The Most Hated Skating Judge In Vienna

Jane Vaughn Sullivan

When Jane Vaughn won her two U.S. titles in 1941 and 1942, bombs were dropping overseas. Genocide and unspeakable horrors were taking place in Nazi concentration camps. When she retired from the sport after winning her second title, she married then First Lieutenant Henry Sullivan of the Air Army Corps Henry Sullivan (who went on to be a Commandant and the head of the Air Force Academy) and settled in Omaha, Nebraska where she remained active in the sport writing for "Skating" magazine and serving as an international judge at countless events.

It was at one of these international competitions, the 1967 World Championships in Vienna, Austria, that she made international headlines by outraging the Viennese audience and European skating community with her judging decisions.The March 2, 1967 issue of the "Victoria Advocate" gives us the gist of what went down in Vienna that year: "Mrs. Jane Sullivan of Omaha, Neb., was accused by Austrian and West German officials of erratic judging in the men's and pairs competitions. As the result of the complaints, she faces possible suspension by the International Skating Union. The American judge caused a furor in the Austrian press when she awarded minimum marks to Austrian title defender Emmerich Danzer in the men's compulsory figures Tuesday. One newspaper screamed 'scandalous judging - American general's wife dislikes Danzer' after Mrs. Sullivan put the local hero into 10th place. Her fellow judges placed him between first and third. Then she incurred the wrath of the West Germans by placing their favorite pairs skaters, Margot Glockshuber and Wolfgang Dannem, seventh in the [short program]. The other judges put the Germans in second place behind Russia's Ludmila Belousova [and] Oleg Protopopov, the title holders. What really riled West German coach Erich Zeller was that Mrs. Sullivan gave the highest marks to the American pair, Cynthia and Ronald Kauffman of Seattle, who completed the [short program] in second position. 'American judges are among the worst in the world,' Zeller said. 'It seems the United States is always sending them to Europe to be nasty to us.' Ernest Labin, Austrian vice-president of the ISU and head judge in the pairs competitions, said Mrs. Sullivan's championship record will be subject to an investigation by the ISU. 'We have had so many complaints about Mrs. Sullivan, we'll probably have to take action against her. I expect she will be suspended for some time.'" Seeing as no known footage exists of Danzer's figures or the pairs short program in its entirety, we can hardly speculate on whether or not Vaughn Sullivan's marks and ordinals were justified but based on Austria's well documented history of suspect judging, as the old saying goes... "those in glass houses should not throw stones."

As the competition continued, Sullivan became the target of the Viennese audiences. She was loudly booed whenever her name was announced as being one of the nine judges and constantly throughout the competition when she gave her marks. The March 4, 1967 issue of "The Day" noted, "She had the lowest scores for six of the twenty men skaters, including champion Danzer and runner-up Schwarz. She also gave [Scotty] Allen the lowest marks he received." The fact that it's noted that she gave Allen, a former Olympic Bronze Medallist from the United States with a strong international record, his lowest marks is a pretty poor talking point in any argument of national bias. It's also entirely possible she was just a low marker and that her ordinals were for the most part consistent with the rest of the panel. She could have been judging what she saw that day - as much judges do - and not bowed to bloc judging or other pressures. After all, the judging panel in the men's event that year was comprised of six European judges, Vaughn Sullivan and a judge apiece from Canada and Japan. In the pairs event, she and Canada's Donald Gilchrist were the only non-European judges. Although it's absolutely possible she WAS in the wrong (we weren't there) the evidence given in media accounts leans more in my eyes to the fact that she was most likely calling it as she saw it and not towing the line. John Shoemaker, then USFSA President, defended Sullivan in Vienna in the March 4, 1967 Independent Journal, saying "she has an outstanding record as a thoroughly honest judge. Otherwise she wouldn't be here." Shoemaker deferred the matter to the ISU... and a strange twist of fate actually played a pretty big role in allowing the whole hullabaloo to die down when the head of the Jane Sullivan witch hunt, ISU President Ernest Labin, died suddenly in Vienna that same year. Sullivan would go on to judge at future World and Olympic competitions, including the 1976 Games... in Austria. It looks like the most hated judge in Vienna in 1967 got the last laugh.

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  1. Obituary: Jane Vaughn Sullivan
    Jane Vaughn Sullivan, originally of Philadelphia, PA, died peacefully in Kirkland, WA on March 25th, 2016, at the age of 94. She was US Senior Ladies Figure Skating Champion in 1941 and 1942 and an official US Judge for US National, World and Olympic (Innsbruck, 1976) Championships. Born in 1921 to Arthur R. Vaughn, MD and Cora Zeigler, both of Palmyra, New Jersey, she took to skating at a young age, starting with roller skates on the sidewalk around her father's home medical office in Philadelphia. Jane would travel by trolley to her beloved school, Germantown Friends School, and was up early everyday to practice figures at the Philadelphia Skating Club rink in Ardmore, PA.

    She skated competitively representing the Philadelphia Skating Club from 1936 through 1942, breaking through to her national championships in 41' and 42'. In 1939, while touring with her skating coach, Gus Lussi, to West Point Military Academy, she had a blind date with Cadet Henry Riggs Sullivan, outstanding all around athlete. They were married in June of 1942 at the Cadet Chapel at West Point. World War II took "Riggs" Sullivan to the Pacific theater, commanding US B 29s flying over Japan, while Jane lived in Ocean City, NJ, with firstborn son David S. Sullivan. In August of 1944, Riggs was listed as missing in action for 2 weeks when his B-29 lost an engine while flying over "the Hump" (Himalayan Mountains). The news that Riggs and his 12 crewmen had successfully bailed out, and were able to hike their way safely back to Chengdu, China, and then were flown back to India, was received with great joy by Jane and David.

    As a competitor, Jane was known for performing the first "double Salchow" in Ladies competition, and was known for her spins and "spread eagle" artistry. In 1941, she was the first ice skater to be broadcast on TV (W3XE Station) with a signal that transmitted a distance of a mere 10 miles. Jane maintained her connection to skating as a judge who is remembered as outspoken, unbiased, and fair, yet a friend to competitors, colleagues and coaches, alike. She enjoyed her time spent with skaters such as Scotty Hamilton, Carol Heiss, Dorothy Hamill, Peggy Fleming, Janet Lynn, Monty Hoyt, Tim Wood, as well as coaches Gusstave Lussi, Carlo Fassi, and Art Preusch, commentator Dick Button, and contemporaries such as Meribel Vinson, Joan Tozzer, and Gretchen Merrill.

    Jane was a gracious and loving wife, mother, homemaker, and hostess throughout her 51 year marriage to Maj. Gen. Riggs Sullivan (1915 - 1992), living the nomadic military life across the US, Puerto Rico, and France. After Riggs's retirement in 1967, they lived in Tubac, Az, and Snowmass, Co, and Riverside, Ca. During her 8 years in Snowmass, she pursued her passion for home decorating, opening her own successful business, Snowmass Interiors. In 1993, Jane moved to Colorado Springs to be closer to her friends from her skating days associated with the Broadmoor Skating Club. Throughout her long life, she enjoyed bridge, golf, skiing, and travel.

    She was inducted into the US Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs in 1996 in recognition of her competitive career and her service as a Judge. In 2001, her brother Arthur R. Vaughn, Jr., was also inducted into the US Skating Hall of fame, becoming the third brother and sister duo to be so honored. In 2010, Jane moved to Seattle, WA, to be close to family, and where she was well cared for at Cascade Home Care in Kenmore, WA, till her passing of natural causes.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing Jane's story with us - an absolutely incredible woman. So very, very sorry for your loss.


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