Three Books Are Better Than One

Two days before New Year's Eve, I knocked a cup of coffee all over my laptop. I was absolutely weak. I had spent many, many hours reworking several potential follow-up's to my first book. Not being the sharpest tool in the shed sometimes, I hadn't backed any of my work up. I rushed my computer over to a local repair shop for them to try to salvage whatever data they could, trying to be optimistic but deep down worried that all of my hard work had gone down the drain like the coffee I wrung out of a J-Cloth. The next week, I got a call saying that my laptop was as good as new and I hadn't lost any of my data whatsoever. It is truly a New Year's miracle that any of that work is even seeing the light of day and I couldn't be more excited to share it with you... which brings me to some really exciting news.

I'm thrilled to announce that you will very soon be able to add two more amazing figure skating books to your collection!

If you've already picked up your copy of "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", you will know that it is very much a reference book. "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" is a completely different style of book. If you enjoy the style and flow of the Skate Guard blogs, this book will be right up your alley. If you're a lover of skating history, it is very much a book you will struggle to put down. "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" chronicles the history and evolution of figure skating jumps from a historical perspective, with chapters on the waltz jump, toe-loop, Salchow, loop, flip, Lutz, Axel, backflips and pairs throws, side-by-side jumps and twist lifts. At the end, there are jump charts and a listing of firsts under the IJS System. As the topic has long been a subject of debate by some, I have meticulously footnoted the book from start to finish so you can see exactly how I did my research. I'm so honoured to share that the foreword for the book was penned by 1962 World Champion Don Jackson, the first skater to land a triple Lutz in competition.

Like "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", you will find that "A Bibliography of Figure Skating" is absolutely a reference book. It is truly the ultimate guide to reading about figure skating! The book catalogues non-fiction figure skating books and periodicals dating back to the late 19th Century, with helpful tips on tracking down hard-to-find skating literature. If you ever wonder how I do my research for my blog, want to grow your skating library or learn more about your favourite skaters, this book will prove to be a wonderful resource for you. 

You can pre-order the Kindle E-Book editions of both books now and receive automatic free international wireless delivery on January 27 via Amazon Whispernet. Hard-cover and paperback editions will both be available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble on or before February 1. It is my sincere hope that you will enjoy flipping through these fascinating books as much as I enjoyed researching them and putting them together. 

Pre-order link for "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":
Pre-order link for "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps":

I would love to hear what you think about these books and "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating" - please leave an honest review on Amazon and/or Goodreads! It would be an incredible help in getting this important history out there to more people.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

La Coupe Excellence

Over the years, many international figure skating competitions have come and gone. Prominent events like England's St. Ivel and Richmond Trophy and Germany's Nations Cup once drew top skaters from around the world, but are now relegated to the history books. So too is a short-lived but unique figure skating competition that took place only twice in the eighties... Canada's La Coupe Excellence.

Held at the Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard and Aréna Michel-Normandin in Montreal, La Coupe Excellence was a multi-sport event that drew over two hundred athletes from around the world - thirty-five of them former Olympians. It was first held from March 15-17, 1985. The sports that were included that year were hockey, boxing, gymnastics, weightlifting, fencing, synchronized swimming and figure skating. Jean Dussault, the general manager of the Société des Jeux du Québec explained, "The final choice of disciplines was made according to certain criteria including the level of credibility with the spectators who are an important support, and also the question of competition schedules. La Coupe Excellence replaces in a way the Quebec sports championships... The sponsors, the athletes and the federations realized that we had to orient our efforts towards the international level following the successes of our athletes at the Olympic Games in 1984. We must give our athletes the chance to compete on the international stage and they will only be better prepared for the Calgary Games in 1988." A four dollar ticket allowed spectators the chance to see as many sporting events as they wanted.

Competitors in the gymnastics and synchronized swimming events at La Coupe Excellence in 1985. Photos courtesy Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

Figure skaters from three countries (Canada, France and the United States) participated in the first year of the event. Competing in what would ultimately be their last event as representatives of Canada, Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay won the gold the ice dancing event, defeating Americans Lois Luciani and Russ Witherby and fellow Canadians Michelle McDonald and Patrick Handley. Americans Gillian Wachsman and Todd Waggoner won the pairs event, ahead of Canadians Christine Hough and Doug Ladret and Isabelle Brasseur and Pascal Courchesne. To the delight of the Montreal crowd, Quebec's Nathalie Sasseville won the women's event, ahead of Kathryn Adams, Julie Brault, Tracey Wainman and Jill Frost. Christopher Bowman won the men's event and a young Kurt Browning was fifth.

Christopher Bowman

In 1986, a blue-collar workers' strike left La Coupe Excellence's organizers scrambling at the last minute to find a new venue. The event was ultimately cancelled. An article in "The Montreal Gazette" noted, "Tournament organizers felt they could wait no longer for an end to the strike, as more then $70,000 had been committed to air fares and half that amount must be paid despite the cancellation."

Sharon Jones and Paul Askham

La Coupe Excellence returned in 1987 with skaters from Canada, the United States, West Germany and the UK participating. Brits Sharon Jones and Paul Askham won the ice dancing competition; Canadians Laureen Collin and John Penticost the pairs. Tonya Harding came from behind to win the women's event, ahead of West Germany's Patricia Neske and Canada's Diane Takeuchi. American Danny Doran was victorious in the men's competition, besting Matthew James Hall, Jaimee Eggleton, Daniel Weiss and three others.

Having fulfilled its mission of offering competitive opportunities for would-be 1988 Olympians, La Coupe Excellence fell by the wayside, but it's an important part of Quebec skating history we shouldn't forget.








Christopher Bowman

Daniel Doran

Marc Ferland


Daniel Doran

Matthew Hall

Jaimee Eggleton







Nathalie Sasseville

Kathryn Adams

Julie Brault


Tonya Harding

Patricia Neske

Diane Takeuchi







Gillian Wachsman and Todd Waggoner

Christine Hough and Doug Ladret

Isabelle Brasseur and Pascal Courchesne


Laureen Collin and John Penticost

Natalie and Wayne Seybold

Cheryl Peake and Andrew Naylor







Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay

Lois Luciani and Russ Witherby

Michelle McDonald and Patrick Mandley


Sharon Jones and Paul Askham

April Sargent and Russ Witherby

Penny Mann and Richard Perkins

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 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 1950 Canadian Figure Skating Championships

Roger Wickson, Barbara Gratton, Suzanne Morrow and Roger Wickson. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The disappearance of a U.S. Air Force C-54 transport plane and its thirty-six passengers somewhere over the Yukon was front page news. Eileen Barton had just recorded her hit song "If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've Baked A Cake" and after years of being creative on the ration, Canadians could finally afford the ingredients to bake their favourite cakes thanks to the post-World War II economic boom in Canada.

The first Polaroid camera had just been manufactured but every young skater in Canada just wanted a Barbara Ann Scott doll under their Christmas tree. The year was 1950, and from February 2 to 4, Canada's best figure skaters gathered at The Winter Club of St. Catharines to compete in the Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

The event marked the first and only time The Garden City in the Niagara region played host to the Canadian Championships. It was also the first time a new scoring system for school figures was used, which had been tested at the North American Championships the year prior. Previously scores were announced after each compulsory figure, but under this system no scores were released until after all skaters finished. The reason for this, explained referee Donald B. Cruikshank, was to eliminate "any possible disadvantage to the first skaters... and give judges a chance to get an over-all picture in their marking." Some skaters and coaches undoubtedly had their own opinions about the move to embrace Closed Marking, potentially viewing it as a step backward. Now that we have some background, let's take a look back at how things played out on the ice!


Peter Dunfield (left) and Peter Firstbrook (right). Photos courtesy Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives.

In the junior men's event, Toronto's Peter Firstbrook claimed the gold medal which had eluded him the year prior at the Canadians in Ottawa. Peter Dunfield finished second - winning his first of several medals at the Championships.

Dawn Steckley (left) and Erica Batchelor (right). Photos courtesy Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives.

Thirteen year old Barbara Gratton built upon an early lead in the school figures to win the junior women's event. Her older sister Elizabeth moved up from fourth to take the silver, while Dawn Steckley of Ottawa dropped off the podium entirely. Erica Batchelor, then skating out of Calgary, finished off the podium as well. Just three years later she would become the European Silver Medallist, representing the UK.

Top: Elizabeth and Barbara Gratton. Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives. Bottom: Jane Kirby and Donald Tobin being presented with their trophies.

Jane Kirby and Donald Tobin of Ottawa won the junior pairs. Kirby was third in junior women's, while Tobin medalled in the senior men's event and all three dance events. In those days, it wasn't a rarity for competitors to skate in multiple events at the national level. It was the norm.


When Toronto's Marlene Smith and Donald Gilchrist had won the senior pairs event the year prior in Ottawa, they had faced stiff opposition from two other teams. In St. Catharines, they were the only team entered. According to the CFSA's rules, they still had to skate 'to a standard' and earn three quarters of the possible total points in order to win the title. All five judges gave them a score of more than eighty percent. 

There were three separate dance events in 1950 - the Tenstep, Waltz and Silver Dance competition. The same five couples competed in the trio of contests, with Joy Forsyth and William de Nance Jr. of taking the Tenstep and Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden the Waltz. After all five couples skated the Waltz, Rocker Foxtrot, Paso Doble and Tenstep in Silver Dance, the judges thought several of the teams so close in ability that they required them to come back for a reskate. After the marks were tallied, Ottawa's Pierrette Paquin and Donald Tobin were declared the victors. Of mention were the two teams that finished fourth and fifth in both events. Oshawa's Geraldine Fenton would go on to become a three time World Medallist, while her partner Dick McLaughlin would later become the CFSA's President. June Hockley skated with Roger Wickson, the defending Canadian Champion in men's singles. Two months after the Canadians, the first CFSA Gold Dance tests were held in Toronto. Paquin and de Nance took turns judging and being judged.


Mary Rose Thacker and Roger Wickson. Photo courtesy Hamilton Public Library, Local History & Archives.

In the men's school figures, twenty-one year old Bill Lewis, a commerce student at the University Of Washington who hailed from New Westminster, British Columbia managed to defeat the defending Canadian Champion, twenty-two year old Roger Wickson, a student at the University Of British Columbia from Vancouver. Spectators were on the edge of their seat considering the possibility of an upset in the free skate. It wasn't to be. Wickson rebounded with a fine performance, and Lewis dropped to third behind Donald Tobin of Ottawa. It was the first time ever that two skaters from Western Canada had placed in the top three in the senior men's event at the Canadian Championships. Though Wickson and Lewis repeated their top three result in 1951, it would be almost three decades before two Western Canadian men would be on the senior podium together again.


Though she was only nineteen, Toronto's Suzanne Morrow had already won medals at the Winter Olympic Games, World, North American and Canadian Championships in pairs skating. After her partner Wally Distelmeyer's retirement in 1948, she had focused her attention solely on singles skating and won the 1949 Canadian women's title in Ottawa. Much like her predecessor Barbara Ann Scott, Morrow amassed a fifteen point lead in the school figures, making it next to impossible for her rivals to catch up - competent free skaters or not. Clad in a black sequined dress and tiara, she was the toast of St. Kitts with her performance set to the strains of Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán.

Marlene Smith, a tall blonde from Niagara Falls, wore a fuchsia dress and skated to a medley of music by Viennese composer Fritz Kreisler to take the silver. Her success was remarkable in that she was treated throughout the event for a particularly nasty case of influenza. The bronze went to seventeen year old Vevi Smith of Toronto, junior champion of Canada in 1947.

Left photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Behind the scenes in St. Catharines, progress was being made. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The CFSA announced a competition to design new medals... [and] the professionals met with members of the American Skaters Guild and chose a representative to attend the Pro Skaters Guild meetings in Washington during the U.S. Championships." Following the competition, CFSA President Alfred H. Williams of Calgary announced that Canada would sponsor Morrow, Wickson, Smith and Gilchrist to compete at Worlds in London. He told a reporter, "This year's champions have proved they are of better quality than in previous championships. Some of them, especially Suzanne, are of word class, and I expect they will give some stiff opposition to strong opponents in the World Championships."

If you enjoyed today's blog and would like to learn a little more about Canadian figure skating in the 1950's and the skaters that were mentioned, now is a fabulous time to get yourself a copy of "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating". This fascinating reference book is available in hard cover, paperback and Kindle E-Book editions on Amazon. Click here to order the book today!

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 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 Rags To Regina: The Bert Penfold Story

Photo courtesy Saskatchewan Sports Hall Of Fame

"Like a lot of parents, I became interested when my two daughters started to skate. I skate purely for fun. My greatest reward has been watching so many youngsters take up this wonderful sport, develop into fine citizens and then see their children in turn follow in their parents skate-steps." - Bert Penfold, "Skating" magazine, May 1966

The son of Frederick and Harriett 'Hattie' (Tubb) Penfold, Bert Penfold was born August 14, 1898 on the Isle of Wight. Frederick, a journeyman who made do by painting houses, died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Bert was only a year old. Harriett struggled to make ends meet as an impoverished widow. One of her daughters went into service and Bert and other siblings were separated and put into Barnado's Homes. Bert was shipped off to Canada in 1907 and boarded with a German Methodist family on a farm in the Muskoka region of Ontario for a time before being sent to live with another family, the Moore's, in Regina, Saskatchewan. He was one of the Home Children.

Bert Penfold's parents

When The Great War broke out, seventeen year old Bert joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving with the 162nd and 122nd Battalions on the front lines in France. Upon returning to Canada, he worked with the John Deere plow company and as a bookkeeper for the federal tax office. He began his forty year career with the Independent Electric Company in 1925. In his spare time, he enjoyed shooting, lawn bowling, canoeing... and skating.

Bert was first exposed to figure skating during World War II, when his daughters Joan and Margaret seriously took up the sport at the Wascana Winter Club. After serving as the Club's President, he became the first Chairman of the first Section in Canada - the Western Canada Section of the Canadian Figure Skating Association - in 1947. Two years later, the CFSA had a Western President, Alf Williams of Calgary. When influential CFSA officials from Ontario tried to oust the CFSA's second Western President, Herb Larson, in 1954, Bert travelled all over the Prairies trying to drum up proxy votes from skating clubs. The coup backfired and Larson was re-elected.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

After four years as the CFSA's Vice-President and chair of the Membership Committee, Bert was elected as the Association's President. A long-time judge, he served as the manager of the World Team in Colorado Springs in 1965, when Petra Burka won the gold medal. As President, he pushed for more coverage of the sport on television and advocated for more support for skaters from Western Canada. Most notably, he spearheaded a Publicity Committee and urged organizers of skating events in Canada to develop strong relationships with the media. His efforts helped bring skating out of newspaper's society pages and on to front pages was key to the sport's development. Over the years, he served as chairman of the Western Canadian Figure Skating Championships, North American Championships and Canadian Championships. He was awarded the Centennial Medal for his contributions to figure skating in Canada in 1968.

Bert Penfold presenting Donald Knight with the winner's trophy at the 1967 Canadian Championships

Bert passed away on May 28, 1968 at the age of sixty-nine. He was posthumously inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall Of Fame in 1975. His nephew by marriage, Les Aspin, served as President Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Defense but died in office in May of 1995. His daughter Margaret Sandison made history as the first international figure skating judge from Saskatchewan.

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 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 Skater's Radio Programme

Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine

Looking through a modern lens, it's hard to imagine a time when things like television, YouTube, podcasts and blogs didn't exist. Today, with a tap on an touchscreen or a quick click of a button, we can watch a live stream of a competition or a Facebook Live interview with our favourite skater. It's like magic in a way... a concept that would have seemed completely foreign and even frightening to skating fans of decades past. 

In the roaring twenties, skating news was mainly disseminated in magazines, newspapers, personal letters and books. Unless you were lucky enough to watch a grainy newsreel clip of a skater gracefully gliding over the ice in your local theatre, you gleaned knowledge about the sport by reading - not by watching or listening. That began to change in the thirties when skating started to be covered on the radio and a new-fangled invention - the television.

Photo courtesy BBC Archive

One of the first skating-themed radio broadcasts in England occurred in 1937, when commentary of the women's free skating at the British Championships at the Empire Pool, Wembley was presented, supplemented by performances by Reginald Foort on the BBC Theatre Organ. Two years later, an exhibition performance given by Daphne Walker during the intermission of a hockey game between teams from Earl's Court and Streatham was aired on television. 

Skating disappeared from television and radio in England during wartime, reappearing in December of 1945 when Michael Barsley and Peter Eton ran a segment on their radio show "People's Pleasures" called "Round The Rinks" which offered some fun facts and 'figures' about the people who ran ice rinks. 

From 1946 to 1948, a handful of skating performances were aired on the BBC and in February of 1949, television history was made when the first televised ice show in England was aired in its entirety. It was a skating carnival put together by Miss Gladys Hogg at Queen's Ice Rink featuring Jennifer and John Nicks, Marion Davies and Michael Carrington that was hosted by 1936 Olympian Geoffrey Yates. That autumn, English audiences saw Cecilia Colledge skate during a broadcast of highlights of Tom Arnold's ice revues and in December, the British Championships made their national television debut.

The same year that Miss Gladys Hogg's ice show was broadcast on television, history was also made when what is believed to be the first skating-themed radio show made its debut. "The Skater's Radio Programme" was first broadcast on Radio Luxembourg half an hour before midnight on March 25, 1949. 

The weekly radio show was the brainchild of sportswriter Howard Bass, then the editor of the magazine "The Skater". Bass' goal in producing the show was 'to promote ice-mindedness' . In his book "This Skating Age", he recalled, "These programmes, broadly speaking, comprised interviews with famous skaters of the day, interspersed with recordings of music to which they frequently skated, and it was certainly enlightening to realize just how musically entertaining such a programme could be made. I was not ashamed at the unoriginal signature tune. Even if you are a little tired of hearing Waldteufel's 'The Skater's Waltz' do please listen to the instrumentally superb recording of it by the Boston Promenade Orchestra, the finest contrapuntal arrangement I know, and still among the best possible accompaniments for skaters of all grades. Certainly we had variety, too, varying from 'The Sabre Dance' (New Promenade Orchestra), Saint-Saëns' 'The Swan' (Melachrino) and Gounod's 'Ballet Music From Faust' (National Symphony) to the contrasting rhythmic tempos of 'In The Mood' (Glenn Miller) and 'I've Got The Sun In The Morning' (Joe Loss)'."

"The Skater's Radio Programme" was co-hosted by Howard Bass and Ron Priestley, an English born Australian professional skater and barrel jumper who had made a name for himself performing in "Enchanted Night" and "The Brahman's Daughter" with Belita and the Brunet's and Phil and Megan Taylor's "Switzerland" tour in Australia and New Zealand prior to World War II. Guests on the show included Jeannette Altwegg (then the reigning Olympic Bronze Medallist), Maj-Britt Rönningberg, Marion Davies, Carol Lynne, Terry Brent and Phil Romayne, Baddy and Buddy and The Jive Trio. Valerie Moon, the runner-up at the 1948 and 1949 I.P.S.A. Professional Championships, treated audiences to her mezza-soprano rendition of the song "This Is My Lovely Day". The show reached audiences throughout Europe - even behind the Iron Curtain and the B.O.A.R. zone in Germany.

Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine

Though "The Skater's Radio Programme" received rave reviews, it was short-lived - only lasting one season. The exact reason why it didn't continue is unknown, but its late hour and the rise of television may have been the culprit. After all, Howard Bass admitted, "Skating... [is] so essentially visual." Sadly, no known recordings of "The Skater's Radio Programme" survive today. At the time, those producing radio content rarely considered the concept of archiving material for long-term use and making recordings was prohibitively expensive... if one even had the means of doing so. "The Skater's Radio Programme" may have relegated itself to the footnotes of skating history, but it was this pioneering effort that paved the way for the skating podcasts of today.

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 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 1931 World Figure Skating Championships

Engraving of Gillis Grafström used in promotion of the 1931 World Figure Skating Championships. Courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Held from February 28 to March 1, 1931 at the Berlin Sportpalast in Germany, the 1931 World Figure Skating Championships marked only the second time in history the ISU presented the World Championships in men's, women's and pairs skating in the same place at the same time. 

Though the Nazis hadn't yet officially seized control of Germany, they were very much a presence in the country at the time. It wasn't all roses on the ice either. An article published in the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" on the opening day of the competition noted that many visiting skaters complained that they were not given ample time to become accustomed to conditions in the rink. This was because German skaters - even those not participating in the competition - were given preferential treatment.

George E.B. Hill, Roger Turner, Ernst Baier, Herbert Haertel, Marcell Vadas, Dr. Hugo Distler, Karl Schäfer, Rudolf Praznowsky, Leopold Maier-Larbergo and Theo Lass at the 1931 World Championships

Though attendance was comparably poor for the school figures, more than eight thousand people showed up to watch the free skating competitions that year, which started at five o'clock in the evening. The March 2, 1931 issue of the "Wiener Montagblatt" reported, "It was a frightful place. The driveway of the cars lasted for hours and the air was stagnant. The start of the contest was delayed by this, but moreso because of the non-presence of some of the pieces of music the skaters were to use." Sweden's Gillis Grafström, opting not to compete, gave a special exhibition for the Berlin audiences. He performed several dances he had adapted to the ice.

Karl Schäfer, Sonja Henie and Gillis Grafström

By this point in time, the Austrian press had all but given up on Fritzi Burger and Melitta Brunner, whose previous attempts to dethrone Sonja Henie had been unsuccessful. Their attention - and the eyes of the skating community - were focused squarely on little Hilde Holovsky, who was being hailed as the new rising star in the sport.

Let's take a look back at how Henie, Holovsky and the rest fared that year in Berlin!


Emília Rotter and László Szollás in Berlin. Photos courtesy National Archives of Poland, "Skating" magazine.

Nine teams vied for the 1931 World pairs title in Berlin and quite frankly, the results were all over the place. Turning the tables after that year's European Championships in St. Moritz, Hungary's Emília Rotter and László Szollás managed to narrowly defeat their teammates Olga Orgonista and Sándor Szalay by just one ordinal placing.

One judge tied the two teams, three gave Rotter and Szollás the nod, two preferred Orgonista and Szalay and Finnish judge Walter Jakobsson had Austrians Lilly Scholz and Willy Petter first. In an equally close contest for the bronze, Scholz and Petter lost out to their Austrian teammates Idi Papez and Karl Zwack. The only non-European team to participate, Maribel Vinson and George 'Geddy' Hill 
placed a creditable fifth. Otto Kaiser, who won the World title with Lilly Scholz in 1929, finished eighth with his new partner Hansi Kast.


Ernst Baier and Sonja Henie at a practice session in Berlin

An unlucky thirteen men squared off in Berlin in what was perhaps one of the most erratically judged men's events in the history of the European Championships. Karl Schäfer's victory was a decisive one, though the marks of the only judge to place him second offer the first glimpse into exactly how nutty the judging in Berlin that year was. 

In one of the blatant displays of national bias ever, the Czechoslovakian judge had his own skater, Josef Slíva, first. Slíva actually finished twelfth - second to last - and no other judge had him higher than ninth in either the figures or free skating! But no, the fun didn't stop there. America's Roger Turner, who claimed the silver, was eighth on the German judge's scorecard. Germany's Ernst Baier, who claimed the bronze, was only seventh best as far as the Austrian judge was concerned. Dr. Hugo Distler of Austria, who placed fourth, had marks ranging from second through eighth. Germany's Leopold Maier-Labergo's marks ranged from second through seventh. Hungary's Marcell Vadas, who ended up sixth, had marks ranging from third through eleventh. If it were up to the judges from Hungary, Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, Finland's Marcus Nikkanen would have won the bronze. Instead, he finished seventh! In hindsight, I think it's safe to assume that at least a few of the men on that year's judging panel got into the Riesling.

Marcell Vadas. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

How did they skate? The March 2, 1931 issue of the "Wiener Montagblatt" offered a detailed account of many of the men's free skating performances: "The first was (Marcus) Nikkanen (Finland), who made many mistakes and disappointed. His pirouettes were good, but his jumps were not pure. [Leopold] Maier-Labergo (Berlin) was characterized by his elegant attitude. His program was nicely arranged together, if not too difficult. [Karl] Schäfer brought the rink to a frenzy... He performed all manner of skating elements, jumping, turning pirouettes, dancing and developing an unprecedented musical feeling. He skated to an American piece of music and his program didn't have the smallest mistake. His performance was the highlight of the night."


The report continued: "[Marcell] Vadas, skating after Schäfer, appeared somewhat nervous and fell. Dr. [Hugo] Distler skated very softly and musically, but once touched the ice with his hand. He was uncertain and nervous for no reason at all. [Herbert] Haertel (Berlin), a splendid skater, performed very well despite a fall. [Rudolf] Praznowsky (Troppau) partly copied Schäfer quite well, but was far from the skater his great role model who lived far away was.  Theo Lass (Berlin), for the first time in such a large competition, skated very musically. [Josef] Slíva (Czechoslovakia) skated to a brisk march. He was the best in pirouettes but also his dancing steps were pleasing. After an Axel Paulsen, he came to fall." The Austrian reporter covering the competition offered no observations of Roger Turner, Ernst Baier, Pierre Brunet or George Hill's performances.

Karl Schäfer. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

However, Maribel Vinson, covering the event for "Skating" magazine, did. She remarked, "[Baier's] figures no doubt due to an attack of grippe the week before, were not as good as I have seen him do [but] next to Schäfer [he] did the most spectacular free skating of the evening. His countrymen gave him tremendous applause and well they might. His program was fireworks, skated without error and at high speed. Both Americans were among the last to skate... [They] made their impression and gained their applause by their evenly skated, flowing, graceful programs rather than by staccato jumps, toe point jumps, twists, spins and dances. Geddy skated his best and did an excellent inner spin. Roger, too, did himself proud, skating with more ease and poise, sureness and grace than ever before. He gave the audience the feeling that night that he was a seasoned campaigner and couldn't possibly make a mistake. All the American in Berlin were very proud of both of them."

Karl Schäfer. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following the event, Roger Turner - who had chivalrously declined money for travel expenses from the USFSA so that Maribel Vinson could have more - shared his thoughts on the event in "Skating" magazine: "One of my first impressions of the World Championships which were recently held in Berlin, Germany, was the exhaustive enthusiasm of the press for acrobatic skating. It would be unfortunate if the exponents of the Art should acquire an indelible image on their minds of acrobatics... rather than a free and harmonious expression... There is danger, if perverted opinions 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."


Sonja Henie and Karl Schäfer in Berlin. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Dr. W.L. Hildburgh, the American judge in the women's event, stirred the pot considerably with his marks in Berlin. Not only did he place both Maribel Vinson and Vivi-Anne Hultén ahead of Sonja Henie in the school figures, he put Austria's Hilde Holovsky ahead of the Norwegian darling in the free skate. Let's just say the man certainly didn't get a Christmas card from Norway that year! 

Randi Gulliksen, Hilde Holovsky, an unidentified skater, Fritzi Burger, Karl Schäfer, Sonja and Selma Henie in Berlin

Despite the best efforts of one renegade Yankee Doodle doctor, Sonja Henie pulled off a decisive victory in Berlin but many agreed that she was upstaged in the free skate by silver medallist Holovsky. Losing ground to Maribel Vinson in the free skate, Fritzi Burger dropped from second to third overall. Hultén placed fifth behind Vinson when the Norwegian judge - Sonja's judge - placed her second to last in the free skate. Let it suffice to say the Swedish press was not amused. However, American coverage of the event was quite favourable towards Sonja Henie. In a report penned for "Skating" magazine, George Hill remarked, "For the fifth time Sonja Henie was won the Ladies' Championship of the World, and it seems to me she can continue for many years. She is more than a skater, she is an artist... Her figures were executed almost flawlessly... Her spins were astonishing... longer and faster than ever and finished on the inner edge in beautiful position."

Maribel Vinson. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The March 2, 1931 issue of the "Wiener Montagblatt" offered a detailed account of the women's free skating performances in Berlin: "The first to skate was de Ligne (Belgium), who impressively skated a technically perfect, but not too heavy program. The Norwegian [Randi] Gulliksen skated musically but left no special impression. [Maribel] Vinson (America) was very pleasing. Her program was very pretty with some good original dance moves and her pirouettes also caused a great deal of applause... [Nanna] Egedius (Norway) brought a fairly light program to the event, then came Fritzi Burger (Vienna) in a pale pink dress. She skated completely flawless and purely... Even [Edel] Randem (Norway) had some pretty moments in her program though she had too little momentum and no tempo. Sonja Henie, in a turquoise blue dress, by her skating long ago a favourite of the Berliners, brought her usual program, the one from Vienna. Her jumps were particularly effective and she skated with wonderful security... [Vivi-Anne] Hultén (Sweden), who had to go after Sonja, fell, understandably... She did very beautiful things, dance steps which she learned from Grafström but lacked in temperament. Hilde Holovsky, with an entirely fabulous skate, almost surpassed the insurpassable performance of the famous Norwegian girl. With unlikey speed and mastery, each figure was executed. Her jumps were high and flawless. Her impression was overwhelming, and the Sportpalast broke out in cheers."

Vivi-Anne Hultén, Fritzi Burger, Maribel Vinson and Sonja Henie in Berlin. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Following the competition, ISU and government officials gathered with skaters at a banquet held at the Hotel Esplanade on Potsdamer Platz, which was frequented by stars like Charlie Chaplin and Greta Garbo in the roaring twenties. Prizes were awarded, Spätburgunder flowed freely and Karl Schäfer received a special award from the German Minister of Foreign Affairs. Sonja Henie - furious about  rumours saying she planned to turn professional - allegedly had an outburst at her hotel, slammed her door and locked herself in a room for a while. She came out eventually and won two more Olympic gold medals and five more World titles.

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 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 Best Of 2022: A Skate Guard New Year's Spectacular


So much figure skating history has been made in 2022. Nathan Chen became the first man of Asian American heritage to win an Olympic gold medal in Beijing, landing five quadruple jumps in his winning free skate. At the World Championships in Montpelier, Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier became the first American pair in decades to win the World title and Leona Hendrickx won Belgium's first medal in women's figure skating at the World Championships. At Skate America in Norwood, Massachusetts this autumn, Ilia Malinin made history as the first skater to land a quadruple Axel jump in competition on his way to becoming the youngest man ever to win the event. In France, thirty-nine year old Deanna Stellato-Dudek made history as the oldest skater to win an ISU Grand Prix event, with her partner Maxime Deschamps. For the first time, British Ice Skating hosted an ISU Grand Prix event. The MK John Wilson Trophy was not only a huge success from an organizational standpoint but an outstanding competition full of world-class skating. Earlier this month, Skate Canada made an incredibly positive step towards inclusivity in the sport, re-defining its rules for pairs skating and ice dancing to allow any two skaters, regardless of gender, to compete together. 

Nathan Chen's winning free skate at the 2022 Winter Olympic Games

Despite the very much ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, figure skating has continued to thrive as a world-class sport and 2023 promises to be even more exciting, if the skating we have seen so far this season is any indication.

What a fun year it has been from a content creator perspective too! I've worked on some really neat things, including the Wearable Skating History project for Pinterest, a host of really interesting articles for "Skating" magazine and U.S. Figure Skating's digital platforms and the compilation of a ton of really obscure figure skating results that weren't readily available previously. Publishing my first book "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating" was such a fun learning experience and I can't wait to take the lessons I learned from the process and put them to good use when I publish my next one. 

As is the case every year here on Skate Guard, I like to close out the year by doing a little countdown of 10.0 of the most compelling stories that you may have missed over the course of the past year. A Happy New Year to you and here's to more fascinating figure skating history in 2023! 


Bringing obscure footnotes to life is one of my favourite aspects of writing about figure skating history. In March, we took a trip back in time to Paris during La Belle Époque and a deep dive into the story of France's plan to build the world's largest artificial ice rink.


In 1905, the Minto Skating Club's Rideau rink played host to the event now recognized as the first Canadian Figure Skating Championships. Just two years later, the rink was destroyed in a massive inferno, necessitating the cancellation of the Championships. We explored the story back in January.


In the early days, coaching was very much an old boy's club. In October, the blog highlighted the story of legendary barrier-breaking French coach Jacqueline Vaudecrane


Speaking up about injustice is an act of courage. In April, we explored how two pairs skaters in two very different eras used letter-writing to enact change in the skating world.


It's no mistake that this August blog on perfect 6.0's is number six on the list. For decades, a score of perfect six was the benchmark of perfection in the sport and what better way to celebrate those performances that earned a judge's ultimate reward than to catalogue them.


The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on September 8, 2022 was inarguably the most significant historical event of the year. Shortly after her death, we highlighted The Queen's many, many connections to the skating world.


In 1908, London played host to the only Olympic competition for Special Figures. In August, the forgotten art of special figures was traced in fine detail.


In February during the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, it was my great pleasure to share the story of Ryuichi Obitani, one of Japan's great figure skating pioneers.


Osborne Colson was not only a Canadian Champion, he was one of Canada's most revered coaches of all time. It was my honour to write about him on the blog back in June and spoiler alert: there are some amazing stories in this one!


Many of the blogs you read on Skate Guard are written well in advance of the time they are published. That wasn't the case in February, when the doping scandal at the Winter Olympics made international headlines. "A History of Doping in Figure Skating" went viral on Twitter in February, shining a light on an element of the sport's history that needs to be taken incredibly seriously.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":