Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Demise Of The North American Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Do you know what's funny? Whenever I blog about judging controversies, my inbox goes berserk. Scandals don't just whet the appetites of skating fans... People have a penchant for these stories and I promise that the scandal du jour on today's Skate Guard menu will be every bit as delicious.

Advertisement for the 1969 North American Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.


The event was the 1969 North American Figure Skating Championships held from February 6 to 8, 1969 at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and hosted by the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club. Thirty six entries from Canada and the United States skated their hearts out in hopes of bringing home medals.

Badge from the 1969 North American Championships

Tim Wood won the men's event and Toller Cranston finished last. Americans Cynthia and Ron Kauffman prevailed in the pairs event, while Canadians Mary Petrie and Bob McAvoy took the bronze. Mary recalled, "It was so exciting for us to compete Internationally.  We flew down with the Montreal Canadiens... the likes of Gump Worsley, John Ferguson, [Jacques] Laperrière, etc. I got many autographs! At North Americans, I fell on our best element in the short program... the death spiral. I lost my edge and we came last... In the long, we skated right after the Kauffman's who had a very long standing ovation! We took the ice with a 'well, we've got nothing to lose' attitude and had the skate of our lives! In those days the long program was a gruelling five minutes long. We got off to a good start with the double flips and then the split double twist and after that it was clear sailing. It's funny when you are relaxed and things click. It was the absolute easiest five minutes I ever skated. We moved up to third place behind the Kauffman's and Starbuck and Shelley. It was an honour to stand on the podium with them."

The pairs podium at the 1969 North American Championships. Photo courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray.

Another talented Canadian skater, Sandra Bezic, recalled her first trip to the North American Championships thusly: "North Americans were always a party - as much as a party it can be for a twelve or fourteen year old! We always had a blast with the Americans. especially since Val and I trained in Lake Placid in the summer, so we knew a lot of them. It was always judged by protocol so you knew the results before they happened. Except in '69 we came fourth in the short program! We got a standing ovation for our 'Caravan' . Then, of course, we finished in our rightful place – sixth. These competitions were probably a pain in the neck for contenders, but great experience for the young ones, like us."

Mary and Sandra's positive experiences aside, by the time of the women's competition, there was more than the usual amount of squawking among the eleven thousand spectators about the integrity of the judges.


After teenage sensation Janet Lynn won the women's event, Denny Boyd of the "Vancouver Sun" wrote, "Miss [Karen] Magnussen was patently jobbed in the North American Championships at Oakland, when four American judges contrived to give the title to little Janet Lynn of the U.S. The decision was so gamey that many people in the attendance expressed deep concern that there was a cargo of rotting fish unattended at the Oakland fish docks. One Canadian muttered, 'I know what those judges are doing. They're getting even with us for sending them Paul Anka.'" Well, as much as that would be a very logical motive for revenge, the chatter about Lynn's victory over Magnussen was a perhaps a little more founded in logic than figure skating's favourite dismissal: the ever convenient 'sour grapes' argument. With four American judges to Canada's three in all four disciplines contested, if there was funny business going on one country was certainly at a disadvantage. The fact that Magnussen had skated particularly well in both the school figures and free skating and all four U.S. judges had given the nod to Lynn fuelled the fire of those crying foul. The women's event, however, was only a small precursor of drama to come.

The ice dance podium in Oakland. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The final event to be contested was ice dance. World Bronze Medallists Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky were heavily favoured to take home America's fourth gold medal. They trounced the competition in the compulsories. In the OSP, their closest competitors, Canada's Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie, had finished second in a four/three split down country lines. The four American judges who had placed the American team first gave the top Canadian team a second place ordinal, two third's and a tied fourth. What happened in the free dance was another story entirely. In his 1984 book "The Golden Age Of Canadian Figure Skating", David Young wrote that "the U.S. judges seemed to be tumbling all over themselves to cover up their tracks, and awarded the ice dancing title to Canadian champions Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie, ranked twelfth in the world, over their own pair Judy Schomeyer and Jim Sladky, ranked third." Lynn Copley-Graves, in her authoritative book "Figure Skating: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" explained, "After computation of the very close marks, Taylor/Lennie ended in first by the majority of the judges. Schomeyer/Sladky ended second despite first place in the compulsories and free dance, the highest total points, and the lowest total ordinals. Jim Proudfoot of the "Toronto Star" criticized 'the laughably inconsistent judging' and warned the demise of the North American Championships. The bright side is that the couple who was 'supposed' to win did not and the nationalism of an international event did not prevail."

In a February 5, 2002 article in "The Globe And Mail", writer Beverley Smith recalled the controversy in an interview with the referee of the ice dance event at the 1969 North American Championships, Canadian Pierrette Devine: "The top contenders for the gold medal were talented Americans Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky. The Yankee polka that they performed in the original set-pattern dance at the event was so revered that it eventually became an official compulsory dance. Schwomeyer and Sladky were leading after the original set pattern dance, but Devine was approached before the free dance by a reporter who told her that he knew a Canadian team would win the dance event and that the Americans would finish second. It was a way for the Americans to say thank you for Lynn's victory, he said. 'That's impossible,' Devine scoffed. But then she watched in amazement as Schwomeyer and Sladky won all three portions of the event but still finished second in the final account. 'I sat in the accounting room for an hour, trying to figure that out,' Devine said. 'They had messed with the marks... It seems like they had got a great accountant to figure it out and one or two American judges to do some funny stuff.' Devine complained to both the CFSA and the Canadian dance technical delegate, but she said she was told: 'Shut up. We won.' Devine headed to the hotel bar with her husband, Frank, in tears. There sat the reporter who had heard about the results before the competition ended, as well as Canadian coach Sheldon Galbraith. She told them she was going to quit. Finally, Galbraith took her hand and said: 'Pierrette, just remember one thing before you decide anything: These skaters are better off when you are on that panel. I love it when you are a referee because I know every kid is treated equally.'" Devine pressed on only to retire in 1976 after becoming disillusioned with the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing in the judging world. At the 1969 World Championships in Colorado Springs, a more balanced panel placed Schwomeyer and Sladky in third and Taylor and Lennie eleventh. The scores weren't even close.

Following the competition, the CFSA's Technical Advisory Committee reviewed the judging and concluded that there were "many [examples of] national bias on both sides." It was suggested Joe Geisler, a CFSA director, that a possible solution would be to bring in a European judge or two. Both the USFSA and CFSA balked at the suggestion.

Suna Murray, Karen Magnussen and Janet Lynn on the podium at the 1971 North American Championships. Photo courtesy Mary Petrie McGillvray.

While John McKay, the North American Committee chairman felt the solution was as simple as ensuring the best referee possible was in place, CFSA Executive Director Hugh Glynn tried everything in his power to cancel the 1971 North American Championships in Peterborough, which had already been committed to, because the USFSA initially refused to send Janet Lynn, one of its top skaters. The waters calmed between the two skating federations when Lynn was ultimately named to the North American team.

Left: Toller Cranston at the 1971 North American Championships. Right: Advertisement for the 1971 North American Championships. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The competition in Peterborough marked the first and last time at the North American Championships that a computer was used to calculate the results. Interestingly, the placements were far less controversial that year than in 1969. In pairs and dance, Americans JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley and Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky were the unanimous choices of every judge. In the women's event, Janet Lynn substituted a double flip for a triple toe-loop and slipped on a double Lutz, handing the victory to a clean Karen Magnussen in six-one vote. John 'Misha' Petkevich also won the men's event in a six-one vote over Toller Cranston. Both men missed triple Salchows in their free skates, and there were minor rumblings from the American side about a 6.0 by Cranston received for artistic impression. However, all in all, the judging controversies that had arisen in 1969 were very much absent from the Peterborough event. That said, Jim Proudfoot noted, "There was a smattering of bitterness at the end when the American team pulled up stakes without skating in the traditional final day exhibition program." Following the event, USFSA officials set to work planning a rematch in Rochester, New York from February 8 to 11, 1973. The Canadians weren't having any of it.

Clipping from Donald Gilchrist's 1973 article "North Americans die" citing further reasons for the cancellation of the North American Championships. Courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

On April 15, 1972 at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, Americans F. Ritter Shumway, Benjamin T. Wright and Chuck Foster and Canadians Donald Gilchrist, Hugh Glynn, John McKay and George Blundun met to 'discuss the future' of the North American Championships. The Americans thought they were there to discuss the planning of the 1973 event. They were blindsided by the CFSA's announcement they were withdrawing from the event as they felt "that time had passed by the Championships". The CFSA made a recommendation that the North American Championships be cancelled indefinitely, as it was "in the best interest of both organizations". After discussion, those present voted unanimously in favour of the discussion and voted to recommend to the CFSA and USFSA that the North American Championships be cancelled.

Excerpt from the minutes of the April 15, 1972 meeting. Courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray.

While some have have suggested that the introduction of Skate Canada International that autumn was far from a coincidence, Donald Gilchrist remarked in a 1989 interview, "We cancelled it because it wasn't panning out and it wasn't fulfilling the objectives I think both countries wanted. On the basis of the judging split, the unhappiness about some of the results and the fact that you can't guarantee some of the best skaters, we said let's call it splits... They [the Americans] agreed to it. We finished the meeting, the Americans left, then we rolled up our shirt sleeves and said, OK, what are we going to do? We talked about Skate Canada and said, OK, we'll do it... Never did we cancel it because of Skate Canada." By that autumn, George Blundon's brainchild - initially named the Canada-Skate International Competition - was all planned out and the CFSA was in talks with Johnny Esaw to cover the event on CTV. As they say, sometimes when one door closes another door opens.

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, 19 October 2017

A Wonder From Warsaw: The Zbigniew Iwasiewicz Story

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Uprising after uprising... In 1908, the citizens of Warsaw remained under the rule of the Russian Empire despite three years of ultimately unsuccessful demonstrations, strikes and violent confrontations. Economic conditions in the city were dire and those who weren't hopping mad were largely despondent. It was in January of that year that Warsaw played host to the European Figure Skating Championships for the very first time. An Austrian won, a Russian lost and ten months later, on October 18, 1908, Jan Iwasiewicz and his wife Francis welcomed their son Zbigniew into this world.

The opening of the first artificial rink in Katowice, Poland, circa 1930. Zbigniew Iwasiewcz is the fourth from the left. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Zbigniew grew up during World War I and a month after his tenth birthday, saw Poland finally restore its sovereignty after one hundred and twenty three years under foreign partition. As the years passed, he developed a keen interest in figure skating and pursued the sport passionately while attending a military college and studying economics. Through skating, he met a beautiful young woman named Jadwiga Cukiert. The couple soon fell in love, formed a pairs partnership and married. Unfortunately, at the time the team of Zofia Bilorówna and Tadeusz Kowalski were absolutely dominant of the discipline in Poland, winning nine consecutive national titles from 1927 and 1935. Bilorówna and Kowalski won the country's first medal at the European Championships in 1934; the Iwasiewicz's remained in Warsaw empty handed. However, the lovebirds ironically found more success on their own than they ever did together. Jadwiga won a local competition in Warsaw, Zbigniew the Polish senior men's title three times consecutively from 1931 to 1933. Never given the opportunity to compete internationally, the couple glided away from the sport.

Senior men's competitors at the 1933 Polish ChampionshipsPhoto courtesy the Przegląd Sportowy. 

Fast forward to the autumn of 1939. In accordance with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, both the Russians and the German Nazi's invaded Poland at the same time. Zbigniew was in the country's eastern territories on business when Stalin's Red Army invaded. He managed to narrowly escape back to Warsaw and his wife, posing as a railway worker. The couple's sense of security was short lived. They were both arrested by the Gestapo and herded like cattle to a concentration camp. Incredibly, they both escaped from the truck and survived World War II!

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

After the War, the couple moved to Gydnia for a time then returned to Warsaw, where Zbigniew worked in foreign trade and for the Western Press Agency, even publishing a book on marine issues called "Polskie ziemie zachodnie i pólnocne: zagadnienia morskie" for the Agency. However, like many, Zbigniew watched on in disbelief as the regime of the Communist Polish United Workers' Party implemented a Sovietized sports program and incorporated all sports organizations into a Central Committee Of Physical Culture. He had never lost his passion for skating and felt powerless as he watched on as Poland's just went through the motions, quite possibly terrified to speak up and get the help they needed to compete successfully on an international stage. When the Polish Skating Union broke into two organizations - speed and figure - in 1957, he stepped up to the plate as the very first President of the Polski Zwiazek Lyzwiarstwa Figurowego (Polish Figure Skating Association). At a time when a faction of more liberal Polish Communists seized power in the country after Stalin's death, he became figure skating's unwavering leader. It was a challenging period full of rebuilding and restructuring sports programs in the country yet under Zbigniew's guidance, Polish skaters slowly started seeing more progress and better training conditions than they had in years. Barbara Jankowska and Zygmond Kazmarczyk earned top ten finishes at the European Championships; ice dancers from the country made their international debut.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Sadly, not long after Zbigniew took the bull by the horns and became Polish skating's biggest advocate in years, his beloved wife Jadwiga passed away. He later remarried but when he passed away on July 8, 1986 at the age of seventy seven, he was buried next to his first wife, the woman he'd skated pairs with, escaped from a concentration camp with and who encouraged him to return to the sport he loved dearly when it needed his help the most.

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, 17 October 2017

The 1982 European Figure Skating Championships

Toller Cranston in Lyon covering the event for Canadian television

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

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


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

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


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

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Bronze Medallist Elena Vodorezova

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

THE PAIRS COMPETITION



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

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

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

Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin in Lyon

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

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

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating 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, 14 October 2017

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


At the turn of the twentieth century, Ali, Jules and Arnold Grandjean-Perrenoud-Contesse, the three sons of a clock and watch maker from the Sagne valley, became friends with a group of sportsmen and caught the sporting bug themselves. Arnold was the most successful, winning the Swiss Championships in cycling in 1911 and 1912 and competing in the Tour de France. Together, they opened a small bicycle store in Fleurier and began designing their own line of bicycles - the Allegro. Eventually, two younger brothers, Tell and Ulysses Grandjean, joined the family business. In 1923, Arnold, Tell and Ulysses built the first Allegro factory in Neuchâtel and expanded their line to include motorcycles. From 1925 to 1927, Tell was Switzerland's champion in motorcycle racing. He even participated in side-car races with his wife. On April 12, 1931, Tell's son Michel Olivier was born and three years later, his daughter Silvia Odette. Little did he know at the time that his children would grow up to be Europe's best pairs figure skating team.

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


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


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


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


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


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

Michel Grandjean and his dog Domino

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

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating 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, 12 October 2017

Günter's Great Escape


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

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

Photo courtesy German Federal Archives

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

Photos courtesy German Federal Archives

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

Photo courtesy German Federal Archives

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


Photo courtesy German Federal Archives

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

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating 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, 10 October 2017

Are You Ready To Rhumba?

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

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


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

Patterns for The Rhumba Tango and Walter Gregory's Rhumba

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

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

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

The Jamaican Rhumba

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

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

Revised 1973 pattern for Walter Gregory's Rhumba

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


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


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

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating 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, 7 October 2017

The 1997 European Figure Skating Championships

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

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


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

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

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

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

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

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

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


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

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Ice dance medallists at the 1997 European Championships

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

Grishuk and Platov's "Libertango" in Paris

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

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


Women's medallists at the 1997 European Championships

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

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

Surya Bonaly, Olga Markova and Vanessa Gusmeroli

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


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

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating 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, 5 October 2017

From Brussels To Antwerp: Three Belgian Skating Pioneers

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

FERNAND LEEMANS


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

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

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


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

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

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

FREDDY MÉSOT 


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

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

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

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

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

ROBERT VAN ZEEBROECK


Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

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

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

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


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

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating 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.