciations of our correspondents in this issue are not a whit too strong. Even secular papers, like the 'New York Tribune' and the 'Sun', have been moved to protest against the skating rink as an evil. Another journal says it should be suppressed by law as a nuisance, and still another declares it to be worse than the ordinary theater. The pastor of a Methodist church in Binghamton, N.Y., stated in his pulpit recently that he knew of fourteen girls who had been ruined by these sinks of iniquity. He knew of many men who could not pay their honest debts because of money expended at the rinks. He knew of contracts for the purchase of homes that had been given up for the same reason. He knew of many families which had been broken up by the scandals started in these places. 'The Highway Of Holiness' charges that the habitues of the rinks gamble in a small way for almost everything; the exercise is often overexertion; accidents occur, in the form of broken arms, etc.; 'there is a doubtless a chase present to see the ladies fall, and the gentlemen fall over them,' and it is an expensive amusement. 'The Christian Advocate' says that these rinks have led to a great increase of extravagance; many of them have side-shows attached; there are opportunities for indiscretions, the first steps towards vice; there is no parental supervision; legitimate business of various kinds is interfered with, and the craze is a direct antagonist of religious effort. 'The Lowell Sun' charges some rinks to be the result of the most immoral class of the community, prostitutes and libertines, both married and unmarried... 'We believe,' says the Sun, it is in its effects the most immoral licensed institution that we have; that it is the cause of more and more immorality... The theaters are a Sunday School compared to it.' These are strong words; but we believe they are fully warranted by the facts. The rinks of Cleveland can furnish additional illustrations. No true Christian, or anybody else who has a conscientious regard for his honor, character and influence, [should] frequent the place of evil where thoughtless youths are ensured their destruction. Away with the rink!"

1884 clipping from "The New York Times" regarding arrests in New York state for skating on Sundays

This kind of mentality even extended well into the twentieth century. In February 1978, a reporter for "La Voz Eterna" magazine wrote, "Roller skating or ice skating at a rink where music is played is not a place for a Christian, whether it is a school class party or otherwise. One may try to justify the music by saying: music is played to drown out the loud noise of the skates, but this is not so. This is the voice of the devil speaking. The music here, too, gets under the feet and in the body. Before one is even aware of it, one is listening to the music and unconsciously moving with the music."

Not to be disrespectful to anyone's religious beliefs (I'm a live and let live kinda guy) but I was actually laughing my ass off as I transcribed these quotes. The reality is though that even today, there are actually people in this world who believe that homosexuality is a choice and/or a sin, that we have a right to dictate what people do with their own bodies... You know what I mean and which political and religious groups and figures I'm referring to. And you know what, bless their pointy heads. They probably don't know any better. But as much as we may all share a laugh and an eye roll at this archaic way of thinking, maybe we can take from all of this that ways of thinking change over the years. What seemed logical to some over a century ago will seem silly a century later.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

I do know this though... if we're all going to a fiery hell because we love figure skating, at least we will be Lutzing and looping in great company.

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":

Ice Gayety: The Skating Tour That Never Was

When we think about figure skating shows and tours during the sport/art's first 'golden era', the names that come to mind instantly are probably Ice Follies, Ice Capades, Sonja Henie's tours and of course Holiday On Ice. But were those the only gigs in town, as it were? Hardly. Would-be competitors were cropping up around the world and in 1946, some serious money was invested into a skating tour originating in Florida called Ice Gayety.

The producer of the tour was named James Edgar and Ice Gayety wasn't his first venture into the professional skating business. In 1940, Edgar produced the Royal Ice Palace Revue which toured the U.S. and Canada with the circus company Beckmann and Gerety Carnival. It was a short lived affair though, as Edgar enlisted in the army in January of the following year, serving in Europe for eighteen months before being medically discharged with the rank of major in November of 1944. In no time, Edgar was back to the drawing board with his mind set on his piece of the skating entertainment pie.

Under the umbrella of his company Ice Skating Enterprises, Inc. Edgar chose the warm weather locale of Sarasota as the starting point for his skating spectacular. He commissioned a one hundred and ten foot flame-proof round top tent from the U.S. Tent and Awning Company that would seat three thousand, a mobile refrigeration plant from the Chicago Buildice Company to make the ice and hired the New York agent Harry Hirsch to book skaters and supervise the production of the show. Edgar hired people to do lighting, wardrobe and sell tickets. All he really needed was a choreographer and he found one in a Chicago skating coach and Ice Capades and Ice Follies skater named Anne Haroldson (Leitch), who was convinced to take time away from coaching in the windy city to come down south to put together this big show. Chorus skaters were hired (mainly from New York) and rehearsals were initially scheduled to start on February 8, 1946 in anticipation of a March 1 opening date. An early February article in Billboard magazine stated Edgar even "rented a house to accommodate the line girls." In total, an estimated one hundred thousand dollars (no paltry sum nowadays let alone then!) was poured into Ice Gayety.

It all went down the drain in TWENTY FOUR HOURS! On February 9, 1946, Edgar announced plans to abandon the effort. In a Billboard magazine article, Edgar said "the show had been postponed indefinitely because the skating rink, comprised of 20 plates, weighing 1750 pounds apiece, was found to be too heavy for easy movement on the schedule contemplated. Ice Gayety was scheduled to open here March 1-2 and then go on tour under canvas. Vaughn Richardson, general agent, had booked the show thru April 14 in Florida spots, with many choice downtown locations listed. Edgar's decision was reached in time to stop most of the skating performers before they left New York City for rehearsals in Sarasota. Two girls arrived from Chicago and another was halted en route at Denver. Edgar said other plans were being studied for use of the portable equipment. All preparations for the show were well advanced. The big top had been flame-proofed and erected for rehearsals. Cookhouse for workingmen was in operation and work was started on the seats. Costumes were completed. Billing had been printed and the billing crew was ready to begin."

Can you even imagine? Short of a bank heist, even the most enthusiastic of high stakes gamblers in Vegas would have a hard time throwing away that much money in such a short span. Rather than sit utterly defeated by the failure of Ice Gayety, Edgar ultimately soldiered on and turned his attention away from skating. He for a time owned the Sparks Circus, which began as a wagon show in the last decade of the nineteenth century, and took the show on tour in 1946 and 1947 by railroad. Financial concerns, no doubt as a result of the Ice Gayety flop, apparently continued to haunt him though as an August 23, 1947 article in Billboard stated that "Edgar owed James A. Haley a sum of money, but this he is reliably reported to have laid on the barrel head when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus was playing Detroit three weeks ago."  

In the winter of 1947, Edgar terminated his relationship with the Sparks Circus and although Ice Gayety never made it off the ground, he DID make two very important contributions to circus history: establishing the final circus to be an under-canvas railroad show and placing Venice, Florida on the map as a popular circus venue. He passed away on June 7, 1957 at age forty seven in South Vend, Indiana while traveling with his wife Anne to visit his son William at Culver Military Academy. Looking back, we can only wonder what Ice Gayety could have been if only things had gone a little differently. 

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":

Is That All There Is To A Circus?

"And when I was twelve years old, my daddy took me to the circus,
The greatest show on earth
There were clowns and elephants, dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads
As I sat there watching
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don't know what
When it was over I said to myself,
Is that all there is to the circus?"

- from Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?" written by Mike Stoller and Jerry Leiber

If there's one thing that studying figure skating has taught me, it is to be prepared for the unexpected. Given that I "grew up" in the sport in the mid to late nineties when skating so saturated the entertainment market that tank ice shows could be found everywhere from casinos to tourist attractions like Sea World and Busch Gardens, the concept of skating having connections with the circus didn't really phase me that much. What DID surprise me was exactly how far back that connection went.

Australian born illusionist Harry Cameron was born in 1881 and made quite a name for himself as The Great Carmo, touring with circuses and variety shows in Australia, France and the U.S. before planning a trip to Great Britain to develop a troupe and circus there. He almost didn't make it. The Big Apple Circus' "Circopedia" explains "The Great Carmo - as he was henceforth to be known - and his girl-assistants were ready to return to England, and they tried to book passages on the Cunard liner Lusitania, which was sailing from New York on May 1, 1915. Although cabin accommodations were available, there was no space in the hold for Carmo's huge amount of stage and magic props, and he had to wait for a later ship. It was a lucky strike: This was to be Lusitania’s last voyage; she was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off the coast of Ireland on May 7, an event that led the United States to declare war on Germany." Pretty incredible stuff. Cameron opened The Great Carmo Circus in Balmoral Gardens in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the summer of 1928. His show featured a horse trainer named Emmerich Ankner, a Japanese juggler known as Togo, Conrad's Bears, an elephant named Baby June and twelve lions. Menageries (which we visited in The Tower Of London blog) were also important parts of circuses at the time and Carmo's Circus featured a menagerie of animals as well. He took the circus on tour and by the following summer was in Gatford, London with aerial artists, acrobats, Belgian clowns, a perch-pole act and figure skaters added to his growing line-up.

The skating act was The Jainczik Skating Ballet On Real Ice and opened in July of 1929. A hanging card designed by Leon Crossley advertising the skating circus act informed that the Jainczik Ballet was held on the Football Ground at Northdown for "a short summer season" and that shows were held twice daily at 3 PM and 8 PM on "real ice". Alfred Jainczik was a German figure and roller skater who four years after performing with The Great Carmo Circus patented an improvement to roller skates. Sadly, The Great Carmo Circus floundered with tent and weather problems and in late March of 1930, the big tent burned to the ground and several animals were badly burned during the catastrophe. He attempted to keep his circus going at of all places a SKATING rink in West Bromwich but the financial loss he suffered caused The Great Carmo Circus to close its doors. The following year, Cameron opened Carmo's Colossal Circus at The Hippodrome but by then, he'd replaced the ice skating ballet with a roller skating duo called The St. Moritz Skaters. We do know that Alfred Jainczik left England aboard the Normandie liner in 1937 bound for New York, advantageously getting out of Europe before World War II broke out. He then toured with the Ringling Bros. Circus in the U.S. for a time.

Other circuses also staged ice skating shows but none were perhaps as popular as Moira Orfei and Walter Nones' Italian Circo Sul Ghiacco (Circus On Ice) show which opened in 1969. It included a circus ring and skating show in one venue and was known for its use of elaborate sets, props and costumes. After separating Orfei's show from the Circus On Ice show in 1976, the actress Orfei at one time was involved in the ownership of Holiday On Ice. 

Today, ice acrobats, skating bears, fire and hula hoop acts remain some of the most sought after novelties for both traditional and non-traditional skating and variety shows and without the unconventional pioneering efforts of people like The Great Carmo, Alfred Jainczik and Moira Orfei, the unseeming might have easily remained relegated to 'the impossible'.

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":

The Bishop Eight

Figure skating as we know it today wouldn't exist without its technical innovators - jump inventors like Axel Paulsen and Ulrich Salchow, prodigal spinners like Lucinda Ruh and Denise Biellmann and even skaters like Charlotte Oelschlägel and Ina Szenes-Bauer who created visually stunning moves in the field. Although the interview with 1972 Olympic Gold Medallist Trixi Schuba certainly discussed her specialty (skating perfect school figures), I wanted to talk about a long lost special figure that was so challenging for late nineteenth century skaters to execute it was really that generation of skaters' 'Iron Lotus'. It was called The Bishop Eight.

William H. Bishop, a.k.a. Frank Swift

The Bishop Eight was designed by American skater and theatrical producer William H. Bishop, who won the Championships Of America in the 1860's under the alias 'Frank Swift'. Similar to certain figures of the English Style, it was designed to be skated either individually or in a group. Frederick R. Toombs' 1879 book "How to become a skater" described how to execute this challenging figure in full detail: "Entering into the combination are the outside and inside edge rolls, the cross roll and the threes. I will describe it as executed by two persons. Remember that the two skaters do not face each other and that the direction for one is the instruction for the other. 1. The two skaters join right hands, standing sideways to each other and facing in opposite directions. 2. Make a small half circle on the right foot, outside edge, forward. 3. Turn a three, at the same time changing the right for the left hand and make a half circle backward on the inside edge, right foot, returning to the starting point. 4. Going backward on the outside edge, left foot, make a curve and a three, turn halfway around the circle and change to the inside edge, forward, left foot. Make a curve and turn a three, from backward to forward, and from inside edge, left foot, to outside edge, right foot, coming forward, up to the centre, and joining left hands. 5. Put the left foot well over the right, as hands are joined, firmly on the ice, on the outside edge and execute a cross roll. Repeat the movements already described, completing the other half of the eight. The cross roll should always be put in at the point of meeting and may be accomplished more easily, because each skater assists the other with his hands." Dizzier than you've done the hokey pokey for five minutes after a nice refreshing Long Island iced tea? I am.

The wild complexity of The Bishop Eight and other American figures of the era including the Flying Scud, The Tulip and The Ball Of Twine prove case and point that though British and Continental European skaters were largely known internationally as the great masters of complex special figures, insanely difficult special figures were being developed in North America in the sport's developmental stages as well. Triple/triple combinations and level five step sequences aside, how many of today's skaters do you think could master The Bishop Eight? Technical innovation comes in many forms. Today, there is renewed interest in using figures as a teaching tool and of course, the current excitement about the upcoming World Figure Championship and Figure Festival in Lake Placid serves as an important reminder that although competitive figure skating may have ditched the 'figure', not everyone has forgotten the challenge and reward of skating's most difficult discipline. Personally, I think that's a beautiful thing.

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":

Callie C. Curtis: Nineteenth Century Drag Queen On Ice

Although not formally recognized as either the U.S. or North American Championships by 'today's standards', the Skating Club Of New York was hosting international competitions dating as far back as the 1860's called the Championships Of America, the first two of which were won by figure skating pioneer Jackson Haines. However, Haines wasn't the only American born men's skater who was turning heads at these competitions. Less than a decade later, a Chicago man named Callie C. Curtis began his utter domination of "fancy skating" at these events, winning his first of five consecutive Championships Of America in 1869.

Callie C. Curtis was born April 24, 1848 in Chicago, Illinois. He was perhaps best known for his design of a figure called The Curtis Star which was described by E.T. Goodrich in the February 3, 1889 edition of the "Elmira Telegram" as "one of the prettiest and most difficult figures I ever saw cut on the ice. Nobody could accomplish it with the ease and grace that characterized his efforts, and it was finally called the 'Curtis Star'. It was formed in three parts. First there was the circle. This he did by the simple inside edge, forward toe step. At the completion of the circle the skater would jump back clear of the circle, so as to leave no marks inside of or across the circle. Then the plain star was made standing with one foot at the point... Curtis would let his left foot run a little farther away from the right; the drawing it in would bear hard on the heel of the right." As far as technical innovations, George Browne also credits Callie with introducing European skaters to the mohawk.

On March 15, 1869, Callie handed a resounding defeat in the men's event to defending Championships Of America champion Frank Swift in Rochester, New York. An account from Julian T. Fitzgerald's "History On Ice and Roller Skating - 1916", graciously provided by Karen Cover at the U.S. Figure Skating Museum, explained, "Frank Swift was then Champion of America, having won the Diamond Medal the previous year at Allegheny City, Pa. Feb 6., 1868. Twice he had successfully defended his title, but the Chicago boy was too much for him and he had to bow to his superior. When Mr. Curtis was declared the winner by a score of 47 points to 41, Mr. Swift took his defeat manfully and skated up to Mr. Curtis and pinned the Diamond Medal on his breast."

Frank Swift and Callie Curtis

The story had been a little different less than a month earlier, when Callie caused quite a stir in the city donning his finest drag and entering a women's figure skating competition. The February 20, 1869 edition of the "New York Clipper" gives a full account of the spectacle: "The skating public of Buffalo and Rochester were the victims of a 'sell' of the largest dimensions and most thorough description during the week ending February 6th - a hoax of so laughable a character, however, that they could not allow their angry passions to rise against the perpetrators. It turns out that 'Miss Godbout, the lady from New Brunswick' instead of being one of the 'weaker vessels' was none other than the accomplished western skatist, Callie Curtis, who is now a candidate for the championship. At the termination of the ladies' content at the Buffalo Rink on the night of the 6th, to the astonishment of the on-lookers, the majority of whom enjoyed the joke, though some, with no humor in their souls, seemed disposed to find fault. To silence these grumblers and set himself right before the public, Manager Harvey published the following card in the local journals of the 8th: 'The impossibility of getting two first class lady skaters to compete in a public match for your amusement, induced me to have one of our finest male professionals (Callie Curtis, the 'Star Of The West') assume the role of a lady for the nonce, and it was my intention to have divulged the secret on Thursday evening, but during the contest that evening the idea suggested itself to me that I could afford you a second evening's amusement, and in the interim have the same skaters display their skill in our Rochester Rink. This being accomplished I lost no time in revealing to you the 'Star of the West' sans veil, sans wig, apologizing to you for the temporary deception, conceived and carried out to amuse you. Some who were in the secret predicted that the revelation of it would be met with disapproval and this morning counselled me either to postpone the match indefinitely or allow Miss Godbout to preserve her incognito; my disinclination to disappoint you by failing to perform what I had advertised was an insurmountable objection to the first course, and my determination to reveal the secret, both in justice to you and to add fresh zest to the entertainment, precluded the adoption of the second.'" The kicker? The last line of the article: "Curtis perpetrated a like sell upon the good people of Pittsburgh and vicinity last season." That wasn't the only trouble Curtis got himself into while in New York skating. Another 1869 article from the same paper stated, "Callie Curtis was recently arrested upon a charge of seduction, preferred by a chambermaid at one of the Rochester N.Y. hotels, but upon examination he proved the falsity of the charge and was acquitted."

Despite his on-ice trickery and this off-ice allegation, Callie continued to dominate skating in America during this period, winning the next four Championships Of America. In late October 1871, ice was installed at the Metropolitan Theatre and Callie performed "a great double and single comic and fancy skating act" with Billie Burt in conjunction with a production of John Baldwin Buckstone's "Green Bushes; Or, A Hundred Years Ago". He was also an accomplished roller skater. Callie was the organizer and manager of the Championship of the Pacific Coast in roller skating in San Francisco in 1872. According to a September 1, 1872 article, he "went through each piece before the contestants, and in their presence Mr. Curtis was applauded to the echo when he led off in the first piece. He skims over the boards as gracefully with the clumsy roller skates as if he were sliding on smooth ice... and performs as many different feats". His demonstration of the elements that would be judged at that event totalled over twenty different figures, steps and "specialties, embracing original and peculiar movements". Callie also mentored a young skater named Johnnie Cook of Cleveland, Ohio, who earned the reputation as "the human top" for his impressively fast spinning ability. Reportedly, his double-flat spin later popularized by Sonja Henie was a sight to behold. Tragically, Cooke died at only twenty years of age, never finding the same success in competition as his accomplished coach.

Here's where Callie's story collides with that of Mabel Davidson, whose career and life we explored back in January. A roller and figure skater from Concord, Massachusetts named Carrie Augusta Moore had put together an exhibition tour of Europe in 1873. Callie headed over with E.T. Goodrich to skate in that tour, paving the way for the Davidson family (with Mabel as the star attraction) to tour London and Paris in 1896. The absence of the reigning champion would have obviously opened the door for a new champion and I'm sure some of his competitors couldn't have been happier. An undated newspaper clipping from the era found in the Canadian Jewish Heritage Network's Louis Rubenstein collection noted that Callie was "no longer a resident of Chicago, and living now in Europe, will not trouble the aspirants for his title with his presence." Certainly has a bit of a "don't let the door hit you on the way out" ring to it, doesn't it?

In 1882, Callie won a competition for professionals, held in conjunction with the Internationalen Preis-Figurenlaufen (Great International Skating Tournament) in Vienna, defeating Axel Paulsen's brother Edwin. Four years later, he competed in an event in Germany held in conjunction with the Hamburg and Altona Skating Club's international speed skating tournament. The winner of the speed skating race was of course Axel Paulsen, but it was Callie who defeated Axel in the figure skating contest. The winner, however, was C. Werner of Christiana

Callie later settled in a suburb of Hamburg, where he operated a restaurant. He passed away there on June 16, 1903 at the age of fifty-five.

Whether he was skating on roller or figure skates, in men's or women's dress, outdoors on a pond or on a theatre stage, beating American skaters or Axel jump inventors, Callie certainly made an impression everywhere he went and I'm happy I was able to unearth some of his story and glue together the broken vase pieces. Without an understanding of where figure skating came from, we'll never be able to get a firm handle on where it's going.

This piece originally appeared as part of a six-part podcast series called Axels In The Attic. You can listen to Allison Manley of The Manleywoman SkateCast and Ryan Stevens of Skate Guard's audio version on Podbean or iTunes.

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":

The Great Danes: Pioneers In Danish Figure Skating

Credited with introducing the ice sports of bandy and hockey to the people of Denmark is a Briton named Charles Goodman Tebbutt, who was also a Dutch speed skating champion in 1887. That said, Jackson Haines' European tour brought figure skating into the consciousness of the Danish people prior to Tebbutt's impact on ice sports in Denmark and in 1869 and 1870, the country's first skating clubs were formed: Kjøbenhavns Skøjteløberforening (KSF) and the Frederiksberg Skating Association.

People flocked to the frozen moats in Copenhagen, such as the Christianshavn, in the late nineteenth century in increasing numbers to skate their hearts out. It was during that pioneering period in Denmark that figure skating competitions were held in conjunction with speed skating races. Nigel Brown's authoritative 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History" notes "it was in Denmark just after the middle of the nineteenth century when the title of 'artistic skating competitions' was billed in conjunction with speed contests; but after the usual series of speed races for men and women, which included a race backwards of more than a mile, the artistic part of of the programme terminated the competition and took the form of an obstacle race. To negotiate the twelve stumbling-blocks placed upon the ice at various intervals was undoubtedly considered an art, and neither a game, nor a race!"

Charles Goodman Tebbutt

The first Danish Figure Skating Championships were held in 1912, the same year the Danish Skating Union was formed. The men's figure skating title was won that year by a Mr. H. Meincke, the ladies title by Gerda Iversen and the pairs event by Inger Morville and Folmer Søgaard. These national figure skating competitions were held semi-annually in the country (largely because the country was dependent entirely on the weather with no artificial ice rinks to be found) but it wouldn't actually be over twenty years until a Danish skater would make an appearance internationally, despite the fact the Danish Skating Union joined the ISU in 1913.

Esther Bornstein was Denmark's first internationally competitive figure skater when she travelled to London, England for the 1933 European Championships, where she placed tenth of the eleven ladies competing. The winner that year was who else? Sonja Henie. Bornstein also made an appearance at the following year's European and World Championships, with similarly disappointing results.

The country's first breakout success story would be in Per Cock-Clausen, who won an incredible
thirteen Danish men's titles over a twenty three year span from 1940 to 1963 as well as four Nordic skating titles as well. He competed against Dick Button at both the 1948 and 1952 Winter Olympic Games and it was during the forties that the number of skating clubs in Denmark grew to twenty, a result both of Cock-Clausen's pioneering success in the sport and the harsher winters that allowed for more natural ice suitable for skating to form. Cock-Clausen was undefeated in Denmark throughout his incredibly long skating career, was responsible for the coaching of younger skaters at the Frederiksberg Skating Association and also worked to build the sport as a member of the Danish Skating Union's board as well at the same time he was competing. He wrote several books about the sport including "Skojtelob", "Konstakningens" and "Asien og verdensmagterne" and actually went on to be a successful surveyor and politician.

Cock-Clausen's success saw a greater rise in Danish skating's popularity. Harry Meistrup and Alf Refer dominated the pairs scene in the country from 1940 to 1963, with different partners successively winning every pairs title in the same twenty three year span that Cock-Clausen dominated the men's event. Unfortunately, after this heyday, the popularity of Danish skating seemed to dwindle a bit and it wasn't really until the eighties and early nineties when World Professional Champion Lorna Brown worked with skaters like the late Lars Dresler that the country again made a real impact internationally. An interesting anecdote to those who may not know: U.S. Champion and World Medallist Todd Sand was the 1982 and 1983 Danish men's champion!

In my interview with Michael Tyllesen, he talked about the evolution of skating in Denmark from the eighties to today: "Back in the eighties, The Danish Skating Federation had a training center for the most talented skaters in Denmark. When I was twelve years old, I got the offer from the Danish Skating Federation to live and train at the training center. It meant that I had to move away from my parents and live in another city in a big house with five of Denmark's biggest talents. A family would take care of all of us and make dinner and so on for us. They lived on the first floor and all the skaters lived in basement and all skaters had their own room. We went to normal school in the day and skated together before and after school/work. We had a national coach and a choreographer to teach us. Besides the ice time, we had to do off-ice, weight training, dancing, running and stretching. We even got massage once week, so we had everything we needed. We paid a small amount each month for living and training at the training center and the rest was paid by the Danish Federation. I lived at the skating center for four years then it closed down. It was very expensive to run for the Danish Skating Federation and many skating clubs didn't like that 'their' skaters were taken away from their own coach. I'm so lucky I got to live and train at the skating center and having some good skaters to look up to and train with in a professional environment. We had everything we needed to become good skaters. Some of all the best skaters we have had in Denmark ever are from the time where the Skating Center existed and I would never have achieved the results I have, if I wouldn't have lived there. It's very difficult to make good skaters in Denmark these days. It's a small country. We do have quite a lot of ice rinks, but we have to share the ice time with ice hockey. All skaters pay a monthly fee to the club and then the trainers give group lessons, so all the skaters have to share the lessons. Not all clubs allow private lessons and the talents are spread between the different clubs instead of all the talents training together at the same place. The sport has also become very expensive, so not all the skaters/parents can afford what it requires if you want to be on a high level. The Danish Skating Federation doesn't really support the skaters with much money anymore. In Denmark, we have something called TEAM DENMARK, which is an organization who support all the best athletes in Denmark. You need to be a 'TOP ELITE' sportsman/woman and place around the top ten at Europeans or the top 15 at Worlds to get money support from them. I was lucky that I got a lot of money and support from Team Denmark and the Danish Skating Federation from I was twelve years old until I finished my amateur career in year 2000, because my parents would never be able to pay all the money it has cost for my skating. In the nineties, when I started competing at Europeans and Worlds, I combined my training in Denmark with four summers in Edmonton, Canada and later four summers and also winters in Lake Arrowhead, California, which was great."

Looking at Danish skating today, you see a country with some very promising prospects. Skaters like Pernille Sørensen, Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen are all making their own impacts on skating in the country and abroad and the future couldn't look brighter... and all of that success is built on an early foundation built in a Scandinavian country whose plunge into the sport wasn't perhaps as carefree as Norway or Sweden's but is just as interesting nonetheless.

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":

Böckl Up: It's Time To Talk Skating, Big Willy Style

On January 27, 1873, Richard Wilhelm 'Willy' Böckl was born in Klagenfurt am Wörthersee, a southern Austrian city which borders with present day Slovenia. His skating club was the Eislaufverein Wörthersee, but during his competitive skating career he also spent some time training in Vienna while studying at the University Of Vienna. His mother Paula was a great supporter of his skating.

Much was unique about his career. For starters, he was one of a very small group of skaters that enjoyed sustained international success both before and after the Great War. He also faced incredible competition in his home country from skaters like Fritz Kachler, Ernst and Josef Oppacher, Ludwig Wrede and Erwin Schwarzböck throughout his career. In fact, in sporting publications from his era like the Illustriertes (Österreichisches) Sportblatt, he was frequently overshadowed in favour of his competitors at home from the Vienna Skating Club and Cottage-Eislaufverein even while at the height of his career internationally.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Perhaps most notable when talking about Willy's contribution to the sport in a historical context, however, is his pioneering role in emphasizing sheer athleticism in an era where excellence in school figures and presentation where the focus of many of his peers. He wasn't doing triple Axels by any means, but Willy's free skating performances focused on high single axels, a peppering of easier double jumps, split variations, steps and figures. He has been (unofficially) credited as the inventor of the inside axel and with performing the first double loop.

Left: Harald Rooth, Andor Szende and Willy Böckl. Right: Willy Böckl and Gillis Grafström. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

As for his competitive career, Willy won a total of four Austrian titles, eight medals at the European Championships (six of them gold), nine medals at the World Championships (four of them gold) and silver medals at both the 1924 and 1928 Winter Olympics behind Gillis Grafström. It should also be noted that at the 1924 Games in Chamonix, he was actually the winner of the free skate. Not to diminish his strength in school figures (because he was regarded by many as excellent) but the times he did seem to lose, figures were often the reason why. For instance, the February 22, 1914 edition of the Neue Freie Presse newspaper noted of his bronze medal win at the 1914 European Championships in Vienna that "third place went to Willy Böckl, whose free skating [was] the best of the day while [what] he did in the compulsory exercises what not on the usual level." He retired from competition in 1928 on a high, defeating future Olympic Gold Medallist Karl Schäfer at that year's World Championships in Berlin. His coach for much of his competitive career was Pepi Weiß-Pfändler.

Off the ice, Willy was a mathematician and shipbuilding engineer by trade. In a business capacity, he actually travelled back and forth from Austria and Germany to the United States on a yearly basis between 1928 and 1935 on such ships as the Aquitania, Ile De France, Columbus, Milwaukee, Hamburg, Rex and S.S. New York. During this same period, he kept active in skating as an international judge, putting his educations in both mathematics and skating to practical use. It wouldn't be long before he made the decision to immigrate to the U.S. and take up jobs coaching at the Skating Club of New York and in Lake Placid. Among his considerable stable of students were future professional star Dorothy Goos, Eastern Champion Kathryn Ehlers and U.S. Medallist, Skating Club of New York President, national judge and 1961 Sabena Crash victim Eddie LeMaire.

Willy penned the books "Willy Boeckl On Figure Skating" and "How To Judge Figure Skating", the latter offering one of the most thorough guides to the judging of school figures I've ever seen. He was an advocate for hands on education for judges, writing that becoming a good judge "needs a great deal of practice in watching good skaters and bad ones, gathering information everywhere. I would say to become a good judge needs practically as much practice as it does to become a good skater, not so much physically, perhaps, but certainly mentally. Become a skater does a figure he has time to ponder, but a judge has not much time to think. A swiftly moving free skating program passes like a film, you have to take everything of it in split seconds and only in the well trained judge's mind will everything register as far as the human mind is able to register the multitude of quickly similar following moves."

Right photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

As if winning six European titles, four World titles, two Olympic medals, judging, coaching and writing about skating weren't enough, in August 1938, Willy was elected the first President of the American Teacher's Guild, an early forerunner of today's Professional Skater's Association. In the fifties, he was even part of Royal Dutch Airlines' international tour program, personally conducting tours Anna McGoldrick style to 'the internationally famous ice skating rinks in Europe.' In the spring of 1940, he survived an emergency appendix operation.

Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande Archive

Willy retired from coaching in 1944, taking up the position of President of the Universal Tire Company in Boston. Information regarding his death is unclear. Several non-primary sources cite his passing as occurring in the city he was born (Klagenfurt am Wörthersee) although his Social Security Index Records seems to imply that his death actually occured in Massachusetts. We do know that he passed away on April 22, 1975 and is missed by many. Two years later, he was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame alongside fellow World Champions Lawrence Demmy, Donald Jackson and Jean Westwood. His trophies were ultimately donated by his daughter to the World Figure Skating Museum's collection after his death.

Courtesy the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

Willy's legacy is as a jack of all trades, master of all and to me, I look at his athletic style at the time of the staid English Style and graceful Continental Style as really quite a revolutionary approach to free skating at the time, whether it's your cup of tea or not. Skating has long had its skaters who you think of more for their athleticism than artistry like Timothy Goebel, Midori Ito, Tonya Harding, Elvis Stojko and a good majority of today's competitors under the current IJS system, and you know what, there's room for everyone's strengths in the history books. I think Willy would agree that great skaters are all worthy of a round of applause and a fair score!

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":

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