The 1983 European Figure Skating Championships

The seatbelt became mandatory in Great Britain for drivers and front seat passengers just one day before gales lashed the country, contributing to several fatal automobile accidents. To the shigrin of the Finnish, the Soviet Union was attempting to introduce Russian as the official language of Estonia. "Are You Being Served?" was a favourite on British television and Men At Work's "Down Under" topped the music charts.

The year was 1983 and from January 31 to February 6, the best figure skaters in Europe descended on the Große Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, West Germany to compete head to head in the European Figure Skating Championships. The event was attended by a who's who of figure skating - the Protopopov's, Peter Jonas, Angelika and Erich Buck and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler were all prominent spectators. Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev, Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin and Stanislav Zhuk stood at the boards as coaches; Lawrence Demmy, Elemér Terták and Sally-Anne Stapleford were judges. Janet Lynn, Petra Burka, Emmerich Danzer, Ingrid Wendl and Joan Haanappel all served as commentators and 1980 Olympic Bronze Medallist Dagmar Lurz worked the press office. Let's take a trip back in our trusty old Skate Guard time machine and explore some of the unique stories from this competition. Buckle up, we're in for a bumpy ride!


Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

In Innsbruck in 1981, the talk of the competition was the fact that the number of pairs entries (six) was the lowest in thirty years. Many felt that the dwindling numbers reflected the injuries that were resulting from the push for pairs teams to include more difficult technical content in their programs. Keep in mind that only twenty years prior, throws weren't even a thing in amateur pairs skating.

The perils of practicing throw double Axel's didn't phase the East German pair of Sabine Baeß and Tassilo Thierbach, who became the first non-Soviet pair in over fifteen years to claim the title the following year at the 1982 Europeans in Lyon, France. In Dortmund, the numbers had doubled from 1981 to twelve and the East Germans again prevailed, winning both the short and long programs in decisive fashion to defend their title.

Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov with coach Irina Rodnina

With clean side-by-side triple-toe-loop's, the Soviet pair of Elena Valova and Oleg Vasiliev moved up from fourth after the short program to claim the silver, knocking a second East German pair, Birgit Lorenz and Knut Schubert down to third and their compatriots, Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov off the podium. Siblings Naija and Pekka Pekkala were the first pairs team from Finland to compete at the European Championships since 1965 and finished a creditable eighth after the short program but a disastrous showing in the free skate knocked them all the way down to last place.


Great Britain's Karen Wood had to pull out after the women's short program in Dortmund after being diagnosed with a viral throat infection. "After what the doctor gave me - pills and injections - I could not have passed the dope test, anyway," said Wood. She would have ended up in the 'B' Final anyway: a controversial consolation round of sorts tested at the event for skaters who didn't place in the top fifteen after figures and the short program. Rather ironically, France's Agnes Gosselin won the 'B' group with a clean triple Lutz/double toe-loop combination... which a grand total of zero of the 'A group' skaters even attempted. Coach Erich Zeller echoed the sentiments of pretty much everyone in attendance when he said, "I think the new ISU regulation with 'A' and 'B' finals very unfair. It should be annulled." English sportswriter Howard Bass shared his sentiments, remarking, "Somewhat comparable to the Wimbledon Plate in Tennis, [it is] a somewhat pointless exercise."

Elena Vodorezova. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

With the retirements of Austria's Claudia Kristofics-Binder and Great Britain's Debbie Cotrill, both exceptional in the school figures, seventeen year Witt (who we obviously know was a strong free skater) perhaps faced on paper little challenge in the 'A' championship. That wasn't really the case. Elena Vodorezova, who had finished third behind Witt in Lyon, was right at her heels again in Dortmund.

Katarina Witt later wrote, "Having placed, up to now, 14th, 13th, 5th and 2nd in the previous European Championships, I had no doubt that now it was time to win. My 2nd place position after the compulsories was an excellent starting point. The flawless short program gave me a little leeway, so that despite a fall in the freestyle, I managed to eke out my first European Championship title. While doing my most difficult jump, a triple Rittberger, I fell down. I'm proud that I took the risk, anyway... I am skating to a Rondo Veneziano Medley, which among others, includes a melody by Mozart. Because of this, we agree to stay consistent with the theme, and I become 'Mozart'. Naturally, I am wearing knickerbockers on the ice... Afterwards, there was a heated discussion over my outfit. In fact, it was decided that there should be a regulation requiring women to wear skirts for figure skating. Performing the same short program as in Dortmund at the European Championship, I skated a month later at the World Championship in Helsinki as Mozart wearing a skirt! I really felt ridiculous. For a figure skater, it is tremendously important to feel comfortable in her costume, and in this case, I did not. I felt that the knickerbockers much more effectively underscored the essence of the character I was representing. During the freestyle competition, I am skating to the music 'Rhapsody in Black', and am, of course, wearing a black dress. Like the blue dress in 1979, it, too, was handed down by Anett Pötzsch. This wonderful dress was made for her for role in the skating show 'Hello Dolly' in 1980. She only wore it a few times. She had meanwhile ended her ice skating career, and had told [Jutta] Müller that it would simply be a shame to keep it hanging in the closet unused, so, a few alterations were made, and presto, it was mine. Off the ice, traditional waltzes were the source of excitement at the closing banquet. The European Champion Norbert Schramm from West Germany and I from the GDR stepped on each other's feet more than dancing with twinkle-toes. The fun we were having had some of the officials and operatives raising their eyebrows. The press was already alluding to the new 'dream couple'."

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Katarina Witt's triple loop attempt in Dortmund, though failed, was a rare gamble from her - one that paid off in her first European title win, ahead of silver medallist Elena Vodorezova, who fell on a triple toe-loop, but skated quite well otherwise. Claudia Leistner of West Germany climbed all the way from ninth after the school figures to claim the bronze.


Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin performing their Rock n' Roll OSP

When Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were forced to withdraw after Jayne injured her shoulder working on a lift for their "Barnum" free dance, the door was opened wide for twenty three year old Natalia Bestemianova and twenty five year old Andrei Bukin.

'B and B' indeed rose to the occasion, taking a strong lead in the compulsories ahead of Britons Karen Barber and Nicky Slater. Although criticized by the media for a lack of speed in the OSP, Lynn Copley-Graves, in her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" noted, Barber and Slater's "new OSP to 'The Hungry Eye' by the rock group Johnny and the Hurricanes drew both cheers for its comic section where Nicky strummed Karen's leg like a guitar and boos for low marks. For once they escaped [Torvill and Dean's] shadow but the judges did not reward them with the marks. They dropped to third." In fourth in the compulsories but second in the OSP that year were sixteen year old Marina Klimova and her twenty two year old partner Sergei Ponomarenko.

At the end of the day, Klimova and Konomarenko dropped down to fourth when another Soviet pair, Olga Volozhinskaya and Alexander Svinin, rose two spots to claim the silver behind Bestemianova and Bukin and ahead of Barber and Slater. Lynn Copley-Graves stated, "Betty Callaway thought Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko, in their first Europeans, had the best compulsories of all the Soviets although not yet the presence of ice, but they could pull out only fourth. The German press wrote that 80% of B&B's moves could be accomplished in the theatre, that they did not really ice dance." The two skaters who made the "80%" comment to the West German press were former European Champions Angelika and Erich Buck.

The ice dance medallists in Dortmund. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Jayne Torvill was sympathetic towards Bestemianova and Bukin. She later remarked, "I've no doubt that people will have asked them if they thought they would have won had Torvill and Dean been there. That can't have been very nice for them."


After the school figures, France's Jean-Christophe Simond led the pack ahead of Jozef Sabovčík, Heiko Fischer, Norbert Schramm, Grzegorz Filipowski, Vladimir Kotin, Rudi Cerne and Fernand Fédronic despite badly faltering in the third figure, the loop. In an interview after the figures in Dortmund, Simond said, "I kind of missed the first tracing. It was too small, so I tried to compensate in the second. But it was worse, and I lost balance and tried to cover up. It was just a bad figure. I'm disappointed with it, but I'm pleased overall." 

Jean-Christophe Simond's lead evaporated when West Germany's Norbert Schramm won the short program in a spectacular fashion in his home country. The shuffling in the standings actually put Sabovčík into first place entering the free skate, but in winning the free skate, Schramm took home the title ahead of his Czech challenger and Alexandr Fadeev, who wasn't even in the top eight after the figures. Some felt Vladimir Kotin, who finished only fifth, had the skate of the night in the final round of the competition.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

In his book "Jumpin' Joe", Jozef Sabovčík recalled, "As I was the unfortunate one to skate after [Schramm], I had to wait until the masses of flowers were cleared off the ice before I could begin. Although I started well and put in a good triple Axel, I could feel myself fading and left out a couple of elements. But I wasn't disappointed with my silver-medal finish. In fact, I found very exciting - until I talked to my coach and officials from the federation. Although they were happy I had taken a medal, they weren't pleased with the way I had skated. I tried not to listen. This was my first medal at Europeans and I didn't want my confidence to disappear. I needed something to hang on to and so I turned a deaf ear to their words."

Left: Jozef Sabovčík. Right: Norbert Schramm. Photos courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

Conversely, in his 2012 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, winner Norbert Schramm recalled, "1983 was probably my most difficult competition I've ever done. I was European champion the year before and I competed in my own country, so everybody expected me to win again. And this is really tough pressure, not only that you know that you want to win and show what you could do, but you know more or less that you have to win and that everything has to work out. And this is very very tough competition. The arena was full, it was covered to the last seat, and they all were expecting me to do a great job. You have to do it, you can't say to anybody else, oh, go out and skate for me, you have to go out and skate yourself. You have a hell of a pressure, and I was more than happy and more than released after everything was done, and it worked out how I planned to do it."

Left: Thomas Hlavik. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine. Right: Norbert Schramm.

Twenty two year old Norbert Schramm's come from behind win wasn't the only thing that had audiences in Dortmund talking. The technical accomplishments of two other young men had certainly turned heads. The February 4, 1983 issue of "The Globe And Mail" noted, "Thomas Hlavik, a 17-year-old Austrian student, startled the audience with a perfect triple axel, the first time it has been performed succesfully at the European competition. Then [Fadeev] went one better. He, too, performed a triple Axel, landed beautifully and followed with a double-jump combination - the first time a triple Axel had been landed with a combination jump in international skating. Fadeev's accomplishments included eight triple jumps, two in combination with each other. He also attempted a quadruple [toe-loop] jump but landed on both feet after only 3 1/2 revolutions." Fadeev wasn't alone in attempting the quadruple toe-loop in Dortmund; a young Petr Barna, competing in his first Europeans and placing eighteenth, attempted the jump on practice sessions.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Suitably impressed with the skaters who followed in his footsteps, World Champion Emmerich Danzer remarked, "I have never seen a more impressive free program. The medals were awarded to three completely different types of skater."

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":