Oublié: 6.0 Forgotten French Figure Skating Pioneers

French skaters being photographed by the press, 1927. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Long before Surya Bonaly made jaws drop with her defiant backflip at the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan or Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat made history as the first ice dancers from their country to claim Olympic gold in 2002, the first generations of pioneering French figure skaters were paving their way for the stars of 'patinage artistique' that followed. Today's blog takes a look at the stories of 6.0 lesser known French skating pioneers.

ANITA (BEN NAHMIAS) DEL MONTE 


Anita Ben Nahmias and Louis Magnus. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Anne Marie Gabrielle Dite 'Anita' Ben Nahmias was born November 14, 1891 in Paris, France. Her parents were both immigrants to France. Her mother was born in Guayquil, Ecuador and her father, a Jewish banker, hailed from Salonica, the capital of what is now Macedonia. Anita won the French women's title in 1910 and 1912, and the French pairs title with Louis Magnus in 1912. She married Octavio Luis del Monte, the son of an aristocratic Costa Rican family, the August after she won her first French title.

In 1912, she also became the first French woman in history to compete at the World Championships, when she finished fifth in the pairs event in Manchester, England with Louis Magnus. Louis was married to Anita's older sister Esther at the time, though they divorced in 1916. Anita passed away on February 9, 1961 in Paris at the age of sixty nine.

JEAN HENRION



After making history as the first skater from France to compete in the men's event at the World Championships in 1927, Jean Henrion became the undisputed star of men's figure skating in France during the thirties. From 1932 to 1939, he won eight consecutive French men's titles - a record broken only by Alain Giletti, who won ten.

Georges Torchon and Jean Henrion. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Jean finished second in the pairs event at his National Championships in 1934 and 1935 with Gaby (Barbey) Clericetti and took the pairs title in 1937 and 1938 with a second partner, Suzy Boulesteix. Known as a specialist in school figures, Jean's best finish in international competition was a fourth place at the 1933 European Championships in London, England.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Although the powers that be in French figure skating recruited Swiss Olympian Alfred Mégroz to train Jean and Gaby Clericetti for the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, neither skater ultimately competed. Little is known of Jean's fate during World War II or afterwards, although genealogical sources do seem to suggest he might have served with the French Navy.

GEORGES TORCHON



The son of Louis and Séverie (Valenciennes) Torchon, Georges Louis Torchon was born September 25, 1896 in Paris, France. From 1924 to 1933, he was a perennial competitor in the senior men's event at the French Championships. Though he placed second in 1924, 1931 and 1933, he finished as low as fifth in 1925. In his only major international competition, the 1932 European Championships in Paris, he placed dead last on every judge's scorecard. However, that same winter he had the honour of serving as France's flagbearer and judge at the Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid.

Interestingly - even while he was competing - Georges prioritized judging over his own skating. At the French Championships, quite often he and fellow competitor Gérard Rodrigues-Henriques would rush from the ice to the dressing room after the men's event, take off their skates and judge the women's and pairs events. As a judge at the 1932 World Championships in Montreal, he found himself in the unique position of assessing the same skaters who had defeated him weeks prior at the European Championships.


During World War II, Georges coached skaters at the Rue Saint Didier rink in Paris and following the War, he resumed his judging duties at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, as well as several European and World Championships in the late forties and early fifties. One of his more controversial decisions occurred at the 1947 World Championships  in Stockholm, when he placed the French pair - Denise Fayolle and Guy Pigier - in a tie for second and the silver medallists, Karol and Peter Kennedy, sixth. The following year, he drew ire for daring to place the champion - Canada's Barbara Ann Scott - third in free skating.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Off the ice, Georges served as the long-time treasurer of the Club des Sports d'Hiver de Paris and travelled extensively to South America for his work in an industrial trade. The entire time he was competing and judging, he was a married father of two.

SOUMI SAKAMOTO AND GUY PIGIER

Guy Pigier was the son of a French diplomat; Soumi Sakamato the daughter of a Japanese diplomat. They paired on the ice up in Paris, fell in love and won the pairs title at the 1939 French Championships but her father whisked her back to Japan in 1940, ending both the relationship and partnership. French skating historian Jeanine Hagenauer sadly remarked, "The war came between the children in love."

Denise Fayolle and Guy Pigier. Photo courtesy Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris.

Guy went on to skate in shows with Denise Fayolle and join the cast of Holiday On Ice. Little is known of Soumi or her ultimate fate.

CHARLES SABOURET


His competitive career spanned four decades, he competed at two Winter Olympic Games and the book he penned was one of the most widely read instructional texts on figure skating in the French language. However, chances are you haven't heard the name Charly Sabouret.

Born in 1884, Charles 'Charly' Sabouret was the son of esteemed road and bridge engineer Victor Sabouret and Aména Fraisseix de Veyvialle. He was raised in Paris, France with his brothers Henri, Antoine,  Étienne and Bernard and in his youth, studied anatomy before attending l'Ecole des Beaux-Arts on rue Bonaparte, where he studied fine arts. A gifted sculptor, Charly would often play hooky from school and sneak off through the bushes to the Palais de Glace to skate.


A member of the exclusive Club des Patineurs, Charly would often travel to Chamonix to give figure skating exhibitions with Louis Magnus and Francis Pigueron, two of his contemporaries. In January 1907, he entered one of the first pairs skating championships at the Palais de Glace. Teaming up with Anita Nahmias, he finished second of the four teams participating, just behind Louis Magnus and his wife. The "Journal de la jeunesse: nouveau recueil hebdomadaire illustré" reported, "Miss A. Nahmias and M. Ch. Sabouret executed the compulsory figures, rockers and a Viennese Waltz to unanimous applause." The following year, Charly placed third in the French Championships for men behind Magnus and Robert Lacroix. That same year and the next, the well rounded artist/athlete was France's speed skating champion. In 1911, Charly and partner Mademoiselle Aysagher claimed France's pairs title. He also finished second in the men's event behind Magnus. Over the next two years, he won another four medals in both men's and pairs skating.

Simone and Charly Sabouret

His career interrupted by the Great War, Charly married Simone Roussel, a talented skater nine years his junior. Simone was the cousin of renowned painter and photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, who was good friends with Francis Pigueron and his wife. Husband and wife Charly and Simone teamed up as skaters as well, placing second at the 1920 French Championships behind Pigueron and his step-sister Yvonne Bourgeois.

That summer, Charly and Simone travelled to Antwerp, Belgium to compete in the Olympic Games. They placed a disappointing seventh but earned the distinction of being the first French figure skaters in history to compete in the Olympics and the only ones to have competed in the Summer Games.

Yvonne Lacroix and Charles Sabouret

The following year, Charly - now thirty seven - returned to the French Championships, placing third in the men's event behind Francis Pigueron and a young Pierre Brunet. In the pairs event, he and wife Simone were victorious, defeating Bourgeois and Pigueron and Brunet and Andrée Joly. The following year, Charly and Simone again finished above the future three time Olympic Medallists at the French Championships. Not to diminish these victories, but the fact that Charly and Simone twice defeated the Brunet's would've been because they necessarily outjumped them - keep in mind this was the early twenties - but because they outdanced them. The line between pairs and ice dance was very thin in those days and whereas the Brunet's veered off in what we would think of as the pairs direction with athletic lifts, the Sabouret's would have been to some degree moreso ice dancers, as Charly was a strong advocate for free skating programs heavily comprised of figures, dance steps and pattern dances.

Simone and Charly Sabouret competing in the 1924 Winter Olympic Games. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

When Charly and Simone returned to the Olympic stage in Chamonix in 1924, it was clear that their perhaps old-fashioned interpretation of pairs skating was falling out of vogue. The Brunet's won the bronze; they finished dead last. Discouraged by this result, Simone quit skating.

Marguette Bouvier and Charly Sabouret

Ever the competitor, Charly returned to the competitive scene, placing third at the French Championships in 1929 and 1930 with Algerian born skier, journalist and aviatrice Marguette Bouvier. In 1931, he won another bronze with Lucienne Bonne... at age forty-seven. The following year, he penned the book "Patiner", one of the most widely read instructional texts on figure skating in the French language - certainly at the time at least.

Marguette Bouvier and Charly Sabouret. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Throughout the thirties, Charly covered figure and speed skating for "Sports de neige et de glace: organe portant les bulletins officiels" and was extremely active as an international judge, officiating for France at several European and World Championships. He also served on the executive of the Club des Sports d'Hiver de Paris.

Lucienne Bonne and Charly Sabouret. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

At the 1934 World Championships in Oslo, Charly was the only judge not to place Sonja Henie first in the free skate. In fact, he had her third, behind Liselotte Landbeck and Megan Taylor. This was before the days of open judging, so there were no angry Norwegians tossing their Smörgåsbord at him protest. However, it's possible he received a reaming behind the scenes for not once did he ever make that 'mistake' again. Perhaps tired of towing the line, he briefly returned to competitive skating in 1939, winning a silver medal in a domestic event.

Charly Sabouret's incredible story seems to fade into obscurity around the time of World War II. Those 1939 French Championships were his last and he never judged internationally again. However his story ended, Charly's pioneering spirit and love of competition deserve a special place in skating history.

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