The Tenth Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular



It's the ghost wonderful time of the year and if you're a loyal Skate Guard reader you know what that means... it is time for The Annual Skate Guard Hallowe'en Spooktacular! This year, we're going all the way back to 1905 to meet a phantom skater with a message of murder in a chilling tale by British author Norman Blunto. Dim the lights, light a candle and prepare to be spooked.


THE PHANTOM SKATER

It was mid-winter not only in name but reality. It was not the best kind of weather to choose for travelling, but a pressing invitation from my cousin, Ralph Conroyd, made me forget the cold. I had never met this particular cousin, and was anxious to make his acquaintance. I was surprised to learn he reciprocated tho desire, seeing that I stood between him and the heirdom to considerable wealth.

It was a curious family arrangement; My old uncle, John Conroyd, had made it known that I and two other favourite nephews would in turn, become his heirs. He who ranked foremost in my eccentric relative's heart was not destined to, inherit, having been drowned two winters before when skating. His death was a great shock to my uncle, who nevertheless assured me that I was to fill the favourite's place, though Ralph, the dead man's brother, was my senior; by some fifteen years.

Ralph, however, accepted the arrangement with good humour, and had thereby won my admiration, and the esteem of his friends.

He greeted me with evident pleasure, and I soon discovered him to be an excellent host and most agreeable companion. On the evening of my arrival there was to be a dinner party in my honour, and wishing to be downstairs before the guests arrived, I dressed early.

There was no one about when I descended to the hall, and being somewhat uncertain of my whereabouts, I pushed open the first door I came to, which happened to be ajar. There was a bright fire burning on the hearth, but otherwise the room was not lit up. By the look of it I concluded it was my cousin's special sanctum. All at once I caught sight of him, as I thought - sitting on one side of the hearth - half in shadow, half in firelight.

"Ralph, you are not dressed - you will be late!" I said.

The next moment I saw I had made a mistake. The man was not my cousin, but so like there was excuse for my error. On looking closer, I observed that he was taller than Ralph, and also that he was clean shaven. It was a singularly handsome face, but too melancholy. Apparently he had not heard either my entry or exclamation, for he continued staring into the fire quite oblivious of my presence. Feeling I was in some way an intruder I was on the point of beating a retreat, when I felt a hand on my shoulder.

"Hullo, Jim - what's up? You've been standing there staring at nothing for a full two minutes."

It was my cousin who spoke, and with a cheery laugh he drew a chair up to the fire. "Come along, old fellow, warm yourself - before the people arrive. This is my den - a favourite corner in this ramshackle old place. Somehow, when a man's not married he gives his superfluous affection to queer things, like what you see around you -pipes, guns, fishing tackle, etc."

I was only half listening, for my eyes were still riveted on tho stranger on the other side of the fire. My astonishment suddenly changed to consternation, for I saw my cousin preparing to occupy the very chair the stranger occupied.

"Ralph, what are you doing-don't you see him?" I blurted out. Then all at once I felt very foolish.

"My dear Jim, what the dickens is wrong with you? Come, draw up that chair, and-"

I interrupted him with an exclamation that, was almost a shout, for he had seated himself deliberately on the stranger. I waited for some sound of discomfiture. There was none. I stared until my eyes ached. The man had gone. Then I sank into the chair at hand, feeling all the time my cousin was looking at me with suspicion and perplexity.

"You look us if you'd seen a spook or something," he said presently.

"I have," I replied.

"Jim, are you mad?"

"Mad or sane, I saw you sit on a man not two minutes ago, and he said nothing."

"I sat on a man! Great heavens! it's worse than I thought."

"Oh, you can laugh," I said quietly; "but he was certainly In that chair."

"Someone in my chair - where-where?"

"He was there, but he must have slipped from under you."

"What was he like, this gentleman of your imagination?"

I was somewhat nettled at his continued scepticism, and replied with due firmness:

"He was like you; in fact, before you entered I took him to be you. Afterwards I noticed he was clean-shaven and taller. He wore light tweeds and gaiters."

My cousin roe and fetched a photograph. "Was he anything like this?" he asked.

"Yes; that was the man," I replied feeling rather excited.

"Then you have seen my brother's ghost," he said, and I noticed he now looked perturbed. At that moment the first guests were announced and my cousin hurried away, leaving me to follow. The dinner was a merry one, and I thought no more of tho strange apparition until some days later.


One evening, when the moon was bright and full, Ralph proposed that we should go down to tho lake and have a skate before dinner. Being a keen lover of this exercise, I willingly assented. The ice was in splendid condition -smooth as glass, and dark with mysterious shadows below the surface. The air was still and frosty, and as we were both experienced skaters, the time passed all too quickly.

"One more turn - we won't bother to change tonight - come let us go together," said my cousin as the dinner going resounded through the still night air. We crossed hands and struck out. Twice we skated round tho lake; then I observed we wore heading for a small island which lay in a side channel which I had not noticed. Here the ice swayed under our weight, and weird small sounds rose up as we glided on, and the island threw out fantastic shadows.

"Look a bit gloomy - the moon doesn't seem to shine here," I said. Then, as my uncle made no answer, I suggested turning back, feeling there was an uncertainty about the condition of the ice, which, together with the semi-darkness, destroyed the pleasure I had hitherto enjoyed.

"It is safe enough. I know every inch of it," replied my cousin. Then I gripped his hand until he winced, for as we neared the Island I saw something come towards us from out of the black shadows. My heart beat to suffocation at the sight of this thing, until I recognised in it the figure of a man. Like ourselves, he appeared to be skating, but he never moved away from the shadows round about the island. A sudden premonition of an unknown danger forced me to speak.

"Ralph - he is there - go no further - it is a warning," I stammered, my teeth chattering, but not with cold.

"There is no one one," was the curt answer. "Come on, don't be a fool."

"I tell you I see him - your brother. He is skating alone there in the shadow -and see- he beckons us away. In my excitement I wrenched myself free, and by digging my skates into the ice I just managed to save myself from being carried into the very arms of the phantom man. I looked to see Ralph go blindly forward in his ignorance and obstinacy, but to my surprise he was skating away in the opposite direction, nor did he make any effort to rejoin
me.

Tho next day he left me to drive into a neighbouring town, and hinted that business might keep him there overnight.

After lunch, I went down to the lake. Dusk was deepening into darkness when at last I sat down on the bank to take off my skates. I do not know what made me look up, but as I looked, I saw a softly moving figure on the far side of the lake.

I held my breath as he passed so silently and swiftly over the ice, passing even by the spot where I sat. As he went a breath of chill air fanned me, colder than the night - colder than anything I had ever known.

The skates shone bright in the moonlight, but they made no sound, though I could see they touched the ice. It was horribly weird. Like a shadow he passed on to the shadows beyond appearing again in the moonlight on the far side.

"His reason - there must be a reason!" I muttered

And then quite suddenly my terror left me and I was filled with a desire to help this lone spirit, if help he needed.

I readjusted my skates, and struck out in the direction I had watched him go. I came close up to him. A great courage came to me then, and I spoke to him.

"Tell me what you want - I will do what I can," I whispered gently.

He seemed to smile a little, as if relieved of some anxiety, but he did not speak. I suppose he could not. We skated on side by side - his skates making no sound on the polished surface. When he came to the end of the lake, I looked to see him continue the old circular movement, but he passed straight on, vanishing like mist into the snowy landscape. I was disappointed, but still hoped I might solve the mystery of his strange comings. So strong was my hope that, instead of returning home to the house, I took up my position in another part of the lake in view of the island. I had not long to wait. A wave of chill air - and the phantom skater passed close. Then, to my amazement, I saw there were two figures, and one resembled my cousin Ralph. They glided by me hand in hand, just as I and Ralph had done some days earlier. On they went, until they came near the island. Here they fell apart; he who was like Ralph drew behind the other, then came close up to him. With a quick, strong push he sent his companion forward; then, wheeling round, vanished. Where the other shadow was the ice seemed to part asunder, and he too disappeared, but beneath, into tho dark waters.

I glanced round nervously, remembering how my cousin had tried to lure me on to the island. My brain reeled with misgivings and horrible doubts. Had my young cousin's death been an accident? Yet how could I accuse any man of a heinous crime on the evidence of a vision, which all tho world would discredit. I determined to put my suspicions to the test before accusing Ralph Conroyd of murder. My idea was not entirely unique; I believe it had been used before, but it served Its purpose

"Ralph," I said one evening, when we were smoking together. "You may have heard I am a bit of an author. I want your assistance, for I am stuck fast in the middle of a story."

"I am no good at yarns."

"But you may be able to give me an idea."

"What's the story?".

"There were three brothers," I began.

"Well, go on."

"By a strange whim, the father of those three made the youngest his heir. If by chance he died the second was was to inherit, and lastly the oldest. It was rough on this one, but he did not seem to care, and everyone admired his generosity of spirit. One day tho youngest brother met with a shooting accident. He was found dead -and-"

"Stop! What are you driving at?"

"It is merely a story. I know it resembles in some ways our own case, but fiction is always drawn from fact. As I was saying, the heir was dead. Everyone thought it was an accident, only the oldest brother, he who had been robbed of his birthright knew tho secret of his brother's death."

"You make him out a murderer?"

I nodded, and went on with my story.

"No one else knew, only the man himself. After a lapse of years, he conceived the mad idea of ridding himself of the other one who stood between him and wealth - but this one begins to suspect."

"Go on."

He was staring into the fire, and I saw guilt written in his eyes as clear as the flames which shot up the wide chimney. I noticed, too, that his pipe had gone out.

"That's the difficulty - I can get no further. How would you end the story?"

At my question he started, and then with a hollow laugh turned and looked me in the face.

"I should advise brother number two to go away and keep a silent tongue for fear the murderous instincts in brother number one should again assert themselves."

Was it a threat? But I was not afraid.

"The whole story is an improbable one - so the end may as well be in keeping-  suppose we-"

"The story is not improbable - it is true," I said quickly, leaning forward to catch his glance, "and somehow I should advise the man who knew to leave the country, so that the man who suspects might learn to forget and keep silence. For the sake of the old man ho might be willing to do this - and because the other one was his brother."

Ralph Conroyd had risen and was now pacing the room.

"Perhaps that ending is more to the point," he muttered, "for the man who knew to go away from the man who fancied ho knew."

"Not fancied, for he saw the deed done."

I, too, had risen and was now facing him.

"Saw it done - you!" he gasped, "but no one was there - no one," he recollected himself, but not in time.

"You will leave the country?" I asked. At that moment I pitied him.

"Yes. I will go."

He kept his word. That very night, he disappeared, nor was he ever seen again in England. With him vanished forever the phantom skater.

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 1976 Skate Canada International Competition

Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

The very first Toronto International Film Festival had just been held, attracting thirty five thousand film-goers. America was in the final days of the Presidential race between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Stretch Armstrong dolls, the Whac-A-Mole arcade game and the Everlasting Gobstopper were all the rage and the Steve Miller Band's "Rock'n Me" was the most requested song at radio stations.


The year was 1976 and from October 28 to 31, over forty skaters from eleven countries gathered in Ottawa, Ontario for the fourth Skate Canada International competition. The men's and women's figures were held at the Nepean Sportsplex and all other events at the Ottawa Civic Centre.

Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

Crowds swelled to nine thousand, while thousands more watched the event from the comfort of their floral print sofas. The generous coverage of the event on CTV, with knowledgeable commentary by Johnny Esaw, played a huge role in its success. Frank Fleming, the President of the CFSA's Skate Canada National Committee, remarked, "If it were not for this medium, Skate Canada could not have been... [If there had] not been cross-country coverage... it would have been Skate Calgary or Skate Edmonton."

Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

As in previous years, there was no pairs event - just singles and ice dance. However, audiences were treated to exhibitions by two of the best pairs in the world - Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev and Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Canadian skaters Lynn Nightingale and Sherri Baier and Robin Cowan also gave exhibitions. Let's take a look back at how the competitions played out on the ice!

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

Toller Cranston had turned professional, allowing Ron Shaver of Cambridge, Ontario to emerge (without a doubt) as Canada's 'number one man'. Shaver had been forced to withdraw from 1976 Olympic Games due to a groin injury. The medical staff at McMaster Medical Center in Hamilton had helped him recover through a strict fitness and exercise regime. He told a reporter from the Canadian Press that he'd rather be the underdog "because then I can pull out all the stops. I skate more cautiously when I'm number one." Caution was Shaver's friend in the school figures, where he carved out a narrow lead over the Soviet Union's Igor Bobrin. Shaver and Great Britain's Robin Cousins finished one-two in the short program, dropping Bobrin down to third. America's David Santee knocked Bobrin off the podium in the free skate, winning the bronze behind Shaver and Cousins. It was Shaver's second and final win at the CFSA's annual autumn international. Canada's other two entries, eighteen year old Vern Taylor and seventeen year old Brian Pockar, finished eighth and eleventh.

Photo courtesy "Robin Cousins: Skating For Gold", Howard Bass

In the book "Skating For Gold", Cousins recalled, "Skate Canada '76 was my first international competition as the British number one. Since John [Curry's] retirement, I had, as it were, unofficially replaced him... Skate Canada has always been a great competition in every way. On this occasion, between the compulsory figures, I was standing by the barrier and having a conversation with Ronnie Shaver about eating and what I had brought with me from the Ottawa Holiday Inn, where we were all staying, to eat when peckish while waiting off the ice. We ended with a humorous argument about how the English and North American words differ in the meaning. For example, what we would call the boot of a car, they would call the trunk, our bonnet is their hood, and so on. After a while, we suddenly realized that he we were in the middle of a big, dramatic competition, arguing over the English language. A Canadian lady standing nearby found it most amusing to listen to the two of us - earnest rivals on the ice - talking like this. We also discussed the usage of words like buns, pastries, cakes, cookies, and cookies and gateaux, when I happened to mention currants and sultanas. Well, this lady started laughing very hard - and the following morning in my mail box at the hotel I found a little package that contained a very small packet of currants from this lady, who had been much amused by our conversation and had broken the tension for the two of us. That was a characteristic personal experience of the Canadian people and their involvement with the British skaters. Skate Canada was to be the beginning of my special relationship with the Canadian people and the Canadian press - and every time since when I have competed in Canada, I have always had an excellent reception... It is just as if I am skating at home."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION



America's Linda Fratianne and Priscilla Hill both withdrew due to injury at the eleventh hour and were replaced by Suzie Brasher and Karen DeAngelo. DeAngelo won the school figures over hometown hero Kim Alletson. Switzerland's Denise Biellmann and Great Britain's Karena Richardson placed one-two in the short program, with Kim Alletson sixth in that phase of the event. DeAngelo still held onto the lead overall heading into the free skate, but she dropped off the podium entirely.

Karena Richardson

Kim Alletson skated strongly to win the gold, earning just two more points than Richardson, the reigning British Champion, who had just turned seventeen the month prior. Richardson lived in Stanmore but trained in Deeside, North Wales. The bronze medal went to West Germany's only entry, Garnet Ostermeier, who trained in America. Canada's other two entries, Carolyn Skoczen and Camille Rebus, placed a disappointing eleventh and fourteenth. The event proved to be Kim Alletson's only major competition win.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell. Right photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

The announcement of the retirement of Olympic Gold Medallists Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexandr Gorshkov broke in newspapers during the competition, taking some of the attention away from the dancers in Ottawa. It was a very close contest. Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov (ranked fifth in the world) won the compulsories, Susan Carscallen and Eric Gillies (ranked tenth in the world) the March OSP and Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell (ranked sixth in the world) the free dance. Linichuk and Karponosov skated uncharacteristically poorly. Their free dance had a fall which they had a hard time recovering from and their OSP wasn't well received by either the judges or the audience. Betty Ann Bagley described it in "Skating" magazine as more of a "flamingo flaunt" than a March. They only managed to take the gold because they had one more first and third place ordinal than Warren and Maxwell, who had two more second place ordinals.

Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

The only team to receive a standing ovation were Canada's Lorna Wighton and John Dowding. Only seventh after the OSP, the best they could do was move up to sixth behind the Soviet Union's Lidia Karavaeva and Viacheslav Zhigalin and Austria's Susi and Peter Handschmann. Canada's two other teams, Sherry Temple and Marty Kulkerth and Kelly Johnson and David Martin, placed tenth and eleventh.

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 Grand Dame Of French Figure Skating: The Jacqueline Vaudecrane Story

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

"If we called her a poet, she would smile at it; but a will, a courage, an exceptional obstinacy for a woman... and what a woman! Jacqueline is on the ice at at six o'clock in the morning, every day, winter and summer... When she has an official outing, she will arrive elegant, well-dressed and flawless. We, who have so often seen her at training, have never heard Jacqueline say 'I am tired'.  Sometimes her nerves crack - a few minutes later, she is in good shape. For Jacqueline, there is no question of a forty-hour week. She goes on ice more than ten hours a day. If she goes out, it will often be useful for skating. She could not live without ice, and that's one hundred percent the secret of her success! I wonder if at night she does not get up to touch the ice in her fridge! Her motto, if she chooses one, would be 'Ice, all for the ice.'" - Jeanine Garanger, "Patinage Sur Glace Historique"

The daughter of Andrée Sarah Oestreicher and Léon André Vaudecrane, Jacqueline Vaudecrane was born November 22, 1913 in Paris, France. She grew up in a devout Roman Catholic household. Her father was a pilot with the Aéronautique Militaire during The Great War and the publisher of a leading business newspaper, "L'Exportateur français: grande revue mondiale d'informations, de défense et d'expansion des intérêts français". Her mother was the editor of a fashion magazine.

Photos courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

When Jacqueline was seven, her father took her to The Salon d'Automne, which was near the Palais de Glace at the Champs Elysées in Paris. As they passed the rink, she begged her father to take her skating. She was on the ice the next week and soon Andrée Joly, who trained there among the masses with partner Pierre Brunet, recognized she had potential and told her father so.

Andrée Joly, Pierre Brunet and Jacqueline Vaudecrane. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Léon Vaudecrane, a very strict man, had other plans for his daughter. At one point, he signed Jacqueline up for piano lessons and demanded she stay at home and practice all day. After much protest, she convinced him to let her choose skating instead. The reasoning behind her choice was simple. She just wanted to be outside.

Photos courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Andrée Joly and Pierre Brunet took Jacqueline under their wing during the roaring twenties, taking her along on trips to St. Moritz and Davos, where she became accustomed to training in sometimes brutal conditions on outdoor ice. She learned figure skating through imitation and reading from Pierre Brunet's Austrian skating manual.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Interestingly, one of Jacqueline's first victories on the ice wasn't in a figure skating competition, but in a speed skating race. In 1925, she took first prize in the 'course de fillettes' class in a five hundred meter race held at the Palais de Glace. She won her first medal at the French Figure Skating Championships, a bronze, in 1931 and made her inauspicious debut at the European Championships in Paris in 1932, placing dead last on every judge's scorecard. Four years later, she was sent to the European and World Championships, where she fared just as worse - placing sixteenth and fifteenth.


Around this time, Jacqueline was studying fashion in Versailles. Her father, whom she once described in an interview so kindly transcribed by Lauren Tress as "very eccentric... with strange ideas", told her she was a terrible skater and drove her to quit skating for three years. Out of the blue, it was he who asked her if she'd like to start skating again. It turned out that he'd struck up a friendship with Pierre Brunet. When she returned to the ice, she found that all of her peers had progressed in their skating. She of course hadn't and the experience was understandably frustrating.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

In the July of 1936, Jacqueline married Marcel Boussoutrot. Pierre Brunet, by then an Olympic Gold Medallist in figure skating, and Roger Ducret, an Olympic Gold Medallist in fencing at the 1924 Summer Olympic Games, stood for her at her wedding. 

From 1936 to 1938, Jacqueline won the French junior title followed by two French senior titles - victories she had strived for fiercely after skating in the shadow of Gaby Clericetti for several years. Unfortunately, her competitive career ended with a fizzle rather a bang. In 1939, the Fédération Française de Patinage sur Glace decided to open up the French Championships to foreign skaters. She was furious when she lost to an unheralded Belgian skater. After placing fourteenth at the final World Championships held before World War II broke out, she quit in utter frustration and decided her passion for figure skating could be put to a better use - setting up an elite skating school. It was a daring decision, as at the time figure skating was largely viewed in France as more of a fashionable pastime than a serious competitive sport and there were few dedicated skating coaches in the country. Her own mentors, The Brunet's, had already left to pursue professional careers in North America.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Before almost all of France's indoor rinks closed their doors during World War II, temporarily putting an end to figure skating in the country, Jacqueline and a small group of skaters would cross the demarcation lines in Nazi-occupied Paris to go skating in Chamonix. "One day it happened," recalled Jacqueline. "The Germans had also invaded our skating rinks."


Jacqueline's husband's cousin, aviator Lucien Bossoutrot - a fighter pilot during The Great War - was interned in Vichy in 1943 for his opposition to the Nazi occupation. He fled after fifteen months of imprisonment and joined the Resistance. During the final year of the Nazi occupation, Jacqueline was appointed France's 'national monitor' for figure skating and sent to Chamonix to scout talented young skaters. Her first group of students, which included Huguette Gay-Couttet, Monique Schmidt and Thérèse Tairraz, never really had the chance to further their skating careers because of the War.

Top: Jacqueline du Bief and Jacqueline Vaudecrane. Bottom: Jacqueline Vaudecrane (right) with a group of her students in 1952. Left to right: Claude Daury, Liliane Madaule, Claudine Baulande, Maryvonne Huet, Monique Schmidt, Alain Giletti, Alain Calmat, Michèle Allard and an unidentified skater. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

After the War, Jacqueline became a mother and taught at the Molitor and Rue Saint-Didier rinks in Paris. A trip to England opened her eyes to the possibilities of skating in France. Impressed by the strength and numbers of British women coming up the ranks, she decided that improving skater's school figures would be the key to taking them far. Upon her return to France, she convinced the rink's employees to flood the ice more often so that her students would have fresh patches to work on.

Jacqueline du Bief, Jacqueline Vaudecrane and Liliane Madaule at the Molitor rink in 1949. Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine.

One of Jacqueline's first elite level students was Jacqueline du Bief, whose coach at the Victor Hugo rink - Monsieur Lemercier - had been taken prisoner and sent to Germany during the War. In her book "Thin Ice", Jacqueline du Bief recalled, "Madame Vaudecrane, who was called by her pupils Jacqueline, Clicline or 'patronne', was a little woman with a head of thick, black curly hair, cut short like a boy's, a pair of grey-green eyes that were never still, and an air of authority and resolution. Enthusiastic, choleric, and always over-excited, she had the greatest confidence in herself and her work and no obstacles deterred her. Thus, we used to see this new teacher, who was gifted with the most extraordinary energy, run behind her pupils, all the time shouting corrections at the top of her voice in order to waste no time and the better to urge them on... [She] had realized from the beginning of her career as an instructor that it was a mistake to make things too easy for pupils and to tell them every little thing. She knew that it was much better to make an appeal to their intelligence and to make them think for themselves. Half her teaching was based on the pupil's personal work, and in view of my independent temperament, this method suited me admirably." Jacqueline du Bief made history in 1952 as France's first World Champion and Olympic Medallist in women's figure skating. Jacqueline Vaudecrane credited her pupils success to, above all things, her "iron will".



Jacqueline set up shop at the newly-opened rink at Boulogne-Billancourt in 1955. She coached Alain Giletti and Alain Calmat to the World titles in 1960 and 1965 and was worked with the first two French ice dance couples to medal at the European Championships - Christiane and Jean-Paul Guhel and Brigitte Martin and Francis Gamichon. Over the years, she also worked with Patrick Péra, Denise and Jacques Favart, Liliane Madaule-Caffin, Colette Laurandeau, Jacques de Beaumont, Janine Cartaux and her daughter Joëlle, Robert Dureville, Didier Gailhaguet, Anne-Sophie de Kristoffy, Laetitia Hubert and Surya Bonaly. She had no regrets about starting skaters young because she was of the belief that technique came easier than musicality. The more time she had with a skater, the more they could develop in both respects.

Didier Gailhaguet and Jacqueline Vaudecrane. Photo courtesy "L'Équipe".

Passionate and tough as nails, Jacqueline earned the nickname 'The Boss' from her students and certainly wasn't afraid of pushing the boundaries of the sport. After hearing Arnold Gerschwiler criticize a Czechoslovakian woman who included a double loop in her program for being 'unladylike', she decided to stick it to him by adding the even harder double Lutz to Jacqueline du Bief's bag of tricks. She costumed Alain Giletti in a red suit at a time when men, with few exceptions, dressed conservatively in black or grey. Cringing grey-haired French officials remembered the 'rouge' all too well. Jacqueline herself had donned a scarlet dress back in 1934.



Jacqueline also devoted considerable time and effort to developing her skater's on-ice personalities, prioritizing musical appreciation and artistic expression. She was all on board for her students being sent to America to work with the Brunet's if it bettered their chances of winning and by the accounts of her students, was sometimes more nervous about the results than they were.

Coaching Alain Giletti and Alain Calmat at the same time had its moments for Jacqueline. The two talented young men were very competitive and didn't always listen to her orders. At the 1954 World Championships in Paris, she was sick and had to spend a lot of time at her hotel. The two Alain's snuck off and attended a fun fair against her wishes. Another time, she insisted that all of her students wear tights "to improve body expression". Alain Calmat refused at first. Then he saw how well Alain Giletti was skating in them and changed his tune.

Jacqueline's students all had a great respect for her. Alain Calmat once remarked, "She's never mean, she never sacrifices one student for another, and I think that’s very important because it’s very rare." Alain Giletti recalled, "She was really a mother hen for me. She cared about my business, my equipment, how I washed up when I was very young." Patrick Péra described her as "a little piece of woman, always the first on the ice, never sick. A mother hen sometimes, very hard, demanding, sometimes uncompromising too." One example of this 'uncompromising' determination was a story that appeared in Jacqueline du Bief's book "Thin Ice". She recalled, "Arriving late to the little [train] station [in Chamonix] after some rather complicated adventures, what was my surprise to find Madame Vaudecrane on the line, gesticulating wildly in front of the engine. Seeing that I could not arrive before the train left, she had put forth all her charm and her energy to persuade the stationmaster to hold it up for me. In doing this, she had not hesitated to jump down on the track, despite the protests of that good man, and the train - which was composed of a single carriage in which we were the only passengers - was still in the station when I at last arrived!"

Jacqueline Vaudecrane, Didier Gailhaguet and Patrick Péra

A fun fact about Jacqueline is the fact she had a green thumb... and a very unique garden at her country home. When each of her students won a title, they gave her a tree as thank you. When Alain Calmat won the World Championships in 1965, she got a weeping willow. When Christiane and Jean-Paul Guhel medalled at the European Championships, they gave her a Japanese cedar. As her students accumulated medals, she accumulated shrubbery. She also enjoyed needlework and would show guests to her home the pieces she'd made while travelling abroad to figure skating competitions, proudly saying, "These are my school figures!"



Jacqueline was honoured by the French government in 1984 as a recipent of the Legion Of Honour, the highest French order of merit for military and civil achievements. It was presented to her by her student Alain Calmat, who was then the Minister Of Sports. She officially retired from coaching in 2001 at the age of eighty-eight. She passed away on February 27, 2018 at the incredible age of one hundred and four in the small town of Uzès, just outside the ancient village of Saint Quentin-la-Potèrie in the Gard department of southern France.

Less than a decade before her death, Jacqueline said, "I had no teachers. I worked alone. It was difficult. So, if I hadn’t received much, I would give to others. Evidently, whenever I have a World Champion, I don’t compare myself that I was never World Champion. I think it's good for a sports instructor to have not ever been a grand champion."

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 Judging Trailblazer: The Katherine Miller Sackett Story

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

"If we accept the fact that better skating demands staying on the beat, then isn't it logical to bend every effort toward the accomplishment of that goal? Though all skaters are not musically inclined, there is no justification for the belief that some skaters are hopelessly incapable of developing an acceptable sense of rhythm. It is quite possible that many skaters have been unwilling to devote the work and study necessary to develop better understanding of timing and expression. Years are spent practicing school figures and learning dance steps, but it is probably agreed that little actual effort is devoted to analyzing music." - Katherine Miller Sackett, "Skating" magazine, December 1944

The daughter of Susie (Scott) and Harry Miller, Katherine 'Kathy' Scott Miller was born November 9, 1902 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A middle child, she grew up with her parents, older sister Grace, younger brother Keith and a live-in housekeeper from Sweden in a modest home on Grand Avenue. Her father was a grain merchant by trade. At the age of four, she took her first steps on the ice on a local pond and a lifelong love of figure skating began.

Katherine eventually married Bob Sackett, the district manager of a stock food supply company. Bob's work brought the couple to Norfolk and Omaha, Nebraska and later, the Windy City - Chicago, Illinois. Katherine and Bob joined the Omaha Figure Skating Club and Figure Skating Club of Chicago, where they took up ice dancing and soon became USFSA judges. As a young woman Katherine had studied at the (St. Agatha's) Northwestern Conservatory of Music in Minneapolis, where she developed a broad musical background and an understanding of timing and rhythm that proved a great asset to her as a skating judge over the years.


During World War II, Katherine and Bob moved to California, where they joined the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club. It was in California that both became quite involved in the USFSA. Bob served as the Chairman of the USFSA Midwestern Committee for two terms and in 1951, served as the association's First Vice-President. Katherine served as the Dance Vice-Chairman for Music and Special Projects but was more interested in judging than sitting on committees.

Harold Payne, Katherine Miller Sackett and Rose Kanger. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Katherine progressed through the judging ranks and in the spring of 1952, she made history as the first American woman to serve as a judge in an officially recognized event at the World Championships. At the time, judging was definitely an 'old boy's club' with only a small handful of women - mostly Britons - being nominated by their federations to act as officials at ISU Championships. In an era when British dance teams utterly dominated, Katherine advised American teams to put more effort into their free dancing in order to gain an edge on the competition. She penned numerous articles for "Skating" magazine and put in countless hours educating judges at conferences and seminars.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Katherine continued to judge at the U.S., North American and World Championships throughout the fifties. She was America's judge in the dance event at the 1953 World Championships, the 1955 World Championships in men's and dance and the 1959 World Championships in men's and pairs. In 1960, she was appointed as an alternate judge for the Olympics in Squaw Valley. She submitted her resignation as a World Figure and Dance Judge to the USFSA in 1966, but continued to serve as a National and Gold Dance Judge for several years afterwards and was one of the founding members of the El Camino Figure Skating Club of Belmont. She passed away on February 24, 1990 in Palo Alto, California at the age of eighty-eight and her pioneering contributions as a judge are all but overlooked today.

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.

LGBTQ+ History Month


October is LGBTQ+ History Month in Canada and Skate Guard celebrates key milestones of LGBTQ+ skaters. 

You can find all of the LGBTQ+ History Month content by tapping on the side menu bar of the blog or clicking here.

To nominate LGBTQ+ skaters, coaches, judges and builders to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here

Women's History Month

Photo courtesy Government of Canada


October is Women's History Month Month in Canada and Skate Guard celebrates key milestones of women in figure skating.

You can find all of the Women's History Month content by tapping on the side menu bar of the blog or clicking here.

To nominate amazing Canadian women in figure skating to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here

Latin American Heritage Month

Mola of Sun God with Moon from Mansucum Village in Panama's San Blas Islands. Photo courtesy National Museum of National History.

October is Latin American Heritage Month in Canada and Skate Guard celebrates key milestones of skaters of Latin American heritage in Canada. 

You can find all of the Latin American Heritage Month content by tapping on the side menu bar of the blog or clicking here

To nominate skaters of Latin American heritage to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here

German Heritage Month

 

October is German Heritage Month in Canada and Skate Guard celebrates key milestones of skaters of German heritage in Canada.

You can find all of the German Heritage Month content by tapping on the side menu bar of the blog or clicking here

To nominate skaters of German heritage to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here