#Unearthed: Ye Olden Skating


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. 

This month's edition comes to you from the January 1904 issue of the "New York Athletic Club Journal". It is an article called "Ye Olden Skating" originally written by Marvin R. Clark, the noted skating critic who penned "The Skater's Textbook" with William H. Bishop (a.k.a. Frank Swift) in 1868. This piece offers a wonderful glimpse into skating in New York City during Clark's era and before.

"YE OLDEN SKATING" (MARVIN R. CLARK)

Not the skating of the Dutch frauleins, who, with baskets of eggs upon their heads and long, thin bones tied to their feet, in the olden time combined pleasure with business by skating down the frozen streams to the market-town, leaving behind them in the memory of the beholder, visions of round, rosy faces, blonde, frowsy hair, feet made for anything but show, ankles never suggesting frailty, and sinewy legs clothed in gray wool fit to sour the sweet disposition of a poet or snap the strings of Orpheus' lyre.

Then was the clumsy age of primitive, business skating, and it is ordained from the beginning, that when we adulterate pleasure with business, one or the other will get the whip-hand and that one is not pleasure. Sub rosa, some of this lack of both grace and art may even now be observed in the exceptional modern belle who thinks her skating of the spread-eagle both artistic and graceful.

The members of the N.Y.A.C. will be surprised to learn that not fifty years ago, many of our old - and not so very old - inhabitants were accustomed to skate in winter upon the very ground upon which their club house stands. In fact, we need not go back as far as a half century for I indulged in the art on that very spot in "the seventies." When a foundation as solid as a rock was sought by the builders of the beautiful structure now occupied by the Club, weeks were consumed in driving great piles into the ground and pumping out what seemed to be an inexhaustible flood. After months of perseverance, the foundation was laid and people ceased wondering and guessing. When the projectors of a home for lovers of sport and the higher art of developing the human body located their edifice on Sixth Avenue and Fifty-ninth Street, they did well, for their ancestors had sanctified that very ground. Up to fifty years ago a stream of water, originating east of Third Avenue, at or near Fifty-ninth Street, and fed by several springs, made its course close by where that street was filled in afterwards, and emptied into the lower ground, forming a lake of cold, spring water reaching from Lexington Avenue to Sixth Avenue, with the breadth of more than a block. This being upon Herr Beekman's land, was called "the Beekman Pond," and for many years proved the delight of skaters. There was not a skating pond like it within a hundred miles of the city. The first, the best and the last skating of the season was there, and on that pond the very best skaters in the world were developed. Upon sections of the Beekman pond were worked out the intricate but beautiful movements and figures of the science of skating with a perfection of art never before dreamt of.

Photo courtesy New York Public Library

It was, indeed, upon sections of the historical ground where the school of the art of skating found its home, for the so-called "march of progress" tended upwards in the city, and the symmetry of the pond as well as much of its usefulness, had to be sacrificed in time. Fifth Avenue was filled in across it, followed by Madison and Lexington. The disgusted stream, robbed of its birthright, plowed its way and hid its head under ground and rose to sparkle in the rays of the sun west of Fourth Avenue, forming a small pond there and again making its way underground beneath Fifth Avenue, running down to Sixth Avenue, and then building its roof under that avenue. The better part of that section extended from Fifth Avenue more than half way down and alongside Fifty-ninth Street, and was called Mitchell's Pond. The water was deep and very cold, and although surrounded by the embankments of the streets save on the westerly side, the longest skating season was always there, and there the New York Skating Club house was erected, a one-story frame building, but fully adequate for the purposes of the developers and illustrators of the beautiful art.

It has been said truthfully that "the skate made the skater," and that skate which fitted completely the requirements of the skater was invented by Oliver Brady, a clerk in the New York Post Office, but a lover of the art and a member of the N.Y.S.C. After that skates with clamps and heel-button, to be placed upon a laced shoe, were made. Blood circulating preventives such as strings and straps with kindling wood beneath to tighten still more the vise on the foot, were abandoned then, and the Dutch skate, with its turnover toe and the finer English apple-top, low runner skate were put with the back numbers. Although the New York Club skate made by Barney & Berry, then as now, and the far more expensive skate, made to order by Ward in Eighth Avenue, always preferred by artistic and professional skaters for keen temper and sharp edges, to say nothing of scientific curve, higher and touching the ice never more than a half inch, were looked upon with rapture by the skater, there was something more needed for the development of the art.

Eugene B. Cook, a civil engineer living in Hoboken, N. J., saving during the skating season, when he lives where the best skating is to be found, and, for forty years past, the best skater in the world, a member of the N.Y.S.C. in the height of its glory, in the seventies, gathered together from all sources, all fundamental movements and their developments and combinations, placing them in proper order according to difficulty of execution and proper order of progress for the learner. Mr. Cook gave
his system, the result of many years of study and hard work to the world, and it still remains the programme of all skating contests and congresses, as well as the most valuable library of instruction to learner and professional alike, although condensed into one page, letter size.


There were carnivals and balls and ball-playing in those days upon the ice of the N.Y.S.C. with illuminations and all the dances, with grotesque figuring and all in the height of enjoyment in the life-giving, frosty air of winter, while King Frost waved his scepter and laughed at the sport and hundreds of human beings, forgetting the breath of winter and risking frozen toes, gazed in wonder at the grace of the skaters, who wandered through the mazes of the dance like fairies in a beautiful dream. The great Skating Rink was built later, but won little patronage from the best skaters, who keenly loved their birthright and even the Central Park pond across the street and the great lake a mile away seldom attracted them to more democratic quarters where the season was always limited.

Upon the preemption of the Beekman Pond, obliterating the waters and blotting them forever out of sight, now stand great hotels and other buildings, and the old home of the skater, like many a landmark in our wonderful city, is now a memory of the past. Yet the memory remains, and what can never be taken from us is the enjoyment we have had there, although it be only such as "happifies"
us, the remembrance of "ye olden skating."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Q&A: Talking Courtney Jones With Helen Cox

Left: Helen Cox. Right: Courtney Jones.

Five-time European Champion and four-time World Champion Courtney Jones was the king of ice dancing in the late fifties and early sixties. He went on to serve as an ISU Official, President of the National Skating Association and National Ice Skating Association and international judge and referee. His contributions to figure skating and ice dancing are immeasurable, and soon his story will be coming to light in a new memoir being edited by Helen Cox. I recently had the chance to connect with Helen for a brief interview which you might find quite interesting!

Q: You've written about the War of the Roses and fifteenth century British history and given talks on the Magna Carta, Marie Antoinette and The Black Death. Can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you ended up editing the autobiography of a World Champion ice dancer?

A: By pure fluke! At eighteen, I set out to be an archaeologist but discovered I didn't like digging, so I trained as an antiquities conservator instead and spent twenty-some years working in the museum sector. Then I met my husband-to-be, retired in 2005 to move in with him in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and became a 'writing housewife.' I'd always enjoyed the writing and lecturing side of my heritage career, so I set up a new vehicle, Herstory Writing & Interpretation, to carry those threads on, while indulging our mutual passion for medieval history and re-enactment, and also helping out in my husband's garden maintenance business - and that's how I came to meet Ron, a long-standing customer and friend who had a holiday home in Spain, where he'd got to know Courtney, who happened to mention that he'd written a memoir but didn't know how to get it published.

Having read my Battle of Wakefield Revisited, Ron thought I might be able to help and duly put us in touch. When Courtney sent me some extracts, including 'John Curry' and 'Lunch with the Queen,' I realized its potential straight away – also, to put our subsequent lengthy discussions in a nutshell, that it would be much quicker and simpler for me to prepare it for publication than for Courtney, who'd never done anything like it before and even had to teach himself computer skills from scratch before he started writing!

The change of genre was very refreshing, and I learned a huge amount about the history of a sport I'd always loved as an armchair spectator, (my sole teenage attempt at ice skating ended in miserable soaking failure!). It was also a rare treat to work as part of a team, and I must stress that I'm not the only editor. Elaine Hooper, Peter Morrissey, Bobby Thompson, and Courtney's friend Heather Jones all proof-read, fact-checked, corrected, and made valuable contributions to the text, and we reached collective decisions with Courtney on things like the title and cover design. I was amused to discover that this was exactly the process Courtney had always used in his NSA and ISU committee days, and it proved just as effective in this instance.

Doreen Denny and Courtney Jones. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Q: What have been the biggest challenges of working on this project during a global pandemic?

A: There was only one - getting into print. I'd envisaged a hardback launch initially, with all the bells and whistles a mainstream publisher can supply; and given the importance of the author, the quality of his story, and its potential to sell in large numbers to an international readership, I expected someone to snap my hand off. Certainly, pre-pandemic, I never experienced difficulties in contacting an appropriate person to whom I could pitch ideas or make submissions - whereas nowadays it's hard enough to get a 'read receipt' for an email, let alone a live human to answer the phone. Plus, due to lockdowns and furloughs, Brexit delays on imports and exports, worldwide shortages of materials and so on, many publishers seem to be contending with massive backlogs – and since time was of the essence, it rapidly became clear that our most realistic option for early release was publication through Herstory.

I felt disappointed on Courtney's behalf until Elaine told us that many recent skating books have been privately published, including a very successful work by Dick Button. That got me thinking, which got me excited; and now we're in control of the process and having fun adding the final touches, I'm glad it's worked out this way. I only hope it'll be the success Courtney deserves.

Q: Courtney Jones, to this day, is the only ice dancer to have won the World Championships with two different partners. What do you think made him so dominant in the international ice dancing scene in the late fifties?

A: Everything! Nature and nurture combined to give Courtney a unique blend of talents – musician, artist, skater, dancer, fashionista and designer – and it's hard to imagine a better skill set for an ice dance champion. He was also backed to the hilt by his parents, trained by the best both in the ballroom and on ice, and had the unusual good fortune to skate with two phenomenal partners whose talents and looks complemented his own perfectly. And, of course, he had the tremendous self-discipline, dedication and capacity for hard work it takes to reach and stay at the top – just reading about his 18-hour daily schedule during his competitive career made me feel quite exhausted.

Courtney Jones and June Markham. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Q: Many people know Courtney not only as a World Champion ice dancer, but also as an NSA and ISU Official and international judge and referee. Do you think his biggest contributions to ice dancing were on or off the ice?

A: That's a tough question for a non-skater to answer. Courtney's on-ice career was very short compared to his decades of involvement thereafter, so in terms of his lifelong advocacy, the vast sums he raised to benefit the sport, the number of skaters he helped, and the gigantic audiences who enjoyed the results either on TV or live at the many major events he helped organize, I lean towards 'off the ice.' On the other hand, as a skater, his innovations in music, routines, costume, cosmetics and general presentation transformed the look of ice dancing, broke ground for his contemporaries, and laid the foundations of so much that came later – not to mention the enduring inspiration of his awesome medal record. I think I'll sit on the fence and say they're about equal, if different in nature.

Q: Courtney and Bobby Thompson helped conceive the costumes for Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's iconic "Bolero" program and Courtney was actually one of the judges who gave them a perfect 6.0 at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Jayne and Christopher's coach Betty Callaway was taught by Courtney's coach, that grande dame of skating Miss Gladys Hogg... so it was almost like a passing of a torch. Would you agree?

A: Yes – I suppose such situations are inevitable given the small number of top-level coaches, and the relatively large number of students they train. it's rather nice to think of the learning and influence being passed on to future generations of skaters and coaches as they were during Britain's post-War ascendancy in the sport, and in Courtney's competitive heyday. Incidentally, in his shoes I'd have given Jayne and Chris 6.0 too – I still find 'Bolero' so perfect I cry when I watch it.


Q: What will surprise people the most about Courtney's story?

A: Hard to say, it's so full of surprises! I was particularly struck by the number of lucky flukes which brought him to exactly the right people, at the right time, in the right place, and by the extent of his impact on the wider world. For instance, I'd had no idea that Courtney was so instrumental in creating outsize fashion and bringing clothes for larger women out from the back of the store and onto the High Street - although it's something I remember distinctly from the seventies, when Evans opened the first dedicated size 14+ shop in my hometown. His medal tally is also amazing, especially considering it was achieved with two partners he'd only known for a few months, one of whom had never previously competed in the discipline and didn't even know the compulsory dances - an almost superhuman feat by Doreen Denny.

This all came as a long, slow reveal while I was working minutely on the text, pulling the narrative together from the various drafts, notes and anecdotes Courtney had amassed over two years of writing, plus contributions from Robin Cousins, Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill – and like an Impressionist painting, the full incredible picture didn't reveal itself until I sat back and proof-read the whole thing. Then I thought, 'Wow! Truth really is stranger than fiction.'

When will the book be coming out and how can people get a copy?

A: We hope that "Around the Ice in Eighty Years: An Irreverent Memoir by an Accidental Champion" will be ready by Christmas, or February 2022 at the latest. You can order it directly from YPS, via your local bookshop or Amazon; meanwhile I'll gladly receive expressions of interest or advance orders on her.story@hotmail.co.uk. And as soon as I've knocked together the full blurb with bibliographic and ordering details, I'll send it on – watch this space!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here? Have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Axels In The Argentine: The Lucian Büeler Story


The son of Hermann and Eleonora (Florin) Büeler, Lucian Büeler was born March 28, 1910 in
Zürich, Switzerland. He grew up during The Great War, attending schools in Aussig (Ústí nad Labem) and Graubünden, the canton in eastern Switzerland where his mother's family hailed from. It was likely in Graubünden - the popular winter sports destination that played host to the famous skating resorts in Davos and St. Moritz - that Lucian was first exposed to the art of figure skating.

Lucian first started seriously pursuing skating while attending the ETH Zürich university as a civil engineering student. He graduated from the university in 1934 and began working as an assistant in hydraulic engineering and an engineer for the road construction firm Gebr. Kräme. During the winters, he devoted what free time he had to practicing change-double threes and circular step sequences on the outdoor rinks of Graubünden. In Basel in 1935, he won his first of three consecutive Swiss men's titles. That same year, he placed tenth at the European Championships. In 1936, he represented Switzerland at the Winter Olympic Games and World Championships, finishing seventeenth and fourteenth. In his final appearance in an ISU Championship, the 1937 World Championships, he placed tenth. Following his short competitive career, Lucian headed the Zentralkurs für Eiskunstlauf, a central training program for Swiss skaters in Klosters. In 1939, he passed all of his skiing tests. Skiing wasn't Lucian's only talent aside from skating. He was a gifted violinist, spoke five languages and had an impressive collection of antique musical instruments.

In 1939, Lucian emigrated to South America to work for a Frankfurt-based construction company and help design a hydroelectric power station on the Rio Negro in Uruguay. It was in South America that he made his most important contribution to the figure skating world. Putting his engineering skills to the test, he directed construction of an artificial ice rink at the Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The unusual project was funded by unclaimed lottery prizes and drew in patrons numbering in the thousands during World War II. The rink was so popular that by 1943, Lucian engineered a second rink in the Club's Mar del Plata clubhouse to deal with the overflow. He acted as the head professional at both rinks. One of two instructors he employed, a Swiss skater with Argentine ties named Renate Bikart, suffered the loss of many of her family members in Auschwitz.

While in South America, Lucian met his Austrian born wife Franziska Siegert. The couple returned to Switzerland after the War, settling in Lausanne and raising twin boys. Lucian got a job working for  L'Energie de l'Ouest-Suisse in Lausanne, which was involved in the construction of power plants and bridges. In February of 1950, he was elected as the engineer of the Solothurn local council. In this role, he hoped to establish more artificial ice rinks in the area. Sadly, that's not how things went. Lucian passed away after a brief illness on February 6, 1952 at the age of forty-one. After his death, his wife and sons moved to Germany. 

Though Lucian's name is all but forgotten today, his unique contribution to South American figure skating history is one for the history books.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here? Have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The 1958 World Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Sporting fans around the world were shocked to hear on the radio of the deaths of several Manchester United football players in a plane crash in Munich after a European Cup game in Yugoslavia. It was an eerie juxtaposition to one of the more popular songs of the time - Dan & The Juniors' cheery "At The Hop".

  
On February 17, 1958, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Clare the patron saint of television. Just mere days prior, many of the world's best figure skaters had gathered at the Patinoire Fédérale at Boulogne-Billancourt and the Palais des Sports near the Eiffel Tower in Paris to compete in The 1958 World Figure Skating Championships... the first World Championships to be televised on Eurovision.


Twenty-three men, twenty-nine women, fifteen pairs and sixteen ice dance couples entered, marking the largest number of entries ever at the World Championships at that point. The numbers would have been even higher, but two pairs, one woman and one man withdrew at the last minute. The large number of entries, coupled with the fact that the event was only three days long, was exhausting for skaters, judges, coaches, reporters and audience members alike. Eminent skating historian Dennis Bird warned, "The situation is serious. Twenty-nine girls, for instance, skating six figures, take at the very least, some fifteen hours of actual skating time, not allowing for meals or coffee breaks. 7 a.m. starts become necessary, with skating continuing until well after tea-time each day. A competitor who has just skated has two hours or more to wait until her next figure, with inevitable strain on the morale. If she is unfortunate enough to be first to skate any one figure, the interval is five hours. And what of the judges? How can the human brain possibly maintain a constant standard of judging after nine or ten hours? More than twenty-four hours judging in three days... It is an impossible demand to make of any judge."

Nancy Heiss, Carol Heiss, Donald Jackson, Carol Wanek and Pierre Brunet enroute to the 1958 World Championships

Though Russian skaters had competed at the World Championships prior to The Great War, the Soviet Union had never been represented at the ISU's most prestigious competition. A team of three men, two pairs and one judge made history in Paris, becoming the first Soviets to participate in the World Championships. Dennis Bird remarked, "I remember one amusing afternoon practice session when Sheldon Galbraith wanted to take some pictures of Stanislav and Nina Zhuk in one of their lifts. Not speaking Russian, he could not make himself understood, so he simply picked up Mme. Zhuk and whirled her over his shoulder to demonstrate. The other Russian skaters and their trainer (who wore a wonderful fur hat) enjoyed the little scene immensely, and the New York judge, Eddie LeMaire, recording it on his cine camera, truly remarked that the skaters seemed more successful than diplomats in breaking through the 'Iron Curtain'." Now that we've explored the fun behind the scenes,
let's take a look back at how things played out on the ice in Paris back in 1958!

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Due to scheduling snafus, the compulsory dances started an hour and forty five minutes early. Because of this, the seats were nearly empty for the first two dances. When audience members finally arrived, the noise of them taking their seats caused a disturbance to the competitors and judges. The four compulsories drawn were the Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Paso Doble and Tango, and for the first time, a panel of nine judges presided over the event. Seven judges had June Markham and Courtney Jones in first after the compulsories, but the American judge had them in a tie for third behind Andree Anderson and Donald Jacoby and Geraldine Fenton and Bill McLachlan. The West German judge had the Canadians first. American, Canadian and British reviewers of the event all agreed that the standard was surprisingly low, with scraping threes, mohawks and timing issues all around. T. D. Richardson remarked, "Except for a few good couples, there seemed to be some shocking stuff, and in conversation with those better qualified to speak on ice dancing than I confirmed my opinion that for a world championship the standard was deplorably low."


A problem with the tonearm of the record player caused the music of nearly half of the couples to skip in the free dance. Unphased, June Markham and Courtney Jones unanimously won the free dance and gold medal with a lively performance that earned them 6.0's, nine ordinal placings and 134.5 points. Geraldine Fenton and Bill McLachlan took the silver and Andree Anderson and Donald Jacoby the bronze. Fenton and McLachlan had free dance ordinals ranging from second to sixth; Anderson and Jacoby's ranged from second to seventh. Fourth through sixth place teams Catherine Morris and Michael Robinson, Barbara Thompson and Gerard Rigby and Christiane and Jean-Paul Guhel also all received top three ordinals in the free dance. Canada's second couple, Beverley Orr and Hugh Smith, placed a strong seventh. T.D. Richardson recalled, "Courtney Jones and June Markham... are in a class apart and have mastered the art of presentation without that awful 'coyness' or showy nonsense seen, alas ! too often. What a wonderful programme is their's, displaying real skating ability. I was not greatly impressed by the Americans Jacoby and Anderson, but I thought the Canadians W. McLachlan and Geraldine Fenton, who were second, very attractive. I found the French couple, M. and Mlle. Guhel, most pleasing. They have elegance, a lovely sense of rhythm, and they skate well - and I was surprised they were not placed higher."

Dance medallists

Reviewing the event in "Skating World" magazine, Lenore Jennings remarked, "To a Britisher used to programmes skated, time after time, to the Foxtrot-Blues rhythms, it was very refreshing to hear so many varieties in the choice of music on this occasion - even though I fear some bore little resemblance to the skating - and in one or two instances were not suitable through lack of a specific beat. The programme and performance of Courtney Jones and June Markham was outstanding... The runners-up William McLachlan and Geraldine Fenton certainly provided food for thought! Not only was the music the same as Demmy-Westwood used a few years previously in the same, but the programme appeared to be Demmy-Westwood's in its entirety! What price originality - one of the points judges are supposed to mark?" Jennings also claimed that Fenton and McLachlan skated an incorrect version of the Tango, failing to cross from side to side. Her critiques infuriated Jean Westwood. Two months later, "Skating World" reported, "Jean Westwood, who has been teaching in Toronto of late, seems to have a flair for aggressiveness via correspondence! In response to her complaints about Mrs. Jennings' account of the World's Ice Dance Championship we would say - We have investigated at high level and find that McLachlan-Fenton appear to have had a basically wrong Tango (not a question of a version of this dance - see British judge's [Pauline Borrajo] marks). As to the question of the Canadian couple using the Demmy-Westwood free dance programme, Mrs. Jennings is by no means alone in contending that it was unoriginal. Miss Westwood admits that about five out of thirty or more movements were duplicated, but contends that others had previously copied parts of her old programme - so why shouldn't her pupils do likewise? Miss Westwood also contends that McLachlan-Fenton weren't the only couple to skate the version of the Tango that was criticized."

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Pairs medallists in Paris

To the surprise of no one, Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul took the pairs title in Paris by a comfortable margin, earning first place ordinals from all but the Austrian judge. Věra Suchánková and Zdeněk Doležal of Czechoslovakia defeated Canadian siblings Maria and Otto Jelinek by just two ordinal placings for the silver.

Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul

The teams who placed fourth through sixth - Joyce Coates and Anthony Holles, Nancy and Ron Ludington and Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler - all had top three ordinals. Marika had won the silver medal the year prior at the World Championships with former partner Franz Ningel. Making their World debuts, Nina and Stanislav Zhuk and Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, placed eighth and nineteenth. Dennis Bird recalled, "The Russian judge, Mr. Adrianov, never allowed patriotism or politics to influence his marks. He put the Zhuks twelfth when most of the judges had them eighth, while he gave both the American pairs higher marks than Colonel Storke, the U.S. judge. He also showed a fine sense of humour when the Norwegian girl Ingeborg Nilsson crashed into him on some backward steps as he sat on the ice in his judge's chair. He seemed more amused than hurt; no less amused, in fact, than the laughing crowds, with whom he exchanged incomprehensible but good-natured repartee."

Nina and Stanislav Zhuk

Nina and Stanislav Zhuk attempted a double Axel lift in their free skating performance and were highly criticized for doing so. In his 1978 book "The Big Red Machine: The Rise And Fall Of Soviet Olympic Champions", Yuri Brokhin claimed "they were taken to task for making a Punch-and-Judy show of patinage artistique. Preoccupied with elegance and musicality, purity of line and unity of composition, the figure-skating establishment wanted no part of the young innovators' astounding acrobatics... Even Soviet judges were wary of their 'unseemly' style."


While in Paris, Maria Jelinek developed a crush on one of the Soviet skaters, who was under strict supervision. The two young lovebirds managed to sneak off for a walk in the Tuileries. When they parted ways, he gave her a Russian doll. They never saw each other again.

Joyce Coates and Anthony Holles

T.D. Richardson remarked, "The pairs provided us with a wonderful spectacle - the standard was remarkably high. The winners, Robert Paul and Barbara Wagner, are both very strong skaters, and their programme has all the elements necessary - some first-rate solo or shadow skating jumps, lovely lifts, steps and combined movements displaying technique of the highest order - a superb performance, athletic and beautiful. Doležal and Suchánková... skated a very fine programme which, in spite of a fall, gained them second place. The Jelineks... were unlucky to be drawn number one - they were certainly first-class - fast and accurate, performing a difficult programme with great musical sense. The British champions Tony Holles and Joyce Coates skated extremely well - a good orthodox programme with some lovely steps (a feature lacking in others.) They were very fast and did not put a foot wrong. The Ludingtons... gave the most original performance of the evening - some of the movements savoured of ice revue, but it was a very difficult programme very well executed, with superb rhythm expressing constantly changing tempo." Dennis Bird also made a point of lauding Holles and Coates. He added, "I think Tony Holles and Joyce Coates surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves. Last year, when they were fifth, critics could point out that only five pairs skated. This time they were fourth out of fifteen, and no one can deny that they are two of the brightest stars in the pair skating firmament today."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

The men's school figures were the only event to be held at the Patinoire Federale at Boulogne-Billancourt, a rink built by the French Federation. In a bit of an upset, all but the West German judge had Tim Brown over David Jenkins after all six figures were skated. Many were surprised that European Champion Karol Divín was only fourth behind Alain Giletti, as figures were his speciality. T.D. Richardson bemoaned, "It would seem impossible that these cramped, stiff-legged, crouching creatures could be the same as those who on the Friday night brought the crowd and experts to their feet so often in enthusiastic applause. Most of these young men are far surer of a double Axel than of a bracket - because they practice them more... Suffice it to say that 'fives' were quite rare... During some of the school figures, there were nineteen people on the ice, apart from the skater: nine judges, the referee, assistant referee and eight other completely unnecessary and (unless the referee gave special permission, thereby breaking all the rules) unauthorized people. True, they were not selling ice cream or anything of that character, but they should not have been there."

David Jenkins

Though he put his hand down on a triple jump attempt, David Jenkins won the free skate and gold medal with one perfect 6.0, a slew of 5.9's and one 5.8. Donald Jackson - who was skating in Europe for the first time - was second in the free skate but only fourth overall on account of his poor showing in the figures. Jenkins' victory marked the eleventh straight year the World men's title had gone to an American. When it was announced he won, crowd of ten thousand cheered, applauded and stomped on wooden floors in approval. After winning, Jenkins told Associated Press reporters, "It was the most difficult program I ever skated. There was a lot of pressure out there. I wasn't sure I could do it [overcome Brown's advantage in figures]."

Eminent British skating historian Dennis Bird claimed that David Jenkins landed the triple flip in Paris. In his 2011 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, David admitted to having "pretty much accomplished" the triple flip prior to attending medical school, but made no mention of landing it in Paris. It's possible either that Jenkins was being modest, but it's also certainly possible Dennis Bird the events misidentified a jump with a similar entry - the Salchow - or credited him with landing a triple he put his hand down on.

Tom Moore. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Though Jenkins and Jackson had been clear-cut victors in the free skate, the rest of the marks were all over the place. Alain Giletti, Alain Calmat, Eddie Collins, Charles Snelling and Tom Moore all received top three ordinals in the free skate. Tim Brown, who imploded, received marks ranging from fifth to seventeenth place. When the marks were tallied, Brown had more ordinal placings than Giletti but also more points, and he squeezed by him to take the silver by the narrowest of margins. Calmat and Divin followed. Karol Divín, only ninth in free skating, took sixth place overall. Collins was ninth; Snelling eleventh.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION 

In the women's event, there was really Carol Heiss... and everyone else. The eighteen year old first year student at New York University wracked up a lead so massive in the school figures that showing up for the free skate was a mere formality. In fact, she almost didn't!

Left: Carol Heiss. Right: Nancy and Carol Heiss.

The morning of the women's free skate, Carol Heiss slept through her alarm and made it from her hotel to the rink just in time to put on her dress and lace up in her skates before they called her name.
Despite a shaky start, she turned out one of her best performances in Paris and won the event unanimously by over one hundred points. It was Carol's third consecutive World title - a record no other American woman had achieved at that point. T.D. Richardson raved, "We saw a changed Carol. With all its difficulties, its speed, and vivacious charm, her skating has acquired a commanding dignity and softness of movement that may well serve as a model."

Left: Women's medallists. Right: Carol Heiss receiving a cake after winning in Paris.

In the fight to be 'best of the rest', Austria's Ingrid Wendl was also in a class by herself. Unanimously second, Wendl was over eighty points ahead of her Austrian teammate Hanna Walter. West German sensation Ina Bauer actually defeated Walter in the free skate, but was unable to move up to bump her out of the bronze medal position. Gladys Hogg's student Dianne Peach was fifth; Carol Heiss' sister Nancy sixth. Margaret Crosland, a student of Hans Gerschwiler, was thirteenth. While the North American judges both had Crosland in the top five in figures, the West German judge had her in a tie for twenty first! Crosland's Canadian teammate, Sonia Snelling, placed fifteenth.

Regine Heitzer. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archive.

Regine Heitzer, the young Viennese skater who placed only twelfth, was an audience favourite. However, Dennis Bird recalled, "There was a tremendous and rather ugly demonstration after Regine Heitzer's free programme. She skated delightfully. Fast, dainty, and sure-footed, she gave a performance of real artistry. Up went her marks. 5.3's, 5.5's, one 5.7 - pretty good for a 14 year-old at her first World Championship. But the Parisians, I suppose, thought she should have had all 5.7's or 5.8's or something. Pandemonium broke out. There were howls and screams and boos sufficient to raise the roof, it seemed. When the next skater started - it was Dianne Peach - the first quarter-minute of her music was completely drowned. It must have been an unnerving experience for her to have to skate before a jeering, infuriated crowd of nearly 20,000 people." Canada's Nigel Stephens - who judged the men's and pairs events - was equally as unpopular with the Paris crowd for giving 4.6's when other judges were doling out 5.2's and 5.3's... even though his ordinals were the same as his peers.

Of all the competitors, eighteen year old Lois Thomson perhaps had the longest trip to Paris. When her coach Felix Kaspar left Australia to coach in Canada, she followed him there for a time, but spent the rest of year practicing down under. She made the trip across two oceans to the World Championships alone - without her coach or parents - and placed a disappointing twenty-fifth with a free skate that was deemed "entirely too old-fashioned."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Plucked From Obscurity: The Eddie Bassett Story


"He's showing the public on ice that real skating can be done on small space. He is the absolute hit of every bill upon which he plays and the press speak in the highest terms of his clever skating." - "Billboard" magazine, July 4, 1908

The story of Isabella Butler, the Barnum And Bailey circus daredevil turned figure skating star, appeared on Skate Guard back in 2016 and was easily one of my favourites to work on! With a huge thanks to genealogist extraordinaire Jeff Bassett, I'm thrilled to be able to explore the story of Isabella's pairs partner Eddie Bassett, whose contributions to the skating world were every bit as unique!

The son of William and Margaret (Carey) Bassett, Edward 'Eddie' William Bassett was born in April of 1879 in New York City. Edward and his siblings Florence, William and Elmer grew up on 145th Street in Manhattan. Their father, a Civil War veteran who worked as a barber and real estate agent to support the family, passed away around the turn of the century. Their mother moved the family to West 90th Street, and the Bassett children took on various odd jobs to keep food on the table. Although Eddie worked as a 'lowly' plumber and chauffeur, his real passion was ice skating.

Competitors at the 1905 Championships Of America. Arthur Gaetano Keane and Irving Brokaw are third and fourth from the left; Eddie Bassett is sixth.

Eddie took up the sport at the 'ripe old age' of twenty-one and less than a year later, entered his first 'fancy skating' competition at the St. Nicholas Rink. Representing the New York Wanderers Hockey Club, he placed dead last. Three years later, he returned to compete at the same rink in the Championships Of America. Arthur Gaetano Keane won that event, but Eddie finished second... defeating American figure skating pioneer Irving Brokaw by a single point. He moved up to second behind Brokaw the following year and in 1907, defeated George Kerner and four others to win the competition.


With a title under his belt, Eddie decided to turn his passion into a career and turned professional. Teaming up with circus daredevil Isabella Butler, Eddie travelled America on the Keith and Proctor circuit on Vaudeville shows, performing an eleven minute pairs skating act on a 10 X 6 foot artificial ice stage in theatres from California to Tennessee.

Photo courtesy Jeff Bassett

 'Butler and Bassett' had no problem attracting patrons to their shows, thanks to some rather "generous" PR work by their promoter, Stanley W. Wathon. They were routinely billed as the "World's Champion Ice Skaters". One reporter described Edward's "marvelous human top spin... in which he spins at the rate of five hundred revolutions a minute - faster than the eye can follow." A review of one their New York City debut from "Variety" magazine recalled their performance thusly: "On a block of ice, about ten feet long, five feet wide and raised six inches, Miss Butler and Mr. Bassett are doing all possible tricks on skates which seemingly may be accomplished in that limited space. The size of the ice is against various pretty evolutions and team work. Mr. Bassett wears several medals on his breast, probably for fancy skating. He did several 'spins' which elicited much applause, but Miss Butler carried away the balance of favour of the audience. A winter scene was the setting, with the skaters in prettily designed costumes. They have a real novelty, which could be increased greatly if the block of ice were larger, and the performers could improve their fancy work in a similar ratio on the greater area. Opening the show at Fifty-eighth Street this week, two curtain calls were responded to."

Grace Helaine and Eddie Bassett

In 1914, Eddie met Grace Helaine, the half-sister of actress Billie Burke, who went on to play Glinda The Good Witch Of The North in the iconic film "The Wizard Of Oz". At the time, Grace was skating at the College Inn in Chicago with Victor Saron, a skating instructor who taught the Duchess of Connaught and Princess Patricia. The following year, Eddie's partnership with Isabella Butler ended after they performed alongside Gladys Lamb and Norval Baptie in the "Castles In The Air" shows at The Ice Palace above the Forty Fourth Street Theatre in New York City, executing complex figure eights and novel spins while diners guzzled back cocktails between six and nine over supper. Eddie and Grace teamed up to perform in the College Inn shows and at the Hammerstein's roof in New York, performing a duet "assisted by six girls in union suits." They received positive reviews, but failed to capture the public's attention to the same degree as 'Butler and Bassett' had.

Photo courtesy Jeff Bassett

In 1918, Grace obtained a divorce - and a hefty weekly alimony - from her husband 'Manny' Chapelle. This came about after the husband of silent picture actress Dorothy Green hired a detective agency to follow his wife. After discovering Chapelle and Green together several times, the agency raided her apartment and found them together. Shortly thereafter, Eddie and Grace married and settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Grace starred in the Broadway play "Lightnin'" while Edward took a job making munitions. The couple later settled in Pittsburgh, where Eddie worked as the assistant manager of an amusement park. He also taught for a time at the Junior Club at Iceland in New York.

Advertisement for Conron Extension Ice Skates featuring Grace Helaine and Eddie Bassett. Photo courtesy Jeff Bassett.

Sadly, Eddie died of heart failure at the age of fifty-five in a rented room on Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh on May 24, 1938, less than two years after his wife Grace passed away. Like Isabella Butler, Eddie and Grace had both brought audiences to their feet with their skating... and died in utter obscurity.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The 1975 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque de Québec.

"Please Mr. Postman" by The Carpenters topped the music charts, the game show"Wheel Of Fortune" made its television debut, newspapers teemed with stories on The Watergate Scandal. The year was 1975 and from January 29 to February 2, many of Canada's best figure skaters gathered in Québec City to compete in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships. It was the first time in history that the capital city of the province of Quebec had played host to the Canadian Championships. Twenty committees comprised of members from the province's twenty three skating clubs worked feverishly to make the event a success... with the help of a measly three hundred and seventy-eight dollar government grant.


In an attempt to improve transportation (an issue at the 1974 Canadian Championships in Moncton) a shuttle was arranged to transport skaters from the luxurious Hilton Hotel to the event venue, the Colisée de Québec on boulevard Wilfrid-Hamel. Blue and red hockey lines were painted over the ice to make the venue more aesthetically appealing for CTV's television coverage. A meeting between representatives of the CFSA and PSAC (Professional Skating Association of Canada) was even arranged, where coaches Sheldon Galbraith, Kerry Leitch, Bette Maden and Brenda Evelyn hoped to propose a (then controversial) merger. Pierrette Paquin Devine, one of the judges, was "personally proud to be the only judge in Quebec, the only French-Canadian judge." The local press latched onto the idea that Quebec skaters would be 'screwed' because they only had one judge on the panel. Considering the fact not a single skater from the province had made the national team five years earlier, the fact that ten skaters had qualified for the event through Divisionals was viewed as quite the accomplishment... and the event was expected to be both a success and a building block for the development of skating in the province of Quebec. Mother Nature had other plans.

Jean-Guy Rochon and Robert Gagnon discussing the event in front of a section of empty seats. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque de Québec.

On the first day of the competition, a massive snowstorm caused organizers to cancel the Opening Ceremonies and delay the event's start by fifteen minutes as many of the competitors were late arriving. They had been warned by the organizers to prepare to spend the night at the Colisée if they had to. Shelley MacLeod and Bob Knapp took the warning seriously, piling up the back of a bus from the hotel to the rink with pillows. The compulsory dances went on as scheduled, with only a handful of spectators in the seats.

The show went on despite the weather and at the conclusion of the event, some fourteen thousand, three hundred tickets had been sold. Unfortunately, these numbers just weren't enough... and the event ended with a fifteen thousand dollar deficit. Following the competition, Robert Gagnon, the chair of the event's organizing committee, told reporter Jacques Arteau, "It's no glory for Quebec. Okay, we have nothing to pay for our pockets, but this is the first deficit for the Canadian Figure Skating Association." Despite the competition's unprecedented financial failure, the competition itself was quite a thrilling one. Let's take a look back at how things played out!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR COMPETITIONS

Twelve teams vied for the novice ice dance title. Ultimately, it was Julie Hammonds and Bruce Carmichael of the Capilano Winter Club who edged Halifax's Marie McNeil and Rob McCall for the gold. A rule in place at the time that stated teams could only compete in novice for two seasons meant that all three of the medal winning teams would have to move up to junior the following year.
The novice pairs title was won unanimously by eleven year old Sherri Bower and fifteen year old Robin Cowan, who trained with Kerry Leitch at the Preston Figure Skating Club. Cowan and Baier had only been skating together for nine months, and had qualified for Canadians by winning the Central Divisional title in Brandon two weeks earlier. In second was a young team from Oshawa, Barbara Underhill and Jim Sorochan. Vancouver's Joyce Fordyce took the novice women's title, narrowly defeating Carolyn Skoczen of Windsor. Karen Alexander, who hailed from Montreal and was toted by the local press as a medal contender, placed a disappointing tenth.

Daniel Béland. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque de Québec.

Fourteen year old Daniel Béland, who trained at the CPA Palestre Nationale under Louise Seguin, took the gold in novice men. As the only skater from Quebec to win a gold medal at the event, his success was the talk of the town. The local press suggested that he was going places, and that he'd perhaps be better off going elsewhere to train... much like Toller Cranston had. Louise Seguin responded, "I know he has talent, I do not count the hours I can give him to help him. It is quite a problem for him to train and I would not like him to be forced to confide in professionals from another province simply because he can not get more ice hours here in Quebec... We have about thirty hours a week at our disposal in various centers in sports. But it will take more time and summer schools, to allow us to target the top three places in the juniors for the next Canadian Championships."

Despite a fall, Thornhill siblings Marie-Ellen and Bernard Souche skated well enough to take the junior pairs title. Judie Jeffcott and Keith Swindlehurst of the Upper Canada Figure Skating Club came out on top of eleven other teams in the junior dance event. In the junior men's and women's events, Jim Szabo and Gary Beacom and Heather Anderson and Julie Bowerman were first and second after the school figures. Most interestingly, the top two after the figures in both events settled for silver and bronze medals overall. The winners of the respective events, Kevin Hicks of Windsor and Camille Rebus of Edmonton, both weren't even in the top four in figures... certainly a testament to both of their free skating abilities.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Lynn Nightingale.  Photo courtesy Bibliothèque de Québec.

Nineteen year old Lynn Nightingale of the Minto Skating Club had claimed gold at the 1974 Canadians in Moncton and was considered a heavy favourite the senior women's event based on her strong sixth place finish at the 1974 World Championships in Munich. Prior to the compulsory figures, Lynn told a reporter from "La Nouvelliste", "The figures scared me to death, but I feel like I'm getting better in this area. I do not think I'm the best in the world in this discipline, but I have improved more than ever this year." Her improvements were noticeable to the judges, who placed her decisively first in that phase of the competition.

Lynn Nightingale. Photo courtesy Health and Welfare Canada.

Sixteen year old Kim Alletson, the previous year's junior Champion, skated brilliantly in the free skate... including a triple Salchow in her performance. Lynn unfortunately singled a triple Salchow attempt of her own and was disappointed with her performance, but it was enough for her to remain in top spot by almost eight points overall. The bronze medal went to Barbara Terpenning, the silver medallist in 1974.

THE PAIRS AND ICE DANCE COMPETITIONS

The heavy favourites, five time Canadian Champions Sandra and Val Bezic, were forced to withdraw from the senior pairs event due to Sandra's leg injury. Sandra and Val's withdrawal left only four teams. Candy Jones of the Cricket Club and Don Fraser of the Richmond Hill Figure Skating Club took the gold by the narrowest of margins, defeating Kathy Hutchinson and Jamie McGrigor of the Preston Figure Skating Club by one ordinal placing and 0.31 of a point. 'Skating up' in seniors, junior champions Marie-Ellen and Bernard Souche lost out on the bronze to Christine McBeth and Dennis Johnston.

Barbara Berezowski and David Porter.  Photo courtesy Bibliothèque de Québec.

Ginnie Grieco and John Rait of Toronto were forced to withdraw from the senior ice dance event as Ginnie was recovering from a bout of mononucleosis. After the five remaining teams weaved their way through the Viennese Waltz, Quickstep, Kilian and the Blues OSP, Barbara Berezowski and David Porter of the Granite Club had a comfortable lead. Performing a confident free dance choreographed by Brian Foley, fifteen year old Barbara and twenty one year old David took the gold medal. After finishing second the previous three years at the Canadians to Louise and Barry Soper, who had retired, the victory was sweet. Shelley MacLeod and Bob Knapp earned a standing ovation for their free dance, but couldn't surpass Susan Carscallen and Eric Gillies for silver. Lorna Wighton and John Dowding and Debbie and Randy Burke rounded out the field. Marijane Stong, who coached Berezowski and Porter, told reporters, "Dancing draws the biggest crowds in Europe but until the last five years the skating system in Canada hasn't been geared to it. Now the trend is changing. There are a lot more good dancing teachers in Canada and it has become much more popular."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Toller Cranston in Quebec. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Four time and defending Canadian Champion, twenty five year old Toller Cranston, faced criticism from the local press for attending the Moscow Skate competition not long before the Canadian Championships. In a pre-Grand Prix era, some felt that attending autumn international competitions would cause skaters to peak at the wrong time. In an interview with a reporter from "La Presse", Toller responded, "I like to work harder at certain times, to be in excellent condition when the time is right. You can never be at the peak of your fitness 365 days a year. Off-peak periods can be beneficial anyway... People think the tension is gone, but it's not. I have to prove to myself that I am capable of delivering exceptional performances. I must prepare for this event in the same way that I would against the best opposition in the world. In fact, the tension should be stronger because people expect to see me win. "

Toller Cranston

Ron Shaver, who would have likely been Toller's chief competition, was unable to compete due to a ripped tendon. A top five finish at the 1974 World Championships in Munich pre-qualified him for the 1975 World team, allowing him the time to treat his injury at home. Toller didn't have his best showing in the school figures, but rebounded with a superb free skate to Prokofiev's "Cinderella", taking the gold with seven ordinal placings and 187.60 points to Robert Rubens' fourteen ordinal placings and 175.20 points. The bronze went to Stan Bohonek of the Granite Club.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Toller claimed that Ron's absence made defending his title difficult. He said, "In short, I was competing against myself." Following the competition, Toller wowed the crowd with an exhibition in the Parade Of Champions to Engelbert Humperdinck's "Too Beautiful To Last".

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

An American In Kyoto: The Jack B. Jost Story

Photo courtesy "Skating"" magazine

The youngest child of Emily (Talleur) and John Henry Jost, John 'Jack' Berthyl Jost Jr. was born on May 10, 1930 in St. Louis, Missouri. Jack was a late addition to the family - there was a twelve year age difference between him and his eldest sister. His father was a sign painter, his grandfather a wagon maker and his eldest sister a telephone operator. As a teenager, Jack attended Grover Cleveland High School, where he held the school's tennis record for two years in a row. He got his start on the ice at the St. Louis Skating Club around the age of fourteen, working at the rink to pay for his lessons. The head professionals at the time were Rudy and Elsie Angola. He served as the President of his high school's ice skating club and in his free time enjoyed swimming and collecting classical records and performing in an a capella music group.

Jack Jost (top row, second from right) with members of his high school tennis team

Jack's first big success in the skating world came just after World War II. At the Midwestern Championships in Cleveland in 1947, he entered the novice men's event. The day of the free skating, he took a fall so hard during his performance that he knocked himself out. He was allowed to re-skate his performance the next day and performed so brilliantly that he ended up in first place, ahead of Evy Scotvold and David Jenkins. That summer, Jack and his dance partner Mary Lou Rolfson finished second at the Summer Dance Competition in Rochester to Caryl Johns and Rex Cook. He teamed up with Caryl, the daughter of a speed skater, two years later at the Baltimore Figure Skating Club in Maryland. He had followed his coaches (the Angola's) there after graduating from high school.

Caryl and Jack trained for upwards of seven hours a day in singles, pairs and dance and took second in both Silver Dance and junior pairs at the 1950 U.S. Championships. That same year, Jack passed his Gold Figure and Freestyle Tests. In 1951, Caryl and Jack won both the U.S. junior pairs and Silver Dance titles and in passing their Gold Dance, joined an exclusive club of skaters who had passed both their Gold Figure and Gold Dance tests. 

In 1952, Caryl and Jack won the senior pairs title at the Eastern Championships and finished third in both the pairs and dance at the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. The USFSA had decided to only send two pairs to the Olympics in Oslo that year, so had they finished just one spot higher they would have been sent. They were, however, sent to the World Championships in Paris, where they finished eighth in the pairs event. Their future looked promising, but fate had other ideas. Jack, then stationed as a Private at Fort Meade, was sent overseas to Japan to work as a dental assistant at an army hospital and Caryl turned professional to teach at the Milwaukee Figure Skating Club and work as a secretary at the Falk Corporation.


Jack was one of several American figure skaters drafted by the U.S. military and sent off to Asia during the Korean War. His love of the sport never waned during his time in Japan. He saw newsreel footage of his former World teammate Dick Button's professional debut before the showing of an American film and was a regular at Kyoto and Nagoya's ice rinks. In 1953, he entered and won the men's event at the Japanese Championships at the Kōrakuen Ice Palace in Tokyo. The "Asahi Shimbum" reported that he was the first "foreigner" to win the title and it was quite a big deal at the time. However, his success wasn't met with universal praise by the other American skaters who were stationed overseas with the military at the time. Don Laws later remarked, "I believed and explained to my hosts that no foreigner should compete in any National Championship, that it should be reserved exclusively for the skaters of any given country. These competitions belonged to Japan and would allow them to know who were their best. However, because the Japanese had been to World competitions and had great aspirations, they were seeking encouragement and an audience. I truly believe that, more than anything else, this offer was a gesture of generosity. It hurt me to think that some hotshot might come in to that competition and show off... Sure enough, that void was filled unfortunately American, Jack Jost, who went in and of course took first place. In my view, there was pray little gain in that win."

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Though Jack only spent a couple of years in Japan, his influence was most certainly felt. When Tenley Albright and Hayes Alan Jenkins went on an overseas tour put on by Japan's National Skating Union and the "Asahi Shimbum" just months later, Jack joined them in the Osaka and Tokyo shows. Harry N. Keighley, then the Chairman of the USFSA International Committee wrote in "Skating" magazine, "His dance pair with a Japanese girl with whom he has been working was one of the highlights of the Osaka shows. There has never been too much interest in the dance in Japan but Jack has been working on it and the interest that now exists is due mainly to his influence." Less than a decade later, Japan sent its first pairs and dance teams to the World Championships.

"Tall, dark and handsome" Jack reached the rank of Corporal in the military and was a recipient of the Korean Service Medal and United Nation Service Medal. After his discharge in 1953, he went back to school - studying at the Dakota Business College in Fargo, North Dakota. He helped pay for his education by teaching at the Fargo-Moorhead Winter Club during the winters and the Mayo Civic Auditorium in Rochester, Minnesota during the summers. 

Jack went on to teach in Audobon, Pennsylvania, East Lansing, Michigan and with Kurt Oppelt at the Towne 'N Country Ice Rink in Strongsville, Ohio. He married twice and had four children, a step-son and thirteen grandchildren. His daughter Robin Neumann recalled, "He continued coaching for nearly fifty years in various cities and states around the country. He worked alongside the first pioneers of the Professional Skating Association and helped craft the current rating system for coaches. He was a brilliant technician with a keen eye for a skater's perfect form. His on-ice public persona was charming. He was a good story teller and used humorous analogies in his coaching his students rarely forgot - myself included. More importantly, he was a disciplined and brilliant technician; a stickler for excellent form."

Sadly, Jack passed away in Peoria, Arizona on December 9, 2015 at the age of eighty-five. Though he hasn't received a much recognition for his unique achievement, he certainly earned his place in the history books as the first (and only) American skater to win the Japanese men's title.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for
readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here? Have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.