1980 Skate Canada International
There was no Cold War on ice in Calgary in late October of 1980. Skate Canada International was held in Alberta fresh on the heels of the U.S. led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Canadian Figure Skating Association invited Soviet skaters to compete at Skate Canada International and were told "thanks but no thanks". In turn, Canadians were not invited to Moscow Skate in December of that year. Despite the off-ice politics, the battle at that year's fall invitational did turn out to be every bit as heated even without the presence of the ever-dominant Soviet contingent. Let's hop back in the time machine and take an in depth look at how it all played out back in 1980!
THE MEN'S COMPETITION
Prior to the competition at The Stampede Corral, the obvious favourites on paper in the men's event were Americans David Santee and Scott Hamilton, ranked fourth and fifth in the world at the time, though twenty one year old three time Canadian Champion Brian Pockar, skating in front of a hometown crowd, was considered a not so outside shot at the title as he'd beaten Hamilton earlier that season at the St. Ivel competition in Great Britain.
In the school figures, twenty two year old Scott Hamilton lead the way with a total of 31.8 points and 11 ordinals but was followed closely by Calgarian Brian Pockar, who earned a score of 31.36 and 11 ordinals. France's Jean-Christophe Simond, a specialist in figures, was closely behind in third place, followed by David Santee and a young Brian Orser in fourth and fifth places. The Globe And Mail on October 31, 1980 noted that "a major disappointment for Canada was the performance by Gordon Forbes of Brockville, Ont. Forbes, who was second at the 1980 Canadian Championships, was expected to take a run at one of the top five positions. However, he was 12th after the compulsories. 'Today, I just wasn't into it,' Forbes said. 'I know I didn't do my best. I just made some stupid mistakes.' There were few spectators at the Stampede Corral yesterday, but Pockar said he will get a lift from the home-town crowd when he competes in the men's short program tonight. 'It's just like a hockey team having the home-ice advantage,' he said."
In the short program, Scott Hamilton continued his dominance, nailing a gorgeous triple lutz/double loop combination, double axel and double lutz to maintain his lead. Mandatory for both men and women in the short program that season were a jump combination including a double or triple loop, an axel type jump and a double lutz, and Brian Pockar, too, skated very well in the short, performing a double lutz, triple toe/double loop and double axel in his stylish "Caravan" program to maintain his second place position. A botched combination in Brian Orser's "Fame" short program hurt any chances of him making a big move in the standings and after the figures and short program, he was in seventh place.
Scott Hamilton held on to his lead after the short program with an excellent free skate that featured six triple jumps. Silver medallist Pockar and Santee, who finished third, also both gave very strong performances. The November 3, 1980 edition of The Globe And Mail noted that "Santee and Hamilton take an athletic approach to free skating, concentrating on difficult jumps. Pockar, on the other hand, says he is working toward a 'smooth, elegant, sophisticated and classic' style. 'I want the audience to feel that, 'to see him, is to love him,' Pockar said. 'I want to reach out to the audience, to be a performer, not a skater.'" Brian Orser was the only skater to attempt and complete a triple axel in the men's free skate and despite falling on a triple salchow, he was able to move up to sixth overall. Fellow Canadians Gary Beacom and Gordon Forbes were ninth and tenth.
THE LADIES COMPETITION
Predictably, Austria's Claudia Kristofics-Binder led the way after the school figures. Ranked fifth in the world, the previous season Kristofics-Binder had even outranked Olympic Silver Medallist Linda Fratianne at the World Championships in the figures. Her score of 32.08 and seven ordinals, however, was not par with her usual level of dominance in this category and much of that probably had to do with the fact that she was recovering from illness at the time. In second place with 30.56 points and 15 ordinals was plucky thirteen year old Tracey Wainman of Willowdale, Ontario, ranked fourteenth in the world to Kristofics-Binder's fifth. This was an a HUGE improvement for the young pupil of Ellen Burka, especially considered that she ranked twenty first in the figures at the 1980 World Championships in Dortmund, West Germany. Third with 29.76 points and 21 ordinals was Yugoslavia's Sanda Dubravčić.
Wainman's strong showing in the figures only fuelled the omnipresent Canadian media. Despite suffering an injury in practice, they didn't seem to want to give the youngster a break. The Globe And Mail on November 3, 1980 noted that "beginning last Wednesday, Burka would not allow any interviews with her protege until the competition was over Saturday night. She accused the press of making the extroverted Wainman tense and nervous and causing her to lose her concentration. 'If she had talked to you, she might have ended up in fifth place,' Burka said."
In the short program, Ellen Burka's strategy of secluding Wainman from the media didn't seem effective. She fell on her first of two double axel attempts and failing to turn her second clean one into a combination didn't help her case any either. She wasn't the only one to miss their combination though. Kristofics-Binder faltered on the back half of her double flip/double loop combination as well and was barely able to hang on to her lead after fifteen year old Elaine Zayak of Paramus, New Jersey moved up from fourth to second with a winning short program that included a triple toe/double loop combination, double axel and double lutz. Her American teammates Rosalynn Sumners (who was actually second in the short program) and Sandy Lenz also turned in fine programs to overshadow the performances of the three leaders in the figures.
Building on her superb short program, Elaine Zayak killed it in the free skate, performing six triple jumps to catapult to the top of the podium with mostly 5.7's and 5.8's. Despite one fall, Tracey Wainman moved up from third after the short program to second overall. She finally spoke to the media lying in wait, saying to The Globe And Mail "I could have done better but I'm quite pleased with my marks." Nineteen year old Claudia Kristofics-Binder dropped to a disappointing third after falling on her opening double axel and doubling two triple salchow attempts. A tenth place finish in compulsories eliminated any chance of Rosalynn Sumners making up enough ground to medal. Wainman's Canadian teammates, fifteen year old Kathryn Osterberg of Calgary and eighteen year old Sandra Matiussi of Cambridge, Ontario were ninth and fifteenth.
THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION
In the absence of a pairs competition, which wouldn't be added to the Skate Canada roster until 1984, there was an immense amount of focus on the ice dancers. Canada was well represented by two Nova Scotian teams, Marie McNeil and Rob McCall and Gina Aucoin and Hans-Peter Ponikau (the silver and bronze medallists at the 1980 Canadian Championships) as well as Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber and Joanne French and John Thomas.
Lynn Copley-Graves' book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" recalled that "this early competition already indicated that the cha-cha OSP would be hard to interpret. Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert used British technique to defeat the Brits, Karen Barber and Nicky Slater, in Calgary's Stampede Corral. Karen and Nicky contrasted with their futuristic program. The success of the Canadian couples bode well for the renewed development of dance in Canada." Blumberg and Seibert actually kept the same high energy free dance that they'd used to take the silver medal at the U.S. Championships the previous season, earning a standing ovation and marks ranging from 5.5 from 5.9 and winning over Barber and Slater in quite the convincing fashion. McNeil and McCall finished third, ahead of Americans Elisa Spitz and Scott Gregory, Johnson and Barber, French and Thomas and Aucoin and Ponikau. In eighth through twelfth places were France's Nathalie Nathalie Hervé and Pierre Béchu, West Germany's Birgit Goller and Peter Klisch, Japan's Noriko Sato and Tadayuki Takahashi, West Germany's Maria Kniffer and Manfred Huebler and Italy's Paola Casalotti and Sergio Cesarani. To put things in perspective in terms of upsets, Aucoin and Ponikau were the second ranked of the four Canadian ice dance teams participating but even more surprisingly, the French team in eighth place had actually bested the TOP ranked Canadian team at this event in the previous year's World Championships. How's that for a non-assisted jump in the standings?
Science historian James Burke once famously said "if you don't know how you got somewhere, you don't know where you are." With Skate Canada International returning to Alberta thirty five years later this weekend, new edges in skating history will be carved out on the frozen stage and it couldn't be any more exciting.
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