The 1978 World Figure Skating Championships

Held from March 1 to 6 at the Nepean Sportsplex and Ottawa Civic Centre in Canada's capital city, the 1978 World Figure Skating Championships marked the second time in the seventies that the World Championships were held in Canada - the first being the 1972 World Championships in Calgary.

The event, held in conjunction with the Minto Skating Club's seventy fifth anniversary, turned out to be an incredibly exciting one as the defending champions in three out of four disciplines were dethroned, but it was not an event without its problems.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's address from the 1978 World Championships program. Photo courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

After the opening ceremonies, there was a posh reception at the city's Rivermead Golf Club where guests were greeted by a live bagpiper and two cardboard cutouts of Mounties... the real Mounties' horses being stolen to little amusement. As a result, the security got beefed up a little bit for the competition itself and the Army stepped in with their jeeps to guard the gates and check points at the event. Legendary coach Carlo Fassi was reportedly upset about having to show his pass to go to the bathroom. Interestingly, the Army even stepped in to help transport and print copies of the results. The lone computer used to calculate the event's results was actually housed in a nearby building. The judge's marks were fed into terminals in the rink then plugged into this computer, printed out and brought back again by soldiers. So much for WiFi, right?

Eager young fans awaiting skater's autographs in Ottawa

The positives of the 1978 event most definitely outweighed the criticisms. There was not only some excellent skating on the ice, but the strong attendance, largely owing to the hard work of event chairman Peter Mumford, resulted in an almost five hundred thousand dollar profit for skater development in Canada. A young Liz Manley, volunteering as a flower retriever, was inspired by the greats of the seventies. Also, there was a greater deal of optimism among the skaters after the ISU had banned Soviet judges in light of some (how shall we say) questionable work at the previous year's Worlds.


The pairs competition in Ottawa proved to be yet another win for the Soviet pair of Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev. It was Rodnina's tenth win at the World Figure Skating Championships and in doing so, she tied Ulrich Salchow and Sonja Henie's singles records. Despite making history, the Soviet pair had quite a time with the doping afterwards, reportedly having to drink glass after glass water for well over an hour after the event to produce enough urine for testing. Rodnina admitted in a March 9, 1978 "Ottawa Citizen" article that their free skating performance wasn't their best but that the doping ordeal was in fact "the most difficult task of the competition."

The silver medal went to the East German pair of Manuela Mager and Uwe Bewersdorf and the bronze to none other than Americans Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, who were audience favourites in Ottawa. Canada's sole representatives, Brantford's Lea-Ann Jackson and Cambridge's Paul Mills, just missed the top ten in eleventh place after Canadian Champions Sherri Baier and Robin Cowan were forced to withdraw pre-competition due to a ruptured calf muscle in one of Baier's legs that was plagued by tendinitis. The girl simply couldn't have caught a break if she tried in Ottawa. She also had a bandaged wrist which had been broken four times, was recovering from the flu and had a pulled groin muscle. Whoever thinks pairs skating is easy is kidding themselves.

Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Photo courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

1953 World Champion Mr. John Nicks, the coach of Tai and Randy, waxed poetically on the current state of pairs skating in an interview with Donna Gabeline. Referring to the 'rag doll' pairs emerging from Communist countries during the seventies, Nicks said, "'It's not a pair. It's a team of one and a half. I think I'll go to the NBA and get a seven-foot basketball player and teach him to skate. This athleticism is getting out of balance. They are forgetting about appreciation of music and unison in size and line. There are very few skaters around who have the strength of character of a Toller Cranston. We don't see much originality these days because everyone is concentrating on perfecting moves already around. I just hope Tai and Randy don't fall into the trap of being like everyone else." 


The ice dance event in Ottawa marked a changing of the (skate) guard. After the three compulsory dances (the Starlight Waltz, Tango Romantica and Kilian) and Paso Doble OSP, twenty two year old Natalia Linichuk and twenty seven year old Gennadi Karponosov had managed to pull off a pretty convincing lead over defending World and European Championships Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov... a lead they carried right through the free dance which accounted for fifty percent of the total score.

Marina Zueva and Andrei Vitman. Photo courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

Lynn Copley-Graves' wonderful book "The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice" recalled, "In the free dance to one cut from 'West Side Story', Irina ignored the plot and died on Andrei's knee at the end as he moved dramatically around the rink, starting the fad for deaths on ice. She held the pose too long and they collapsed, turning the drama to comedy and losing, forever, the title."

There was a bit of the usual see-sawing among the other top couples, with Hungarians Krisztina Regőczy and András Sallay finishing third after the compulsory dances, losing that spot to Britons Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell in the original set pattern dance and then ultimately claiming the bronze with a strong free dance effort. Maxwell joked to one reporter, "I'm a bookie in London. Want to make a bet on a horse, luv?"

Newly crowned Canadian Champions Lorna Wighton and John Dowding went back and forth from fifth to sixth to fifth in the compulsory dances, finished sixth in the original set pattern and despite a fifth place free dance remained in a close sixth behind the Czechoslovakian team of Liliana Řeháková and Stanislav Drastich. The Canadians, who were praised by the "Globe and Mail" as having "managed to look like they were courting in a good, staid Canadian way" finished ahead of the third Soviet team, who Copley-Graves explained "used dramatic, posed moves of the type frowned upon by the new rules while interpreting fast-paced Congo march music with drums and cymbals." An early precursor to the Duchesnay's "Savage Rites" perhaps?


The big news in the men's competition in Ottawa didn't even come from any of the medallists. Canada's Vern Taylor made history by completing the first triple Axel in competition. It wasn't a beauty by any stretch of the imagination but then ISU President Jacques Favart and a technical committee reviewed videos of the jump after the fact and decided to recognize Taylor's effort as a historic first. On his contribution to skating history, Taylor then remarked, "There (was) so much momentum and I was going so fast it was difficult to stop. Now that I've done it, it will just be like doing a double Axel." Of thirty or forty attempts in practice, Taylor had only landed approximately five before pulling off his 1978 feat. A fifteenth place finish in the compulsory figures and twelfth place in the short program kept him well out of the mix and despite landing the triple Axel, Taylor finished out of the top ten in twelfth place overall. He wasn't the only man attempting the jump in Ottawa. Japan's Mitsuru Matsumura was tackling the jump in practice, as was West Germany's Rudi Cerne.

Among the leaders, the men's event was actually a fascinating one in 1978, with a great deal of movement. Charlie Tickner of Denver, Colorado was one of the earlier skaters to recognize the value of sports psychology. He began undergoing hypnosis in 1973 and stated in 1978, "I use it every day to build up my confidence, convince myself that I'm going to skate well. It's just a few words I repeat to myself in the morning when I get up, before I'm fully awake." The hypnosis paid off in a four triple free skate and gold medal for Tickner but interestingly, he didn't win any single phase of the competition. The school figures (the counter, forward bracket and back loop) were won by defending World Champion Vladimir Kovalev, the short program by East Germany's Jan Hoffmann and the free skate by Great Britain's Robin Cousins. Ultimately, Hoffmann would claim the silver, Cousins the bronze and Kovalev, who struggled in both the short program and free skate, would drop off the podium entirely and wind up in fourth.

Eighteen year old Canadian Champion Brian Pockar of Calgary would finish in tenth place, one spot ahead of a young Scott Hamilton. In his book "Landing It: My Life On And Off The Ice", Hamilton reflected, "Not bad for my first time out. Considering a year earlier I was watching the competition from home after finishing ninth at Nationals, this was a quantum leap for me." Even without Soviet judges on the panel, some of the results remained controversial. When Kovalev received marks between 5.2 and 5.8 for a rather lacklustre short program, the audience in Ottawa got their 'boo' on.


In the women's competition, the results were all over the place. Starting the competition with a decisive lead, seventeen year old Anett Pötzsch of East Germany wasn't able to beat eighteen year old American Linda Fratianne in either the short program or free skate but she was able to coast to victory overall, leaving Linda to settle for silver. In a March 11, 1978 article in "The Hour", Pötzsch rejected the implication that her free skating performance was overly cautious: "I did not skate conservatively. I gave it my best because there were only a few points between me and Linda. If I had not given it my best I would not have made it."

Linda Fratianne practicing her figures in advance of the competition

Like Tickner in the men's event, Italy's Susanna Driano (who was actually born in Seattle but skated for Italy under dual citizenship) won her medal - a bronze - by way of flip-flopping results. She didn't finish in the top three in any phase of the competition, but dramatic switches from phase to phase of the competition from the skaters below her - Dagmar Lurz, Denise Biellmann, Elena Vodorezova, Lisa-Marie Allen and Emi Watanabi - assured her that medal win.

Susanna Driano. Photo courtesy Eileen Mortimer.

Elena Vodorezova had actually won the free skate the year previous in Tokyo. Despite finishing in unlucky thirteenth place both years in the school figures, she wasn't able to put out the same level of performances in the free skating events in Ottawa as she had previously. That didn't stop her from having some fun. In March 1978, "The Montreal Gazette" reported, "She and a couple 13 year-old teammates created a traffic jam in the lobby of the Holiday Inn by getting on the elevators and playing with all the buttons. Now her coach goes along and slaps her wrist if it goes near the control panel."

To no surprise, the skater who actually finished second in the free skate was Switzerland's Denise Biellmann, who was already being hailed as being ahead of her time. Eighteen year old Canadian Champion Heather Kemkaran was twelfth and another eighteen year old Canadian, Cathie MacFarlane of Calgary, wound up in seventeenth place in her first and only trip to the World Championships.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Better Late Than Never: A Reader Mail Edition

There's nothing I enjoy more than rolling up my sleeves, digging deep in the archives and putting together the puzzle pieces to share stories from ice skating history from all around the world. Well, maybe there's one thing I love more... and that is hearing how these stories speak to the people who are reading them. Over the last year, I have received countless e-mails, messages on Twitter, Facebook and Blogger. In today's blog - which is so long overdue it is not even fit - I want to once again answer some of your questions and share with you a small sampling of reader mail, many connected to several of the blogs in the archives and some relating to topics that haven't even been covered:


Q: From Alex (via Twitter): "How do you find the time to do all of this?"

A: I'm passionate about researching and writing about this topic so I make time. I am actually both an early riser and a pretty bad insomniac so it's a great way to pass time on early weekend mornings! Honestly though, I'll let you and everyone else reading in on a little secret. Some weeks I'll put together seven blogs; some one or two. I always make a point of having content ready months in advance so I can pop three of these bad boys out each week... and I never seem to run out of ideas!

Q: From Janet (via Facebook): "Would you ever consider writing about roller skating history?"

A: In short, no. I've touched on roller skating here and there as the histories of ice and roller skating are actually quite intertwined in many respects... but unless there's a distinct ice skating connection I usually steer as clear as I can. It's just not my thing.

Q: From Jens (via Facebook): "Are you still working on your biography of Belita Jepson-Turner?"

A: I'm not... because it's finished! I deliberated for a long time about having it printed in book form but I ran into a couple of challenges. For starters, money. Writing about skating history is a labour of love for me and if I had Belita's story put into book form, I'd be financing the whole thing myself and dealing with copyright issues, which are really murky and complicated when it comes to many of the films that Belita appeared in for Monogram Pictures. Keeping in the spirit of making skating history accessible to everyone, I'll be releasing the Belita biography free of charge on Skate Guard either in serial form or as a one-shot deal this summer.


Mae (via email): "You see one that looks like a little house surrounded by seating... this little house is where Hitler sat to watch the games."


Zdenka (via Facebook): "Mrs. Hilda Múdra was 90 (!) in January [2016]. She looks great at this age. And her health is good too. I was also invited to celebrate her birthday with one of figure skaters club in Bratislava. It took place at Štadión Ondreja Nepela. See the photo."


David (via Blogger): "The main problem with Blyth Arena was the open south side that allowed sunlight to land on portions of the ice. This created differing surface conditions between shaded and unshaded parts of the ice sheet. The organizers attempted to mitigate this by hanging vertical ropes to block the sun but it was only partially successful."

Jill (via Facebook): "Oh goodness, at fifteen years old, I was just star struck! I just remember North Americans being removed as a competition because they came in between Nationals and Worlds, and in an Olympic year, just too many competitions for the skaters to "peak" for. Don't forget back in 1957, the travelling was not as sophisticated as it is now. Also, very expensive for parents to pay for all these events - the funding was very minimal back then."

Dr. Roman Seeliger (via email): "I have read your wonderful article about the world-class figure skater Jiřina Nekolová. Let me add that Jiřina became a member of the Vienna Ice Revue in the fall of 1954, replacing my mother Eva Pawlik who had just left the show in order to pass her final exams and to earn her doctorate of philosophy at the University of Vienna. After graduating in December 1954, Pawlik and my father Rudi Seeliger were starring in the German Scala Ice Revue from 1955 to 1957, replacing the 1936 Olympic runners-up Ilse and Erik Pausin who became the leading couple in the show of Holiday on Ice. Jiřina Nekolová was a symbol of eroticism on the ice as many a contemporary witness has told me. When the show had its appearances behind the Iron Curtain, Nekolová had to be replaced by Austrian Champion Lotte Schwenk. Otherwise Nekolová could have been prevented from going back to the (political) west. During the time Jiřina belonged to the Vienna Ice Revue company an ice skating movie was produced. After "Frühling auf dem Eis" (produced with Olympic Silver Medalist Eva Pawlik in 1950) "Symphonie in Gold", produced in 1956, was the second movie featuring the Vienna Ice Revue. As you have mentioned, Jiřina was presented in this movie alongside Emmy Puzinger and Fernand Leemans (both European bronze medalists as single skaters). Jirina also got a small role in the frame story. In 1957, Jiřina Nekolová left the Vienna Ice Revue as European Champion Hanna Eigel had her first appearance as a professional skater. In 1958, European Champion Ingrid Wendl joined the company. In 1958, European Champion Eva Pawlik and Austrian Champion Rudi Seeliger, having been succeeded by Olympic Champions Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt in the Scala Eisrevue, had their comeback in the Vienna Ice Revue. So the Vienna Ice Revue presented three European Champions in one show from 1958 to 1960. These three ladies were presented in the Vienna Ice Revue's third movie ("Traumrevue", produced in 1959)."


Sharon (via Facebook): "Wait!! you left out the Peggy Fleming bun!!! I once sat for hours when I was little while the older girls staying at Hawly's Lodge in Lake Placid pinned my hair into a similar one and threaded ribbons through it!"

Dana (via Facebook): "My mother did Aja Zanova's hair one year when she came to town with Ice Capades. She thought mom did such a great job, she arranged for her the following year as well."


Andrea (via Facebook): "Fascinating! After reading your article I searched around and found this curious blog. It is dedicated to the 226 incident AND figure skating in the 1930's....One Miss Tamako Togo, granddaughter of Vice Admiral Togo of the Russo-Japanese war, was a member of the Tokyo Figure Skating Club that trained at the hotel. The blogger claims her presence, and that of her friends, was the reason the 2.26 officers holed up."


Deanne (via e-mail): "Taters Gonna Tate....speaking of happenstance (& Google!), I came across your blog and your story from Scotland about Jimmy Best, Margaret Young and Sheena Balfour. Well Sheena is my mother and I was so amazed to read all this... My mother went on to be Scottish Figure Skating champion for 3 consecutive years and married a Canadian ice hockey player, Harold (Pep) Young from Montreal... My father played ice hockey in London for Earls Court Rangers before moving to Scotland to play for Fife Flyers. Through ebay I found some old programmes from his days at Earls Court, he really enjoyed reading these, they were quite a find. I also purely by chance found an ice skating programme from when my mother competed in the British Championships in London! My parents were quite the local celebrities in their day!

Figure skating was very popular in Kirkcaldy in the 1940s and 1950s and my mother, Margaret and Jimmy took part in many 'Ice Capades' in Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline. Mum has a lovely album of programmes and photos from these times. My mother is in her eighties and sadly has little memory now, my Dad passed away on 29th January 2014...  It was so amazing to read this story in your blog, big goosebumps!!! Thank you!!"


Steven (via Facebook): "We live 1/2 block from the family home in which the senior Inge had installed the infamous basement skating rink. The property has been abandoned for of the early homes in this community. It was not sold since the estate would have taken a financial hit on the sale. Her passing is probably the reason for the sale. It is going to be torn down. It is not a pretty home but it has history. Mr Inge died tragically in the home... Adele would later develop her golf game and played competitively with a Normandy Golf Course local team... she played for years. Always the athlete."

Dale's eBay find: a collection of Adele Inge's blades, the "Calendar Capers" program and a framed photograph

Dale (via Facebook): "I knew nothing about her, until I stumbled onto the eBay auction and bought them for $19. The seller just said it came from an estate sale possibly a family relation of Adele's."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Blades In The Bullring: Mexico's Surprising Introduction To Figure Skating

At the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Mexican figure skaters got their first real taste of the big leagues. Things went as expected; both Diana Encinas Evans and Ricardo Olavarietta were cut after the school figures and short program. Being 'new kids on the block' from a country better known for its sunny beaches than its skating rinks, they were certainly at a disadvantage as compared to the Brian's and the Carmen's that year. Little did most viewers gleefully guffawing at the snafus of the south of the border skaters realize at the time was the fact that Mexico enjoyed a surprising ice skating boom as far back as the roaring twenties.

Dr. Anselm Goetzel was a well known composer in his day. He wrote "The Lilac Domino", which was presented by The Andreas Dippel Opera Company at the Alvin Theater in Pittsburgh in 1915, three Broadway plays - "Aphrodite", "The Gold Diggers" and "The Royal Vagabond" and in 1920, through his company Goetzel Theatrical Enterprises, presented the musical play "The Unknown Flower." While working as a musical director at the Hippodrome in New York, he fell in love with German skater Charlotte Oelschlägel. The pair eloped in 1922 and while honeymooning in Atlantic City, Goetzel was contracted for the presentation of an ice ballet starring his new bride in Mexico City that June.... in a bullring. Keep in mind this was in the twenties! 

The original plan was that the newlyweds would leave New York at the end of May so that they would have a full month for Goetzel to have the two ice making plants they were bringing with them set up. The bullring where the show was to take place had seating for twenty three thousand people and the show was contracted for a six week run. From the start, it appeared doomed. On July 5, 1922 (over a month after they originally supposed to leave) the "New York Clipper" reported, "Charlotte, the famous skater, left of Friday of last week, with her husband, Dr. [Anselm] Goetzel, for Mexico City where she will appear in a new revue produced and staged by Goetzel. Up until Wednesday of last week it was not known whether or not the contract calling for this production in Mexico will be fulfilled, insomuch as the bull ring which is to converted into an open air ice palace for the venture, was condemned by the government as being unsafe. However, the proprietor posted a bond with the Government of Mexico that the faulty seating accommodations which were the basis of the complaint would be remedied, and Goetzel received word to proceed to Mexico." Primary source accounts of the production are scant, but Arthur Goodfellow's fabulous 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating" does allude to the fact that "things didn't run quite so smoothly as at the Hippodrome, scene of her greatest triumphs."

Charlotte's show at the bullring cannot have all bad. Only two years later, newspapers were raving about how the Mexican people had taken to ice skating like bigots to a Republican rally. On September 19, 1923, the "Daily Illini" reported that "Mexico has 'gone wild' about ice-skating. It's the newest fad. An ice-skating rink has been established by a club in the Hotel Regis and the rink is crowded daily. In many instances this is the first time the Mexicans have had an opportunity to skate. Professional skaters from New York and Chicago are showing the local skaters fancy skating." It wasn't a passing fad. Ultimately, Charlotte and her troupe left Mexico early due to dangerous conditions. This would have been near the end of Alvaro Obregón's term as the President of Mexico.

In 1945, Dorothy 'Dot' Franey brought a small unit down to Mexico City to do shows. By February of 1946, a new bullring was built with seating for forty seven thousand in Mexico City with plans to include an ice skating rink in the design. The following year, Morris Chalfen took his lavish Holiday On Ice tour to Mexico City and Guadalajara, inspiring awe in the Mexican people fortunate enough to witness the spectacle. In 1948, Robert Campbell recalled, "They packed the big National Arena twice nightly almost every day they were there. Going over the rugged Laredo crossing to and from Mexico the regular tractors had to be augmented with heavy diesel tractors to haul the machinery over the mountains. The engineers responsible for making the ice are proud of the fact that the show has never been delayed due to the fact that the ice surface was not ready on time, although in a couple of instances the ice was pretty thin and they kept their fingers crossed while the skaters performed."

By the early sixties, so popular was ice skating that the five hundred thousand dollar cost of building the Pista Olimpa ice rink on the Marino Escobedo at Horacia was paid off in one year. Joseph Prendergast, a thirty six year old Canadian geophycisist in Mexico City working for the United Nations helped form an ice hockey league - the Asociacion de Hockey Sobre Hielo del D.F. - at the Pista and by 1964, the country had two more ice rinks. Prendergast said, "It's fantastic the way Mexicans are taking to ice skating... At least 5,000 people are now regular ice skating fans... You often see skaters lined up for blocks waiting to get in the rink... They may be a little optimistic. When they come up against the Canadians, Americans or Europeans, they'll wonder why they bothered. But, at least, it gives you an idea about how enthusiastic the Mexicans are about ice skating."

The Ogilvie's visited the Pista de Hielo and Pista Olimpa rinks in 1967 and described them thusly in "Skating" magazine: "The [Pista de Hielo] was studio-type rink about, 75 by 50, where one could rent skates for eight pesos (64 cents) or skate for a mere 48 cents if you brought your own. The genial manager was delighted to show us around, especially on learning that we were professional skaters from the States. The rink was well-kept and the rental equipment in good order... The [Pista Olimpa] was a modern, full-size rink [with] generous seating capacity and Zamboni equipment. As with other city rinks, it operates year-round and appears to be efficiently run and clean... From our observations, a general picture of skating in Mexico emerges. The sport is clearly at a rudimentary stage. There is a great need for instructors to raise the level of figure skating, but it will be difficult to attract professionals because of the requirements for working permits and the wage scale - 10 pesos or 80 cents an hour!"

It may have taken over two decades from the day the Pista Olimpa opened its doors before a Mexican skater first skated on Olympic ice, but in a way it seems fitting that the year they did it was another German great like Charlotte - this time Katarina Witt - that they bowed down to.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Patinage Poetry: The Language Of The Ice (Part Sept)

How doth I love skating? Let me count the ways... Just prior to the Sochi Olympics, I put together the blog's first collection of poetry about skating called "Patinage Poetry: The Language Of The Ice". Three years have passed, and now the seventh part of this collection brings to light several more beautifully crafted poems in tribute to everyone's favourite sport and art. Put on your beret and get ready to snap afterwards for another fabulous collection of historical skating poetry!


Over the ice she flies
Perfect and poised and fair -
Stars in my true-love's eyes
Teach me to do and to dare!
Now I will fly as she flies -
Woe for the stars that misled!
Stars that I saw in her eyes
Now do I see in my head!


Little Billy Bates
Bought a pair of skates
But the ice was thin,
He fell on his back,
The ice went crack,
And Little Billy Bates fell in.


The lake is frozen bright and clear,
A mirror for the isles;
We skim the surface of the mere,
And never count the miles.
The sun behind the snowy hill
Sank down an hour ago;
The moon has found us gliding still,
As she clambers up the snow.
The golden ways are not so bright
That angels' feet entice,
As our receding path of light
Along the sounding ice.
The lake is like a polished floor.


"Six months ago it was," said he -
"It seems a century of changes -
Since here, beneath this very tree,
We watched the moonlit mountain ranges.
I hate this chattering, skating crowd
That so profanes our silent river,
The sacred spot where once we vowed
A faith that should endure forever!"

"And so we meet again," said he,
"In the same place where then we parted;
How the old time comes back to me!
The words that left us broken hearted."
Swift fell the answer from her mouth:
"Speak for yourself - if you remember,
The wind blows north that then blew south,
And June dies long before December!"

"And does a woman's heart," said he,
"Change like the wind or summer weather?
Yon moon is yet the same, you see,
That shone upon us here together."
"Ah, no!" she said, "that summer moon
Beamed with a radiance mild and tender,
While this forgets the warmth of June
In winter's far and frozen splendor."

"And does that mean farewell?" said he;
"Is it a warning to remember
That dream of June can never be
Which dies in such a chill December?
Your very words!" "Yet, even so,"
She said, controlling tears with laughter,
"Do you forget December snow
Melts in the June that follows after?"

"But shall I go or stay?" said he,
Searching her face with doubt and wonder;
"And if you care at all for me,
Why play at keeping us asunder?"
Because" she smiled, while softly fell
Above her eyes their deep-fringed curtain -
"I did not mean, at first, but well,
You seemed so odiously certain."


Where the Rhine
Branch'd out in many a long canal extends,
From every province swarming, void of care,
Batavia rushes forth; and as they sweep,
On founding skates, a thousand different ways,
In circling poise, swift as the winds, along,
'The then gay land is madden'd to all joy.
Whereon the moonbeams play,
That lure us on, but evermore
Glitter and glide away.


All hail to King Winter? Who cares for his coldness,
The snow on his beard, or the ice on his brow?
He comes from the Northland; alarmed at his boldness,
The earth shrinks in terror, the tall forests bow.
At the touch of his hand, how the reed grasses quiver!
The chill of his breath floateth over the stream;
Then hushed is the song of the babbling river,
And flinty and hard do the soft wavelets gleam.
Far to the south has he driven the sparrow;
Insect and bird from his fury have fled;
Under the earth is his cell, cold and narrow,
Low lies the beaver; the flowerets are dead.

Fast in our houses old Winter would bind us;
Strong are his weapons, and wild his breath;
Harsh is the voice who fierce accents remind us,
"Look! how I bring you destruction and death!"
But we care not a toss for his fury and madness;
We laugh in his face, and we dread not his wrath.
He opens new doors unto mirth and to gladness;
On the face of the waters he builds us a path.
We smile at the brawler, and bravely determine,
Though loud in his boasting, no terror we'll feel;
We cover our hearts with a breastplate of ermine,
And marry his thrusts with the coat of the seal.

Boldly we venture far out on the river,
Firm 'neath our feet as our own mother earth.
We'll order a banquet; in case we should shiver,
The steam of the tea-pot shall add to our mirth.
Wrapped in our furs, o'er the ice we are chasing,
Merry our voices, our feet shod with steel;
On through the moonlight, with fond hands embracing,
Never a blast from old Winter we feel.
Winter is vanquished; where sweethearts are mating,
Who cares for a gray-beard so joyless and grum?
We'll give him his supper e'en while we are skating,

And hold on the river a cold kettle-drum.


Like clouds they scud across the ice,
His hand holds hers as in a vice;
The moonlight strikes the back-blown hair
Of handsome Madge and Rupert Clare.

The ice resounds beneath the steel;      
It groans to feel his spurning heel:
While ever with the following wind
A shadowy skater flits behind.

"Why skate we thus so far from land?
O Rupert Clare, let go my hand!      
I cannot see—I cannot hear—
The wind about us moans with fear!"

His hand is stiffer than a vice,
His touch is colder than the ice,
His face is paler than the moon      
That paves with light the lone lagoon!

"O Rupert Clare, I feel—I trace
A something awful in your face!
You crush my hand—you sweep me on—
Until my breath and sense are gone!"

His grasp is stiffer than a vice,
His touch is colder than the ice;
She only hears the ringing tune
Of skates upon the lone lagoon.

"O Rupert Clare! sweet Rupert Clare!      
For heaven’s mercy hear my prayer!
I could not help my heart you know!
Poor Willy Gray,—he loves me so!"

His grip is stiffer than a vice,
His lip is bluer than the ice;      
While ever thrills the ringing tune
Of skates along the lone lagoon.

"O Rupert Clare! where are your eyes?
The rotten ice before us lies!
You dastard! Loose your hold, I say!—      
O God! Where are you, Willy Gray?”

A shriek that seems to split the sky,—
A wilder light in Rupert’s eye,—
She cannot—cannot loose that grip;
His sinewy arm is round her hip!      

But like an arrow on the wind
The shadowy skater scuds behind;
The lithe ice rises to the stroke
Of steel-shod heels that seem to smoke.

He hurls himself upon the pair;      
He tears his bride from Rupert Clare;
His fainting Madge, whose moist eyes say,
Ah! here, at last, is Willy Gray!

The lovers stand with heart to heart,—
"No more," they cry, "no more to part!"      
But still along the lone lagoon
The steel skates ring a ghostly tune!

And in the moonlight, pale and cold,
The panting lovers still behold
The self-appointed sacrifice      
Skating toward the rotten ice!


Down the river, and on and on,
Over the shining floor,
Ringing clear of the skates that glide.
Singing, dear, to your racing ride,
As the sleigh slips past the shore,

Mother may stop, and the girl go on
Over the slippery floor,
Living for her when she is dead,
Giving a thought to the words she said,
Till the gray light's gray no more.


Illustration by Henry S. Watson that accompanied Turner's poem when it was published in the January 1895 edition of "Outing"

With stealthy stride, o'er fleecy covered ways
Old Winter glides and grips the silv'ry flood.
Beneath his numbing grasp its action stays
And stagnant stands all nature's circling blood.
Then do I reign!

When call I forth my subjects, myriad-told,
Who love have cast th' inquiring eye for me,
Straightway I bid grim winter's terrors, bold!
And fill the world with carnivals of glee.

Ha! Ha! Right merry is my yearly reign,
And ever welcome is my buxom day.
The glow of health to faded cheeks again
Right soon I bring, and all the world make gay.

I blow my blast! and swift th' opposing clans
Whose doughty contests centre round "the puck,"
Gather from farthest concerns of the lands,
In fiercest struggles of sustained pluck.

Or gentle dames, and knights in serried ranks,
Thread the nice measures of the icy maze.
Whilst midst the waltzers Cupid plays his pranks,
And few escape the ardor of his chase.

For what gives music like my glassy plane,
Crystally clear, and wind swept by the breeze,
The poetry of motion mine attain;
Who can compare with my fair Coryphees?

Or swiftly forth to Lingay mere I bie,
And worlds in icy tourneys there array.
Fierce is the fray, zip! zip! the wing'd feet fly,
In eager battle for the victor's bay.

Who then can boast of merry days like mine,
Or who can hold so wide a sphere in thrall?
I warm the hearts of millions with my wine,

And winter's monarch I am crowned by all.


They pile the Christmas logs at home,
And shiver by the fire ;
But as for heat, the boys that roam
Find more than they require.
We dress as lightly as we may,
For us no hearth is bright;
The low sun warms us not by day,
Nor the naked moon by night.

The prairie has no swifter steed
Than skates of narrow steel;
And highbred coursers when they bleed
Beneath a jockey's heel,
Leave not the ground behind them so,
And not so swiftly move,
As we with this cold ice below,
And colder stars above!

"Look down — the ice streams under us;
This is a frightful speed ! "
My friend looked down, but not for long,
And said, " It is, indeed."
The slippery ice streamed under us,
The ice so green and clear,
It seemed like water calm and deep
In the middle of the mere.

The roaring wind came after us;
And the rain-clouds in the sky,
Which, torn and scattered far and wide,
Were rolling heavily.
Our cloaks were like the sails of ships
Which the stormy tempest fills,
And, changing quickly, we could see
The outlines of the hills.

We left upon the dark-green ice
A track so faint and light,
It seemed as if we scarcely touched
Its surface in our flight.
A long white curve at every stroke,
A true and perfect line,
It seemed as if those mighty arcs
Were part of some design.

Traced swiftly on the tablet bright
Of that hard-frozen lake,
With those great golden compasses
That mighty angels take
To draw the orbits of the stars,
And mark their paths in space,
Or rainbows bright, or halos dim
About the moon's sweet face.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The Baltimore Armoury Accident

Just over ten years prior to the grisly Hallowe'en Holocaust that claimed dozens of lives at a Holiday On Ice show in Indiana in 1963, a similarly gruesome accident occurred at an ice show that starred none other than three time Olympic Gold Medallist and ten time World Champion Sonja Henie.

The date was Thursday, March 6, 1952 and a crowd of seven thousand had amassed in Baltimore, Maryland for the Sonja Henie Ice Revue. The skaters were backstage, ready to take the ice, when five minutes before the 8:30 PM show was set to begin, a section of hastily constructed bleachers in Baltimore's fifth regiment armoury came crashing to the ground, spectators and all. The March 7, 1952 edition of the "Milwaukee Journal" reported, "The heavy beams and planks went down with a roar, pinning men, women and children under a mass of heavy splinters. Men tore at the tangled beams to rescue screaming children and crying women. There was no panic among others in the crowd, and the rescue operation carried on by police, firemen and national guardsmen was completed within thirty minutes." A staggering two hundred and seventy seven people were injured in the accident, sent to ten different hospitals in the area. As of the next day, thirty two of those victims were in serious condition.

The cause of the accident was determined to be shoddy craftsmanship. The makeshift bleachers were reportedly not even nailed down properly. To top it all off, the armoury had been exempt from even requiring a building permit because it was 'state property'. The tour had applied for one anyway and been refused by building inspector Paul Cohen because the stands weren't even finished when the application was put in only hours before the accident. Cohen confirmed that a permit would not have been issued as the stands were "of temporary construction and not even nailed down."

An eyewitness account from Kenny Lamb, one of the skaters in Henie's tour (submitted to "Lucidcafé" in the nineties) reads: "While we were rehearsing for the show we watched a work crew erecting some extra bleacher seats. We noticed they were working very clumsily and didn't look very skilled but figured they knew what they were doing. Were we ever wrong! As the [overture] for the show began, we heard a strange screeching sound and then a roar. The roar was the sound of a thousand seats, filled with people, crashing eighteen feet to the floor! They were sitting in the bleachers that had been hastily built during our rehearsal! The screeching was the nails being pulled out of the wood! Since we were playing in an armoury there was immediate first aid provided by National Guard personnel. The guardsmen had to break down doors from the outside to help the victims who were trapped down in what was now a pit-like area. Sonja had the orchestra play quietly until the people involved were taken out for first aid and to hospitals. At about 9:30 the stage manager came up to Sonja and said 'shall we start the show now?' Sonja just looked at him and said two words, 'You're fired!' She then stayed up all night visiting the injured victims that were hospitalized over night, about fifty in all. There were about two hundred injured but thankfully no deaths. She delayed starting the show for three days, doing everything possible to help the victims. She was like that, and we loved her for it."

Keeping in mind that other stories that we've explored about Sonja Henie on the blog haven't exactly highlighted her 'good side', her reaction to this horrific situation definitely is more humanizing than many 'Sonja Henie stories' and paints her in a more compassionate light. Taking further ownership of the accident (for which she definitely shared responsibility, as this was one of her self-produced tours) all tickets were either refunded or honoured for the eventual show days later. According to Edvard Hambro's 1995 documentary "Sonja Henie: Queen Of The Ice", Henie blamed her brother Leif for the accident.

Henie's concern and well wishes were all well and good, but the people of Maryland were appalled. Governor Theodore R. McKeldin attended the armoury shortly after the accident, referring to the tragedy as "an outrage" and demanded that Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro organize a thorough inquiry into what caused the accident. Quoted in the March 7, 1952 edition of the "Spokane Daily Chronicle", Mayor D'Alesandro said the city would work with state groups and go through the wreckage "timber by timber and joint by joint." The investigation revealed that the shoddy stands were constructed by a contracting firm from Westfield, New Jersey owned by a Mr. Ed Coronati, whose background was in constructing seating for circuses, fairs and other events. He'd even designed bleachers at the same armoury before.

Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Used with permission.

Henie, according to Hambro, was "unable to meet the million dollar bond for her next show in New York... [and] was forced to cancel - paying off employees and refunding money to ticketholders." Her legal case first ended up in courts two months later with four hundred lawsuits for damages totalling more than five million dollars on the table. City engineer Samuel Mortimer, who inspected the stands that HAD been completed the morning of the day of the accident, testified to a jury that inadequate connections and too few nails were the cause of the collapse. The June 19, 1953 edition of the "Milwaukee Journal" stated that "Judge John T. Tucker, setting aside a jury verdict, Thursday ruled that the Sonja Henie Ice Revue Co. was liable for damages suffered in the 1952 collapse of bleachers. However, Tucker upheld the jury ruling that the blond skating star was not personally liable for the mishap at the 5th regiment armoury here in which about 275 spectators were injured. Tucker ruled that the ice show, New Jersey seating contractor Edwin J. Coronati and his company were liable for a total of about five million dollars in damages arising out of some 400 suits. A jury earlier had held that Coronati and his company were solely responsible." The largest settlement went to a Baltimore woman named Janet Harryman who suffered a broken back in the accident. She received thirty thousand dollars. The smallest, incidentally, was a claim for ten dollars for a minor injury.

Five million dollars is a huge amount of money these days obviously, but if you put that amount in the context of the early fifties, it's really no shocker that by the next year, Henie was moving onto a new venture with Morris Chalfen and Holiday On Ice in Europe. You also have to remember that by this point, in addition to Ice Capades and Ice Follies as well as many hotel shows all over the U.S., Henie was at that point in direct competition with the next big star in North America, Barbara Ann Scott. It's almost unbelievable to think though that not a single person died as the result of that completely avoidable accident. The moral of the story? Sometimes being a spectator at a skating show can be even more dangerous than being a performer.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Tango-Tango: John And JoJo's Gladsome Gem

John Curry and JoJo Starbuck. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

"Jalousie Tango",or "Tango-Tango" as it came to be known, was first created by Peter Martins of the New York City Ballet for a June 1978 benefit for John Curry's School Of Skating in New York. The audience for its first performance included Mikhail Baryshnikov, Lauren Bacall, Dick Cavett, Liv Ullmann, Princess Lee Radziwill (sister of Jackie O) and Diana Vreeland.

John Curry's "Ice Dancing" opened in November of that year for a sold out two-week run at Madison Square Gardens and reopened on Broadway in December of that year and "Tango-Tango" was one of the highlights of the show. Bill Jones, in his book "Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry" described what made the number so unique for Curry: "Few of Curry's works were quite so shameless as 'Tango-Tango'. Wearing a tight matador's suit and slicked down hair, Curry vamped alone before JoJo swept in... to lock eyes and arms with her lover. As the music built, the ghosts of Fred and Ginger stirred. On the ice, the couple seemed propelled by genuine yearning. Together, they glided, they waltzed and they spun, and after JoJo's climactic jump she beckoned her man meaningfully off stage."

For the most part, dance critics adored the piece. In a December 24, 1978 review in the "Lawrence Journal-World", the program set to the music of Igor Stravinsky and Jacob Thune Hansen Gade was recounted as a "high-spirited spoof of every Valentino tango you've ever seen on screen. Gliding onto the ice of the Minskoff Theater in an outrageous purple satin dress lined in red, a black Spanish shawl tossed casually over one shoulder, Miss Starbuck proceeds to flounce, slink, sulk and pout with a haughty, head-tossing disdain, while her partner, Curry, sweeps her around the floor." Another critic called it simply "a masterpiece". However, not everyone loved it. New York Times dance critic Anna Kisselgoff dimissed it as a "mock tango" and remarked that "its only moment of truth came, not when the dancers were in a clinch, but when they glided past one another in circles. And missed each other."

The number resurfaced repeatedly in many of Curry's productions and became an audience favourite... but not every performance went smoothly. In my April 2014 interview with Lorna Brown, she discussed one such occasion, when a tiff with Curry over her solo death spiral led to an unexpected climax: "One memory from John's shows that will always stand out is skating 'Tango-Tango' with him. Jojo wasn't there at that show. I wore a different costume than her and I was very different to JoJo. We were each other's understudies. The beginning was amazing and then he took me down into the death spiral and he let go and I lost the death spiral. I remember leaving the ice and I was so upset with him. I asked him 'why? Why would you do that?' and he looked at me and said 'I thought you could do it by yourself'. There I was with these black tears and bright red lips. It never happened again."

Twyla Tharp's "After All" and Norman Maen's "Afternoon of a Faun" come to mind instantly as two of the works from "Ice Dancing" that are best remembered and given their fair due to this very day. As much as I adore both of those masterpieces as well, "Tango-Tango" is one of my favourites from John Curry's vast repertoire. It's simply magical!

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The 1955 North American Figure Skating Championships

Tenley Albright

When the 1955 North American Championships were awarded to the Wascana Skating Club at the Canadian Figure Skating Association's annual meeting in late October 1953, I don't think anyone any of the men (and they were all men) on that year's executive had taken into account Mother Nature's wrath.

Skaters travelling by air from the United States and other regions of Canada were grounded by an unforgiving March blizzard in the Prairies that left them forced to continue their trip to Regina, Saskatchewan by train. After the blizzard ended, the temperature plummeted outside to almost minus twenty nine degrees Celsius. That's minus twenty Fahrenheit to those of you who aren't hip with the metric system and whatever way you spin it, absolutely freezing. Although the weather outside was frightful, luckily the rink the event was held in was heated and the competition was able to continue without a hitch once everyone arrived.


The pairs competition was won by twenty five year old Frances Dafoe and twenty eight year old Norris Bowden, with unanimous first place marks from all six judges. The marking for pairs at that time was out of 10.0 and not 6.0 and their lowest mark for content was a 9.4. For manner of performance, their marks ranged from 8.6 to 9.5. Second place finishers were Americans Carole Ann Ormaca and Robin Greiner, while Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul claimed the bronze. The March 16, 1955 issue of the "Ottawa Citizen" noted, "Dafoe and Bowden, both of Toronto, put on a dazzling display of split jumps, stag lifts, spread eagles and [Axel] jumps, adding the variations which earned them their second world title at Vienna last month." Americans Lucille Ash and Sully Kothman and Canadians Audrey Downie and Brian Power rounded out the five team field.


Capitalizing on a strong lead in the school figures, nineteen year old Tenley Albright, representing the Skating Club Of Boston, fended off a formidable challenge in the free skate from her younger American teammate Carol Heiss to take the title. Albright's win in Regina wasn't without controversy either; she fell twice and still received first place marks in free skating from all six judges. A disappointing last place finish in the school figures (which counted for sixty percent of the total score) left seventeen year old Carole Jane Pachl too far behind to be able to make up ground in the free skate and a third American, Patricia Firth, claimed the bronze in the first U.S. sweep of the women's event in the history of the North American Championships.


In the men's event, twenty one year old Hayes Alan Jenkins (who like Albright was skating to defend his North American crown from two years earlier) took a formidable lead in the school figures and coasted to a unanimous victory ahead of his younger brother David and eighteen year old Canadian Champion Charles Snelling of Toronto with near perfect marks from all six judges in the free skate. Hugh Graham of Boston finished fourth. Graham was a substitute for an ill Ronnie Robertson.


Carmel and Edward Bodel

Lynn Copley-Graves' fantastic book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" tells us that "only five couples contested Dance, so the referees cancelled the First Round of compulsories. The Bodels lead after fluidly skating the Three-Lobe Waltz, Quickstep, Argentine Tango and Viennese Waltz. Crowd pleasers Joan Zamboni and Roland Junso stayed on their heels. Virginia Hoyns, now with Bill Kipp, substituted for [Phyllis and Martin Forney] to round out third. Their effervescent free dance had novel, surprising sequences, but borrowed many moves from pair skating to the judges' dismay. Lindy and Jeff Johnson slipped above [Geraldine Fenton and Gordon Crosland] who could easily have gained higher marks with a more relaxed style." Although the win for the married couple from Orinda, California would be the fifth in a row for American ice dance teams, it wasn't with unanimous first marks and it would prove to be the last North American title a U.S. ice dance team would win until 1965.

In his book "A Nobody's Dream... Came True", Gordon Crosland recalled, Our second ranked placement meant we were on the National Team to go to the Worlds and the North American Championships. North Americans were to be held in Regina in mid-January, during a below zero blizzard. Yes, it was cold. So cold in fact that the natural ice in the Wascana Skating Club, which was hosting the event, was cracking in all directions, leaving long splits running through the entire surface. We were supposed to practice there, but didn’t as the ice was just too dangerous. Jumping over ice cracks isn't conducive with dance patterns and specific footwork. Each country had three teams and we came in fifth. My fault! I drew a total blank on the straight-line footwork sequence, or I think we might have been second or third... The Fentons were even less impressed [than they were at Canadians]. My ice dance career was over!"

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

The 1955 event would mark an important first in figure skating history for it was the initial time that any international figure skating competition would be held in the province of Saskatchewan. Despite the cruelty of Mother Nature, the show went on.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Revisiting Charlotte Oelschlägel In War-Torn Germany

Charlotte Oelschlägel survived two World Wars, created a sensation in Berlin with her Eisballets and took Broadway by storm with her performances at the Hippodrome Theatre in the early twentieth century. In 1939, she returned to Germany to attend her mother's funeral and found herself trapped there when her passport. Her glory years behind her, Charlotte faded into relative obscurity... until she attempted to stage a comeback amidst the rubble at the end of the War.

In my digging, I came across a gem of a newspaper article from April 29, 1948 edition of "The Milwaukee Journal" that explained, "Charlotte, deprived of an ice rink by the lack of chemicals in war depleted Germany, hasn't forgotten how to skate. Today, she and her partner-husband, Carl Neumann, are hard at work on new routines - this time on roller skates... After Charlotte left the United States, she and her husband skated in Germany, England and Italy until World War II, when they were no longer permitted to give skating performances since they refused to appear in propaganda shows for Nazi Germany. Now 46, Charlotte and her husband occupy a two room apartment in the American sector of Berlin. Last fall they began developing a roller skating routine to take the place of their ice ballet. After months of training, the ballet is ready for a showing. Charlotte and her husband hope to appear on the stage again with their own roller skating ballet in the near future. Charlotte is still going strong. 'People can add up the years,' she says, but she doesn't feel too old for skating." I went digging in the German newspaper archives but sadly, I wasn't able to find any mention of a roller skating revue starring Charlotte in the late forties. I'd reached a dead end... or so I thought.

I then came across another anecdote that proved to be even more intriguing. In her book "Thin Ice", Jacqueline du Bief shared this tale from 1948 that proved even more compelling: "It happened in 1948 and the show that Mr. Nickling (Nick to his friends) was directing was the first ice show to be performed in Berlin since the war. One afternoon, while he was watching the company rehearse, Nick saw coming towards him a rather elderly lady, in a leather coat, with hair cut short like a boy's and her face innocent of any make-up. 'Forgive me, but there is no ice anywhere in Berlin and I should so much like to skate for a few minutes. Will you allow me to use your rink?' 'But it is not for the public and - the insurance-' 'Oh, don’t worry about that. I know how to skate. Nothing will happen to me.' Her personality and her tone intrigued Nick, who hazarded: 'You have been a skater?' 'Yes.' 'Might I know-'..." We're left to imagine the former star lacing up her skates and wowing Mr. Nickling with the legendary Charlotte back spiral and Axels she'd wowed audiences at the Hippodrome with some three decades prior.

In 1952, Charlotte was featured as the star of the short-lived "Eisballet Charlotte" at the Gridley Circus. She later turned to coaching for a time and passed away in November of 1984 in a retirement home in Barbarossastraße, West Berlin. In a October 1, 1967 letter to Dick Button, she wrote, "Nice to have heard from you and that you were thinking of us as we are both not well as Curt had a little collapse and I a bit of a breakdown due to seizures as we have so much trouble with getting something of all we have lost and as all our fortune and goods... [I am] 77 years [old]... but I am still skating." Charlotte's passion for skating, despite what certainly doesn't appear to have been an easy go of it later in life, serves as a reminder that the ice is always there for us when the going gets rough.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Nadja Franck, The First Queen Of Finnish Figure Skating

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

"I have never seen a lady skate with such ease and so gracefully; her toe spins were charming to witness, and she had the good taste not to skate figures that were not graceful." - Douglas Adams, "Skating", 1892

Born April 15, 1867 in Helsinki, Finland, Nadja Franck (Nadeschda Antipin) was the daughter of Wasili and Maria Antipin. The Antipin family were believed to have originally come to Scandinavia from Kiev but by the time of Nadja's birth both of her parents were Finnish citizens and her father was a successful merchant. Young Nadja and her sister (also named Maria) were among the eighty female members of the Helsingfors Skridskoklubb. In its early days, the club was better known for its speed skaters than its figure skaters but Nadja soon proved to be one of the club's most proficient at the latter. As a teenager, she received training from John Catani and Rudolf Sundgren, two of Scandinavia's most decorated figure skaters.

Top: Nadja Franck. Bottom: Nadja Franck, Rudolf Sundgren and an unidentified skater. Photo courtesy Sveriges Centralförening för Idrottens Främjande Archive.

Eleven years after the Wiener Eislaufverein in Vienna held one of the first known competitions for female skaters, Nadja's club followed suit and the teenage trailblazer entered and won. The following year, she married a merchant named Johan Gustaf (Gösta) Franck. Sadly, only five years later her husband died at the age of twenty eight. Rather than give up, the tragedy only spurred the young widow's resolve to excel in 'a gentleman's sport' even more.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

She taught skating to other young women in Finland and travelled to France in 1895 and 1897 to give exhibitions and teach skating with her sister Maria at the Pôle Nord artificial ice rink. In January 1898 - less than a month before the World Championships were held in London for the first time - she gave an exhibition at the National Skating Palace at Hengler's Circus. The January 29, 1898 issue of "The Wheelwoman" raved about her skating (and outfit) thusly: "Nadja Franck's skating is a perfect treat. I have never seen such a graceful performance in my life - I gazed and gazed and never got beyond her feet. Jack told me afterwards he never took his eyes off her pretty face under the simple little black Astrakhan cap, and someone else described most graphically her lovely French gown of soft grey embroidered with white, so between us all you can picture a bewitching tout ensemble!" Her exhibitions were even accompanied by a live band playing a waltz. This was obviously well before Lili Kronberger popularized the concept of interpreting music at the 1911 World Championships.

Here's where things get really interesting. In 1899, the Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb in Sweden included a contest for women in a massive competition that included both figure and speed skating events. A who's who of Scandinavian skating took part in the affair, including Catani, Sundgren, Norway's Alfred Naess and Stockholm's Ivar Hult. Three members of The Skating Club in London - Algeron Grosvenor, W.F. Adams and Douglas Adams - even made the trip to study skating in the Swedish Style and gave donned their top hats, cast an orange on the ice and gave an exhibition of combined figures in the English Style.

Top: Alfred Naess and Nadja Franck in 1899. Photo courtesy Norsk Folkemuseum. Bottom: Nadja Franck teaching skaters in Finland.

After watching her coaches Sundgren and Catani place first and third in the men's event, Nadja nervously took to the ice. The first woman from Finland to ever compete internationally then went on to decisively trounce three talented women from Stockholm and Gothenburg... on their own home turf. With one hundred and eighty two points to Anna Weibull's one hundred and fifty three, Nadja earned herself gold jewelry and the club's gold medal and became the first woman to win an international figure skating competition in Scandinavia.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

A turn of the century history of Stockholms Allmänna Skridskoklubb noted that her performance was of a quality that it had never been seen "before or since" and that she "has done something so beautiful and elegant in her skating. In her skating she avoided carefully all the movements and figures that do not harmonize with female pleasure. You never saw her do daring jumps or crisp bends in the free leg. She was soft and comfortable... Her program consisted chiefly of spirals... a tasteful polka-mazurka that earned her major acclaim and splendid carriage." The interesting part? Sundgren, Catani and our leading lady had all given both exhibitions and lessons in skating. As amateurism was serious business at the time, there was debate as to whether or not the lessons Nadja had given others were for monetary gain. The March 7, 1899 edition of the Finnish newspaper "Pori" defended her, stating that she "exercised the sport for her own pleasure and was an amateur in the true sense of the word." Right after her amateur status was questioned, Nadja remarried to a bank teller named Väinö Hjalmar Rafael Sandqvist, bid adieu to competitive skating and embarked on a turn of the century 'tour' giving exhibitions in Helsinki, Turku, Satakunta, Vyborg, Tampere and even Russia. In one 1905 exhibition in Porvoo, she even teamed up with Sakari Ilmanen to give a demonstration of pairs skating.

While practicing in 1909, Nadja collided with speed skater Oscar Mathisen while he was training for a five thousand meter race. She suffered a broken arm and was badly bruised and decided it was time for her to put her performing days behind her. Opening a skating school in Helsinki with Thyra Brandt, she passed on her knowledge to a whole new generation of Finnish skaters. Nadja passed away on January 7, 1932 in Helsinki, the same city where she took her first steps on the ice.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":