#Unearthed: Humors Of 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 gem is a short excerpt from "A Winter Sport Book", released in 1911 by British "Punch" cartoonist Reginald Thomas Cleaver. It was reproduced in J.C. Dier's "A Book Of Winter Sports" the following year under the title "Humors Of Skating".


Looking back on some of the sports pursued at Montana, in Switzerland, that of skating occupies a prominent place in the memory, though no one could compare the skill of the performers there with exhibitions at Villars. Yet I will make bold to say that the skating, greatly inferior though it may be to that of the more renowned and spacious rinks, is in one respect too good. It misses some of the exquisite humors to be witnessed in Regent's Park, and which depend not so much on the skill of the performers as on their want of it. Never at Montana, but frequently in England, there is the suggestive incident of two perfect strangers, generally of different sexes, colliding by some slight miscalculation with each other, and, to save a sudden fall, clinging with a fervid embrace round the waist or neck or either arm each of the other, and holding on trustfully and wholeheartedly till the errant feet are steadied and the parties, at last confusedly recognizing the precise situation, part with hastily murmured apologies, meeting thus once and never again, between the cradle and the grave. One may speculate whether such a slashing of atoms has been recorded in the evening diary by either of those concerned, or whether it has in the whirligig of time led to some no less fervid but less fleeting union, and been the beginning of a life-history of conjugal peace.

Another humor of the ice I can recall which unfortunately could not be reproduced in Switzerland. Some forty years ago, no less, we repaired for an afternoon's skating to the Welsh Harp, Hendon. I have never been there since, but can remember the grand expanse of inferior ice and the huge crowd on it. People were standing in thick clusters, talking and laughing, or wildly whirling about or patiently practising rudimentary figures where space allowed. One youth of the second sort was speeding round the lake as hard as he could go, and was dashing towards a group of persons intending presumably to skim past them without personal contact. Unfortunately a young man on the outside, while talking harmless vapidities to his lady friend, moved about a foot outwards, just at the wrong moment, and about half of his frame was suddenly caught in the onset of the "scorcher." The latter buffeted him violently, and careered on, not looking round. The victim of his roughings was not at once knocked down, but set rotating. His staggers, though obviously abortive from the start, for a
second or two took that form. He waltzed alone, uneasily, and with irregular lurches like a top just before it falls; and while this was going on, he began his remonstrance in language, it seemed to me, of remarkable self-restraint : "Sir, I think you might at least stop and apologize when you knock a man down." So we all thought, but this was just what the scorcher did not do; and the complainant who began his plea while still rotating continued it in a crescendo of gathering emotion, as the other was now almost out of hearing, and ended it with a loud shout in a sitting posture, the voice rising as the body sank. It was difficult not to apprehend that his conduct, though kept well within bounds, may not have enhanced his dignity in the eyes of Phyllis; and indeed a promising love-affair may have been rudely checked as he sat on the ice patiently restoring his bowler hat to its original shape, and yelling till his voice cracked after a wholly indifferent stranger. But pathetic though the incident was, from some points of view I could not help being glad that it happened so near to where we were
standing; and forgetting it is out of the question now.

Different in its appeal to the imagination was a catastrophe that occurred to a tall bearded skater very soon after the collision above described. We were standing talking in a small group, in a crowded quarter of the lake, when a singular noise made us turn our heads. It was a mixture of a hiss and a rumble, and the rapid crescendo of it made the less robust of our party fear an approaching mischief. But there was nothing to be alarmed at. The skater had fallen, and was gliding rapidly over the ice in the position which he had involuntarily assumed - that is to say, quite at full length on his stomach, and proceeding not sideways nor feet foremost, but as a tobogganer head foremost, the two hands being flat on the surface close by the shoulders. He must have been going at a rare pace originally, as none of us had even heard his fall, and he had been slipping along for an unknown distance as he passed us, the pace just beginning to slacken. The most picturesque fact about him was the heap of ice fragments which gathered in front of his beard as he swept along, and formed a novel setting for the fixed and glassy resignation of his face. We thought we had never before seen a human being so like an express train.

But as I have already remarked, such amenities of a pastime as these are not to be seen in Switzerland. People skate too well to collide, except of course at hockey, but then it is part of the day's work, and misses the glorious element of the unexpected. And they are too decorous to get up sufficient speed for the superb onset of our "scorcher" or the prone onrush of the bearded man. Whatever other attractions hale us to Montana, we must acquiesce in the loss of these subtle sidelights on human society; and the pity of it is that owing to the infrequency of frost in modern England, they tend to become merely the touching memory of a long-past dream.

None the less the skating-rink is a delicious spot, especially at the luncheon-hour when flushed and hungry skaters and curlers gather in friendly groups round the well-earned prog. There were several days last January when the interior of the shed facing the sun was too hot for comfort, but outside
it was always perfect; sometimes a very gentle breeze, ordinarily nothing but the matchless tingle of the crisp unmoving air. And occasionally it comes about that a trained exhibitor of the English or Continental style of skating would stray over from Villars to Montana, either to play in a bandy match or for social reasons, and would give us the delight of watching the Mohawks done to perfection  and with consummate ease, or better still, a whole series of complex evolutions gone through by two ladies in combination. Nothing prettier could well be imagined, except of course a flight of ten thousand starlings in September

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 1983 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert took their skates to canvas to design the logo for the 1983 U.S. Championships program and souvenir poster. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Children were playing with the Fisher Price Tape Recorders and Glo Worm toys Santa Claus had brought them for Christmas, while their parents were pondering over the impact of "Time" magazine's new 'Man Of The Year' - the computer. The number one song in America was "Africa" by Toto and Sydney Pollack's film "Tootsie" had been number one at the box office for weeks. The year was 1983, and from February 1 to 6, the Mount Lebanon Recreation Center and Pittsburgh Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania played host to the 1983 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

The 1983 U.S. Championships shattered an attendance record of eighty seven thousand spectators that had been set the previous year at the Nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ninety two thousand skating lovers attended the first and only U.S. Championships ever held in The Steel City. The high attendance was attributed not only to rising popularity of the sport, but the fact the weather had held out quite well. It only snowed once during the event and skaters were able to walk from the hotel to the arenas.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The competition was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club, the Junior League of Pittsburgh and the Consolidated Coal Company. The event's theme was 'The Great Skate' and its mascot was Patches  - an unfortunate skater relegated to suffocating in a warm panda bear costume, performing spirals at center ice. In keeping with the panda theme were the local precision team, The Pittsburgh Pandettes, who gave an exhibition performance during the Opening Ceremonies.

Judy and Jim Sladky as the 'Campbell kids'

It was the first year that Campbell's Soup was a sponsor for the U.S. Championships - and soup was absolutely everywhere. Skaters, officials and members of the press were all served pots of chicken noodle and cream of mushroom and 'Campbelled eggs' were served to the attendees at the farewell breakfast. Judy and Jim Sladky dressed up as 'the Campbell kids' - complete with eight pound heads - to waltz around the rink extolling the virtues of Sodium-rich broth. Judy Sladky recalled how the 'Campbell kids' came about thusly: "We were in Disney at the time and I was working for ESPN and was doing all their figure skating. We were getting ready to go into the '84 Olympics. We were on tour and I'd fly to Connecticut and put two or three shows on line for them ESPN and fly back to be in the show. They said, 'The Olympics are coming up. We want you, but you can't be on the road like this'. By that time, we'd been on the road for like twelve years. I said, 'Well, Jim, at least I've got one job'. All of a sudden I saw the Campbell's Soup company was going to be doing this, so I called the head of the Campbell's Soup and said, 'You must need Campbell's Soup skaters to skate!' and he said, 'We do!' We did that for ten years, I think. By that point, we had skated as Bert and Ernie for Sesame Street in the Ice Follies, so we'd made that transition already. It was great!'"

Jim McKay and Dick Button (sporting a tuxedo jacket for TV and jeans for off-screen comfort) commentating for ABC's Wide World Of Sports. Photo courtesy "Tracings" magazine.

There may have been few surprises at the top of the podiums but that certainly didn't mean it wasn't an extremely eventful competition in many respects. Grab yourself a nice cup of Campbell's soup and take a trip back in time for a look at all the excitement!


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The novice women's event featured two dazzling 'come from behind' medal wins from skaters representing clubs without rich histories of medal wins at Nationals. Suggie Oh of Santa Barbara and Dedie Richards of Dallas, only fifth and fourth in school figures, gave outstanding free standing performances to take the gold and silver. Kristin Kriwanek took the bronze, and the winner of the figures - Danielle-Alyse Babaian of Long Island, dropped to fifth. At just under twelve years of age, Oh was the youngest woman in any discipline in Pittsburgh. Skating to "The Firebird", she landed three double Axels and a triple toe-loop - the only triple jump attempted by any of the novice women.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The only skater in the novice men's event who didn't fall in their free skate was Mark Mitchell of the Hamden Figure Skating Club. He moved up from sixth after figures to claim the bronze behind Christopher Mitchell of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club and Eddie Shipstad of the Broadmoor Skating Club. The free skate was won by the fourth place finisher, Siegfried Lind of Seattle, a powerful jumper who struggled with school figures and spins. In seventh place overall? A tiny Todd Eldredge... at eleven years old and five months the youngest skater in any discipline in Pittsburgh. Monty Hoyt, who had won the U.S. novice men's title in 1959, made his judging debut at Nationals. He was one of three judges who placed Eddie Shipstad first.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In an unusually deep field of junior pairs, Susan and Jason Dungjen prevailed over Sandy Hurtubise and Karl Kurtz and Sue Falzone and Michael Bilcharski. The Dungjen siblings had won the silver medal the previous year in Indianapolis. Hurtubise and Kurtz were both accomplished singles skaters who were new to pairs skating. Both of the top two teams landed throw triple Salchows.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Despite an outstanding free skate from Yvonne Gomez, Kathryn Adams - the 1982 U.S. Novice Champion - won her second gold medal at the U.S. Championships in the junior women's event. The bronze medal went to a young Rosanna Tovi.

Yvonne Gomez. Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine.

Kathryn Adams dominated the event from start to finish, landing a triple jump in combination in the short program and three triples in the long. She and Yvonne Gomez were training mates in California and students of Christy Kjarsgaard [Ness].

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The heavy favourite in the junior men's event was fifteen year old Christopher Bowman, who had just been crowned the World Junior Champion less than two months prior in Sarajevo. Though he landed a triple toe-loop combination in the short program and five triples in the long, Bowman actually finished second in the latter two stages of the competition. The short was won by David Fedor; the long by Angelo D'Agostino. It was the strength of Bowman's school figures that earned him the gold in Pittsburgh. D'Agostino finished second; Daniel Doran third.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Fifteen year old Suzanne Semanick and nineteen year old Alexander Miller III, who had only been skating together for six months, were surprise winners in the junior ice dance event. As Semanick was from Pittsburgh, they were understandably very popular with the crowd. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "At Regionals, Alex had slicked back his hair with Vaseline to imitate a 1950's ducktail for the Rock N' Roll OSP and spent the entire night trying to get the grease out for the free dance. This time he used Dippity-Do. They appropriately dressed in gold for the free dance to music from 'Grease' and a cut from 'Star Wars'. They swept all seven ordinals in the compulsories, OSP and free." Kandi Amelon and Alec Binnie won the silver, Colleen McGuire and William Lyons III the bronze and siblings Christina and Keith Yastuhashi placed fourth, The 1982 U.S. Bronze Medallists, Kristin Lowery and Chip Rossbach, surprised many by dropping to fifth. 


With two of the top four pairs from the 1982 U.S. Championships out of the picture, the fight between the twelve senior pairs in Pittsburgh was quite interesting. Siblings Kitty and Peter Carruthers skated brilliantly in both the short program and free skate to repeat as U.S. Champions. Burt Lancon had placed second in 1982 with partner Maria DiDomenico but as he had only been skating with his new partner Jill Watson for six months, few expected the team to challenge the more seasoned Lea Ann Miller and Bill Fauver for second place. That's exactly what happened in the short program though. Watson and Lancon skated brilliantly to edge Miller and Fauver, who debuted a new short program of a more athletic flavour than their usually classical programs. In the free skate, Watson tumbled twice and Miller and Fauver skated a very solid program to move up to second. Fourth place went to Gillian Wachsman and Robert Daw. Daw was a 1980 Olympian, representing Great Britain with Susan Garland. Maria DiDomenico, who had teamed up with Peter Oppegard, was only able to manage a seventh place finish, two spots ahead of Natalie and Wayne Seybold.

The Carruthers' road to victory in Pittsburgh hadn't been an easy one. Kitty had a bout of the chicken pox that caused them to miss a fall international event and they'd ditched their short program after poor reviews at the Eastern Championships, coming up with a new one in a matter of weeks.


David Santee had turned professional after placing a disappointing eighth at the 1982 World Championships in Copenhagen, as had defending Silver Medallist Robert Wagenhoffer, making things appear on paper to be a lot easier for twenty four year old Scott Hamilton of Colorado Springs to defend his title. In reality, it was no cakewalk! Though Hamilton took an early lead by winning all three school figures, both nineteen year old Brian Boitano of Sunnyvale and twenty year old Mark Cockerell of Burbank joined him in landing triple Lutz combinations in their short programs. All eleven men in the event attempted triple jump combinations.

The men's free skate was sold out, with scalpers selling eleven dollar tickets for double their value. Hamilton won the final phase of the competition with a dazzling performance that featured a double Axel/triple toe-loop combination and four other triples. His flashy effort earned near perfect marks from all nine judges and a standing ovation from the packed arena. Writer Vicki Fassinger recounted, "When Hamilton came onto the ice, he transmitted an air of professionalism. His skating combined balanced athleticism and personal expression and he conveyed this to the audience as no other skater had been able to."

Brian Boitano and Mark Cockerell's programs were more technically demanding than Scott Hamilton's. Boitano performed five clean triples including a triple Lutz and triple flip/double toe-loop combination. Cockerell landed six triples but fell on a triple toe-loop attempt. When the marks were tallied, Boitano was second, Cockerell third, Bobby Beauchamp fourth, Paul Wylie fifth, Scott Williams sixth and Tom Dickson seventh. Boitano and Wylie were the only two men to attempt the triple Axel. Boitano rotated but landed on two feet; Wylie fell but managed to land one in the warm-up.

In his 1999 book "Landing It: My Life On And Off The Ice", Scott Hamilton recalled, "I did a comic rendition of the waltz in a style borrowed from an old number made famous by Jackson Haines, one of America's founding fathers of figure skating. Don [Laws'] thinking was if this part of the program amused him, it would entertain the audience. It was a stretch to try comedy in a routine, and a risk because we didn't know how the judges or crowd would react to the segment. Nobody else was doing it. As I was mimicking the dance, I could hear people laughing, which was exactly what we wanted. The judges enjoyed it too."


Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert were huge favourites with the crowd. They had only recently started representing the Pittsburgh Figure Skating Club and their participation made for many new ice dance fans. They won the Quickstep and Argentine Tango but finished third in the Ravensburger Waltz after falling on the double twizzle section right in front of the judges.

Blumberg and Seibert rebounded in the Rock N' Roll OSP with an entertaining performance to "Shake, Rattle And Roll", replete with letter sweaters and saddle shoes, to secure their lead over Elisa Spitz and Scott Gregory, Carol Fox and Richard Dalley and Renee Roca and Donald Adair, whose "Roll Over Beethoven" OSP was a crowd favourite.

In the free dance, the audience booed low marks for Roca and Adair and Fox and Dalley but delighted in Blumberg and Seibert's classic Fred and Ginger free dance, which they had altered from the season previous to add a tap dance section. Despite a stumble from Blumberg late in the program, the defending champions earned the only perfect 6.0's awarded in any discipline in Pittsburgh: one for technical merit and five for style and composition. There was some backlash over the 6.0's, because they hadn't skated perfectly.

Blumberg and Seibert took the gold and in a five-four split, Spitz and Gregory the silver ahead of veterans Fox and Dalley, shutting them out of the World Team for the first time since 1980. Roca and Adair ended up fourth, followed by Susie Wynne and Joseph Druar and Susan Jorgensen and Robert Yokabaskas.


It wouldn't have been a competition in the early eighties without a good old fashioned showdown between Elaine Zayak and Rosalynn Sumners... and the one in Pittsburgh in 1983 certainly did not disappoint.

An unusually large field of fifteen women vied for the senior title in 1983. Surprisingly, Melissa Thomas of Massapequa, Long Island (who had finished dead last at Nationals in 1982) was the one who led the pack in the school figures. Sumners sat in second, Vikki de Vries third and Elaine Zayak fourth. In the April 1983 issue of "Skating" magazine, an unnamed staff reporter recalled, "At the completion of the figures a television crew swarmed onto the ice and used turquoise paint to make the tracings of Rosalynn's and Elaine's [paragraph] loops visible to the TV cameras. All but overlooked was Melissa, the convincing winner of the figures, who nonetheless could not conceal her delight in this achievement. One of the judges preserved the desire to preserve Melissa's rocker, so near it was to diagrammatic perfection."

Rosalynn Sumners skated a wonderful short program to move up to first ahead of Vikki de Vries, Melissa Thomas and Elaine Zayak. Twelve of the fifteen competitors attempted triple jumps in combination and almost all of them were successful. While most of the competitors did the Salchow or toe-loop, fifth place Kelly Webster landed a triple loop in combination. Strangely enough, the element that seemed to give several of the women grief was the flying sit spin.

The battle royale between Elaine Zayak and Rosalynn Sumners in the free skate was what the spectators had shelled out eleven dollars to see. In the February 2, 1983 issue of the "Chicago Tribune", seventeen year old Zayak of Paramus, New Jersey boasted, "I'm still going to do those triples, even though I know I probably don't need [them] all to win. If I don't do [them], everyone will wonder why. Besides, I wouldn't feel special. I have to know that I am at least one step ahead. Hopefully, in a year I'll be out, anyway. After the Olympics." Upping their ante to compete with Zayak and Sumners, every single one of the women in Pittsburgh attempted at least one triple jump in their free skate.

Elaine Zayak did exactly what she promised she would, landing six triples in one of the best skates of her amateur career. Eighteen year old Rosalynn Sumners responded with one of the most ambitious performances of her own career but tumbled on a triple Salchow. Her marks - all 5.8's and 5.9's for artistic impression - were enough to keep her in first. Zayak moved up to second.

Tiffany Chin took the bronze in only her second year at the senior level, skating brilliantly and earning marks ranging from 5.4 to 5.7. Her only mistake was a fall on a triple toe-loop attempt. Vikki de Vries, Melissa Thomas, Kelly Webster, Jill Frost, Jacki Farrell, Staci McMullin and Jennifer Newman rounded out the top ten. A young Debi Thomas placed an unlucky thirteenth. It's worth noting that although Melissa Thomas placed fifth overall, she too gave one of the finest performances of her career in the free skate, landing three double Axels and staying upright on the triple toe-loop that had eluded her the previous year at Nationals.

Rosalynn Sumners attributed her win partially to improved figures. She told an Associated Press reporter,"I never lost confidence. I feel that now I proved, to myself, that I can still win with both of us skating our best." When asked if she disappointed with the silver, Elaine Zayak said that she had only prayed to do her best. She conceded, "Roz did skate the best tonight." Both young women laughed at the manufactured rivalry that was being concocted between them in the press.

Through a modern lens, one of the most bizarre aspects of the press coverage of this particular event was the seemingly constant focus of reporters on the skater's weights. Rosalynn Sumners partially credited her win to the fact she'd lost sixteen pounds since the summer prior, while Elaine Zayak pledged to lose ten pounds before Worlds after losing. An article in "Sports Illustrated" was actually titled "The Thinner Was The Winner". Furthermore, "Skating" magazine told of how coach Ron Ludington gloated over beating Dick Button in a weight loss contest and named and praised the 'lightest' female pairs skaters. Incidentally, a nutrition and fitness seminar was held in Pittsburgh by two food scientists from - you guessed it - Campbell's Soup.

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.

Sultan Of Swing: The Hubert Sprott Story

Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives

Born August 15, 1908, Perry Hubert Sprott was the son of teacher turned merchant Arthur Frederick Sprott and Winnifred Frederica Perry. He was raised in a home on McMaster Avenue in Toronto, Ontario and like many young people in the city at the time spent his winters indulging in outdoor pursuits.

Hubert Sprott, Mary Littlejohn, Elizabeth Fisher and Jack Hose, 1931 Canadian Champions in fours skating. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

Although an avid recreational skater in his youth, it wasn't until he was in his twenties that Hubert first started pursuing figure skating seriously. The handsome five foot eight skater with brown hair and blue eyes made his debut at the Canadian Championships in 1930 at the age of twenty two, finishing second behind Winnipeg's Lewis Elkin in the junior men's event and winning the Canadian fours title with Mary Littlejohn, George Beament and Elizabeth Fisher. He repeated as fours champion the following year and defeated none other than Osborne Colson himself to take the 1931 Canadian junior men's title.

Hubert Sprott, Mary Littlejohn, Elizabeth Fisher and Jack Hose, 1931 Canadian Champions in fours skating. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

In 1932, Hubert finished third in the senior men's competition at the Canadian Championships behind Bud Wilson and Guy Owen and in 1933, he won the silver medal in the fours event at the North American Championships with Wilson and his sister Constance and Elizabeth Fisher. In the years that followed, he would focus entirely on fours skating, winning five more consecutive medals at the Canadian Championships in the now defunct category for a grand total of two junior and eight senior medals at the Canadian Championships. Not bad for a skater you have likely never heard of, right?

While still competing, Hubert married Louise Hart Allen of Missouri and in 1931, the couple's son
Arthur Frederick Sprott, Jr. - named after Hubert's father - was born. Two years later, they welcomed their daughter Mary. The family resided at Glen Road in Toronto until 1937, when Hubert retired from competitive skating and moved the family south of the border to embark on a career as a professional. After teaching in Cleveland, Ohio for a time, thirty three year old Hubert and the Sprott squad moved to Oakland, California in the spring of 1942. That summer, he appeared in Harry Losée's Hollywood Ice Revels at at the Tropical Ice Gardens in Westwood Village alongside Belita Jepson-Turner and Maribel Vinson Owen. It was while residing in California that he made his most important contributions to the sport.

Along with Audrey Miller, Hubert played an important role in the development of the annual ice carnivals at the St. Moritz Skating Club at Iceland in Berkeley. He also taught skating at the All Year Figure Skating Club in Los Angeles and helped revive interest in pairs skating on the West Coast. However, Hubert's contributions to ice dancing - a discipline he never pursued seriously himself - were his most enduring legacy.

Sprott's Paramount Waltz, skated at a 3/4 tempo with 52 or 56 measures of 3 beats per minute to Viennese Waltz music.

Chances are you've never heard of the one hundred and eight count Sprott Tango or Sprott Waltz or the three-beat Paramount Waltz, but if you've spent any time in a rink you know the Swing Dance. It was Sprott's creation, first introduced to American ice dancers in the November 1948 issue of "Skating" magazine and first performed at the Broadmoor Ice Palace in Colorado Springs that winter. By the 1948-1949 season, Hubert's Swing Dance was in the USFSA Rulebook as one half of America's new Preliminary Dance Test alongside the Dutch Waltz, invented the same year by George Muller. The  Swing Dance was later adopted as a Preliminary and later, Junior Bronze Dance in Canada and in the years that followed, has been skated all around the world.

Sprott's Swing Dance. Photo courtesy Robert S. Oglilvie's book "Basic Ice Skating Skills".

In 1951, Hubert's nephew Peter Firstbrook won his first of three Canadian titles. The following March, Hubert remarried to twenty six year old Tiney Edwina Russell (McGehee), a Texan living in Long Beach. Three years later, he was elected to the board of governors of the Professional Skaters Guild of America, where he served alongside Cliff Thaell, Gene Turner and Bud Wilson. He devoted much of his later life to bettering the world of coaching and died July 11, 1985 in Los Angeles. You may never have heard his name before, but the next time you hear the strains of the Swing Dance music playing at a test day at your local rink, you'll be able to put a story to a dance.

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.

Leadville's Crystal Palace

Photo courtesy Denver Public Library

In the late Victorian era, cities from Montreal to Moscow simultaneously embarked on an unusual trend - erecting large 'ice palaces' as novel attractions during winter festivals. Constructed either partially or entirely of ice blocks harvested from frozen ponds and lakes, these structures more often than not played host to ice rinks.

One of the largest 'ice palaces', built in the failed gold boom town of Leadville, Colorado in November and December of 1895, had an 80 X 100 ice rink installed inside and employed over two hundred and fifty men in its construction. It cost upwards of twenty five thousand dollars to build - no paltry sum in 1895! Its construction was ordered through a bid process overseen by the Leadville Ice Palace and Carnival Association and carried out by Tingley S. Wood and Charles E. Jay, who had constructed a similar structure in St. Paul, Minnesota a decade earlier. One of the project's financiers was none other than James Joseph 'J.J.' Brown, the mining engineer husband of famous Titanic survivor 'The Unsinkable' Molly Brown.

The Crystal Palace was located between 7th and 8th Streets, approximately two blocks west of Harrison Avenue. The February 16, 1896 issue of the "New Castle News" reported, "'Palace' is a good name for the structure, as it is a palatial building. At a distance it might be mistaken for a castle built of opals. It is seen to the best advantage at night, when the electric lights, with different colored globes - illuminate its sides and towers, producing an effect never before seen, and only read of in the fairy tales of our childhood. The main entrance - at the north end - is approached by a flight of steps of ice, and guarded by the imposing statue of Leadville, which is also carved from ice. Entering through the turnstyles, visitors find themselves in the lobby. By turning to the left the ball room is reached; to the right the dining room. Following the wall, either way, you will find different exhibits such as fruits, flowers, meats, fished, bottled beer, and even patent medicines, frozen in large clear blocks of ice. A large picture of the Colorado at Glenwood Springs, with the pool and bath house, is thus on exhibition in a cake of ice. At one point you will find several stereopticons protruding from cakes of ice, and looking into them see views of different points of interest. At one end are a number of stuffed animals and birds... The ball room and dining room are each enclosed and heated by stoves. Between them is the skating rink. The side of each, looking on the rink, is entirely of glass and one may sit comfortably on either and watch the skaters. The rink floor is flooded every night, so that the ice is always smooth. If you care to skate there is a room where you can hire skates and a cloakroom where you can get wraps checked. If you cannot skate, you cannot fail to be amused in watching the skaters in their pretty skating costumes and toboggan suits, the latter of which are quite the rage with both sexes. On each side of the rink is a row of large square ice pillars, into which are built electric lights with different colored globes."

The Crystal Palace opened on New Year's Day, 1896, with a lavish carnival including a merry-go-round, skating party opened to the general public, costume carnival, music by the G.A.R. Drum Corps, hockey game, banquet and boy's skating race. The first prize for the race was "a suit of clothes"; the second a pair of skates. Skaters were advised they weren't permitted to participate in the festivities "unless en masque and in fancy dress or carnival costume." Local businesses closed up shop at noon so their employees could attend the spectacle.

On January 18, 1896, The Crystal Palace played host to a figure skating contest. The January 19, 1896 issue of the "Herald Democrat" reported, "The fancy skating contest brought out Otis Richmond, Alex Harvey, Jr. and Merritt P. Walley. These gentlemen went through the fancy figures with varying success, some of the figures being real feats of 'skatesmanship.' Richmond appeared to be in better training and more at ease than his competitors - though it must be said that Walley's evolutions were gracefully accomplished. Alex Harvey did not do his best work, being troubled with a weak ankle and requiring the skaters to execute all the figures without intermission, required too much endurance for Alex's weak ankle. Richmond was awarded first prize." Otis  A. Richmond wasn't your typical well-to-do Victorian figure skater. According to Ballenger & Richards' Annual Leadville City Directory's, he was once a miner.

From January to March of 1895, the Crystal Palace drew in more than twenty-five thousand visitors. Yet, instead of infusing the ailing local economy with some much-needed cash flow, the Crystal Palace's operating costs alarmed investors. In March, there was an early thaw and the building was condemned. Skaters continued to take to the ice rink until June, when it was no longer usable. Ultimately, the project's investors decided not to rebuild the following year and the Crystal Palace was abandoned.

Photo courtesy Denver Public Library

In December of 2009, a writer at the "Colorado Central Magazine" recalled, "Because of the continued depressed economy and a looming miner’s strike, the construction lumber was dismantled and resold. Some of the lumber was used for flooring in barracks erected for state militiamen who were brought in to quell the violence and rioting that were the result of the miners strike. While the strike was preoccupying the citizens of Leadville, the remainder of the Palace was demolished in October of 1896 and hopes for an annual carnival melted away as well."

Replica of the Leadville Crystal Palace. Photos courtesy Myles Gallagher, National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum.

With the liquefication of the Leadville Crystal Palace, one of the most unique venues for a figure skating competition in history became a forgotten footnote in the halls of history. Today, the National Mining Hall Of Fame and Museum in Leadville houses a scale replica of this fascinating venue.

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 1929 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

In February of 1929, The Saint Valentine's Day Massacre occurred in Chicago, Dame Patricia Routledge - better known as Hyacinth Bucket on "Keeping Up Appearances" - was born in Tranmere, England, the first Academy Awards were announced... and many of the top figure skaters in America competed in the 1929 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The competition was held on February 18 and 19 of that year at Madison Square Garden in New York City and organized by the Skating Club Of New York.

Six competitors vied for the junior women's title. Dr. Hulda Berger, a respected dentist from New York, led the field with first place votes from four of the five judges after the school figures. Though she skated well in the free skate, she lost the title for the second year in a row... this time to Evelyn Chandler, the wife of Bruce Mapes. The bronze medal went to Grace Madden of Newton, Massachusetts. Building upon a strong lead in the figures with a fine free skate, George 'Geddy' Hill of Cambridge, Massachusetts easily took the gold in the junior men's event ahead of Joseph K. Savage of New York and Brooklyn's William Nagle and Robert Reed. In their sixth attempt, Dorothy Weld and Richard L. Hapgood finally won the U.S. junior pairs title. In a show of fine sportsmanship, Hapgood - who penned the report about the U.S. Championships in "Skating" magazine - downplayed his own success in order to praise the efforts of the team who finished second, Ethel Bijur and Bedell H. Harned. He intimated that had Harned not had a bad cold the day of the competition, he and Ethel would have surely won.

The judges had their work cut out for them in the pairs event. The top three teams each exhibited three completely different styles of skating, and thusly - the judges had a hard time coming to an agreement. Though Maribel Vinson and Thornton Coolidge - the defending champions - managed to reclaim their title with three first place ordinals, they were actually had just over one point more than the runners-up, Theresa Weld and Nathaniel Niles. Edith Secord and Joseph K. Savage, who finished third, had a first place ordinal of their own and weren't far behind. However, the fourth place team - Delores De Pierce and George Braakman of New York - were a pretty distant fourth.
The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted that Vinson and Coolidge "excelled in speed, executed their figures in perfect unison and then produced a number of rhythmic movements that were judged of the highest type."

Sadly, the event marked the fourth consecutive year that the fours title wasn't contested at the U.S. Championships. In "Skating" magazine, Richard L. Hapgood bemoaned, "It is to be deplored that so little interest is taken in this branch of skating."

At the 1928 USFSA Annual Meeting, the Dance Committee drafted rules for a new format for ice dance competitions, to be tested at the 1929 U.S. Championships. This format combined the traditional waltz contest format - where teams skated both in a group and on their own - with an Original Dance competition, where teams devised their own dances. The rules for the Original Dance were as such:

1. Only one dance would be allowed (a Fourteenstep variation) and it had to be suitable for simultaneous dancing ie. several couples on the ice at the same time, although only one couple would present a dance at a time
2. It would start from a standstill, not entering or finishing figures.
3. It must have continuity of motion and the character of a dance.
4. While underarm and back-to-back turns are allowed, real separating figures are barred.
5. Either waltz (closed) or side-by-side positions may be used, or both.
6. The sequence of steps must be completed at least twice (limited to 1 1/2 minutes).
7. Couples could choose their own music provided due notice was given.
8. Jumps and lifts were not considered appropriate for dancing.

In the Original Dance, couples were judged on difficulty, originality and construction of the dance, teamwork and surety and power, carriage and rhythm or timing. In "Skating" magazine, Richard L. Hapgood noted, "Naturally, as would be expected in a new type of contest, judges and contestants alike were somewhat at sea. All the couples had interesting dances to offer, which were for the most part the working out of individual ideas on the problem, and the result was that the judges differed in their opinions quite as much as the contestants."

Interestingly, Edith Secord and Joseph K. Savage unanimously won the Dance title in 1929... on the basis of their unanimous win in the Waltz. Only one judge (Ferrier T. Martin) placed Secord and Savage first in the Original Dance. Another judge tied Secord and Savage with Theresa Weld and Nathaniel Niles, while two placed Weld and Niles first. A fifth judge had Clara Rotch Frothingham and Roger Turner, who placed dead last overall, first in the Original Dance.

If the Dance competition in New York City in 1929 hadn't been clear cut, the senior women's was something of a landslide victory. Showing much improvement over her efforts the year prior when she'd won her first U.S. title, Maribel Vinson dominated the women's event from start to finish to easily defend her title. Edith Secord of New York was unanimously second and Suzanne Davis of Boston unanimously third. One judge, former U.S. medallist Lillian Cramer, was so impressed by Vinson's efforts that she awarded her over fifteen more points than Secord. The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted, "Miss Vinson is only sixteen years old but has been an actual competitor in amateur figure skating ranks for twelve years, having been initiated into the graceful but difficult art at 4 years of age by her father, who was a famous figure skater some years ago. The execution of the Jackson [Haines] spin, which is named for the man credited with developing the modern American school figure skating, by Miss Vinson was the outstanding factor in her performance, yet she displayed a well-rounded program, showing great speed and accuracy in both the figures and the free skating, in which she brought forth a number of startling new figures."

James Madden, Frederick Goodridge and Roger Turner at the 1929 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Defending champion Roger Turner of Boston amassed an impressive lead in the school figures even though Richard L. Hapgood noted they were "not the best of which he his capable". He received three first place ordinals for his free skating and managed to defend his title four judges to one over Frederick Goodridge. James Madden and Dr. Walter Langer, who finished third and fourth, each received a first place ordinal in free skating. Madden's performance included the competition's only Axel jump. The February 20, 1929 issue of "The New York Times" noted, "Turner displayed a skill that won rounds of applause from the gallery. His form was declared to be as nearly flawless as any seen in recent title events. This was especially true in the school figures. His spins were remarkable and the complete assurance with which he ran through the figures attracted the eyes of the crowd as well as the judges."

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 Winning Winnipeger: The Philip Lee Story

The son of William and Mary Constance (Partridge) Lee, Philip William Lee was born July 22, 1913 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He grew up in a newly constructed Queen Anne Revival Style apartment block on Wardlaw Avenue, just off Wellington Crescent - one of the city's most prestigious areas. His father worked as an inspector at the Western Canada Loan and Savings Company, a firm founded by Philip's great great grandfather. Philip's father was a dog fancier who enjoyed hunting and canoeing... as well as skating at the Winnipeg Winter Club.

Winnipeg Winter Club. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba College Of Medicine Archives.

Though Philip learned to skate as a youngster, it wasn't until he was in his twenties - in the height of The Great Depression - that he began taking skating seriously. On a clerk's meagre salary, he managed to scrimp and save to afford to pursue his dream.

In 1965, Philip recalled, "I would hazard a guess that $1,500 would have covered in my era three complete years of skating. But then we paid only about $1.50 for a 20-minute or half-hour lesson, depending on the pro. Now, I have been told, the charge can be as high as $3 for 15 minutes - and more. We paid about $65 for a pair of boots and skates. Today's skaters pay $150 and more. Today the men wear special free skating outfits that are said to cost in the neighbourhood of $150 or thereabouts. We were not nearly so fancy." Philip received most of his early instruction from Leopold Maier-Labergo, a German Champion who had emigrated to Canada.

Patricia Chown and Philip Lee. Photo courtesy University Of Manitoba Libraries. Right: Philip Lee. Photo courtesy Winnipeg Winter Club.

Though Philip held the Winnipeg Winter Club's senior men's and pairs titles, it was far from a given that he would succeed on a national level. In the thirties, skaters from Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto utterly dominated the Canadian skating scene, but Philip broke the mold. In 1934, he became only the third man from west of Ontario to win the Canadian junior men's title. In 1936 and 1937, he medalled in the senior men's event - a feat only accomplished before by two Western Canadian skaters - Lewis Elkin and Rupert Whitehead.

Patricia Chown and Philip Lee

When Philip won the Canadian junior pairs title with Patricia Chown in 1938, he became the first skater from Western Canada to win Canadian junior titles in more than one discipline. That year, he also 'skated up' in the seniors, just missing the podium in both singles and pairs. His free skating program was set to an original composition called "Spirit Of The Blades", while he and Patricia's pair was performed to "Orchids In The Moonlight" and "Zephyr Blown".

Patricia Chown and Philip Lee. Photos courtesy University Of Manitoba Libraries, Winnipeg Winter Club.

Patricia Chown and Philip Lee. Left photo courtesy University Of Manitoba Libraries.

Philip's skating career was cut short by two factors - his partner Patricia's decision to turn professional to coach at the Winnipeg Winter Club and World War II. During the War, Philip served as a Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. On November 17, 1943 in York Mills, Ontario, he married Ruby Margaret Knox, an airwoman stationed with the Royal Canadian Air Force in Hagersville. Ruby was the daughter of a Major and her maid of honour and attendant were both fellow airwomen. After a short trip home to Winnipeg to visit Philip's family, the newlyweds returned to their respective stations.

After the War, Philip and Ruby reunited and settled for a time in Winnipeg, where Philip briefly taught skating at the Winter Club. In 1950, he served as the business manager of the first summer skating school in the Prairies. One of the unique aspects of this school was a series of lectures on figure skating history. Though he remained quite removed from the national skating scene - not attending the Canadian Championships in person for over twenty years after competing - he regularly penned articles on the sport for the "Winnipeg Free Press". He and Ruby later settled in Calgary and raised three children. Philip passed away on May 19, 1996, his efforts to put Western Canada on the proverbial skating map all but 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 1966 World Figure Skating Championships

Held from February 22 through 27, 1966 in the open air Eisstadion of the International Skating Club in Davos, Switzerland, the 1966 World Figure Skating Championships paid homage to figure skating's compelling history at the final World Championships ever held in the popular skating destination of Davos. The event also marked the final time that both figures and free skating events were held outdoors, though the free skating competitions at the 1967 World Championships in Vienna were held on an outdoor rink.

Beat Häsler's father Georg, a longtime ISU official, took great pains in coordinating showcase displays that surrounded the rink detailing the sport's history. A who's who of skating history came out of the woodwork for the historic occasion, including Dick Button, Cecilia Colledge, Ludovika JakobssonKarl Schäfer, Megan Taylor, Daphne Walker and Manfred Schnelldorfer. Three notable figures missing were Theresa Weld Blanchard, T.D. and Mildred Richardson. Weld Blanchard's husband Charles had suffered two heart attacks so she opted to stay home in America and care for him and likewise, Mildred had fallen and injured her hip so she and her esteemed husband opted to remain in Great Britain and miss the event.

Gary Visconti. Photos courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

One hundred and nine skaters from thirteen different nations participated; the event was broadcast on television to fourteen different nations. The weather was all over the place, with snow, wind, rain and sunshine all making an appearance. The Canadian team on Alitalia arlines flights to Zürich, then by bus to Davos. They stayed in the official hotel, the Hotel Belvedere. Valerie (Jones) Merrick recalled, "The events in Davos were skated on artificial ice at the outdoor main arena. There was a football field next to the arena that had natural ice and was roped off into four rink sizes where the competitors could get extra practice until the ice began to melt about 11:00 AM when the sun was very warm and very high in the sky. The days in Davos were warm and the nights were quite cold. During the practice days leading up to the competition we had some rain but fair weather most days." The rain put later put some of those secondary practice rinks out of commission, limiting training time for many of the competitors. The poor weather contributed to no less than five of the British contingent's members having to take time off due to illness. Let's take a look back at this historic event and find out what many of us missed!


Tatiana Zhuk and Alexander Gorelik. Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

Because they were such absolutely gorgeous and game-changing skaters, we like to think of Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov as pretty much invincible. In reality, they only managed to win their second World title by the skin of their teeth. Although they earned a healthy lead in the compulsory program with a fine performance to Léo Delibes' "Silvia", they were soundly defeated five judges to four in the free skate by their teammates Tatiana Zhuk and Alexander Gorelik and only took the gold medal in Davos by one judge and one placing. Many felt Zhuk and Gorelik, who included side-by-side double flip and loop jumps in their free program, should have won. Off the ice, Zhuk was married to the famous Soviet football player Albert Alekseyevich Shesternyov.

The winners complained about the altitude and the sun's glare off the ice. Oleg Protopopov told one Associated Press reporter, "Ludmila didn't see a thing. She was so blinded by the reflection off the ice." Interestingly, in the free skate the Protopopov's received one 6.0 for artistic impression from the Swiss judge, while Zhuk and Gorelik earned one 6.0 for technical merit from the West German judge.

Cynthia and Ron Kauffman. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Americans Cynthia and Ron Kauffman won their first of three bronze medals at the World Championships ahead of European Bronze Medallists Margot Glockshuber and Wolfgang Danne of West Germany, with a performance that included a double twist, throw Axel and split twist landed in a Russian glide.  However, they also struggled with breathing during their performance. Canada's sole entry, siblings Susan and Peter Huehnergard placed an unlucky thirteenth. Valerie (Jones) Merrick recalled, "In the short program the Heuhnergards were penalized for not performing their step sequence as described in the ISU rulebook. The step sequence was to be skated in unison. Paul and Susan skated their step in opposite directions coming together at the end. They performed the same steps but in mirror, not in shadow. The judging panel were instructed to penalize them by the referee Dr. Karl Enderlin of Switzerland. According to their coach Bruce Hyland, they were not informed by the Canadian officials at Canadians or in Davos at the practices that Paul and Susan were not skating their sequence as was required by the rules. Paul and Susan unfortunately placed last in the short program because of this misinterpretation." Two places ahead of the Huehnergard were Americans Susie Berens and Roy Wagelein. Berens reportedly fainted after skating due to the altitude.

Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov

Following the event, Oleg Protopopov remarked, "We train in Moscow always indoors. I think that if skating championships are held outdoors, the performers are not able to show their true skill, the result becomes more of a gamble and the public and the participants alike are the losers."


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Bernard Ford lamented, "You travel so much faster on outdoor ice that if you don't adapt your usual performance to suit the conditions you would crash into the rink barrier." He did just that in practice and quipped, "I forgot to cross my fingers and crossed my legs instead." When the competition began, Ford and his partner Diane Towler, who trained under Gladys Hogg at the Queen's Ice Club, found themselves with some stiff competition.

In the compulsory dances, Bernard Ford had an uncharacteristic fall in the Paso Doble and he and partner Diane Towler found themselves a surprising fourth. After three dances, U.S. Champions Kristine Fortune and Dennis Sveum held a narrow lead, but a strong Blues allowed Towler and Ford to gain a slim lead overall. Three judges voted for Towler and Ford, three for U.S. Champions Kristin Fortune and Dennis Sveum and one for U.S. Silver Medallists Lorna Dyer and John Carrell. In the free dance, Towler and Ford blew the competition out of the water and won their first World title with the support of seven of the nine judges over their American rivals, earning marks ranging from 5.7 to 5.9. Dennis Bird described their performance as "by far the most original, with an embryo death spiral and a sit spin, and executed with style, smoothness and near-perfect timing." Their coach Gladys Hogg was fighting pneumonia while in Davos, but "gallantly struggled to give her pupils technical and moral support when they needed it the most."

Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

Canada's entries, twenty two year old Carole Forrest and twenty six year old Kevin Lethbridge and eighteen year old Gail Snyder and twenty four year old Wayne Palmer (all of Toronto), placed a discouraging ninth and twelfth places overall. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled the event thusly: "[Towler and Ford] won compulsories despite a slip in the Paso Doble. Then [their] ankle-high one-revolution lift and half-turn mini death spiral in the free attracted attention and the gold medal... Lorna and John had fuller content, but Kristin and Dennis skated more together. Dennis Sveum received a classification of 1A from the draft board and applied for assignment to Special Services so that he could continue skating. Otherwise, he could be sent to active duty in the Vietnam War... Lyudmila Pakhomova and Victor Ryzhkin, ice dance champions of the USSR since 1964, were the first Soviets ever to enter World Dance. No Soviet judges would sit on the panel until 1970. After poor compulsories, their expressive free dance pulled them to tenth place."

Following the dance event, Britons celebrated their first victory in ice dance at Worlds since 1960 with a champagne party at the Hotel Bristol. Dennis Bird recalled, "As I was leaving the party at about two in the morning, I met Dennis Sveum in the street. 'Well,' he said, 'the best couple won.' It was sporting of him, and it accurately summed up the result."


At the 1966 Canadian Championships in Peterborough, a young Karen Magnussen had finished a surprising second in the free skate and stolen much of the spotlight - and support - from reigning World Champion Petra Burka. Magnussen placed fourth overall at that competition but Doug Kimpel, the manager of the Canadian team in Davos, lamented, "This kid will be a world beater. I only wish I could take her to Davos." It was clear before the Burka's even left for Switzerland that support for her from the CFSA was waning. Friends told Ellen Burka, "Don't even bother going to Davos." The Americans allegedly started a propaganda campaign. Canadian team member Kevin Lethbridge asserted, "They made certain everyone knew about Petra's brush at home with a 13-year old skater." Journalist Paul noted that Kimpel acknowledged that before Burka even competed, "One foreign judge was alleged to have said it wasn't Petra's year; she wasn't going to make it." In the meantime, Hugh Glynn asserted, "The U.S. was blowing its horn". Lethbridge later reflected, "We on the team should have gotten together and fought. We should have protected Petra."

Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

The night before the men's school figures, the Canadian women left Davos and travelled by taxi to Arosa to practice their own school figures, as the main rink was of course unavailable. Valerie (Jones) Merrick recalled, "When we woke up in Arosa, the village was experiencing a snow storm and the ice rink was covered with snow and no one to clean it for us... The ladies had very sunny weather for their event. I remember wearing pilot sunglasses with very large lenses to help with the glare on the ice during figures. There was a lot of interest in the ladies event with Petra and Peggy. Petra was competing as reigning world champion and had lost considerable weight since her win in 1965. Her style had changed with her new body and perhaps the power she had when she won was not as evident."

Petra Burka drew first to skate in the figures and seemed doomed from the start. In "Winter Sports" magazine, Howard Bass recalled, "During the warm-up before the first figure, the forward inside counter, the title defender was seen to be practicing it on the outside instead of the inside edge. Noticing this, the referee gave her two minutes in which to adapt to the right figure, for which she was mentally unprepared." All but the Canadian judge ranked Peggy Fleming first over Petra Burka in the first phase of the women's event, though Gaby Seyfert won the second figure.

Peggy Fleming (left), Sheldon Galbraith and Valerie Jones (right) in Davos. Photos courtesy Valerie (Jones) Bartlett.

If the figures were a decisive win for Peggy Fleming, the free skate was another matter entirely. The West German judge tied Petra Burka and Gaby Seyfert, while the East German judge tied Seyfert and Fleming. The Canadian, Austrian and British judges placed Seyfert first, while the American, Japanese, French and Czechoslovakian judges all opted for Fleming. Although the free skating ordinals were a little more all over the place, Fleming's win over Seyfert and Burka was certainly decisive... a whole thirteen points decisive! She performed her trademark spread eagle/double Axel/spread eagle sequence, earned a standing ovation and one 6.0 for her effort. Fleming credited her mother's drive for her to focus on the task at hand and Carlo Fassi's coaching for her victory. Quoted in the March 7, 1966 edition of "Sports Illustrated", a proud Fassi exclaimed, "It is her determination that makes Peggy great. She has an excellent disposition which makes her forget a bad practice in 10 minutes. But at the same time, she learns from her mistakes. There is no doubt in my mind she is the best in the world."

Peggy Fleming

Some blamed Petra Burka's loss on the fact that it was her first time competing outdoors, some a twenty five pound weight loss on a crash diet, some said she omitted a jump and two-footed another and others argued she outskated Peggy Fleming. In her interview, Burka reflected, "It's too bad that people seem to remember my loss more than my championship. You know, losing was even better for me, as a person, than winning. I learned more by losing - about life in particular."

Although Canada's Valerie Jones and France's Nicole Hassler struggled in the free skate, they managed to hold on to the fourth and fifth spots ahead of Czechoslovakia's Hana Mašková, Hungary's Zsuzsa Almássy and Japan's Miwa Fukuhara. Tina Hoyes placed fourth in the free skate with the only double Axel/double loop combination of the event, but placed ninth overall after a disappointing showing in the figures. Canada's third entry, Roberta Laurent, placed fifteenth of the twenty entries. Austria's Regine Heitzer did not compete, having announced her retirement following that year's European Championships in Bratislava.


During the men's school figures, twenty one skaters from thirteen countries had to endure not only the scrutiny of steely eyed judges but inclement weather while they traced their threes and loops. The men's school figures were skated during a windy snowstorm which covered the ice with heavy, wet snow and obscured the tracings, making the job of the judges particularly challenging. Efforts to sweep and resurface for some skaters and not others raised eyebrows. In his book "Winter Sports", British sportswriter Howard Bass asserted that "after completing one figure on particularly rough ice, Donald Knight, the Canadian men's champion, looked aghast when he saw the next competitor was about to commence his figure on a shining patch of ice freshly cleared by the mechanised resurfacer. He protested in vain to the referee. Other skaters, while trying to concentrate on the accuracy of their tracings, were disturbed by moving ice sweepers only a few feet away. The participants often found the ice bumpy from the snow left where the judges had been standing. Sometimes the judges had to examine figure tracings which were partly obliterated by the new snow." Knight, whose ordinals in the school figures at the 1965 World Championships in Colorado Springs were mostly in the first, second and third place range, received one third place score from Canadian judge Suzanne Francis. The rest of the judges had him down around seventh place. West German judge Eugen Rommenger had Knight (the reigning World Bronze Medallist) all the way down in twelfth place. In the end, seven of the nine judges all placed European Champion Emmerich Danzer first in the school figures. The other two placed him behind his teammate Wolfgang Schwarz. One of the two judges who opted for Schwarz, Canadian judge Suzanne Morrow-Francis, placed Danzer fifth and alleged he stopped three feet from the center on his first figure a total of three times and was held up by a backroom deal involving the Austrian and West German judges. In the February 24, 1966 edition of "The Montreal Gazette", America's Scotty Allen admitted the weather "was terrible" and that he "didn't see a thing" and Danzer claimed "the snow was so dense" that he thought he "wouldn't be able to see anything."

But the snow wasn't the only problem! Jay Humphry recalled, "My most indelible memory of that competition was that the Zamboni broke down in the middle of the men's figures competition. By the time we got to the fifth and sixth figures were doing the figures over ice that had been used three or four times, both for competition and then for practice. It was impossible to see the centers where figures were started and as the day went along several skaters had to actually hop to keep up speed on the bracket change bracket figure which was done last. After it was over I am pretty sure they judged the figures on the first few that were done on good ice and then if you looked reasonably in control later on, you kept you place as marked earlier. I never did chat with any of the judges in later years as to what they did or how they judged the competition. I do recall Charlie Snelling coming to the figures event with black under his eyes like a football player, as the sun was really bright. His coach Marcus Nikkanen was not sure it was good idea, but Charlie did. Eventually the black ran down Charlie's cheeks as the day progressed."

Valerie (Jones) Merrick later recalled, "Mr. Galbraith showed me films of this after the event. There were long squeegees that had three to four men pushing them to clear the ice for a competitor to skate their figure. By the time the Judges had finished judging that figure they had to squeegee the ice again. At one point the Zamboni broke down while flooding the ice and was parked at one end of the ice. The competition continued."

Wolfgang Schwarz in Davos. Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

In contrast, the weather was outstanding during the men's event. Though Japan's Nobuo Sato gave one of the most spirited performances of the event, he fell on a triple Salchow, which Emmerich Danzer managed to land. Despite struggling with the altitude late in his program, Danzer gave a fine performance that also featured two double Axels and a double Lutz.  He took the win in the free in a five-four split over America's Gary Visconti, who also landed a triple Salchow and more than one double Axel. Wolfgang Schwarz, who missed a triple toe-loop and double Axel in his free skate, relied on his strong showing in the figures to give him a one placement edge over Visconti for the silver, and Danzer won the gold.

Emmerich Danzer. Photos courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

Canadians Donald Knight, Jay Humphry and Charles Snelling ended up seventh, tenth and eleventh. Although four judges ranked Visconti in a tie for first or first on his own in the free skating, the only judge to rank him first overall was Suzanne Morrow-Francis. She was criticized for her decision at a judge's meeting and then later suspended for a completely different matter: the fact she had apparently shown national bias by placing all three Canadian men higher than their final placements... and Gary Visconti first. Ironically, Visconti was an American... not a Canadian.

Not everyone was thoroughly impressed with the calibre of men's skating in Davos. In the April 1966 issue of "Skating" magazine, Dick Button bemoaned, "The men's free skating performances were marked by unpointed toes, unstretched legs, bent backs, a notable lack of spinning ability and very little interest in relating choreography to music."

Gary Visconti. Photo courtesy Stadtmuseum Aarau.

In his book "Falling For The Win", Gary Visconti recalled the event thusly: "As I remember it, my start order for the long program was thirteenth (Carol Heiss' favorite number) out of something like 28 competitors. I do remember stepping off the ice (no security, no kiss and cry area) right into the arms of my new biggest fan, Monica Torriani. Her mom ran the music room and her father was a famous Swiss Olympian, ice hockey player and skier. Monica herself was an elite skater. Well, flowers came my way at the hockey rail, and then a fan threw something for me to catch. I missed and it went on the ice as the next competitor went out. It was a little Swiss Troll, with 'Einstein' crazy green hair. Even Dick Button was surprised. I guess this was the first toy tossed in fan appreciation, ever! He proudly sits on my desk today. When my marks went up just after my performance, they were all 5.8s and 5.9s. I could not imagine who could or would do much better. It didn’t seem fair to the 15 other skaters, but I was proud and completely happy. My standing in preliminaries was fourth so a medal seemed in sight. I could hold my head up high now! Even though I was not the U.S. Champion, I was now on the podium at Worlds!"

The real story in the men's event in Davos was that of the fourteenth place finisher. After turning in a good performance to Giuseppe Verdi's "Nabucco", East Germany's Ralph Borghard snuck away from his hotel and went to the West German consulate in Zürich, where he asked for and received a West German passport. Gary Visconti, who helped him escape, recalled in his book "Falling For The Win" that "the big challenge was to get Ralph out of sight of his Communist chaperones. We managed to do just that by hosting an athletics celebration at the hotel and distracting them so much that they had no idea that he was missing." Borghard escaped by train to live with his father in West Berlin.

Ralph Borghard 

The competition ended with a lavish banquet on the Sunday evening after the women's free skate. Prizes were awarded, dancing was had by all and a midnight buffet was served. Kristin Fortune recalled, "There were ice or butter sculptures to show off each kind of food, and every type of food imaginable was served. There was an excellent band that played mostly polkas."

In today's fast-paced world, many view figure skating competitions with a certain detachment. "64.64, 66.21, 130.85, 4th place," read the tweets. The further down the rabbit hole of fanatical quantification figure skating drifts, the more we seem to overlook its humanity. The pair who missed their shuttle from the hotel to the rink and barely made their warm-up group; the skater who was more worried about their bootstrap breaking than back loading their program. The stories behind the skating are what people ultimately remember more than the math, and if we don't take the time to observe and preserve them, we are missing a big piece of the puzzle. The 1966 World Championships certainly had some fascinating stories indeed.

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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