Getting To Know Gersch: The Jacques Gerschwiler Story

Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler

"In the fog the other night, I got lost and I walk round in a circle and get back where I started. So I think immediately of skating. Yes. Now this is it. Some skaters do a clockwise turn; others do an anti-clockwise turn. They find it hard to do any other kind. Now I wonder... which way would a skater who does a clockwise turn walk if she was lost in the fog - clockwise or anti-clockwise. I must try that!" - Jacques Gerschwiler, "The Daily Mirror", December 10, 1952

"Oh, well, let me see if YOU can do it any better." - Cecilia Colledge
"Listen, my child, if I can't produce something better than I, than I'm no damn good as a teacher." - Jacques Gerschwiler (recalled by T.D. Richardson)

Jakob Gerschwiler was born September 10, 1898 in Rogwil, a municipality in the district of Arbon in the canton of Thurgau in Switzerland. He was German Swiss but (as he spent much of his later life abroad) his name was often adapted as Jacques, Jacob and Jack. Many knew him simply as 'Gersch'.

In his youth, Jacques excelled at gymnastics, athletics and tennis. In 1921 at the age of twenty-three, he began studying at the Deutsche Hochschule für Leibesübungen (German University of Physical Training) in Berlin. His studies led him to positions as an instructor of tennis and gymnastics. He discovered figure skating at the Admiralspalast, once home to impresario Leo Bartuschek's Eisballets which starred the famous German professional skater Charlotte Oelschlägel. It was at the Admiralspalast that he first became acquainted with the old Viennese School of skating, which would influence his later teachings.

After taking lessons from Bror Meyer, in 1925 he took a position as the director of skating at the Lyceum Alpineum Zwoz, an international boarding school two miles from St. Moritz. The following year, he took the ISU's Gold Test at the Kulm Rink in St. Moritz, passing with two hundred and ninety-four out of the maximum four hundred and ninety-two points. The minimum passing mark was two hundred and forty-seven. One of the three judges that presided over Jacques' test was Herbert James Clarke, who would go on to serve as the ISU's President. Jacques' only competitive success as an amateur was a win at a small Swiss competition which translated to the Championship Of The Plains.

In the mid-twenties, Jacques travelled to Paris in hopes of securing a position teaching skating there, but arriving too late in the season found the ice had melted. He stayed long enough to learn a little French before relocating to England. Visiting the Richmond Ice Rink during 'English hour', he observed English Style skaters performing their stiff 'Once Back And Q Outwards' combined figures and imagined them with their arms out, turning with their hips instead of their shoulders. It was through his exposure to English Style skating that Jacques conceived a method of teaching skating which has been dubbed The Modern English School.

Jacques decided to stay in London and establish himself as a skating instructor. He settled in Belsize Park, Camden and invited his half-brother Arnold to join him as a teacher at the Streatham and Golders Green rinks. In 1929, he began teaching a talented young skater named Cecilia Colledge at Queen's Ice Rink. During the period he was coaching Cecilia, he entered the 1933 and 1934 Open Professional Championships of Great Britain, losing on both occasions to his bitter rival Howard Nicholson. At the time, Nicholson was coaching one of Cecilia's chief rivals, Sonja Henie

Though Jacques never won the Open Professional Championships of Great Britain, he was impressed enough with the concept that he encouraged the Schweizer Eislauf Verband (SELV) to organize a similar championship in 1933. With his student Cecilia in tow, he travelled to Switzerland, entered the event and won - defeating Arnold in the process. Interestingly, though Jacques didn't get along with Howard Nicholson, he was quite chummy with Phil Taylor - the father and trainer of one of Cecilia's biggest rivals at home, Megan Taylor. Jacques actually travelled to Lake Placid to the 1932 Winter Olympic Games with the Taylor's aboard the S.S. Berengaria, the Colledge's making alternate travel arrangements.

Gersch and Cecilia Colledge

Jacques was by all accounts brilliant at teaching school figures and unorthodox in his methods of teaching free skating. Though different stories have been told, Cecilia Colledge was historically been the skater given credit for the invention of both the camel and the layback (or backbend) spins as she was the first to perform them in international competition in the early thirties. Jacques had Cecilia work with a gymnastics teacher named Miss Lee, who tied a rope around her waist, to help teach her the position for the layback. Belita Jepson-Turner, another of Jacques' exceptionally talented students during the thirties recalled, "He'd invented a machine of some kind like a brace in which we put our feet. He braced us against the wall with our feet going behind us. Well, I was very loose and it didn't take me very many days for my feet to be facing the wall on the other side of the room... but it did give me an absolutely super spread eagle. I did the spread eagle with my hip practically on the ice. The trouble was it ruined my legs for life. Many, many times later in my career I wished to heavens I could still be doing that spread eagle."

Top: Gersch with Cecilia Colledge, Pamela Stephany and Daphne Walker. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland. Bottom: Arnold, Hans and Jacques Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Remaining in England during much of World War II, Jacques rotated between London rinks that weren't commandeered for war purposes, teaching classes behind blackout curtains. He taught full-time at Queen's Ice Rink alongside his half-brother Arnold and Eva Keats in 1944. Just prior to the War, he had taught at Queen's, Westminster Ice Club, and the Empire Pool, Wembley. After the War, Jacques taught almost exclusively at Streatham Ice Rink. Richmond was considered Arnold's domain... and it was where Jacques' nephew Hans ultimately trained. Hans won the World title in 1947 and the Olympic silver medal behind Dick Button in 1948.

Jacques and Arnold congratulating Hans Gerschwiler after he won the 1947 World Championships. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Jacques played an important role in the education of other coaches. It was he who taught Miss Gladys Hogg when she transitioned from rollers to the ice. It was also he who acted as one of the founders of the Ice Teachers Guild in 1936, later known as the Imperial Professional Skating Association and British Ice Teachers Association. He often gave seminars on figure technique to Swiss coaches. In May of 1939, he became the first person to pass the NSA's First Class Instructor's Test. 

Jacques teaching skaters at Streatham Ice Rink in 1952. Photo courtesy The Jepson-Turner Private Family Collection. Used with permission.

When the SELV developed a Skating Coach Diploma in 1948, Jacques' methods of teaching figures were an important part of the exam. T.D. Richardson recalled, "In my mind 'Gersch', as [he] is known throughout the civilized skating world, is directly responsible for the improvement in the general accuracy of the 'general tracing' and for the uniformity of the turns which characterizes modern school skating, and I would go so far as to say that the 'still' change of edge was brought to perfection under his tutelage." Jacqueline du Bief recalled that he was "keen on pure technique, at the cost of individuality and the spectacular."

Jacques teaching skaters at Streatham Ice Rink in 1952. Photos courtesy The Jepson-Turner Private Family Collection. Used with permission.

Jacques' list of students was staggering, to the say very least. In addition to Olympic medallists Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt, Cecilia Colledge and Jeannette Altwegg and professional star Belita, he taught Carlo Fassi, Edi Scholdan, Yvonne Sugden, Joyce and Colin Bosley, Olive Robinson, Karin Iten, Sally Anne Stapleford, Bridget Shirley Adams, Patricia Pauley, Barbara Wyatt, Beryl Bailey, Susi Wirz, Jacqueline Harbord, Fiorella Negro, Pat Devries, Constanza Vigorelli, Günther Tyroler and Nancy Hallam.

Bridget Shirley Adams, Jacques Gerschwiler, Susi Wirz and Beryl Bailey in Switzerland. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Jacques also worked on figures with Denise Biellmann and Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill and gave lessons to Grace and James Madden. He told once told reporter Peter Thomas, "I also trained Lord Templewood to skate when he was fifty-five - and he got a medal too. I [coached] old ladies and gentlemen, little girls and boys of four. I am very happy man... I am glad I didn't stay as a schoolmaster in Switzerland. I would have missed so much happiness."

Left: Jacques Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine. Right: Charles Landot, Jacques Gerschwiler and Cyril Beastall. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Jacques' male students were expected to wear suits; women dresses. Cecilia Colledge was made to go to bed early and was forbidden from smoking and drinking coffee, tea and alcohol. Cornered in a restaurant by a reporter from "The Daily Mirror" in 1952, he said, "It is not such an easy life, ice skating. Why, most girls get up at six o'clock in the morning to get to Streatham ice rink by eight o'clock. That is why I am not so worried about losing these girls for boyfriends. What boyfriend wants to be told at nine o'clock that the outing is over because the girl has to go to bed? All these girls, they write to me after I let them go. But me - I don't reply to letters. I hate it. They ask me questions. If I don't reply they know the answer is 'Yes'. And Christmas cards - I never send them. I telephone my girls. I like talking to them much better."

Top: Jacques, Cecilia Colledge, Arthur V. Hopkins, Ája Zanová and Arnold Gerschwiler at Richmond Ice Rink in 1950. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.. Bottom: Gersch teaching a Swiss student in 1972

Later in life, Jacques returned to Switzerland. Until the age of eighty-five, he served as a consultant to the SELV. On his seventieth birthday, he was honoured with an engraved golden signet ring with the letters SELV and his initials. Nigel Brown recalled, "Upon receiving the ring, Gersch could not resist remarking that the 'S' looked like a bad change of edge; the 'E', a poor three; the 'L', a false start on the forward inside edge'; and the 'V', a bad three-turn." In 1977, he collaborated with Otto Hügin on an instructional book called "The Technique Of Skating".

Gersch and Karin Iten

In his golden years, Jacques lived at the Hotel Moderne in Geneva and had a second home in Baden-Baden. He enjoyed gambling in Monte Carlo and Biarritz and a kept a notebook 'full of numbers'. In 1952 he joked, "It is just a system. I have devised it so that when I go to Monte Carlo for a holiday I never lose anything [yet] never make a great deal. But who knows? One day I might break the bank." When his health declined, he moved into the Résidence Notre Dame near St. Gervais. He told reporters he wanted nothing to do with the skating judges he called "scoundrels" and remarked, "It takes an elephant skin in this sport of intrigue."


Honoured with an induction to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1976 and a lifetime achievement award from l'Association Suisse Des Journalistes Sportifs in 1984, Jacques passed away in Geneva on May 4, 2000 at the ripe old age of one hundred and one, making him one of very few skaters who lived to be over the age of one hundred. He was posthumously inducted into the Professional Skaters Association Hall Of Fame in 2004.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Once asked what his greatest accomplishment was, Jacques said, "I think it was when I encouraged [Jeannette Altwegg] to marry the right man." At the time of his death, Dieter Ringhofer recalled, "That he has a sister who is still alive, his friends learned only in recent years. Jack Gerschwiler had not wanted to see her before. As gracious as he could [be], he could be so vindictive. He also did not want to make public his departure. '[There] should not be made a fuss over me.' Only after his cremation was [his sister] allowed to be informed."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The 1978 World Junior Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Ethiopia and Somalia had just signed a truce to end the Ethio-Somali War, but in Japan the New Tokyo International Airport was damaged in a terrorist occupation. In America, the most popular television shows were "Three's Company",  "Laverne & Shirley" and "Happy Days". In England, BBC Radio released its first broadcast of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". The Bee Gees ruled the airwaves in Canada with their hit single "Night Fever". 


The year was 1978, and from March 21 to 26, eighty-one skaters from twenty-one countries gathered at the Palais des Sports in the ski resort village of Megève, France for the 1978 World Junior Figure Skating Championships . The maximum age limits for singles skaters was sixteen; for pairs and ice dance eighteen.


With the support of the community and Fédération Française des Sports de Glace, Megève had played host to international junior competitions the previous two years, but the 1978 was the first to be billed by the ISU as the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. The 1976 and 1977 events were 'experimental' efforts only recognized as World Junior Championships after the fact, similarly to the 'Ladies Championship Of The ISU' being formally recognized (years later) as World Championships. Now that we've looked at the background, let's take a look back at how things played out on the ice...

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater" magazine.

After finishing only fourth in the short program, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini rebounded with a brilliant free skate to claim the gold medal in the pairs event, besting Czechoslovakia's Jana Bláhová and Luděk Feňo and American siblings Beth and Ken Flora. The Soviet pair who had been second after the short program, Marina Gurieva and Vladimir Radchenko, bombed in the free skate and dropped to fourth. The Canadian judge had them as low as seventh. Canada's second entry, Lorri Baier and Lloyd Eisler, placed sixth.

Lorri Baier and Lloyd Eisler

Underhill and Martini had only been skating together since the summer of 1978 and had won the Canadian junior title the month prior to travelling to France. Martini told a reporter from "The Globe And Mail", "It was very close to the way we skated at the Canadian Championships. We skated well there and we skated well here. I don't think I even broke out into a sweat tonight."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Soviet skater Kira Ivanova and West Germans Petra Ennert and Corinna Tanski took the top three spots in the school figures. Coming behind from eighth place, Jill Sawyer of Tacoma, Washington won both the short program and free skate and managed to win the gold over Ivanova and Enert by less than five points. Only the Norwegian and Swiss judges had Ivanova first overall. 

Fifteen year old Jill Sawyer's winning free skate featured a triple toe-loop, triple Salchow and several double Axels. Ten year old Tracey Wainman, the youngest and smallest of the twenty-six competitors, rebounded from fourteenth in figures to place sixth overall. British sportswriter Howard Bass mused, "Could this be the budding 1988 Olympic Champion?" Canada's second entry, Lorri Baier, placed fourteenth. Interestingly, Wainman and Baier were both novice skaters. The CFSA had chosen to send them instead of the top two skaters in the junior women's event at the Canadian Championships, setting what some no doubt believed was a dangerous "precedent". At a press conference, Barbara Graham told reporters, "I think both girls have demonstrated that it wasn't too much for them, even at their young age... The girls came for experience and we're satisfied with what they did."

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

Tatiana Durasova and Sergei Ponomarenko

Nine teams competed in the ice dance event, but it was really a two-way race between Soviets Tatiana Durasova and Sergei Ponomarenko and Canadians Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber. Durasova and Ponomarenko ultimately dominated the event from start to finish, winning both the compulsories and free dance and earning first place marks from every judge.

Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater" magazine.

Soviet skaters hadn't participated in the preceding two international junior events in in Megève. In 1977, the Soviet Union had actively boycotted the event due to the situation that ultimately resulted in a one-year ban for Soviet judges. They were reprimanded by the ISU for this. Incredibly, Durasova and Ponomarenko's win would be the first of sixteen consecutive victories in dance for Soviet or Russian dancers. The bronze went to France's Nathalie Hervé and Pierre Husarek, to the delight of the home crowd.

In his book "Skating In America", Benjamin T. Wright recalled, "The U.S. had not sent a dance couple because of the problem of age-eligibility, since the junior level in the United States was strictly skill based with no age limit, while the international junior level was strictly age based, a problem which would plague the selectors of the World Junior team members in the future. Often in dance especially, the only age-eligible couple would be too far down domestically to merit selection."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Dennis Coi. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater" magazine.

Vladimir Kotin of the Soviet Union, Michael Pasfield of Australia and Ivan Králík of Czechoslovakia earned the top three spots in the figures. As in the women's event with Jill Sawyer, Canada's Dennis Coi came from behind to win both the short program and free skate and snag the gold. The silver went to Vladimir Kotin and the bronze to America's Brian Boitano. Boitano had won the short program and landed two triples in his free skate despite suffering from the ill effects of the flu. Brian Orser, second in the short program, placed fourth overall despite trying - and tumbling - on a triple Axel attempt. It was the first of many meetings of 'the two Brian's' who would battle it out in Calgary in 1988.


The French sugar industry sponsored a team trophy - the Nations' Cup - with skaters/couples placing in the top ten earning points for their country. By almost twenty points, Canada won the cup and bragging rights. The Soviet Union and United States finished second and third.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here? Have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The Tall And The Short Of It

Stanislav Zhuk posing with a group of his students, including Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakrai

"The man should be heavier than the lady and for appearance's sake, about half a head taller." - Robert Dench and Rosemarie Stewart, "Pair Skating And Dancing On Ice", 1943

When Anna Hübler and Heinrich Burger won the first official World pairs title in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1908, their height difference was quite irrelevant. Their self-choreographed program consisted of a series of spirals, glides, changes of edge, round ice dance patterns and symmetrical and corresponding figures, but didn't include a single jump, throw, twist or overhead lift. As we all know, pair skating was a completely different beast back in the Edwardian era. It really wasn't until the sixties, the era when double twist lifts and throw jumps were popularized, that the sport became introduced to a new phenomenon: the 'flea and gorilla' pair.

Manuela Groß and Uwe Kagelmann 

In the late sixties, the athletic performances of American siblings Cynthia and Ron Kauffman earned them three consecutive bronze medals at the World Championships. Their considerable height difference (thirty three centimeters) added to the drama of dome of their signature moves. Inspired by their success, Eastern bloc countries began concocting partnerships with pronounced differences in height. Irina Rodnina, the queen of pairs skating in the seventies, was twenty four centimeters shorter than her first partner Alexei Ulanov and twenty six centimeters shorter than her second partner Aleksandr Zaitsev. Both partnerships used their height difference to their advantage to perform twist lifts with great effect.

Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakrai

Two notable early examples of these 'flea and gorilla' teams were East Germans Manuela Groß and Uwe Kagelmann and Soviets Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakhrai. The height and age differences between both teams were startling to many at the time. "Skating" magazine ran an article about Groß and Kagelmann in 1973 with the headline "The Mutt and Jeff Pair", pointing out how their nine inch height difference helped them accomplish the first triple twist lift and throw double Axel. When they were paired, twelve year old Cherkasova and eighteen year old Shakrai had a thirty-five centimeter height difference. This extreme (at the time) contrast earned both pairs Olympic medals. Cherkasova and Shakrai even made their way to the "Guinness Book Of World Records" as the first pairs team in history to perform a quadruple twist in 1978.

In his review of the 1978 World Championships in "Skating" magazine, Frank Nowosad remarked, "It is inconceivable that ice dancing would ever have the judging problems brought on by a 12-year-old child being thrown about by a 20-year old man. Two people performing together implies a relationship and what can be said choreographically about such a large/small situation that now exists with two of the Soviet pairs? Watching them draws out bizarre associations; one being that of a virtuoso juggler tossing about a doll."


Make no mistake... these partnerships were no accident. In his 1978 book " The Big Red Machine The Rise And Fall Of Soviet Olympic Champions", Yuri Brokhin explained that Soviet coach Stanislav Zhuk (coach to Olympic Gold Medallists Irina Rodnina, Alexei Ulanov, Alexander Zaitsev, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov) began "the creation of a future pair by selecting the female partner. Then he begins his search for the male - usually a boy ten to fifteen inches taller and fifty to sixty pounds heavier than the girl, with obvious native ability."

The ISU responded by developing a controversial new ruling set to curb the 'flea and gorilla' trend. Late ISU historian Benjamin T. Wright recalled, "Large differences in age, height and weight between the partners... would lead to rules (in 1980) which would require penalizing pairs when there was a serious imbalance in their physical characteristics, which would lead to an obvious lack of unison. There were, of course, several pairs of this type... [and] the legislation addressed a generic problem in pair skating, which fortunately, has not been as severe since."

In the figure skating world of today, extreme height differences are definitely not uncommon... and whether you like the aesthetic of this trend or not, we have the Russians and East Germans largely to thank for starting it all.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

A Lifetime Of Ice: The Roger Turner Story


"I believe that young men and women who possess the drive and the ability to learn figure skating are realistic. What they want in an instructor is knowledge, trust, confidence and companionship. They want somebody who will laugh with them when they fail, inspire and give them strength in their search for excellence, and sympathize and understand in defeat. If the pupil sees in his teacher something he intuitively seeks to find, the door of adjustment and response is wide open." - Roger Turner, "Skating" magazine, 1969

The son of Jacob and Mary (Corliss) Turner, Roger Felix Turner was born March 3, 1901 in the affluent Boston, Massachusetts suburb of Milton. Roger and his younger brother Jacob Jr. both knew the word 'ice' by the time they were toddlers. Their father made his living as a successful ice dealer, employing dozens of migrant workers from Canada to cut thousands of tons of ice from local ponds during the winter, haul it away with horses, pack it in white pine sawdust and deliver their chilly haul to businesses and individuals for the purpose of refrigeration. Roger's mother Mary turned the family home into a boarding house. The family's four servants provided room, board and hot meals to the hard-working men who lived with them... Jacob Turner's employees.

Roger Turner. Right photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

Roger took up figure skating seriously at the unusually late age of twenty on one the few frozen ponds in Milton that his father's men didn't chop up for ice blocks. He soon joined the Skating Club Of Boston. However, much of his time was devoted to burying his nose in dusty books. After attending public schools in Milton, he attended Peekskill Military Academy in New York and Suffolk Law School. After graduating, he was admitted to the bar in 1926, the same year he won his first major competition, the U.S. junior men's title. The fact that Roger was even to find time to advance so quickly as a skater during this period was quite remarkable, for he was busy practicing law as well as running the family ice business for a time after his father's death. In what little free time he had, he served as a lay reader at the local Episcopal church and flew small planes.

Top: The 1928 U.S. Olympic team: Roger Turner, Maribel Vinson, Beatrix Loughran, Sherwin Badger, Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles. Bottom: Roger Turner.

In 1927, Roger claimed the silver medal behind Nathaniel Niles in the senior men's event at the U.S. Championships in New York City and earned a coveted spot on the 1928 U.S. Olympic team. Though relatively inexperienced, he placed a credible tenth at those Games in St. Moritz, the highest ranked of the three American men who participated. At the World Championships that followed in Berlin, he placed an even more impressive fifth. He then went on to win his first of an incredible six U.S. senior men's titles in New Haven.

Roger's 'secret weapon', as it were, was an (ir)regular diet. In 1937 Maribel Vinson Owen wrote, "Roger... is addicted to prunes as his staple training food. He insists on them throughout the winter, and during two European campaigns, even though the rest of us 'rode' him unmercifully, he somehow managed to procure them with unfailing regularity."

Photo courtesy Walpole Historical Society

Jimmie Madden, Frederick Goodridge and Roger Turner at the 1929 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1929, Roger claimed the silver medal behind Canada's Bud Wilson at the North American Championships in Boston and in 1930 and 1931 was runner-up at the World Championships behind Austria's Karl Schäfer. Though he wasn't even close to the Viennese master on any judge's scorecard in the free skating, his figures were exemplary and he was overjoyed with his international showing. Skating historian Gunnar Bang recalled, "The question is whether any happier silver medallist every existed". Interestingly, during this period Roger was also the USFSA's Vice-President.

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Though happy with his results, Roger was none to thrilled about the direction figure skating was taking during the era he competed. To be specific, he wasn't pleased with all of the jumping. Quoted from a review of the 1931 World Championships in Mary Louise Adams' wonderful book "Artistic Impressions", he remarked, "It would be unfortunate if the exponents of the Art should require an indelible image on their minds of acrobatics - stunts performed by a disharmonic nature - rather than a free an harmonious expression... There is danger... if perverted minds predominate, of losing much of the glory and fineness of the present style, and figure skating, like the Russian ballet, which has given way to a coarser school, would decline."

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Although that pair of silver medals would be Roger's last at the World Championships, his skating successes didn't end there. In 1932, he became only the third skater in America to pass the Gold (Eighth) test; the first two being Theresa Weld Blanchard and Nathaniel Niles. He placed an impressive sixth at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics and won the silver medal at the 1937 North American Championships. He tried his hand at both pairs skating and ice dancing, winning the 1934 U.S. junior pairs title with Polly Blodgett and competing in the Waltz and Fourteenstep competitions at the U.S. Championships with both Polly and Clara Rotch Frothingham. After winning the 1938 Eastern men's title, Roger finally decided to put an end to his competitive career at the age of thirty-six. It's worth noting that although he and Polly placed second at the 1936 U.S. Championships, the USFSA didn't include them in that year's Olympic team. Instead, Grace and James Lester Madden - who were out due to injury - were named in one of the USFSA's first examples of 'body of work' style Olympic team selections. 

1933 sketch of Roger Turner skating. Courtesy "Skating" magazine.

After his competitive career ended, Roger still found time while practicing law to remain incredibly involved in figure skating. Prior to the second World War, he served as chairman of the USFSA's Standards and Tests Committee. His signature could be found on all of the blue test papers issued in the thirties.

James Lester Madden, Grace Madden and Roger Turner

During the War, Roger served as an air raid warden and taught American Red Cross first aid and water safety to both civilians and military personnel. He also found time to serve as chairman of the failed Moving Pictures Committee, which aimed to take videos of each school figure that could be used as educational guides for skaters. It was a fitting project for Roger, as he was a keen photographer.


Both Roger and his wife Louise (Lambert) were long-time members of both the Skating Club Of Boston and Skridsko Club of Massachusetts and Roger served as national level judge. In 1957, he was one of the founders of the Cape Cod Skating Club in Hyannis, Massachusetts. He was also a father of two and a would-be politician, losing a bid for Republican Senator in the Second Norfolk District in the primaries to Robert Bowie in 1948. In 1982, he was honoured by the USFSA as an Honorary National Judge, the first person to receive this distinction. Two years prior to the honour, he had penned an instructional book for coaches called "Edges". He later penned two more books - "Polished Steel" and "Ringo Flamingo".

Turner's Pond. Photo courtesy Dan Haacker, Milton Historical Society

Roger resided in the small Norfolk County town of Walpole for the rest of his life, volunteering with the Old Colony Council of Boy Scouts and Appalachian Mountain Club. He devoted considerable time to an effort to develop the Boy Scouts Of America's Explorer Winter Olympic Games, which included a figure skating competition in 1971 and the Country Skating Club, which held one of the first skater development clinics using monies from the USFSA's Memorial Fund. On his Elm Street property was Turner's Pond, once the source of ice for the family business and later, a popular skating spot for locals.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

After living his entire life surrounded by ice, Roger passed away on October 29, 1993 at his home in Walpole of heart failure at the age of ninety-two. The following year, he was inducted posthumously into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall Of Fame, alongside the late Maribel Vinson Owen (whose funeral he served as an usher at) and Geddy Hill, Janet Lynn, Carlo Fassi and JoJo Starbuck and Kenneth Shelley. Figure skating today may be the absolute antithesis of the sport that he dreamed of back in 1931 when he won his second World medal, but the skating world wouldn't have been the same without his involvement.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

The 1940 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Food rationing had begun in England and in Nazi Germany, Luftwaffe Colonel Hermann Göring had taken control of most of the War industries. Submarines were sunk; airplanes grounded. Behind drawn curtains, they tapped their toes to gramophone records of Dolly Dawn's "At Sundown", dreaming of a time when the sky wasn't so grey and gloomy.


The year was 1940 and the Canadian skating community was really only just starting to feel the effects of World War II. Though some patriotic skaters were already engaged in War work or in military training, many skating clubs were actually seeing significant increases in membership due to the Canadian government's 'Sports-As-Usual' campaign, which encouraged people to get involved in sports and recreation "in times of strain such as these" to get 'fighting fit'.

The 1940 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, held at the Minto Skating Club in Ottawa on January 19 and 20 of that year, were the last Canadians to be held under the auspices of the Amateur Skating Association Of Canada. That autumn, the organization would become the CFSA. There was a marked reduction in entries from the West in 1939, with all of the skaters (save one) coming from the Toronto Skating Club, Granite Club, Minto Skating and Montreal Winter Club. Four out of the six judges at the event were former Canadian Champions - Douglas Henry Nelles, John Z. Machado, Norman V.S. Gregory and Melville Rogers.


How did things play out that January in Ottawa? Let's take a trip back in time and look at the stories and skaters that shaped the first Canadian Championships to be held during World War II.

THE JUNIOR COMPETITIONS

In a three-two split of the judging panel, Shirley Halsted and Michael Kirby took top spot in the junior pairs event over their training mates Margaret Wilson and Peter Killam. Montreal's Helen Malcolm and Peter Stranger took the bronze.

Sixteen year old Denis Ross of the Minto Skating Club capitalized on a decisive lead in the figures to win the junior men's crown over Toronto's Michael Kirby and John Milsom, with first place ordinals from four out of five judges. Minto Club member Joan Parkins praised Ross for his "spins and jumps together with his excellent foot-work... [and] plenty of dash" but noted that Michael's "free skating is if anything more exciting to watch than Ross's as his jumps are high and very spectacular."

Montreal's Audrey Joyce was the winner of the junior women's figures, but she couldn't fend off a prodigious eleven year old from Ottawa named Barbara Ann Scott in the free skating and had to settle for second. Barbara Ann's performance included three Axels in a row and a double Salchow.

Yousuf Karsh photograph of Barbara Ann Scott taken three days after she won the Canadian junior women's title. Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada.

Barbara Ann had been only fifth the year prior in her first bid for the title and had been heartbroken when one of the judges actually laughed at her during the school figures. In her book "Skate With Me" she recalled, "[It] broke my heart, but I went back on the ice for the three-minute free skating determined to give him nothing to laugh at but my size, which I couldn't help... It seems strange to me now that I couldn't understand that being so young and small did make a difference in people's attitude toward me. Then I couldn't see how I was different from the others. We all did the same work at practice sessions; we all kept strict training; we all gave up the usual companionships and other interests that keep children and young people occupied so that we might advance in skill and make good showings in competition."

THE PAIRS, DANCE AND FOURS COMPETITIONS

There was only one entry in the fours event and the Toronto four of Ruth Hall, Elizabeth Chambers, William Calder and John Milsom took the title by default. It was the third year in a row that the Toronto four had placed first, but Ruth was the only returning member from the winning 1939 team.

There were two dance events in 1940 - the Waltz and the Tenstep. A field of seven was whittled down to four teams with an elimination round and both events were won by Minto couples - Aidrie and Donald B. Cruikshank repeated as Waltz winners, with Mrs. Elmore Davis and Melville Rogers taking the Tenstep. Melville, a former Canadian Champion in singles, pairs and fours, had the distinction of being the only skater to be both a judge and competitor in 1940.

Norah McCarthy and Ralph McCreath. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

Toronto's Ralph McCreath had won the Canadian pairs title the past four years in a row - the first three years with Veronica Clarke and the latter time with Norah McCarthy. In 1940, Ralph and Norah easily bested Christine Newson and Sandy McKechnie and Eleanor O'Meara and Donald Gilchrist with unanimous first place marks... but their performance was not without incident. Ralph slashed Norah's leg during the performance but they continued on despite her injury.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

After winning a record nine Canadian men's title, Montgomery 'Bud' Wilson had turned professional and the men's event in 1940 marked the changing of the guard. As Ralph McCreath had been runner-up to Bud in 1938 and 1939, no one was really surprised when he took the lead in the figures in Ottawa, but how much of a lead it was certainly turned heads. Seventy two points was nothing to scoff at!


Ralph could easily have played it safe in the free skating and still won, but he went out and gave one of his finest performances ever, dazzling the audience with his speed, high-flying jumps and confidence. Joan Parkins remarked, "With all the ease in the world his Axel, double loop and Salchow jumps took him off the ice at breath-taking height and in these he alighted on the ice as light as a feather." He earned top marks for his performance and Donald Gilchrist and Wingate Snaith had to settle for second and third.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITOR


Norah McCarthy

Seventeen year old Mary Rose Thacker of Winnipeg was the defending Canadian and North American Champion and the only skater west of Ontario to compete in Ottawa in 1940. She took a decisive lead of over twenty points in the figures.


In the free skating, Mary Rose looked like she was on her way to defending her Canadian title until she fell on one of her jumps. Norah McCarthy came out and landed her Axels and 1936 and 1938 Canadian Champion Eleanor O'Meara, only fourth in figures, gave one of her finest performances to win the free skate. Reporter Walter Gilhooly recalled, "Eleanor O'Meara... gave, perhaps, the most appealing of all the ladies' singles performances. A knockout in dark red velvet, Eleanor skated with the utmost grace and free skating was really a revelation."

Mary Rose Thacker and her mother being greeted at the train station upon her return to Manitoba

Norah McCarthy and Mary Rose Thacker each had two first place ordinals and two seconds, but Douglas Henry Nelles had Eleanor O'Meara first overall over Norah and Mary Rose... and it was that one third place that put Norah over Mary Rose. Eleanor settled for the bronze, ahead of Norah's sister Tasie and the Wilson sisters (Virginia and Eleanor) from Toronto. Tommy Shields recalled, "Judge Nelles' marks throughout the competition differed sharply from the other four. Experts could guess fairly confidentially what the average of the four would be, but never could forecast his. When he did award a five, which was not often, it was the signal for cheers from skaters and spectators. No doubt he called them as he saw them, but there was rarely any similarity to the marks of his colleagues... When the results were announced, there was a gasp of surprise and an appreciable moment of silence before Toronto supporters found their voices to cheer... Mary Rose took her defeat like a champion. There was no sign in her demeanor which would show how she must have felt her disappointment." Mary Rose told "Winnipeg Tribune" reporter Tony Allan, "If you fall in the free skating, you can't expect to win. Miss McCarthy skated very well, and I'm afraid I gave one of my bad performances."

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