The 1982 European Figure Skating Championships

Held the first week of February 1982 at the Charlemagne Ice Rink in Lyon, France, the 1982 European Figure Skating Championships was a particularly compelling competition in that history was made in all four disciplines at the event that year... but not without putting the safety of many of the skaters in jeopardy. Today on the blog, we will take a look back at all of the excitement!


Norbert Schramm

To the pleasure of the French audience, Jean-Christophe Simond won the school figures at the 1982 European Championships ahead of defending champion Igor Bobrin, Heiko Fischer, Norbert Schramm and Vladimir Kotin. In the short program, Simond singled a double Axel and Bobrin stumbled on his jump combination, opening the door for Jozef Sabovčík - who was only seventh in the figures - to win that phase of the event ahead of Schramm, Rudi Cerne and Alexandr Fadeev.

In the free skate, the ordinals were all over the place and it was twenty one year old Norbert Schramm that came out on top. He nailed four triples including the Lutz, his only major error a fall on a triple loop attempt. His victory was not only particularly significant in that he had only placed third at that year's West German Championships: he actually became the first German skater to take the European men's title since the Berlin Wall was erected.

The men's podium

Skating last in the free skate, Simond rallied back with a jam-packed program with six clean triples (including a Lutz and flip) but fell attempting a second triple toe-loop and was hampered by artistic marks that weren't on par with Schramm's. Bobrin claimed the bronze, followed by Cerne, Fadeev, Fischer, Kotin and Sabovčík  . Poland's sole entry at the competition Grzegorz Filipowski finished ninth, skating to "The Impossible Dream" after taking a thirty-six hour train ride to the event. Future World Medallist Todd Sand, then representing Denmark, dropped from eighteenth in the figures to nineteenth overall.


Bronze Medallist Elena Vodorezova

In 1972, Trixi Schuba didn't win the free skate at the European Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden. However, she did win the title based on a massive lead in the school figures. The exact same thing happened exactly ten years later in the women's event in Lyon, when Vienna's Claudia Kristofics-Binder became the first Austrian woman since Schuba to take the European title. Like Schuba, Kristofics-Binder won based on her exemplary school figures. She was only third in the short program and free skate, both of which were won by a young upstart from Karl-Marx-Stadt, East Germany you may have heard of named Katarina Witt. Witt skated last in the free skate and managed three triples - two toe-loops and a Salchow - but touched down on a triple flip attempt. Interestingly, Kristofics-Binder actually had the skate of her life in the free skate, matching Witt's effort with three clean triple Salchows but the judges preferred the verve and vitality of Witt and West Germany's Claudia Leistner. Witt's sixth place finish in the figures kept her in second. Elena Vodorezova of the Soviet Union claimed the bronze, followed by Debbie Cottrill of Great Britain, Leistner and Finland's Kristina Wegelius.


Sabine Baeß and Tassilo Thierbach

History was made in the pairs event when East Germans Sabine Baeß and Tassilo Thierbach became the first German team since Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler to win the European title. In fact, they were the first non-Soviet team to win in eighteen years. It hadn't been easy. Defending champions Irina Vorobieva and Igor Livosky had narrowly defeated them in the short program. However, when an injured Irina fell twice in the free skate, it opened the door for Baeß and Thierbach and they met the challenge with an athletic free skate. Another Soviet pair, Marina Pestova and Stanislav Leonovich actually took the silver and Vorobieva and Livoski were forced to settle for bronze ahead of teams from the Soviet Union, East Germany, Great Britain, West Germany, France and Switzerland.


Nineteen teams competed in the ice dance event in Lyon but twenty four year old Jayne Torvill and twenty three year old Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean were in a class of their own. They danced their way to their second consecutive European title with a stunning blues OSP to Larry Adler's "Summertime" and their iconic "Mack And Mabel" free dance. The Britons received eleven 6.0's throughout the competition, setting a new World record at the time... and a trend in their career. A report from the February 6, 1982 issue of "The Globe And Mail" recalled, "[Torvill] and Dean skimmed across the ice so close to each other at times that they appeared as one dancer, a marvel of technique.. Their dancing was light, charming and airy, yet strong."

Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin in Lyon

Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin, students of Tatiana Tarasova, overshadowed their more experienced Soviet teammates Irina Moiseeva and Andrei Minenkov to claim the silver. Lynn Copley-Graves, in her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" asserted that despite Bestemianova and Bukin's rise, they still had areas to improve upon in Lyon: "Some skaters skated on the ice, others skated above, but B&B skated into the ice, deeper in than others, digging, cutting, chipping away. You felt sorry for anyone who had to skate after them. The sweet Natalia transformed into a shrew sometimes, a sorcerer at others, as she took to the ice... Their free this year was overchoreographed in places, underchoreographed in other places." In fourth were Soviets Olga Volozhinskaya and Alexandr Svinin, followed by Karen Barber and Nicky Slater of Great Britain.

Top: Toller Cranston in Lyon covering the event for Canadian television. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine. Bottom: Postcard from the event.

The real drama at the 1982 European Championships had absolutely nothing to do with figure skating... but it absolutely affected the safety of the skaters. The night before the men's free skate, a bomb went off in the parking lot of the rink. In his book "Jumpin' Joe", Jozef Sabovčík
recalled, "While in the warm-up for the long, I heard a commotion coming from the stands. There were demonstrators in the audience supporting the solidarity movement that was erupting in Poland... As I and the other skaters were standing on the ice, people jumped over the boards, holding banners with the word 'Solidarity' printed on them. The demonstrators began to throw bottles, shattering glass over the ice. We were quickly led off the rink, as security took control of the situation." Many of those shards of glass remained on the ice (which hadn't been flooded) while the final flight of men skated their programs, and the skaters had to keep an eye out for them, worrying both for their safety and jumps at the same time.

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":

Silvia And Michel Grandjean, Switzerland's Most Famous Pairs Team

At the turn of the twentieth century, Ali, Jules and Arnold Grandjean-Perrenoud-Contesse, the three sons of a clock and watch maker from the Sagne valley, became friends with a group of sportsmen and caught the sporting bug themselves. Arnold was the most successful, winning the Swiss Championships in cycling in 1911 and 1912 and competing in the Tour de France. Together, they opened a small bicycle store in Fleurier and began designing their own line of bicycles - the Allegro. Eventually, two younger brothers, Tell and Ulysses Grandjean, joined the family business. In 1923, Arnold, Tell and Ulysses built the first Allegro factory in Neuchâtel and expanded their line to include motorcycles. From 1925 to 1927, Tell was Switzerland's champion in motorcycle racing. He even participated in side-car races with his wife. Little did he know at the time that his children would grow up to be Europe's best pairs figure skating team.

Michel Olivier Grandjean was born on April 12, 1931; Silvia Odette Grandjean three years later. Adopted separately by Tell Grandjean, they learned to skate at the Patinoire De Neuchâtel as youngsters during World War II. A skating coach with a good eye suggested that they skate as a pair and together, they both quickly showed promise, earning the Gold medals of the Swiss, English and Austrian skating federations. Following the War, they divided their training time between Switzerland and Great Britain. In an October 1960 interview in the Swiss newspaper "L'Impartial", Michel told reporters, "Fortunately for both of [us as] athletes, [our] parents were understanding. For three years, we could train in Monruz in winter and London in summer, under the direction of the Swiss, [Arnold] Gerschwiler." While in England, Silvia and Michel also studied under renowned ice dance coach Gladys Hogg for a time and took ballet lessons.

Silvia and Michel entered the international skating scene with a bang at the 1951 European Championships in Zürich, finishing just off the podium in fourth behind Jennifer and John Nicks of Great Britain. At the World Championships in Milan that followed, they placed a credible seventh of the twelve teams competing. Succeeding Elyane Steinmann and André Calame of Lausanne, they claimed their first of three Swiss pairs titles in Flims in 1952. As the top ranked Swiss pair that year, they were entered in the European Championships in Vienna, Winter Olympics in Oslo and World Championships in Paris. Quite incredible considering their lack of international experience, their lowest placement in the three events was seventh. In 1953, Silvia and Michel successfully defended their Swiss title in Arosa, defeating Susy Holstein and Willy Wehl and Albertine and Nigel Brown. At the World Championships in Davos that followed, they lost out on a spot on the podium to the Hungarian duo of Marianna and László Nagy by half a point.

After winning their third and final Swiss title in Villars in early 1954, the siblings made history in Bolzano as the first pairs team from Switzerland to claim the European title. In their final competitive outing, the 1954 World Championships in Oslo, Norway, they endured frigid, thirty below temperatures and skated one of the best performances of their career. "L'Express", on February 7, 1954, reported that "the [top] two couples presented very good programs". At the end of the day, the judges gave first place to Canadians Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden and 10.486 points and 17.5 placings - and second place - to the Swiss siblings.

Silvia and Michel were headliners of the Grand Gala Artistique at the Patinoire De Neuchatel in the early fifties, which brought in an international cast of skating stars of the era including Barbara Ann Scott, Hans Gerschwiler, Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy, Gundi Busch, Jimmy Grogan, Alain Giletti, Liz Manley's future coach Peter Dunfield and Trixi Schuba's future coach Leopold Linhart. Skating alongside these greats gave the Swiss siblings a taste of show biz. Although Swiss audiences were very disappointed to see them go, Silvia and Michel departed from Paris in 1954 via plane and took up residence on East End Avenue in New York City while they awaited the start of their professional careers.

Joining the cast of the Ice Capades, Silvia and Michel really benefited from performing alongside established stars of the professional world like Donna Atwood and Bobby Specht and Ája Vrzáňová. American crowds warmed up to their very European style quickly. On December 27, 1955, "The Spokane Chronicle" said they "move with seemingly effortless grace." One of their signature numbers was an elegant program set to Claude Debussy's "La mer".

In 1958, Silvia and Michel left the Ice Capades and joined the cast of Holiday On Ice, performing in shows in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and North Africa. In early 1962, Silvia announced her decision to leave the tour. She married a Monsieur Guyonneau, a French industrialist in La Coudre, only a month later. In a July 1992 interview in "L'Express", Silvia reflected, "I found a man on my way, I became a wife and I left with regret the entertainment world that I so love." Morris Chalfen renewed Michel's contract with a new partner. He joined the Asian tour for a time before moving to America. He passed away on December 11, 2010 in Pennsylvania at the age of seventy nine. Roy Blakey recalled, "I was impressed with his quiet elegance and charming accent. Also his wonderful joy for life and great sense of humour. He loved to travel and his Christmas cards always contained a photo together with his long time partner Alex Mangas from their most recent foreign adventure. He was a beautiful skater and a terrific person who is sadly missed."

Michel Grandjean and his dog Domino

To this day, Silvia and Michel remain the only pairs team from Switzerland ever to win the European title or a medal at the World Championships. Whatever the future may hold, these siblings from Neuchâtel certainly took advantage of their family's sporting heritage and sped to the finish line first.

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":

Günter's Great Escape

"In power and youth sport handling of enemy activity is particularly focus on the following priorities... Plans, intentions and actions of human beings (especially poaching) and the illegal departure from the GDR...  especially taking advantage of missions abroad." - Released STASI file "Instructions 4/71 on the political and operational work in the field of physical culture and sport", March 12, 1971

Born May 21, 1948 in Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz), Günter Werner Siegfried Zöller took to the ice as a youngster, showed promise and soon found himself training under the indomitable Jutta Müller. He won his first medal at the National Championships of the German Democratic Republic in 1963 and was sent to the European Figure Skating Championships in Budapest, where he made a forgettable debut, finishing nineteenth of the twenty one men competing. By the next season, the teenager was already showing signs of improvement.

Photo courtesy German Federal Archives

Günter won his first international medal at the Pokal der Blauen Schwerter competition in 1964, finishing third behind France's Robert Dureville and future Olympic Gold Medallist Ondrej Nepela. In 1965, he won his first of six national titles and competed in his first of five World Championships in Colorado Springs. Flying under the radar, he slowly inched his way up in the standings in the European and World Championships in the late sixties. By 1970, he handily won a pair of bronze medals at the European and World Championships and established himself as a bona fide contender.

Photos courtesy German Federal Archives

Then everything changed. An injury forced Günter to miss the 1971 season. While working as an auto mechanic, he began to question his future in the sport and the political regime of the country he lived in. Two of his former competitors, Bodo Bockenauer and Ralph Borghardt, had defected in the mid-sixties and the possibility of getting out of dodge began to creep into his mind. In 1972, he returned to the ice purposefully. His plan? Not to win another medal but to get out of East Germany once and for all. After winning his sixth National title, Zöller headed to Gothenburg, Sweden for the 1972 European Championships. Not long after he arrived, he skipped his training session and called a cab from his hotel. An Associated Press article from January 11, 1972 explained, "He ordered it to the West German Consulate, where he asked for and was granted an Alien's passport. Before boarding a ferry for Kiel in West Germany, he said his motives for the defection were political. He said he would try a career as a trainer in Germany." His simple but effective plan turned out to not be as foolproof as he thought. Before he boarded the ferry, reporters from the tabloid "Bild-Zeitung" met and interviewed him for a feature series on his escape. One of them, a journalist named Manfred Hönel, turned out to actually be a wolf in sheep's clothing - a STASI informant - and fed back every word to the East German government.

Photo courtesy German Federal Archives

Ultimately, The Socialist Unity Party of Germany launched a vicious campaign in the East German press decrying Günter as a traitor. The "Deutsches Sport Echo" - which released STASI files prove was an arm of the party - called it "treason". He later said, "My coach, of course, was affected, too, when her student left the German Democratic Republic. Her daughter [Gaby Seyfert] then called me a traitor in the newspapers." Propaganda, smear campaign - whatever you like to call it - the East German men's champion found safety and success in the West. He started coaching immediately in Ludwigshafen and the next year, crossed the Rhine and established himself as a a trainer in Mannheim. Among his students were Claudia Leistner, Manuela Ruben, Stefan Pfrengle and Petra Ernert.

Photo courtesy German Federal Archives

Günter's West German students (particularly Leistner and Ruben) ended up being highly successful on the world stage but on the same level of awkward as running into your ex while you're on a date with your new paramour, he was constantly snubbed by East German athletes and officials at international competitions. In "Der Spiegel", judge Eugen Romminger asserted that Günter left his West German students to work "for 150,000 marks as a state coach to Italy". This arrangement lasted for two years, and then he returned to Mannheim, where he remains a coach to this day.

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":

Are You Ready To Rhumba?

Poster for the French release of Paramount's 1935 film "Rumba"

The roots of the Rhumba as a social dance trace back hundreds of years to Cuba at the time when the West Indies were the first port of call for slave traders . The dance's roots come from percussive traditional dances from the Senegalese, Yoruba, Dahomean and Ashanti people that were adapted to sensual Latin American rhythms. In the thirties, Don Aspiazú and his Havana Casino Orchestra and the Paramount film "Rumba" helped bring popularity to Rhumba music and dance. A toned down version of the dance called the 'Son' became widely accepted in American ballroom circles in the thirties, but the first attempts to translate the dance to the ice came out of England.

In 1932, Howard Nicholson devised the Rhumba Tango, a pattern ice dance which first appeared in the "London Times". Nicholson's dance was known to both British and American skaters, but it didn't really catch on. Walter Gregory's Rhumba, created in 1938, proved to be the Rhumba that stuck. Though its reverse choctaw was considered worrisome to some, Gregory's Rhumba was adopted quickly into the National Skating Association's new First Class (Gold) Dance Test, which Walter was the first to pass. He performed the dance with Muriel Roberts to win the National Skating Association's Open Professional Dance Championship in April 1939. Sadly, Walter Gregory was killed during World War II while serving in the Royal Air Force.

Patterns for The Rhumba Tango and Walter Gregory's Rhumba

Though the Kilian hold has been consistent over time and the pattern of Gregory's Rhumba endured few changes, the tempo increased from forty four measures of four bars per minute in 1941 to forty eight by 1950. The National Skating Association developed a bit of a love/hate relationship with the dance, making it an optional Gold dance in 1948 and scrapping it altogether the following year in favour of the American Waltz. It returned, only to be discontinued again in 1965 and reintroduced three years later as part of the Intermediate Gold Dance Test.

In 1944, Gregory's Rhumba inspired two spin-offs - the Preusch Tango (created by Edith and Arthur Preusch) and the Winterland Rhumba (created by Betty Abbott and Harry Doose). Interestingly, the Winterland Rhumba - named after San Francisco's Winterland rink - was designed so that two thirds of the steps were performed on a straight line. Like Nicholson's Rhumba Tango, neither the Preusch Tango or Winterland Rhumba generated the same interest as Gregory's Rhumba. That said, it wasn't exactly a hugely popular or well-received dance outside of Great Britain for many years.

In his 1950 book "Dancing On Ice", Erik van der Weyden, a contemporary of Gregory who invented the Foxtrot, Rocker Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz and Westminster Waltz with Eva Keats remarked, "No dance has ever created so much controversy, or has caused so many minor storms in a tea-cup - with much to be said for the views of either side. This dance never became sufficiently popular to be incorporated in the dance intervals of the majority of rinks. Even where it was normally included the numbers dancing it were few, and in most cases consisted of skaters of little more than Bronze standard, who were unable to do justice to the movements or rhythm, with the exception, of course, of occasional Silver dancers working up for their Golds. My own feelings on the Rhumba are that the steps can be quite delightful when skated to a different and smoother rhythm, so as to give more play to the essence of skating, and to eliminate that snatch effect which is characteristic of the dance. The actual Rhumba rhythm is for me even more fascinating than that of the Tango, so I feel that surely the solution would have been for the Rhumba steps to have been adapted for more suitable music, and for a new dance to have been created for Rhumba rhythm."

The Jamaican Rhumba

In 1962, two new Rhumbas were presented at Queens - the Jamaican Rhumba (created by Joan Dewhirst and John Slater) and the Cuban Rhumba (created by Peri Horne and Courtney Jones). These dances were exhibited at the 1964 World Championships in Dortmund and placed under consideration for adoption as new compulsories, but the ISU didn't ultimately adopt them. The Jamaican Rhumba, however, was adopted in 1965 as a replacement for Gregory's Rhumba in the National Skating Association's Gold Dance Test.

In September of 1969, the ISU ultimately adopted Gregory's Rhumba as part of its First Class (Gold) Test and added it to the international schedule of compulsory dances. When nearly all of the teams at the 1973 World Championships in Bratislava struggled with the dance, Polly Nelson suggested in "Skating" magazine that it be eliminated from the international schedule altogether. Rather than scrap the dance, the ISU Dance Committee chose to replace the dance's third step with a serpentine LFO-LFI-LFO step. This change would prove to be the first pattern amendment to the dance since its creation.

Revised 1973 pattern for Walter Gregory's Rhumba

The Rhumba was drawn as the OSP rhythm for the 1975/1976 season, and proved to be a major roadblock for many of the world's top dancers. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Ice dancers most wanted Rhumba lessons because they had so little experience with the Rhumba as a ballroom dance. Many pros knew no more about this rhythm than their pupils. Ice dancers move in half circles; ballroom dancers move in straight lines forward, backward, or to the side... Rhumba rhythm called for the body to work as a figure 8, in one direction from the waist up, in the other direction from the hips down." The most successful Rhumba that season was that of Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov, who studied traditional Rhumba music in libraries and worked with ballroom coaches who specialized in the rhythm to ensure authenticity.

In November of 1983, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean made history by receiving the first perfect marks of 6.0 for a compulsory dance ever at the British Dance Championship. The dance they received them for was the Rhumba, which Dean had actually failed when he first tested it seven years prior. Torvill and Dean received another four 6.0's for the Rhumba at the 1984 World Championships in Ottawa. Their original dance set to the same rhythm at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer would go down in history as one of the most memorable Rhumbas of all time.

The Rhumbas we see on ice today may have evolved from the Rhumbas of years past, but understanding the history and evolution of the dance can only add to our enjoyment of it.

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 1997 European Figure Skating Championships

Held from January 19 to 26, 1997 at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in Paris, France, the 1997 European Figure Skating Championships marked the very first time in history that skaters from one country swept the gold medals in all four disciplines at the European Championships. Prior to 1997, Russia or the Soviet Union had won three out of four disciplines seven times but they never quite managed to make the big sweep until they arrived in Paris. Ron Pfenning, Sally-Anne Stapleford, Vanessa Riley, Ann Shaw, Alexander Gorshkov, Courtney Jones and Alfred Korytek were just a few of the names you may recognize that presided over the event as judges and officials. Favourites floundered and flourished, comebacks crumbled and surprises reigned supreme. Let's take a brief look at how things played out in Paris one icy January back in 1997!


Left: Marina Eltsova and Andrei Bushkov; Right: Mandy Wötzel and Ingo Steuer

Reigning World Champions Marina Eltsova and Andrei Bushkov dominated the pairs event, earning marks of 5.7 and 5.8 for technical merit and marks ranging from 5.7 to 5.9 for their free skate. The Russians were helped along in their quest to reclaim the European title they had first won in 1993 when Germans Mandy Wötzel and Ingo Steuer left valuable points on the table by two footing a throw double Axel and singling out on their side-by-side double Axels. France's Sarah Abitbol and Stephane Bernadis, third after the short program, seemed on track for the bronze medal and turned in a wonderful performance in the free skate but a hand down on one of their throws dropped them behind Russians Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze. As one would expect, the Paris crowd wasn't too thrilled.


For the enthusiastic French crowd, the only skater that really mattered in the men's competition was the charismatic Philippe Candeloro, who had a late start to his season and was mounting a comeback after a knee operation.

"Mission: Impossible" and "Napoleon", Candeloro's 'characters' in Paris

All of the singles competitors - experienced or not - were required to earn their place in 'the main event' by competing in qualifying rounds and the results of the first men's qualifying group were quite surprising. Former World Junior Champion Evgeny Pliuta of Ukraine managed to place ahead of not only Candeloro but Dmitri Dmitrenko, Ilia Kulik, Michael Shmerkin and Viacheslav Zagorodniuk with one of his finest performances ever. In the second group, 1994 Olympic Gold Medallist Alexei Urmanov led the way ahead of Igor Pashkevich, Alexei Yagudin, Andrejs Vlascenko, Steven Cousins and Cornel Gheorghe. The qualifying rounds seemed a pointless exercise to many as only five men were cut prior to the short program.

Kulik rebounded to win the short program ahead of Zagorodniuk, Vlascenko, Candeloro, Yagudin and Urmanov with an iffy triple Axel combination. Quoted in the January 23, 1997 issue of "The Vancouver Sun", the young Russian said, "I feel comfortable in performing this short program... Concerning the combination, I realized something went wrong during the takeoff. I could have done a double toe-loop for the second jump. But in this kind of competition, you have to do a triple toe-loop.''

The tables turned in the free skate, when both Urmanov and Candeloro mounted incredible comebacks to take the top two spots on the podium. Zagorodniuk claimed the bronze, knocking a less than his best Kulik down to fourth ahead of Yagudin, Vlascenko and Pashkevich. Pliuta, unable to duplicate his outstanding effort in the qualifying rounds, ended up in twelfth. After winning, a shocked Urmanov told Associated Press reporters, "Yesterday I thought that these championships were over for me. Now I am sitting here with the gold medal."


Ice dance medallists at the 1997 European Championships

To the surprise of just about nobody, 1994 Olympic Gold Medallists Oksana Grishuk - or Pasha, if you will - and Evgeny Platov repeated as European Champions in Paris. The surprise was the history they made in doing so. Their "Libertango" original dance earned an incredible six 6.0's. These perfect scores actually tied the record for the most perfect 6.0's ever attained in an OSP or Original Dance at the European Championships, set by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean at the 1984 European Championships in Budapest.

Grishuk and Platov's "Libertango" in Paris

Incredibly, Grishuk and Platov managed to do it again in the free dance, earning a half a dozen more 6.0's on the second mark and a standing ovation for their theatrical program to Peter Gabriel's "The Feeling Begins". Their teammates Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov finished second. In a battle royale for bronze between two outstanding French teams, the more experienced Sophie Moniotte and Pascal Lavanchy came on top ahead of the upwardly mobile Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat.


Women's medallists at the 1997 European Championships

Surya Bonaly wasn't even supposed to compete in Paris. In May of the previous year, she ruptured her Achilles tendon and found herself in a fight with the French Federation to even be put on the national team even though she managed to win that season's French Championships in Amiens. Her twenty two year old teammate Laetitia Hubert, who missed the French Championships altogether, found herself in a similar struggle. Ultimately, both skaters were sent to Paris with Vanessa Gusmeroli, but it was clear from the get go that neither were up to their usual snuff.

In their qualifying group, Hubert finished fifth and Bonaly sixth, behind skaters who both had routinely defeated many times previously. In the other group, Gusmeroli fared much better, placing third behind Maria Butyrskaya and Irina Slutskaya and just ahead of the third Russian entry, Olga Markova.

Surya Bonaly, Olga Markova and Vanessa Gusmeroli

The competition itself was largely a splatfest, with comparative veterans Bonaly, Hubert, Butyrskaya and Markova all finding themselves buried in the standings in the short program. Though not perfect in her "Phantom On Ice" free skate, Irina Slutskaya managed to win both programs and win her second European title ahead of Hungary's Krisztina Czako and Ukraine's Yulia Lavrenchuk.

Butyrskaya finished second in the free skate to move up to fourth and Gusmeroli, who was third after the short program, mucked up several jumps in her free skate to drop to sixth. Markova finished eighth, Bonaly ninth and Hubert twelfth. While in Paris, Dick Button asked Slutskaya, "can I pinch your cheeks?" She replied, "Sure, all the old men like to pinch my cheeks."

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":

From Brussels To Antwerp: Three Belgian Skating Pioneers

Belgium... maybe the first thing you think of is Georges Remi's delightful cartoon Tintin, or maybe it's an ice cold bottle of Stella Artois. Perhaps still the first thing that comes to mind is Agathie Christie's famous mustachioed gumshoe, Hercule Poirot. Whatever that association may be, it's most likely not figure skating. Though Belgian figure skaters have enjoyed fine success in the previous two decades - take Kevin van der Perren and Jorik Hendrickx for example - it hasn't been since 1948, when Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet claimed Olympic gold and their second World title, that a Belgian figure skater has won a major ISU figure skating competition. Today on the blog, we'll meet some of three extremely talented men who put Belgian figure skating on the map in the early twentieth century!


The first men's skater from Belgium to win a medal at the European Championships was named Fernand Leemans. He accomplished this feat way back in 1947, finishing second to Switzerland's Hans Gerschwiler and Czechoslovakia's Vladislav Čáp. Leemans actually remained the only Belgian man with that claim to fame for the rest of the twentieth century. It wouldn't be until 2007 when Kevin van der Perren won the first of his two European medals that a men's skater from that country would reappear on the podium.

Who was Fernand Leemans anyway? Well, he was born on September 13, 1925 in the town of Brasschaat in northern Belgium. His opportunities to compete internationally were obviously limited by World War II but he won an incredible fourteen national titles in his home country as both a singles and pairs skater. In addition to his 1947 medal win at the European Championships, he appeared at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz and 1948 World Championships in Davos, finishing in eleventh place in both events.

What made Leemans' career so unique was that at the same time he was competing internationally as a figure skater, he was also competing at an elite level in roller skating. From December 5 to 7, 1947, Leemans was in Washington for the World Amateur Roller-Skating Championships, where he won the bronze medal in the men's event and the gold medal in the pairs event with his partner Elvira Collins.

In 1948, Fernand turned professional. An article from "The Billboard" on July 28, 1951 (when he and Collins were signed as headliners in the roller skating tour Skating Vanities Of 1952) offered a more detailed perspective on the team's scope of experiences: "Elvira Collins and Fernand Leemans, 22 and 25, respectively, who either as a team or individuals hold 35 titles, also were signed. They had been starring in a Scandinavian skating revue which toured Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Egypt, India, Singapore, Hong Kong and throughout Europe. Collins and Leemans have been working together for 13 years on rollers and ice." After the Skating Vanities tour, Leemans laced up his ice skates once again to perform solo as part of the cast in the Gay Paree show at the Roxy Theatre in New York City, where he skated alongside Jerry Decker, Margo Moore and the Roxy Choraleers and reunited with Collins to join the ice show at the Terrace Room in the Hotel New Yorker. The December 13, 1952 issue of "The Billboard" noted, "Collins and Leemans opened with a smooth 'Gay Nineties' routine, and displayed clever footwork and some cute dance steps that were quite attractive. However, they came over most effectively on their second time around, featuring in their 'Wild Twenties' act some beautifully performed lifts and head spins and graceful footwork. The team projects warmly whenever they are on the ice, adding to their effortless skating with appealing sight bits and gestures that add much charm. The male half of the act, Fernand Leemans, also did a solo, which came over in good style." It was in New York City that the two long time partners would part ways.

Jiřina Nekolová and Fernand Leemans. Photo courtesy Dr. Roman Seeliger.

After his taste of the Big Apple,Fernand returned to Europe to skate pairs with fellow European Medallist Emmy Puzinger in the Wiener Eisrevue in Vienna for several years. While with the popular Austrian show, he even appeared in three skating films from 1956 to 1964: "Symphonie In Gold", "Traumrevue" and "Die große Kür". After his retirement from the Eisrevue in Vienna, he moved to Barcelona, Spain, where he taught skating for over twenty years. He passed away on June 3, 2004 at the age of eighty nine, leaving behind a fascinating and forgotten balancing act of two impressive careers - on rollers and ice skates.


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Born May 25, 1905 in Sint-Niklaas, a city in the Flemish province of East Flanders in Belgium,
Frédéric "Freddy" Alexis Edwardus Alice Mésot held the distinction of being the first singles skater from Belgium to compete at the Olympic Games. He did so in Chamonix, France in 1924, placing ninth of eleven men who competed... just ahead of future ISU President Herbert Clarke of Great Britain. Following his Olympic appearance, Freddy won the Belgian men's title and competed in a series of small international competitions between French and Belgian skaters that alternated between Antwerp and Paris in the late twenties.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

The tall brown-haired, blue-eyed skater who spoke both English and French didn't reappear at a major international competition until 1936, when he placed eleventh at the European Championships in Berlin, Germany and tenth at the World Championships in Paris. In 1937, he moved up to tenth at the European Championships and eighth at the World Championships before opting to turn professional and wisely, get out of Europe.

Freddy Mésot and Ernst Baier

At the age of thirty four in November 1939, Freddy arrived in New York aboard the SS Normandie from Le Havre with his twenty seven year old Brussels born wife Emma. He joined Guy Owen, Maribel Vinson Owen and Karl Schäfer in the "Gay Blades" revue for a time, skating pairs with Canada's Mary Jane Halstead. He then took up jobs coaching at the Skating Club of New York, the Timmins Porcupine Figure Skating Club, Granite Club, Schumacher Summer Skating School, Bronx Riverdale Ice Skating Club and the Playland rink in Rye, New York.

At the first 'official' meeting of the Professional Skaters Guild Of America held during the 1950 U.S. Championships in Washington, D.C., Freddy was appointed as the Eastern representative for the organization. In this capacity, he worked alongside Maribel Vinson Owen and Edi Scholdan. In 1971, he was named by the ISI as Man Of The Year and nine years later, on October 31, 1979, he passed away in DeKalb County, Georgia at the age of seventy four.


Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

Robert 'Bobby' van Zeebroeck was born on October 31, 1909 - Hallowe'en -  exactly seventy years to the day before Freddy Mésot passed away. His father Eduard van Zeebroeck, an avid sportsman from Brussels, passed away at age fifty four when Robert was only two years old. Raised by his widowed mother, he started skating at the age of six and soon, through practice in Antwerp and St. Moritz, Switzerland, honed his craft.

Though competent in school figures, Robert excelled in free skating and was known for his high flying single jumps and fast spins. Like Freddy Mésot, he was a regular in the annual France versus Belgium international competitions of the mid to late twenties and even once defeated Pierre Brunet in one of these events. In 1925, he won the Belgian men's title and the Waltz title with one Mademoiselle Lauwers. The following year in Antwerp he repeated as Belgian men's champion and took the Waltz title with a new partner, Mademoiselle Schiffelers.

That same year, Robert made his debut at the European and World Championships. At these events, judges from Finland, Switzerland and Germany recognized his talent as a jumper and spinner, placing him in the top three in free skating. In 1927, van Zeebroeck passed the first class test of the Swiss Skating Federation in St. Moritz under the auspices of the Club des Patineurs de Lausanne and the St. Moritz Skating Club and took up pairs skating with Josy van Leberghe. That winter, at eighteen years of age he entered the Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz. Though he placed only sixth in pairs skating with van Leberghe, he surprised many by skating away with the bronze medal behind Gillis Grafström and Willy Böckl. Two judges even had the relatively unknown teenager in first place in the free skate and in winning the bronze, he defeated Karl Schäfer, Pierre Brunet and Bud Wilson. It was Belgium's first medal in Olympic figure skating, and to date the only one in singles figure skating.

Figure skating historian Gunnar Bang noted, "Both in the compulsory and free departments, he proved to be a skater of great [talent]. He did the most beautiful Axel Paulsens and quick pirouettes that distinguished him in all respects. He said [he gave] great verve in everything he untertook; this is why his overall third place is no surprise." Interestingly, like Mésot, Robert all but disappeared from the international skating world until 1936, when he returned to place tenth at the 1936 European Championships in Berlin. Opting to withdraw from the Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and World Championships in Paris, he instead thrilled audiences that autumn in Paris with an exhibition at the Palais des Sports with Vivi-Anne Hultén, Erich Erdös, Edi Scholdan and Liselotte Landbeck. After placing a disappointing ninth in his final international competition, the 1938 World Championships in Berlin, he retired from skating, later going on to coach for many years at the Murrayfield Skating Club in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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":

Rockers In Richmond: Virginia's Early Skating History

Most accounts of early American skating history focus on New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts and Illinois but I was able to find a couple of wonderful sources that explored early accounts of ice skating in the Old Dominion state. Keeping in mind that in the eighteenth century the winters would have been much chillier than they may be today, it really comes as no surprise that as far back as 1766, people were taking to the ice in Virginia. Advertisements from the October 26 and November 2 editions of that year's "Virginia Gazette" indicated that ice skates (with or without leather) were sold at Sarah Pitt's shop in Williamsburg and at Balfour and Barraud's in Norfolk. Other settlers in the state ordered in ice skates from England.

Jane Carson's 1965 book "Colonial Virginians At Play" tells us, "Travelers seldom commented on skating - perhaps because they usually visited Virginia in warm weather. But [Philip Vickers] Fithian spent the winter, and when millponds in the Northern Neck froze over, he joined neighbourhood groups who 'diverted' themselves 'on the ice', either with skates or without them. [William] Byrd's friends, too, played on the ice at Westover and esxperienced some of the hazards of the sport in this climate. On an unusually cold day in December of 1709 he entertained a group of house guests with billiards and reading in the morning and more billiards after dinner until they lost one of the balls. Then they walked the plantation and 'took a slide on the ice.' The following morning they took a walk and 'slid on skates', notwithstanding there was a thaw. In the evening they 'took another walk and gave Mr. Isham Randolph two bits to venture on the ice. He ventured and the ice broke with him and took him up to mid-leg.'"

Gaines Whitley taking a break from ice skating. Photo courtesy Virginia Tech archives.

In the nineteenth century, Lottie Shipman wrote of the joys of winter ice skating in Richmond, Virginia thusly: "Over the ice with a glide, Skimming the frozen expanse, Rapidly darting aside, Joining the slippery dance; Gracefully carving a line. Dashing away out of sight, Cutting a fancy design; Such is the skater's delight." The January 24, 1852 edition of "The Daily Dispatch" noted the development of skating in the state from recreational to bona fide 'fancy' skating: "Some who were quite awkward a short time since, are not only masters of both high and low Dutch, but are making bold efforts at cutting their names on the ice!"

Cadets skating on a pond at Virginia Tech University, circa 1920.  Photo courtesy Virginia Tech Archives.

Two years later, "The Richmond Mail" noted the efficacy of two 'colored' skaters (their word, not mine), named Patrick Brown and George Tate, who competed in a one mile speed skating race on the canal on the Elmira. The winning skater won twenty dollars; those betting on the race won five hundred. By the 1870's, an outdoor skating rink had been built in Richmond, Virginia and fancy dress skating parties with a hired brass band were all the rage. However, advertisements from "The Daily State Journal" seem to indicate more often than not, this rink was open to 'gentlemen only'.  Having never once hosted the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Virginia may not be a state we often associate with figure skating... but that's not to say it isn't one without a skating history.

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":