The 1977 European Figure Skating Championships


Jimmy Carter had just been sworn in as America's thirty-ninth President. The Emmy Award winning dramatic series "Roots" began its run on ABC. Scandinavians were mourning the loss of the twenty-two passengers on the doomed Linjeflyg Flight 618. Fonz jackets and checkbook clutches were the latest fashion fads. Boney M topped the music charts with their smash hit "Daddy Cool". 


The year was 1977 and on January 25, Europe's best figure skaters gathered at the Helsingin Jäähalli in Helsinki, Finland for the first day of that year's European Figure Skating Championships. The event marked the very first time in history the European Championships were held in Finland. The Scandinavian country had played host to the World Championships for men in 1914 and pairs in 1934. 

Among those responsible for bringing the event to Helsinki were the Suomen Taitoluisteluliitto's President Marjaata Väänänen and philanthropist and official Jane Erkko, who later coined the term 'Kiss and Cry' when she was on the organizing committee for the 1983 World Championships. Let's take a look back at how things played out!

THE PAIRS COMPETITION



Irina Rodnina and Aleksandr Zaitsev were the only two defending European Champions to return to defend their title in Helsinki. Six of the top ten teams had moved on at the end of the Olympic season the year prior, including Olympic Medallists Manuela Groß and Uwe Kagelmann and Romy Kermer
and Rolf Österreich.

Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakrai. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Soviet pairs were one-two-three in the short program, with all nine judges placing Rodnina and Zaitsev first. A packed house watched the free skate final, where Rodnina claimed her ninth title and Zaitsev his fifth. Irina Vorobieva and Alexandr Vlasov, the previous year's bronze medallists, moved up to take the silver and twelve year old Marina Cherkasova and her eighteen year old partner Sergei Shakrai gained the greatest applause of the day and the bronze.

Sabine Baeß and Tassilo Thierbach

It was the second Soviet sweep of the medal podium in pairs at Europeans - the first being in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in 1969. The fourth and fifth places went to two East German pairs who would go on to achieve great things in the sport - Manuela Mager and Uwe Bewersdorf and Sabine Baeß and Tassilo Thierbach.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

The defending Olympic, World and European Champions Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov had retired as had three time World and European Medallists Hilary Green and Glyn Watts. Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov, who had won the World Championships in 1975 and the silver medal at the 1976 Olympics, appeared to be the heirs apparent to the European dance crown and there was little surprise when they amassed a comfortable lead in the compulsories and OSP.

Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

Eight thousand, five hundred spectators showed up for the free dance and the Helsingin Jäähalli was actually over capacity! Though 'Min and Mo' earned two perfect 6.0's and walked away with the title, their one-theme "West Side Story" free dance had the judges and audience divided. Some people absolutely loved it, while others found it overdramatic. A minority of judges had Betty Callaway's Hungarian students Krisztina Regőczy and András Sallay ahead in the final phase of the competition, but they took the silver. The bronze went to Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov. These three couples would trade titles over the coming years.

Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell

Twenty year old Janet Thompson and twenty-four year old Warren Maxwell lived in South Acton with Janet's parents Betty and Eddie. They placed a strong fourth - a credit to their coach Miss Hogg. Their British teammates, Kay Barsdell and Kenneth Foster of Cricklewood, were sixth of the fourteen couples.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

World Champions and Olympic Medallists Dianne de Leeuw and Christine Errath had moved on from the amateur ranks, as had Isabel de Navarre, the winner of the figures at the 1976 Olympics in Innsbruck. Anett Pötzsch, who had medalled at the 1975 and 1976 Europeans, trained alongside Errath with Jutta Müller in Karl-Marx-Stadt. She took a healthy lead in the figures and won the short program as well, giving her a two and a half point lead over West Germany's Dagmar Lurz entering the free skate.


In one of her finest performances, Anett Pötzsch landed three triples to easily win her first European title. The silver went to Dagmar Lurz; the bronze to Italy's Susanna Driano.

Anett Pötzsch. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Fourteen year old Denise Biellmann stole the show in the free skate, earning the loudest applause and exactly the same points total in the free skate as Pötzsch. Unfortunately, as was all too often in the case, her poor showing in the figures kept her down in sixth overall in her first bid for the title.


Fourteen year old Debbie Cottrill of Solihull almost didn't compete. Shortly after the British Championships, the National Skating Association announced that they wouldn't pay for her coach Armand Perren's travel expenses. Debbie's father Clem threatened to pull her out unless her coach attended. The Midland Soccer Writers' Association heard of the unfortunate situation and with the aid of the Midland industralists, raised four hundred and fifty pounds to pay Perren's fare. It wasn't the first instance of the National Skating Association being funny about covering travel costs. If you haven't read Courtney Jones' book yet, there's an interesting little anecdote in there about that!

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Robin Cousins

1976 Olympic, World and European Champion John Curry had turned professional and as one might expect, the British press closed in on Robin Cousins liked a zombie after brains. In a 'next big thing' article in "The Daily Mirror", the nineteen year old from Bristol told reporter Graham Baker, "The East Germans and Russians look as though they've come out of factory... Like John, I always prefer individualism to that manufactured look."

Robin Cousins placed seventh in the figures, six places higher than he'd been in 1976. It was the first time he'd cracked the top ten in the compulsories at an ISU Championship. He placed an impressive sixth on the counter, a remarkable finish considering the fact he'd broken his toe two weeks before the British Championships in Richmond the month prior. The winner of the figures was 1976 Olympic Silver Medallist Vladimir Kovalev. Former European Champion Jan Hoffmann placed second and Finland's Pekka Leskinen was third.

Jan Hoffmann. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

With a clean triple toe-loop/double loop combination and double Lutz, Robin Cousins moved up to fourth overall with the second-best short program. Though third in the short program, Vladimir Kovalev maintained a narrow lead entering the free skate.

Jan Hoffmann

Twenty one year old Jan Hoffmann regained his title from 1974 with a five-triple free skate, while Kovalev dropped to second with two successful triples and a fall on a triple toe-loop.

Vladimir Kovalev. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

Robin Cousins earned the highest marks for presentation. He was third overall but earned a supplementary silver medal for his placements in the free skating events in addition to his bronze. Like Hilary Green and Glyn Watts in the dance, he was coached by the redoubtable Miss Gladys Hogg. She didn't fly, so Robin went alone. Joan Slater sat with him in the kiss and cry. It was in Helsinki that he began his relationship with the Fassi's. They advised him at that year's Worlds in Tokyo.

Robin Cousins. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Pekka Leskinen's fifth place finish was quite a big deal at the time. A Finnish man hadn't placed in the top five at Europeans since Marcus Nikkanen in 1935. 

Soviet judge Evgenia Bogdanova, who had been suspended in 1975, placed a trio of Soviets - Kovalev, Yuri Ovchinnikov and Konstantin Kokora - first through third. They placed second, fourth and sixth overall. Bogdanova's blatant national bias earned her a second suspension and was a key contributing factor to the one-year ban of Soviet judges that followed.


Yuri Ovchinnikov

In a write-up for "Skating" magazine, Jean Kavalski made a point of noting how much of a standout Yuri Ovchinnikov was in Helsinki artistically. She wrote, "Great artistic strides have been taken in the men's competition, especially in the skating of Yuri Ovchinnikov. Yuri placed fourth in all aspects at Helsinki and changed his style considerably this year. He said Toller Cranston's innovativeness made him think that he should develop his own style more freely and more naturally. He does not skate like Toller and makes it clear that it was not so much Toller's own style of skating that caused him to change, but rather Toller's courage to follow his own creative desires in skating. Thus, Yuri has created a unique style which dazzled the audiences in Helsinki. In the past, Ovchinnikov's jumps were the highlight of his program, the excellence and artistry of the overall performance is now his goal." 

Though John Curry and Toller Cranston had moved on to the professional ranks, the importance of artistry in skating still reverberated on the Continent a year later in artists like Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov, Robin Cousins and Yuri Ovchinnikov. 

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