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 an article from the 1946 edition of "The National Ice Skating Guide", penned by Werner Groebli - one half of the famous Swiss skating duo Frick and Frack. In this piece, he shares a fantastically tall tale about early history of the cantilever back bend that reminds us we probably shouldn't believe everything we read.
Photo courtesy "The National Ice Skating Guide"
"WHY I BEND OVER BACKWARDS" (WERNER GROEBLI)
I have been asked time and time again how I came to originate my 'back-bend' turn but here for the first time is the true story.
It happened many years ago while I was skating on Lake Retakes near Basel in my native Switzerland. I had been visiting my friend Frack who lived about three miles down and on the other side of the Lake. It had been a very pleasant evening and I stayed later than I had intended. It was nearly midnight when I laced on my skates and started for home.
The night was crisp and not unpleasant although the half moon threw eerie shadows from the banks onto the ice. I skated nearer the center of the Lake which was about two miles wide.
Then, when I was about halfway across I heard a sound which sent a cold chill running up my back. It was the whinnying of horses and the excited barking of tied-up dogs, in the distance. There could only be one reason for the uproar... Wolves! And they must be between me and home! Then as I hesitated, a dark shadow leaped from the darkness and streaked between me and the direction from which I had just come. I wheeled and raced back and not a minute too soon for the whole pack was after me now.
I skated as fast as I could, drawing deep breaths and putting every bit of power I could into each stroke. But I could hear the wolves getting closer and closer. I could hear the leaders panting now - and my skin began to creep. I knew death in gruesome form was drawing closer and closer. If I slowed for an instant I'd be ripped and slashed to shreds by the fiends from hell. Then in desperation I tried a sharp turn. By digging my heels deep in the ice and turning at an angle of forty-five degrees I made a complete turn. They skidded past, heads lowered, eyes blazing for perhaps fifty yards before they could stop themselves, turn and come after me again. This gave me a good lead again. This strategem saved me time after time. But as the wolves skidded me past me each time I made a sharp turn their fury seemed to increase. Their ferocity seemed whetted. And every turn I made I had to make wider for the wolves were increasing the length of their front. I knew only too well that I was but postponing the inevitable. I thought of stories my father had told me - that in less than six minutes a pack of wolves could strip a full grown moose and leave nothing but white polished bones.
And I was tiring. Oh for some providence to help me! Why couldn't the dogs break loose? If I could only stop and light a bonfire. But where would I find wood? And where could I get time? And I didn't smoke so I had no matches! But a flash of inspiration came to me.
Each time that I had dug my skates into the slippery ice for the sharp turns I noticed that a long train of sparks flew out from the runners of my skates. I was going at such a speed that the sudden increased weight at the turns created a friction which almost turned my blades red-hot. I was carrying an old fashioned pair of wooden scabbards made from soft pine. If I could only hold the guards close enough to the sparks to set them on fire! But how? The sparks were behind me! I tried turning sideways but in a moment the wolves gained on me for I had to slow up. Then I realized that there was only one solution. And only one. That was to lean backwards as I was making the turns. Then I could hold the wooden guards directly in the path of the sparks and they would catch on fire. Then I put on a tremendous burst of speed. My lungs ached with the effort. Then I dug my skates in for the turn and as I wheeled around I leaned over backwards just as I far as I could without falling. When parallel with the ice I held the guards in the path of the train of sparks which flew from my skates. In a moment they glowed and then burst into flames. Then I straightened up and skated straight into the wolf pack with the two flaming torches in my hands. The mad wolves broke away in crazed fear of the fire. And I raced towards home with the torches blazing in the wind.
Victory had been snatched from the very jaws of death. I gained the safety of the shore and scurried up the slope and unleashed the wolf hounds. Well, that's the story of the origination of the 'back-bend'.
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