Tuesday, 30 August 2016

#Unearthed: The Mad Skater: A Winter's Tale For Summer Reading


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 buffs 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. You've heard of Christmas In July. Well, how about All Hallow's Eve in August? Summer is about to get spooky in today's blog, where we'll explore the story of a positively evil skater in a short story from the Victorian era called "The Mad Skater: A Winter's Tale For Summer Reading". Written by Poughkeepsie, New York author Homer Greene, the tale was first published in the June 1869 edition of "Onward" magazine and is now in the public domain. Whether you read this tale by flashlight or sitting beside a crackling campfire, I can guarantee that Greene's protagonist is one skater you wouldn't want to meet in the dark:

"THE MAD SKATER: A WINTER'S TALE FOR SUMMER READING" (HOMER GREENE)



The broad bosom of one of our northern rivers was covered with smooth sheet of ice and, at point where the stream widens, after passing through scenes rich in historical interest, King Winter seemed to have taken especial delight in spreading table so attractive as to draw from out their houses nearly the whole population of thriving village that stood upon its banks.

Men, women, and children had turned out to participate in the delightful sport of skating, or to watch the evolutions of the skaters. It was, in truth, grand sight, to observe hundreds of both sexes, dressed in various costumes, and gliding rapidly over the smooth translucent surface, while shouts and peals of laughter rang mellow and merry on the still night air. great bonfire, kindled on the ice, sent up its red flames,throwing their light far along the river, over the quiet village nestled near its bank, glistening from frosted forest on the opposite side, and rendering the scene so wild and fanciful, that the skaters, as they glided to and fro, might easily have been mistaken for the ghostly inhabitants of some supernatural world.

"What splendid skaters!" was the exclamation passing through the crowd, as young gentleman and lady made their appearance upon the ice, coming up the river from below. They were skating hand in hand, now backward, now forward, now performing some difficult feat, or whirling around in
wide sweeping circles.

"Who are they?" was the question asked by many among the spectators.

"Kate Clinton and Frank Hill," was the reply, pointing them out as belonging to the two most prominent families in the neighbourhood, whose splendid mansions stood near the river's bank little further down.

The two skaters, who had thus unexpectedly made their appearance, at once became the object of universal attraction, and an admiring crowd soon collected around them.

Observing this, and not appearing to like such public exhibition, the young lady whispered some words in the ear of her companion; who,suddenly wheeling, so as to face down the river, and carrying her round along with him, by few forcible strokes shot clear of the crowd, and skated rapidly away from it. murmur of disappointment followed their departure, while glances of something like disapproval were cast after them, as they glided off under the gleaming moonlight.

"They don't often see such an accomplished skater as you, Kate."

"As yourself, you mean, Frank. It was your performances that gave them pleasure. And now think of it, it wasn't very graceful in me to have been the cause of disappointing them. Suppose you go back, and show them little more of your skill. Do, Frank can stay here till you return."

"Any thing to please you, my dear Kate."

And so saying, the young man released the tiny gloved hand of his partner; and, after few long shots, was once more in the midst of the villagers, gratifying them with the display so desired. More than five minutes were thus spent, during which time the accomplished skater was repeatedly cheered, and greeted with complimentary speeches. Then, bethinking him of the fair creature he had left waiting, alone and in the cold, he was about to break off, when the eager spectators entreated him to remain moment longer, and once more show them the figure that had elicited their most enthusiastic applause.

He consented repeated the figure called for and then, resisting all further appeal, with one grand stroke he glided out from among the spectators, and on toward the spot where he had left the young lady on the ice.

On nearing it, he saw that she was not there, nor anywhere in sight. Where could she have gone? It occurred to him, that while he was entertaining the village crowd, she might have rejoined it, and become herself one of the spectators.With all speed he skated back again, and quartered the crowd in every direction, scanning the faces and figures. But among them he saw neither features, nor form, bearing any resemblance to those of the beautiful Kate Clinton.

"Oh!" thought he, she's been playing little trick, to surprise me. She has slipped in under the river bank and while am rushing to and fro in search of her, she is, no doubt, standing in the shadow of hemlock, and quietly laughing at me."

Yielding to this conjecture, he once more plied his skates, and went rapidly back down the river keeping close alongside the bank, and scanning every spot overshadowed by the dark fronds of the hemlocks. But no Kate Clinton was there, either in moonlight or shadow; nor was there any score made by skates upon the inshore ice. It now occurred to him, that he might discover where she had gone, by getting upon the track of her skates, and following it up. With this intent, he hastened to the spot where he had left her standing.

On reaching it, cold thrill shot through his frame, as if the blood had suddenly become frozen within his veins. In addition to the two sets of skate tracks, left by himself and the young lady in their up and down excursions, he now saw third, whose bold scores upon the ice showed them to have been from the feet of man There were confused curves and zigzaggings, as if there had been struggle, or some slight difficulty at starting but, beyond that point, there were two sets of straight continuous furrows, running parallel, and side by side, as if the skaters had gone away with joined hands The direction was down the river toward home.

At glance, Frank Hill recognized the thin tiny score left by the slender steel blades on the feet of Miss Clinton. But the man who had gone skating so close by her side, who was he? Painful suspicion shot through his brain. He remembered that, shortly after leaving the house, they had passed man upon the ice, who was also on skates. They had brushed so near him, as to see who he was, and in the moonlight had beheld countenance bearing most sinister cast. It was the face of Charles Lansing, whom Frank knew to be rival suitor for the hand of Kate Clinton.

This man had made his appearance in the neighbourhood some three months before coming no one knew whence. In fact, there was nothing known of him, except his name and this might easily have been an assumed one. He put up at the principal hotel of the village appeared to have money, and to be gentleman of birth and education. Was Charles Lansing the man who had come to Miss Clinton upon the ice and carried her away with him?

It could be no other; for Hill now remembered having heard the ring of skates behind, as they were coming up the river from the place where Lansing had been seen, and shortly after they had passed him. The first thought of Kate Clinton's lover was one of most painful nature. It was, in fact, bitter pang of jealousy. Had the whole thing been prearranged, and had she willingly gone away with this stranger, who, though stranger to others, might be better known to her Lansing, if not what might be called handsome man, was good-looking enough to give cause for jealousy.

It was fearful reflection for Frank Hill but, fortunately, it did not long endure. It passed like spasm another, nearly as painful, taking its place. He recalled rumour that had been for some days current in the neighbourhood of strangeness observed in the behaviour of the hotel guest, that had caused doubts about his sanity. And more forcibly came back to Frank Hill's mind, what he had heard that very morning how Lansing had presented himself at the house of Miss Clinton's father, proposed marriage to her, and, when refused, had acted in such strange manner uttering wild speeches, and threats against the life of the young lady that it became necessary to use force in removing him from the premises.

Could this be the explanation of the disappearance? Was the maniac now in the act of carrying out the menace? He had made some terrible mode of vengeance under the wild promptings of insanity. The thought came quick, for this whole series of surprises and conjectures did not occupy three seconds of time. And with the last of these, Frank Hill threw all his strength into propulsive effort, and shot off like an arrow down the river.

The bend was soon passed, beyond which there was stretch of clear ice extending for more than mile. Away at the farther end, two forms were dimly discernible; and upon the still frosty air could be heard the faint ringing of skates, at intervals repeating their strokes.

Frank Hill had no doubt about one of these being she of whom he was in search and, nerved by the sight, he threw fresh vigour into his limbs, and flew over the smooth surface like bird upon the wing.
On, past rock, and tree, and hill, and farm-houses sleeping in silence; on, in long sweeping strides his eyes flashing, but fixed upon the two forms, every moment getting more clearly discernible as the distance became lessened by his speed.

And now he was near enough to see that it was Lansing. The latter, glancing back over his shoulder, recognized his pursuer and, taking fresh hold on the wrist of his apparently unwilling partner, he forced her onward with increased velocity.

She had looked back, and saw who was coming after. The silver light of the moon, falling upon her face, showed an expression of sadness suddenly changing to hope; and, raising her gloved hand in the air, she sent back cry for help. It was not needed.

That wan face, seen under the soft moonlight, appealing to Frank Hill for protection, was enough to nerve him to the last exertion of his strength and he kept on, without speaking word, his whole thought and soul absorbed by the one great desire to overtake and rescue her. From what? From the grasp of maniac, as the behaviour of Lansing now proved him to be. Merciful Heaven! What is that sound heard ahead, and at no great distance?

Hill did not need to ask the question. He knew it was the roar of water he knew that cataract was below. And near below; for, on sweeping round another curve of the river, the black smooth water could be seen rushing rapidly forth from under the field of ice, quick whitened into froth as it struck against the rocks cresting the cataract. The pursued saw it first, but soon after, the pursuer.

"My God!" gasped Hill, in voice choking with agony, Can the man mean to carry her on over? "Stop, madman!"

Lansing heard the call, and looked back. The moonlight, falling full upon his face, revealed an expression horrible to behold. His eyes were no longer rolling, but fixed in terrible stare of determination, while upon his features could be traced smile of demoniac triumph. He spoke no word
but, raising his unemployed arm, pointed to the cataract. There could be no mistaking the gesture; but what followed made still clearer his intent. Giving loud shriek, that ended in prolonged peal of laughter, he faced once more toward the edge of the ice. Then, throwing all his mad energy into the effort, he shot straight for it, dragging the young lady along with him.

The crisis had now come. moment more, and Kate Clinton, struggling in the arms of madman, would be carried over the cataract, down to certain destruction on the rocks below. With heart hot, as if on fire, her lover saw her peril, now proximate and extreme. But his head was still cool and at glance he took in the situation.

By bearing direct down upon them he would only increase the momentum of their speed, and force both over the edge of the ice. His only hope lay in making one last vigorous effort to get between them and the water. A grand sweep might do it and, without waiting to reflect farther, he threw his body forward in the curve of parabola.

With hands and teeth both tightly clenched, with eyes fixed upon one point, and thoughts concentrated into one great purpose, he passed over the smooth surface, like an electric flash, ending in shock, as his body came in contact with that of Lansing. blow from one arm, already raised, sent the latter staggering off upon the ice, at the same time detaching his grasp from the wrist of his intended victim. It was instantly seized by her rescuer, who, continuing the sweep thus intercepted, succeeded in carrying her on to place of safety.

In vain the madman tried to recover himself. The momentum of his own previous speed, increased by the powerful blow from Hill's clenched fist, sent him spinning on to the extreme edge of the ice, where he fell flat upon his face.

Perhaps he might still have been saved, but for his own frenzied passion. As the skaters, following along the curve, swept close to where he lay, the skate of the young lady almost touching him, he made an effort to lay hold of her ankle, as intending to drag her over the cataract along with him.

Fortunately he failed, but the movement was fatal to himself. A piece of rotten ice on which he rested, giving way under his weight, broke off with loud crash and in another moment the detached fragment, bearing his body along with it, swept over the falls, to be crushed to atoms in the seething cauldron below.

The lovers, now safe from all danger, stood for time silent, with arms crossed, and listening. But, after one wild, appalling shriek that rose from the maniac's lips, as for moment his body balanced upon the combing of the cataract, they heard no more only the hoarse monotone of the waters,
to be continued to eternity.

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, 27 August 2016

The 1951 European Figure Skating Championships

Held from February 2 to 4, 1951 at the Dolder Kunsteisbahn, an open ice rink in Zürich, Switzerland, the 1951 European Figure Skating Championships are unfortunately one competition that has been largely shrouded in mystery. A major speed skating race was held in Davos concurrently with the event, drawing away much of the Swiss media who covered sporting events. One Swiss reporter - perhaps trying to justify the lack of coverage - wrote in "La Sentinelle" that only five hundred spectators showed up to watch the pairs competition. Newsreel footage completely contradicts this statement. Today on the blog, we'll take a stab in the dark in piecing together the lost history of this competition from many moons ago.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


Pairs winners Ria Baran and Paul Falk and bronze medallists Jennifer and John Nicks

In an almost unanimous win, Ria Baran and Paul Falk of Düsseldorf, West Germany took home the gold medal in the pairs competition in Zürich in 1951. Only the Norwegian judge thought the silver medallists, Eliane Steineman and André Calame of Switzerland, to be better. British siblings Jennifer and John Nicks defeated Swiss siblings Silvia and Michel Grandjean by over fifteen points to take the bronze. The West German team who finished sixth, Marlies Schroer and Hans Schwarz of West Germany, had ordinals ranging from second to last place.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

London, England's Michael Carrington placed fourth in the men's event.

Only eight skaters representing five countries contested the 1951 European men's title in
Zürich. Horst Faber, representing West Germany, defeated Austria's Helmut Seibt in the school figures three judges to two. Italy's Carlo Fassi received third place ordinals from all five judges. In the free skate, Seibt rebounded to defeat Faber in an extremely close competition. He won by only one place, with a third place ordinal from his own judge - Ernest Labin - for Faber determining the outcome. Fassi finished third, ahead of Great Britain's Michael Carrington and West Germany's Freimut Stein. Even the Swiss press conceded that their two entries, François Pache and Fritz Loosli, were out of their league and despite their best efforts they were up against "formidable opponents" in Seibt and Faber.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION



The women's event in Zürich had more than double the entries of the men's. Unsurprisingly, twenty year old figures specialist Jeanette Altwegg of Great Britain took a resounding lead over France's Jacqueline du Bief and her British teammates Barbara Wyatt, Valda Osborn and Beryl Bailey in the school figures. Equally unsurprisingly, du Bief bested Altwegg in the free skate. As the scoring for figures was far more heavily weighted than free skating at the time, Altwegg took the gold over du Bief and Wyatt. West Germany's Gundi Busch, who would win the European and World title three years later, placed sixth. The Swiss judge, 1920 Olympic Gold Medallist Walter Jakobsson, had her ranked fifteenth in the figures and ninth overall.


In her book "Thin Ice", du Bief recalled that in Zürich, "Jeannette was very calm and I pretended to be, whilst our respective trainers - Jacques Gerschwiler for her and Jacqueline Vaudecrane for me - were both very excited, indeed so much that in the middle of the competitions they started to quarrel on the rink and vociferating, gesticulating, and slipping (they were walking on the ice without skates) they had to be separated, one of Gerschwiler's pupils pulling one way and I pulling the other... At the end of the figure tests, Jeannette had a good lead over me and I had only a very faint hope of winning. However, the nervous tension continuing to increase, it affected even Jeannette and we were both in such a state of funk about the free skating tests that each of us skated as badly as the other. I carried off the free but Jeannette - thanks to her superiority in the figures - won the title. My disappointment was great but the World Championships were to take place ten days later in Italy and I soon shook off my depression, hoping for success in those."

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, 25 August 2016

Before Queen Yuna: A Glimpse At South Korean Skating History


The idolatry and tremendous star power of Olympic Gold Medallist Yuna Kim in her home country and abroad is unquestionable, yet if you asked most people to tell you much else about skating in South Korea they might be at a loss. Kim was and is the country's first and only Olympic or World Medallist in the sport and as such, has been a tremendous factor in motivating thousands of young skaters to take to the ice. But what about South Korea's figure skating history?

The Korean Skating Union became a member of the International Skating Union in 1948, the same year it established itself as an autonomous country. Not factoring out the obvious factors - political unrest in the region, the Korean War - the federation took a cautious approach to developing its figure skating programs. Their Olympic debut was in 1968, when Lee Kwang-Young held up in the fort in last place in the men's competition and two women's entries, Lee Hyun-Joo and Kim Hae-Kyung occupied the bottom two spots in their discipline. Much like China's debut on the World stage, a pretty grim start to say the least. Korean skaters didn't start competing at the World Championships until 1972, when Myung-Su Chang finished near the bottom of the pack (eighteenth) in Calgary.

A big factor in the challenges that early Korean competitive skaters faced was a lack of appropriate facilities. In a March 11, 1978 article in the Ottawa Citizen, World competitor Young Soon Choo, who started skating in England when her diplomat father was posted there and later trained in West Germany, noted that there was "only one indoor ice rink in the whole country of Korea. And they don't have a Zamboni. They just spray it with water." To make matters worse, despite efforts to develop the sport by then Korean Skating Union President and millionaire businessman Tongsun Park, much of the ice time in the Taenung Ice Skating Rink in an eastern suburb of Seoul was dedicated to speed skating.

Choo, who finished twenty second in a field of twenty three skaters at the 1978 World Championships, was an anomaly to Korean skating at the time. When skaters were first sent to the World Championships, they were often reasonably competent in school figures but rather deficient in free skating. Choo was quite the opposite. A strong free skater, she actually won the 1980 World Professional Figure Skating Championships in Jaca, Spain. Having toured with Holiday On Ice in Europe, moved to Canada, married and taken up coaching, she recalled her historic win in Jaca - the first major international competition ever won by a Korean skater - in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen on November 30, 1985: "In those two years (1978 to 1980), I improved a lot. I became more mature between the ages of 18 and 20 and it made a big difference. My friends and I went there to have a good time. I had audience appeal and did a perfect program. It was a pro event and whatever the judges saw they judged."

As in China, the development of figure skating in South Korea was hastened by exposure to the performances of elite skaters. In the March 19, 1985 edition of The Toledo Blade, it was reported that "for the first time since the division of the Korean peninsula in 1945, Soviet athletes will enter South Korea next week to participate in an international figure skating exhibition... The officials, who spoke only the condition that they not be identified, said the Soviet athletes' visit is part of the International Skating Union's Far East tour to China, Hong Kong and South Korea along with skaters from east Europe, Canada and the United States." Along with the eighteen skaters that attended, officials from the Soviet Union, East Germany and Czechoslovakia also made the trip. This visit was particularly significant at the time as Soviet citizens had not visited Seoul since a Korean commercial airliner was shot down by Soviet fighters of September 1, 1983 but Lee-So-Young, then President of the Korean Skating Union noted that outside politics hadn't affected the goodwill among countries when it came to organizing the visit. He stated, "Soviet officials have shown a friendly attitude during contacts with South Korean skating officials since 1982." Within ten years, pairs skaters and ice dancers were fielded from the fledgling ISU federation at the World Championships.

A historic moment in the development of Korea's figure skating history came in March 1985, when Canadian Federal Sports Minister, Member Of Parliament and World Champion figure skater Otto Jelinek travelled to Seoul and signed an agreement with his Korean counterpart Lee Yong-Ho pledging exchanged access to sporting facilities and training resources in time for both the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul. It was an unprecedented gesture of goodwill that offered Canadian Summer Olympic athletes a great opportunity to acclimatize themselves to Korea and Korean skaters valuable training time in Canadian rinks.


It paid off too! Although Byun Sung-Jin finished twenty seventh in the women's event at the Calgary Olympics, Jung Sung-Il qualified for the men's free skate - a feat he'd repeat both at the Albertville and Lillehammer Games. Jung was also the first men's skater from Korea to medal internationally in an 'amateur' competition at the 1991 Winter Universiade in Sapporo, Japan. The women's skater from Korea to medal internationally was of course Lily Lee back in 1989. In 1993 and 1997, Seoul won bids to host the World Junior Championships which paved the country to host the Four Continents Championships several times, the first occasion being in 2002.


From a North American perspective, there's still a lot we don't know about South Korea's skating history... but now next time someone mentions skating and South Korea in the same sentence, you'll be able to bare your Seoul and have a few anecdotes to share.

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 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, 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