#Unearthed: The CSKA Moscow Children's School

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's edition comes to you from the January 1974 issue of "Soviet Life" magazine and is a very brief look at the children's figure skating school at the Soviet Army Central Sports Club (CSKA Moscow) penned by none other than Irina Rodnina, then the reigning Olympic and World Champion in pairs skating.


Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev

High speeds and giddy leaps, graceful movements, music, sparkling ice - that is figure skating. But how much energy goes into the training for this beautiful spectacle? In our country figure skating is one of the most popular winter sports. Thousands of girls and boys train at the many rinks.

Soviet figure skating is world famous and so are the leading skaters: Lyudmila Smirnova and
Alexei Ulanov (pair skating), Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov (ice dancing),
Sergei Chetverukhin and Yuri Ovchinnikov. They have won repeatedly at world and European
championships and at the Olympics. I'm happy that I too have been able to contribute to this

The figure skater's career begins at the children's skating schools, whose number is increasing from year to year. There used to be only two main figure-skating centers - Moscow and Leningrad - but at the recent junior championships youngsters from Sverdlovsk, Kiev, Kirov, Kazan, Tallinn, Gorky and
other cities competed. Over 60,000 children now go in for figure skating.

Irina Rodnina with young CSKA Moscow skaters

The future skaters I am going to tell about attend the children's skating school at the Soviet Army Central Sports Club. I began studying there at the age of six and still train at its rink. Applicants to the school must pass intensive tests for physical fitness, musicality, rhythm and plasticity. Skilled
specialists train the children, among them Stanislav Zhuk, a former figure skater, silver medal
winner at three European championships and the best coach in the Soviet Union; Alexander Gore-
lik, silver medal winner at the 1968 Olympics; and Victor Ryzhkin, several times the champion
of the USSR. Choreographers, composers, musicians and costume designers create the compositions and plan the programs.

At the disposal of the students are all the necessary equipment, facilities and medical services. The tuition fee is a token five rubles a month; after two years instruction is free.

It's not easy to become a good figure skater; both the students and coaches must follow an intensive regimen. Success comes only to the most persistent and stubborn. But the years spent at the school leave their mark. Though not all the youngsters become champions, they grow up healthy, resourceful, with a keen sense of beauty, the goal of sports.

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.

Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 7

As autumn crept in the last six years, I reminded you of a delicious Maritime classic - hodge podge. If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it.

Atlantic Canadians use the expression 'hodge podge' to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way.

I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. For one, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Fasten your seat belts and prepare for a tour of compelling stories with a skating connection... and a delicious 6.0 finish!


Left: Cover of menu from The Viking Restaurant And Lounge. Photo courtesy Broward County Library. Right: Matchbook from The Viking Restaurant And Lounge.

Broward County, Florida plays host to a small city called Dania Beach, which is known as "The Antique Capital Of The South". Today, antique shops line the city's North Federal Highway but in the sixties and seventies, one of the city's most unique and novel attractions was The Viking Restaurant and Lounge.

The Viking was a Scandinavian restaurant whose claim to fame was the fact it served the 'World's Largest Viking-American Smorgasbord Luncheon' daily for a dollar and twenty five cents. Menu items included Filet Mignon In Warrior Dress and Whale Steak Surprise. However, what made The Viking so unique wasn't its hokey take on Scandinavian fare... it was its ice skating rink.

While tourists perused the wine list and supped on fish and cheese platters, they were treated to daily exhibitions by Jinx Clark's students from the Viking Skating Club on a fifty by one hundred foot artificial ice rink. Hanging over the ice were chandeliers that were handmade authentic replicas from the Viking Hall in Reykjavik and flags from viking battleships. Pillars beneath the restaurant's mantel were replicas of the Pillars of the High Seat in Arnarfjörður, Iceland.

From a business perspective, The Viking Restaurant and Lounge's inclusion of a members-only ice rink was pretty clever. The skaters who gave exhibitions were all young amateurs who couldn't accept money for giving exhibitions... so they managed to provide the owners with entertainment that didn't cost them a dime. The restaurant operated from 1963 to 1977, and today it is nothing more than an empty lot. The address has even been removed from civic records. Here today, gone tomorrow!


"I just feel the skaters are manipulated like pawns in a chess game. It's time we stood up to them about it." - Gary Beacom, February 14, 1984, "The Ottawa Citizen"

In January 1984, twenty three year old Gary Beacom dominated the initial phase of the Canadian Championships at the Exhibition Stadium in Regina, Saskatchewan, decisively winning all three school figures ahead of three time Canadian Champion and reigning World Bronze Medallist Brian Orser. In the free skate, Brian fell on his triple Lutz and triple flip attempts. Gary wasn't perfect either - putting one hand down on a triple flip and almost falling on a triple Salchow attempt - but received a standing ovation for his effort. Two judges actually tied the two men in the free skate and Gary received strong marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.9. Toller Cranston later remarked that Gary "probably should have won the Canadian title. He did not."

The story would be completely different at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia when Gary staged one of the most public protests of his era at the Skenderija ice rink in response to what he perceived as politically motivated judging. After skating his third figure, a back loop change loop that he felt was finer than any of the figures he laid down in Regina to win, he was given marks lower than the first two figures he skated, which he felt weren't of the same strength.

Gary didn't go back to the boards. He stood in front of the judges and glared them down. In a February 15, 1984 interview in "The Spokane Chronicle", he said, "I said I wasn't moving. I wanted the judges to look me right in the eye. One of the judges gave me a dirty look." He skated away and kicked the boards in anger, making a thunderous boom. Brian Orser was seventh in the figures in Sarajevo to Gary's tenth... a far cry from Canadians.

Everyone was abuzz about Gary's protest in Sarajevo; it even made "Time" magazine. In the February 15, 1984 issue of "The Globe And Mail", he spoke of the incident thusly: "I don't regret it in the least; I feel quite good about it. I'm very serious about the judging and I think it's about time somebody stood up to the judges and expressed their feelings. We're not allowed to express our feelings because it's detrimental to us. But we're not monkeys, we're human beings and we should be allowed to demand fair play.''

Although not officially reprimanded by Donald Gilchrist, the Canadian referee of the event, Gary was hauled into a meeting on February 14, 1984 with Robert Hindmarch, Canada's Olympic chef de mission. He told reporters that Hindmarch "was upset but understanding. It wasn't a spoiled-brat type of thing. I felt that, last year in the Worlds, I was marked down, and the last three competitions I've been at, everybody's told me I was the best, yet I came second in all of them. And I have to think I have the best figures in the world, there's no question in my mind. And when I come tenth - it's just too much for me." Disciplinary action was threatened if his 'behaviour' continued. Gary skated a clean short program but dropped from tenth to eleventh - where he'd ultimately finish overall.

Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Gary's protest in Sarajevo resonated with other skaters who felt they too were getting the bum's rush from the Olympic judges. His teammate Kay Thomson told reporters, "You can't ever control what the judges do, just what you do. It's very frustrating. I can see why Gary... did what he did." American skater Mark Cockerell expressed, "This is the worst it has ever been. Everyone is starting to react to it. It seemed like half the people in the audience booed all the marks. I know how Gary feels when he says we're not trained monkeys. It is really heartbreaking when you put in all the time and money for what seems like a slap in the face. Gary and I are in the exact same position. We go out there and do what we have to do and don't seem to get credit. There are times I've wanted to roar and blow the roof off the building. If you speak out, it will hurt you potentially. They will come back and really give you the ax."

Toller Cranston, in the February 14, 1984 issue of "The Globe And Mail", said: "In skiing, you just have to go down a hill as fast as you can and a clock tells you who won. You can be a normal human being. In figure skating, you have to play the part. I applaud him because he was right. The problem with men's figures is that name, reputation and the country you're from mean more than the figures you skate. Gary is too unique and eccentric to put up with that. He coaches himself and puts a lot of hard work into his preparation. He's too intelligent and bright to be slaughtered in a competition where that sort of thing happens.'' He later remarked, in his 2002 book "Ice Cream", "It occurred to me that, if I had known during my own amateur career that such irreverent behaviour could garner publicity in 'Time', I certainly would have done the same thing myself." The late Barbara Graham, technical director of the CFSA at the time and a former judge, sang a different tune. She remarked, "Gary can only see the print. He can't see the execution, the movement and style on which the judges marked his performance."

At the 1984 World Championships in Ottawa, two time European Champion Norbert Schramm skated onto his patch to perform his third compulsory figure. He spread his arms to align his figure, started his tracing and then put his free foot down. Referee Sonia Bianchetti Garbato went over to him and offered him an opportunity to restart. He shook her hand and said he could not continue. She tried to convince him to but he said he couldn't and was quitting out of frustration. He bowed to the applauding crowd of one thousand and left the ice, effectively ending his amateur career.

Norbert cited his federation's politically jockeying in support of teammate Rudi Cerne at his expense as one of the motivating factors of his decision. In his 2012 Manleywoman SkateCast interview, Norbert explained, "When I got eleventh and fourteenth in the first two compulsory figures, I knew, my time is over, I will never ever be up in the top of the skaters again. So I decided to quit right in the competition, and I didn't do my loops that time. At least I got one more time a standing ovation for that. This was something unbelievable, for a school figure I never did I got a standing ovation, so I guess a lot of people at that time realized what was going on behind the scenes. These days, I'm a bit unhappy about this situation at that time, but on the other hand it was the right decision, and I continued on my own way."

Ironically, Gary Beacom was just one spot ahead of Norbert Schramm in the starting order in Ottawa. In the March 21, 1984 edition of "The Globe And Mail", he said, "I stepped on to the ice and gave a cheer. I shouldn't have. Somebody might think I was trying to steal his thunder, but I just wanted him to know that I was behind him. He got a standing ovation afterward. He felt delighted that he got one. Norbert's a good guy... He was just fed up. He was second last year, and only eleventh in the figures this year, so what was the point? He said it was because he had a bad year, and that he did skate the figures well and should have got better marks... I'm quite discouraged and frustrated. I don't really want to blame the system. I just don't want to fit into the system. The top five is where the contest is. Who cares if you're eleventh?"

When I interviewed Gary in 2013, he said, "My back change loop at Olympics was a personal achievement in spite of the temperamental conflict that ensued. It was the only loop in the competition that came close to rulebook specs. Yet, I suspect because it stood out and because I was reputed to be a renegade, I was not justly rewarded." Say what you will about sportsmanship but you have to pick and choose your battles in life... and Gary's protest will long be remembered fondly for its courage and conviction.


The daughter of Edward and Greta (Beasley) Mudge, Iris Langley Mudge was born November 5, 1886 in Montreal, Quebec. She grew up in the city's west ward on St. Peter Street in an Anglican home. Her father (a Newfoundlander) served as a Captain with The Canadian Grenadier Guards.

Lady's Tickets from the Victoria Skating Rink. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Iris was one of the first women to join the Earl Grey Skating Club when it was founded. She practiced several days a week at the Victoria Skating Rink and in 1906, won the Rubenstein Cup for "best lady skater" at the Canadian Championships. She won the same title two years later, along with the Earl Grey Trophy four fours skating. She was twenty-three at the time. It can't have been an easy go either. A report in the March 1, 1910 issue of the "New York Herald" noted that though there was "a large and fashionable crowd... the ice was such as to make the usual excellent skating impossible, a soft sheet prevailing as the result of the soft weather."

The Great War effectively ended Iris' skating career. Inspired by the Canadian Nursing Sisters who served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps near the front lines in Europe, she went overseas to England to work in a hospital for four years. After the War, she married William Edward Carless, a talented British architect who'd moved to Montreal in 1912 and found a job teaching at McGill University. Iris and William lived in Switzerland for a time, then moved to England in 1929. William husband opened a private practice and Iris spent her free time reading, collecting art and skating at  Queen's. The couple travelled extensively to Holland, Russia and France. Iris quietly pursued a second passion - writing. After a trip to Brittany, Iris and William penned a travelogue together titled "Two Pilgrims In Brittany" which went undiscovered for many years until their family located it in attic. For many years, Iris and William lived in Bath, which was badly bombed during World War II. After William's death in 1949, Iris took up residence at St. James Square. She passed away there on September 12, 1964 at the age of seventy seven, her moment in the sun as one of Canada's first 'lady champions' all but forgotten.


Located on Queens Boulevard at 62nd Drive in Long Island, New York, the Boulevard Tavern holds a a rather unique place in figure skating history. In the heyday of hotel ice shows at hotels like the New Yorker, St. Regis and Biltmore hotels in New York, Cincinnati's Netherland Plaza, the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, the Nicollet in Minneapolis and the Copley Plaza in Boston, the Boulevard Tavern was the lone watering hole that decided to get in on the 'skating as entertainment' game. It was hailed by hotel ice show producer Art Victor as "the only non-hotel night club which has installed a permanent ice tank" in the January 2, 1943 edition of "Billboard" magazine. It was actually the popularity of a one-off production that got the tavern started in the business of pairing Long Island Iced Tea's with layback spins.

Art Victor explained, "At the Boulevard Tavern ice shows have been instrumental in putting the spot across to the extent that they are now a permanent policy. After opening with a traveling ice show, which transported its own ice equipment, the spot has installed its own refrigeration plant and is now producing its own shows. The talent situation has hampered the development of muck ice revues. Last year a muck plastic, Plasticc, was developed, on which skaters could attain 80 per cent of the speed on real ice. The Pelham Heath Inn has used this type of revue a couple of months ago... To build new tanks will be rather difficult, as most of the material needed is subject to priorities, but it is still possible, particularly for hotels with their own refrigeration plants. Muck ice has not proven successful so far; it is neither pleasant to skate on nor to dance on. With war conditions, however, favoring the development of substitutes in fields, ice skating shows on an improved muck surface may well be the result of war necessity. Didn't someone say necessity is the mother of invention?"

The Boulevard Tavern's ice shows first started being held regularly in 1941 and with a capacity of eight hundred, often attracting impressive audiences. In 1942, John Harris of the Arena Managers' Association booked MCA's McGowan and Mack ice show at the Boulevard. The show starred the husband and wife pairs team of Ruth McGowan and Everett Mack, who had respective backgrounds in roller skating, hockey and speed skating. Their young daughter Jo Ann appeared in the show and  went on to be a star with Holiday On Ice.

There is evidence of the shows continuing until the Boulevard's September 1944 to January 1945 run of "Fantasy On Ice", which had to compete with the "Hats Off To Ice" show at the Center Theatre and many popular roller skating revues that didn't have to contend with sometimes shoddy ice conditions. The tavern turned its attention to music as 'the fad' of hotel ice shows slowly dwindled. Sadly, on March 29, 1958, the Boulevard was gutted in a four alarm fire. I don't know about you but I think a revival of taverns with triple toe-loop's is definitely in order. When's happy hour?


For decades, coaching and skating in ice shows were the typical paths many amateur skaters would venture down after their competitive careers came to an end. New England Champion ice dancer Hazel Williams went down the path less travelled in the fifties, perhaps picking the most unusual post-skating career in history.

Hazel took a job as a sardine tester, tasting no less than three hundred Maine sardines a day. She worked her way up the shellfish ladder, eventually earning the cushy title of Market Specialist for the Maine Sardine Council's Research and Quality Control Laboratory at the ripe old age of thirty six. Shem indirectly credited skating for getting her the sardine tasting job, because she'd never smoked while she competed. Of seventy five applicants, none of the three successful candidates were non-smokers... with better taste buds. You'd think tasting hundreds of anything a day would put you right off it but Hazel told reporters, "It's a good thing I like sardines!"


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

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.

To Europe With Love

On Sunday, January 23, 1972, youngsters from Sacramento, California to Syracuse, New York begged their parents to "stay up just a little later". An hour after the "World Of Disney" aired the Lesley Ann Warren film "The One And Only, Genuine, Original Family Band", NBC presented a charming one hour skating special that history has all but overlooked - "To Europe With Love".

"To Europe With Love" was Peggy Fleming's third made-for-TV special. It came on the heels of "Peggy Fleming At Sun Valley", which won two Emmy awards. Directed by Sterling Johnson, produced by Dick Foster and packaged for NBC by Bob Banner Associates, the production was filmed in the autumn of 1971 over a four week period. Most of the scenes were shot in Grenoble, where Peggy won Olympic gold in 1968, but the crew also filmed in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. One of the more memorable scenes from the production was a skating scene set on a glacier on Jakobshorn mountain in the Alps, overlooking Davos.

There were some adventures along the way. In Switzerland, Peggy climbed atop the roof of a two-story home with four others and took on the role of a chimney sweep. She recalled, "Swiss chimney sweeps got around by bicycle, riding along even on snow while balancing their ladder and long broom... The mayor [also] closed the schools in three districts to permit hundreds of children to participate in one scene to fill two acres of ice with skaters."

Peggy skated both solo and duet performances in "To Europe With Love", performing with nine time Austrian Champion Willy Bietak and Paul Sibley, a former star of the Wiener Eisrevue. The title track for the show was written by Everett Gordon, but the bulk of the music came from the Austrian pop group The Milestones and special guest star Andy Williams. The production was a reunion of sorts for Peggy and Andy. Back in 1966, she had made her first network variety show appearance on his show. Andy even laced up and took to the ice in one scene of "To Europe With Love" with Peggy that was filmed at the stunning Neuschwanstein Castle in southwest Bavaria.

Less than two weeks after "To Europe With Love" aired, Peggy was in Sapporo, Japan commentating with Jim Simpson on NBC's coverage of the 1972 Winter Olympic Games. Though "To Europe With Love" received good reviews, it kind of got lost in the shuffle as Trixi Schuba - coincidentally a European - succeeded the American star as the new Olympic Gold Medallist in women's figure skating.

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.

Xenia Caesar, The Mother Of Russian Figure Skating

Born in 1889 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Xenia Genrichovna Caesar developed a sense of discipline and appreciate for melody as a child by studying piano with her father, a music teacher. Along with her sisters Barbara and Olga, Xenia joined the St. Petersburg Society Of Ice Skating Amateurs when she was still a student. At the frozen Yusupov Gardens, she excelled at the finer points of compulsory and special figures under the expert tutelage of none other than Olympic Gold Medallist Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin. Panin later recalled, "From the first meeting with her on the ice, I was amazed by her abilities... Soon Xenia took a leading place among the younger population of the 'Academy'."

In 1910, Xenia made her debut at the Russian Championships, finishing third in the men's event which was won by Karl Ollo. When a women's competition was formally introduced the following winter, she claimed the gold, defeating fellow Panin disciple Lidia Popova. That same winter, she finished second at a figure skating competition for women which was held in conjunction with the European Championships, which at that time were only contested by men. Xenia reigned as the Russian women's champion for five years in a row and in 1914 in St. Moritz, she became the first Russian woman to participate in the World Championships. Hampered by low marks in the school figures, she placed seventh of the nine entries despite earning third place ordinals from both the German and British judges in free skating. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Great War ended her competitive figure skating career.

Following the War, Xenia served as a professor at the Institute Of Physical Culture in Leningrad and was the founder and head instructor at the school of figure skating at the Leningrad Provincial Council of Trade Unions. She later taught at the Pischevkus and Lesgaft skating schools with Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin and fellow Russian Champions Karl Ollo and Fedor Datlin before returning to the Yusupov Gardens to teach skating with the Central Club of the Leningrad Provincial Council of Trade Unions. Among her students were 1937 and 1939 Soviet pairs champions Raisa (Novozhilova) and Alexander Gandelsman.

Although contemporary sources claim that Xenia passed away in 1967, the Russian National Library's "Book of Memory of Victims of Political Repression in the USSR" supports journalist Oleg Chikiris' claim that she actually died in May 1942 during the Siege Of Leningrad and was buried near Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin in Piskarevskoe Cemetery. For those who aren't up on their World War II history, the German occupation of Leningrad was nothing short of horrific. Over one and a half million people died - the largest loss of life ever in a modern city - and starvation was so extreme that citizens resorted to eating sawdust, rats and cats - even murder and cannibalism. Many died on the streets. Hardly a fitting end to anyone's story, let alone the mother of Russian figure skating. Inducted into the Hall Of Fame of the Federal State Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education, National State University of Physical Culture, Sports and Health posthumously, Xenia's tragic story is all but forgotten outside of Russia today.

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.

Five Fabulous Fellows Of The Fifties

In the heyday of lavish touring productions, hotel ice shows and colourfully costumed skating pantomimes, the press was certainly more than kind to the leading ladies. Male skaters, however talented or unique their stories, almost always seemed to play second banana. Today we will hop in the time machine and meet five fabulous fellows of the fifties whose accomplishments as professional skaters certainly warrant a second moment in the spotlight!


Ice show aficionados in the fifties would have had to have been living under a rock if they didn't know the name Michael 'Mickey' Meehan. This Irish born skater got his first big break as a Gloria Nord's pairs partner in the roller skating revue "Skating Vanities" and rose to prominence as an ice skating star in the early fifties with the Holiday On Ice tour.

A graceful skater who drew on ballet training, Mickey skated a romantic pairs act called "Stars In Your Eyes" with Joan Hyldoft in the 1952 show that stood out amongst the shtick for its elegance. So styled was his skating that "Dance Magazine" raved about his solo performance to Tchaikovsky's "Fifth Symphony" thusly: "If the balletic form Michael Meehan shows in Holiday On Ice is his on terra firma too, a dance star is in the wrong pew. If he worked hard he could easily be snatched by any ballet company." Leaving the touring ice show world behind, Mickey found success skating in the ice shows in the Boulevard Room at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago in the latter half of the fifties.


Hailing from Glebe, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, William Hinchy rose to prominence as a pairs skater in the late forties, winning the 1948 Australian title with partner Thelma Homsey. Following that win, Hinchy turned professional, took a job coaching in Melbourne and appeared with Thelma in the shows "Schooldays" and "Rhythm On Ice" at the Sydney Glaciarium, skating for a few years on the Tivoli Circuit.

The lure of stardom drew Bill to Great Britain, where he appeared alongside Belita in two of Claude Langdon's ice pantomimes at Empress Hall in London - "Jack In The Beanstalk On Ice" and "White Horse Inn On Ice". He then left Langdon's troupe to skate in Tom Arnold's pantomime "Queen Of Hearts On Ice" at Westover Ice Rink in Bournemouth and won the 1953 World Professional Championships in pairs skating with Maureen Pain. 


The son of Anna (LeBlanc) and Edward Richard, Rudolph Arthur Richard was born August 14, 1922 in the province of Quebec. His family emigrated to Fitchburg, Massachusetts in his youth, where his father found a job in a paper mill and his older sisters worked in a shoe shop. He was the third oldest of seven children.

While attending school, Rudy contributed to the family income by appearing in nightclubs and Vaudeville shows throughout New England as a dancer and giving dance lessons. Upon moving to New York City, he made the most of another passion of his youth - ice skating - one he'd never explored beyond skating in a few carnivals on local lakes.

Under the stage name Rudy Richards, he got his start in professional skating in the Terrace Room at the Hotel New Yorker. His success in "Newfangles On Ice" led to  a series of shows at the Centre Theatre including "It Happens On Ice", "Hats Off To Ice", "Stars On Ice" and "Howdy, Mr. Ice". At Marjery Fielding's Midnight Ice Show at the Iridium Room in 1944, he stole the show with his solo to Maurice Ravel's "Bolero", some forty years before Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won Olympic gold performing to the exact same music. In 1947 alone, he appeared alongside Belita in "Rhapsody On Ice" and Sonja Henie in the "Hollywood Ice Revue". During the forties, he also served a stint in the United States Army, serving as a Technician Fourth Grade during World War II.

Sonja Henie and Rudy Richards in the 1955 Hollywood Ice Revue. Photo courtesy The Norwegian Archives.

After performing in the Boulevard Room at the Hotel Stevens in Chicago, Rudy took a stab at the acting world, appearing with The Lighthouse Players in a play at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania. In 1961, he would appear on the silver screen in the 20th Century Fox film "Snow White And The Three Stooges", which starred Olympic Gold Medallist Carol Heiss.

However, Rudy achieved his biggest stardom in the fifties as a star in Holiday On Ice. He skated both solo acts and duets in the show and became a popular performer in both the United States in Europe. In 1955, he partnered Sonja Henie when the tour visited her native Norway. Rudy tragically died on July 8, 1964 in Los Angeles, California at the age of forty one. His death was allegedly a suicide caused by a barbiturate overdose.


Born September 4, 1928 in Mount Vernon, New York, Robert 'Bobby' Joseph Blake was an accomplished tumbler and diver in high school and the son of an Irish musician and step dancer. He got his start not as a skater but as as a song and dance man in nightclubs.

After seeing an ice show in Philadelphia, the red-headed young dancer decided that anything they could do, he could do better. Bobby took to the ice and trained for eight to ten hours a day for a year before his first professional skating audition. His first gig came in 1944, when he took on the role of pairs partner to Ruby Maxson in the Ice Follies. Her former partner, a brother also named Bobby, had joined the Army Transport Service and it wasn't long before Bobby Blake was away serving as a tank gunner in the Army Tank Corps himself.

Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

After being discharged from the Army due to an injury and spending three months in hospital, Bobby rejoined Ice Follies briefly, then toured with Holiday On Ice and Ice Vogues. However, it wasn't until 1953 when he joined Arthur M. Wirtz's Hollywood Ice Revue alongside Barbara Ann Scott and Jacqueline du Bief that he really started turning heads.

Bobby later performed in a number of Gerald Palmer's ice pantomimes at Wembley in England. "Billboard" Magazine called him "a nervy jitterbug on skates who, judging from the preem, has his own skating sox brigade who swoon-scream for and at him. The kid is there on skates... and in a swing-waltz number does something to the paying customers that they'd appreciate having done for hours at a time. Maybe he's just enjoying himself, but the payees have a habit of enjoying what performers enjoy."

Bobby passed away on May 26, 1994 in Normal, Illinois at the age of sixty six. Quoted in "The Evening Independent" on February 24, 1959, he said, "I believe one can do anything if he works hard enough at it."


Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

"Skating is show business. It's ballet, dance, entertainment. I've skated that [way] all along, but others kept saying it is a sport." - Frank Sawers, "The BG News", April 11, 1973

Francis 'Frank' Traynor Sawers Jr., his Scottish born parents Frank and Margaret and older sister Isobel lived on Holmwood Avenue near Lansdowne Park in Ottawa during World War II. Young Frank first learned to skate on ponds in Ottawa was regarded by many as 'a natural'. Though he joined the Minto Skating Club, he was largely self-taught, though he received some dance instruction from his mother, a ballet teacher by profession. In fact, he received less than a dozen formal lessons, picking up most of what he learned from studying Barbara Ann Scott's practices. While attending Commerce High School, he won the Devonshire Cup for intermediate boys at the Club's championships and placed second in an intermediate waltzing championship with Connie Choquette.

Right photo (full advertisement) courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"

An exciting free skater with little aptitude for school figures, Frank gave exhibitions during the intermissions of Senior Interscholastic Hockey League games and was regarded as something of a prodigy. The April 14, 1944 issue of "The Ottawa Citizen" raved, "Critics who have seen the lad skate refuse to believe that he hasn't spent most of his life under the tutelage of an outstanding mentor." By the age of sixteen, he got permission from his parents to quit high school and joined the cast of Ice Follies. At the time, he was the youngest member of the show's one hundred and fifty member cast.

Frank left the Ice Follies in the late forties and joined the cast of Holiday On Ice and came to Europe.
In 1949, he appeared in Ice Vogues at the Stoll Theatre in London with Cecilia Colledge and The Kermond Brothers. The following year was snatched up by Tom Arnold's "Ice Express".

Frank Sawers. Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine.

Frank went on to join Tom Arnold's company which toured Continental Europe. At only five foot four, he was a diminutive dynamo on the ice with a flair for the theatrical. He often stole the show in whatever production he performed in.

Frank appeared in the 1950 film "Zirkus auf dem Eis" with Marjorie Chase and Glenn Goddard and the 1952 film "Der bunte Traum" with Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier and Lydia Veicht. Joining Herber and Baier's German eisballets, Frank blossomed and was given the opportunity to perform leading roles, often with an interpretive and flamboyant bent. In an April 11, 1973 interview with "The BG News", he explained, "I'm not tall and handsome, so I played character roles. My favourite role was Pagliacci, the happy-sad clown. It was a tragicomedy role, and I played it for six years." Pagliacci, as we all know, was later famously interpreted on ice by Toller Cranston.

Though Frank was popular with audiences, unfortunately life behind the scenes mirrored that of the fictional clown that he portrayed in front of captivated audiences. On January 28, 1953, "Der Spiegel" reported, "A short time after the performance, at the large Ernst-Merck-Halle... the door of the caravan of [Ernst] Baier flew open and someone shouted, 'Frankie wants to hang himself!' Ernst Baier tried in vain to hold back his excited woman. On the way to the guest house, Maxi Herber learned from Spezi Wolfram that 'Frankie' (Frank Sawer), the 25 year old Canadian star, tried to hang himself from the chandelier of the board room. His bantamweight (56 kg) was sufficient to tear the chandelier from the ceiling. 'Mr. Sawers suffers from severe mood swings, he is nervous,' diagnosed the doctor Maxi called."

Prior to the suicide attempt, Ernst Baier had fired Frank from his eisballet without notice. The German press suggested it was because the young upstart had been upstaging him. Ernst claimed the termination was related to Frank's "nervous breakdown." There were allegedly fights and times Frank ran away for several days with no explanation. His cast mate Jock McConnell recalled, "We shared a dressing room in this show, and the atmosphere was electric to say the least, at every performance. Frankie's battles with the orchestra leader were volcanic as the leader did not understand English and Frankie spoke no German, the heated discussions would be totally unnecessary in today's world since we have the wonderful invention of taped music."

Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine

On another occasion after a duet with Maxi Herber was cut from the show, Frank started cursing and trashed the dressing room. Ernst Baier said, "Frank [acts like] such a small child that [must] have everything he wants. Whether it is a car or a human..."

Frank Sawers and Loismarie Goeller in Holiday On Ice

After the incident in Germany, Frank rejoined the cast of Holiday On Ice and toured Europe and South America for four years. Nothing seemed to go right. He became gravely ill and missed six months of skating after being coated in gold body paint to portray 'a Chinese dragon-god' and getting metal poisoning. In 1961, while skating in Argentina, he suffered a serious neck injury and was operated on in Buenos Aires. He never performed again but remained with Holiday On Ice as a coach and choreographer until 1968. Moving to America for a time, he taught skating at Bowling Green State University in Ohio for many years and used his show skating expertise to use in developing the precision team The Falconettes.

Frank returned to Canada in 1975, moving into a trailer park in Kinburn, Ontario and getting a job as a salesman at the Eaton's department store. He passed away on July 26, 1982 at the age of fifty five. Though he faded somewhat into obscurity, he was remembered by Jacqueline du Bief in her book "Thin Ice" as "one of the most artistic male skaters of our time. Full of imagination and choreographic ideas, to his originality he adds a brilliant style of expressive quality that is rare (especially among men) and great physical endurance. To see Frank on a good day is to have proof that skating can be a great art."

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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