Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Tokei - Adieu L'Hiver


Initially released for Fuji Television Network in Japan on October 10, 1986, the film "Tokei – Adieu l'hiver" marked the directorial debut of Japanese screenwriter Satoshi Kuramoto. Kuramoto had written a 1981 film called "Eki" directed by Yasuo Furuhata that starred an accomplished singer and actress from Ikeda in Japan's Osaka Prefecture named Ayumi Ishida. Ishida's mother Haruko was twice a medallist at the Japanese Figure Skating Championships and a competitor at both the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France and the 1968 World Championships in Geneva, Switzerland. After retiring from competitive skating, she went on to a successful career as a coach.

Kuramoto cast Ishida as the lead in "Tokei - Adieu l'hiver" and drew on her her own family history when crafting the screenplay. Elements of the plot loosely mirrored the real life story of Ayumi's mother Haruko training for the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble under the legendary Etsuko Inada. In the film, Ishida plays a figure skating coach named Reiko Hayami coaching her young daughter Yuko, played by Tomoko Nakajima. Scenes were filmed over a period of several years to reflect Nakajima's real life growth.


In the film, Reiko met her daughter's father when he was playing hockey and she was competing in figure skating in the 1968 Winter Olympics. Jiro, the father, goes east to coach hockey and young Yuko wears a locket with a picture of her father. A young film director named Kitani magically shows up at the rink where mother and daughter are practicing and announces that he wants to take a film of a child transforming into a woman on the ice. Sparks fly between Reiko and Kitani while little Yuko trains five years for a chance to compete in one 'Frozen Cup' skating competition. However, while the romance blossoms, young Yuko's skating doesn't improve drastically. In the end, there's another woman in the picture and Reiko's relationship with Kitani goes sour. At the Frozen Cup, Yuko falls twice and then crashes into the bleachers. She gets hauled off in a stretcher. Reiko goes to Hokkaido to work on an ice show, meets up with Jiro and the film ends with a sappy Japanese love song by Yukari Kaneko.

Although the film "Tokei – Adieu l'hiver" itself received poor ratings, Ayumi Ishida won the 1986 Best Actress Award at both the Hochi Film Awards and The Association Of Tokyo Film Journalist's Blue Ribbon Awards. Unlike the Academy Awards or Golden Globes for instance, Japanese film awards base their decision around the body of work of an actor or actress. I think it's pretty safe to imply Ishida's appearance in Kinji Fukasaku's blockbuster hit "House On Fire" that year contributed to her success. Considering that at the time this film was released, a Japanese skater had yet to win an Olympic medal or World title, the fact that a director had chosen to centre the storyline of a film around figure skating would have been quite unique. "Tokei - Adieu l'hiver" may have been no "Sun Valley Serenade" or "Suspense", but it sure is one more fascinating footnote from figure skating history.

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, 19 August 2017

The 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships


Commemorative t-shirt and button from the 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

From February 6 to 11, 1990, over two hundred skaters descended upon Salt Lake City, Utah to compete in the 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The event marked the second time the city had hosted America's national competition, the first being in 1984 when Scott Hamilton, Rosalynn Sumners and Kitty and Peter Carruthers were victorious on their way to winning Olympic medals at the Winter Olympic Games in Sarajevo.

In actuality, the Utah organizers were given the opportunity to host the 1989 U.S. Championships, which were ultimately held in Baltimore, Maryland. Quoted in the February 6, 1990 issue of "The Deseret News", local chairperson of development Talitha Day explained, "They called in August of '88 and wanted us to hold the championships in February of '89. We could have done it. But it would have meant hosting it two years in a row and we decided we would rather assure ourselves of a really great event in '90".

Hosted by the Utah Figure Skating Club and the Junior League of Salt Lake City, the 1990 event marked the final time that school figures were included in the championship events. Figures were contested at the Bountiful Recreation Center (about a half an hour drive from the main venue) and free skating events at the Salt Palace. Six skaters participating (Kristi Yamaguchi, Rudy Galindo, Troy Goldstein, Natasha Kuchiki, John Frederiksen and Brad Cox) took on double duty, competing in both singles and pairs, making the drive time between two rinks extremely tight at times.

Attendance wasn't the best, to say the very least. The senior women's free skate fell well short of a sellout with less than five thousand, three hundred tickets sold and less than four thousand watched the senior men's free skate. Event co-chairperson Nita Sniteman claimed a rumour that tickets were sold out when they in fact were not contributed to the empty seats. Others cited the fact decent television coverage was available and the fact it was a non-Olympic year as reasons that people chose to stay away. Whatever the case may have been, those who did not attend missed a fascinating event full of drama and double Axels galore. Today, we'll hop in the machine and set the dial back to 1990 to explore the stories, skaters and scandals of those Salt Lake City Nationals!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

Novice pairs and ice dance competitions were not contested at the U.S. Championships until 1991. Lakewood, Ohio's Lisa Ervin was victorious in the novice women's event, defeating Joanna Ng of Woodland Hills, California and Victoria Pietrasik of Northbrook, Illinois. In the novice men's event, fifteen year old Clay Sniteman of Farmington, Utah seemed destined for a medal in front of a hometown crowd. Second heading into the free skate, his free skate was so disastrous that he dropped to fifteenth place in a field of seventeen. "Bad isn't the word for it," said the disappointed teenager in the February 9, 1990 issue of "The Deseret News". The novice men's free skate turned out to be a bit of a splatfest - twelve skaters took tumbles - but Ryan Hunka of Parma Heights, California emerged victorious over John Frederiksen and Eric Bohnstedt with one of the few clean skates of the competition. Both Hunka and Ervin were coached by Carol Heiss Jenkins.

In the junior men's event, Scott Davis emerged victorious over Michael Chack, John Baldwin Jr., Steven Smith and a host of other young upstarts. Tristan Vega and Richard Alexander maintained their original program lead to win junior pairs, while Susan Purdy and Scott Chiamulera moved up to second and Aimee Offner and Brian Helgenberg dropped to third. After only skating together for ten months, Beth Buhl and Neale Smull dominated the junior ice dance event from start to finish, winning the event over Krista Schulz and Jonathan Stine, Rachel Lane and Eric Meier and Cheryl Demkowski and Jeffrey Czarnecki with an intricate free dance to Leonard Berenstain's "On The Town". Fourteen year old Alice Sue Claeys of Burnsville, Minnesota defeated sixteen year old Geremi Weiss of Silver Spring, Maryland and sixteen year old Dana MacDonald of Arlington Heights, Virginia to win the junior women's title. Claeys' victory was particularly significant in that she had placed only eleventh the year before.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


Los Angeles' Bob Pellaton and Kellie Creel withdrew due to injury prior to the senior pairs event and were replaced by Ann-Marie and Brian Wells. Californians needn't have worried, for Kristi Yamaguchi and Rudy Galindo had zero problems defending their national title despite rumours swirling in the stands that they were breaking up. With two outstanding performances, the two future U.S. singles champions easily bested Natasha Kuchiki and Todd Sand, Sharon Carz and Doug Williams and Calla Urbanski and Mark Naylor for the top spot. Two months prior to the event, Kristi and Rudy's coach Jim Hulick had passed away at the age of thirty eight. In the December 12, 1989 issue of the "Los Angeles Times", Galindo remembered, "It always seemed like he blocked out his sickness for us. It was like he was living through us. I really do have admiration for him, to put all the medical things aside to do something for us. I'll never forget him standing there just before we would go out onto the ice and saying, 'Just go out there and have fun.'"

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Susie Wynne and Joseph Druar

Fifteen teams contested the senior ice dance title in Salt Lake City. In their tenth trip to the U.S. Championships, Susie Wynne and Joseph Druar were the class of the field, expanding upon their lead in the compulsories with a fine Samba OSP and a sensational free dance to "Hit The Road, Jack" and "Singin' In The Rain" choreographed by Phillip Mills, replete with intricate tap dance sequences. Silver medallists April Sargent and Russ Witherby wisely scrapped a Rachmaninoff free dance that hadn't gone over well with the judges at that autumn's Skate America and returned to the more traditional, ballroom piece that they had used the year previously.


Skating an unconventional free dance to "Fire And Ice" and "Remembering A Heartbeat", Suzy Semanick and Ron Kravette settled for bronze ahead of Jeanne Miley and Michael Verlich, Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow and Elizabeth McLean and Ari Lieb.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION


Christopher Bowman. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

The name on everybody's lips in Salt Lake City was Christopher Bowman. The defending U.S. Champion and World Silver Medallist arrived in Utah with a purported back injury. As a result, he had missed five weeks of training and was five pounds overweight. Many felt that there was much more to the story. Quoted in E.M. Swift's piece "Hans Brinker From Hell" in the February 12, 1990 of "Sports Illustrated" magazine, coach Frank Carroll said, "No more arguing with him... No spooning him pabulum. If he doesn't want to train, he can take his skates off. I'm not going to hold his hand. Christopher is a wonderful person, has great personality and can charm the skin off a snake. But to get him out on a day-to-day basis, to get improvement from him, to get him to love what he's doing is sheer hell. There's no doubt he's the most talented boy in the world, but he has an awful lot to sort out." Whatever the reality of the situation might have been, Bowman opted to compete. After losing in the school figures to eighteen year old Todd Eldredge, Daniel Doran and Paul Wylie, he missed two of his three jumping passes in his original program. He placed fourth and opted to withdraw. Quoted in the February 12, 1990 issue of "The Montreal Gazette", Bowman surmised, "When I cranked the throttle full speed, it knocked me out." Backstage, rumours persisted that the USFSA told him to pull out and offered him a bye to the World Championships because he was the one that earned the spots. Allusions were made to the effect that Bowman might have been told to withdraw because he would have failed drug tests. Quoted in a June 2008 piece in "International Figure Skating" magazine, Bowman claimed, "I never competed while under the influence. I was terrified of that. I was very conscientious of the time frame I would most likely be tested. I knew exactly how long a drug would be in my system before I needed to stop for testing. I never failed a test."



Both Eldredge and twenty five year old Paul Wylie gave outstanding performances in the original program, Wylie earning two 6.0's for composition and style for his effort and winning that phase of the event. However, Eldredge held the overall lead entering the free skate. With one of his finest competitive performances, Wylie won the free skate, earning another four 6.0's for composition and style but Eldredge's second place finish in the free skate was enough to secure him his first U.S. title. Hamden, Connecticut's Mark Mitchell claimed the bronze, ahead of Erik Larson and Daniel Doran.


I spoke with Paul Wylie in September 2016 regarding the event. "80% of the competition I won," he said with a chuckle. "I was third in the figures and it was a factor system. It was the closest I ever came to winning Nationals. Because of the way the factor system was structured, Chris' points (even though he withdrew) didn't disappear. But it's all water under the bridge!" At the time, Paul was coached by Evy and Mary Scotvold. "I was training as much as I could," he explained. "There were times when I had to prioritize school when I had finals or exams come up. Generally... I didn't prioritize skating as much as I did school. If something had to give, I would skip skating, or go late in the day. In '89... the courses I had to take were just not at the right time of day essentially and so, I ended up having to skate in the afternoons which was notoriously crowded at the rink where I was skating. So, I was skating with all these little kids and also, the way I had my schedule I took Wednesdays off, so I was training maybe five days a week but with a giant day off in between and my coach was not happy about it but it was the only way I could get the full load in and move things along. What I remember about those Nationals is that it was kind of do or die for me because the year before I had taken a full load at Harvard and didn't have my best skate at Nationals. I was third and didn't make the World team so I was kind of fighting my way back on the World team again. I felt like 'man, I don't even know if I want to continue skating.' At the end of the day, it was a shame that I didn't win. I skated the last figure - I did the loop - and that was the last figure at the Nationals. Obviously, they all say 'there was senior competition afterwards for figures' but they were the last sort of real, qualifying figures." Doug Mattis, who placed fifth in the figures in 1990 and eighth overall, recalled it differently, claiming it was he and not Paul who skated that final figure. Still competing, decades later, those fabulous men are!

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION



Twenty one year old Jill Trenary was a heavy favourite to win a third U.S. title in Salt Lake City but things almost went awry in the school figures when hometown favourite Holly Cook won the final school figure, the loop. However, Trenary took the overall win in the school figures ahead of Cook and Tonya Harding. Kristi Yamaguchi was fifth; Nancy Kerrigan sixth. In the original program, Trenary fell on a double Axel and was defeated by Yamaguchi and Harding but still luckily managed to hold on to her overall lead.

The free skate was a different story altogether. Trenary came out guns blazing and delivered what was arguably one of the best free skates of her entire career, earning six 5.9's for technical merit and eight 5.9's and one 6.0 for composition and style, winning her third and final U.S. title with first place ordinals from all nine judges. Quoted in the March 18, 1992 issue of "The Deseret News", she stated, "I've never felt better about myself. This is the best I've ever skated - by far." Though she botched multiple jumps in her free skate, Yamaguchi delivered a technically demanding free skate to hold on to the silver medal, narrowly placing ahead of Kerrigan in the free skate in a five-four split. Quoted in "The Deseret News", Yamaguchi commented, "I was a little disappointed after both falls but I had to regain my concentration and go on with the rest of my program. I think I was thinking too much and wasn't letting my body do what it's trained to do." Held back by her result in the figures, Kerrigan lost out on the bronze medal to Cook. Recalling the experience of skating in front of a hometown crowd at Nationals in the February 6, 1999 issue of "The Deseret News", Cook recalled, "I felt a lot of pressure. It was like everyone had heard of Holly Cook, but now they were going to watch her skate. I was terrified. But I felt nothing but support from the community." Jeri Campbell placed fifth, Tonia Kwiatkowski sixth and Tonya Harding imploded with a disastrous free skate that featured only one clean triple jump and plummeted to seventh. She claimed to have been deathly sick all week with what later turned out to be pneumonia. Prior to the free skate, she allegedly had a fever of one hundred and three and her doctors told her to withdraw. She elected to compete anyway. Quoted in the February 8, 1990 issue of "The Globe And Mail", Harding said, "I would have to be dying not to skate. I've worked too hard this year to let it stop right here."

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, 17 August 2017

Brackets And Bonds: The Adrian Swan Story


"People overseas are amazed to learn that Australia has ice skaters. They think that ice and sunny Australia don't go together." - Adrian Swan, November 26, 1952, :The Argus"

Born May 3, 1920 in Melbourne, Australia, Adrian Wildman Swan had quite the unconventional career as a competitive skater. After serving as a Corporal in the Australian Army's Air Liaison Section during World War II, he returned home and competed as a pairs skater, first with Betty Stringer and later with Gwenneth Molony, with whom he won the Australian pairs title in 1950 at age thirty. Thirty?! Can you imagine? The internet trolls today would have already have him signed up for a nursing home... but I digress. That October, Gwenneth and Adrian gave an exhibition at the opening of Australia's only open-air ice rink at the time, the Tasmanian Glaciarium, performing not only pairs and singles skating but ice dancing as well. According to the October 24, 1950 edition of "The Examiner", they skated "versions of the waltz, foxtrot and tango, as well as novelty items." Shortly thereafter, Swan gave up pairs skating and left to train as a singles skater in England.

Valda Osborn, Adrian Swan and Ann Robinson

At the 1952 Olympics in Oslo, Norway, Adrian made history as Australia's first men's competitor in figure skating at the Olympics. Only in twelfth place after the school figures, a ninth place in free skating assured him a spot in the top ten. He followed that up with a top ten finish at the 1952 World Championships in Paris. In April of that year in London, England, the Australian won both the British junior and senior men's titles, joining three other skaters from Sydney, New South Wales who competed in the event that year.



Then the controversy began. On July 16, 1952, the "Sporting Globe" in Melbourne reported, "A first-class Olympic storm is brewing over whether skater Adrian Swan signed a bond. Swan competed for Australia in the Olympic Games... at Oslo last January. At the time there were rumours that he had not signed the bond. These were officially denied by AOF secretary, Mr. Edgar Tanner. He told the chairman, Mr. H.G. Alderson, that every member of the winter sports team had definitely signed. Now Swan already has turned professional and is skating at Earl's Court, London, under contract. He will not say whether or not he signed the bond. Mr. Alderson states that action will taken against Swan if he is proved to have become a professional. In view of the trouble over Russell Mockridge's bond, Olympic officials will have to take a stand over Swan. If there has been any irregularity there are bound to be complaints from the cyclists." The drama continued for several months at a high octane, with Swan (residing in England at the time) ultimately leaving the ball in the AOF's court as E.J. Molony, the manager of Australia's skating team at the 1952 Olympics and Edgar Tanner couldn't seem to agree as to whether or not he signed a bond or not. Swan accepted a retainer while the whole mess got sorted out prior to skating in the Earl's Court show. To explain the 'bond system', the Australian Olympic Federation had a rather ineffective system at the time that required that skaters sign bonds stating that they would remain amateur athletes for two years as a sort of guarantee if they wanted to compete internationally. If Swan did indeed turn professional after competing in the Olympics, in essence the most they could do was tear it up. That's essentially what happened.

Adrian performed in several ice pantomimes at Earl's Court and Brighton in the fifties, appearing as one half of a shadow skating pair with Errol Lake. In the sixties, he moved to America and coached at the Valley Ice Skating Center in Tarzana, California. Known as a particularly tough coach, he coached in California for many years before returning to his home country. He died on February 21, 2006 in Melbourne at the age of seventy three... taking the truth about the murky details surrounding his decision to turn professional to the grave with him.

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, 15 August 2017

The Frosty Frolics


Debuting June 15, 1951 on Los Angeles' Channel 5 (KLTA), The Frosty Frolics was the brainchild of the television station's late manager Klaus Landsberg. Combining figure skating, live music and dance as a kind of variety hour, it became an instant hit with California audiences. Don't believe me? The Frosty Frolics actually became the fourth most watched television show in L.A. less than two months after it first aired!


An effort was made in the first year of the show's production for coast to coast syndication and in early October 1951 the show went national. However, the show's sponsor for syndication went bankrupt after only network broadcasts and The Frosty Frolics returned to being a show that only aired in California, continuing to be popular among audiences until it last aired in 1956. The only known full episodes of the show exist in the UCLA Film and Television Archive.


The skating cast included members of the Ice Follies and Ice Capades troupes as well as professional skaters based in California who wanted a much needed break from the gypsy world of touring productions. Among the skaters were Mabel Fairbanks, the husband and wife team of April and Roy Schramm (stars of The Skating Schramms Ice Show which appeared in Hollywood, Hawaii and The Pacific National Exhibition), Evy Scotvold, Joanne and Buff McCusker, and Mae Edwards. The production was choreographed by Bob Turk.



In the book "KTLA's News at Ten: Sixty Years with Stan Chambers", the late Stan Chambers, the show's host, offered a behind the scenes glimpse into this effort: "If a skater fell, he had no choice but to get up and continue his routine. If a set tipped over or a prop broke, there were no re-takes... The audience watching at home was made to believe that Frosty Frolics took place at the Alpine Hotel, somewhere in the green forests of a beautiful mountain retreat. In reality, everything came from the prop department at Paramount Studios. Fake trees and real plants, tables, chairs, red carpeting for a walkway on the ice, cloth flats that were used to make the side of the hotel, and banisters for the dining area were all hauled over to the Polar Palace in the afternoon as the stage crew created their Alpine Hotel. The flimsy cardboard 'stone' walls were sprayed with a paint gun by an artistic genius, Sherman Laudermilk. He bent, twisted, and cut the cardboard, sprayed it with fast-drying paint, and created settings that you couldn't tell weren't the real thing... The crew wore ice skates, and the props were brought in on sleds or pushed across the smooth ice surface by skating stagehands. Several members of the crew were hired for their professional hockey playing experience. Most, however, were novices who learned to skate in record time. KLTA received countless calls from viewers who wanted to know the location of the Alpine Hotel so they could make dinner reservations or spend the weekend there. It made for interesting conversation when the switchboard operator explained that the Alpine Hotel wasn't real, and was broken down and returned to Paramount Studios every night." Costumes for the show came from a warehouse of old, forgotten costumes that was part of Paramount's wardrobe department. Reduce, reuse, recycle... believe me, I remember all that from my own skating club's shows. We had circus animals and snowflakes every single year and I'm betting we weren't the only club that did either.

Stan Chambers also reflected, "Few would have been so daring at the time to rent a rink, put together such a large cast, create new stories every week, and know the entire production would come together at airtime. Klaus had confidence in what he did, and he knew that the show would come off. I feel fortunate to have been a part of that production." I would have felt fortunate just to watch it every week, to be honest. Professional skating on television today has been reduced to a handful of carefully edited hour long specials every year. I don't think you'd ever see anything like The Frosty Frolics again... but the idea of a weekly live, old-timey theatrical skating show like this making a comeback is enough to make me smile, sip my tea and dream a little. It would be something, that's for sure!

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, 12 August 2017

The 1937 World Figure Skating Championships

Women's competitors at the 1937 World Figure Skating Championships. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

While much of the world was focused on the alarming rise of Nazism in Germany, the newly inaugurated President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Spanish Civil War, all the figure skating world cared about was the 1937 World Figure Skating Championships. As was common at the time, the men's competition was held separately from the women and pairs events, with the former taking to the ice to compete on February 12 and 13, 1937 at the Wiener Eislaufverein in Vienna and the latter competing on March 1 and 2, 1937 at Empress Hall, Earl's Court in London, England.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

 Elemér Terták, Felix Kaspar and Henry Graham Sharp in Vienna. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Though well-attended, the men's competition that year received less press coverage than usual in Austria. This was perhaps owing to the fact that after Karl Schäfer had turned professional. Many felt the title would go to Great Britain's Henry Graham Sharp, who had been the runner-up at the World Championships in Paris the year prior. To the surprise of many, Austria's Felix Kaspar utterly dominated the competition, placing first on every judge's scorecard in both the school figures and free skate. Sharp was second in the figures but placed behind his teammate, Freddie Tomlins, in the free skate. Outside of the top six after the figures, Tomlins was only able to move up to fifth after his
dazzling free skating performance. Eighteen year old Elemér Terták of Hungary defeated Austria's Herbert Alward four judges to one for the bronze.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Cecilia Colledge

If the men's competition in 1937 received little attention, the women's and pairs events were the polar opposite. More than seven thousand spectators crowded Earl's Court to cheer on teenagers Cecilia Colledge of London and Megan Taylor of Manchester, both considered worthy successors to fill the title vacant after Sonja Henie left for Hollywood. BBC Radio even interrupted the National Programme to give listeners at home a play-by-play of the proceedings. Colledge handily took the lead over Taylor by some nineteen points in the school figures, all but giving her the lock on the title before she even stepped foot on the ice for her free skate. Swedish skating historian Gunnar Bang recalled that Vivi-Anne Hultén, third after figures, delivered a free skate reminiscent of Gillis Grafström: musically sensitive but lacking in technical difficulty. In contrast, Hedy Stenuf packed her program full of double jumps but her music served as a mere backdrop for her acrobatic highlights. Taylor, in a silver dress trimmed with blue feathers, had the most speed and power of the top skaters but Colledge showed cool precision and seemed to find a balance between the technical and artistic side of free skating. Six judges had Colledge first in the free skate, with the Swedish judge preferring Taylor and placing Colledge and Hultén in a tie. Colledge won with 2528.9 points to Taylor's 2488.0, with Hultén, Stenuf and Emmy Puzinger trailing in positions third through fifth.


In seventh was Belita Jepson-Turner, with ordinals ranging from fifth through tenth. Former World Champion Fritz Kachler, judging for Austria, had her third in the free skate... ahead of Hultén both in the free skate and overall. Jacline Brown, reviewing the event for French newspaper "Le Figaro", raved about Belita: "She is certainly the most acrobatic skater and also the youngest in this tournament. Her positions are impeccable and her lightness, her flexibility and dance training allow her to do anything."

Lord Doneraile and Cecilia Colledge. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

In winning, Cecilia Colledge became the first British woman to claim the World title since Madge Syers in 1907. The "London Daily Telegraph" raved that her free skating performance was "of an exceptionally high order" and within a week of winning, she boarded a steamship and crossed the Atlantic to give exhibitions in Toronto and Montreal.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Lord Doneraile presenting Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier with their championship trophy. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Though Germans Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier skated exceptionally well in London and earned 80.1 points for their effort, some felt that Austrian siblings Ilse and Erik Pausin would come dangerously close to defeating them. British reporters posited that the next time the two pairs met, the Pausin's could very well dethrone the reigning Olympic Champions. When the marks were tallied, five of the seven judges had Herber and Baier first. The Austrian judge tied the two teams and British judge Jack Ferguson Page had the Pausin's ahead of their elder rivals and Britons Violet and Leslie Cliff (who won the bronze) down in fifth.

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, 10 August 2017

From Macaroni To Antiquary: Storer's Shadow


Born March 12, 1746 in the British colony of Jamaica, Anthony Morris Storer is a shadowy footnote at best in skating history. He grew up in affluence, owing to the fact that his father Thomas Storer was a wealthy sugar merchant in Belle Isle. And yes, that means exactly what you might be thinking... slavery. Anthony left Jamaica though, moving to England, where he attended the University Of Cambridge in his twenties, leaving without a degree. 

In a 2004 thesis published in "The Volume Of The Walpole Society", historian Lucy Peltz asserted that "Storer was, as a youth, a rake and a dilettante... After Cambridge he 'figured in the circle of bon-ton as the Colyphaeus of fashion and led the dancing world at Balls'.  A crony of Lords North and Carlisle, Storer had a modest career as a member of Parliament, serving on Lord Carlisle's conciliatory mission to meet the American rebels in 1778 and ending as Secretary to the Legation in Paris in 1783. Due to a 'persistent bilious ailment' which forced him to take up more temperate pursuits, paired with the growing popular appeal of the national past, by 1781, Horace Walpole could voice surprise at Storer who he considered to be a 'Macaroni... turned antiquary.'" His surprise? This 'rake' had reinvented himself as one of England's foremost collectors of antiquarian books and made a name for himself 'extra-illustrating' or 'Grangerizing' previously published works. 

Combing through the primary source material about Storer's life, the term 'macaroni' (meaning dandy) certainly seems to apply to a tee. He never married. In fact, no mention of any love life whatsoever seems to crop up. His entry in the "National Dictionary Of Biography" refers to him as "a man of fashion", noting his "sense and good nature" and that he "blossomed in the gay world of London, becoming conspicuous as the best dancer and skater of his time, and beating all his competitors at gymnastics. He excelled, too, as a musician and conversationalist." He also fenced and danced the minuet with the Duchess of Devonshire. His political career actually ended in a huff in December 1783. When his friends were ejected from office by the Duke Of Manchester, he opted not to seek re-election, got in a fight with his old 'schoolmate and longtime' friend Lord Carlisle and changed his will to write him out of it. After that, he complained of having nothing to do and spent all of his money collecting books and prints. His biographical sketch notes that his "expensive tastes and the love of cards kept him in comparative poverty until his father's death. In 1786 he was reading the Latin and Greek writers half the day with Dr. Edward Harwood... in April 1798 he languished for employment; but his father's death... brought him an ample fortune." With this fortune, Storer bought many more books and Purley Park, where he "expended a considerable sum improving and ornamenting the grounds." He died on June 28, 1799 "of a deep decline" in his health, leaving his not so hardly earned fortune to his nephew - also named Anthony Storer - and one thousand dollars to another 'dandy' named James Hare. Make of it all what you will. If your Georgian era gaydar isn't going off yet, let's get back to that detail we glossed over earlier: skating.

Robert Jones, the extremely controversial author of "The Art Of Skating", made zero mention of this Jamaican born dandy in his 1772 book yet numerous nineteenth century sources seemed to echo his prowess on blades. For example, "Nash's Pall Mall Magazine" related Storer as the "Admirable Crichton of his day: he not only excelled in dancing, fencing, skating, but was celebrated as a poet and a wit." Biographer John Nichols wrote "He was the best dancer, the best skater of his time... He excelled too as a musician, and a disputant, and very early as a Latin poet. In short, whatsoever he undertook he did con amore, as perfectly as if it were his only accomplishment."

James Gillray's engraving "Elements Of Skateing: Attitude Is Everything"

In Jones' day, skaters of societal standing in England - like the long forgotten dandy Storer - would have quietly excelled at the Flying Mercury scud, the spiral, the serpentine line, rolls and edges on an inside circle on frozen British ponds. There were no competitions or medals; no television cameras or tweeting fans. In their early study of the magic of figure skating, skaters like Storer were alone with the sound of their blades carving into the ice, trying to make sense of the sorcery of it all. It all had to be rather mysterious! And that's exactly how Phillip Gaskell described Storer in "The Book Collector" in 1956. "There is something mysterious about Anthony Storer," wrote Gaskell, noting how he always seemed to skate in the background of the lives of others in the political and literary society of his era. Sometimes history produces more questions than it does answers... and sometimes that mystery forces you to accept that there are dusty corners of history we may never fully understand.  

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, 8 August 2017

A Skeleton In The Rink Closet


In researching figure skating's rich history you come across stories that make you smile, stories that make you tear up, stories that make you think and every so often you come across a rare story that quite frankly doesn't evoke those any of those emotions. I think the only appropriate word that comes to mind with today's narrative would honestly be disgust. There's no happy ending; there's no surprise plot twist... but there is a skeleton in the rink closet to be unveiled.

Sketch of Robert Jones. Courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1772, the first English instructional book about figure skating, "Treatise On Skating", was penned by "Captain" Robert Jones. It educated would-be skating aficionados on inside and outside edges, stopping, spirals, spread eagles, changes of edge, backward skating, three turns and primitive figures. Ellyn Kestnbaum's book "Culture On Ice: Figure Skating And Cultural Meaning" noted that Jones' book "emphases on arm positions and finishing each move and illustrations of elegantly dressed and posed skaters indicated that the image skated conveyed to onlookers was at least as important as accomplishing the moves. People who took up skating learned, from experts such as Jones and from the more accomplished skaters they encountered on the ice, not only to enjoy the kinesthetic experience of skating movement but also to convey messages about their standing as skaters through such codes as controlled posture and polished movement on the ice." Rictor Norton's essay "Ice Skating In The 18th Century" further mused, "Skates manufactured to Jones' designs could be bought at Riccard's Manufactory in London. He was one of the first people to advocate the firm attachment of the skates to the shoes (by means of screws through the heels) rather than by means of straps and clips, in effect making the skate integral (previously skaters had to keep retying the skates to their shoes, and they kept falling off). He wrote, 'An easy movement and graceful attitude are the sole objects of our attention.'"
But who was this "Captain" Robert Jones? The blog The Queerstory Files summarized, "Robert Jones was born in north Wales in around 1740... [He] had a fascination for fireworks which were popular forms of entertainment at the time. Because of his fascination none other than the future Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder, enlisted Robert into the army – where else but into the artillery – and he joined the barracks at the Woolwich arsenal. From there Robert was to rise through the ranks to Lieutenant (not captain, as he was often reported as being and the rank under which his books were published). His love of fireworks stayed with him, and in 1765 published 'A New Treatise on Artificial Fireworks'."

Excerpt on "The Inside Circle" from "Treatise On Skating"

Interestingly, the publication of his second book - his "Treatise On Skating" would hardly be the most significant moment of the year 1772 for the Jones, the son of a tailor. In another of Rictor Norton's thoroughly researched essays, "The First Public Debate about Homosexuality in England: The Case of Captain Jones, 1772" an extensive case study is offered on Jones' 1772 trial. Norton noted, "In July 1772 Captain Robert Jones was convicted at the Old Bailey for sodomizing a thirteen-year-old boy, and sentenced to death. The sentence was respited for further consideration, and in October Jones was granted a Royal Pardon on condition he leave the country.''

Norton's research, which includes links to dozens of primary sources and a full transcript of Jones' trial including testimony from the thirteen year old victim Francis Henry Hay, makes it painfully clear that this was a pretty clear cut case of abuse and let me tell you, it's not pretty. I'll spare you all of the details but let it suffice to say in reading the transcript from the trial, it's quite evident that this figure skating pioneer got a lucky break with his pardon in an era when capital punishments were frequently doled out like candy.

"Captain" Jones received his pardon on September 12, 1772, was discharged from Newgate prison less than two months later and according to a newspaper clipping on file with the British Library was living in the South of France with "with a lovely Ganymede (his footboy)" by June of the next year. Unreal! He really learned his lesson, didn't he? Over a decade later, Jones turned up in of all places Turkey, where he re-entered military service. A December 6, 1788 article from "The Times" indicated that in the end karma might have come back to bite him in the ass: "Captain Jones, as far as we have been able to trace him, never had employment immediately from the Grand Signior; although at different periods in the pay of several Beys; and in the service of one of them he was at the time of their rebellion against the Sublime Porte, and reported to have been put to death, with near 30,000 others of the vanquished party." 

Not every story is pretty. Not every story does have that happy ending... but this deep, dark elephant in the room that has long been written out of accounts of the sport's history has now been dusted off and put on display once again. 

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.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Bangles And Boat Tickets: A 1909 Skating Courtroom Drama

Editorial cartoon of Leslie Gross

Almost a century before Nancy and Tonya and 'the whack heard around the world', the good people of Australia were transfixed on a skating courtroom drama of their very own. The case of Leslie Gross .vs. The Sydney Ice Skating Rink and Cold Storage Company, Limited played out in a Sydney courtroom on Saturday, September 18, 1909 and let me tell you, I don't even think Judge Judy could have kept a straight face for this one.

Indent agent Leslie Gross' case against the organization that ran the Sydney Glaciarium charged the company with publicly assaulting and beating him, dragging him from the skating rink and injuring his reputation by falsely imprisoning him. He also asked for the princely sum of two thousand pounds in "damages". It all may sound like a lot of nasty business, but the actual story paints Gross in quite a different light. I will let you be the judge!

Dunbar Poole, competitor at the 1911 and 1912 World Figure Skating Championships

"The Northern Star" reported that the "plaintiff had been a regular skater at the Glaciarium, practically from the opening [in 1907]. The incident which gave rise to the present action happened on the evening of Friday, June 4. Plaintiff went to the rink that evening in order to skate, and shortly after putting on his skates he met two young girls, who told him  that they had picked up a bangle. He took them across to the office to ascertain if the loss of the bangle had been reported, but it had not. He afterwards went with one of them down to the private skate department, and made  inquiries there, without success. There was a boat ticket attached to the bangle, which bore the name 'Mrs. Wallace.' Plaintiff left word that a bangle had been found, and that If Mrs. Wallace inquired for it she could have it. He afterwards gave the bangle into the care of a little girl, who was sitting with her mother in the rink, until the owner should ask for it, and then went on skating. Later on, while the plaintiff was sitting down, Mr. Dunbar Poole, manager of the rink, came over and demanded the bangle, and as the plaintiff declined to restore it to anyone except the lawful owner, he was threatened by Mr. Poole with arrest. A person who said he was Mr. Wallace also came up and asked for the bangle, and was told if Mrs. Wallace claimed it she could have it on applying. Plaintiff probably gave the impression that he had the bangle in his possession, whereas; as previously stated, he had given it into the keeping of the little girl. Plaintiff resumed his skating, and while so engaged he was seized by one of the rink attendants, handed over to two plain-clothes constables, dragged hatless, and still wearing his skates, out of the rink, followed by a large crowd, across to the Redfern Police Station; where he was locked up for about an hour. The police during that interval went across to the rink, and had no trouble in getting the bangle from tho little girl. After plaintiff had been released from custody he returned to the rink, and was refused admission, although he was without his hat and was still wearing his skates. Eventually he was permitted to re-enter on condition that he did not skate. He accordingly went in and got his hat; and then left. The defendant company was subsequently written to on Plaintiff's behalf, and their reply was to the effect that they would return the defendant his registration fee, together with his boots and skates, which had been left at the rink, at any time he might appoint, as it was their intention not to admit him to the rink again."

You have to marvel at the incredible maturity of this grown man right? The Sydney Ice Skating Rink and Cold Storage Company pleaded not guilty, arguing that the plaintiff behaved "in such a way that they were entitled to remove him, which they did without unnecessary force." One has to chuckle at this well-to-do, hatless (heaven forbid) man being dragged out of a rink with his skates still on by police because he refused to give back a bangle and boat ticket to the rink owner and the owner's husband. Really classy stuff. In the end, a jury voted unanimously in favour of the defendants. Dunbar Poole went down in history as one of Australian figure skating's most important pioneers and Leslie Gross is remembered simply as the man who was barred for life from the Sydney Glaciarium. History is not often cut and dry, but in this instance there was indeed a real winner... and a real loser.

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, 3 August 2017

Cross-Cuts Are Anything But Boring

George Meagher's illustration of The Anvil

In defense of the 'new judging system', the more frequent argument you will hear is, "well, when 6.0 was around, all they did were cross-cuts. Cross-cuts from one end of the rink, then a jump, then cross-cuts to another end of the rink and another." Largely owing to that argument, poor old cross-cuts have really been demonized in recent years and you know what? It is really a shame. They're as Canadian as a hot cup of Tim Horton's coffee on a cold Calgary day.

Before the cross-cut firmly established itself as the popular way to get from point A to point B in free skating, many skaters would simply get a running start or glide along in a Dutch roll in between dance steps and figures. Even the great Norwegian speed skater Axel Paulsen - the inventor of the Axel jump - did not lap around the rink a few times a la Evgeni Plushenko before he bounded in the air. The cross-cut was actually original known as the Anvil and as skating historian Nigel Brown explained in his gem of a 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History", it "originated in Canada about 1870 and took its name from its outline upon the ice. Later the figure was known as the 'cross-cut.' It was discovered through the failure in the correct execution of the loop. Beginners today when learning loops frequently fail to get a perfect round curve, and produce a small straight cut at the apex of the loop. This is because the body is not in proper balance with the foot, the latter arriving at the top of the loop before the body, which causes a slight slowing up in the movement, when the skate slides back a fraction waiting for the body to catch up and swing round, the skate naturally follows it and the loop is made. However by encouraging this tendency of the skate to stop and slide in a straight line, the cut made at the culminating point of the loop could be made with certainty, and of considerable length. This was a cross-cut."

In his 1919 book "A Guide To Artistic Skating", Canadian skater George Meagher elaborated, "Up to a few years ago 'crosscuts' were known as 'Anvils,' owing, no doubt to the resemblance to a blacksmith's anvil... These figures, in which we find absolutely no change of edge but three changes of direction, have always been remarkable for their difficulty. Few skaters excel in them. To execute the 'Crosscut,' the skater begins on an outside edge with a curve, say, on the right foot. The curve, if completed to a circle, would have a radius of about two feet. When the skater has completed a semicircle, and would naturally make the complete circle, the right foot is drawn very sharply backwards in a perfectly straight line of about six inches, the skater then continuing forward on the outside edge, and crossing his former lines in two places... The balance foot swings backward with much force as the skater draws backward, and forward as he draws forward."


Special figures with cross-cuts as the main feature abounded in the late nineteenth century. Meagher described a "double-headed crosscut" (with the bottom part closed with a forward straight line), a Swedish Crosscut, double Swedish Crosscut or 'Reverse Canadian Crosscut' and a Rocker Crosscut attributed to one Lord Archibald Campbell. Many other variations of the figure abounded during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and were mentioned in various skating books. They included the Diamond Cross-cut, Lebedeff Reverse Cross-cut and Sanders Reverse Cross-cut. Each included what we consider cross-cuts today as part of figure designs.

By the early 1880's, skaters like Louis Rubenstein were showing off their skill at Anvils in Canadian competitions and it's entirely likely (even probable) that it was he who introduced Russians Georg Sanders and Alexei P. Lebedeff to the 'Reverse Cross-cut' or Anvil when he visited St. Petersburg in 1890. By 1892, the New England Association was including 'curved angles - cross cuts or anvils' among its lists of competitive elements and an article from the December 13, 1896 issue of the "Brooklyn Eagle" boasted that Meagher could do "over one hundred anvils... without stopping." 

Perhaps most amusing when you think at how much smack talk goes on towards programs full of cross-cuts under the IJS system is that back in the day, they were frowned upon too... but for different reasons. John E. Nitchie noted that cross-cuts or Anvils were considered a 'trick figure' once upon a time. Many late nineteenth century skaters simply considered them to much of a novelty or even too difficult to practice. Even the great German professional skater Charlotte Oelschlägel once said of cross-cuts, "They are not pretty figures but are sometimes useful in embellishing a skating programme through their oddity."

History sometimes forces us to look at things from a different perspective. What was once new, novel, difficult and odd is now considered old school, boring, simplistic and commonplace. Whatever your views are on the construction of programs under 'the new system', the fact remains that a program full of cross-cuts was a program was indeed a program full of figures. 

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, 1 August 2017

The Sensational Silverthorne's


Born February 1, 1923 and March 3, 1925 in the seaside resort town on Brighton, England, Dennis and Winifred 'Winnie' Silverthorne were the children of two energetic candy shop owners. They learned to skate at the S.S. Brighton on rink atop a filled-in swimming pool in the mid-thirties and by the ages of fourteen and sixteen, Dennis was Great Britain's junior men's champion and Winnie the junior women's silver medallist. The careers of the two promising skaters from Sussex were cut short when World War II broke out.

Though underage, Dennis was recruited to join the Royal Air Force. He was first sent to Dunnville, Ontario where he trained at a pilot school alongside 1939 World Silver Medallist Freddie Tomlins. Then, he flew a four-engined Avro Lancaster over German occupied areas in Continental Europe. Reporter Tom Hawthorn noted in 2004 that "the only close scrape he discussed after the war involved a jilted girlfriend. Her responsibility was to pack the aircrews' parachutes and, soon after their romance soured, she handed Mr. Silverthorne his backpack with what he took to be a peculiar smile. He was grateful he did not have to use the parachute on that mission." Meanwhile at home in England, Winnie joined the Women's Royal Naval Service and acted as a scientific instrument inspector.


The siblings reunited both off and on the ice after the war, studying under Arnold Gerschwiler and Armand Perren and forging a partnership as a pairs team. In May and December of 1946, they held off challenges from Bob Hudson and Jean Higson and Tony Holles and Joyce Coates to win two back-to-back British pairs titles. At the 1947 European Figure Skating Championships in Davos they won the silver medal behind Micheline Lannoy and Pierre Baugniet of Belgium. So impressive were they in their big international debut that the Czechoslovakian judge had them in first place. At the subsequent World Championships in Stockholm, they barely missed the podium, finishing in fourth behind another Belgian pair, Suzanne Diskeuve and Edmond Verbustel. Judges from France, Great Britain and the United States had them in the top three. They capped off their brief competitive career with top six finishes at both the 1948 Olympic Games and World Championships in Switzerland.


Turning professional in July of 1948, Winnie and Dennis appeared in Tom Arnold's "Stars On Ice" at the King's Theatre alongside Marilyn Telfer, Valerie Morn and Adele Inge, supplementing their income from the ice pantomime by teaching skating in Brighton. After briefly touring with Arnold's international company in India, Dennis married Belgian Champion Micheline Flon in 1950. Winnie and the newyleds boarded the Cunard liner RMS Franconia in December of 1951 and headed to New York City with plans of coaching in Canada.


Dennis settled in Schumacher, opening the Silverthorne Skating School in St. Thomas in 1959. Although he helped launch two skating clubs in London, Ontario in the seventies (Ilderton and Forest City) his biggest claim to fame was the fact he coached Donald McPherson from the time he was a young boy until he won gold medals at the Canadian, North American and World Championships. After remarrying to a skating judge named Patricia Herrick, he also coached in Cleveland, Ohio for a time. Winnie was quite the accomplished coach in her own right. Settling in Alberta, she coached first at the Glencoe Club and later at the Calgary Winter Club. Like Dennis' star McPherson, Winnie's prize pupil, Brian Pockar, was also a Canadian Champion and a World Medallist. In 1979, Pockar said of his long time coach, "I've chosen Winnie and put my career in her hands. She takes it seriously and I trust her."

Winnie passed away in Calgary on March 7, 1998 at the age of seventy three and is remembered to this day for her dedication to working with not just champions, but skaters of all levels. Dennis left this world in London, Ontario at age of eighty on January 2, 2004 after being diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. In his "London Free Press" obituary from January 2004, Lianne Anderson (then president of the Ilderton Skating Club) recalled, "He was a driving force in the sport. You don't find many people who commit that much of their life to anything,.. He was always a gentleman, always properly dressed and perfectly mannered. Figure skating is a business - a career - but he was always there for the kids." Dennis was inducted posthumously into Skate Canada's Hall Of Fame in 2006 and Winnie is remembered through the Alberta/Northwest Territories/Nunavut section of Skate Canada's annual Winnie Silverthorne Award presented to skaters who give outstanding performances in competition.

 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.

Friday, 28 July 2017

#Unearthed: Skate Sailing Down The Skatchawattomie


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.

This month's #Unearthed comes to you from as the result of anecdote shared in Arthur R. Goodfellow's fabulous 1972 book "Wonderful world of skates; seventeen centuries of skating".
The author wrote, "Skates have been life-savers on more than one occasion. There was the 16-year old Canadian girl who skate-sailed twenty miles down the Skatchawattomie River in 20-degree below zero weather to get help for her brother who was in danger of losing his eyesight due to burns received in a cabin fire. With their parents away, there was no one to go for assistance but his sister. Using a home-made skate sail and her brother's long skates, she started the journey as dusk was falling without thought of danger to herself. But ten miles down the river, a pack of howling winter-starved timber wolves gave chase and pursued her all the way to the settlement. It was only by skillfull use of the sail and constant tacking in the moonlight that the heroic girl eluded the gray mass of terror and skated to the safety of barking dogs, running men and the lighted, open doorways of the hamlet - and help for her brother." This harrowing anecdote was certainly reminiscent of the story "Cornelius And The Wolves", which we've already covered on the blog. But was it fact or fiction?

I reached out to Deidre at the University Of Saskatoon who put me through to a retired (and very kind) ninety one year old limnologist. Neither had ever heard of the Skatchawattomie River, but pointed out that it was probably either a name given by the local First Nations people or a river that has long since dried up. I was, however, through some digging able to find out that the source of this story was the January 10, 1910 issue of "The Victoria Daily Colonist". The paper was one of the first daily newspapers on Canada's West Coast and often printed fictionalized accounts of real life stories, so while it's pretty safe to say that this likely did happen, some poetic license was most likely taken to 'make a good story', so do take it with a grain of salt. Now in the public domain but crudely digitized, I was able to largely correct the digitization errors in editing to reveal the original story "Skate Sailing For Life" in its entirety.

"SKATE SAILING FOR LIFE" (C.H. CLAUDY)



"Put on an extra pair of socks, please Fanny. It will be bitter cold tonight. Jack, get me the brown blanket for Jim. He needs it for when I stop at Harrige's."

Mr. Billings spoke quietly, but his heart was in a tumult. It was not easy for him to leave his sixteen-year old daughter and eighteen-year-old son in a trapper's house in middle Canada at the height of an unusual snap of cold. But his partner, in camp forty miles away had been hurt by a falling tree, and had sent word by a neighbour assisting for him, and Mr. Billings had to go.

"And, Jack," he called, as his son came with the horse-blanket. "Take care of Fanny. You're the man here now. And keep off the river. I saw wolf track's this morning."

"Why, father, are you sure?" cried Jack. "It must have been a dog. We have never heard of a wolf this far south since we've been here."

"They were wolf tracks, son," was the answer. "I know a wolf track when I see one... You stay away until I get back. I'll be back before two or three days."

This was all there was to his leave taking. They were not emotional people, these Billings. That father had to go forty miles with the thermometer twenty-five below zero, that they two were to keep house alone, In a place where loneliness stalks bare-faced always, [there] were things to think of, to regret, to sorrow over, if need be, but not to make a fuss about. Frances and John Billings were both children of the wilderness, and something of the stoicism of the men and the women and even of the beasts and the trees that live alone, far from their kind, and weather the rigors of seven months winter was theirs, even at the age when youth and high spirits fight bravely against cold and silence and hard work.

The house was lonely. It was bad enough to have father gone, but to have him away and not to know
whether "Partner Uncle Phil" would ever come again or not, to have empty rooms and empty chairs to face, was more than uncomfortable. The two young people looked at each other gravely across the supper table.

"Don't let's mope, Jack," said Fanny. "Let's clear, up the attic. It needs it, and work is more fun than sitting still."... The girl arose, took a lamp, and went lightly upstairs. In a moment, Jack... joined his sister. Together they dressed as if for outdoors, and then went up to the big, dim, cobwebby attic. It was cold.

"Whew!" said Jack. "Let's begin.  Let's start on that pile of junk over there!'' and he stepped toward it as he spoke.

Whether he stumbled and fell or hit her arm by accident, he could not tell, but the next instant he was working madly to extinguish the flames which the oil from a broken lamp was spreading, while Fanny beat at his face and body with a blanket. Luckily they put the flames out. But when all was out save the smoke, Jack was curled up on the floor moaning, his face black and his cry all: "Oh, my eyes - my eyes! Oh, my eyes!"

Very gently, Fanny led him down the stairs, into the warmth and light of the sitting-room. As the warm air struck him, he gasped with pain. "My collar, Fanny; get it off - oh!"

Quickly the girl unbuttoned his collar and opened his shirt at the neck. He was badly burned. Deftly she bathed the tortured face and neck, bound up the burns and oiled the bandages. Then there was nothing to do but sit and watch.

Jack was a man in heart if a boy in years. Beyond his first involuntary cry, he grit his teeth and said nothing. But Fanny knew. Once when she left the room noisily and crept back, she heard him moan, "My eyes! Father, my eyes! "

It was too much for Fanny. She said to herself: "If I were hurt, Jack would never sit still and watch. He'd do something. He needs a doctor. It's only twenty miles, to town by the river. I can make it under the hour with the sail."

Even as she began to get together skates, cloak and gloves, sweater, and the fur, she stopped.

"Wolves!" Father said he saw a wolf track. And father told Jack to stay off the river. If father were only here! If I only had another horse... but I'm not afraid. At least, I'm not much afraid. And he didn't fell me to stay off."

Quietly she made her preparation. There were Jack's skates, longer and sharper than hers, but she knew she could use them., There was the fur, which fits head and neck and shoulders; there were the thin mittens and the thick fur ones to cover them, the sweater, the belt, and the fur cloak. The skate sail she meant to use was in the barn. She had already seen that the wind was pounding the river. Fanny stepped into the sitting- room.

"Jack," she said, "Jack. I'm going to town and get Dr. Perry. He'll be here in a few hours, and I'll come back with him. I can't see you suffer like this, and he may be able to do you a lot of good. No, don't say anything - I'm going."

Either Jack didn't hear, or, hearing, understood, she didn't know. He put out a hand to her, and she grasped it and kissed it an unusual demonstration for her to make and then ran from the room. The tears froze to her lashes as she stepped ouside. It was bitter cold and even in her fur, the north wind's icy knife cut true and sharp.

"This isn't the time for tears; it's the time for me to be a man," she said, half sobbing to herself, nor smiling at the words. She ran to the barn, and took from the wall her brothers' skate sail. Shaped like a big kite, it was nine feet long, five broad, with two crossed spars to hold it taut. She remembered how she and her father had laughed at Jack when he made it, after some plan he had seen in one of their rare magazines, and how he had had the laugh on them and the envy of all the countryside youth when he had carried it and outstripped the fleetest skater of them all. Then she caught her breath
with the thought, "What if I'll never skate again?", shook the dread from her, and tried to .think only of Jack as well and strong. It was with profound gratitude... that she remembered that she had a generous brother who had shared his sport with her and taught her how to use the thing, so graceful when well managed, so cumbersome to the novice."

"I'll make you a lighter one; this is yoo heavy for you," Jack had said. But she was glad she had learned to use the heavy one.

Slipping on her skating gear quickly, Fanny drew the straps tight - tight. "It'll shrink with the cold; mustn't get loose," she thought.

Then, confident, and with fears behind her, she stepped off the little wharf onto the black surface of the Skatchawattomie. She was not cold now, the excitement of adventure had gripped her. A few strokes brought her to the middle of the little river. The skate sail she held horizontal over her head, well knowing that to bring it broadside to the wind before she was ready was to be thrown or have it torn away for her. Then carefully she set her feet, the right one in front, drew in her breath, and with a sudden motion, brought the skate-sail upright along her right side. Before the wind could whip it about, her left hand had caught the horizontal spar which rested on her shoulder, her right grasped the upright, and almost as if shot from a gun, she spun away down the cracking, booming ribbon of
ice which stretched so far. so black, in front of her.

It was an exhilarating sport, this skate-sailing, almost like flying... So swift the motion, so bird-like and so effortless, the body seems without weight. Keen air whips the blood to the face with such a tingle, and the excitement of the possibility of a spill and of the motion and the necessity for alertness in guiding is so great that as a sport, it has few equals. But joyous as Fanny always found skate-sailing, it was not sport tonight. It was business. She had little time for enjoyment... [She had] to get to town and get the doctor back to that poor burned body in the house, already so far behind. Yet it was impossible to keep some feeling of exultation from her herself, even though she cursed herself for it.

Even as she exulted In the swift motion and shook with a little shiver of pleasure at her speed, her face blanched. Seeming an answer to the loud ring of the skates on the brittle ice there came through the air from behind, a soft, high keynote. She had never heard it, but she knew what it was.

"Wolves," she whispered; "wolves!" And then again, "Wolves!" She could not be mistaken.

Well she knew, from many a campfire story, told by the hunter and trapper, as well as from thrilling tales her father had told, what a pack of winter-starved wolves may mean to the unwary traveller. One wolf can be scared away, two or three need but a little vigilance, but a pack is death to one man, be 'he armed' how he may.

For a moment panic gripped her. But always she saw in her imagination the picture of a suffering, dearly loved face, a freckled hand, groping for her... The black ribbon of ice swung steadily and low beneath her feet and there was but little noise, only of the skates as they cut into the cold, cracked surface and an occasional "clang" as she struck with one foot or another a frozen bit of wood or an airhole or a crack. She was thankful for her brother's skates that saved many a tumble and for her strong ankles. With every bend in the river, she must change the position of her feet and sometimes swing the heavy sail over her head and down the other side. Cold she was not. Going with the wind, she felt none; across it, the sail protected her. Only her feet were getting numb, from vibration rather than cold.

Then again she heard it, nearer now and louder, a keen high, cry that was half a howl and half a growl and wholly terrifying. She looked back. There was nothing in sight. But "Horror!" she thought. "Horror! They are coming - coming - and soon I'll see them behind me. Give me strength!

The banks of the river were as black as the surface. Star shine only lighted the path and she prayed... Right behind her, it seemed, came the noise of the pack. In full chase now, and scenting well the flying quarry just ahead. But Fanny, her blood high and her brother's helpless cry still in her ears, forgot to be frightened as she turned and looked back.

"Small pack," she thought, as they swung into sight, eager and lank and swift, pin-points of light for merciless eyes, "but big enough for me."

Then she turned her face to the work in front. She had to change sail several times to make a difficult turn, and she felt she was losing ground. But a flow in the wind took her, just then and instead of easing off as she had been doing to relieve the strain on her ankle and leg, she held it up against the wind. Then the flow fell and her speed dropped. Behind her, closer and closer, she heard the occasional cry of the pack.

"But it isn't far now," she thought. "It can't be far now. It's just around that bend. Hopefully." Fanny did not know the river as Jack did, and the night and the excitement and the wolves had confused her
as to just where she was.

Now she swung Into a long and narrow stretch with the wind dead across it, and she had to tack or lose speed. And as she tacked, looking round, her she could see the black mass of terror sweeping straight down the ice. "It's now or never," she thought, as she reached the bend the river. But it was to be "now".

"There! There it is! There it is!" Fanny's thought was a cry aloud. The lights of the little town were in sight and with the wolf-pack trailing twenty yards behind her, she flung herself at the low wharf, pitched the sail to the pack and while they worried with it, flew - skates at all - into the little store, and gasped out her story to an astounded crowd of men, and then faded quietly into a land where there were neither wolves nor ice nor burned brother Jack.

In the long days of convalescence, when no one knew whether he would ever see again or not, Frances had to talk and to read much to keep from thinking too often of those hours of horror; for Jack, when, blinded and panic-racked, he waited helplessly for the aid which seemed so long in coming; for her when, coupled with the thought of being torn to pieces, was the other terror that, should she fail, her brother might suffer for days before relief, or - the end.

But the terror of these memories grew less with each passing hour, and vanished on the day when Dr. Perry took the bandage from Jack's eyes and he saw again.

"It was that, and a girl's pluck, that saved your eyes, young man,'' he said pointing to the torn sail standing in the corner of the room. But Jack only raised his eyes and took his sister's smiling face between his thin, scarred hands.

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.