#Unearthed: An Inside Look At An Olympic Journey


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's #Unearthed comes to you from a now defunct online magazine devoted to (mainly Canadian) figure skating history called "Skating Through Time", which was online in the late nineties. Enjoy reading the late Sheldon Galbraith's chronicle of his time coaching the late Olympic Gold Medallist Barbara Ann Scott!

Barbara Ann Scott. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

"AN INSIDE LOOK AT AN OLYMPIC JOURNEY" (SHELDON GALBRAITH)

CoverThe first time I saw Barbara Ann Scott was in Montreal during school figures of the Canadian Championships of 1941.

I was in Montreal skating with the Ice Follies - a travelling professional ice show. I was working under Fran Claudet's watchful eye doing a shadow pair with my brother Murray Galbraith and skating in three group numbers. Little did I know that only 5 years later, after a stint in the US Naval Air Corps as a flight instructor, I would be called upon to coach Barbara Ann Scott at the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa, Canada. Barbara Ann was a delight to train. Her goals were to attain the highest degree of skill the opportunities afforded. Hard work was not a problem - for Barbara it was a labour of love.


Film ArchivesWhen I first arrived at the Minto club my teeth were chattering with the cold. Barbara Ann was going about her figures as if it was just another day at the office! All around me the steel beams inside the corrugated walls of the building were covered with white frost! Such were the training facilities of the time! Amazingly, even with these types of rinks, North American skaters were generally known in Europe as "hot house skaters" -- some hot house! I should explain why I was so cold - on my flight from San Francisco I had abandoned my luggage in order to make connections in Chicago. I had no winter clothing for rinks such as this one. Barbara Ann's mother, Mrs. Clyde Scott noticed my lack of proper attire and took me shopping to purchase the necessary warm clothing.

PhotographIt was only a few weeks later I would accompany Barbara Ann to the 1947 European Championships. The Minto Club now had to arrange for a leave of absence as I had just been hired as the Club's coach! It was Barbara Ann’s faith and trust in me as her coach that made this trip possible and allowed me to learn first hand what world class skating was about. Barbara Ann Scott was already a world class skater!

The official Canadian figure skating contingent sent to Europe in 1947 consisted of only four persons. Mrs. Clyde Scott as chaperone,
Mr. Donald Cruikshank as judge and team manager, who would join us later, Barbara Ann Scott and myself - Sheldon Galbraith as coach. Betty Caldwell, a friend of Barbara Ann’s would accompany her on the trip. This close knit group managed to deal with the problems encountered and lend support to the project.

The flight over the Atlantic Ocean was in a converted Lancaster bomber used by Trans-Canada Airlines and it took us 17 hours to fly to Prescott, Scotland! Heavy fog delayed the flight for an additional 8 hours or so. We finally arrived in London, England over a full day after our original departure from Montreal.

We stayed overnight in London and set out the next morning for another days travel through Zurich and Landquart to arrive at our final destination, Davos Dorf, Switzerland. Due to the haste of our departure from Canada we had overlooked some rather important details - money in foreign currencies! We had not cashed our travelers checks - so had no Swiss Francs for the train fare.The Belvedere Hotel manager, Toni Morosani, met us at the train station and paid our fare. The Belvedere hotel itself was only heated on two floors and one wing as tourist travel had been greatly curtailed by currency restrictions and the effect of World War II.

Mr. George Hasler, the president of the Schlittschuh club of Davos and the secretary of the ISU, made us feel welcome and invited Barbara Ann to use the facilities of the club for her training. The early morning training took place at Davos Dorf because the sun came up from behind the mountains an hour earlier than in Davos Platz. Barbara Ann’s hair and scarf were ringed with frost from her breath being frozen onto her clothing. Such was the morning practice period.

The ice was so hard and slow on some mornings, that I had to rub my flight boots over her tracings (ala curler’s brooms) to bring her home to figure center. She kept right at it until the glide eventually came. All this was good training for what was yet to come in the European Championships.

She soon attracted many of the towns' people and their children. After training was over for the day, Barbara Ann would play with them doing spirals, shoot the duck, follow the leader and a mild form of crack the whip. She genuinely loved children and they naturally took to her. Someone new to play with!

It was here at Davos that the first major post war European Championships were held. The Championships of both 1947 and 1948 were open to North Americans, there was the feeling that too few skaters would be entered. However when the titles went abroad to North America - it became a closed event.

There were many obstacles placed in Barbara Ann's path - not by the competitors alone, but by judges (not in the competition) and some coaches getting into the act, however that is another story - it is suffice to say that these obstacles were overcome!

While training at Ottawa, it became evident to me that Barbara Ann was capable of deep concentration and effort. She would train the facet of the facet and come away with glee that she had accomplished her purpose.

PhotographTo give you a picture of this lady's prowess and spirit - she was in third place at noon time on the first day of figures, at those European Championships of 1947.

The competitors skated 12 figures in the outdoor open air in those days of competition. The sky was clouded over with a milky cover and it was difficult to see one's tracing. Barbara Ann had to wear dark sunglasses, but even this was not enough, her eyes watered from the high altitude and snow glare. The judges also experienced similar problems when trying to view the tracings of her figures as well.

Barbara Ann found herself in 3rd place after the first three figures of the twelve to be performed. She needed to pull up. To accomplish this, after lunch was over, she skated her next counter figure under the balcony in front of the main building where everyone, including the audience, could see the result! The marks started going in her favour.

I remember remarking to Barbara; "you won that figure by 3.5 points". She said "that is not enough". The next figure - I said "you won that by 5.6! "That's not enough" was the answer. On the following figure I said "you are ahead now by 7.8" - the answer, once again- "that’s still not enough". On and on it went like this. She won by 42 points with only 7 judges and coming from behind! This girl's stamina and endurance with such a high degree of skill was remarkable.

On the second day the opposition were falling by the wayside. The weather had not improved, but the appreciation for her abilities and skills certainly had!

A short time later on a bright sunny day, Barbara Ann would perform her free skate and win the first of her two European Championship titles!

The spectators for this and all of the skating events were seated in the overlooking balcony of the main building and at each end of the ice surface high atop packed snow watered to freeze with boards set so that seats could be placed upon them. The huge ice surface was ringed with boardwalks for standing and seating space as well. On this day, because the weather had co-operated, the place was jam-packed!

Our trip to the 1947 World Championships took us back through Zürich and London then on to Copenhagen and our final destination Stockholm, Sweden.

The trip was marred by the tragic news that an airplane had crashed in Copenhagen while taking off all on board had been killed.

The opera singer Grace Moore and an entire soccer team perished in the accident. A locking block on the tailplane elevator (used to protect the linkages from being damaged by wind gusts when on the ground) had been left in place preventing the pilot from adjusting the climb attitude of the plane. Placement of this block was a normal procedure in parking airplanes at that time.

Upon our arrival at Stockholm, we found we were to be billeted at the Grand Hotel Saltsjebaden – 40 kilometers away from the training site.

We made immediate changes in our plans and decided to stay at the Continental Hotel in town to be closer. This posed a new problem – cancelled reservations had to be paid for. That was left to the Canadian Figure Skating Association (now called Skate Canada) and Mr. Donald Cruikshank.

Also staying at the hotel were Wimbledon tennis champions, Donald Budge and Bobby Riggs who were on a tour giving exhibitions. Later, when time permitted Barbara Ann and I went to see them play. That brought about a surprising situation. We arrived after a hurried dinner and found several seats on the 50-yard line empty! What a break! So we sat down to enjoy the match.

We soon found from the looks and stares of people in the audience that something was awry. We were in the Royal Box! We promptly moved and there were signs of approval all about us!

Dinners in Stockholm were the evening's entertainment and breakfast stretched out far too long for our liking, with the shortest being about two hours and a ritual in process!

PhotographFinally, everything started falling into place and we were on our way to the training site, an open air rink with a large ice surface surrounded by a 400 meter speed skating oval and seating on all sides and ends. We were told it held 27,000 people and was filled to capacity for speed skating events.

The ice rink caretakers were very proud and particular about their ice! To gain access to the figure skating area, one had to pass over the speed skater’s track. Once indoctrinated on the proper procedures, the figure skaters adapted to the caretakers rules and peace prevailed, but not for long...

Imagine our surprise upon arriving one morning to find the figure practice ice blocked by a sawhorse with a giant 7 foot guard standing beside it! This was to block off a large portion of the surface for the exclusive use of the Swedish Champion who had formerly been the European Champion, but had decided not to defend her title at Davos in the 1947 Championship that Barbara Ann Scott had won. This obstacle too was overcome!

During this training period many friends contributed their well wishes and support. Among them Howard Nicholson with whom I had trained for my gold test, gave special attention to preparing me to this task. ie. How to skate figures outdoors in the windy conditions. He also provided me with several famous names to call upon for help. People such as Per Cock-Clausen a well-known sportsman and skater from Denmark, Bror Meyer of Norway – who could have been world champion if he had retained his amateur status and Ulrich Salchow.

One day, while practicing figures, Mr. Ulrich Salchow, (of the jump named after him) former World champion and a group of three approached Barbara Ann's figure patch. He introduced himself and his friends to me. I then called Barbara Ann over and introduced her to everyone. Mr. Salchow was a very friendly man and made some complimentary remarks about Barbara Ann and the good word going around about her skating at the European Championships.

Barbara Ann Scott and Sheldon Galbraith. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

He also gave some sage advice and helpful hints on how to navigate the backward double three-paragraph figure. I asked Barbara Ann to skate the figure and include the technique Mr. Salchow had suggested. After several tries, she found the advice helpful, but the World Championship competition was too close at hand to change at this time, so we promised to include it in her practice routine when we got home. This was done as promised during the next summers training.

Soon after this meeting, the 1947 World Championships and Barbara Ann once again won the figure portion by a considerable margin.

On the night of the free skating program Barbara Ann skated a faultless program in the cold open air, then she came directly to me at the side of the rink and said " there - I think that was satisfactory!" Before I could say a thing she said " Uncle Joe, my hands are cold." She had skated the entire program in bare hands! (Mrs. Scott, Barbara Ann's mother, had bought me a Persian lamb hat to keep my head warm, it looked like one similar to what Joseph Stalin wore, thus the nickname "Uncle Joe".)

27 thousand fans were roundly giving their approval by stamping their feet! That was their way of acknowledging her performance! They mostly stood for it was too cold to sit.

At the end of competition in Stockholm we travelled back to London, England where there was to be an exhibition at the Wembley Pool Arena. Dick Button - an American skater that would go on to win the 1948 Olympic gold the following year, was also to perform. It was to a packed house of enthusiastic fans.

Early during the evening, in a backstage area, two persons approached me. One of the two offered me $500.00! Asking what it was for I was told it was for Barbara Ann (who was going to perform on the evenings program) I replied she is an amateur and cannot take money. They then said, "well it’s for you". I told them that I was a professional skater and if they wished to give me money I could skate for them as my skates were with me. My offer was not taken up. Then I volunteered that they could send the money to the Canadian Figure Skating Association and they left. To my knowledge nothing was every contributed.

In any event, we could not in any way allow something such as this to jeopardize Barbara Ann’s amateur standing in skating. Accepting the money would have imediately classified Barbara Ann as a professional skater no longer qualified to compete as an amateur.

Next was the long flight home and the drone of the engines of the airplane. One redeeming feature was we were being served Canadian food! We had not realized just how much we had missed during the stay in Europe.

PhotographIn the very early morning darkness at Sydney, Nova Scotia (the plane had been diverted from Gander, Newfoundland). Barbara Ann had to deplane and greet the waiting crowds. Some of whom had been up all night. Continuing the flight to Montreal for a stopover in the hotel, Barbara Ann went through much of the same with many friends and well wishers offering their congratulations.

In Ottawa, there was a tumultuous parade and celebration with a presentation by the mayor of a new convertible from the citizens of Ottawa. The license plate was (47U1). Unfortunately, due to amateur rules, Barbara Ann could not accept the automobile. It was however, stored for the following year and given to Barbara Ann at that time. The competitive season was not yet complete. There was the North American championship to be held in Ottawa, and Barbara Ann had to defend her title.

Barbara Ann had many decisions to make regarding what appointments she could attend and still keep up her skating skills. Defending the North American title was accomplished, skating the Minto club carnival, attending the invitation of the Governor General at Government House, receiving the Lou Marsh award again for the Canadian athlete of the year, finally winding down to a well earned rest plus arrange for summer training and the coming Olympic Games.

With the coming of the European Championships, Olympics and World Championships in 1948, there were new problems to work out. The International Skating Union changed the loop school figure proportions. The loop had to fit into the diameter of the figure three times its length. This made the loop smaller than had been trained for and skated in earlier competitions and required greater dexterity on the part of the skater.

A new competitive free skating program also had to be developed and refined. This meant hours of finding suitable music, cutting the records, and fitting it into Barbara Ann's style. Locating certain key elements within the contents of the program requires a good deal of repetition to iron out the rough spots while obtaining the desired effect. There were also new exhibition free skate programs to be created and the same consideration for proper effect to be worked into the routine. Costumes and equipment were of prime importance. It seemed that they were never ready much ahead of time. Everything seems to require rushing at the last minute as perhaps a clearer focus comes into view.
An additional training concern was that the upcoming Olympics and the World Championships that would follow were to take place at high altitude. Davos was a mile above sea level and St. Moritz was about 6100 feet.above. Breathing and endurance would be important considerations in how the program unfolded. The 1948 European Championships were to be in Prague and altitude was not a problem.

After the thanksgiving holiday was over, we got down to finalizing all the various and sundry items that needed to be put in place and began to make preparations for our pending departure to Europe with its outdoor training and the European Championships of 1948. This trip would be the second time overseas and we would be better prepared with the details of travel and what it entails.

Our second overseas journey began with a departure from Montreal. As luck would have it the same pilot that flew us over on the first flight would once again be our Captain! This time I had Captain Bowker sign my short snorter - a dollar bill with the names of pilots who had crossed the Atlantic - this was a popular fad during World War I. The four of us on this phase of the trip consisted of Mrs. Scott, Barbara Ann Scott, a traveling companion of hers, Margaret McGuinness, and myself. I had also been appointed the Olympic coach for Canada. Besides Barbara Ann, the team included Marilyn Ruth Take, ladies singles, Wallace Diestelmeyer and Suzanne Morrow, pairs. They would be coming on separate timetables from our group. The judge and team manager, Melville Rogers would follow to complete the 1948 Canadian Olympic figure skating team.

Davos, Switzerland was again to be home base for training. The rink at Davos Dorf where the sun came over the mountain at an earlier time in the morning would give the extra training hours that were needed when skating out of doors and only daylight with which to work. Later in the day training shifted to the Davos Platz area with it's many ice surfaces.

The skating went well and soon the day of departure for Prague arrived. The European Championship was to be held at a rink in downtown Prague. It was situated close by our hotel and was open air with artificial ice. This was to be an important factor because the weather turned warm. Rain, then warm winds and blowing dust from this industrial city added up to some difficult skating conditions for both the men and the ladies.

The men had wet ice that had to be squeegeed between figures. They could not see their tracings. The women had dry ice with dust and dirt blowing about plus a washboard surface upon which to skate their figures. This was due to the wet ice being squeegeed during the men’s figures, but only the water between the pipes was being removed. That water above the pipes was freezing and thus making the surface into a washboard.

Barbara Ann's hard work during her outdoor training paid off as she managed to display her talents and win the figure part of the competition. The free skating portion of the program took place during the evening, and the place was packed to capacity. She started her routine and was about one minute and fifteen seconds into it when the record-playing needle slid off the record. The phonograph records of the period were 78rpm and the needle vibrated sideways in its track to create the sound. The groove had been worn too much to hold onto its track.

These records were made with a thin layer of material poured onto a round aluminum platter. They were guaranteed for six plays and then only if you used a cactus needle! Barbara Ann's solo record was turned onto its reverse side where a backup copy was located. Barbara Ann returned to her starting place in due course and resumed her performance. It was a solid skate and she had successfully defended her title as European Champion! Amazingly due to the record problems, she had skated a total of five minutes and fifteen seconds!

Upon the conclusion of the European Championships, it was back to Davos and preparations for the Olympics in St. Moritz. The weather was again to act up and alter the practice schedule. Outdoor ice training is at the mercy of the weather. The fern winds as they were called, were causing a warming trend. This was to extend into the Olympic championship in St. Moritz as well.

Once during the warm winds, there was poor ice with spots of shale about so skating was canceled. Toward the afternoon when it had cooled off small figures could be performed and limited free skating. During one of these such periods, Barbara Ann made a bet with me - for a dime - that a double loop could not be performed. I tried but sunk into the ice too deeply and failed. Barbara Ann won the bet! She performed her double loop! Then she claimed I tried to let her win!

The figures of the 1948 Olympic games were held on the Kulm Hotel ice rink situated beside our hotel overlooking the speed skating oval and hockey rink in the valley below. The opening parade had wound its way down the path at the side of the rink to where the oath of amateurism took place in the large assembly area. The sky was overcast with bright ice reflection from thin clouds overhead. The weather was too warm so only one compulsory school figure was performed before skating was halted for the day. It was nail biting time for some and nerves began to show the tension. After some delays it was possible to get all the ladies school figures completed and once again Barbara Ann Scott had lead the field. One judge however, had put her in 5th place, but more of that later.

With the figures behind her Barbara Ann now trained to test her stamina and find the necessary orientation for the various parts of her free skating solo. With uneven mountain ridges and blunt hillsides on the sides and ends of the ice surface it was important to get this matter secured. The free skate was held in the stadium in the valley. On the final day of that part of the championship, Barbara Ann and I went down to the rink to see what the surface looked like and get oriented to the layout.

There had been two hockey games played at 34 degrees Fahrenheit and someone had tried to flood the ice! Now remember, this is natural ice and that is 2 degrees above freezing! There was going to be shale ice all over! The hockey boards were removed at this time, and it could be seen where most of the hockey players traffic was during the two games that had been played. A strip next to where the boards had been and the some of the public had stood was untouched and appeared to be the only safe and sure piece of ice.

This required a rather abrupt change in plans as to where certain contents of the free program could be skated with a reasonable chance for success. Moves were changed without rehearsal, some headings and alignment were altered so as to avoid the bad ice area. One skater, a friend of Barbara Ann’s confirmed the bad ice areas we had discussed earlier. This decided upon, Barbara Ann skated a faultless program whereas; other strong skaters had taken serious falls.

Barbara Ann was superstitious. No whistling in the dressing room. Skating boots had to go in such and such an order. She had to borrow something of value and wear it unseen for this event it was my skate and ski club pin of San Francisco given to me for passing my 7th test. It had 3 small pearls in it. She loved pearls.

Barbara Ann had that happy capacity and ability to take lessons or advice from other people. She would take the good that is there, and apply it. At times, when working with her, I would have some discussion of reasons and details, she would say "just tell me what you want me to do". Once I remember saying to Barbara Ann after she had completed a practice on an outer forward rocker figure "boy you were lucky to control that one." She said, " I didn't think it showed!"

Another time was in training back loop change loops during which I was looking very closely. I challenged, "you slid your blade over on that - referring to the tracing at the top of the loop - which was about 3/16ths of an inch from the original tracing. Now there was only one visible tracing. She replied "yes" That is all it was to her. The idea was to be on one line. So that is what she performed. and that is a sample of what it was like to teach Barbara Ann Scott!

I mentioned earlier of a Judge that had Barbara Ann in 5th place in the figure part of the competition. Somewhere in the background and after the Olympic championship event was over, plans were being set to invite Barbara Ann to a private and non-official demonstration of her school figures skills before a few officials and the judge in question. I was invited to attend this performance and even to participate.

In attendance was Per Cock-Clausen a noted Danish skater and four or five more interested persons – some of them judges. Barbara Ann was asked to skate the right forward double three change double three figure. Upon completion of the figure, one of the persons said "there she is flat" this meaning that she was not on a true edge coming back to her center for the next pushoff or thrust. At this I took my glove and brushed away the light bit of snow that had fallen since the ice had been cleaned. "Gentlemen," I said, "I have followed Barbara Ann Scott like a bulldog for two seasons, and never have I found her to be on a flat! Iin fact this girl can come to a stop on an edge, she has incredible control!"

At that one of the officials volunteered, "Well, she looks like she is on a flat!" To that I said, "Gentlemen, you are the experts, it is your job to judge what is actually being performed, not what it looks like!" With that I was invited to skate the same figure, which I did, not by any means as well or as tidy as Barbara Ann’s, but more robust as I needed the extra power to completely get around the two circles since my glide was not as efficient as Barbara Ann’s. Then some one person again volunteered, "But you don’t look flat!" Again with my glove I swiped away the fallen snow and said "But gentlemen, I am flat!" This was plain to see and came as a surprise to some of them. It had been a fair examination with truth seeking individuals and we respected their willingness to find out the full value of Barbara Ann's skill and talent.

In my skirmishes with two of the coaches on earlier occasions, I had repeatedly stressed – "Let the skaters decide the championship". Now perhaps that could happen. Everywhere in the world there are true sportsmen and women, they were now coming to the fore to protect the values of their sport. We would be able to see in the next two weeks for the 1948 World Championship was to be held not far away in Davos.

After the 1948 World Championships, was a European tour. Tours are nice because the pressure is off and everyone is enjoying the sights and company of people who love skating. While there is a necessary letdown after the three grueling competitions, the skating programs have been designed for just this condition which follows championship skating.

Copenhagen was the first stop on the tour and Paris was the second. It was here, during the performance, that Murphy's law came into play. One record Barbara Ann used was a commercial recording of "Ave Maria". It had a slight crack in it and Barbara Ann had hoped to get through using it long enough to purchase another copy. During the rehearsal at the Palais Des Sport a person wishing to be helpful at putting records on inserted herself. This unfortunately happened at a time when help was not requested nor desired. The record was picked up by its edge and the crack completed its course. Now it was a very audible sound and even could damage the needle. Such is life on a tour! Again this too was overcome but not without some pain. Barbara Ann loved that solo, it meant a great deal to her. In Prague the stadium was so packed that several people needing medical attention had to be passed overhead like logs to awaiting medics! No one could fall down! In Neuchâtel, Switzerland, Hans Gerschwiler's hometown, the people were standing on their automobiles, on rooftops, in the trees to watch the afternoon exhibitions! After years of dreary war news - here was a breath of fresh air and it was in the person of - Canada's own Barbara Ann Scott! It has been said that timing is everything and most certainly it was the right time for Barbara Ann!

Upon returning home to Canada, during the train ride from Montreal, the train was stopped a number of times at small towns so that school children that swarmed onto the tracks could greet their new heroine as their Principals gave words of greeting and congratulations! The season, however, was not yet over for Barbara Ann. There was the Canadian championship to be skated in Calgary to win back her title as the lady champion of Canada, which she had given up by going to Europe to train on the outdoor ice the year before.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

I Came, I Saw, I Cured: The Alain Calmat Story


Born August 31, 1940 in Paris, France, Alain Calmat came from modest, working class roots. His parents ran a dry cleaning business near the family home on Avenue Winston-Churchill in Champs-Élysées. Though he'd taken his first steps on the ice some years earlier, young Alain didn't start focusing on figure skating seriously until he was nine when he started training at the federal rink of Boulogne-Billancourt. From an early age, he was taught by Jacqueline Vaudecrane, the grand dame of French figure skating who had coached Jacqueline du Bief to the World title in 1952. Madame Vaudecrane's hands were quite full throughout the fifties, for she coached not only Alain but his dear friend and long-time rival Alain Giletti. The two promising young skaters became lovingly known as "Les Deux Alains" to French skating fans.


Boulogne-Billancourt was a home away from home for Alain. In an April 21, 2006 interview in "Le Parisien", he recalled, "It was my high school... I keep great memories but I was very hard. Madame Vaudecrane imposed a sacred work. She was both our skating teacher and mother in general education. I lived in [Place de la République] (in Paris) and I had to go to Boulogne, twelve years, every morning at 6:00. As I was studying by correspondence, I spent my days there." Alain took both his on-ice education and schooling seriously, achieving high marks as a student of the Cours Hattemer school.


In 1954 at the age of thirteen, Alain won his first of thirteen medals at the French Championships. That year, he attended his first European and World Championships, placing an impressive fifth and eleventh, respectively. It wasn't until four years later, when he claimed his first of five French titles and won the bronze medal at the European Championships in Bratislava, that he began to be regarded as a bona fide medal contender.

Top: Alain Giletti and Alain Calmat in 1954. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Bottom: Alain Calmat signing autographs at Queen's Ice Rink in 1958

In the years that followed, Alain went on to claim five more medals at the European Championships - three of them gold - and win two bronze medals and two silver medals at World Championships. He was highly favoured to win the gold medal at the 1964 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, but fell twice in the free skate and 'settled' for silver. It was the first medal France ever won at the Olympics in men's figure skating.

Left: Alain Calmat, Manfred Schnelldorfer and Scotty Allen on the Olympic podium in 1964; Right: Alain Calmat on the cover of the magazine "Miroir Sprint" in 1965


Alain Calmat at the 1965 World Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Alain retired in 1965 after finally winning the World title that had eluded him for over a decade at the World Championships at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. Though Madame Vaudecrane was his primary coach during his entire career, he also was sent with Alain Giletti to America to train with Pierre Brunet alongside World Champion Donald Jackson of Canada.


Though in three trips to the Olympic Games Alain proved unable to win gold, he again made history by becoming the first French athlete to light the flame in the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble. When he lit the flame, the sound of his heartbeat was supposed to have been amplified from a wireless microphone taped to his chest over the loudspeakers. Unfortunately, he ran the length of the microphone with the torch, and when he mounted the stairs, his heartbeat wasn't audible. Nevertheless, seven thousand school children lit torches in celebration.


Throughout much of his competitive career, Alain had spent as much time in the books as he did on his brackets. After retiring and passing his medical exams, he became a surgeon and served as chief of abdominal and gastric surgery at the Hôpital à Montfermeil. He was part of Christian Cabrol and Charles Dubost's team that carried out the first heart transplants in France. He later worked as a professor and the head of the clinic at the hospital of Collège Pitié-Salpêtrière in Paris.


Excelling as a student, skater and surgeon wasn't enough for the ambitious Frenchman. He served as the President of the figure skating committee of the Fédération Française des Sports de Glace from 1972 to 1984. He also pursued judging for a time, acting as France's judge at the 1980 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid after being handed a three year suspension by the ISU in the seventies for national bias, which was later reduced to two. In the mid eighties, he embarked on a political career.


From 1984 to 1986, he served as the Minister Of Youth Affairs And Sports under Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, While serving as Minister, Alain staunchly opposed grants enabling athletes to "play both ways" with sport and education, having experienced "the hell of a double life" himself. He believed the risk of failure in both pursuits was too great and wanted athletes to have funding to be able to focus their full attention to athletic pursuits, and then be able to pursue their educational goals afterwards. He established the Calmat-Chevènement program which encouraged sports programs in elementary schools and helped instate France's Loto Sportif. Most endearingly however, he made a point of honouring his former coach Madame Vaudecrane with the legion of honour.


From 1986 to 1993, Alain served as the deputy of the Département of Cher, In 1995, he became the Mayor of Livry-Gargan. In 1997, he was re-elected as a Minister Of Parliament for the district of Seine-Saint-Denis and became a deputy in the French National Assembly. Serving through 2002, he was then re-elected as mayor of Livry-Gargan, a post he held until suffering a shocking defeat in 2014. Life in politics wasn't easy for the former World Champion. When representing Cher, one evening the door of his apartment was smashed in. "I only had time to get dressed," he told a reporter from "Le Berry Républicain" in 2013.


A recipient of numerous honours including the Légion d'honneur and National Order Of Merit, Alain is also a father of four and a talented singer and guitarist. He has served on a committee of locally elected representatives which has advocated for support and funding for HIV/AIDS research and as chairman of the Medical Committee of France's Olympic Committee.


Alain was also inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame in 1987... and that's where things get quite interesting. Articles from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1984 and the "Jewish Post" in 1986 identified him as being of the Jewish faith, yet in 2007, a user with the handle 'Ericdep' on Wikipedia went to great pains to remove all indication that Alain was Jewish: "M. Calmat ask us to remove all the references about this name [Calmanovich] which is defamatory as well as the indications about Jewish religion." A representative from the International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame explained, "Years ago we were told that Alain Calmat's family name was not Calmanovich, so we removed the reference on our website and subsequent publications. Mr. Calmat was elected in 1987, three decades ago, and none of those who participated in his election are still active with the Hall Of Fame. Our recollection is receipt of information that the skater's surname was not Calmanovich." The International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame still recognizes Alain as the first and only Jewish person to have lit the Olympic flame.


There's one thing we can be sure of. Alain Calmat's modest upbringing, perseverance and dedication in balancing medical studies and an exceptional skating career became to many young French athletes a shining example of what could be accomplished if you worked hard and stuck with it. Asked what words he wanted written on his epitaph, he once told a French journalist, "veni, vidi, curavi"... "I came, I saw, I cured."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

An Unusual Talent: The Hellmut Seibt Story

Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria
Born June 25, 1929 in Vienna, Austria, Hellmut Seibt first took up skating at the age of four after a doctor suggested some outdoor exercise as a recuperative measure after a bout with pneumonia. The youngster was carted off to the Engelmann rink by his parents. Soon, he caught the attention of Angela Hanka, Rudolf Kutzer and then reigning Olympic and World Champion Karl Schäfer. His training was directly hampered by World War II when Eduard Engelmann Jr.'s rink was badly damaged by allied bombings. Adding injury to insult, a training mate named Karl Jungbauer was killed in the War. However, the teenager stuck with the sport, taking to the ice at the Wiener Eislaufverein whenever possible until the Engelmann rink was repaired. The January 1, 1945 issue of the "Wiener Feldpost" described him as "an unusual talent".


Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria
In January 1946, this "unusual talent" made his debut at the Austrian Championships held at the Wiener Eislaufverein. Though he finished only fourth of the six men who competed that year - well behind Edi Rada - it was clear to many that he was a skater going places. Hellmut began training with Inge Lind-Solar and in 1948 at eighteen years of age competed in both singles and pairs (with Susi Giebisch) at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz. Having placed higher in singles than in pairs at the 'big three' - the Olympics, World and European Championships - that year, he made the decision to end his partnership with Giebisch and focus entirely on singles skating.

Photos courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

From 1950 to 1952, Hellmut enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top. He won three Austrian titles, the European titles in 1951 and 1952, a bronze medal at the 1951 World Championships and a silver medal at the 1952 Olympic Games in Oslo, Norway.

Hugh Graham, Carlo Fassi, Hellmut Seibt and Donald Jacoby. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Hellmut's silver medal win in Oslo behind Dick Button would not have been possible without his strong result in the school figures. He was only fifth in free skating and actually had fewer points than bronze medallist Jimmy Grogan. He defeated him only by having one fewer ordinal placing... and not without controversy. Suzanne Morrow-Francis later alleged that her mother, who was Canada's team leader at the Games, was approached by an Austrian official who said that if the Canadian judge helped Hellmut win the silver, Suzanne would win the silver medal in the women's event. Suzanne and her mother refused to participate in the deal and informed Canadian judge Norman Gregory of the situation. He refused to act on their complaint unless a third-party witness was produced and nothing came of it. There's no denying that Hellmut was well-known as a specialist in school figures, but his free skating was said by some to be at times uninspired. At the 1952 European Championships in Vienna, which he won, Finnish judge Walter Jakobsson had him in a tie for sixth in the free skating with Carlo Fassi, who won the silver medal.

Dick Button and Hellmut Seibt. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

After a disappointing fourth place finish at the 1952 World Championships in Paris, Hellmut turned professional and joined the Wiener Eisrevue, with whom he performed for three years. Reuniting with his former pairs partner Susi Giebisch, he was featured prominently in the show, alongside Fernand Leemans, Emmy Puzinger, Hans Leiter and Jiřina Nekolová. In 1956, he married fellow skater Inge Regner. The couple embarked on a highly successful career coaching side-by-side, much like the Fassi's. His Austrian students included Hanna Eigel, Regine Heitzer, Trixi Schuba, Peter Jonas and Günter Anderl.


The Seibt's moved to Düsseldorf in the early sixties, where Hellmut worked with Dagmar Lurz, Ralph Borghardt and Uschi Keszler. While in West Germany, he played an intregral role in organizing the 1964 World Championships in Dortmund. The Austrian power couple left West Germany in 1967 to coach the Italian national team in Milan. Under Hellmut's tutelage, Rita Trapanese rose through the ranks to medal at both the 1971 and 1972 European Championships in Zürich and Gothenburg.

Coming full circle, the Seibt's returned to Austria in the seventies, where Hellmut served as the coach of Austria's national team until his death on July 21, 1992 at the age of sixty three. After his death, the Hellmut Seibt Memorial was organized in his memory, originally as part of the European Criterium series. Past winners in various age categories and levels have included Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Keegan Messing, Clemens Jonas, Michal Březina, Miriam Ziegler, Denis Vasiljevs and Denis Ten. Though largely overlooked in comparison to his rivals at the time, Hellmut's contributions to figure skating in no less than three different nations were considerable.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

A Legend From Liverpool: The Jeannette Altwegg Story


"It was the only thing I knew how to do, and I couldn't go on doing it all my life." - Jeannette Altwegg, August 17, 1953, "The Glasgow Herald"

The daughter of Gertrude (Muirhead) and Hermann Altwegg, Jeannette Eleanor Altwegg was born September 8, 1930 in Coimbatore, a city in the Madras district of India. Her father, a Swiss born Briton, worked in Quilon with the Liverpool Cotton Exchange for a time before relocating the family to England when Jeannette and her brother Christopher were small children.

Jeannette learned to skate at the age of six at the Liverpool Ice Palace. It wasn't long before she showed promise. In an interview in the August 17, 1953 issue of "The Glasgow Herald", she recalled, "When I was ten I had to give up school to concentrate more on skating, and I had private schooling. I don't think I missed this at the time but later I realized that I had missed the companionship of children my age."


At the end of World War II, Jeannette's father returned to Switzerland when the Cotton Exchange was nationalized. He opened a textile factory in Winterthur. Jeannette relocated to Downe, a village in the London Borough of Bromley. When only a promising junior skater under the direction of Swiss coach Armand Perren, she was selected as a representative of Great Britain for the 1947 European and World Figure Skating Championships. She surprised everyone by finishing in the top five in both.


That September, Jeannette achieved success in another sport. She was the runner up in All-England Junior Championship at Wimbledon in lawn tennis, losing 6-3, 6-2 in the final to a Norma Seacy, the reigning Scottish junior champion at the time. Later that autumn, she claimed her first senior British skating title at Wembley, after amassing a huge lead in the school figures. It started to become clear at this point that focusing her attention solely on one sport was probably her best bet.



It was around this time that Jeannette started working with another esteemed Swiss coach, Jacques Gerschwiler. In Davos, Switzerland at the 1948 European Championships, the young skater finished fifth overall but found herself at the center of controversy in the school figures. The Ottawa Citizen, on January 14, 1948, recalled that Barbara Ann Scott "collected six firsts in the first four compulsory figures and one ninth place rating - given her by a British judge, Maj. K.S. Beaumont. Beaumont gave first-place ranking to Jeannette Altwegg, the British champion, although she appeared to be running fourth in the overall ranking." No national bias there at all, right?


Less than a month later, Jeannette and Barbara Ann Scott squared off again at the Winter Olympics in St. Moritz. In the school figures, the rivalry between Canada's sweetheart - Barbara Ann Scott - and the British skater was intense. In the February 5, 1988 issue of "The Toronto Star", Scott recalled, "The ice surface we used was surrounded by snowbanks. Jeannette's coach had a habit of standing at the side and extending a foot in the snow, close to the ice, so she'd have a target to line up her loops and keep them straight. It was a good idea but Sheldon [Galbraith] picked up on it. He'd wait until she'd started a figure and then go stand beside her coach and stick out a foot not far from his. When she'd turn, she couldn't look up to see which foot it was she was supposed to be guided by. All she could see was two of them. By the time we'd done the six figures, she was pretty mixed up." To be absolutely fair here, by all accounts five out of the six of Scott's figures were first rate and she probably would have won anyway. Jeannette did finish a strong second in that part of the competition with a score of 842.1 to Scott's 858.1. Eva Pawlik was ten points back in third. Free skating was a different story altogether. Jeannette finished a disappointing sixth. Yet, the February 7, 1948 issue of the "Dundee Courier" argued, "Miss Altwegg gave [a] masterly and polished performance. Miss [Maribel] Vinson was astonished at the low marks the British girl received." Again, the British judge placed her first, ahead of Barbara Ann Scott. Her strong finish in the figures assured her the bronze medal. She followed her Olympic bronze medal up with a fourth place finish at Worlds, again hampered by comparatively low free skating scores.


After being beaten in the early rounds in a second trip to Wimbledon in September 1948, Jeannette gave up competitive tennis and focused her attention solely on skating. Her decision paid off. She won her second British title in the autumn of 1948 and in the early months of 1949 claimed the bronze medal at both the European and World Championships. In the autumn of 1949, she won her third consecutive British title at the Empress Hall at Earl's Court, London. After claiming silver behind Ája Vrzáňová at the 1950 European Championships in Oslo, Norway, she returned to England for a rematch at the World Championships at Wembley's Empire Pool. Finishing less than a point behind the Czechoslovakian skater in the school figures, she took to the ice for the free skate in front of a crowd of nine thousand and fell fourteen points behind, yet managed to win the silver over France's Jacqueline du Bief on the basis of her outstanding figures.


That autumn, Jeannette won her fourth and final British title. Shortly after, she finally found herself atop the podium at the European Championships in Zürich, Switzerland. The twenty year old next headed to the Palazzo del Ghiaccio in Milan, Italy. In the figures, she amassed a fifty seven point lead in figures. Even Jacqueline du Bief's masterful free skating wasn't enough to narrow the gap. Though fifth in free skating, Jeannette managed to win her first World title by four points. Eminent British judge and author T.D. Richardson commented, "Jeannette shares with Cecilia Colledge, Hans Gerschwiler and Graham Sharp the palm for school figure-skating in modern times."



As the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo, Norway neared, it was all business for Jeannette. With Jacques Gerschwiler, she developed a new program to Offenbach's "The Tales Of Hoffmann" and decided to forgo the British Championships and focus her attention on the end game. After handing Jacqueline du Bief another defeat at the European Championships in Vienna, she headed to Oslo well-trained and ready to give it her best shot although she'd injured her knee.



Despite a fourth place finish in the free skate behind Virginia Baxter, Jacqueline du Bief and Tenley Albright, Jeannette's strong score in the school figures was enough to earn her the Olympic gold medal in her final competitive performance. It was the only individual gold medal that Great Britain won in those Games in any sport. Her victory provided a boost of morale to the people of Great Britain; a piece of wonderful news in a world of rationing and reconstruction. After winning, she performed in the closing ceremonies of the Games. She gave her final skating performance on April 23, 1952 in front of a full house at Kingsway Rink, Dundee, Scotland.


After winning her Olympic title, Jeannette made an unorthodox choice by refusing to turn professional. The February 23, 1952 issue of the "Sydney Morning Herald" exposed the reasoning behind her decision: "Jeannette and her Scots mother were taking tea when a cable arrived from the Music Corporation of America which confirmed a 2,000 pound a week offer to tour the world. Jeannette said: 'No thanks. Not for a million pounds. I've retired from competition skating. I want to get married and have children. What's the good of making a million? Tax would take most of it. I would get ideas far beyond me. I would have to keep up a position quite unnatural to me and waste a lot of money entertaining a lot of people I wouldn't like. Besides, I'm not a dramatic skater. I could never do popular music hall stuff. I'm not interested in luxury. I never had a pair of skating boots made for me until I came second in the world championship three years ago. A friend ran up the costume in which I won the Olympic title. You don't need lots of money and facilities to reach the top. It was the top for me and the end of all my sports ambition when I saw the Union Jack raised before that international crowd of 30,000 people on Wednesday night.'"


In April 1953, Jeannette was honored by Otto Mayer of the International Olympic Committee with a special diploma for her refusal to become a professional and became (on the recommendation of Sir Winston Churchill) Commander Of The British Empire in a June 11, 1953 "official birthday" celebration for Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace only nine days after the Queen's Coronation. She went to Winterthour, took a course in children's welfare and watched 1953 World Championships in Davos from the stands, remarking in the February 15, 1953 "Toledo Blade" that "Tenley [Albright] is the only one who is putting down some standard."


On her twenty second birthday, Jeannette accepted a job as Assistant to the Headmistress of the kindergarten school in the British war orphanages at Pestalozzi Children's Village in Trogan, Switzerland. Earning one hundred and twenty Swiss francs per month (less than three pounds per week), she toiled from 6:30 AM to 8 PM every day, washing, ironing, mending clothes, scrubbing floors and doing other housework. There were twelve houses in Pestalozzi for war orphans, each with ten to eighteen children... children from Great Britain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Greece and Finland. In the August 17, 1953 issue of "The Glasgow Herald", she beautifully reflected, "One of the greatest rewards for our work is to see the alert, happy and normal expression in the eyes of children who when they came looked only hopeless and frightened - like some of the Greek children, children of bandits who had never had a home or known their parents. It is more wonderful than anything you can imagine to feel the love and confidence these children gave you, and the knowledge that they are needed. They may not say thank you in so many words, but the way they come to take you for granted and trust you - as they would their own parents - means much more."


Dennis Bird and Jeannette Altwegg. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

While in Switzerland, Jeannette met her future husband Marc Wirz, a Swiss engineer who was the brother of Swiss Champion Suzi Wirz, one of Jeannette's perennial competitors. After announcing their engagement in London on April 17, 1954, the couple wed in a civil wedding in Bern, Switzerland in late September of that year, following this with a formal ceremony in the British church in Zürich on October 5, 1954. She cut her wedding cake with a skate blade made of English steel.

Jeannette and her family posing in front of their private plane. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Jeannette and Marc had four children together... and more than their fair share of adventure. They rode horses at their summer home in Majorca and took flying lessons in Bern. After earning her aviation license, Jeannette made the decision in the mid sixties to fly all the way from Switzerland to her country of birth, India. In an interview with Dennis Bird that appeared in "Skating" magazine in May of 1968, she recalled, "I was rather dubious about the trip. I wasn't too sorry when one of the engines broke down in Italy. We went the rest of the way by commercial airline. I'm sure we saw and enjoyed more of India that way that if we'd had to think about refueling stops and servicing." Jeannette and Marc ultimately divorced in 1973.


Following her divorce, Jeannette settled in Bern, Switzerland. Notoriously declining numerous interview requests in the decades that followed, she finally acquiesced and gave a select few when she attended the 2011 European Championships in Switzerland at the invitation of the organizers of the event. In of those interviews, with "International Figure Skating" magazine, she admitted, "The nicest part now is that I dream sometimes that I am doing quadruple jumps. I sort of get up there and ask, 'How many do you want?' Sort of arrogant, you know. Because when you are in it your dreams can be nightmares. You lose your skates or your music stops in the middle of your program..." Although she achieved her dream in 1952 and walked away from the sport, she still dreamed of skating. As Maribel Vinson Owen wrote so many moons ago, "Once a skater, always a skater." Maribel was right.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.