The 1983 Skate Canada International Competition


"One Thing Leads To Another" by The Fixx topped the music charts, American troops were invading Grenada after the assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and the cost of a liter of milk was two dollars. From October 27 to 30, 1983, a who's who of figure skating gathered in beautiful Halifax, Nova Scotia to mark the tenth anniversary of Skate Canada International. It was only the second time in history that the prestigious invitational competition was held in Atlantic Canada, the first being the 1977 event in Moncton. The CFSA picked up the tab for airfare, accommodations and meals of all skaters who participated. Figures were contested across the MacDonald Bridge at the Dartmouth Sportsplex and free skating events were held at the Halifax Metro Center on Brunswick Street - now known as the Scotiabank Center. The competition received extensive coverage on television and in the local and national print media.

Photo courtesy Halifax Public Library

Members of the Halifax Skating Club and Dartmouth Figure 8's volunteered as flower retrievers and runners and participated in the opening ceremonies and Parade Of Champions. These young skaters not only had the chance to watch some fabulous elite level skating; they also got to interact with the competitors. A group of girls even pooled their money to buy flowers for Paul Wylie on his birthday!

Photo courtesy Halifax Public Library

Prior to the competition, Brian Orser told "Chronicle Herald" staff reporter Marilla Stephenson, "The most exciting part of my skating career was [1981 Canadians] in Halifax, because it was so unexpected, even more than winning the bronze last year at Worlds. When I heard Halifax was hosting Skate Canada I got good vibes right away. I'm excited to be here. The audience was great the last time and I'm sure they will [be] just as enthusiastic this weekend."

Photo courtesy Halifax Public Library

The event included competitions for men's and women's singles and ice dancing. Though pairs skating wasn't included, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini were on hand to give several exhibitions. Fortunately, it was announced in Halifax that a pairs event would finally be included in Skate Canada in 1984. David Dore explained that when the event was first planned, "Our prime concern was to upgrade dancing in Canada. It was at a low ebb. And we didn't think that many nations had that many pairs. Pairs teams are always difficult to pull together."

Photo courtesy Halifax Public Library

The big story from Skate Canada in 1983 had to do with the Soviet Union. When a Soviet fighter plane shot down a South Korean airliner with nearly two hundred and seventy passengers aboard, Canada had imposed a sixty day ban on Soviet Aeroflot flights to Canada, forcing the Soviet team of skaters to first fly to Frankfurt, West Germany, then fly with Lufthansa to Mirabel in Montreal, and then take an Air Canada flight to Halifax. Ingrid Butt expressed, "It was a 'coup' for the Canadians to have the Soviet skaters there, especially since not only had Russia not participated in Skate America but had withdrawn at the last minute from the St. Ivel." The Soviet team had been invited to compete at Skate Canada at the previous year's World Championships. CFSA officials and Mayor Ronald Wallace had no intention of 'uninviting' them. Volunteer interpreters from Dalhousie University spoke to members of the Soviet team upon their arrival. Judge Tatiana Danilenko told them Skate Canada was a pleasure to judge as the competitors were all on an even playing field. Natalia Lebedeva, then only ranked fifth in her country, was thankful for the invitation and excited to welcome Canadian skaters at Skate Moscow the following spring.

Now that we've looked at a little background, let's hop in the time machine and revisit the most important part of Skate Canada International... the skating!

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

For the first time in his career, Brian Orser won all three figures in an international competition. He credited his success with the counter, bracket change and change loop to his work with Olympic Silver Medallist Karol Divín. Orser's achievement was even more remarkable because he was wearing two different types of contact lenses at the time, having misplaced the one for his right eye... and was suffering from the flu. Rounding out the top five after figures were Poland's Grzegorz Filipowski, France's Laurent Depouilly (a last minute replacement for Jean-Christophe Simond), Sweden's Lars Akesson and America's Paul Wylie.


Grzegorz Filipowski and Laurent Depouilly both went clean in the short program, landing double loop/triple toe-loop and triple toe-loop/double loop combinations. The strength of Filipowski's program was his dynamic choreography, whereas Depouilly brought the power in his program to Jeff Wayne's "The Eve Of The War".


However, neither skater was a match for Brian Orser, who performed a triple Lutz/double loop combination, double flip and double Axel with absolute ease and confidence. After the short program, Orser continued to lead, followed by Filipowski, Depouilly, Mark Cockerell and Paul Wylie. Canada's second entry in the men's event, twenty two year old Dennis Coi, missed two elements and dropped from eighth to tenth. Brian Orser told reporter Jim Gowen, "This is a new program and this is the first time I have used it in a major competition. I used a double into a triple last year without much success, so I went to the triple."

Brian Orser described his free skate in Halifax as "a reasonable performance". Skating to "King Of Kings", he successfully performed several triples including a Lutz, but put his hand down on a triple Axel attempt. Orser's effort was outshone by Japan's Masaru Ogawa, who was only sixth after the short program... and landed six triple jumps. With some help from a disappointing performance by Laurent Depouilly, Ogawa was able to move up and take the bronze medal behind Orser and Filipowski. Dennis Coi settled for tenth, behind skaters from America, France, the Soviet Union, Sweden and West Germany and ahead of Czechoslovakia's Thomas Hlavik.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Photo courtesy Halifax Public Library

Eleven couples vied for gold in the ice dance event... but none faced pressure like Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall. Not only were they the defending Canadian Champions, they were skating in McCall's hometown. They took the lead after the compulsory dances, but were much closer to the British team of Wendy Sessions and Stephen Williams than many would have imagined. In fact, three of the seven judges placed the British bank clerk and 'go-fer' at engineering firm ahead of the Canadians in the Starlight Waltz. However, Wilson and McCall's polished Tango OSP increased their lead significantly... making it clear to many that the Britons were in a battle for silver instead of a battle for gold.

Left: Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall. Right: Wendy Sessions and Stephen Williams. Photos courtesy Halifax Public Library.

Wilson and McCall's free dance, set to Elmer Bernstein's score for TV program "Johnny Stoccato", had a gangster theme. Wilson played a femme fatale and McCall as a well-meaning detective. The detective was hired to save the heroine before she got mixed up with 'the bad guys'.


In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "In the free, Tracy and Rob's jazzy gangster theme to 'Staccato' stimulated the home crowd, despite Tracy's weakness from strep throat. Rob's skating friends peppered the Halifax audience. Wendy and Steve, coached by Gladys Hogg, Bobby Thompson and Anne Crompton, used Hungarian gypsy music to end second. [Natalia] Annenko/[Genrikh] Sretenski - using the quick steps and constant changes in direction typical of Soviet free dances - needed to clean up their footwork and double-tracking but Natalia stretched well and had beautiful arm positions. Roca/Adair skated their showy Parisian motif to music from 'Irma La Douce' and 'Can Can' with effect... showing potential in moves copied from [Torvill and Dean's] 'Mack and Mabel' and 'Barnum'." Roca and Adair finished fifth behind West German high school student Petra Born and her partner Rainer Schönborn, a mountain trooper in the Bundeswehr, and ahead of the second Canadian couple, siblings Karyn and Rod Garossino. Wilson and McCall's win was historic. Not only did they receive a standing ovation, they were the first Canadian ice dance team ever to win Skate Canada. McCall's grandmother was in the audience and it was her first time seeing him skate live at a major competition.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

After the women's school figures, nineteen year old Kay Thomson of Toronto led the thirteen skater field, ahead of Italy's Sandra Cariboni, who won the first figure. East Germany's Katarina Witt, West Germany's Manuela Ruben and Tiffany Chin of the United States rounded out the top five.

Photos courtesy Halifax Public Library

Four thousand spectators showed up at the Metro Center for the women's short program. Katarina Witt and Tiffany Chin took the top two spots with clean performances. Kay Thomson, who was suffering from both strep throat and tendinitis in her right foot, opted not to attempt her planned triple Lutz/double loop combination. She nailed a double Axel/double loop instead, earned a standing ovation and held on to overall lead after the first two rounds of the competition with a third place in the short. Interestingly, after the short program there was actually a three-way tie for fourth place between Sandra Cariboni, Manuela Ruben and the second Canadian entry, Calgary's Kerry Smith.


In the free skate, Katarina Witt landed two double Axels, a triple toe-loop, triple Salchow and slightly two-footed triple flip. Tiffany Chin, fresh off wins at Skate America and St. Ivel, missed two triple toe-loops but landed a triple Salchow and ended her program strongly. Kay Thomson attempted the triple Lutz she'd omitted in the short program and fell, but otherwise gave an outstanding performance chock full of world-class spins and choreography. With a win in the free skate, eighteen year old Witt took home the gold ahead of Thomson, Chin, Natalia Lebedeva, Ruben and Smith. It was the first time since 1974 that an East German skater participated in Skate Canada. A fourteen year old Anett Pötzsch had won the silver medal behind Lynn Nightingale that year. As we know, both Pötzsch and Witt went on to win Olympic gold medals.


Following the event, Kay Thomson told Jim Gowen, "It's a new program. I'm feeling good about it. Things didn't go as well out there as I would have liked, but Katarina is ranked fourth in the world. It was nice while it lasted, being first. It [her triple jump] hasn't gone well in practice. My program is still so new there may be a lot of changes. I'm not discouraged. It was a tough competition." Thomson's silver medal helped contributed to Canada's win of the Nova Trophy for the team who accumulated the most points throughout the competition, ending a three year streak of American victories.

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