Youth Of Yesteryear: The Yvonne Sugden Story

Born October 14, 1939 in the market town of Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England, Yvonne de Montfort Boyer Sugden was the daughter of Alan Boyer Sugden and Evelyn Freda Bertha de Montfort Wellborne. Her father hailed from Rochdale; her mother Lancashire. Yvonne and her beloved dachshund Midas grew up in London, where her father worked as a chartered accountant.

Yvonne Sugden (middle) as the winner of the Open Novices Free Skating Competition at Wembley in January of 1949. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Just before her seventh birthday, Yvonne's parents took her to see the Walt Disney film "Pinocchio". The cinema was too full, so they went to an ice rink "just to watch" instead. She was amazed by what she saw and started skating the next day. When she started turning down invitations to parties to focus on her skating lessons, her parents knew she was serious about it. At the age of nine, she won a novice competition at the Empire Pool, Wembley. 

Hans Gerschwiler, Yvonne Sugden and Ája Zanová. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

At this time, Yvonne's parents took her out of school at her instructor Jacques Gerschwiler's suggestion. She trained three to five hours a day at Queen's and Streatham Ice Rinks, going to bed every night at seven thirty and getting up at six. A governess was employed to teach her English, French and German studies. 'Gersch' also frequently took her to Davos and St. Moritz, insisting that training outdoors in Switzerland would better prepare her for competing in different weather conditions.

Left: Yvonne Sugden. Middle: Yvonne Sugden and Michael Booker. Photo courtesy Michael Booker. Right: Yvonne Sugden.

In her little off time, Yvonne enjoyed ballroom dancing... and actually won a bronze and silver medal at that as well. In the summers, she played golf, went swimming and rowed around in her three-seater collapsible canoe. She described the most exciting experience in her life as being presented to Princess Alexandra at the premiere of the film "Alexander The Great".

In 1949, Yvonne won the British junior women's title and in 1950 (the youngest competitor at age ten) she placed sixth in the senior women's event. She moved up to fourth the following year. Her breakthrough year was really 1952, when she just missed an Olympic berth at the British Olympic Trials and finished second to Valda Osborn (who was six years older than her) at the British Championships, defeating her in the free skate. At her debut at the European Championships, she placed a disappointing eighteenth but that autumn, she won the Richmond Trophy. She would go on to win the prestigious international event twice more in subsequent years.

In the autumn of 1953, Yvonne claimed her first of three British senior women's titles. It's significant to note that on all three of these occasions she placed ahead of Erica Batchelor, who was well-liked by audiences for her more theatrical style. Yvonne's successes gave the people of Great Britain something to cheer about during the bleak post-War era when rationing and unemployment were  harsh day-to-day realities.

Yvonne Sugden and Tenley Albright at the 1955 World Championships

Yvonne's international results were incredibly impressive. In 1953, she was fifth at the European Championships and eighth at the World Championships. At the latter competition, the Swiss judge had her third in the free skate, ahead of a young Carol Heiss.

Right photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

In 1954, Yvonne won the bronze at Europeans and was sixth at Worlds. Two judges had her in the top three in the free skate at Worlds, while Canadian judge Melville Rogers had her down in eleventh. In 1955, she won an international competition in St. Moritz (defeating Sjoukje Dijkstra) and placed second at Europeans. At the latter event, she led winner Hanna Eigel after the figures, but fell in the free skate costing her the title. At Worlds that year, she was eighth.

Competitive successes from 1953 to 1955 garnered Yvonne significant media attention both at home and abroad. She appeared on the BBC program "The Younger Generation" and received fan mail from all around the world. One letter from Hungary was simply addressed to "Miss Yvonne Sugden. Somewhere In England."

In 1956, Yvonne's final year of international competition, she claimed the silver medal at the European Championships - her third consecutive medal at that event - losing six judges to three to another Austrian, Ingrid Wendl. In her only trip to the Olympic Winter Games, she lost the bronze medal to Wendl by less than three points. She had been fourth after figures, but turned in what was judged only the ninth best free skate. This was particularly disappointing, as British newspapers at the time had been hailing her as "England's only hope" for a medal.

Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

Those reporters weren't far off - Yvonne's fourth in Cortina d'Ampezzo was the British team's highest finish in any sport at those Games. Again finishing fourth behind Ingrid Wendl at the World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Yvonne retired at the age of sixteen. Her mother/manager told reporters she wanted her daughter "to be an ordinary little person [that] will eventually marry a nice young man.". In her "BBC Book Of Skating", Sandra Stevenson later asserted, "Part of her problem was that her mother had to accompany her abroad for two months of the year just when her father's career was at its busiest and he needed her support the most."

Like Jeannette Altwegg, Great Britain's star skater four years earlier, Yvonne turned down numerous offers to skate professionally. She took a job as a secretary, relishing the fact she finally had some free time. Sadly, her father passed away in February of 1957. In 1958, she announced her engagement to a Warwickshire law student named Anthony Fear. She ultimately married a man named Michael Love in October of 1960 and divides her time between homes in Portugal and Hampshire, England.

What made Yvonne so successful a skater wasn't just her youth and fearlessness, it was the fact she was a well-rounded skater whose skill in both figures and free skating was considerable. Who knows what great things she might have gone on to had she stuck with it for another four years?

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 1953 European Figure Skating Championships

Jennifer and John Nicks

Held from January 23 to 25, 1953 at the Große Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, West Germany, the 1953 European Figure Skating Championships marked an important step back into the international sporting community for many German people, no matter which side of Berlin they lived on. In fact, the event was one of the very first major international sporting events held anywhere in Germany following World War II.

The venue for the competition, then one of the largest indoor rinks in Europe, had been basically destroyed during air raids and its restoration had been no easy task. The event was the final European Championships where ice dancing was excluded. It also marked the first time one country won a gold medal at the European Championships as well as the first time another country's skaters won a gold medal in their discipline. Let's take a trip in the time machine and take an ever so brief look at how things played out!


Alain Giletti

Italy's Carlo Fassi unanimously won the school figures, with France's Alain Giletti second on every judge's scorecard, Great Britain's Michael Booker third and Switzerland's Hubert Köpfler fourth. In the free skate, West German psychology student and roller skater Freimut Stein moved up from fifth to claim the bronze, much to the delight of the Dortmund crowd. Giletti actually defeated Fassi in the free skate four judges to three, but the Italian's healthy lead in the figures earned him the gold. He became the first Italian skater in history to win a gold medal at the European Championships and to this day remains the only one to do so in the men's singles competition.


In a four-three split with Hungarians Marianna and László Nagy, siblings Jennifer and John Nicks emerged victorious and made history as the first British pairs team ever to claim gold at the European Championships. The bronze went almost unanimously to the Austrian pair of Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt. In an instance of blatant national bias, the Belgian judge (like the cheese) stood alone in giving a third place ordinal to his country's entry, Charlotte Michiels and Gaston van Ghelder. Every other judge had them dead last and that's where they ended up.

Marianna and László Nagy


Valda Osborn. Right photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

The women's competition in Dortmund simply could not have been closer. In the school figures, eighteen year old Valda Osborn of Great Britain - who had long skated in the shadow of Jeannette Altwegg - managed to defeat West Germany's Gundi Busch on home turf three judges to four. The tables turned in the free skate, when all but British judge Pamela Davis placed Busch first. Ultimately, Osborn's advantage in the school figures earned her the 1953 European title over Busch... by just one placing. Though well behind Osborn and Busch, two skaters who battled for bronze were similarly close. Briton Erica Batchelor edged West Germany's Helga Dudzinski for the bronze, again by one placing and again on the basis of her school figures scores.

Although four British women placed in the top ten, Pamela Davis couldn't have been accused of national bias in her judging. She actually placed West Germany's Rosi Pettinger first in the free skate. She ended up seventh overall. The same couldn't be said for the Belgian judge, who was back to the same tricks he pulled in the pairs event. He placed his country's entry, Liliane de Becker, tenth. No one else had her higher than fifteenth, which is where she ultimately finished.

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":

V Is For Von Birgelen: The Georg Von Birgelen Story

"It is nothing for von Birgelen to jump over the top of a seven-passenger limousine before breakfast, or at least during a skating show." - Bradley Fisk, "Buffalo Courier-Express", March 16, 1941

The son of Elizabeth (Hupe) and Theodore von Birgelen, Georg von Birgelen was born March 3, 1915 in Zürich, Switzerland. As a young man, he excelled in a variety of sports including soccer, football and running. When he first tried on a pair of skates at the age of sixteen, one came loose during a turn and he fell and broke his arm. Undaunted by this mishap, he bought "a special pair made of Swedish steel" and was showing off what he'd taught himself on the ice in exhibitions less than two months later.

Georg first made his mark as a speed skater, winning a three thousand meter race in Zürich in 1937 and finishing sixth overall at the Swiss Championships in Davos in 1938. That same year, he came to England to study both figure and speed skating. In no time flat, he earned the National Skating Association's Gold medal in speed skating, gave exhibitions during the intermissions of hockey games at Streatham Ice Rink and beat the country's summer record for the one mile race. He turned professional in London in 1939, emerging as one of the world's experts in two of skating's biggest novelties at the time - stilt skating and barrel jumping.

Georg made a name for himself in America during World War II by offering 'his services' up to skating clubs who were holding carnivals. He was a hit from Lake Placid to Lake Arrowhead and went on to appear in Sonja Henie and Arthur M. Wirtz' show "It Happens On Ice" at the Centre Theatre and a number of smaller scale touring productions such as Michael Christie's Ice Revue of 1942, New York Ice Fantasy and McGowan and Mack's hotel shows. His popularity led to invitations to tour with larger scale productions like the Ice Vogues and Holiday On Ice. He even adapted his act to rollers for the "Skating Vanities" tour. Skating also took him to warmer climes, like Colombia, Argentina, Honolulu and Haiti, where he performed for a former ruling family.

Georg's performances were always huge hits with audiences. He'd usually start by dashing around the rink at razor neck speed and quickly stopping on one foot, spraying snow on the audience. He skated in two foot stilt skates and leap over all manner of things - two kitchen chairs set fifteen feet apart; two kitchen tables, thirty inches high and ten feet long; even an army jeep. One of his most popular tricks was a 'blind' leap through two paper hoops. The first hoop was thirty inches in diameter and the second only two and a half feet. The paper would, of course, obstruct his view of the second loop and he'd have to contort himself in the air to make it through the second one that was hiding behind. This trick was, to audiences, as thrilling and mystifying as any magic trick.

Something much bigger was at play while Georg taking America by storm. He became entangled with a former skater named Lilly Stein, who was under surveillance by the FBI. Lilly was a Jewish, New York based double agent for the Nazis who would sleep with men, then attempt to blackmail them "to give up secrets". In 1941, she was one of thirty three people arrested as part of the Duquesne Spy Ring, the largest espionage case in American history. Very curiously, passenger manifests show that Georg travelled to and from Portugal in 1940, listing his point of contact in America as Lilly. In his book "Double Agent: The First Hero of World War II and How the FBI Outwitted and Destroyed a Nazi Spy Ring", Peter Duffy noted Georg "was described by the Bureau as Stein's Swiss boyfriend in an apparent attempt to distinguish him from the multinational pack." What role, if any, Georg may have played in these matters is unknown.

Photo courtesy "National Ice Skating Guide"

After the War, Georg started his own small-scale touring production called Symphony On Ice. He and his wife/assistant Eileen Meade (whom he met while touring with Holiday On Ice) headlined twice a day shows in shopping malls, restaurants and fairs for decades and were engaged for some time at the Viking Restaurant in Dania, Florida. Georg and Eileen's shows featured the usual ice show fare of the time - figure skating, comedy acts, live musicians and variety numbers. At each show, they'd pick a youngster from the audience and take them on a sleigh ride around the rink. At one nightclub performance in Boston, they performed before a Saudi Arabian king. Eileen recalled, "He insisted on a second performance. His reason was somewhat unique. Several of his favourite wives accompanied him on the trip, but he'd only brought one to dinner. So he wanted to bring the rest of them down so they could see the show." These shows continued until 1984, when Eileen and Georg decided to stay a little closer to their home in Maryland. They supplemented the income from their ice shows by teaching at the College Park Ice Skating Club.

Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

Georg acted as the first manager of Baltimore's Memorial Stadium Ice Rink and later taught skating and operated Von's Custom Skate Shop at the Northwest Ice Rink. He collapsed at the rink and died on October 8, 1990 at the age of seventy five, leading behind a legacy as one of skating's greatest tricksters.

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 1986 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy Archives of Ontario

Back in 1964, the small Northern Ontario mining city of North Bay played host to the Canadian Figure Skating Championships for the first time. It was the first time Petra Burka stood atop the Canadian senior women's podium; the last time that Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell claimed the Canadian senior pairs title.

A lot changed in the figure skating world in the following twenty two years, but when Canada's two hundred and twenty five of Canada's best figure skaters returned to the Nipissing District for the 1986 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, the people of North Bay returned to the rinks in hopes of seeing history be made again.

Held from February 2 through 9, 1986, the competition was held in midst of a period of change in the CFSA. A new logo had been adopted by Canada's governing body of figure skating that year and increased emphasis was being placed on grooming young skaters from an early age as elite competitors, under the watchful eye of David Dore. From increased international assignments at invitational competitions overseas to a national elite pairs training centre (the Preston Figure Skating Club) the CFSA was really starting to take the development of champions more seriously.

Two rinks in North Bay were used for the 1986 Canadian Championships. At the Doublerinks Arena (which was used for all of the school figures) the ice was painted black to allow judges to more easily dissect the skater's tracings. All of the free skating and ice dancing events were held at the North Bay Memorial Gardens, a then thirty one year old rink that played host to the North Bay Centennials hockey team. Let's take a look back at the stories and skaters that made this event one of a kind!


Of the fourteen teams who vied for the novice pairs title, the victors were twelve year old Sarah Fry and her much taller sixteen year old partner Kris Wirtz. Coached by Kris' older brother Paul, the young team hailed from the tiny industrial town of Marathon, Ontario. Representing the Chatham Figure Skating Club, Joelle Batten won the novice women's title, defeating Kristie Hehr of the Glencoe Club and Chantal Gagnon of Lames d'Argent. Improving on the bronze medal he'd won the year prior, Darran Leaker of Coquitlam won the novice men's title, defeating a young Marcus Christensen and Elvis Stojko. Fifteen year old Kellie Lynn Bradshaw and her eighteen year old Venezuelan partner Juan Carlos Noria took the lead in the compulsory dances and won the novice ice dance title over Chantal Loyer and Rock LeMay and Calgary twins Rhonda and Ron Machan with a bluesy variation dance, dressed in cream coloured outfits. Taking an early lead in the figures, Pamela
Giangualano defeated the previous year's novice champion Shannon Allison and Angie Folk to win the junior women's title. Michael Slipchuk of the Royal Glenora Club took the junior men's title ahead of Darren Kemp and Martin Marceau. Seven of the nine teams in the junior pairs event were coached by Kerry Leitch, including champions Melanie Gaylor and Lee Barkell. Fourteen teams vied for the junior ice dance title, which provided the biggest upset in the novice and junior events. Both Melanie Cole and Martin Smith and Catherine Pal and Donald Godfrey of the Upper Canada Skating Club had been given byes through the Central Ontario Sectionals as they were competing at World Junior Championships at the time in Sarajevo. Both teams had impressed with top ten finishes at that event, so it was quite the surprise to many when Nathalie Lessard and Darcy Pleckham placed second between Cole and Smith and Pal and Godfrey.


Denise Benning, Isabelle Kourie, Lyndon Johnston and Guy Trudeau, a unique quartet consisting of a pair from Ontario and a pair from Quebec, won the fours competition, which proved a clean sweep for skaters who trained at the Preston Figure Skating Club under Kerry Leitch. The second and third place teams were Cynthia Coull, Christine Hough, Mark Rowsom and Doug Ladret and Barbara Martin, Karen Westby, John Penticost and Lloyd Eisler.

Cynthia Coull and Mark Rowsom. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

The senior pairs competition in North Bay was really quite fascinating. Similarly to the junior pairs event, eight out of the ten teams all trained at the Preston Figure Skating Club and were coached by Kerry Leitch. At the previous year's Nationals in Moncton, Cynthia Coull and Mark Rowsom had won the title but at the World Championships in Tokyo, they were the lowest ranked of the three Canadian pairs who participated. Lloyd Eisler, who won the bronze medal at those World Championships, had since broken up with partner Katherina Matousek and teamed up with Peterborough's Karen Westby, a singles skater with no pairs experience whose best result was a fifth place in the junior women's event at the Moncton Nationals in 1985. Melinda Kunhegyi and Lyndon Johnston, fifth at the Tokyo Worlds, had also broken up. Twenty four year old Johnston had teamed up with eighteen year old Denise Benning only five months before the North Bay Nationals. On paper, Coull and Rowsom appeared the favourites based on their longevity as a pair and the fact they were the reigning Canadian Champions, but Rowsom had lost twelve weeks of valuable training time heading into the event due to a groin injury and Coull arrived in North Bay with a nasty cold.

Cynthia Coull and Mark Rowsom

In the short program, Benning and Johnston delivered a clean performance to take the lead ahead of Westby and Eisler. A two-footed side-by-side double flip from Rowsom kept the defending Canadian Champions in third, but still within striking distance of gold if they skated a strong free skate. That's exactly what they did. Rebounding with a spirited, technically demanding performance, Coull and Rowsom vaulted from third to first and earned a standing ovation from the packed audience at the Memorial Gardens.

With more than half a dozen errors, Benning and Johnston dropped to second, just slightly ahead of Westby and Eisler. Quoted in the February 8, 1986 issue of "The Montreal Gazette", twenty six year old Rowsom remarked, "To come from behind like this is a real breakthrough for us. To move up two places was something I was wondering if we could do. I knew that we had more experience than the other two pairs and I knew we certainly weren't stale from being over-trained. So we were really looking forward to a strong performance." In an interview in the February 11, 1986 "Ottawa Citizen", Eisler mused, "You can't compare 12 years of experience to six months. Unfortunately, a lot of people compared Kathy and me to Karen and me. I told [Karen] the past is done. Deep inside, the pressure must have been great for her. We talked and I told her not to worry about filling Kathy's shoes." Ultimately, the top two teams were sent to the World Championships in Geneva and Westby and Eisler stayed home to ponder their futures in the sport.


The lead-up to the North Bay Nationals in 1986 was quite interesting. Brian Orser and Neil Paterson, medallists at the 1985 Nationals in Moncton, both had byes but many of the other contenders for the men's podium had to earn their spots by qualifying at Sectional and Divisional competitions. At Eastern Divisionals, Kevin Parker and Jaimee Eggleton earned the top two spots and Nepean's Mark MacVean, who had narrowly missed a trip to the Canadian Championships with a fifth place finish a year earlier, earned a trip back to Nationals with the bronze. Making his senior debut, Alberta's Kurt Browning won the Western Divisionals ahead of two British Columbians, Brad MacLean and Scott Rachuk. However, the real buzz before the competition even started concerned rumours that Brian Orser would attempt a quad in his free skating performance after Jozef Sabovčík had attempted one in his free skate at the European Championships only a week prior in Copenhagen. Responding to the chatter in the February 6, 1986 "Ottawa Citizen", Orser said, "I'm playing with the quad in practice. It has crossed my mind. But now is not the time to change the program. I do it in practice for show. I'm not mentally ready to put it in the program. I do it in practice on an average of three out of 10 times. To put it in, it has to be nine out of 10."

Kevin Parker. Photo courtesy "Canadian Skater" magazine.

Brian Orser placed first in all three school figures, ahead of Paterson and MacVean. It was the first time he managed to win all three figures at the Canadian Championships and only the second time he'd won that phase of the event at Nationals overall. Though his tracings were strong enough to win, Orser conceded that MacVean should have won the third figure. Quoted in February 6, 1986 "Ottawa Citizen", he said, "I was nervous and my figures were about average. I'm preparing my figures to be in top form for the worlds...  For some reason, I was a little extra nervous. Three weeks ago, I started to focus on it. Other years, I'd coast through it."

If he was nervous in the figures, Orser appeared anything but in his "Hungarian Dance" short program. Skating brilliantly before a crowd of three thousand, he earned a 6.0 for artistic impression, his first ever perfect mark for artistic impression in a short program. Jaimee Eggleton was second best in the short program, but was seventh in the figures and his result only moved him up to fifth behind Paterson, MacVean and Parker. Quoted in the February 7, 1986 issue of "The Montreal Gazette", Orser remarked, "At the beginning of the season I was criticized for my short program, told that it was not artistic enough and that I should can it. I've felt very strongly about the program and knew that it was going in the right direction. This was all happening in September and I stuck with it. I'm glad I did."

On the road to his sixth consecutive Canadian title, Orser earned eleven 5.9's for his free skate to "Ladyhawke". Though he landed five of his seven planned triples, it wasn't a perfect performance. After landing his opening triple Lutz, he tripped on the boards and stumbled and fell to his knee. Though his first triple Axel/double toe combination was clean as a whistle, his second triple Axel was landed on two feet and he put both hands down. Many were so used to seeing Orser skate clean that a couple of errors provided the typical fodder for reporters to overdramatize his mistakes. In reality, his performance was quite strong, especially in comparison to his rivals. Paterson, who claimed the silver, landed a triple Axel early in his program but fell or doubled most of the rest of his jumps. Bronze medallist Eggleton tried a triple Axel but landed on his stomach. Kurt Browning placed an impressive fifth behind Kevin Parker in his senior debut despite a back injury that was treated by acupuncture. A disappointing free skate from Mark MacVean dropped him out of the top five entirely.


Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall

Nine teams vied for the senior ice dance title in North Bay and four of them, including the reigning Canadian Champions Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall, who trained in a dimly lit Richmond Hill rink with World Champion Bernard Ford. Acute tendinitis had sidelined Wilson for a month and cost the team a trip to NHK Trophy. In fact, they hadn't competed since the 1985 World Championships in Tokyo and many were quite curious to see what they had up their sleeves. Quoted in February 6, 1986 issue of "The Montreal Gazette", Wilson remarked, "We do a lot of toe steps, a lot of running on the toes. Our whole free dance is based on footwork. It was putting a lot of stress on my tendons. I didn't realize it at the time. I was wearing skates seven hours a day and I thought it was just a callus. Then I noticed it was swelling up so I had it checked. I thought it would be only a matter of a few days off skates but it was a whole month. But it was better to take the time off then to have it bothering me at the Canadians and the Worlds."

Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall

In the compulsory dances, Wilson and McCall were outstanding, easily taking a commanding lead over their training mates Karyn and Rod Garossino and Roy Bradshaw's students Jo-Anne Borlase and Scott Chalmers. In the Spring 1986 issue of "Tracings", World Champion Jean Westwood praised Borlase and Chalmers, who she felt were somewhat undermarked: "Bradshaw's handling of the subtleties of the compulsory dances turned out a masterly job of choreography. He not only flattered the couple, but actually devised movements which hid the awkward parts of the actual dances."

As was so often the case in ice dance in the eighties, the results from the compulsories remained exactly the same in the OSP. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "A proliferation of peasant costumes made the polka OSP seem more like a carnival group number than an individual set pattern event. In general, technical complexity overshadowed the spirit of the event. Tracy and Rob outdid all the other OSP's with 'Shall We Dance?' from 'The King And I'. Their 1-minute 20-second OSP captured the sense of speed and recreated the atmosphere of the play as they raced around the ice."

More than four thousand spectators turned up at the Memorial Gardens to watch the free dances. Wilson and McCall earned eleven 5.9's and three 5.8's for their difficult samba, waltz, quickstep and jive free dance choreographed by Bernard Ford, where they portrayed competitors in a ballroom dance competition. In "Skating" magazine, Frank Loeser claimed that they were like an "odd couple who look, at turns, both bewildered and enchanted by their attraction to each other." The Garossino's more sombre free dance to "Romeo And Juliet" failed to capture the judge's attention in the same way as their training mates. They settled for the silver, ahead of Borlase and Chalmers, Michelle McDonald and Michael Farrington, Penny Mann and Richard Perkins, Kim Hanford and Julien Lalonde and Erica Davenport and Mark Mitchell.


After winning the 1981 Canadian title in Halifax, the road had been rocky for Tracey Wainman. In an attempted comeback the year prior in Moncton, she'd just missed a spot on the podium. At the Eastern Divisionals in Whitby, she managed a win despite missing the only triple jump in her free skate. Heading into the North Bay Nationals, Elizabeth Manley and Cynthia Coull, ranked first and second at the previous year's Nationals in Moncton, were still considered the favourites.

In the school figures, Manley won the first figure but Wainman won the second two. Although many weren't surprised by Wainman's win in this phase of the event due to her history as a whiz in compulsories, few expected her to be able to retain her lead through the short program and free skate. The real shocker in the compulsories was Cynthia Coull. Sick with a cold and burdened with the daunting task of participating in the women's, pairs and fours events, she placed a shocking twelfth out of fourteen skaters and took herself out of the medal equation entirely.

In the short program, Manley skated brilliantly, wisely choosing to change a planned triple Lutz/double loop combination to a triple Salchow/double loop. However, Wainman more than held her own, working the audience into a frenzy with her sassy, upbeat program to an instrumental version of "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. A less difficult double Axel/double loop combination kept her behind Manley in that phase of the event, but she maintained her overall lead on the strength of her figures result, ahead of Manley, Patricia Schmidt and Charlene Wong.

Both Manley and Wainman skated quite well in the free skate, but several shaky landings on triple jumps kept Manley behind Wainman in a four-three split of the judge's panel, who rewarded Wainman's exuberant and clean but less technically demanding performance with a gold medal. Quoted in the February 10, 1986 issue of the "Ottawa Citizen", Wainman said, "I tried to please the audience. I want to be considered an entertainer as well as an athlete. I only can do what I can do. I know what I had in my program and I tried to perform it the best I could." Recalling the loss in her 1991 book "Thumbs Up!", Manley remarked, "Sonya and Peter [Dunfield] were upset, not because I hadn't skated well - they thought I had done extremely well - but because they felt I should have won the title. They felt that my position had been affected by the excitement over Tracey's return. The press dismissed my performance and I read some very discouraging things about myself in the papers."

The 1986 Canadian World Team. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Not everything in the papers about Elizabeth Manley in 1986 was discouraging though. In his March 5, 1986 column in the "Ottawa Citizen", Dave Brown shared a delightful story about how one fan helped ease the pain of the loss of her national title: "Manley was back in Ottawa at her East Lane Road home only a few days and still adjusting to the loss when a letter from a stranger arrived. It made the loss bearable. 'When I was a young girl in my twenties,' the woman wrote, 'I had a major disappointment in my life. I was in tears and my father was watching me. He quietly said to me: You must remember that life is like a streetcar. You have just missed one. Another will be along soon and you will be right there to catch it. Pressing money into my hand, he said: 'Go out an buy a new hat.' In the 40 years since that time, many hats have been bought. 'So now I say to you Elizabeth, go out and buy a nice hat and I enclose a small cheque so you may do so. 'That streetcar will be there for you, and you will catch it.' It wasn't a great deal of money, but it was enough for a spirit-lifting hat. Manley was deeply touched, bought a hat and is preparing for the next streetcar; in her case another skating competition." As we all know, she certainly caught that streetcar!

Photo courtesy "Skate" magazine

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 Animal Dance Craze

"The season for skating and jazz has begun,
And frivolous flappers are out for fun,
Seeking the scenes where the arc-lights glare,
Taking a chance in the chill night air."

- Advertisement for Woods' Peppermint Cure, 1922

When one thinks about the early history of ice dancing, the first dances that usually come to find are earliest versions of Valses (waltzes), quadrilles and marches. However, a long forgotten fad that swept both Europe and North America during the second decade twentieth century made its way to the ice for a several winters and people went nuts over it. The music was of course ragtime and its accompanying dance craze? Animal dances.

Mae Hollander and Louis Borod in Ten-Below Tango position

The Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug, Kangaroo Hop, Monkey Glide, Duck Waddle, Angle Worm Wiggle And Grizzly Bear... All that was missing was the Camel Toe. Oh wait, there was the Camel Walk instead... The general idea of these fun dances was that couples were supposed to imitate the animals the dances were named after with their movements. As you can imagine, hilarity often ensued and many dance clubs actually forbade the dances to be performed within their walls. For some, waddling like a duck or wiggling like a worm was simply too vulgar.

Instead of give up the Grizzly Bear, some translated animal dances to the ice. The October 24, 1915 issue of "The New York Times" reported, "Already several adaptations of modern dances have been made to be executed on skates. The ice waltz, the snowball trot, the frosty hesitation, the ten-below tango and the polar bear hug are some of the ice dances." That same winter, "The Spokesman-Review" reported that "various modifications" of these dances had already been skated on the ice for several winters. These weren't ice dances how we think of them now. They were largely stationary and really wouldn't have required much skating skill beyond being able to stand up and turn around so even the least adept skaters could get their Ten-Below Tango on to the strains of Scott Joplin without too much trouble.

As is the case with most dance crazes, animal dances fell out of favour by the early twenties. However, one of the more sophisticated ones survived and evolved... the Fox-Trot. It was was officially unveiled as a legitimate pattern ice dance by Eva Keats and Erik van der Weyden at a competition in April 1933 organized by the National Skating Association's Departmental Committee For Ice Dance which sought out new dances.

However, skaters were enjoying earlier interpretations of the dance on the ice some time before. Ernest Philip Alphonse Law's 1925 book "Dancing On Ice" mentions a 'Fox-Trot competition' skated to the Bohatsch Ten-Step figure in Manchester in 1924 that was "rather criticized by some authorities on figure-skating." Law himself was admittedly skeptical about the ability to translate the dance to the ice: "The two-step comes easily enough; but to dance exactly the ordinary fox-trot steps on the ice, from the very nature of the surface, is not practicable. Some successful adaptations, nonetheless, have been made to the fascinating rhythm of syncopated music." Erik van der Weyden himself wrote of the dance he and his wife created: "It should be emphasized from the start that the Fox-Trot is a serpentine dance, skateable in rinks of any size or shape. No special placing was ever intended, and it is left to individual dancers to get the best possible interpretation, consistent with strong edges and correct steps." Just as the Ten-Below Tango and Polar Bear Hug fell out of favour, Eva Keats and Erik van der Weyden's original vision for the Fox-Trot has evolved considerably in the decades since it was first officially introduced. It's a reminder of one constant in figure skating history: continuous change.

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":

Ready For Reader Mail?

It's once again time to unpack the mail bag, answer some of your questions and share some of the interesting e-mails and social media messages that have come my way over the last few months. I'm going to try to do this quarterly from now on so things don't pile up. As always, if you have a question you'd like me to tackle or feedback on a blog please reach out via e-mail.


Jana Dočekalová and František Mrázek 

From Kateřina (via e-mail): "I am [wondering] if you have information about Jana Dočekalová."

A: Thanks for reaching out Kateřina! I've never done a blog about Jana Mrázková (Dočekalová) but what I can tell you is that she was by all accounts a remarkable free skater. She attempted a triple Salchow in the free skate in 1959 - something that women just weren't doing at that time. Some witnesses say she landed it at that year's Worlds in Colorado Springs, but Petra Burka has been historically credited as being the first woman to land it in competition. Jana was often way, way behind in figures though so that's what ultimately cost her more than one medal. After going from fourth at the 1960 Olympics to twenty fifth (!) in 1964, she turned pro and toured in a Czechoslovakian ice revue with her motorcyclist husband František Mrázek. She defected from the Iron Curtain in the summer of 1965 when the tour was in Yugoslavia, crossing the border to Austria on foot on a rainy night and seeking political asylum. The next year, she came to America and toured with the Ice Capades. She started teaching at the West Toronto Figure Skating Club in 1968. I wasn't able to find much more on her after that aside from a 2014 obituary for her husband."

From Lucy (via e-mail): "I always find your blog informative... I am from Austin and have been attending figure skating championship events since the 1980's. The first championship I attended was the [U.S.] Olympic Festival in Houston. Do you know when [the Festival] was first held?"

A: Glad you're enjoying Skate Guard, James! The U.S. Olympic Festival, was first held in July of 1978 in Colorado Springs and was then called the National Sports Festival. The idea of the festival was to showcase American athletes in a variety of sports. The Festival was held in non-Olympic years to build up the hype for the next Games and in the first couple of years, that hype was obviously for the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid. Figure skating was among the twenty sports showcased the first year and the winners were Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner in pairs, Carol Fox and Richard Dalley in dance and Linda Fratianne in women's. David Santee and Scott Hamilton were both in the top three after the men's figures, but withdrew. The winner was Scott Cramer.


From Ulrich Sander (via Facebook): Prizes and medals of my grandma Elsa Rendschmidt.


From Ron Vincent (via e-mail): "Bringing back and featuring skating history is fabulously interesting to me and some postings bring back personal memories e.g., I was a spectator at the 1960 Worlds in Vancouver. The excitement was huge. Before there were rules about how late a competition could take place, I think Alain Giletti won around 1 am! This is what stimulated the rule. Don Jackson of course skated very well and we were all proud... At 1:00 am. few people had left or were asleep! Excitement prevailed right until the last minute – they wanted to know who won! Worlds was not on TV at the time (I'm pretty sure) and so this was one of the hottest tickets of the season."


From Frazer Ormondroyd (via Facebook): "The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" by Lynn Copley-Graves... draws from so many sources and rather than recreating history in narrative form, it relies on depth of research. There is hardly anything this book can't tell me when I want to look up something related to ice dance. I wish we had a similar resource for the other disciplines."

From Carol Lane (via Facebook): "The Evolution of Dance on Ice... the depth of research is astonishing."

From Elaine Hooper (via Facebook): "Totally agree about the Lynn Copley-Graves book. I have had my copy for many years and is a go to for so much information."


From Randy Gardner (via Twitter):


From Debbie (Richards) Jennings: "One of the neat things about my parents time skating back in the day was how much of a social thing it was. They would go to the rink every Tuesday night for dancing and again Saturday for the 'tea' dance where they had amazing food. Then there were outside skating parties on lakes and rivers. Old style. They were all life long friends who supported each other. After Daddy died (I was eight) in the plane crash, the skating club skaters took care of Mom in the best way. They were her lifelong friends."

From Daisy (via Facebook): "This small "window hanger" (14 1/4" x 9 1/4") for British magician Harry Cameron's "Great Carmo Circus and Menagerie" of 1929 sold at auction today for $187.50... It was at a magician auction in Chicago. It has a few circus items too. I thought you would like to see 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":