#Unearthed: How Skating Is Taught

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. Today's gem is an article that first appeared in "The Sketch" on March 13, 1895 called "How Skating Is Taught". It is an interview with two French skating instructors who came to England to teach at the Niagara Hall skating rink.

"HOW SKATING IS TAUGHT" (UNKNOWN)

There is just now no prettier and cheerier sight in London than the Niagara Skating-Rink. All day long a happy crowd of skaters disport themselves on the artificial-ice lake, an occasional tumble only adding to the fun, which upper and lower galleries are filled with a seething crowd of spectators and not unkindly critics. It was among the latter (writes a representative of "The Sketch") that I found M. Léon, the French skating-master, who lately, together with his compatriot M. Plumet, had the honour of being sent to Buckingham Palace to act as instructor to the Marlborough House royal skating-party.

"Although I came here," observed M. Léon, "from the Pôle Nord - of course, I mean the Paris North Pole," he added parenthetically - "I first learnt skating at Hamburg, where I had been sent by my father to complete my education; but, as a skater, I claim to belong to the Viennese school, which is the best in Europe where our art is concerned."


"And in what way, Monsieur, does the Viennese differ from 'other forms'?"

"It is far more graceful, and the figures are infinitely better than those taught or acquired elsewhere," he answered promptly. "I myself studied for a considerable time with the famous Austrian skater, Alexander, of Vienna; but I do not consider," he added, smiling, "that I have yet exhausted the possibilities of this, my favourite form of le sport, for I am always learning and studying new figures and combinations of figures."

"And in how long a time do you and your fellow-instructors undertake to turn out a first-rate skater?"

"Well, some people take to it as ducks do to the water, others seem to find it as difficult as flying; but most of my pupils can begin to try the outside edge after a month's constant practice."

"Have you any view on the vexed question of costume?"

"Mais certainment!" he cried quickly. "Gentlemen should wear knickerbockers, and ladies short neat skirts and jackets. Those who persist in trying to skate in ordinary afternoon-gowns run a serious danger, especially when engaged in outside-edge skating. I may tell you," he continued, "that all the Princesses' costumes are thoroughly sensible in this respect, and it is a pity that royalty's example is not more widely followed. I myself consider a short skirt, neat jacket, and a small toque the ideal ice-costume for a lady. There should be no furbelows or trimming save what is quite flat and close to the figure."

"To become a good figure-skater must take up a great deal of time?"

"Yes, indeed; when one of my pupils can execute what I call the double-eight, I consider him perfect."

"Do you consider that men or women make the best skaters?"

M. Léon laughed gaily: "The ladies," he answered diplomatically, "always look more charming on the ice, even when they are not really so sure-footed as their brothers and gentleman friends."

"Do Londoners take as kindly to the art as Parisians?"

"Yes, indeed; and there are, no doubt, some splendid skaters over here; but, though French women take longer to learn, they, as a rule, end by becoming better skaters than the English women I have seen. By the way, I went down to Stowe House the other day; the Duke d'Orléans and his sister, Princess Hélène, are both admirable skaters."

"Did you get any open-air skating during the frost?"

"Yes, and I enjoyed it thoroughly; but I think that the music we have here greatly helps the skaters."

"May I ask you an indiscreet question? A general impression has got abroad that artificial ice is far harder than Nature's product, and that beginners run a greater risk of hurting themselves on a rink?"

"A tumble is always unpleasant, but I assure you there is no difference between artificial and real ice. I have had considerable experience of both, and so speak with knowledge. I am sure that, since the opening of the Pôle Nord, in Paris, many Parisians, and especially Parisiennes, have found their health and personal appearance improved by the steady exercise. Not only does it act like a tonic, but, what is, perhaps more important to ladies, it conduces to a bright and clear complexion. You see, it is not necessary to attempt figure-skating; it is possible to be an excellent skater for all practical purposes without having any knowledge of the higher forms of the art."

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A History Of Doping In Figure Skating

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

Back in the nineteenth century, there was always a bottle of brandy on hand to revive skaters that fell through the ice. In the days when figure skating competitions were held outdoors in subzero temperatures, it wasn't unheard of for skaters to warm themselves up with a swig of something strong¹ after doing their Lutzes and loop's. Though an adult beverage is a far cry from a doping violation, these kinds of stories serve as a reminder as to what the sport was like in the days before skaters were subjected to testing of any sort.

When talking about doping throughout figure skating's history, one of the first things to consider are the policies of early touring ice revues like the Ice Capades and Ice Follies. Skaters on these tours were subjected to weekly weigh-in's. If they weighed "too much", they were subject to fines or - in the case of "repeat offenders" - dismissal. An article from "The Bangor Daily News" reported that on tour with the Ice Capades, "Food and weight control dominated talk among the skaters, both male and female, especially when it got close to the weekly weigh-in time. Each skater was assigned a designated weight - called a 'set'. Skaters who didn't make [their designated] weight were docked money out of their paychecks and sometimes threatened with being sent home. Some skaters wouldn't eat for three days before the weigh-in. Others would pile on clothing to tip the scales. Many took laxatives to lose weight. Many thought the more alcohol they drank, the less weight they'd gain."² The lengths many professional skaters resorted to in order to keep their paycheques and jobs are largely undocumented. They weren't subject to drug tests.

Photo courtesy Ingrid Hunnewell

Amateur figure skaters were first subjected to drug testing at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble, France³. The International Skating Union issued one of its first Communications about doping in the autumn of 1972, announcing that going forward, testing would be conducted at all ISU Championships. The first tests were conducted at the 1973 European Championships in Cologne, West Germany⁴ and formal rules for doping controls were accepted at that year's ISU Congress in Copenhagen, Denmark⁵.

In the seventies and early eighties, doping control was only mandatory at the Winter Olympic Games, World Championships, European Championships and World Junior Championships. It could be conducted optionally at other international events, such as Skate Canada or the NHK Trophy, but the organizers were required to publicize that fact prior to the competition if they decided to do so.⁷ As doping tests at a national level were inconsistent at that point, this would have allowed skaters who were being doped or routinely taking prescription diet pills to fly under the radar. They simply had to stop well before the big international events each season so they wouldn't get caught.

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

From the get-go, there were concerns that athletes were finding ways to outsmart doping controls. In 1980, journalist Norman Webster suggested that the reason not a single athlete failed doping controls at the Summer Olympic Games wasn't because "they all owe their success to nothing but clean living and mother's home cooking... What it does mean, according to the International Olympic Committee's medical commission, is that the athletes know when to stop... before a competition."⁸

In 1980, the ISU's doping penalties were rather straight-forward. For the first violation, skaters would be disqualified from the competition and suspended for fifteen months. If there was a second violation, no matter what the substance, they would be banned for life. These penalties remained in place until 1990, when a rule change put forth by the East German federation suggesting specific penalties for specific drugs was approved.⁹

One of the first instances of a disqualification due to doping controls actually occurred in the Soviet Union. In January of 1982, Kira Ivanova won the women's figure skating competition at the Spartakiad of the Peoples of the USSR in Krasnoyarsk but was stripped of her title because she failed to show up at the doping test afterwards because she'd been drinking. As a result, she was removed from the national team for a time.¹⁰

That December at the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sarajevo the bronze-medal winning French ice dance team of Christine Chiniard and Martial Mette were later disqualified. Chiniard was taking a weight loss drug that was on the banned list.¹¹  An American duo, Christina and Keith Yatsuhashi, were eventually elevated to the bronze medal position.¹² 

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

In 1987, Dr. Thomas Kosten penned an article noting, "Although no sport is immune from 'doping', figure skating has had very little history of drug use. This reflects well on our sport and competitors, yet we need to be vigilant and concerned about this issue. Athletes are highly motivated to succeed, and this motivation can make them more than willing to experiment with a variety of drugs that they believe will improve their performance." Dr. Kosten warned skaters of the dangers of stimulants, specifically cocaine and amphetamines, and anabolic steroids.¹³

Vigilance about doping tests caused many skaters to forego necessary medical treatment. At the 1984 Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo, Canadian pairs skater Paul Martini suffered from asthma but elected not to use the Ventilin puffer he'd been prescribed on the advice of Team Canada's Doctor¹⁴ . Four years later at the Winter Olympic Games, the flu raged through Calgary¹⁵. The Olympic Village was not immune. American skater Caryn Kadavy was forced to withdraw due to illness¹⁶; Canada's Liz Manley suffered through¹⁷ and won a silver medal. Lenka Knapová and René Novotný cracked the top ten in the pairs short program at the Games. Afterwards, Novotný had a terrible migraine headache. The doctor of Czechoslovakian ski jump team prescribed him the drug Alnagon, which contained codeine, caffeine and phenobarbital. In an interview with the Czech newspaper "Aha!", he recalled, "I don't even want to remember what happened next. Before the competition, I was in the locker room putting on my skates when two 'gorillas' came and led me out of the hall. Then Lenka and I were locked up in the Olympic Village and interrogated until morning. The doctor denied everything and I had to take it. They pulled us from the competition."¹⁸ The ISU made its doping controls more strict the following season, incorporating random tests at different phases of the competitions at the European Championships in Birmingham, England.¹⁹ Ironically, when the World Championships were held in Birmingham in 1995, Novotný won the Czech Republic's first gold medal in pairs skating at the World Championships with his wife Radka Kovaříková.

On November 21, 1989, Heiko Fischer dropped dead during a friendly squash game. A five-time West German Champion and veteran of two Olympics, Fischer was only twenty-nine years of age.²⁰ Horst Klehr, a pharmacist who was responsible for creating one of the first lists of banned substances specific to sport, referenced the German skater in a 2009 speech about athletes involved in doping. He said, "Many fatalities could still be alive today if the officials in the West had not closed their eyes."²¹

A failed doping test at the 1991 European Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria almost cost World Champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko the title.²² Klimova's sample suggested steroid use, but a second test of the sample was done at a German laboratory and she was cleared. After the event, ISU Secretary Beat Häsler told reporters, "The result of the B analysis was no confirmation of the A analysis... There was no identity of the positive results of the A analysis through the B analysis... They made a huge mistake in Bulgaria. There was simply no comparison between the two measurements."²³ CFSA President David Dore expressed confusion over the ISU's ruling about Klimova's sample, citing the fact that there had "been problems between the ISU and CFSA over the reporting of doping tests at the 1990 World Championships in Halifax."²⁴ 

Romy Kermer and Rolf Oesterreich

In 1992, former residents of East Germany (the German Democratic Republic) were first allowed to view their Stasi records.²⁵ Within two years of the files being accessible, horrific doping stories started to trickle out. Swimmers were given round after round of testosterone injections; weight-lifters were given such high doses of steroids that they had to have operations to remove fatty tissue from their chests after they retired.²⁶ Through consultation of Stasi records, German radio station Deutschlandfunk reported that in 1976, pairs skater "Rolf Oesterreich... tested positive for anabolic steroids at the GDR exit control and only arrived when the doping abuse was no longer detectable."²⁷ Rolf Oesterreich and his partner Romy Kermer won the silver medal in the pairs event at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck.


After the fall of The Berlin Wall, several figure skaters, including Ingo Steuer²⁸, Karin Miegel, Susanne Schnierda and Katrin Kanitz, came forward in media interviews claiming they were administered  'the blue pill' - Oral-Turinabol - as part of East Germany's Staatsplanthema 14.25 state-organized forced doping program.²⁹  In her scholarly dissertation on the East German Sports System, Barbara Carol Cole argued, "We do not now know, nor probably ever will know, the extent of the drug usage of the GDR's competitors, because, there too, no records exist. [Dr. Werner] Franke adheres, in the meantime, to the conviction that 'universal' doping was applied in all realms by 1980. This does not mean, however, that there were not numerous cases and disciplines or even institutes where doping played no factor at all, or that only selective usage at certain levels was the rule."³⁰

Although many files related to Staatsplanthema 14.25 were destroyed by the time of German unification³¹ , documented proof of doping in East Germany emerged in 1994.³² We will likely never know the true extent to which doping affected East German athletes. The support group Doping-Opfer-Hilfe e.V. - Forum für selbstbestimmten Sport has reported that figure skaters that were doped under Staatsplanthema 14.25 had surgeries to remove tumours, cysts and ovaries and suffered from a range of long-term consequences such as depression, acute pain and eating disorders.³⁴

A document about the Staatsplanthema 14.25 doping program. Photo courtesy Stasi Unterlagen Archiv, German Federal Archive.

In 1996, the International Amateur Athletic Federation presented the results of a study on a masking agent called Bromantane (Ladasten) that several Russian athletes were found to be using at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. This report noted that one Russian figure skater tested positive for Bromantane in March of that year.³⁵ While this skater was not named, if we assume this test was taken at the World Championships in Edmonton, Alberta - it could only have been one of eight women.³⁶ Every single one of those women either won an Olympic medal or World title at some point in their career. In 1997, the Anti-Doping Agency added Bromantane to its banned list, as both a masking agent and stimulant.³⁷

At the 1998 European Championships in Milan, French Champion Thierry Cerez tested positive for the anabolic steroid Nandrolone. French lecturer Dr. Jean-Pierre de Mondenard considered it a particularly curious case. He explained, "When an athlete knowingly consumes Nandrolone or Norandrostenedione, its precursor, these two substances do not appear directly in the urine but are transformed in certain organs, including the liver, into two distinct metabolites: norandrosterone (NA) and noretiocholanone (NE) which can be detected in urine. Similarly, when eating a steak and fries, we do not find meat and potatoes in the urine, but only their waste. Thus, nandrolone is never present as such in the samples taken during a doping control. On the other hand, and according to the IOC rule, to confirm Nandrolone or Norandrosterone doping, the two metabolites must be present together in the urine."³⁹ Cerez's sample was sent to a laboratory in Rome, which found it contained only one of the two metabolites of Nandrolone. Because Noretiocholanone was absent, Cerez's name was cleared, but the ordeal put his skating career in limbo for six months.⁴⁰ 

Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze

In 2000, Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were stripped of their gold medals at the European Championships in Vienna, Austria due to a failed doping test. Berezhnaya tested positive for pseudoephedrine.⁴¹ She was suffering from bronchitis at the time and was prescribed medication containing the banned substance by a doctor in New Jersey.⁴² As a result of the timing of the failed test, the Organizing Committee of the 2000 World Championships announced that Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze would not be competing. In the news release, they "said she had taken it inadvertently in medication for bronchitis and waived the right to the analysis of the B sample, thereby acknowledging the result and thus withdrawing from the Championships."⁴³ Not long after, it was announced that another team, Uzbekistan's Natalia Ponomareva and Evgeniy Sviridov, would also not be competing. Sviridov tested positive for a banned substance at the Four Continents Championships.⁴⁴ 

Kamila Valieva's positive test for Trimetazidine, which came to light at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, was and is big news⁴⁵, but it came after a decade and a half where allegations of doping in figure skating have significantly increased. Several Russian figure skaters who competed at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi were under investigation at one point as part of The McLaren Report, which was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. One sample from a male skater was referenced where the DNA didn't even match other samples previously provided at the Games!⁴⁶ A very incomplete listing of doping related cases in figure skating since 2006 reveals a consistent rise in the number of cases involving diuretics and masking agents.

Year

Country

Skater

Substance

Outcome

2006

Russia

Tatiana Navka

None (failure to report for testing)

ISU official allowed Navka to skip testing due to "treatment of a wound presenting potentially serious trauma and requiring specialized medical care." Her partner, Roman Kostomarov, took her place. Investigated by WADA as doctor said her injury was not an emergency. Case dropped.⁴⁷

2007

Russia

Yuri Larionov

Furosemide

Two-year suspension from ISU, reduced to eighteen months⁴⁸ 

2012

Ukraine

Anastasia Galyeta

Furosemide

Eighteen-month suspension from ISU⁴⁹

2013

Russia

Oksana Nagalati

Furosemide

One-year suspension from ISU, results from 2013 Junior Grand Prix (Slovakia) disqualified.⁵⁰

2013

Japan

Nana Sugiki⁵¹

Furosemide

Three-month suspension from Japan Anti-Doping Agency⁵²

2014

Russia

Adelina Sotnikova

(unknown)

Italian media named in conjunction with The McLaren Report⁵³. ISU announced that IOC Disciplinary Commission dropped investigation in 2017.⁵⁴

2014

Russia

Tatiana Volosozhar

(unknown)

Italian media named in conjunction with The McLaren Report⁵³. No outcome was ever announced publicly, but she had already retired.

2014

China

Chang Liu

Prednisolone

One-year suspension from ISU, result from the 2014 Four Continents Championships disqualified.⁵⁵

2015

Italy

Carolina Kostner

None (co-operation issue with investigation of ex-boyfriend's anti-doping case)

Sixteen-month suspension from Italian National Anti-Doping Tribunal⁵⁶, increased to twenty-one months after appeal for a two-year ban by Italian National Olympic Committee⁵⁷ 

2016

Russia

Ekaterina Bobrova

Meldonium

Missed the 2016 World Championships, suspension was lifted and result from 2016 European Championships not disqualified⁵⁸ 

2016

South Korea

Yelin Kim

None (failure to report for testing)

Warning and reprimand⁵⁹

2017

Kazakhstan

Darya Sirotina

(unknown)

One-year suspension from KAZ-NADC⁶⁰

2018

Russia

Ksenia Stolbova

(unknown)

Italian media named in conjunction with The McLaren Report⁵³. Not disqualified by the Oswald Commission but "not invited to compete" in the 2018 Winter Olympics by The Invitation Review Panel and the Olympic Athlete from Russia Implementation Group. IOC chief said athletes excluded had "serious indications" of doping in their history.⁶¹

2018

Russia

Ivan Bukin

(unknown)

Not disqualified by the Oswald Commission but "not invited to compete" in the 2018 Winter Olympics by The Invitation Review Panel and the Olympic Athlete from Russia Implementation Group. IOC chief said athletes excluded had "serious indications" of doping in their history.⁶¹

2018

Russia

Anastasia Shakun

Furosemide

One-year suspension from ISU, Disqualification of medals, points and prizes earned at 2018 Pavel Roman Memorial⁶² 

2019

Russia

Alexandra Koshevaia

Torasemide

Two-year suspension from ISU⁶³

2019

France

Laurine Lecavelier

Cocaine

Two-year suspension from Collège de l’Agence française de lutte contre le dopage, Disqualification of medals, points and prizes earned from September 28-October 31, 2019⁶⁴

2020

Russia

Maria Sotskova

Furosemide, forged medical documents

Ten-year suspension from Figure Skating Federation Of Russia on recommendation of RUSADA (had already retired)⁶⁵ 

2021

United States

Jessica Calalang

4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid (metabolite of Meclofenoxate)

False positive, fully cleared by WADA and USADA in September of 2021⁶⁶

2021

Russia

Kamila Valieva*

Trimetazidine (in conjunction with hypoxen and L-Carnitine)⁶⁷

*investigation ongoing

2022

Russia

Valeria Starygina

(unspecified)

Two-year suspension from Figure Skating Federation Of Russia on recommendation of RUSADA⁶⁵

2022

Spain

Laura Barquero

Clostebol metabolite 4-chloro-3α-hydroxy-androst-4-en-17-one

*investigation ongoing


While figure skating simply hasn't historically had significantly high numbers of positive doping tests like track and field sports and weightlifting⁶⁸, that doesn't mean that it's not a major issue. Just because a mystery hasn't been solved doesn't mean a mystery doesn't exist.

THE RECEIPTS

Not a fan at all of footnotes, but due to the subject of tonight's lecture (which unfortunately isn't rhythm) I thought it was super important to "show my work". 

¹ The Manleywoman SkateCast, Interview with Frances Dafoe, April 3, 2012
² The Bangor Daily Times, "Skater Is Winning Her Battle Against Her Fear Of Food", August 28, 1993
³ Paul Dimeo, "A History of Drug Use in Sport 1876-1976: Beyond Good and Evil", 2009
⁴ Skating magazine, "ISU Council Meeting", November 1972
⁵ Skating magazine, "ISU Report" (John R. Shoemaker), November 1973
⁶ Benjamin T. Wright, "Skating Around The World 1892-1992 - The One Hundredth Anniversary History of the International Skating Union"
⁷ Skating magazine, "Sports Medicine: Brief" (Dr. Franklin S. Wilson), November 1984
⁸ The Globe And Mail, "Doping Outfoxes Officials" (Norman Webster), August 4, 1980
⁹ Benjamin T. Wright, "Skating Around The World 1892-1992 - The One Hundredth Anniversary History of the International Skating Union"
¹⁰ Sovetsky Sport, "Our First Olympic Medalist In Figure Skating Was Ruined By Vodka (Boris Valiev), December 23, 2006
¹¹ Benjamin T. Wright, "Skating In America: The 75th Anniversary History Of The United States Figure Skating Association"
¹² Skating magazine, "1983 USFSA Governing Council Meeting" (Ian A. Anderson), July 1983
¹³ Skating magazine, "Drug Use And The 'Chemical Edge' In Sports" (Dr. Thomas Kosten), January 1987
¹⁴ The Globe And Mail, "Sarajevo Rain Helps Martini" (James Christie), February 8, 1984
¹⁵ The Ottawa Citizen, "Some Calgarians Have Flu; Many Are Just Sick Of The Games" (Bruce Ward), February 24, 1988
¹⁶ The Vancouver Sun, "Olympic Notebook", February 29, 1988
¹⁷ The Ottawa Citizen, "Manley Fights Flu Bug On Eve Of Competition" (Martin Cleary), February 23, 1988
¹⁸ Aha!, "Rebel krasobruslení" (Monika Brabcová), 1996
¹⁹ The Vancouver Sun, "Skaters Checked", January 17, 1989
²⁰ Internationales Sportarchiv, "Heiko Fischer", January 8, 1990
²¹ Speed Skating News, "Anti-Doping-Kämpfer aus Überzeugung" (Matthias Opatz), September 10, 2009 
²² The Ottawa Citizen, "Klimova Tests Positive For Drug; Second Positive Result Would Give Duchesnays European Ice Dance Gold", February 12, 1991
²³ The Ottawa Citizen, "2nd Sample Clears Skater For Worlds", February 21, 1991
²⁴ The Globe And Mail, "Canada Doping Tests Attacked: Just Too Tough Skate Union Says" (James Christie), February 21, 1991
²⁵ Stasi-Unterlagen-Archiv (Stasi Records Archive)
²⁶ The Sunday Telegraph, "Doped Athletes Pay Tragic Price: For The Sports Stars Of The Old East Germany, It Was Win-At-Any-Cost" (Philip Sherwell), January 11, 1998
²⁷ Deutschlandfunk, "Schatten auf dem Eis" (Thomas Purschke), March 6, 2011
²⁸ Der Tagesspiegel, "Es wurde damals so gearbeitet", February 15, 2014
²⁹ WDR - Sport Inside, "Staatsdoping - Menschenversuche im DDR-Sport"
³⁰ Barbara Carol Cole, "The East German Sports System: Image And Reality", May 2000
³¹ Stasi-Unterlagen-Archiv (Stasi Records Archive)
³² Swimming World and Junior Swimmer, "Proof Of East German Drug Use" (Phillip Whitten), December 1994
³³ Opfer-Hilfe e.V. - Forum für selbstbestimmten Sport 
³⁴ Staatsdoping - Menschenversuche im DDR-Sport, "Dopingopferliste", September 9, 2019
³⁵ Star-Phoenix, "Bromantan Used By Cheats For Two Years", August 2, 1996
³⁶ Skating magazine, "2 At The Top: 1996 World Figure Skating Championships" (Peter K. Robertson), June 1996
³⁷ The Lancet, "Bromantan, A New Doping Agent" (Pascal Burnat, Alain Payen, Catherine Lu Brumant-Payen, Michel Hugon, Franck Ceppa), September 27, 1997
³⁸ Libération, "Dopage: Thierry Cerez Patine Dans La Nandrolone" (Christian Losson), March 6, 1998
³⁹ Doping - The Cases Decoded, Commented On By An Independent Expert From All National And International Bodies, "Thierry Cerez" (Dr. Jean-Pierre de Mondenard), December 25, 2020
⁴⁰ Libération, "Dopage: Le Patineur Thierry Cerez Innocente", June 27, 1998
⁴¹ Kingston Whig-Standard, "Berezhnaya Banned For Three Months", April 6, 2000
⁴² Kingston Whig-Standard, "Coach Takes Blame For Failed Doping Test" (Neil Stevens), March 28, 2000
⁴³ Skating magazine, "2000 World Championships" (Safvatore Zanca), May 2000
⁴⁴ ESPN.com, "Russian Pairs Champs Banned From World Championships" (Brooke Edwards), March 26, 2000
⁴⁵ BBC Sport, "Winter Olympics: Kamila Valieva Treatment By Entourage 'Chilling' - IOC" (Sonia Oxley), February 18, 2022
⁴⁶ World Anti-Doping Agency, The McLaren Report (Richard H. McLaren, IP in Sochi Investigation), December 9, 2016
⁴⁷ The Globe And Mail, "No Sanctions Expected For Ice Dancer" (January 28, 2006)
⁴⁸ ISU Communications 1493 and 1560, April 9, 2008 and May 2, 2009 (Decisions of ISU Disciplinary Committee)
⁴⁹ ISU Communication 1731, June 1, 2012 (Decision of ISU Disciplinary Committee)
⁵⁰ ISU Communication 1843, January 8, 2014 (Decision of ISU Disciplinary Committee)
⁵¹ Nikkan Sports, "Nana Sugiki Is Suspended For 3 Months Due To Drug Violation", October 16, 2013
⁵² Japan Anti-Doping Agency, 2013 Anti-Doping Rule Violation Decision List (JADA)
⁵³ La Gazetta dello Sport, "Ghiaccio, pattinaggio. Scandalo Sochi 2014. Sospetti sulla Sotnikova: Kostner d'argento?", December 30, 2016
⁵⁴ NBC Sports, "Adelina Sotnikova Cleared In Russia Doping Investigation", November 9, 2017
⁵⁵ International Skating Union, Full Decision of the Disciplinary Commission - Chang Liu, May 16, 2014
⁵⁶ CTV News, "Figure Skater Carolina Kostner Banned For 16 Months In Ex-Boyfriend's Doping Case", January 16, 2015
⁵⁷ Reuters, "Italy's Kostner Cleared To Compete Next Year", October 5, 2015
⁵⁸ CTV News, "Russian Athletes Plead To Be Allowed To Compete In Rio" (James Ellingworth), June 15, 2016
⁵⁹ International Skating Union, Full Decision of the Disciplinary Commission - Ms. Yelin Kim, November 28, 2016
⁶⁰ International Skating Union, Communication No. 2105, ISU Anti-Doping Program, Status of Skaters subject to a period of Ineligibility following an Anti-Doping Rule Violation
⁶¹ Reuters, "Olympics - Russia Ban Decision Was 'A Balance', Says IOC Chief Bach" (Karolos Grohmann), January 24, 2018
⁶² International Skating Union, Full Decision of the Disciplinary Commission - Ms. Shakun, April 8, 2019
⁶³ International Skating Union, Full Decision of the Disciplinary Commission - Ms. Koshvaia, October 9, 2019
⁶⁴ Agence française de lutte contre le dopage, "Décision relative à Mme Laurine Lecavelier", September 9, 2021
⁶⁵ RUSADA, The list of Athletes currently ineligible under decisions of the Russian Sport Federations, February 18, 2022
⁶⁶ Associated Press News, "US Pairs Skater Calalang Cleared Of Drug Violation" (Barry Wilner), October 14, 2021
⁶⁷ The New York Times, "Kamila Valieva's sample included three substances sometimes used to help the heart. Only one is banned." (Tariq Panja), February 15, 2022 (updated February 19, 2022)
⁶⁸ Kawasaki Journal of Medical Welfare, "A Historical Timeline of Doping in the Olympics (Part II 1970-1988)" (Michael Kremenik, Sho Onodera, Mitsushiro Nagao, Osamu Yuzuki, Shozo Yonetani), October 30, 2006
⁹ International Testing Agency, "Beijing 2022 – The ITA asserts an apparent anti-doping rule violation against Spanish athlete Laura Barquero", February 22, 2022

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.

Much Ado About Russia

Two days before Christmas in 1999, two men were seen running away from an explosion outside of an apartment building in Central Moscow. The late model BMW of Maria Butyrskaya was destroyed in the blast... just days prior to the Russian Championships. Butyrskaya told reporters, "I don't see any other reason for it than jealousy, pure human jealousy... In top level sports the stakes are high and, I guess, some people were willing to go to any lengths to get me out of their way." In a 2019 interview, Butyrskaya's rival Irina Slutskaya claimed to have been questioned by authorities over the incident.

Maria Butyrskaya

At the age of twenty-six, Maria Butyrskaya was considerably older than some of her competitors when she won the 1999 World Championships in Helsinki. There were rumblings, some not so quiet, that it was time for her to step aside and let someone else have a chance at glory. When she refused to be forced out the door, she continued to dominate at the highest level internationally but lost the Russian national title she'd won six times previously three times in a row.

Maria Butyrskaya wasn't the first Russian skater the 'powers that be' hoped to put out to pasture. In 1964 and 1968, Ludmila (Belousova) and Oleg Protopopov won Olympic gold in Innsbruck and Grenoble. They hoped to make it a three-peat at the 1972 Games in Sapporo but upon their return to Leningrad, Soviet officials suggested they retire. When they refused, they were forced to practice on 'red eye' training sessions between midnight and two in the morning - only obtaining that time slot because a friend intervened on their behalf. The scenario was akin to a supervisor making an Employee of the Month work the graveyard shift because they didn't like them.

Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov. Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine.

In 2004, Oleg Protopopov recalled, "The Soviet Figure Skating Federation [used] administrative power to [cross] out our plans, pointing out that we were too old, very theatrical, athletically weak, no speed, no difficult elements in the programs. But underneath of all this 'snow job' was the hidden rumours of our sport and administrable opponents, that Belousova-Protopopov will defect if they will win their 3rd Olympic Games. It was a real hit below the belt for everything what we did for the National sport and our Motherland." The Protopopov's ultimately defected from the Soviet Union in 1979 and enjoyed success on the professional competition circuit, taking top prize - and thousands of dollars in prize money - in events in Japan and the United States. Had the couple not defected, Oleg Protopopov's salary for coaching would have been a pittance of eighty kopecks an hour.

Kira Ivanova

Kira Ivanova wasn't as lucky as Maria Butyrskaya or Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov. Though she won the Olympic bronze medal at the 1984 Games in Sarajevo, a silver medal at the 1985 World Championships in Tokyo and four medals at the European Championships, her skating career had been one of both high's and low's. She won the school figures at the 1988 Olympic Games but finished seventh overall, unable to compete with the Battle of the Carmen's, Liz Manley and Midori Ito. At the lowest point of her career, Kira Ivanova was disqualified from the Spartakiad of the Peoples of USSR and suspended from the Soviet Union's national team after skipping a mandatory doping test.

After falling out of favour with Soviet officials, Kira Ivanova was forced to find work as a coach. In the span of a six years, she got married and divorced twice, her grandmother died and her sister committed suicide, she was in two car accidents and developed a serious drinking problem. On December 21, 2001, she was found stabbed to death in her apartment on the outskirts of Moscow. Prior to her death, things had been so dire that she sold many of her belongings, including her skating cups, trophies and medals. 

Igor Pashkevich

Kira Ivanova's story might seem like an extreme example of a Russian skater's downfall, but it wasn't the only one. In recent years, two other Moscow born Olympic figure skaters - Igor Pashkevich and Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya - passed away under similarly tragic circumstances.

Canadian skating has had its own fair share of scandals over the years, but you just don't hear outrageous stories like these... and that's something worth questioning. So too is the decision made to allow Kamila Valieva to compete in the women's event at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games after a failed doping test. CAS officials claimed her disqualification would "cause irreparable harm". She was  clearly in distress after giving an uncharacteristically flawed performance today and was berated by her coach as soon as she got off the ice. Many are rightfully questioning if allowing her to continue was in fact more harmful to her mental health in the long run. 

Today was a chapter in figure skating history that champions who have long departed from this earth would have shuddered at. The event was difficult to watch from start to finish and hearkened back to that iconic Canadian Heritage Moment of Agnes Macphail shouting, "Is this normal?" No, it isn't - and the sport is undoubtedly going to see sweeping changes in the months and years to come. So too are the lives of fifteen year old Kamila Valieva and the other Russian teenagers we saw skate today.

As figure skating faces its biggest reckoning in many years, we really must seriously consider the fate - and indeed safety - of these talented young skaters who were failed by everyone around them. What can they look forward to when they follow the yellow brick road back to The Land of Sambo? Will they compete again? Will they retire and show up in the audience at the next big event, mugging for television cameras and removing masks during a pandemic? Or will they fade into complete obscurity? If the latter option brings peace, perhaps that is what we should wish for. 

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 Remarkable Story Of Magda Mauroy

Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande Archive

"Now it's mostly acrobatics. I think the art technique was more beautiful before." - Magda (Mauroy) Julin, 1986

The daughter of Anne Marie (Roux) and Carl Henrik Edvard Mauroy, Magda Henriette Maria Mauroy was born on July 24, 1894 in Vichy, France. At the time of Magda's birth, Vichy was a fashionable resort town for well-to-do tourists, who flocked to the region to 'cure their ills' through hydrotherapy in world-famous Thermal Baths. Her Swedish-born father ran a physiotherapy institute that was at the center of the area's health tourism industry. Late Victorian attitudes towards health and well-being might have been considered progressive, but they weren't so progressive when it came to morality... so the fact that Magda and her fraternal twin brother Karl were born almost a year before her parents were married would have almost certainly been a closely-guarded a secret at the time.

Magda Mauroy and Gillis Grafström 

As a girl, Magda excelled at gymnastics and dabbled in ice skating but it wasn't until her parents emigrated to Sweden that she began figure skating seriously. She joined the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb at the age of thirteen and won her first competition (for school children) less than a year later. At the age of sixteen, she entered the Swedish Championships for the first time and won, repeating as her country's national champion in 1916 and 1918. Though the ISU didn't hold the World Championships from 1914 to 1921 due to The Great War, the sport was alive and well in Sweden during this period. Magda won the Nordiska Spelen (Nordic Games) three consecutive times - 1917, 1919 and 1921 and finished second at the Internationale Skøitelop i Kristiania competition in Oslo in 1918. 

Photos courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande Archive

A healthy rivalry with Svea Norén resulted in several second place finishes at the Swedish Championships, but in 1920, twenty-five year old Magda entered the figure skating competition at the Summer Olympic Games in Antwerp determined to come out on top. She trained for the event in St. Moritz under brutal conditions - wind, snow and temperatures that dipped to minus thirty. In Belgium, she convincingly won the school figures but had to change her free skate music at the eleventh hour. She initially planned to skate to Strauss' "Blue Danube" but she was advised against skating to the iconic Viennese waltz due to the widespread anti-German/Austrian sentiments on the Continent at the time. Magda performed well, but America's Theresa Weld Blanchard won the free skate. Magda took the gold medal on the strength of her figures and overall performance, though she received no first place ordinals. 


Most remarkable was the fact that Magda was four months pregnant at the time of her Olympic gold medal win. She had married her husband Per Johan Emil Julin just prior to the Games. Sadly, less than two years after their son's birth, Magda's husband (a sea captain) was killed. In 1925, she married his brother Fredrik Emanuel 'Manne' Julin. With Manne, Magda had a second child, a daughter.

Sadly, Fredrik (who was considerably older than Magda) passed away in October of 1945 at the age of sixty-six. As a widow, Magda supported herself and her children by working as an accounting clerk before taking over the management of the Café Java in Sveavägen. She ran the popular coffee shop for over fifty years.

Toini Gustaffson, four-time Olympic Medallist in cross-country skiing, and Magda (Mauroy) Julin

Though her personal losses must have been heavy, Magda's love of skating never wavered. She was a special guest of honour when the World Championships were held in Gothenburg in 1976 and took interest in the sport's development over the years. Swedish skating historian Lennart Månsson recalled, "Magda Julin carried on skating all her life, alongside her roles as a career woman and raising a family with two young children. In 1985, when she was over 90 years old – to the great delight of the press – she took a few steps on the ice-rink in Kungsträdgården, wearing a pair of skates which had been donated by the virtuoso skater Ulrich Salchow. Her very last performance on ice occurred in 1990 when she was 96 years old."


Magda lived out her golden years at the Danvikshem retirement home and passed away in Nacka on December 21, 1990, less than a year after her final figure skating performance, at the age of ninety-six. Though Swedish skaters like Ulrich Salchow and Gillis Grafström dominated the sport for decades, Magda remains the first Swedish woman to win an Olympic gold medal in a winter sport, the only Swedish woman to win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating and is (at least for one more day!) the only woman in history who never participated in the World Championships to win the sport's most prestigious competition.

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.

Jumping In The Olden Days

Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine

The 2022 Olympic men's competition is now one for the (history) books! If you're a sucker for a quality quad or a good old fashioned triple Axel, no doubt you were jumping for joy while cheering on the world's best in Beijing. 

In the twenty-first century, figure skating is all about the jumps, whether one likes it or not. The number of times a skater rotates in the air is paramount to their competitive success and with an influx of new fans and "stans" to the sport since the IJS system has been introduced, many aficionados can't always wrap their heads around a time when jumping really wasn't considered an integral part of figure skating. 

One of the first references to jumping on skates can be found in Jean Garcin's 1813 book "Le Vrai Patineur". Monsieur Garcin describes a three jump he called the 'Le Saut de Zéphyre', which was considered a "brilliant and perilous" novelty at the time. 

Skaters in Victorian England and Scotland seemed to be of two minds about jumping in the nineteenth century. The Edinburgh Skating Club's admission 'trial' required a candidate to "skate a complete circle on either foot, and then [jump] over first one hat, then two, and then three; each on top of the other." In 1874, T. Maxwell Witham and Henry Eugene Vandervell's popular book "System Of Figure Skating" stated that "jumping in skates... seems a perilous feat at first, but it is not really so. We recommend all skaters learn it, not on account its elegance (although, by the by, one of the writers is acquainted with an old skater who likes a jump at the turn of the 3, and who was kind enough to tell him that his skating would be much improved by its introduction: it was his hobby, and to humour him he did it once or twice to show that there was no particular difficulty in it), for it is ugly in the extreme. We are, of course, speaking of a jump completely off the ice of any height the skater can attain to. The Dutch, we believe, do three feet easily. It is most useful in enabling us to clear the obstacles that are frequently met on the ice." Though Witham and Vandervell viewed jumping as a useful way of avoiding say, a clump of reeds sticking out of outdoor ice, it wasn't a part of English Style figure skating. If skaters made the slightest of hop when executing a mohawk or choctaw, it was considered bad form. Montagu Sneade Monier-Williams was clear in his belief that, "Good skaters often make their turns a means of gaining pace, although they are careful not to reveal this by indulging in anything of the nature of a jump."

Nadja Franck, Rudolf Sundgren (middle) and unidentified skater. Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande.

When Norway's Axel Paulsen performed his namesake jump one-and-a-half rotation jump in the Great International Skating Tournament of 1882 in Vienna he was applauded wildly by the crowd, but finished only third. Twelve years later when the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb in Sweden published a history of their skating club, the author skeptically mused on how Rudolf Sundgren once danced a beautiful mazurka on the ice and could jump "over a couple of garden sofas... but does anyone think he got the first prize for it? It would not surprise me if Mr. Prize Judge had never been on the ice for a day."


In their famous 1881 book "Spuren auf dem Eise", Demeter Diamantidi, Carl von Korper Marienwerth and Max Wirth praised a jump they called the 'Ueberspringen'. It was a half-rotation jump in the air from a right forward outside edge to a left backward edge that we know today as the waltz jump. The fact that three of the most influential members of the Wiener Eislaufverein not only included a jump in a book on figure skating but mused on the possibilities of jumping on skates really spoke to how different the attitudes of the Viennese School were to the English Style of skating.

E.T. Goodrich

In North America, serious 'fancy' skaters were more seemingly more interested in performing ringlets, grapevines and intricate figures than being airborne. Jumping was largely considered 'trick skating' - the realm of speedsters who tried to clear barrels and chairs. In March of 1893, Johnny Nilsson won a contest for the long jump on skates in Minneapolis, clearing over seventeen feet in his leap. One of the first American figure skaters of note to perform a jump on the ice was a professional, E.T. Goodrich. He did a 'spread-eagle jump' in the 1860's where he "commenced by obtaining full speed by the 'plain forward movement', striking into a 'spread eagle,' and, while in this position, going at this rapid rate, he springs clear from the ice and makes a complete revolution while in the air, and, alighting upon the ice with his feet in precisely the same position, continuing the 'spread eagle' slide." Goodrich's feat was described in William H. Bishop (Frank Swift) and Marvin R. Clark's "The Skater's Textbook", published in 1868... some fourteen years before Axel Paulsen did his Axel in Vienna.

It wasn't really until the start of the twentieth century, when a parade of talented Scandinavian skaters like Ulrich Salchow and Per Thorén started leaving the ice in their free skating programs, that jumping (pardon the pun) really took off. 

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.

A History-Maker From Hyōgo: The Ryuichi Obitani Story

On February 6, 2022, Shoma Uno, Yuma Kagiyama, Wakaba Higuchi, Kaori Sakamoto, Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto became the first Japanese skaters to win medals in the team event at the Winter Olympic Games. Their historic success followed in the footsteps of great champions like Midori Ito, who was the first figure skater from Japan to win an Olympic medal thirty years ago. Japanese skaters have won six medals at the last four Olympics, three of them gold, but ninety years ago when the country made its debut on international sport's biggest stage, participation was the real victory.

Photo courtesy Densho Digital Reposity, Nippu Jiji Photograph Archive. Used for educational purposes through license permissions.

Today we'll be exploring the story of Ryuichi Obitani, a Japanese figure skating pioneer who was one of the first two competitors from Asia at the Winter Olympic Games and World Championships in 1932. A very sincere thanks to the reference team at the National Diet Library in Tokyo and Takeyuki Tokura, Associate Professor of the Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies at Keio University for their immense help with this piece.

Born September 4, 1908 in Sumiyoshi, Kobe in Japan's Hyōgo Prefecture, Ryuichi Obitani was the eldest son of Densaburo Obitani, an Osaka Stock Exchange trader who served as President of Osaka Securities Trading and Obitani Densaburo Shoten. His grandfather was Bunbei Sakai, a leading fish wholesaler in Osaka. 

Ryuichi Obitani (middle row, far left) with a group of students at a training camp in Morioka. Photo courtesy Takeyuki Tokura, Associate Professor of Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, Keio University.

In his youth, Ryuichi taught himself to skate outdoors on a frozen pond. He had no instructor. He learned the basics of figure skating through trial and error, interpreting diagrams in Shirō Kawakubo's translated editions of English books.

Yukichi Kaneko, Ryuichi Obitani, Kichizo Wada and Torazo Hayashi at Matsubara Lake in 1927. Photo courtesy Takeyuki Tokura, Associate Professor of Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, Keio University.

During the winter of 1929/1930, Ryuichi placed fourth in the newly-formed Japan Skating Association's National Championships, held on a manmade pond on the grounds of the Kanaya Hotel in Nikkō. The following winter at the age of twenty-two, he placed second to Kazuyoshi Oimatsu in the Japanese Championships held in Sendai City, earning a spot on the country's first Olympic figure skating team the following year in Lake Placid.

Top: Ryuichi Obitani (top row, far right) with a group of Japanese athletes. Photo courtesy Densho Digital Repository, Nippu Jiji Photograph Archive. Used for educational purposes through license permissions. Bottom: Ryuichi Obitani (middle row, third from right) with Professor Sono and the founding members of Keio University's skating in club in 1927. Photo courtesy Takeyuki Tokura, Associate Professor of Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, Keio University.

The journey to America was quite an adventure for Ryuichi. Along with his friend and teammate Kazuyoshi Oimatsu and Japan's ski jumpers, speed skaters and cross-country skiers, he travelled aboard the Nippon Yūsen Kabushiki Kaisha ocean liner Hikawa Maru. The ship made its transpacific voyage by way of Hawaii, arriving in Vancouver in December of 1931. Ryuichi then travelled by train through Vermont to Lake Placid, arriving just before Christmas with precious little time to prepare for the Winter Olympic Games.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In the weeks leading up to the 1932 Winter Olympic Games, four-time World Champion Willy Böckl gave Ryuichi a few pointers, but he and Kazuyoshi Oimatsu were largely left up to their own devices. He placed dead last in the Games, nearly thirty points back of the eleventh place finisher. The editors of "Skating" magazine remarked, "Obitani and Oimatsu speak only Japanese and understand very little English. One might find them standing modestly in the background of any group of skaters, trying to add to their store of knowledge. Their interpreter, Mr. Iida, was always greatly interested in what went on and promptly conveyed it all to them. Through him we learned that neither of these skaters had ever witnessed in action their 'betters,' nor acquired their skating knowledge other than from books and photographs; yet their exhibitions were truly good, and under such conditions, remarkable! From these skaters we gathered various facts on skating in Japan, among them that the only artificial ice rink is about one fifth the size of our hockey rinks, that they skate mostly on lakes in the mountains. As yet they have not attempted pair skating but have four or five young girls who are quite promising. There are no figure skating instructors in Japan."

Photo courtesy Densho Digital Repository, Nippu Jiji Photograph Archive. Used for educational purposes through license permissions.

From Lake Placid, Ryuichi travelled to Montreal to compete in the World Championships. His effort in Quebec impressed the judges enough that he finished eighth out of nine competitors, ahead of future U.S. Champion Robin Lee. With the help of Mr. Iida, he later penned a letter about his experiences in Lake Placid and Montreal for "Skating" magazine: "I was disheartened at the Olympic Games and thought I never would be able to stand the World's Championships, but remembered that I was far from Japan and if I did not enter it would leave a bad record in my young days. These feelings made me suffer more than the training and I wanted to go away in the woods and forget. I could not sleep and felt as if I was carrying the burden of the world. Every time I came back from practicing I lay on my bed and wondered if I should appear or default, and I could not sleep a wink. After suffering for a week, I gathered courage and told our manager the night before we left for Montreal that I would enter. After I spoke to him my mind eased up and I packed my things and got ready for the trip... At last the first day of the World's Championship came. Knowing my failure at the Olympic Games I decided to use the Japanese way of skating instead of trying to copy the foreign champions' style. The result was that I did far better than at the Olympics. There I went after Mr. [Roger] Turner, who is very skillful at school figures, but this time I came after Mr. [Ernst] Baier. The first day ended about five o'clock and my tiredness reached its peak. I felt very uneasy about the free skating as my feet were cramped and my body was worn out. I was so tired I couldn't sleep, so I paid three dollars for a bath and massage and then was able to sleep... Cecilia Colledge's coach advised me to use a march or fox-trot, rather than a waltz, but I was puzzled which to use. Each skater brought his music and asked the band to play it in turn for him, the Japanese were the only ones who did not know what to use. I stood near the band and listened to all the pieces. Mr. Iida worried about our music, he was so tired that, when we stopped, he was wiping off not only our skates but those of the others without knowing it. This is just an example of how he looked after us, doing every little thing, and we were so grateful... About fifteen thousand people gathered to see the free skating. They were dressed in tuxedos and evening dresses and it was a far more beautiful sight than at the Olympics. I got up early that morning to practice free skating combinations, but I could not spin or jump and was so discouraged I wanted to default. But when I thought it over I knew I could not enter a World's Championship again and would regret not competing. Both the Olympics and the World's Championship were a great suffering for me. I realize that no one should attempt more than they are capable of, but when I look back now, the hard experiences have disappeared and only happy recollections remain."

Ryuichi (back center) and a group of fellow students formed the Keio Skating Club at Keio University. Photo courtesy Takeyuki Tokura, Associate Professor of Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, Keio University.

Immediately upon returning to Japan, Ryuichi graduated from the Faculty Of Economics at Keio University. After finishing fourth in his final competition, the 1933 Japanese Championships in Tokyo, he hung up his skates. 

Ryuichi Obitani (second from right in middle row) with a group of graduates from Keio University. Photo courtesy Takeyuki Tokura, Associate Professor of Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, Keio University.

After World War II, Ryuichi became active behind the scenes in Japanese figure skating. As a councilor with the Japan Skating Federation, he was in charge of organizing the Japanese Championships during the fifties when Nobuo Sato was competing and in the seventies served as an international judge. When Sapporo played host to the first Winter Olympic Games on Asian soil in 1972, he judged the women's event. At that event, he was the only judge to place Janet Lynn (who won the bronze medal) second. He even gave her higher marks than winner Trixi Schuba on one of the school figures, the counter. His final international judging assignment was the men's event in the first World Championships held in Japan in 1977. In addition to judging, he also did some coaching and served as a director of the Osaka Prefectural Skating Federation. Outside of the sport, he served as a director of Obitani Ryuichi Kitahama 2-chome Sanko Securities Co., Ltd. in Higashi-ku, Osaka. Little is known about his later life aside from the fact he lived in the city of Nishinomiya in his later years. He fell out of contact with the alumni association of Keio University sometime between 1997 and 2002, but his exact date of death is unknown.

Photo courtesy Takeyuki Tokura, Associate Professor of Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, Keio University.

Ryuichi had a front row seat to Japanese figure skating history. As a skater, he was one of his country's first Olympic and World competitors. He judged the first Winter Olympic Games and World Championships held on Japanese soil. Sadly, his contributions to the sport have never been formally acknowledged.

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.