#Unearthed: A Victorian Woman's Perspective Of Figure Skating

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. Today's edition comes to you from Frances E. Slaughter's "The Sportswoman's Library", an 1898 two-part 'how-to' guide on women's recreation and sport. The author of the 'Skating' section, one May (Balfour) Talbot offers a first-hand perspective of skating in England during the Victorian era.


I propose in this article simply to give my own personal views on the subject of skating in general, and to say what I consider to be the best method of attaining proficiency in the art. As what I have to say will be rather jottings from my personal experience than anything in the nature of a normal treatise, I hope I may be excused if my remarks are of a somewhat scrappy and discursive character.

In England at the present time, the art of skating is passing through a transition stage, and it is quite possible that what to-day is regarded as a necessary condition of good skating, will in a few years' time be discarded as obsolete and old-fashioned. I think it therefore wiser, not to formulate any theory, or lay down any general rule on the subject, but to confine myself to giving my readers a few hints gathered from my own experience, which may prove useful to those who wish to attain a certain measure of proficiency in the art.

My earliest skating experiences were probably similar to those of most English people, that is to say, I was limited to the very short periods of frost that occur in English winters, and I had none of the advantages of regular instruction from competent teachers which it is easy now for anybody to get. I learnt to keep my balance, not on ice, but with roller skates on asphalt, and this was sufficient to enable me to go forward with a certain amount of ease when I first skated on ice. I remember vividly the first time I attempted the outside edge. This is a grand epoch in the life of any skater, and the sensation of accomplishing it for the first time, however clumsily, is never to be forgotten. I may say here, that I consider a real mastery of the outside edge the only foundation for all figure skating, and I believe it would be a mistake to attempt such accomplishments as going backwards, or turning a three, without first being fairly steady on the outside edge. Another point that I early learned to be of great importance, was to approach as near as possible equality on both legs, to attain which of course it is necessary to give one's weaker leg - in most cases the left - double practice.

The next advance I made was to turn a three from the outside edge. For a long time I practised this on my right leg alone and neglected my left, which of course was extremely unwise, and resulted in my being much weaker on that leg than on the other. The ordinary turning of a three is a comparatively simple matter, but the difficulty lies in being able to do it to a centre on both feet. Yet this accomplishment is absolutely essential to anyone who would attempt combined figures. In my opinion there is more enjoyment to be gained, both for performers and spectators, from combined figures gracefully and neatly done, than from far more difficult turns performed alone. I will not go into details as to particular figures, because they can be learnt so much better from the innumerable books that have been written on the subject.

Hand-in-hand skating is another most delightful branch of the art, and has been very strikingly developed in the last few years in England. A number of new scuds have been elaborated by the ingenuity of experts, many of which are most fascinating to do, and in many cases they have the great advantage of being performed either with one or two companions. The advance in this department of the art is largely due to the number of covered rinks that have been started lately in England and France, these being particularly adapted to the practice of this style of skating.

Another accomplishment, to which the practice of covered rinks is specially suited is waltzing on skate - which merely consists in a series of turns of threes, and outside-edge forwards and
outside-edge backwards. The important point to remember about waltzing is, that the partners must accommodate their steps, and the woman must take care not to drag. When gracefully and neatly done by two people, well used to each other, and to the sound of a good band, this sensation surpasses anything that can be enjoyed in ordinary dancing.

For my own part I have concentrated my energies on combined figures and hand-in-hand skating, and have never given much attention to the great variety of difficult turns that are to be done alone, though I do not by any means wish to depreciate the beauty of these, or the skill needed to perform them. But, under the conditions that prevail in England, it is difficult to get enough space in which to practice elaborate figures alone, so I am inclined to think that my course has been a wise one.

I mentioned above, that skating in England is in a transition stage, and by this I mean that the last few years have witnessed the introduction of what is called the foreign style of skating in England. At the present time most of our instructors are foreigners, or Englishmen who have thoroughly imbibed the foreign method, and the result is that beginners are induced to purchase foreign skates and to base their style on foreign models. The main difference between the two styles is, that the Englishman is taught to keep his unemployed leg close to the other and to be always erect, not to bend his knee, and in general to keep the body rather stiff and quiet. The foreigner, on the other hand, as might be expected from his more lively temperament, allows himself much more freedom in swinging and bending about. He thus gives the impression of enjoying himself more than the Englishman, and, in consequence, is more attractive to watch. To my mind, the ideal skater is one who combines the excellencies of both styles, that is one who, to the firmness and unobtrusiveness of the Englishman, adds the easy pace and brilliancy of the foreigner. The followers of both styles have a great deal yet to learn from each other, and, therefore, the blending of the two methods in England at the present day, is certain to lead to most beneficial results.

A few words now on the important subject of skates. Enormous improvements have been effected in them of late years, but in my opinion we are still very far from possessing the ideal skate. The main object of the best English skates (for instance the Mount Charles, or the Dowler) is to enable the wearer to hold long edges, whereas the foreign blade is especially adapted to rapid turns. What is wanted is some invention that would combine in one skate the special merits of both these kinds, so that the long firm edge and the sharp turn may be equally possible. At present this is only a dream of the future, and in the meantime I should be inclined to advise a modified form of the French skate, as on the whole the best adapted for all purposes.

I should strongly recommend everybody to keep their skates permanently fixed to one pair of boots. This is a practice however so generally adopted that it may seem superfluous to mention it. Laced boots should be worn specially made for skating, with thick soles and high in the leg, so as to give as much support as possible round the ankle.

In the matter of dress women have a distinct advantage over men. Our skirt both conceals deficiencies in style, and makes it easier to be graceful, the man with his closer garb being sadly exposed to the fierce light of criticism. The only essential for us, is to have a skirt short and well cut so as not to drag, and with this precaution we can indulge in as much variety as we

In conclusion let me say, I know of no exercise more exhilarating and healthful for women than skating in the open air, though, I am bound to say, this cannot be said of the exercise in covered rinks, as one is liable to get very hot and then to catch cold. The combination of hot air above and the cold current rising from the ice, does not tend to produce a very healthy atmosphere. But as we should not make such rapid progress, or have the advantage of seeing together so many good skaters of all nationalities, if we had not the covered rinks, many of us will not be inclined to complain.

I am afraid my remarks are very disconnected, but the subject is a difficult one to treat from a general point of view. I shall be satisfied if what I have said should inspire even one of my readers with a greater devotion to the beautiful art of skating.

Engraving of "Our Sisters In Canada"


It is natural that the art of skating should come to us from the North, for it is in the land of ice and snow that the problem of traversing the frozen surface of the snow-covered ground and the ice-bound water would have to be solved. With the Greeks and the Romans indeed, the great ruling nations of the South, there was no word to designate the exercise - a conclusive proof that it was unknown to them. But from Scandinavia we have an old war song which tells of the progress of the God of Winter over the water, supported on the bones of animals, and this shows that the skates of those early days were made of bone, though they were, as might be expected, of most primitive structure. It is generally agreed that the necessity of crossing the enormous fields of frozen snow during the long
Scandinavian winters led to the fashioning of snow-shoes, and that from these were made the smaller skates, by the aid of which the frozen waters could also be crossed, locomotion thus being made possible.

The early form of the bone skate was brought to England by the Northern tribes which settled in our midst, though it was to our Dutch neighbours, at a much later period in our history, that we owed the introduction of the wooden skate bound with iron, which is the prototype of our skate of to-day. From the earliest efforts with the primitive bone skates to the graceful evolutions now possible on a modern Mount Charles there is a marvellous change, and the art which has a history of nearly two thousand years behind it, is entitled to a place among the time-honoured pastimes of the world.

A beginner in this, as in all other pursuits, is met at the outset of her career, when she is without practical knowledge to guide her in the choice, by the difficulty of selecting a proper instrument. She must then trust to others. As the choice however is not large, she can scarcely do wrong in investing in a Mount Charles, which should be fixed to a well-fitting boot with low heels, a fairly thick sole, and laced upper leathers.

But the first efforts will, if she is wise, be made on roller-skates, for though the tide of fashion has set against this form of skating, and it is only in far-off Simla and a few scattered places that it still holds its own, it is unrivalled as a means to the end of skating on ice. On roller-skates the learner can follow up her study systematically day after day, independent of weather conditions, and can acquire the two primary essentials of successful skating, viz., balance and confidence.

When these have been acquired you may then make your first attempt on ice with every prospect of success. With steady practice you will soon learn to manage your skates, but never forget during these early days that you must ever be on your guard against the countless tricks which beset the beginner at every stage of her progress. Some people will indeed advise you, when you first put on your skates proper, to walk about a carpeted room with them, while others will tell you to make your first efforts on the ice itself. In this you will probably be guided partly by the age at which you begin the pastime - whether, that is to say, a fall is a serious matter or one to be disregarded with the smiling; carelessness of youth - and partly by the degree of confidence you have acquired on the roller-skates.

In any case, when you find yourself on the ice for the first time, you will endeavour to walk forward on your skates with short and careful steps. If you have assistance to prevent you from the inevitable tumbles that will otherwise be your lot, your progress will be safe but slower than it you take your courage in both hands and carry out unaided the good old nursery maxim of "try, try, try again," till the delightful foretaste of success comes to you, in the first quivering glide forward - without a too sudden descent at the end.

Remember, when making these first efforts at walking, that the foot on which you are resting on the ice should have both the ankle and knee kept stiff, or you will find your ankle twist sideways. You must also take care to keep the feet well under you, as until you have found your balance they will have an inclination to slide apart, and thus render a fall imminent. After a short experience of this tottering effort after equilibrium, you will probably almost instinctively begin to slide forward with both feet, and for the moment you will find sufficient pleasure in movement of any kind. I have indeed seen quite a rapturous expression of triumph come over the face of a middle-aged beginner, when she first managed the smallest of small slides without it ending in a catastrophe, or in a wild clinging to her guide. The good lady doubtless saw in the dim future the end in view for which she was willing to expend so much patient effort, and so shall we, and in a shorter time, if fewer winters have passed over our heads before we make our first venture.

A few hours at least should be devoted to this preliminary experience, and then you will probably be able to try the inside edge forward, which is the first step to master. With your feet turned at an angle of 45 degrees, you will press downward with the ball of your left foot, so that you may have a secure position from which to start, and you will slide forward with your right foot only on the inside of the skate, balancing yourself entirely on that foot. You will then bring the left foot forward from the position it has held with the toe of the skate held just off the ice behind the right foot, and pressing the inside edge of the skate under the ball of the right foot into the ice, you will slide forward with your left, striking out farther and farther as you find you can keep your balance during the stroke. The
position of the body should be slightly sideways, with the face in the direction of progress.

To perform a half-circle and a circle will then be your aim, until you can succeed with a perfect figure of 8. By the time you have mastered this, you will be ready for the turn on both feet and the backward stroke or the inside edge, after which the forward and backward stroke of the outside centre will be your study. In all backward movement the head must be turned in the point of direction, while the weight of the body is thrown on the back part of the skate, instead of on the front part as in a forward movement.

As soon as complete mastery of both edges has been gained, and that the fate of the immortal Winkle may not be yours, you have learnt the art of stopping, you will find all the simple figures within your powers. Do not, however, be hurried into trying any combination, however simple, until you have acquired the art of easy and graceful motion on the inside and outside edges, both forward and backward.

The Hand-in-hand Figures are much in vogue among women in all countries, and these are pretty and effective, as well as simple to execute by anyone who has thoroughly grounded herself in the rudiments of skating. The more usual way of executing these figures in this country is for the partners, generally a man and a woman, to stand side by side, joining their right hands underneath the left, which are also clasped sideways, though occasionally what is known as the Austrian mode is adopted, viz., by the woman standing in front of her partner and bending her hands under and backward at her side, when they are taken in the clasp of the man behind.

It is to the daughters of the inventor of the Plimpton roller-skates that we are indebted for the various fascinating forms of hand-in-hand skating now in vogue, and for the effective movement known as " a pass," we are equally beholden to Miss [Lilly] Cheetham, who was, I believe, the first to put it in practice. For the many varieties of Scuds and Rockers now constantly to be seen at the much patronised covered rinks, reference may be made to Mr. Maxwell Witham's book "A System of Figure Skating," in which are to be found diagrams of some very simple figures taken originally from the archives of the Oxford Skating Society. These will be well within the powers of all, and in the case of the stronger and more enthusiastic women skaters will form a fitting prelude to the execution of the more elaborate "Club Figures."

In Figure 1, the skaters take up their positions facing one another upon each side of a square, the start being made by each skater with the right foot, on a curve of outside edge, continuing this for half a circle when the left foot will be put down and the stroke taken, either in the ordinary way or from the cross, and the whole circle of outside on the left foot skated. This will bring each skater into the original place of the other and the movement can be repeated. The figure can also be skated backward, in which case the position for starting will be with the backs instead of the faces of the skaters towards each other.

Figure 2 is very similar to the former. The skaters take up their positions facing one another at four points of the inner circle, skating off on a curve of outside edge with the right foot and
going round the inner circle. The left foot is thus put down and the stroke taken in the ordinary way or from the cross, another circle of outside edge being skated on the left foot. This will bring the skater to the inner circle again when the movement can be repeated, and the whole figure can be skated backwards.

A variation of this figure can be made thus: "The skaters only go three-quarters round the centre circle, so that the outside circle described always lies immediately behind the one on which each skater last travelled round. The skaters thus changing their positions has a pretty effect. Arrived at the common circle the movement is repeated, each skater taking her partner's hand (the four hands being thus crossed) which is retained until the whole circle, which all have in common, has been skated, when each again branches off as before described."

In all skating, neatness, precision, and an easy, upright carriage are the things to be aimed at, and as you feel yourself getting at home on your skates, remember it should be your object to disguise your stroke as far as possible, so that your progress may have the smooth, graceful ease of apparently unbroken motion.

Shortly, the great points to be attended to when learning are :

1. An upright carriage without stiffness.
2. Straightness of the knee of the employed leg.
3. Approximation of the feet.
4. A slight sideways position of the body, with the face in the direction of progress.
5. Equality of power on either leg, to attain which extra practice for the weaker leg - generally the left - will be needed.

When these have been acquired the full delight of the health-giving exercise of skating will be open to you.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

A Minneapolis Skate Maven: The Margaret Bennett Story

Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library

Margaret Helen Bennett was born September 17, 1910 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She grew up in a cozy Garfield Avenue home with her parents Helen (Richardson) and Ashley Clayton 'A.C.' Bennett and older sister Irene. Her father was a prolific inventor who applied for patents for a carburetor, air-cleaner, smoke cleaner, suction cleaner and an apparatus for supplying fuel oil to furnaces. He also dabbled in aviation, patenting an airplane and (with Ralph D. Wickox) making several attempts to fly it on Lake Minnetonka.

A.C. Bennett's airplane patent

A.C. Bennett was also one of Minneapolis' top figure skating instructors and a patron and mentor to a who's who of Minnesota skaters, including Roy and Eddie Shipstad, Oscar Johnson and Robin Lee. Margaret's grandfather, Henry Hamilton Bennett, passed away two years before she was born. He was a photography pioneer in Wisconsin who served as a soldier in the Civil War.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Margaret was a regular on the ponds of the Twin Cities during the roaring twenties - considered something of a young prodigy, in fact - but it wasn't until she started taking lessons from Julius B. Nelson that she entered the world of competitive figure skating.

Top: Joan Dix, Fritzi Burger and Margaret Bennett having tea at the 1932 Winter Olympic Games. Bottom: Louise Weigel, Grace Madden, Margaret Bennett and Estelle Weigel. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.Louise Weigel, Grace Madden, Margaret Bennett and Estelle Weigel. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In early 1931, she claimed the U.S. junior women's title in Boston and finished fourth in the North American Championships. That December, she finished second to Maribel Vinson at the U.S. Championships, earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. At the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, she finished eleventh. At the subsequent World Championships, she dropped to twelfth. However, the American, Finnish and Norwegian judges had her as high as seventh in free skating... ahead of future Olympic Silver Medallist Cecilia Colledge.

Margaret Bennett and her two year old daughter Caroline. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following those World Championships in Montreal, Margaret married bookkeeper Walter F. Anthony. After giving birth to daughter Caroline, she returned to the ice to participate in a 'barnstorming tour' of ice shows in Midwestern cities and towns organized by Edward Eylar and her father. She even teamed up with Roy Shipstad of future Ice Follies fame to give exhibitions in pairs skating. Margaret and her husband later divorced, and she moved to Chester, Connecticut, where she became a hospital administrator. She passed away there on June 7, 1984 at the age of seventy three, her brief reign as Minneapolis' skating queen largely forgotten.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The 1939 European Figure Skating Championships

Several of the women's competitors in London in 1939 including Megan Taylor, Britta Rahlen, Emmy Puzinger, Martha Musílek, Gladys Jagger, Eva Nyklova and Daphne Walker. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Victrolas in England blared "The Washing On The Siegfried Line" and Norwegians laid claim to over one million square miles of land in the Antarctic for whaling. Famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats passed away less than two weeks after the first of the Irish Republican Army's S-Plan bombings in London. Bias-cut silk tulle gowns were all the rage and a popular luncheon dish was Grilled Cod Steak with Parsley Butter, served with a cup of Horlick's Malted Milk. 

In early 1939, around eight months before World War II began with the German invasion of Poland, the world's best figure skaters convened in three different European cities to battle for supremacy in the European Figure Skating Championships. The women's event was held first, on January 23 and 24, 1939 at Empress Hall, Earl's Court in London, England. The men's event was held next, from January 27 to 29 in Davos, Switzerland. Finally, the pairs took to the ice on February 4 in Zakopane, Poland.

Megan Taylor (top) and Cecilia Colledge (bottom) at the 1939 European Championships

Less than a year before food began to be rationed in England, nine thousand Londoners paid three pounds apiece for tickets to see the women's competition, which was on a combined bill with the British Championships for junior men and women. Manchester's Megan Taylor decisively beat the two time and reigning European Champion Cecilia Colledge four judges to one in the school figures. Cecilia's only first place ordinal came from British judge Ian Home Bowhill. Three judges had Daphne Walker third, with the German judge placing Hanne Niernberger third and the Czechoslovakian judge lending his support to Eva Nyklova.

Megan Taylor, Cecilia Colledge and Daphne Walker

Garbed in white satin, Cecilia Colledge rebounded with an exceptional free skate. Though the German judge tied her and Taylor, three other judges (including the British judge) had her in first place. The Swedish judge placed Walker, who no other judge had first or second, ahead of the rest. A journalist from the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" raved that Colledge's free skate was "a joyous experience" and that Walker's free skate rivaled that of Taylor's, who appeared to succumb somewhat to nerves.

After the free skating marks were tallied with those from the figures, it was determined that Colledge narrowly defeated Taylor for the title, 1845.5 points to 1837.4. Walker took the bronze, making it the first (and to date) only time in history that a trio of British women swept the podium at the European Championships... in their home country, no less!

As previously mentioned, 'Junior Competitions in Figure Skating for Men and Ladies' over the age of twelve who hadn't competed in the British Championships previously were also held in conjunction with the event. One of the Whittington sisters from Purley won the women's event, with Winnie Silverthorne second and Freddie Tomlins' sister Peggy third. Dennis Silverthorne won the men's event, with Adrian Pryce-Jones second for the second year in a row.

Freddie Tomlins in Davos. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

British skaters again dominated in Davos, when Henry Graham Sharp took a unanimous lead in the men's school figures, ahead of Horst Faber, Freddie Tomlins, Hans Gerschwiler and Edi Rada. In an effort to boost 'his own' skater, the German judge placed Faber second and Tomlins fifth in the figures. The same judge later gave Tomlins lower marks than others at the World Championships as well.

Henry Graham Sharp in Davos. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.
A journalist from the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" remarked that Sharp "skates incredibly precise school figures that are first class... of an almost machine like quality" and the "fight was almost hopeless" for Faber and Rada in the final phase of the competition. In a close contest, Sharp defeated Tomlins three judges to two in the free skate, with the British judge lending his support to Sharp. Faber claimed the bronze behind the two Britons, some ten ordinal placings ahead of Rada and Gerschwiler. It was the first and only time that British men took the first two spots at the European Championships. Felix Kaspar, the defending Champion, did not compete.

Horst Faber, Henry Graham Sharp and Freddie Tomlins celebrating their medal wins in Davos with an adult beverage. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

With no British teams entered, more history was made in Zakopane when a trio of teams representing Germany swept the podium. Although teams from East and West Germany would later sweep the podium at the 1961 European Championships in West Berlin, the Zakopane event marked the only time in history that three teams representing a 'unified' Germany swept the podium at the European Championships... and they did so under the Nazi swastika flag.

The pairs medallists at the 1939 European Championships. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier took top honours, decisively beating their former Austrian rivals turned German teammates Ilse and Erik Pausin. Inge Koch and Günther Noack rounded out the top three. The six remaining teams, representing Nazi Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, were some distance back from the medal winners.

Horst Faber, Cecilia Colledge and Nazi official Thomas Kozich in Vienna. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Following the competition, many of the world's best headed to Vienna, Austria to skate exhibitions at the Wiener Eislaufverein. Several of the skaters were honoured at the Viennese town hall by NSDAP politician turned Sturmabteilung (SA) leader Thomas Kozich. Less than a year later, the course of the world's history had been changed forever. The European Championships wouldn't be held again for eight years and none of the champions in 1939 returned to defend their titles in Davos in 1947.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

One Should Definitely Give A Frick About Willie Frick

Willie Frick, Tenley Albright and Maribel Vinson Owen in Vienna. Photo courtesy Dr. Tenley Albright, Elee Krajlii Gardner (personal collection). Used with permission.

"He really made skating fun for me. Willie had such a great sense of humour. He would try to get me to laugh at my mistakes. He had some favourite comments to make whenever I fell down or goofed up. For example, he would say, 'Oops, the ice came up and hit you,' or 'Where there's still life, there's hope,' and somehow that always made me feel better." - Tenley Albright, 1973

The son of Paul and Amelia (Elsing) Frick, Willie Paul Frick was born June 23, 1896 in Berlin, Germany. Primary sources glean little information about his youth or when and where he started skating. He never medalled at the German Championships or competed in a major international competition prior to the Great War but instead turned professional, navigating the obvious challenges of international travel during wartime as a mere teenager to teach skaters in London, Berlin, Leningrad, Warsaw, Paris and Brussels. Short in stature but overwhelming in his talent, he reportedly earned the nickname 'The Boy Wonder Of Berlin'.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Following in the footsteps of Charlotte Oelschlägel, Willie emigrated to America in 1920 and joined the cast of Charles Dillingham's productions at The Hippodrome in New York City. It was there he met Cathleen Pope, a pairs skater in the show. Willie and Cathleen had much in common. They were the same age, both loved skating and Cathleen's father was an Austrian immigrant, so she knew first Willie's challenges of moving to a new country.

Hired as instructors by The Skating Club Of Boston, Willie and Cathleen relocated to Waltham, Massachusetts and took up residence in a small home on Lexington Street. Unlike many coaches who rink-hopped, the Frick's remained loyal to the Boston club for over forty years. He also taught at the Cambridge Skating Club.

Early in Willie's coaching career, he was a much sought after performer in carnivals throughout the Eastern Seaboard. He gave pairs and ice dancing exhibitions with his wife, performed comedy skits with Edwina Earle and dazzled crowds with his signature number, where the arena's lights were lowered and he performed special figures around a design of lit candles! In 1927, he appeared on artificial ice at the Palace Theater in Worcester, skating a quartet with his wife, Bobby Hearn and Harry Fleming. They were known as The Hippodrome Skaters.

A list of skaters who studied under Willie Frick reads like a who's who of American figure skating in the twenties, thirties, forties and fifties: Maribel Vinson Owen, Tenley Albright, Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles, Joan Tozzer and Bernard Fox, Thornton Coolidge, Roger Turner, Sherwin Badger, Grace and James Madden, George Hill, Ted Goodridge, Polly Blodgett, Suzanne Davis, Gretchen Merrill and Dorothy Glazier and Lyman Wakefield Jr. were just a few of his many talented students. Willie acted as the coach of the 1932 Olympic team in Lake Placid, an area he'd return to frequently to coach in the summers.

When Maribel Vinson Owen decided to give up defense of her U.S. women's and pairs titles to train abroad for a year, Willie supported her wholeheartedly. He not only encouraged her, he joined her in England for a time, having passed all of the National Skating Association's tests himself during a 1933 visit. Having studied figures under the great Bernard Adams, Willie later developed what Maribel termed as the 'Frick-Adams method' of skating the rocker. He was also credited by Maribel with several other innovations - the spread eagle/Axel/spread eagle, foot-in-hand Jackson Haines spin and the Frick Spin - a sit spin where skater holds on to free foot with either one or both hands. These spins were of course precursors to the modern cannonball spin.

Photo courtesy Professional Skaters Association

When the Professional Skaters Guild - a precursor to the modern Professional Skaters Association - was founded in the thirties, Willie served as the Association's first Vice-President. He later acted as chair of the Arbitration and Integrity Committee. He registered for the draft in 1942 but was never called upon to go overseas. On his twenty-fifth anniversary with The Skating Club Of Boston in 1946, he was given an honorary membership.

Throughout Willie's life, he was constantly confused with Mr. Frick - Werner Groebli - one half of the famous Swiss comic skating duo Frick and Frack. If you believed the local rumour mill, Cathleen and Willie Frick's home was where Frick and Frack lived.

Sadly, Willie passed away on July 29, 1964 at Waltham Hospital after a long illness, just three years after his star pupil Maribel Vinson Owen. He was inducted posthumously to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1981, becoming the first German born coach to earn that distinction. Had it not been for his efforts, Boston may never have become the skating powerhouse it did.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

A Nifty Look Back At New Brunswick's Skating History

Exterior of the Victoria Skating Rink in Saint John. Photo courtesy Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

2019 may mark the first time that Saint John has played host to the Canadian Championships but it is actually the fourth time New Brunswick has hosted Canada's best. In 1974, 1985, 1992 and 2012, the city of Moncton played host to the Canadian Championships, where legends like Toller Cranston, Brian Orser, Liz Manley, Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Patrick Chan claimed gold.

Although it is right under our nose, New Brunswick's engrossing skating history is sadly far too often overlooked. The province played host to Canada's first known skating club at Lily Lake in 1833 and Saint John, New Brunswick - site of the city's popular Victoria Skating Rink - became known as the country's speed skating mecca. In 1863, Maliseet hunter and guide Gabriel Acquin skated seventy three miles down the Saint John River in what the London Guide called "the most remarkable feat... ever recorded." At his skate factory at Jones Creek in 1867, eighteen year old James Albert Whelpley developed the Long Reach Speed Skate. He later patented the seventeen ice long skate, which was incredibly popular with speed skaters on the Saint John and Kennebecasis Rivers. In fact, so talented were the province's speed skaters that Norway's Axel Paulsen - the inventor of the Axel jump and one of the most successful racers of his era - came by railway to the province in the winter of 1884. He sold plenty of his patent tube skates but lost an exhibition race to Hugh J. McCormick of Kennebecasis Island. The ensuing well documented rivalry of the Norwegian and the New Brunswicker remains a fascinating highlight of Canadian winter sport history during the Victorian era.

Skaters on Lily Lake, circa 1899. Photo courtesy Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

The earliest documented figure skaters in New Brunswick took to the reflective, black ice of Marsh Creek and Lily Lake. The latter was the site of one of Canada's first organized skating clubs in 1833 and often attracted British officers that were garrisoned in the city for intervals. Many of these military men became quite proficient skaters. By the middle of the century, two Lily Lake skaters named Oliver Goldsmith and Albert Lyon gained popularity for their ability to carve their names on the ice in addition to other intricate figures of their own design. The sport caught on recreationally to such an extent by 1863 that a letter to the editor in "The Morning News" on January 26 of that year stated that skating "is contagious also, passing from house to house until the residents move en masse, skates in hand, to Lily Lake... It is fine recreation. The pale faces become flushed with a healthy hue, and everyone seems happy. No cross-natured people are admitted. And I will give you a friendly hint: Don't go without skates or you will be as I was - A Nonentity." Two years later, the lavish Victoria Skating Rink was built in Saint John. Fancy dress carnivals rivalling the Montreal Masquerades and those in Halifax were held. Everyone from Henry IV to Little Red Riding Hood were represented, many sporting skates brought up into town from Nova Scotia's Starr Manufacturing Company.

Poster announcing an 1884 exhibition by Louis Rubenstein in Miramichi, New Brunswick. From the collection of Rubenstein RB Digital Inc., Rubenstein Bros.

Costumed carnivals on ice aside, speed skating without a doubt reigned supreme in New Brunswick. If racing was not your speed (pardon the pun) you would have been largely relegated to sharing the ice with pleasure skaters to practice your figure eights. Despite the fact that Saint John mayor Albert Chipman Smith took an interest and served as a director of the Victoria Skating Rink, fancy skating just wasn't catching on.

Interior of the Victoria Skating Rink in Saint John. Photo courtesy Provincial Archives Of New Brunswick.

All of that changed in the 1880's, when a number of figure skaters of note including Mabel Davidson visited the province to show off her fancy skating prowess and Louis Rubenstein gave exhibitions in St. Stephen, Newcastle, Bathurst, Chatham and Moncton. An account from the March 12, 1884 edition of "The Daily Sun" details how the master from Montreal squashed the skaters of Saint John when he visited that year: "First came the fancy skating, the entries being Louis Rubenstein, champion of Canada, A.G. Stevens, A.M. Currie and Herbert Campbell. The programme included plain skating, cross roll, threes, plain eight, double eight, eights and loops, plain and double eight on one foot, eight with loops on one foot, grape vine, scissors, spins, pyramid spins, cross cut or anvil, and pivot figures. Rubenstein executed the different figures beautifully, his skating being universally admired. Stevens and Currie skated with good style, eliciting applause from the crowd. Campbell who is a mere boy dropped out when the programme was half finished, but the manner in which he skated was very fine. The specialities given by Rubenstein were the Maltese cross, several spins and a number of fancy figures. Stevens and Currie did the waltz, their initials, the eagle, the polka and several other figures. Rubenstein made 40 points out of a possible 45. Currie 21 and Stevens 20. Sheriff Harding presented the medals, a gold one to the champion, and silver medals to Stevens and Currie. The gold medal is very handsome. It bears the following inscription: 'Fancy Skating, Victoria Skating Club, St. John, N.B.'" One point that stands out immediately in this account is the fact that both Stevens and Currie performed "the waltz". Blogger Ronald J. Jack has suggested that "Saint John might have an earlier claim", but if you look at the context of performing "the waltz" as a speciality in a fancy skating competition, it appears evident that Stevens and Currie would have performing waltz steps individually and not Valsing.

After the competition, Louis Rubenstein (ever the epitome of good sportsmanship) mentored his nineteen year old competitor Albert G. Stevens. He went on to compete in fancy skating tournaments throughout Canada and the United States over the next ten years including the 1894 'Canadian Championships' held in Quebec, where he tied with a Mr. E. Dumas of Montreal for third place. Brian Flood's wonderfully researched 1985 book "Saint John: A Sporting Tradition 1785-1985" (which I used as a source for this blog) stated that "his style and grace was admired by all who watched him." Although he had stopped competing early in the last decade of the nineteenth century, "The Daily Sun" records Albert giving a fancy skating exhibition in January of 1898 at the Up Town (Singer) Rink and census records place as him as still residing in Saint John in 1911 with his brother and mother. Albert G. Stevens passed away on January 9, 1944 in the city and his obituary noted his skating achievements and that his brother Beverly was also a fancy skater.

Skaters in Saint John's Rockwood Park in 1899. Photo courtesy Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

Although Flood described Stevens as "Saint John's first and last great fancy skater", he was not without peers. Edge tool manufacturer G. Wilford Campbell, a speed skating competitor of Hugh McCormick, was widely known prior to the Great Fire Of 1877 for his fancy skating prowess. He took up the craft at the age of fourteen, inspired by a Maritime champion named Jack Cummings and at the age of seventy five in 1937 was still out there rocking it. An article from the June 14, 1937 edition of "The Montreal Gazette" noted, "Campbell does the Philadelphia twist, Dutch roll and double eight with the greatest of ease. Last year he abandoned the clamp skates he had used since 1886 and cut 22 figures with modern blades. This winter, he confined himself to 20, leaving out the '8 with loops' and the '8 with loops and 3's. But he hopes to go through the entire repertoire next year when he really gets his ice legs on the new skates." Campbell gave exhibitions until right before his death at the age of eighty one.

Sackville, New Brunswick's skating rink in 1892. Photo courtesy Provincial Archives of New Brunswick.

Long after Louis Rubenstein came, conquered and inspired one of his competitors to follow his lead and Campbell carved out his last figure eight, figure skating began to come into its own in the province. The Sunny Brae Arena in Moncton, designed and built in 1922 by R.C. Donald, thrived as a venue for six years in the twenties until it was destroyed in a devastating fire that look the life of a young girl. Despite the tragedy, the people of New Brunswick skated on.

Sonja Henie

Sonja Henie visited New Brunswick with her Hollywood Ice Revue in 1952, performing in St. Andrews By-The-Sea, Fredericton and Saint John. Her three-night engagement at the world famous Algonquin Hotel was a far cry from Hollywood indeed. Sonja and her troupe performed in an unheated Quonset hut to six hundred spectators a night. There were no toilets and nearest restroom was in a gas station a mile away. Sonja's secretary and backstage crew had to arrange a wardrobe to serve as a makeshift dressing room. Yet, the Norwegian skater won over the hearts of New Brunswickers.

In the sixties, Alex Balisch started his Summer Figure Skating School in St. Andrews By-The-Sea. The first New Brunswick Section Figure Skating Championships were held in Oromocto in 1970. Saint John has thrice been the site of Skate Canada International. The latter city even hosted the World Junior Figure Skating Championships from November 30 to December 7, 1997, where a very young Aliona Savchenko competed with partner Dmitri Boenko.

Many accomplished skaters have come out of the province over the years including Olympian Eric Gillies and Shawn Sawyer, Canadian Champion Mark Mitchell and Canadian junior champions Hugh Yik, Chad Hawse and Ken Rose. I can tell you from personal experience that when the skaters from Northern New Brunswick came down to compete at Skate Dartmouth (now the Rob McCall Memorial) back in the nineties, you knew you had to step it up a notch. Not bad for a province where at one time if you were practicing a figure eight, you were looking over your shoulder to make sure you didn't get run over by a throng of speed skaters who were competing for cold hard cash. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

The 1998 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Savage Garden's "Truly Madly Deeply" topped the music charts, the media had a frenzy over Alan Eagleson's guilty plea in the NHL scandal and everyone was going gaga over Giga Pets, "Good Will Hunting" and Ginger Spice. The year was 1998 and from January 7 to 11, over three hundred of Canada's best figure skaters gathered at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario to compete in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

The competition took place during The Great Ice Storm of 1998, which caused over five billion dollars in damage in North America, left millions without power and led to the largest Canadian military deployment since the Korean War. Fortunately, the lights were on at Copps Coliseum but many of the telephone lines were down, causing a real headache for organizers, officials, media and competitors. Despite this challenge, CTV managed to pull off twelve hours of coverage without a hitch.

1998 coin commemorating one proposed date for Canada's first fancy skating championship and one hundred years of figure skating in Canada

Less than a week before the competition, twenty year old Julie Laporte, fifteen year old Sonia Arsenault and twelve year old Catherine Roussel were killed when Laporte, the young coach of the two teenagers, lost control of her vehicle on an icy road northeast of Rimouski, Quebec. The trio were on their way to a benefit ice show. Laporte had only recently retired from competitive skating and was a former pairs partner of David Pelletier. Laporte and Pelletier had in fact won the Canadian junior pairs title in Copps Coliseum only five years prior. Many members of the Quebec team, who travelled to Hamilton via bus, were just inconsolable.

On a happier note, a special celebration was planned in Hamilton to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Barbara Ann Scott's gold medal win at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz. Despite the fact she was just getting over a battle with viral pneumonia in both lungs, Scott surprised even her husband and "moved heaven and earth" to be there, dressed to the nines of course.

Jean-Michel Bombardier, Jennifer Robinson, Elvis Stojko, Michelle Menzies, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz. Photo courtesy 1998 Canadian Championships program, F. Scott Grant photography.

Let's hop in the time machine and take a look back at the skaters and stories that made headlines at this exciting competition from decades past!


Tara Schaak and Tyler Miles, who trained out of the Mariposa Club in Barrie, took gold in the novice ice dance event. They had been skating together for less than a year.  In novice pairs, it was Quebec's Chantal Poirier-Saykaly and David Lewin who came out on top. Coached by Paul Wirtz, the young skaters had a dramatic height difference which worked to their advantage in lifts. A young Craig Buntin, skating in his second Nationals with partner Chantal Chailler, was eighth. Michael Steinbach, a fifteen year old skater from the North Shore Winter Club, won the novice men's event - the only British Columbian skater to claim gold in Hamilton. Among the many 'future stars' he defeated were Christopher Mabee and Shawn Sawyer. In a touching story, thirteen year old Marie Michele McDuff of Quebec won the novice women's title. McDuff had been coached by Julie Laporte and was best friends with Catherine Roussel.

In the junior dance event, Rebecca and Josh Babb made history as the first skaters from Newfoundland to win a medal of any colour at the Canadian Championships. Though they represented the Western Ontario section, the siblings hailed from Harbour Grace, about an hour's drive from St. John's. Quebec's Marie-France Lachapelle and Sacha Blanchet landed side-by-side double Axels and a throw triple Salchow on their way to a gold medal in junior pairs. They had only placed sixth the year prior. Fourteen year old Marie Laurier of Île Bizard moved up from second to win the junior women's event. Leah Hepner, the leader after the short program and the previous year's novice champion, finished a disastrous fourteenth in the free skate and dropped down to twelfth overall. Fifteen year old Hugh Yik, a grade ten student from Moncton coached by Emery Leger, had won the novice men's title the year prior. He moved ahead of Jeffrey Buttle, who won the short program, to take gold in the junior men's event. In winning, Yik became the first male skater to win the Canadian novice and junior titles back to back since Kevin Hicks back in 1974 and 1975. He was also the first man from New Brunswick ever to win the Canadian junior men's title.


Unlike in the senior men's, women's and pairs events, there was little talk about Olympic spots in the ice dance competition. Only two couples, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz and Chantal Lefebvre and Michel Brunet, had met the Canadian Olympic Association's criteria... and Canada had two spots in Nagano. With few surprises in ice dance back in those 'wait your turn' days, it was considered a bit of a foregone conclusion that Bourne and Kraatz and Lefebvre and Brunet would be one-two in Hamilton.

Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz and Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe skating their compulsories. Photos courtesy J. Barry Mittan.

Bourne and Kraatz, who won their first Canadian senior title in 1993 and their first Champions Series Final in 1996 in Hamilton, took a strong lead in the compulsory dances as expected. Their original dance, a lively jive to "I Saw Her Standing There" earned them rave reviews and top marks, as did Lefebvre and Brunet's jive to Little Richard's "Good Golly Miss Molly". Both couples received standing ovations and maintained their one-two slots after compulsories. Bourne and Kraatz ultimately ditched their Beatles original dance for a new program to "Greased Lightnin'" at the Nagano Olympics, something they were already openly talking about doing in Hamilton.

Unfortunately, Kristy Balkwill and Darryl VanLuven had to withdraw after a hard crash into the boards stopped their original dance dead in its tracks. They restarted their program from the time of the crash and managed to finish, but she had to be carried off the ice and sent to a local hospital for X-rays. The sad part was the fact that Balkwill was already injured and had practiced all week in a heavy brace, with a tensor bandage on her knee, just hoping to make it through the competition in one piece.

Bourne and Kraatz's "Riverdance" free dance brought down the house, earned a standing ovation and six perfect marks of 6.0. In winning their sixth consecutive national title, the duo neared Wilson and McCall's record of seven in a row. Lefebvre and Brunet's mambo took the silver; Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe's "The Last Emperor" the bronze. Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon finished fourth ahead of Christine Fuller and Steve Kavanagh. Kavanagh had twice won bronze at the Nationals with his former partner Janet Emerson.


At the 1997 World Championships in Lausanne, Susan Humphreys was faced with a difficult decision: stand at center ice with a badly infected ankle and qualify Canada a spot for the Nagano Olympics or withdraw. She chose to withdraw and fight for an Olympic berth at the Karl Schäfer Memorial that autumn. In Vienna, she placed eighteenth. Humphreys wasn't on the list of competitors in Hamilton.

In the lead-up to Nationals, there was a perception amongst many of the women's competitors that they were being put down by the CFSA because they weren't 'producing' internationally. CFSA Director General David Dore told reporters, "The women's competition is anti-climactic here, if Nagano is all you're focused on, but what's done is done. I'm trying to focus on the future and find solutions." Peter Dunfield complained that David Dore was trying to 'bully female skaters into peak performance.' He complained to "Ottawa Citizen" reporter Shelley Page, "I'm sick of these David Dore-isms that keep coming out. They're flip and they're unnecessary... Even if you can't jump, you're given credit for trying. Now children are throwing things in before they're ready to because they're supposed to. A child works all year on a program, then they fall because of the jumps they can't do, and that stains them, the fear is built in. Once a jump is tried under pressure, you develop fear. Instead of putting the skater ahead, it puts them farther back." Twenty year old Jamie Salé of the Royal Glenora Club, mounting a comeback as a singles skater, told reporters, "Susan would have been the only one going to Nagano anyway so she didn't hurt any of us. I'm disappointed with the lack of support. It's like they're saying, 'The ladies are bad, and that's all there is to it.'"

In a five-four split of the judging panel, twenty four year old Peter Dunfield student Angela Derochie came out ahead of twenty one year old Jennifer 'Tiger' Robinson in the women's short program. Derochie two-footed her triple Lutz combination but landed a triple toe-loop and double Axel. Robinson two-footed her Lutz and didn't complete the double toe-loop and missed her double Axel. Keyla Ohs, who won the Canadian junior title at Copps Coliseum in 1993, was third, ahead of Annie Bellemare, Annie Bazinet and Jamie Salé.

Jennifer Robinson. Photo courtesy Charlie Covell.

Angela Derochie wasn't perfect in the free skate, but knowing she only match or better Keyla Ohs' three triples to win, she got the job done. Jennifer Robinson finished third, imploding in her "Madama Butterfly" performance, falling twice and doubling most of her other jumps. Bazinet, Tara Ferguson and Jamie Salé rounded out the top six. For all the fuss about Netty Kim only having three triples in her repertoire in 1995, most of the top ten women in Hamilton weren't landing any more triples than Kim did in Halifax. Ohs' silver was the best finish by a British Columbian woman since Barbara Terpenning won silver in Moncton in 1974.


Jodeyne Higgins and Sean Rice. Photo courtesy J. Barry Mittan.

Canada qualified two entries in pairs for the Nagano Olympics and four teams met the Canadian Olympic Association's qualifying criteria: Marie-Claude Savard-Gagnon and Luc Bradet, Kristy Sargeant and Kris Wirtz, Michelle Menzies and Jean-Michel Bombardier and Jodeyne Higgins and Sean Rice. All four couples had previously competed at the World Championships and were well-matched.

Marie-Claude Savard-Gagnon and Luc Bradet. Photo courtesy J. Barry Mittan.

It wasn't Annabelle Langlois' week. She placed seventeenth and dead last in the novice women's competition and she and partner Patrice Archetto were forced to withdraw prior to senior pairs event after a nasty fall in practice that sent her to the hospital. Chad Hawse suffered a spinal fracture on Boxing Day and showed up in Hamilton with a huge cast on his right arm after breaking his hand practicing a lift. He and partner Samantha Marchant placed tenth in the short program when she slipped right through his hands on the double twist and took off his cast. Coach Kerry Leitch pulled them before the free skate.

Six of the nine judges had twenty three year old Kristy Sargeant of Alix, Alberta and twenty eight year old Kris Wirtz of Marathon, Ontario ahead of defending champions Marie-Claude Savard-Gagnon and Luc Bradet in the short program. Michelle Menzies and Jean-Michel Bombardier sat third. None of the top three teams successfully completed their side-by-side triple jumps. By placing outside of the top four, Higgins and Rice all but took themselves out of the running for one of the two Olympic spots.

 As in the short program, neither of the top two teams were perfect in the free skate. Sargeant and Wirtz both singled their side-by-side double Axels, she fell on a throw double Axel and they had a problem with synchronization in their side-by-side spins. Savard-Gagnon and Bradet fell on their side-by-side triples and slipped entering a death spiral. The fact that Sargeant and Wirtz landed their side-by-side triples and throw triple Salchows was enough to give them the edge and earn them their first Canadian title. Valerie Saurette and Jean-Sébastien Fecteau, only ninth the previous year, moved up to claim the bronze over Menzies and Bombardier, who had a very disappointing skate and dropped to fourth. Saurette and Fecteau skated last and drew the greatest ovation, helped along by their upbeat music and the fact they really weren't considered to be contenders.


Jeffrey Langdon. Photo courtesy J. Barry Mittan.

Prior to the men's competition in Hamilton, twenty two year old defending Canadian Champion Elvis Stojko told reporter Cam Cole, "I enjoy pressure. When you're the World Champion going into the Olympic Games, and the chance is there to win the gold medal, it's like I'm in my dream, its happening. Why be scared of it? Enjoy the process. Enjoy the ride. It should be fun." Stojko may not have minded a little pressure, but it was certainly there in the men's event. Because of he and Jeffrey Langdon's results at the 1997 World Championships in Lausanne, Canada had earned three spots for the Nagano Games. However, only two skaters - coincidentally he and Langdon - met the Canadian Olympic Association's qualifying guidelines... or so the CFSA thought. During the event, Carol Anne Letheren (the President of the Canadian Olympic Association) informed CTV that the CFSA could send another skater instead of Langdon if they wanted, based on the results of the Canadian Championships. David Dore, confused by the mixed messages, tried to phone Letheren in Ottawa for clarification, but the phone lines were of course down because of the ice storm. Letheren's revelation meant that a number of other young men were apparently in the running for an Olympic spot if they skated brilliantly in Hamilton. There was Ravi Walia, who had won the junior title in Copps Coliseum in 1993, crowd favourite Jayson Dénommée of Asbestos, Quebec (who just missed meeting the COA's qualifying criteria), Ben Ferreira of Edmonton, Collin Thompson of Mississauga and Daniel Bellemare of Longeuil, who missed the 1997 Nationals with a broken arm. No one was really talking that much about seventeen year old Emanuel Sandhu of Richmond Hill, who was making his senior debut at Nationals.

On what would have been Elvis Presley's sixty third birthday, Elvis Stojko came out and skated his heart out, landing a triple Axel/triple toe-loop combination, triple Lutz and double Axel in his short program to "Lion" by Kodo. His fast-moving footwork sequences drew cheers from the crowd of nine thousand. When it was all over, he earned a standing ovation and a 6.0 for required elements from judge Debbie Islam - his first ever in a short program. The only other man to successfully land a triple Axel combination was Jean-François Hébert, but he finished behind Jeffrey Langdon and Emanuel Sandhu, who both missed their combinations.

In the free skate, Elvis Stojko dazzled once again, landing a quad toe-loop/double toe-loop combination and two triple Axels, one in combination with a triple toe-loop. His gutsy effort earned six 6.0's, four for technical merit and two for presentation. After winning his fourth Canadian title, Stojko told reporters, "I'll say one thing, just separating myself from it for a minute: it's been a while since I've seen 6.0's at both ends. But that's what I set out to do, going through it: I wanted to achieve excellence. And to show that you can be technically excellent and still be able to produce the artistry. It's difficult because you can lose your way trying so hard to improve the artistry that you lose something on the technical side. So I'd have to say that's the most satisfying thing -- to have pushed through and done it on both sides and to have that recognized."

Stojko's great skate was somewhat eclipsed by the surprise performance of Emanuel Sandhu, who tried ten triples and landed nine - more triples in his first free skate as a senior at Nationals than any skater before him. Sandhu's brilliant skate earned him the silver over Langdon, Hebert, Dénommée, Ferreira, Thompson, Walia and Bellemare and set into motion a sequence of events that caused a major controversy in Canadian figure skating.

After Sandhu's silver medal win, David Dore told reporters, "It's not a question for Emanuel. He's done his job; now we have to do ours. It's very clear Elvis and Jeff Langdon have met the criteria and we will honour that. However, I think logic should prevail here. We have a wild card and it behooves us to play this wild card. It's all up to the gang now -- you know, The Gang, the CFSA and the COA, to set it all up, but you ask my opinion, I think we should send three... We've got great skaters in Canada. Sure, there are some misses out there but they're all so young. The important thing isn't falling but trying again. I've had a lot of falls, but you keep pushing forward. I once had a coach who told me: 'Keep hitting that tree, and eventually it'll come down.'"

The CFSA's request to name Sandhu as the third member of the team was rejected by the COA, who seemingly had informed the CFSA they could send another skater instead of Langdon, not in addition to. Sandhu was given Worlds as a 'consolation prize'. His people planned to appeal under the COA's independent arbitration process, but dropped the appeal at eleventh hour citing the missed training time dealing the red tape would cause. Jack Todd, a reporter with the "Ottawa Citizen" noted, "Dore IS the Canadian Figure Skating Association, which worked out the criteria with the COA eighteen months ago. Dore, like everyone else, was ambushed by Sandhu's performance in Hamilton, but he had to know going in that there was little chance the COA would change its mind."

Joanne McLeod, Emanuel Sandhu and David Dore. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Many in the figure skating world believed the CFSA should have sent Sandhu over Langdon and/or that the Canadian Olympic Association should have approved a third entry to Nagano, as the spot had been earned at the 1997 World Championships. Toller Cranston even called Carol Anne Letheren personally and said, "Give the kid a break. The bottom line is he beat Langdon fair and square and Langdon's in the top ten in the world. For heaven's sake, flash the green light. Let the kid go." Carol Anne Letheren told reporters, "I'm not surprised at all by the outcry. It was a tough, tough decision for the executive committee and increasingly tough because of the public expression around the case.
It's not like we're saying this is not a talented skater. There is no harm in sending him, that's not the issue. It's a question of fairness across the board. The other one hundred and fifty three athletes have spent two years qualifying, and they've all met the standards. There's no question [that if Sandhu was sent to Nagano] there are a lot of borderline cases that would have come forward." Many saw it all as a triumph of bureaucracy over common sense. In the end, Canada's third spot was given to Luxembourg. The man who took it, Patrick Schmit, finished dead last in the short program in Nagano and failed to qualify for the free skate. At the World Championships in Minneapolis, both Schmit and Sandhu failed to qualify for the free skate; Langdon finished eighth overall.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

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