It's once again time to unpack the mail bag, answer some of your questions and share some of the interesting e-mails and social media messages that have come my way over the last few months. I'm going to try to do this quarterly from now on so things don't pile up. As always, if you have a question you'd like me to tackle or feedback on a blog please reach out via e-mail.
From Mark (via e-mail): "When were the U.S. Championships first aired on TV?"
A: Great question, Mark! The first U.S. Championships to be televised were the 1961 U.S. Championships at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. Hosted by Dick Button and Bud Palmer, the ABC telecast featured performances by the skaters who tragically went on to perish shortly thereafter in the Sabena Crash. These videos are still floating around today.
By 1961, the Nationals had already been filmed by the USFSA for over a decade. This started in 1949, when the executive committee voted to spend five hundred dollars (no paltry sum in those days!) to film that year's U.S. Championships, which were also in Colorado Springs. The man they hired to get the job done, Howard Craker, went on to do the USFSA's films for several decades. These films were rented out to skating clubs for a nominal fee as a way of raising funds.
From @bmbrman85 (via Twitter): "Why did they stop the North American Championships?"
A: There's a blog in the Skate Guard archive from 2017 that answers that very question.
From Lori (via e-mail): "Today the ladies are the strongest discipline in Russia, but they never used to be. Why do you think that is?"
A: Thanks for the excellent question, Lori! So, if you look back to the eighties there was actually a different Soviet woman on the podium at the World Championships three years in a row - Elena Vodorezova in '83, Anna Kondrashova in '84 and Kira Ivanova in '85. Then there was a decade long lull where there wasn't a Russian woman on the podium at the World Championships. There were definitely a few different factors in that - the fact that a lot of the top Soviet women were better at figures than free skating and figures got eliminated during that decade, the tremendous talent of the other top skaters during that time, training and economic conditions and the fact that many top Soviet female skaters got filtered into pairs and dance. And even though there were some wonderful Russian women in the nineties-early 2000's - Irina Slutskaya, Maria Butyrskaya, Olga Markova, etc. there was another lull after Irina Slutskaya retired. Over the last decade or so, there's obviously been a huge focus on building up Russian women's skating, and whether you like 'what's going on' or not, I think it's important to recognize two things: 1) that in the grand scheme of skating history, this 'stable' of super young Russian women's skating talent is a pretty recent phenomenon and 2) the Russian women of decades past were crazy talented too... even if they weren't bringing home as many medals.
Nam Nguyen at the 2015 Canadian Championships. Photo courtesy Danielle Earl.
From @QuadAxel3Toe (via Twitter): "I have one question if you don't mind. Who are the youngest Canadian National champions in each discipline? I tried to Google this but got an incorrect response. Thank you!"
A: I can't do pairs and dance for you because there are about half a dozen winners I don't have birth dates for, but I went all the way back to 1905 to check ages for you and can give you definite answers for men's and women's. Two men won the Canadian senior men's title at the age of sixteen: Michael Kirby in 1942 and Nam Nguyen in 2015. Nam was almost exactly two months younger than Michael when he won, making him the youngest in history.
Tracey Wainman was just a few months shy of her fourteenth birthday when she won the Canadian senior women's title in Halifax in 1981, making her the youngest in history... but Canada has actually had a handful of skaters who were sixteen or under when they won the title. Barbara Ann Scott was fifteen when she first became Canadian Champion in 1944, and repeat winners Wendy Griner, Karen Magnussen and Cynthia Phaneuf were all fifteen as well when they won their first titles. Constance Wilson, who won a record nine Canadian women's titles in the twenties and thirties, had just celebrated her sixteenth birthday when she won her first title in 1924 and Barbara Gratton, who won in 1953 and 1954, was sixteen when she won her first title also.
POLITICIANS, DIPLOMATS AND SKATING
From Alice (via e-mail): "FYI, The US Presidential retreat, Camp David during the Kennedy administration had an outdoor ice rink on the skeet range.
And, former US Secretary of Skate, Condi Rice was a competitive pairs figure skater when she was growing up in Denver, Colorado. A link with a photo of her skating and lots of details of her roll to end the Cold War. She was recently named the head of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
From Vincent (via e-mail): "Thank you so much for the wonderful informative biography of Belita. I am not a skater, and until discovering her wonderful performances in Suspense held no interest in skating. Belita's performances changed that. I really feel the need to write just to thank you for being able to fill in the many gaps surrounding the great lady's life. One small thing that I should also love to add that you might want to include footage and a brief descriptive of her wonderful performance to the song Cabildo (Miguelito Valdes with both orchestras Casino de la Playa And Machito and his Afro Cubans as well as the Suspense soundtrack version), In fact it was whilst searching for performance footage of Miguelito that I first discovered Belita and promptly became a fan. To further tell the truth, when reading your wonderful article I was rather hoping to stumble on some juicy snippet of gossip between Belita and Miguelito during filming ... hahaha .. but you can’t have everything can you? Anyhow really. It’s great the work you undertook and I can only thank you once more. I am very happy and must reread the article several times to fully take in the scope and depth of information you cover."
JACKSON HAINES ON INDOOR RINKS
Mrs. Ellen Burka's daughter Astra sent me this fascinating clipping from the "Toronto Globe", dated March 24, 1863 and signed Jackson Haines, 'Prof. Of Skating'. I'll save your eyes the trouble and reprint his letter to the editor:
"Before leaving you beautiful city, I have thought that it would be nothing less than my duty to give your citizens my experience with regard to the manner of keeping their skating 'rinks' or ponds, in the most healthy and beneficial condition. I have no doubt that skating will be the rage next winter to a greater extent than it has been this.
I have been told that the proprietors of some of the ponds intend covering them, to avoid the effects of the sun and the... snow. This will be found very injurious to health, particularly of children, whose lungs are more active and require more ventilation and fresh air than adults. The experiment has been tried in New York and abandoned. The ice on an open rink, when exposed to all the effects of nature, is found to be much more pleasant to skate upon, and no matter how well the house may be ventilated a certain degree of dampness will be retained under the cover, that has been found exceedingly injurious to persons of tender years. Skating is a violent exercise, and a person when under such excitement needs all the pure, healthful air that it is possible to have. Hoping that this may not be unacceptable to your readers. I remain the well wisher of Toronto."
A CUP OF HISTORY
From Kenny (via e-mail): "I have had the attached (pics) in my possession for 2 years now. It is a 'Tudric' pewter Tankard made by Liberty. I often buy these things in passing and try to track down those to whom they may mean more. I am looking to pass it on to someone who may want to make an offer for it - someone for whom it means a lot. It is engraved GM Hogg, 1937... I currently have 2 military ones also - it is a hobby of mine. I am a career nurse. Whilst I am selling it, the history and proper ownership outweighs monetary value. I hope you can help."
If anyone is interested in purchasing this tankard that once belonged to Miss Gladys Hogg, please e-mail me and I will pass on your message to Kenny.
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 Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest 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.