Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Lamartine Sur Le Lac: The Intoxification Of Skating

Engraving from the series Le Supreme Bon Ton, No. 9, Martinet, Paris, circa 1810-1815


Time and time again throughout history, the lines between literature and skating have blurred. Skaters like Toller Cranston have written brilliant poetry; poets like William Wordsworth have taken to the ice to carve their initials on frozen lakes. From Addison and Thomson to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and countless others, writers have invariably tried to capture the elusive magic of skating's essence in words for centuries.

In his 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History", Nigel Brown expounded upon what inspired such an unusually high number of poets to write about the joys of skating: "Sliding swiftly over a frozen surface gave excitement. Man, with the minimum of effort, could attain the speed of a galloping horse; this was both a thrill, and a feat that gripped the imagination in a period before speed became a part of everyday life. Velocity in itself fascinated in particular the masses who limited their skating to careening over the ice in record time. But the charm of skating was in its poetic appeal, for it possessed something of the unreal in its motion. It opened up a field of delightful sensation, heretofore unobtainable. Skating gave a feeling of flying through space, like a bird resting on the wing before the wind. Gliding swiftly over the frozen surface and turning effortlessly here and there produced a sensuous feeling of abandon that seemed to have no object, no finality, yet was real, and as such attracted the poets."

One such writer who was cuckoo for counters was famous French politician and romantic poet Alphonse Marie Louis de Prat de Lamartine. Although most revered for his autobiographical poem "Le Lac" and romantic poem "Héloïse et Abélard", the poet struggled financially later in his life and consequently, if he wrote something - anything - it got published and sold to presumably keep him in berets and baguettes. The 1849 book "Les confidences par A. De Lamartine", edited by Perrotin of Paris, was one such 'fundraising' effort. It included correspondence and memoirs of the French poet. 

In one letter, Lamartine raved about his passion for skating: "Between Bussières and Milly, there is a fast hill whose slope, rolled by a stone path, rushes over the valley of the presbytery. This trail in winter was a thick bed of snow or ice glaze on which we allow ourselves to roll or slide [like] the shepherds of the Alps... Meadows or streams were often overwhelmed ice lakes interrupted only by the black trunks of the willows. We found a way to have skates and [for them] to serve us. This is where I took a real passion for this exercise of the north. I became an expert later." Shaking my head at Google Translate and realizing my high school French is rustier than I thought, I turned to a better translation of the latter part of this letter from "L'art du patinage", George E. Vail's 1886 Parisian book: "To be carried with the speed of the arrow, and with the gracious swoops of the bird in the air, on a surface that is smooth, brilliant, resonant and treacherous; to print with a simple curve of the body, and, in this manner to describe, guided only by the rudder of the will, all the curves, all the inflections of the boat of the sea, or of the eagle hovering in the blue sky, it was for me, such an intoxication of the senses, and a voluptuous exhilaration of the mind that I can no longer reflect on it without emotion. Even horses, which I love very much, do not give the rider the delirious melancholy that the great frozen lakes give to skaters."

In her must read book "Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity and the Limits of Sport", Mary Louise Adams reflects upon this same passage and makes an excellent point comparing the artistic skating style of the French of the time (which developed from Jean Garcin's "Le Vrai Patineur") and the stiff English Style, both of which we've explored before in past blogs. Adams notes that "Lamartine's rapturous prose captures the physical and expressive possibilities the French found in skating. English textbook writers would have found it somewhat distasteful. While English writers also mentioned the physical pleasures of skating, they certainly did not dwell on them, and they never talked explicitly about skating as a means of expressing ideas or notions." 

Ironically, the same impassioned, artistic regard that Lamartine showed toward skating back in the nineteenth century is one that has remained central in French skating to this day. As we all know, 'patinage artistique' translates to 'artistic' skating, not figure skating. If you take the work of such visionary French skaters as Jacqueline du Bief, Sandra Garde and The Duchesnay's as examples, it is obvious that Lamartine's impressions of the art have remained alive, well and vibrant long since he passed on in February of 1869.

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.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Full Circle With Jiřina Nekolová


Born December 30, 1931 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Jiřina Nekolová (like the Jelinek's) would have survived both the Nazi and Soviet occupations of her country in her youth. She found solace on the ice, practicing skating and ballet five hours a day under the watchful eye of Dr. Vladimir Koudelka and showed great promise, finishing a strong fifth at the 1947 European Championships and tenth at the 1947 World Championships. However, she was skating in Czechoslovakia in the height of Alena Vrzáňová's success and in order to give her an edge, she was granted permission to train alongside Barbara Ann Scott at the Schumacher Summer Skating School in Timmins, Ontario the summer prior to the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland.


After finishing fourth at the 1948 European Championships in her home city behind Scott, Eva Pawlik and Vrzáňová, Nekolová travelled to Switzerland to compete in the 1948 Winter Olympics and the 1948 World Championships in Davos Platz that followed. Her hard work in Canada paid off. She bested Vrzáňová at the Olympics, finishing fourth to her teammate's fifth. At the World Championships that followed, she repeated her feat, finishing third and defeating not only Vrzáňová but the Olympic Bronze Medallist, Jeannette Altwegg of Great Britain. At the pinnacle of her success, she hatched a plan. She remained in Switzerland to train and in the early summer of 1948, boarded a plane to England with two other Czechoslovakian skaters under the guise of training on Britain's indoor rinks to become the next World Champion after Scott retired.


Biding her time, she travelled to Milan and Paris, where she finished fourth at both the European and World Championships. Returning to England, she decided to pull a fast one on Czechoslovakian officials and refused to leave when the other two skaters from Czechoslovakia training there did. She was adopted by a childless fifty seven year old British major and his wife and applied for British citizenship and asylum in England. Her parents and brother remained in Prague. In doing so, she became one of the first figure skaters in history to defect from a Communist regime.

The December 19, 1949 issue of "The Mercury" noted that "pretty dark-haired Jirina said in London that she was following the example of the Czech tennis stars Drobny and Cernik, because in Prague 'even prizes in skating go to Party members.'" Two days later, she granted an interview to the "Adelaide News", explaining "I get homesick, but I cannot go back to the Communists. Today I received a letter from my parents demanding that I return at once. I hate to disobey them, but I have to in this case. They realize that I am very young to be away from home and they are naturally anxious. But I cannot go back to communism and I won't. Most of all I love skating, and I must have freedom to skate anytime, anywhere. Communists wouldn't give me that freedom. They don't understand sport. I will tell you another secret. I am in love with Jaroslav Drobny, the tennis player who also refused to go back because of the Communists."


She didn't marry Drobny. Instead, in Surrey in January 1950, she married an Australian professional skater born in England named Ronald Priestley and retired from competition after plummeting in the standings after the figures and finishing a disappointing eighth at the 1950 World Championships at the Wembley Arena.


She turned to professional skating, starring in the Ice Capers show at the Westover Ice Rink in Bournemouth, England in 1951 and even making an appearance on the BBC. In 1953, Nekolová travelled on the S.S. Strathmore to Australia to perform there. On December 12, 1953, "The Argus" reported that on the way "every day, Czechoslovakian ice-skating ballerina and Olympic champion, Jirina Nekolová, gave them a 'five-hour-show', flitting over the decks as she practiced her ballet." At age twenty one on December 24, 1953, she opened with Reg Park in Cinderella On Ice, an ice pantomime at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne, Australia. She played the role of The Spirit Of Christmas. "The Age", on Christmas Eve 1953, remarked that "she is a ballerina on ice, combining considerable artistry with high technical standards as a skater." The following year, Priestley and Nekolová divorced in London. According to "The Truth" on October 3, 1954, "Priestley was granted a decree on the grounds of [Jirina]'s misconduct. She did not defend the petition. The judge also exercised his discretion regarding misconduct by Priestley." She was Priestley's third wife.

One of the last traces I was able to find of Nekolová's story came two years later, when she appeared alongside Emmy Puzinger, Fernand Leemans and members of the Vienna Ice Revue in Franz Antel's 1956 film "Symphonie in Gold". Although it's presumable that alongside that company, she most likely skated with the Vienna Ice Revue for a time, she seemed to fall off the radar... and perhaps with good reason. She passed away on May 25, 2011 in Kolin, Czech Republic at the age seventy nine, which of course tells us that at some point she went back - either by choice or force - to the very country she never wanted to return to. Life works in mysterious ways.

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.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Defection Of The Jelinek's


Canadian, North American and World Champions Maria and Otto Jelinek gained the admiration and adulation of figure skating fans in both Canada and Czechoslovakia when they won the 1962 World title in Prague but the incredible story of the path that lead them back the city they were born was nothing but harrowing.

Henry and Jara Jelinek's comfortable existence was shattered on March 15, 1939 when the Nazis took over Czechoslovakia. With the German's cork factories blown up in air raids, it was only natural that they found a reason to take over the Prague cork factory ran by Henry Jelinek; a business that had been in his family for three generations. A World War I veteran, he was accused of conspiring against the Nazis and holding political meetings in his home. Arrested thirty minutes after the birth of his son Henry Jelinek Jr., Henry Jelinek was placed in solitary confinement in a room six feet long and one foot wide and lived on a diet of bread and water twice a day while tortured, degraded and subjected to daily interrogation until he was finally released by the Gestapo just in time to witness Lidice, a village twenty miles from Prague, entirely wiped out after resistors from the area were believed to have played a role in the assassination of SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, the 'Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia.'

Germans ransacked and encamped in the family home. Henry Jelinek and his five year old son participated in The Battle Of Prague which dispelled most of the German army. As things slowly began to turn to some sense of normalcy when World War II finally came to an end, Henry's children Otto and Maria gave their first skating exhibition at the Winter Stadium in Prague. However, when Henry and Jara were in St. Moritz, Switzerland the following year watching Dick Button and Barbara Ann Scott win Olympic gold medals, the Communist Russians who had moved in after the Germans departed took over Czechoslovakia, seizing steel, glass, coal, ammunition... and Henry Jelinek's cork factory yet again. When the Communists announced the mysterious "suicide" of Czech diplomat and politician Jan Masaryk (later ruled a murder), Henry Jelinek decided it was time to get out of Czechoslovakia. Enlisting the aid of a mysterious South American man known only as 'Mr. G.', he paid handsomely to get his wife Jara and their family across the Czech border into Switzerland, where he waited anxiously with their eldest son Frank, who was attending a private school in Lausanne.

At 4:45 AM on May 15, 1948, Jara Jelinek piled her children Otto, Maria, Frank and Henry Jr. into a taxi and met 'Mr. G' in a waiting Sedan. The family hurriedly piled in and began their harrowing journey, initially afraid they were being followed. A Communist policeman stopped them and demanded a lift to the border. Otto nearly gave away their ruse that they were just a South American family going away for the weekend, as the passports they were using actually belonged to their driver's family. Henry Jelinek Jr.'s 1965 book "On Thin Ice" describes what happened when they arrived at the customs house on the border: "The policeman jumped out of the car and waved to the two border guards standing beside the heavy steel barrier which blocked our road to freedom. He hurried to the gate and changed places with one of the guards, leaving us all in the car. The man off-duty drove away on a motor scooter, while the large dogs tied to the cable next to the road started to bark viciously. 'I'm scared, Mommy,' cried Maria...'"

As 'Mr. G' was interrogated by five or six uniformed Communist border officers, he was asked how many people were in their family. He replied five. However, including 'Mr. G' there were only five passports... and six people. Henry wrote of the car inspection and head count that followed: "The guard jabbed under the seats, using his bayonet as a probe. Angry at finding nothing, he ordered us in again and stomped back to the shack. 'Well, how many are there?' the heavy-set man asked. 'Five,' Joseph replied. Counting those of us in the car, Joseph had forgotten to add the consul to the number. So five it was, as stated in the passport. Joseph probably saved our lives by his one figure oversight." After sending Frank back to school, Henry Jelinek paced the streets of Lausanne, with no news as to whether or not his family safely made it through the border... or if they were even alive. Just when he was preparing to head back to Prague and face the worst, his tearful wife and children arrived at his hotel. Jara said, "How lucky we are. That one guard could not count and another was half deaf. Oh! And poor little Maria. After I told her we had escaped, she said 'But Mommy, we must return. I forgot my dolls.'"

After performing Swiss Family Robinson style together in a family skating act in Lausanne, the Jelinek's left promptly for Canada and never looked back... or at least for a decade. Coached by Bruce Hyland, the sibling duo became World Medallists in 1957, a feat they repeated in 1958 and 1960. They finished just off the podium in fourth at the 1960 Winter Olympics and in 1961, won their first Canadian and North American titles, the latter despite suffering a terrifying fall on a lift in practice that threatened to end their entire career.

However, the real story in 1961 was their planned return to Prague to represent Canada at the World Figure Skating Championships. In the January 27, 1961 edition of the Montreal Gazette, the controversy surrounding the Jelinek's was discussed thusly: "Dr. James Koch, president of the International Skating Union had said the championships would be taken away from the Czech capital if the brother-and-sister pair from Bronte, Ont., were not recognized as Canadians. He said the ISU board resolved unanimously that the championships would be held elsewhere if the Jelinek's were prevented from going to Prague... The board appeared to be still worried about the situation despite a report from Montreal that the two had been released from Czech citizenship. But later a spokesman at the Czech mission said the problem had been settled... 'They will travel to Prague as Canadians with the privileges of Canadians,'" Their participation put the entire Canadian Figure Skating Association and its skaters on edge as they flew to Prague to compete that year. When they arrived, the Sabena Crash that killed the entire U.S. figure skating team - a team of friends they'd competed against only days earlier - was the real story.

However, a strange side story involving the Jelinek's was brewing in the wake of the tragedy. Henry and Jara, terrified their children had switched planes to fly with their American friends, tried to contact their children in Prague. According to Henry, the operator told him, "Sorry, it is impossible to speak with Miss Jelinek or Mr. Jelinek. Miss Maria Jelinek is out of town. Mr. Otto Jelinek is seriously ill and no communication is allowed to him." Henry implored, "Why were we given false news about Otto and Maria? And what was the intention behind that Communist lie?" The timing, to some, seemed a little too coincidental. Recalling the tragedy in a December 31, 2000 interview with the Boston Globe, Otto recalled "it's something that's always in our hearts. You can't put it away in a corner of your mind and forget. You feel closer to the tragedy because you realize you missed it by the skin of your teeth.''

video

At any rate, as we know the competition was ultimately cancelled, the Jelinek's made it home safely and returned to win their first and only World title the following year - IN Prague - before touring with Ice Capades and retiring from professional skating in 1969. Otto became a Tory MP and Canada's first Minister of Fitness and Amateur Sport to have competed in the Olympics and Maria a mother of two boys who has remained active in the Canadian figure skating community. I don't know about you... but revisiting their story just blew my mind. I could honestly go on and on about these two (and probably will at some point) but seriously... you NEED to read Henry Jelinek Jr.'s book if you haven't already. It's out of print obviously but if you go hunting in used book stores (my favourite!) and on used book sites, you just might score yourself a copy. It is worth the hunt - I promise!

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.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Czech This Out: A Look At Early Czechoslovakian Skating History


"At noon today I was on the ice, alone. The river was frozen and I went skating on it. The ice was like a mirror, the sun warm. The frost sparkled on the trees, and I, completely alone in this... white world. What sweet, quiet loneliness! Not to be mirrored in anyone... What freedom! Sliding on the ice limited only by the rhythm of my own breath. Thus I would wish to glide through life, carried along by the current of public life, in harmony with it, free and yet part of the whole." - Gisa Picková–Saudková, 1905

During author Gisa Picková–Saudková's time, the country that would later be known as Czechoslovakia was actually part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully dissolved into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet, borders and politics aside, from Prague to Košice; Bratislava to Brno, skating has united the Czech and Slovakian people for a very, very long time.

In 1845, Frau Henriette Wach von Paalzow referred to the popularity of ice skating in Prague during the winters in her book "The Citizen Of Prague" and less than ten years later in 1854, in The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, British traveller Ferdinand St. John recounted Bohemian aristrocrats ice skating at a chateau near Prague during that era: "I had received a large card of invitation, handsomely ornamented with sporting vignettes, announcing six grand days in honour of three young Archdukes who happened to be in that part of the country. The company were particularly requested to arrive on the previous day. I was the first to make my appearance, and found the general skating on a piece of water in the garden. On my approach he came gliding towards me; but whilst intent upon grasping my hand his heels slipped up, and down he fell sprawling on his back. At that same moment we heard the clang of postilion horns, and the General, kicking off his skates, hastened to receive the Archdukes and their retinue."

Speed and figure skating alike enjoyed popularity in the late nineteenth century in the region, with the first organized skating club in Bratislava popping up in 1871. The following January, J. Frank, Vice-President of said club, represented Bratislava in an early figure skating competition in Vienna, Austria. The February 1, 2001 edition of Blades On Ice magazine even purports that "Franz Lehar, the king of Waltz, conducted a band for a skating evening on a frozen lake in a cave near Bratislava under 64 gas lights."

In January 1908, the World Figure Skating Championships for men and women were held in Troppau, Austria-Hungary (modern day Opava, Czech Republic) but it wasn't until 1925 when Czechoslovakia was first officially represented at the World Championships by men's skater Josef Sliva and pairs team Eliška and Oscar Hoppe. Sliva, who narrowly missed out on the bronze medal at the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, France, would prove to be one of the earliest success stories in Czechoslovakian skating but it would be the Hoppe's that would win the country's first international medal in figure skating at the 1927 World Championships in Vienna. In 1934 and 1937, Prague played host to the European Championships and although Vera Hrubá Ralston, profiled on the blog in 2014, would enjoy success in America, it wasn't until the 1948 European Championships in Prague and Ája Vrzáňová's World title win the following year that skaters from Czechoslovakia really started making the world take notice.


The 1958 European Championships in Bratislava were actually the first to be broadcast live on television and the fact that hometown favourite and school figures specialist Karol Divin claimed the men's title really helped generate interest in the sport in Czechoslovakia and paved the way for the next generation of Czech and Slovakian skaters. When we think Czechoslovakia and skating history, our minds immediately turn to the Sabena Crash and the cancelled 1961 World Championships, to Ondrej Nepela, Jozef Sabovcik and Petr Barna, but the reality is that the story extended back so much further. It's only in the dusting off of those history books that these early footnotes get the audience they richly deserve.

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.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

The 1978 Skate Canada International Competition

Fifteen countries were invited, thirteen showed up. The 1978 Skate Canada International competition unfortunately wasn't one of the CFSA's biggest success stories. In fact, they took a huge financial loss. Less than half of the seats in the sixteen thousand seat Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver had bodies in them from October 26-29, 1978 and it's a shame, because from the sounds of things, they missed out on some fine skating.

An outlying issue of that year's Skate Canada was its close proximity in time to Great Britain's Rotary Watches International competition, held less than a week before. Sportswriter Howard Bass intimated that, "It was unfortunate that neither nation felt able to accept the invitation of the other, but if the two events could be kept at least three weeks apart in future seasons, this could be easily rectified." Some of the skaters competing at Skate Canada - including the Japanese team - had travelled directly from England to British Columbia to compete and were understandably jet lagged. Competitions were held in three disciplines - men's and women's singles and ice dance - but Canadian pairs skaters, including a young Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini - chimed in with some outstanding exhibition skating.

Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Lorna Wighton and John Dowding

Hungarians Krisztina Regőczy and András Sallay, ranked fourth at the previous year's World Championships, dominated the ice dance competition from the compulsories through to the end. They debuted their new free dance to an enthusiastic response, but conceded they still had tweaking to do prior to the 1979 European Championships in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.


Canadians Lorna Wighton and John Dowding narrowly edged out the Soviet team of Marina Zueva and Andrei Vitman to claim the silver medal. On improving on his bronze medal from the previous year's Skate Canada, John Dowding remarked, "'I'm very pleased with the way we skated... I don't think we could have skated any better." American teams Stacey Smith and John Summers and Hae Sue Park and Patrick Shannon finished fourth and ninth; Nova Scotians Marie McNeil and Rob McCall and Manitobans Lillian Heming and Murray Carey finished eighth and eleventh.

Winnipeg's Lillian Heming and Murray Carey

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Lisa-Marie Allen and Claudia Kristofics-Binder

Claudia Kristofics-Binder took a strong lead with 32.72 points in the school figures ahead of Finland's Kristiina Wegelius and eighteen year old Lisa-Marie Allen of the United States. Allen jockeyed with the Austrian for a position in the short program, came out on top and managed to overtake the Austrian with a free skate that was as clean as a whistle.


Kristofics-Binder was shocked by her loss, telling reporters from  "The Globe And Mail" in their October 30, 1978 issue, "I thought I skated my long program better here than in Vienna [at the World Championships], but my marks were lower.'' Despite a strong free skate from another American, Sandy Lenz, Wegelius held on for the bronze medal. For only the second time in the six year history of Skate Canada, no Canadian woman managed to make the podium. That's not to say that they didn't try! Nineteen year old Carleton University student Janet Morrissey, who trained under Ellen Burka, rallied after a rough warmup to land a strong triple Salchow combination and finish a respectable fifth. Her result gave her a great boost of confidence heading into the 1979 Canadian Championships, where she hoped to unseat defending champion Heather Kemkaran. She told reporters from "The Globe And Mail" on October 30, 1978, "I'm going to aim for her all right. I'm on top of the world right now." Howard Bass felt Czechoslovakian skater Renata Baierova, who finished seventh, was worthy of an honorable mention: "She has an effervescent personality and gets good elevation in her jumps, seldom slows down and constantly radiates her obvious happiness." Canadians Peggy McLean and Cathie MacFarlane were ninth and unlucky thirteenth.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Japan's Fumio Igarashi

Twenty four year old University Of Nevada student and defending World Champion Charlie Tickner amassed 32.80 points and received first place votes from all seven judges in the school figures. Second, with 29.52 points, was a twenty year old Scott Hamilton and third with 29.40 points and twenty ordinals was Calgary's Brian Pockar. In the short program, Tickner opted for caution, not attempting a triple in his required jump combination. He held on to the lead, but he had a jet lagged Japanese skater, fresh off competing at the Rotary Watches International, to contend with.


In the free skating, nineteen year old Fumio Igarashi of Tokyo, who trailed Tickner by a wide margin, rallied from behind with a strong program that featured five triple jumps (including a lutz and flip) to win the free skate, earning two scores of 5.9 for artistic impression. Tickner struggled on some of his landings and lamented in the October 30 issue of "The Globe And Mail" that he "was a little slow... really tired... I just didn't skate well." In a 5-4 split, Igarashi edged Tickner for the gold. Pockar won the bronze with what he termed "the best performance I've ever skated". Vern Taylor, tumbling on a triple Axel attempt before landing three more triples, finished a creditable fourth ahead of Hamilton. Another Canadian, Jim Szabo, was sixth.

Vern Taylor and Jim Szabo

How did the party end in Vancouver in October 1978? The late Brian Pockar recalled, "The week ended with a huge spontaneous 'Toga Party' on Saturday night with most of the skaters and even some of the coaches participating! The official ending of the week was the closing banquet held at the elegant Hotel Vancouver. Everyone appeared to enjoy themselves, and as we said our goodbyes and parted everyone began to look forward to next year's Skate Canada." Alas, there was no toga party in the autumn of 1979... not at Skate Canada, anyway. An agreement was reached at the time between the CFSA and USFSA that during Olympic seasons, if one country was hosting an autumn international the other wouldn't. In 1979, it was America's turn... and Norton Skate, the early predecessor of Skate America was born.

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.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Minnie Cummings, The Minneapolis Skating Gypsy


Born in May of 1879 in Canada, Minnie Cummings was the daughter of first generation British immigrants. Her father relocated her family south to Minneapolis, Minnesota and soon after passed away, leaving Minnie and her young siblings in the undesirable position of having to work to support their widowed mother. Her brother Albert found work as a photo engraver and her sister Alva became a tailor. Minnie decided to take the road less skated.

In a speed skating race at Fort Snelling in St. Paul in 1899, she completed a 'quadruple century' distance on the ice in forty seven minutes and thirty two seconds. The gathered crowd, impressed with her efforts, gave her a brilliant idea. Later that winter, she packed up her few belongings and hit the road with speed skater Johnny Nilsson, giving exhibitions of 'fancy' figure skating on ponds, lakes and in rinks all over the Midwest and sending home every penny she could to her family.

On January 4, 1900, The Republic noted that "John Nilsson, champion speed skater of the world, reached St. Louis yesterday morning. He was accompanied by his wife and Miss Minnie Cummings, the trick and fancy skater who is after Miss Davidson for the lady championship of the world. The party came from Milwaukee. Miss Cummings is engaged to appear at the Ice Palace in this city next week, and John Nilsson will hold the boards the following week." From St. Louis, she travelled to north to New York state and gave exhibitions with Nilsson at Saranac Lake on January 30, 31 and February 1, 1900 as part of The Pontiac Club's winter carnival. The next winter, Cummings was a star attraction in Pembina, North Dakota.

In subsequent years, Minnie travelled north to give exhibitions in Northern Michigan and Canada, performing everywhere from Moose Jaw to the Northwest Territories. In 1904, she gave an incredible twenty three exhibitions in four weeks. She took sick in January 1908 and missed a year of performing but returned to her gruelling schedule in 1909. In January 1910, she was billed as the "opening ice attraction" at the Boston Ice Palace. Two months later, she headed to Calumet, Houghton County, Michigan for a series of exhibitions. The Wednesday, March 9, 1910 issue of "The Calumet News" noted, "Miss Cummings arrived in Houghton yesterday and was on the ice of the rink for sometime yesterday and today. Those who saw the young woman 'working out' at the rink this morning saw some very wonderful things in the way of fancy skating, among which was the cutting of the ice of many flowers, all of which was cleverly executed by her." Her performance at Houghton's Amphidrome was so popular that she remained in the area and performed at the Palestra. Her exhibition was described in "The Calumet News" two days later thusly: "It was about 9 o'clock that the ice was cleared and Miss Cummings [appeared], clad in a pretty little suit of dark cloth trimmed in white and wearing a jaunty hat of white fur and feathers. Miss Cummings was on the ice for nearly an hour and in that time she kept the audience at high pitch of interest with her many beautiful evolutions, cutting all kinds of scrolls and rolls, Dutch and otherwise. The people on either side of the rink were enabled to get a good look at Miss Cummings because, unlike many fancy skaters, she worked over a large area of ice. From here Miss Cummings went to Mohawk today to appear there tonight and tomorrow night she will be at the rink in Calumet. Miss Cummings was at the rink here this morning for a little more of fancy work and before leaving she said that she wished she might stay in Houghton and see more of the fancy skaters develop. She says she has had a very pleasant time while here in the village and that she appreciated the many courtesies shown her by the people of Houghton."


The following winter, Minnie popped up in Lexington, Massachusetts, performing alongside J. Frank Bacon as part of the town's Great Winter Carnival and skating at the Cambridge Skating Club during her visit as well. The February 4, 1911 issue of the Cambridge Chronicle gave perhaps the most detailed chronicle on record of her performance: "When a woman can skate like this Miss Cummings, no man, no matter how fancy his skating might be, cannot be considered, for the time being at the least. She is the whole show... Miss Cummings is the embodiment of grace of movements on the ice. She is the very next thing to flying. She is a lithe young woman, and very tall, dark-haired and dark-eyed, and as willowy in her movements as a Japanese acrobat. She starts in a long outer roll on one skate and sweeps around about fifty feet or so, turning completely around at the end and taking the next sweeping curve backward on the foot. Then she starts in to cut a figure 8 on one foot, and this means a quick movement of the free foot on the short turn each time - a movement she accomplishes without effort time after time as she repeats the figure, and always most gracefully. Out of the figure she sails backward in a long outward sweep once again, and gives an exhibition of what is really the most beautiful thing in skating - the plain outside edge forward and backward, followed by the inside forward and backward in long sweeping curves. Then she does the cross roll - does it steadily without even a slip or a hitch and with a rhythm that is charming. She has learned the 'Bacon whirl,' but she does whirl it in the same way that Frank Bacon does. The skirt won't permit. But she whirls around a few times as a preliminary to cutting the grapevine; first the single vine, then the double, and then that the most difficult thing, the once-and-a-half, which necessitates a quick, sharp turn at the end that results in disaster with most people who attempt it, but never with Miss Cummings, apparently. She next cuts the pivot vine and the plum vine - single and double - and the combination three, ending with the 'plain avil' backward, and as a finishing touch cutting the 'combination scissors'. Off she darts then to a clear corner and begins that most difficult of figures, the King pivot, on the left foot backward. This ends by crossing the free foot over the other, digging the ice of this foot in the ice and ending in a short whirl... She is known out West as the 'queen of the ice', and that title she will probably retain, but what Frank Bacon called her is more convincing, if less dignified - 'the most wonderful woman skater in the world.'"

One of the final accounts of Minnie I was able to find came from the March 6, 1920 issue of the Ironwood Daily Globe in Michigan: "Miss Minnie Cummings, 'the Ice Queen,' performed at the Irondrome last night. About five hundred spectators witnessed the fancy figure skating of the ice. Miss Cummings is 'the lady champion of the American style' and is said to be the most wonderful woman skater in the world. Her performance consisted of intricate pivots, graceful vine combinations and sensational spins. The spectators were so well pleased that they urged the manager of the rink, Mr. Thebert, to have Miss Cummings put on a second performance, which she did whereby she received more applause than she did the first time." After that, she married and became Minnie Cummings Price. In 1946, Roy W. McDaniel recalled her as "a very fine skater with a beautiful style who readily accepted the modern skating."

In the end, there's really so little we ultimately know about this pioneering professional skater. Like so many skaters of her era, Minnie didn't follow the traditional path. She never competed at a recognized U.S. Championships or World Championships, never shared the stage with someone like Charlotte Oelschlägel and most certainly never rubbed shoulders with the elite who's who of New York's high society. She carved out her own path, travelling from town to town, city to city like a gypsy with her skates, collecting quarters as she wowed audiences with her school figures. And yet, to me, it's stories like hers that are every bit as fascinating - if not moreso - than the skaters who amassed shelves full of trophies and medals.

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

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Toller Cranston Visits The Magic Planet


Having already covered his 1982 "Strawberry Ice" and 1985 "The True Gift Of Christmas" television specials on the blog, I really thought it was time that I revisited the middle child of Toller Cranston's much acclaimed television specials, the lesser remembered gem "The Magic Planet".


Broadcast in both Canada and the U.S. on CTV and ABC in March of 1983, "The Magic Planet" was a futuristic ice odyssey like no other. It was narrated by none other than William Shatner himself and directed by David S. Acomba. Skating acts were fused with performances by dancers from the Alvin Ailey company of New York and the George Faison Dancers. Although music was provided by the London Symphony and recorded in England, it was scored and conducted by Canadian Paul Hoffert. Like in Toller's other specials, costuming was designed by Olympic Silver Medallist and two time World Champion Frances Dafoe. The cast included Cranston and actor/musicians Ann Jillian and Deniece Williams and skaters Brian Pockar, Sandra and Val Bezic and Wendy Burge.


The premise of the show was that of an astronaut (Cranston) having his NASA space capsule hit by an asteroid. When the craft lands on a strange "magic planet", Cranston's skating wins the the heart of the Queen Of The Outerworld People. Cranston's character is confronted by Fraze (Pockar), an evil leader of the Outerworld's rival Underworld. Fraze seeks the Queen (Burge)'s hand in marriage, but after a scuffle Fraze is banished from the Outerworld. Fraze abducts the Queen, taking her to his kingdom. A sorcerer approaches the astronaut and gives him a pair of magic skates which aid in his efforts to rescue the Queen.


In an 1983 interview regarding the show with Lynne St. David, Toller Cranston said "What's most exciting about Strawberry Ice and The Magic Planet is that we have been able to combine skating with the more traditional elements of entertainment, such as dance. It's ironic because in the field of entertainment, Canadians are usually thought to be two steps behind the United States, but this is an area where we are breaking new ground... working with the most sophisticated electronic equipment and techniques that television can provide, we were able to incorporate the different mediums into a visual delight. In all my travels, with all of the work I have done, the most clever and creative individuals I have worked with, bar none, have always been Canadians. My costume designer, Frances Dafoe, is a perfect example. She is better than anybody, the best internationally, but nobody knows her name." He claimed that his 1983 production "goes far beyond skating. Often you forget that the characters are on ice at all. A lot of people come up to me and say, 'You know, I never watch skating, but I watched your show.'"

"The Magic Planet" was classic Cranston at his best... great music, costuming, theatrics and skating melded together to create a unique storybook that (though at times a little kitschy) captures your imagination like a book you just can't put down. I still think that's what made Toller the enigma he was. You just couldn't look away.

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.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

A Seminar In Shadow Skating History


Without a question, one of the earliest and most defining changes in the discipline of pairs skating was the introduction of shadow skating. Although combined figures and dance steps had obviously already been introduced, competitive pairs programs prior to World War I in no way resembled the programs we see today. Throws, lifts and death spirals weren't part of the pairs skating vocabulary yet but shadow skating, introduced to the sport by the British, laid the foundations for the inclusion of side-by-side jumps and spins.

To explain what shadow skating was in a nutshell, imagine two skaters side-by-side performing a footwork sequence in unison, mirroring each others movements. Although T.D. and Mildred Richardson were the first two to introduce the art to competition in 1923, it was actually the Richardson's well-respected coach, Bernard Adams, who gave the first known exhibition of it publicly some years prior. T.D. Richardson wrote of his former coach: "It was Bernard who, with his brother, first demonstrated shadow skating, a form of pair skating which he introduced. They looked like two figures cut out in black paper. The show consisted of turns, quick-moving steps and what would nowadays be considered simple jumps. But it was skated with great precision, in beautiful style and very fast. The term shadow skating was not used until 1923 when the late Kenneth Dundas applied it, in the Manchester Guardian, to the pair programme skated by my wife and me, and built on the lines of that of Bernard and Alex. A few years ago in an American show brought over by John Harris (Ice Cycles), it had been revived most beautifully. Bernard also had a foursome, consisting of the Adams brothers, with two other Princes instructors, Christian Soldan, a Swede, and Leonce Pesquier, a Basque from Biarritz, who had learnt his skating at the Palais de Glace in Paris and in Nice."

The Richardson's introduction of shadow skating at the 1923 British Championships received mixed reactions. When both they and Ethel Muckelt and John Page incorporated it into their Olympic programs at the 1924 Winter Olympics in Chamonix, it was the British judge - Herbert Ramon Yglesias - who marked both teams down severely. In his book "Ice-Skating: A History", figure skating historian Nigel Brown explained that when "T.D. Richardson and his wife executed almost an entire programme along these lines... a controversy started among the leading skaters as to whether to condemn or approve it as an interpretation of pair-skating... Some authorities would not even look at it, believing it not to be pair-skating at all, others thought it the highest form of pair-skating. It was more difficult to perform, and when the future World Champions, Pierre Brunet and Andrée Joly, developed it to a high standard and incorporated it in their programme, shadow-skating became a classic department of pair-skating art." 

I think it would only be right to finish off with a lesson in shadow skating from T.D. Richardson himself. Here's his description from his hugely popular book "Skating With T.D. Richardson", published in 1952: "[Shadow skating] is by far the most difficult, depending for its effect on complete unison of length of edge, sway, swing of the arms, shoulders, free leg and hip, and of tilt of the head - the last being the most difficult of the lot to acquire and the one which, when all the others are in accord, completes the picture. Another very important factor in this form of skating is, that it must be close together - not more than arm’s length apart. Perfect shadow skating requires hours, days, even years of patient practice, with a neutral eye constantly on the alert for any break in the uniformity. And finally it must have speed. Acquiring Spontaneity The best and quickest way to acquire all this is to take a simple step and work at it in sections, adding to it as soon as each section becomes entirely automatic - because there must never be the appearance of 'thinking' in a pair programme and it must give the impression of complete spontaneity. Let me give an example of one of these steps. Lfo (long), Rfi-Lfo (short), Rfo (long), drop three to Lbo (long), back cross-roll on to Rbo, a quick three turn on to Rf i and finishing with a 'cut-away' on to Lfo. This little step sounds very simple. It is. And if it is 'just done' it looks nothing at all. But do it in style, together, with a wide throw of the free leg on the cross-roll, on the three turn and on the cut-away, with a full shoulder swing, the arms in alignment, flowing very freely and with the heads moving round at the same angle; do it at speed and put it in the middle of a programme and someone is sure to say to you 'I did like that little step just before you went into...' This movement will not take you very far, so from your Lfo continue with a cross drop counter and back change, and so on into a lift, spin, or a jump. It would be a simple matter to enumerate dozens of these little opening phrases, but it is better and much more interesting and self-satisfying to work them out for yourself. It is extremely doubtful if you will find anything original, and if you do, only your closest admirers will give you credit for it. You will always be subject to the accusation of plagiarism, which of course is nonsense. Your steps should vary in speed of movement, that is to say, some should be com- posed of turns and changes, rockers, counters, and threes, combined and performed with such rapidity that even the best-informed student of this type of skating finds difiiculty in following its complexity. The others should be of long, flowing, deep, and powerful edges with position for a three jump, back loop, or Salchow; and these in their turn will develop into Axel Paulsens, double- loop, and double-Salchow. Frequently in these shadow dance steps, you will find a position simply asking for toe-Salchows, Lutz, back counter or rocker jumps, and as soon as this feeling is experienced, start at once and include them."

Just when you thought you'd had absolutely enough of cut-away's, they're back in their original splendour. Grab yourself a partner, test out T.D's shadow skating lesson and let me know how it goes!

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

Thursday, 4 August 2016

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


How doth I love skating? Let me count the ways... Just prior to the Sochi Olympics, I put together a collection of poetry about skating called "Patinage Poetry: The Language Of The Ice". The topic of poetry recurred in "Georg Heym: The Skating Prophet", "Canada's Valentine", a second edition of "Patinage Poetry" and a recent review of Elee Kraljii Gardiner's wonderful book "Serpentine Loop". And guess what sweetie? I just can't get enough. From the whimsical to the humorous to the touching, the third installment of "Patinage Poetry" is jam packed full of wonderful gems. Put on your beret and get ready to snap afterwards for more fabulous skating poetry:

"TINTYPE ON THE POND, 1925" BY J. LORRAINE BROWN

Believe it or not,
the old woman said,
and I tried to picture it:
a girl,
the polished white ribs of a roast
tied to her boots with twine,
the twine coated with candle wax
so she could glide
uninterrupted
across the ice -
my mother,
skating on bones.

"RULE 5711: EPITAPH FOR A TANGO" BY MURIEL KAY

Once, long ago there was danced on the ice
The Harris Tango - it was rather nice;
Danced hip to hip with a long curving glide
it involved quite an art to effect the change side.
With chasse staccato and sinuous roll,
It was a la flamenco and zapateado,
A dance full of joy, coquetry and passion,
It was quite exciting when danced in this fashion.
But alas sad to say, for the dancers today,
It is robbed of its vigour
A true change of sides is no longer de rigueur,
No true character now - a pretence only false
I.S.U. has decreed that the hold shall be a Waltz!

"MIRROR ON THE ICE RINK WALL" BY M.J. SANDERS

Mirror on the ice rink wall
Do I look like this at all?
No! Until you skate on edges,
You will look like two steam dredges.
For a graceful lean like a sailing ship
Leave those flats. (Just take this tip.)

Mirror on the ice rink wall
Do I look like this at all?
NO! What makes you look so badly
Is your head, that's drooping sadly.
To watch the ice there is no need
Because it's always there, indeed!

Nine-tenths of skaters over twenty
Skate for exercise aplenty.
So, why that purpose to defeat
Keep looking down at your own feet?

"MCGINTY, KING OF THE RINK" BY CHAS. CRANDALL

Oh, they call me the "King of the Rink,"
A skater I am, so they think;
For when I appear the people all cheer,
And the ladies at me slyly wink.
So fondly at me they will glance.
When I have on my Oscar Wilde pants
And tight polo cap, their hands they'll clap,
For "McGinty, the King of the Rink."

I can skate, for I bate ev'ry man in the rink I
At "go as you please;"
I did pose on my toes, when they call'd out,
"McGinty, you're King of the Kink."

When I skated at Coney Island,
They have a fine rink on the sand,
I made fancy whirls, which captured the girls,
When the music struck up by the band.
I thought I would give the grape-vine,
When a fellow came up from behind;
But soon he was floored and everybody roar'd
For "McGinty, the King of the Rink."

Now a lady with bright auburn hair
Last Saturday evening was there;
And how she did skate, I'm sure it was fate.
That I met this young lady so fair.
We did all the movements in style,
When she turn'd, saying with a sweet smile,
"McGinty, old man, do well as you can,
For we know you're 'King of the Rink.'"

"ICE" BY GAIL MAZUR

In the warming house, children lace their skates,
bending, choked, over their thick jackets.

A Franklin stove keeps the place so cozy
it’s hard to imagine why anyone would leave,

clumping across the frozen beach to the river.
December’s always the same at Ware's Cove,

the first sheer ice, black, then white
and deep until the city sends trucks of men

with wooden barriers to put up the boys’
hockey rink. An hour of skating after school,

of trying wobbly figure-8’s, an hour
of distances moved backwards without falling,

then—twilight, the warming house steamy
with girls pulling on boots, their chafed legs

aching. Outside, the hockey players keep
playing, slamming the round black puck

until it’s dark, until supper. At night,
a shy girl comes to the cove with her father.

Although there isn’t music, they glide
arm in arm onto the blurred surface together,

braced like dancers. She thinks she’ll never
be so happy, for who else will find her graceful,

find her perfect, skate with her
in circles outside the emptied rink forever?

"THE DUFFER'S LAY" BY CECIL HUNT, B.W.S.

When I go Dancing on the Ice
I illustrate each single vice,
I prance, I kick, I turn my knee
Inward, when outward it should be,
And scrape and mutilate the three.
My word I pledge, I'm on no edge;
I'm well aware I'm on the flat,
But what of that, Sir, what of that?
My free leg, too, I never fail,
To whirl it round me like a flail,
And oftentimes you may descry,
My free leg pointing to the sky.
Further, with questionable taste,
I limply grasp my Lady's waist
With shifting grip - Oh hand of mine,
Why play banjo on her spine?
My left arm - here's another scandal
Moves up and down like a pump handle.
Last horrid thought, I know that I'm
Invariably ahead of time!
And so I lurch and skid and sway
And double-track upon my way,
Wholly oblivious that the rest
Regard me as a perfect pest.

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.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Four Forgotten Ice Princesses Of The Fifties

Ája Vrzáňová, Jeannette Altwegg, Jacqueline du Bief, Tenley Albright, Gundi Busch, Carol Heiss... these 6.0 talented women each stood upon the top of the podium at the World Figure Skating Championships in the fifties. History loves to remember its champions and rightfully so! However, the fascinating stories of many talented young women who rose to fame in their own respective countries during the decade of 'Carol versus Tenley' have been largely forgotten in the sands of time. Today, we'll meet four forgotten fifties ice princesses whose stories absolutely deserve a mention:

LIDY STOPPELMAN



Born July 3, 1933 in Amsterdam, Alida Elisabeth (Lidy) Stoppelman spent much of her youth in The Netherlands studying dance. Translating her prowess on the dance floor to the frozen stage, she divided her winter training time between Amsterdam and The Hague. Summers were spent in England playing tennis and training under legendary coach Arnold Gerschwiler. At the age of seventeen in 1950, she won her first medal - a bronze - at the Dutch Championships. The following year, she defeated Holland's reigning champion Reitje van Erkel to claim her first of three consecutive Dutch titles. After finishing second in an international competition in England behind Yvonne Sugden, in 1952 she made history as the very first woman in history to represent her country in figure skating competition at the Olympic Games. Although she placed a disappointing twenty second at the Oslo Games, her pioneering effort paved the way for women like Sjoukje Dijkstra and Dianne de Leeuw to compete and medal in the Olympics. After winning a bronze medal in the Richmond Trophy and cracking the top ten at the European Championships, Stoppelman ended her short but sweet competitive career abruptly in 1954 when she finished fourth in the figures at the Dutch Championships behind three younger skaters (Nelly Maas, Joan Haanappel and Dijkstra) and decided to call it quits before the free skating. She married Briton Jack Leonard Mason and taught skating in Davos, Switzerland and at the Houtrusthallen, the first indoor rink in The Netherlands.

ANNA BURSCHE-LINDNEROWA

The daughter of attorney Alfred Bursche, Anna Bursche-Lindnerowa was born on August 6, 1922 and grew up on a villa close to the border of Konstancin, near Warsaw, Poland. Her first career wasn't as a skater, but as an Army liason during World War II. In a May 7, 2010 article in "Poradnik budowlany", Anna's nephew Alexander described her harrowing escape from captivity during the War:
"Immediately after the capture by the Germans in Warsaw, all the male Burschów family was arrested - on Hitler's personal order. The brother of the owner of the house - the bishop of the evangelical church of Ausburg - was taken to Berlin and lost there. He was imprisoned in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where he died two years later. His widow spent the occupation in a villa near Warsaw. Here, too, she found the outbreak of the Warsaw Uprising. My father and his sister Anna Bursche Lindnerowa (multiple Polish champion in figure skating on ice) belonged to the Army - tells the owner. My father, as a soldier, fought in Mokotów. My aunt was a liason. After the surrender, like most of Warsaw, they were in a transit camp in Pruszkow, from which she managed to escape. After two days of hiking through fields and woods, without shoes, that had somewhere been lost, with [injured] feet got she home... But war and turmoil here has left its mark. In the countryside bombs fell, in front of family members, at the front entrance. Fortunately, [they were] a small caliber, but traces of the explosion are still visible on the door." After surviving her horrific escape, Anna won five consecutive Polish women's titles from 1949 to 1953. She then switched to pairs skating, claiming another three National titles with partner Leon Osadnik. Finally, she gave ice dancing a try and made history as Poland's first ice dance champion. Although Anna's only trip to a major international competition was a last place finish in the pairs event at the 1955 European Championships, she penned the Polish language book "Lyzwiarstwo figurowe w szkolnym klubie sportowym" ("Figure Skating In The School Sports Club") in 1957 and went on to coach in Warsaw. 
Among her students were nine time Polish Champions Teresa Weyna and  Piotr Bojanczyk. She married actor, director and fencing instructor Slawomir Lindner, who himself was imprisoned in a P.O.W. camp in Woldenburg during the World War II occupation of Poland, and passed away on August 21, 2002 at the age of eighty.

DAGMAR LERCHOVÁ


Born October 22, 1930, Dagmar Lerchová was raised in Holešovice, a suburb in northern Prague. Her parents skated on the frozen Vltava river and as a girl, she attended the nearby Štvanice rink, where she'd try to emulate the better skaters as they gracefully flew by. When it became clear she had a passion and a knack for skating, she started receiving formal training. However, like many European skaters during that era, her skating career was interrupted by World War II. After the War ended, she resumed training and made her international debut at the first post-War European Championships in 1947, where she finished a respectable eleventh of the nineteen competitors. The following year, she moved up five spots to sixth and earned a trip to the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz. Had it not been for a disastrous fifteenth place finish in the school figures, she would have placed in the top ten in only her second international competition. Although she skated in the shadow of Ája Vrzáňová and Jirína Nekolová, when both of her compatriots defected she rose to prominence as her country's leading hope. Lerchová claimed three consecutive Czechoslovakian women's titles from 1953 to 1955 and proved herself as a superb free skater  - even twice placing as high as fifth at the European Championships - but despite twelve tries, she ultimately failed to reach an international podium. After retiring, she got married, taught English, served as an international judge and referee and gave birth to ice dancer Liliana Střechová (Řeháková), who placed fourth at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid with partner Stanislav Drastich. Sadly, Dagmar outlived her daughter, who passed away suddenly in 2008. As of 2012, she was living in an assisted living facility in Praha and devoted her time to art and singing.

TSUYAKO IKUTA



Born in 1929, Tsuyako Ikuta began skating at the age of six in Osaka, Japan under the tutelage of Yasuzo Nagai. Incredibly, only three years after she took her first cautious glides on the ice she won Japan's junior title. Although she skated in the shadow of Etsuko Inada and Yoshiko Tsukioka early in her career during World War II, she claimed four medals at the Japanese Championships between 1941 and 1951, even training during blackout conditions at risk of air raids. Taking a break from the sport following the 1951 Japanese Championships in Tokyo, she returned to the skating spotlight in 1954 as a graduate of Kwansei Gakuin University... and a married mother of two! Despite medalling at the Japanese Championships during two Olympic years, she sadly never had a chance to compete internationally due to post-World War II bans on Japanese athletes. She retired from competitive skating after winning two Japanese titles in 1944 and 1955, coached both of Yuka Sato's parents and helped establish the All Japan Figure Skating Instructors Association with Etsuko Inada and several others. In 1968, the loss of her own Olympic dream was vindicated when her eldest daughter Kazumi Yamashita - a four time Japanese Champion in her own right - qualified for the Grenoble Games. She continued to coach in Osaka until 2003.

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

Saturday, 30 July 2016

#Unearthed: The Barbara Wagner And Bob Paul Edition


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history duff are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's #Unearthed is a fascinating article by the late Gordon Wesley written the autumn after Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul won their first of four World titles. It originally appeared in the October 1957 issue of "Imperial Oil" magazine and has been shared with the permission of the fine folks at Imperial Oil:

"HER FUTURE'S ON ICE" (GORDON WESLEY, SHARED WITH PERMISSION FROM IMPERIAL OIL)

One brisk December day 13 years ago, a well-bundled five-year old took her first faltering steps on her first pair of skates on a Toronto backyard rink.

Last February the same girl, now a well-proportioned young woman with shoulder-length blonde hair and a contagious smile, stepped confidently on the ice in Colorado Springs' posh Broadmoor Ice Palace. For five minutes, she and a slim, handsome youth swooped and spun across the slick surface, climaxing their routine with a daring shoulder-high knee-catch. Applause roared from the stands as skating-wise spectators anticipated the judges' decisions - Canadians Barbara Wagner, 18, and Robert Paul, 19, were the new world's champion pairs skaters.

If tears were seen to glisten in Barbara's hazel eyes, there was good reason. The seemingly effortless performance by the two young skaters was the product of thousands of hours of rugged rehearsing. Their easy-looking physical harmony was the result of a regimen that would tax a professional fighter. For six years they had dedicated themselves to skating. For Barbara there had been few parties because there wasn't time, no skiing because she might injure herself, no swimming because it tends to over-relax skating muscles, no sundaes because skaters must watch their weight.

Nor were Barbara and Bob the only ones to have made sacrifices. Barbara's father, James H. Wagner, a senior member of Imperial's public relations department, had shown his faith in his daughters ability by spending thousands of dollars for lessons and equipment. A 15-minute skating lesson costs $3.25. Skates and boots are worth $110 a pair and Barbara wears out a pair in nine months. A two-month stint of summer-skating in Schumacher, Ont. costs him $900 a year.

But Jim, an immensely proud father, shrugs off these expenses. "Our car is three years old," he says with a smile, "and maybe we could spend the money on new furniture. But we prefer it this way. Any parent with a talented child would do as much, and after all, doesn't any other parent do as much, say when he puts his child through medical school?" But what of Barbara? Does she sometimes long to be a normal teen-ager? Has the sacrifice been worth it? If that five-year-old in the Wagner backyard had known what was in store for her, would she have exchanged her skates for a doll-house?

"I would have chosen to skate," says Barbara. "Anything you have to do continuously - like skating or golf or even business, I suppose - you get tired of sometimes. But deep down you have to love it or you wouldn't be able to continue."

And there's another side to it. "Look at all the things my skating has brought me," she points out. "I've crossed the Atlantic twice. I've skated all over North America and travelled all over Europe. I've been entertained in palaces and met all sorts of fascinating people. I have friends all over the world."

Barbara's natural cheerfulness and her keen zest for living have stood her in good stead on her travels. At the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina, Italy, her off-ice activities won the hearts of the Italians. Speaking a sort of pidgin Italian, Barbara, dubbed "Leetle Mees Canada" by the Italians, spent her off-hours wandering through the village's picturesque streets, chatting with newsboys about the day's headlines or picking up interesting items about the town's history from the Cortina town clerk. Her energy astounded everyone. In her two weeks in Cortina, she visited every church and historical site within a five-mile radius. The Canadian Press described her as "one of Canada's top goodwill ambassadors."

Oddly enough, neither Barbara or Bob particularly wanted to win the Olympic gold medal that year. They wanted to see another Toronto couple, veterans Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, crowned champion. "Franny and Norry are retiring at the end of this year and it will be a shame if they don't win," said Barbara before the competition. As it turned out, the Bowden-Dafoe team lost out to an Austrian entry, [Schwarz] and Oppelt. Barbara and Bob placed sixth, then went to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, for the world championships and finished fifth - and that was the beginning of their climb to the top.

"We knew 1957 would be their year," said coach Sheldon Galbraith, 34-year-old professional at the Toronto Skating Club. It was indeed their year. All the month of February they won the North American title at Rochester, the Canadian pairs title at Winnipeg and the world pairs title at Colorado Springs.


Now they have their sights fixed on the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley, California. For the next two and a half years, they will dedicate their time and energy to preparing for that single five-minute performance that will decide their right to be Olympic champions. At least until they get a chance at the Olympic title, they will remain amateurs. They will defend their various titles and give occasional exhibitions to keep themselves in top condition. After the Olympics - who knows? "Maybe," said Barbara, "if neither of us is married and there are good offers, we'll turn professional." But that's a long way off.

Barbara's story properly begins when she was taken to ballet school at three and a half. With a natural responsiveness to music and her long golden curls, she was an immediate success. But her parents soon decided she had had enough. "I didn't want her to spend her life travelling around as a ballet dancer," says her father. To which Barbara laughs, "Look at me now!"

Discarding her ballet slippers for skates, Barbara taught herself to stay upright in short order. At nine she joined the University Skating Club in Toronto, but soon found that Saturday mornings were not enough. She moved to the Toronto Skating Club and in 1951, without ever had a professional lesson, she won the club championship for girls under 12 years old. The next year she took two junior titles and, with a young lad named Robert Paul, was runner-up in the junior dance competition.

Compared to Barbara, young Bob had got off to a pedestrian start. He had reached the ripe old age of nine when his parents bought him a second-hand pair of figure skates so he could keep up to a young girl cousin. The next year he contracted polio - luckily, a non-paralytic type. While recuperating in hospital, he told his family, "When I get out of here, all I want is a nice new pair of skates." He got his skates.

Meanwhile, Barbara's progress, largely self-taught, was not going unnoticed. Sheldon Galbraith, who had coached Barbara Ann Scott to her World and Olympic titles in 1948, saw her possibilities and convinced her parents she needed professional coaching. She was only 12 years old when Galbraith suggested to her parents that she "summer-skate". The Wagner's balked. Mrs. Wagner argued that Schumacher was about 500 miles north of Toronto and Barbara was still a little girl. Jim Wagner objected - after all, he said, there was more to life than figure skating; she should be playing tennis and swimming and doing all of the other things girls of her age were doing. Barbara broke down all the arguments in typically feminine fashion; showing her usual determination she wept until her parents agreed to at least have a look at Schumacher.

Barbara was a little taken aback by the frontier appearance of the mining town. Still she was pleased with the McIntyre arena with its three artificial ice rinks and other recreational facilities, all built primarily for employees of the McIntyre Porcupine gold mines. Galbraith assured the Wagners that their daughter would be well-chaperoned and cared for and they headed back to Toronto minus their skating daughter.

At first Barbara did nothing but figures and solo skating. But she was short - she's only five feet one inch today - and Galbraith thought it might lengthen her stride and improve her technique to pair her with Bob Paul, who is now six feet and weighs 175 pounds. So well did they perform together he decided to train them as a pair and the following spring - 1954 - they won the Canadian junior pairs title at Calgary. Obviously they were naturals. As Galbraith put it: "Any weakness one might have is corrected by the other. Barbara has the grace and expression and Bob has the muscle power."

In 1955, now seniors, they were runners-up to Dafoe and Bowden in the Canadian Championships held in Toronto. That same year Barbara and Bob ventured into even deeper water, competing in both the North American Championships at Regina and the world meet at Vienna. Not that they had any hope of winning, but their coach deemed it important they gain international experience. So good an impression did they make that they were invited with other Canadian skaters to give exhibitions in Davos, Lausanne and Zürich in Switzerland; Paris, France; and several North American cities.

Psychologically, the youthful stars have now reached a crucial point. "Right now," says Galbraith, "they're going through their worst period. They would like to let up because there's not the same incentive. There are times where there's nothing left but willpower."


Sheldon seldom lets up on their training, driving himself as hard as he drives his pupils. Skating around the pair in lazy circles, he calls out, "Now!" for the timing of a lift, and then, "Feel it now, feel it!" Sometimes he will signal for the music to be stopped, show Barbara how he wants her to do a split mazurka and tell her to try again with the half-serious warning, "Three thousand of those and you'll have it right!"

Even if they wanted to, Barbara and Bob are usually too out of breath for repartee. In a sport which temperament - and temper - is accepted almost as the norm, these two are noted for their serenity. The pair avoid seeing too much of each other of the ice because, as Barbara says with typical good sense, "We've seen too many pairs go down the drain because they let themselves get emotionally attached. Besides, she says, they have different off-the-ice interests.

Barbara has developed a highly effective method of avoiding temper outbursts. When she finds herself becoming angry, she simply turns her back and walks away. "I can't see any point," she says, "in saying something you'll regret later."

Her charm and even disposition have won her friends all over the world. Almost every day letters and requests for photographs arrive from some distant corner of the world, usually from people she has never met. Some are addressed simply, "Miss Barbara Wagner, Champion Figure Skater, Canada". She makes a point of answering all her fan mail and carries on a regular correspondence with two girls in Lausanne, Switzerland. Fame she finds very pleasant. As for the crowds who regularly turn up to watch her skate: "The more the merrier - I love them!"

She admits to one superstition - the number 13. When she started school, she came home with a 13 for her mother to sew inside her coat and she graduated from St. Clement's girls' school last June 13. In most competitions she manages to find a 13 either on a hotel room or a street number. Always on the watch for her lucky number, Barbara was happy when she found out she had been assigned no. 58 in the World Championships in Colorado Springs. "After all," she points out, "eight and five make 13, don't they?"

An avid reader - she prefers modern fiction - Barbara regrets her career allows no time for university. Last year she began a course in fashion design, her favourite hobby, but her skating forced her to drop out. Her skill in dress designing has not been wasted - she usually designs her own skating costumes and her mother sews them, a major economy.

Naturally thrifty, Barbara does her best to hold down expenses. As a world champion, she has most of her travelling costs paid for by the Canadian Figure Skating Association. Earlier trips to competitions, however, were financed by her father. When Barbara competed at the World Championships in Vienna in 1955, her mother went with her as chaperone - and Jim footed the bill. Last year Jim took advantage of a month's holidays to take his wife and 24-year-old son, John, to Italy and Germany to watch Barbara skate. "It was expensive," he smiles, "but worth every cent of it."

As far as the expenses are concerned, Barbara and Bob seem to be over the hump. At a reception for the pair at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club last March, both were presented with life memberships, to which Barbara reacted with unbridled enthusiasm. "Just think," she bubbled happily, "I'll be able to skate free until I'm 90!"

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.