Fifteen countries were invited, thirteen showed up. The 1978 Skate Canada International competition unfortunately wasn't one of the CFSA's biggest success stories. In fact, they took a huge financial loss. Less than half of the seats in the sixteen thousand seat Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver had bodies in them from October 26 to 29, 1978 and it's a shame, because from the sounds of things, they missed out on some fine skating.
An outlying issue of that year's Skate Canada was its close proximity in time to Great Britain's Rotary Watches International competition, held less than a week before. Sportswriter Howard Bass intimated that, "It was unfortunate that neither nation felt able to accept the invitation of the other, but if the two events could be kept at least three weeks apart in future seasons, this could be easily rectified." Some of the skaters competing at Skate Canada - including the Japanese team - had travelled directly from England to British Columbia to compete and were understandably jet lagged. Competitions were held in three disciplines - men's and women's singles and ice dance - but Canadian pairs skaters, including a young Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini - chimed in with some outstanding exhibition skating.
Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini
THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION
Lorna Wighton and John Dowding
Hungarians Krisztina Regőczy and András Sallay, ranked fourth at the previous year's World Championships, dominated the ice dance competition from the compulsories through to the end. They debuted their new free dance to an enthusiastic response, but conceded they still had tweaking to do prior to the 1979 European Championships in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
Canadians Lorna Wighton and John Dowding narrowly edged out the Soviet team of Marina Zueva and Andrei Vitman to claim the silver medal. On improving on his bronze medal from the previous year's Skate Canada, John Dowding remarked, "'I'm very pleased with the way we skated... I don't think we could have skated any better." American teams Stacey Smith and John Summers and Hae Sue Park and Patrick Shannon finished fourth and ninth; Nova Scotians Marie McNeil and Rob McCall and Manitobans Lillian Heming and Murray Carey finished eighth and eleventh.
Winnipeg's Lillian Heming and Murray Carey
THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION
Lisa-Marie Allen and Claudia Kristofics-Binder
Claudia Kristofics-Binder took a strong lead with 32.72 points in the school figures ahead of Finland's Kristiina Wegelius and eighteen year old Lisa-Marie Allen of the United States. Allen jockeyed with the Austrian for a position in the short program, came out on top and managed to overtake the Austrian with a free skate that was as clean as a whistle.
Kristofics-Binder was shocked by her loss, telling reporters from "The Globe And Mail" in their October 30, 1978 issue, "I thought I skated my long program better here than in Vienna [at the World Championships], but my marks were lower.'' Despite a strong free skate from another American, Sandy Lenz, Wegelius held on for the bronze medal. For only the second time in the six year history of Skate Canada, no Canadian woman managed to make the podium. That's not to say that they didn't try! Nineteen year old Carleton University student Janet Morrissey, who trained under Ellen Burka, rallied after a rough warmup to land a strong triple Salchow combination and finish a respectable fifth. Her result gave her a great boost of confidence heading into the 1979 Canadian Championships, where she hoped to unseat defending champion Heather Kemkaran. She told reporters from "The Globe And Mail" on October 30, 1978, "I'm going to aim for her all right. I'm on top of the world right now." Howard Bass felt Czechoslovakian skater Renata Baierova, who finished seventh, was worthy of an honorable mention: "She has an effervescent personality and gets good elevation in her jumps, seldom slows down and constantly radiates her obvious happiness." Canadians Peggy McLean and Cathie MacFarlane were ninth and unlucky thirteenth.
Japan's Fumio Igarashi
Twenty four year old University Of Nevada student and defending World Champion Charlie Tickner amassed 32.80 points and received first place votes from all seven judges in the school figures. Second, with 29.52 points, was a twenty year old Scott Hamilton and third with 29.40 points and twenty ordinals was Calgary's Brian Pockar. In the short program, Tickner opted for caution, not attempting a triple in his required jump combination. He held on to the lead, but he had a jet lagged Japanese skater, fresh off competing at the Rotary Watches International, to contend with.
In the free skating, nineteen year old Fumio Igarashi of Tokyo, who trailed Tickner by a wide margin, rallied from behind with a strong program that featured five triple jumps (including a lutz and flip) to win the free skate, earning two scores of 5.9 for artistic impression. Tickner struggled on some of his landings and lamented in the October 30 issue of "The Globe And Mail" that he "was a little slow... really tired... I just didn't skate well." In a 5-4 split, Igarashi edged Tickner for the gold. Pockar won the bronze with what he termed "the best performance I've ever skated". Vern Taylor, tumbling on a triple Axel attempt before landing three more triples, finished a creditable fourth ahead of Hamilton. Another Canadian, Jim Szabo, was sixth.
Vern Taylor and Jim Szabo
How did the party end in Vancouver in October 1978? The late Brian Pockar recalled, "The week ended with a huge spontaneous 'Toga Party' on Saturday night with most of the skaters and even some of the coaches participating! The official ending of the week was the closing banquet held at the elegant Hotel Vancouver. Everyone appeared to enjoy themselves, and as we said our goodbyes and parted everyone began to look forward to next year's Skate Canada." Alas, there was no toga party in the autumn of 1979... not at Skate Canada, anyway. An agreement was reached at the time between the CFSA and USFSA that during Olympic seasons, if one country was hosting an autumn international the other wouldn't. In 1979, it was America's turn... and Norton Skate, the early predecessor of Skate America was born.
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