Tuesday, 28 February 2017

#Unearthed: The Frances Dafoe Edition


When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history 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 a short-lived online magazine devoted to (mainly Canadian) figure skating history called "Skating Through Time" from the late nineties and comes to you from the late Olympic Silver Medallist and two time World Champion Frances Dafoe.

"REFLECTIONS" (FRANCES DAFOE)

fPhotographSkating and designing came to fruition at approximately the same time in my life. They melded together for the first time in St. Catharine's, Ontario at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships when my partner, Norris Bowden and I won the Waltz Championships of Canada in 1950 and were the first recipients of the new Canadian Championship medal which I had designed. This medal was used until 1987. A different medal design is in use today.

There had been an open competition for the design of this medal and when I won I was awarded the princely sum of $100.00. I don't know who was more surprised - my teachers, at Central Technical School, one of whom was the great artist Doris McCarthy, or me. I was so pleased that one of the judges was photographer Yousuf Karsh. The old medal was based on a sculpture of a great Canadian skater, judge and official - Norman Mackie Scott, one of Canada's skating pioneers.

PhotographThe new medal was a winged blade resting on a branch of laurel, the Greek symbol of victory. A branch of laurel is also used today, on the ISU's (International Skating Union) World Figure Skating Championship medals.

During the time I was taking the commercial art course at Central Technical School I was designing, not only costumes for my partner and me but also wedding dresses for the Eaton's store for their couturier department under the watchful eye of the wonderful cutter Mrs. Agnes Willis. She made, over the years, many outfits for our top skaters, myself included.

Carnival ProgramBecause of my art training, anytime there was an opportunity to design I took it. This led to designing costumes for the Toronto Skating Club Carnival and one of the program covers for this event. Over the years I designed pins for tests and crest for our International Teams as well as uniforms and dresses for the competitors all before my professional career started at the C.B.C., in Toronto Canada.

During our skating years we met the team of Blanche and Alan Lund, who were outstanding ballroom dancers, with several Royal Command Performances to their credit as well as being superb choreographers. They assisted us with our lifting techniques and became two of my dear friends and mentors in my design career. I designed over 30 productions for Alan until his untimely death.

PhotographOne of the most challenging aspects of our competitive years was the difficulty of skating out of doors in extreme weather. At this time in Canada and the U.S.A., we were "hot house" skaters. Although the rinks were not heated, they were much warmer than the great outdoors so we needed clothing that was not only warm but also would leave my waist free for lifts and throw jumps -- (yes we did throw jumps in the early fifties but they were singles!) We also introduced the first twist lift -- a loop twist; the first airborne lasso lift; the catch throw lift; the hip Axel lift; the lasso unto the shoulders, falling forward to an upright edge and the Axel into the arms. (We were always criticized for being too athletic). We also introduced changes of musical speed and interpreted different types of music. Sheldon Galbraith, our coach, remembers with great amusement, one of our club members coming up to him and saying, "mood spelled backward is doom".

Fifties DressWe were major contributors to the "illegal lift" section in our present day ISU and the CFSA (Canadian Figure Skating Association) rule book but at least we broke the old fashioned pair rigidity. During the fifties, the ladies skating dresses, were for the most part, cut in a princess line with no waistline, little fullness in the skirt for figures and greater fullness in the skirts for free skating. Many ladies wore tiaras for free skating. The dresses sometimes had different coloured petticoats underneath. The panties were separate and rather voluminous. The fabrics, at the time, were non-stretch woolens, nylon, rayon jerseys, laces, rayon satins, other unusual mixtures and velvet that marked with water. I did have a black silk velvet dress that had absolutely no give what so ever and a tendency to rip so, for the sake of decency I put the pants together with a slip top, which became what we think of as a leotard. It was made of black rayon jersey which did have a bit of "give" and had narrow straps over the shoulders. It was a great relief to me to know that I was covered when Norrie, one evening in Zurich during an exhibition, lifted me by my dress which promptly ripped off. Often there was no place to change in privacy. We trained in public rinks in every kind of weather. The worse the weather the happier our coach Sheldon. "You need the experience and who knows you may have to compete in the kind of weather". He was quite right. We competed in below zero temperatures in Oslo, Norway and another year in a blizzard in Vienna Austria.

PhotographThe following will give you an idea of the conditions that competitors dealt with in the fifties as compared to the athletes of today. The most difficult conditions we competed in:

4 degrees below zero in Oslo, Norway: When the ice is so hard and it is so cold the blade cannot melt the ice surface to give the skater the glide they require and one feels as if one is skating on a sticky surface and the blade produces a squeaking noise. The other danger is that pair skaters are unable to wear gloves and at this low temperature your hands begin to freeze and you cannot feel your partner's grip to say nothing of the pain that comes after you leave the ice and your hands begin to thaw.

Driving blizzard in Vienna, Austria: The snow was falling so fast that the rink had to shovelled before each pair. With no place to put the snow except around the sides, the ice surface shrank in size after each program and it was difficult to tell where the ice ended and the snow bank began. One of the problems of skating in snow is that the pretty soft white stuff builds up under your blades and slows your speed. We were also dealing with a highly volatile political situation as we were competing in the hometown of our closest competitors.

The most difficult conditions we trained in:

Rain: Visibility becomes a consideration, our hands become very slippery and endangered many elements. Thaws - The ice would become very soft and our blades would dig into the surface and actually become stuck and stop. I broke one of my ankles that way. This was very dangerous for rotating lifts and spins particularly if your blades had been sharpened for hard ice the day before (the groove between the inside and the outside edge is much deeper for hard ice).

Wind: We would have to start our program half way down the rink into the wind because the wind would blow us back up -- imagine jumping into the wind and landing behind where you took off! Hard ice - with deeps cracks transversing the entire surface (extremely dangerous!)

Gray days: When you lost the horizon line against the snow and the ice surface and had to skate by "feel". It's very difficult - like skating on water-covered black ice or heavy fog.

Severe temperatures: At Garmisch we trained in 18 degrees below - Fahrenheit. I developed hypothermia and couldn't control my shaking. Pierre Brunet noticed what was happening and carried me into a warm room. Unfortunately Sheldon had been called home to help with the Toronto Skating Club Carnival and we were left with no one. No official and no coach! Pierre Brunet, a former pair skater, became our temporary coach with the kind permission of Carol Heiss.

Whenever outdoor ice was available we skated at the University of Toronto's Varsity Arena (the surface was much too small at the Toronto Skating Club). When a varsity hockey team did not book the ice surface, the management would notify us and we would skate at any hour of the day or night. Sheldon further insisted that we skate on heavy used hockey ice to develop and strengthen our edges (so many reporters commented on our strong skating edges). It was a hard fought battle.

Skating outdoorsPhotograph gave us other challenges. We usually walked to the rink whenever possible and it was extremely cold. I always wore slacks or ski pants under my coat and over my thick woolen tights which "bagged at the knees". This meant I would need to put on my practice outfit at rinks where no dressing room existed.

Necessity helped me develop a special design to accommodate the various clothing needs. The top of my skating outfit including my pants was made in one piece. The top half was wool for warmth and the pants, which were attached slightly below the waist, were made of rayon jersey (which allowed for a 'give').



DesignThe result was a long sleeved leotard. The separate skirt was made of the same material as the bodice, usually with small pleats and was carried with my skates and put on in public.

This leotard design gave little consideration to the freedom of the arms, which were essential to pair skating, not only for the ladies, but also for the men. The solution was to put triangular shaped pieces of the dress or men's suit fabric cut on the bias (called gussets) into the bottom half of the armholes. Norrie's tailor was Mr. Neil McKonnen.

I then had to design a short jacket to keep me warm during the warm-ups and sometimes during our full training sessions. The final design was a jacket approximately 4 inches above the waist at the sides, angling up at the front to just below the bust and dipping to about 2 inches above the waist in the back. I designed many of these short jackets -- in wool plaids and plain wool always specially lined with a type of thermal lining. Norrie often had short jackets made to match.

PhotographThe other pieces of equipment that I deemed as necessary were the warm boot-covers -- we tried fleece lined ones (too cumbersome) and finally in desperation I bought a pair of men's white socks, slit them along the sole, serged them and buttoned them over my boots - fastening them around my blades to keep the leather dry when we trained during snow storms.
In competition male pair skaters were not as adventuresome in this period and were usually dressed in black! -- black trousers, short black jackets with underarm gussets and white shirts with either a black bow-tie or straight tie. We did experiment making Norrie's pants into a sleeveless jumpsuit. This one-piece sleeveless jumpsuit kept the white shirt from showing at the waist. (It was also great with a sweater worn over it). We then added hooks under the shirt to hook the front and back together to make it neater and less bulky.

The pairs tended to dressPhoto the same - the girls were either in black or colour and the men wore black, black and more black. Because Norrie and I wished to emphasize the height of our lifts we felt that my dresses should be very bright to stand out against the snow or dull weather. Consequently I found myself travelling up and down the escalator in the Eaton's department store to see what colour fabrics caught my attention. I designed all our own costumes and would continue to design outfits for many other competitive skaters in the years following our retirement.

During our time we did take a daring step. For our exhibitions, Norrie and I were dressed alike in bright colours -- blue, bright yellow, and white outfits trimmed with cerise. Norrie wore matching boot covers, which at this time was very different.

The destructionPhotograph factor was ever present for us. We were allowed very little luggage to travel to Europe; 44 pounds to be exact. We needed heavy clothes for warmth, exhibition costumes for shows and competitions and formal outfits for dinners. I only was able to carry two skating outfits for practice and in 1956 one of these outfits ripped into pieces and couldn't be mended. We had to call Canada to have another brought to Cortina by Mrs. Scott (Barbara Ann Scott's mother). Even this call was difficult, as calls from Italy had to be punched through a ship at sea.

PhotographIt was trying time for Canadian skaters. We were all blazing new trails, whether it was altitude training (Sheldon along with Barbara Ann Scott, and my father Dr. Wm. A. Dafoe were the only people who thoroughly understood this problem), equipment difficulties, ice conditions, blade sharpening (to handle different kinds of ice conditions which changed daily); availability of knowledgeable coach/trainers; experienced judges; the necessity of massage after outdoor training to keep the muscles pliant, suitable costumes, lack of funds, (The CFSA gave us our air-fare after we won the World Championship and the Toronto Skating Club gave us $150.00. Sheldon gave up his income for two weeks each year to accompany us and my father paid for his transportation and living expenses); and last but not least a Skating Association with little or no understanding of the European climate - political or otherwise.

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, 24 February 2017

Overruled: The Stories Of Two Forgotten Skating Lawyers

Writing about skating's rich and colourful history has taught me many lessons and one that seems to recur time and time again is that some of the skaters who have the most fascinating stories are not the ones who have found themselves atop Olympic podiums. Today we'll meet two skating lawyers whose contributions to the skating world have been long overlooked but are utterly fascinating!

HERBERT S. EVANS



Prominent nineteenth century Boston attorney and real estate man Herbert S. Evans took to Boston's frozen ponds as a youngster but only started taking figure skating seriously in 1889, when friends encouraged him to pursue the artistic possibilities of skating. That year, he entered the Massachusetts championship and lost badly to J. Frank Bacon. Undeterred by his loss, Evans began pursuing the finer points of 'fancy' skating with the same intensity he'd shown to his studies of legalese. The following year, he claimed the third prize in the New England Championship in 'fancy' skating and four years later, won the Canadian title in Ottawa, which he lost the following year. In 1896, he entered the Championships Of America in New York City and surprised many when he dethroned George Dawson Phillips by seven points.


Though he'd amassed an impressive competitive record, Evans' most important contributions to figure skating weren't as a competitor. In 1898, he was granted a patent for a skate with an adjustable foot plate "thus allowing the skater, while retaining the natural easy position of the foot, to adjust his balance over any part of the blade as desired or to correct any departure from his customary balance brought about by a difference in shoes, imperfect grinding of the runner in sharpening, etc." Two years later, alongside  J. Frank Bacon and Thomas Vinson (Maribel Vinson-Owen's father) he  judged the first skating tests at the Cambridge Skating Club. These tests were devised by George M. Browne and called The Figure Skating Test of the Cambridge Skating Club and have been historically regarded as the first skating tests in America.


In the August 3, 1912 of "The Billboard", Julian T. Fitzgerald described him as "an active Bostonian of rather slight build, and a little less than medium height. Mr. Evans is a natural skater. His originality forms one of the chief characteristics of his work. He first drew his figures on paper and afterward produced them on ice." George Browne raved of his counter and bracket figure eights and "backward threes in the air' [which produced] as harmonious effect a the goldfinch's combination of his song and serpentine flight." Sadly, Evans passed away shortly thereafter, never getting to see the International Style of skating take hold in America.

KENNETH MACDONALD BEAUMONT



Born February 10, 1884 to an affluent family in Blackheath, London, Beaumont studied law at Harrow and Trinity College at Oxford and became a solicitor in 1910. The following year, at age twenty seven, he married Madeleine Brodrick in Kensington and became a full partner in the family law practice Beaumont And Son, founded by his grandfather back in 1836. An avid figure skater who skated at Prince's Skating Club and wintered in Switzerland, he studied both the English and Continental Styles. Teaming up with America's Beatrix Loughran, he won an informal waltzing competition held in conjunction with the 1914 World Championships for women and pairs in St. Moritz. Shortly thereafter, Beaumont enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps and served in World War I. He achieved the rank of Major and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1918 for his involvement during the capture of Jerusalem and service in the Middle East.


Upon his returning to London, Beaumont pursued figure skating with great fervour. When the Summer Olympics came to his home city in 1920, a thirty six year old Beaumont entered the men's competition  and finished ninth - and last - among the men's competitors, which included Gillis Grafström and Ulrich Salchow. Unphased by his dismal finish, Beaumont laced up again with his wife Madeleine to compete in the pairs event. Together, they too finished last in the event won by Finns Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson. I'd like be to tell you that the Beaumont's disappointing finishes in front of friends and family at home inspired them to go on to great things in competitive skating, but that's not how the narrative of this story went. They did win two British pairs titles together and the Johnson Challenge Cup but the 1920 Olympic Games would prove to be the couple's only international competition.


Following an Imperial Airways accident in 1924, Beaumont took up flying at the age of forty one and turned the focus of Beaumont And Son practice to aviation law. He became a hugely important figure in the development of international aviation law and actually served as a legal advisor to the International Air Transport Association. Beaumont was responsible for drafting the terms and conditions for passenger tickets, baggage checks and consignment notes for cargo and later was elected chairman of the International Civil Aviation Organization and its predecessor Comité International Technique d'Experts Juridiques Aérien. A 2013 speech by Tony Tyler as part of the Royal Aeronautical Society Beaumont Lecture Series noted that "in many respects, the aviation world in which Major Beaumont lived and practiced bears little resemblance to the one we inhabit... Propeller planes were still a common sight and the Boeing 747 was just a concept on a drawing board. Airport security was virtually non-existent. Fares, service and capacity in nearly all markets were regulated by governments; and outside the United States – and Hong Kong! – nearly all international scheduled airlines were state-owned. Airlines carried 177 million passengers in 1965, equivalent to around 5% of the world’s population. Air travel was not only for the elite - that's a myth - but it was far from being a common experience. It certainly had the power to thrill."

When Beaumont wasn't busy sitting on committees, he was busy writing up a storm. As an aside, I can kind of relate. He co-authored "Shawcross And Beaumont", an important legal text on aviation law and even wrote for "Skating" magazine. His published works on the sport included a 1929 paper called "Some Aspects Of Modern International Skating". During this same period, Beaumont also served as President of the Royal Philatelic Society London and was the founding President of the Great Britain Philatelic Society in 1955. An avid stamp collector and historian his entire life, Beaumont was so distinguished in this field of study that he was made a Commander in the Order Of The British Empire in 1949 and signed the Roll Of Distinguished Philatelists in 1955.

In 1956 (a year before his retirement from the International Civil Aviation Organization), Beaumont returned to the skating world with a renewed vigour and role. He actively served as a judge and referee for Great Britain in international competitions and as the President of the National Ice Skating Association of Great Britain until his death on April 24, 1965 in Seaford, East Sussex, England.

I really have to give a 'hats off' to this man for the incredibly full life he lived. Whether he was wearing the hat of student, lawyer, philatelist, Olympic figure skater, aviation expert, judge, referee, writer or NISA President, Beaumont always seemed to be looking towards the next project and that's something that I can certainly respect and admire. It only goes to show you that a poor showing in one figure skating competition means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of life.

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, 22 February 2017

Send In The Clown: The Comedy Stylings Of Hans Leiter


Hans Leiter performed in so many ice shows that he kept a little black ledger book just to keep all of them straight. For more than three decades, the Austrian ice clown performed in four hundred shows a year (three on Saturdays, two on Sundays) but never let it phase him one bit. In a 1983 interview with "The Free Lance-Star" he said, "I'm like an old car. You have to start me up and let me run for a while before you back out of the driveway and get me going. But when I get out there on the ice, I feel like I'm 25 and I could go on forever."

Most skating fans are familiar with the unique stories of pioneering ice comedians like Frick and Frack and Shipstad and Johnson but Leiter's story is every bit as fascinating. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1913, Hans started skating at the age of six with his twin sister Gretel (you can't make this stuff up!) but never seriously started training as a figure skater until he was twelve. He trained as an ice dancer but as a youngster, skating wasn't his only talent. He showed impressive skill as a tumbler, winning the Vienna Junior Gymnastics Championships and was a soloist with the Vienna Boys Choir. Although his coach was none other than two time Olympic Gold Medallist and seven time World Champion Karl Schäfer, Leiter's childhood aspiration was to become a dentist. He gave up skating at one point to go to dental school. 


Rarely when they say "break a leg" in show business do they mean it, but it was actually the broken leg of the star of a South American skating tour that Schäfer was involved in the production of that got Leiter back on the ice for his big (pardon the pun) break in professional figure skating. An eight month stint as star of the show in the southern hemisphere led to a five year stint with the Karl-Schäfer-Eisrevue in Vienna and Leiter's career as an ice clown was off to a sensational start. He moved to the U.S. and toured with Ice Capades, Ice Follies and Disney On Ice, thrilling audiences from coast to coast. 

The basis of the comedy skating acts he performed on tour were a dramatic or military piece and a drag act (I use the term loosely) where he'd put a comedic spin on characters such as Cleopatra, Cinderella's 'ugly stepsister' and even Dolly Parton. Historian Bruce Johnson wrote of Leiter's performances in his article "Ice Skating Clowns" thusly: "His drag act so popular that it usually was placed in closing position just before the finale. It was risque and hilarious without becoming vulgar. The humour was firmly grounded in a likeable character. Leiter said, 'the hardest part is getting the character right.' The act included things the female audience members could identify with. When the front clasp of his corset's shoulder strap comes undone he tries vainly to reach the strap hanging down in the back. He finally asks a male audience member to help with it. Leiter was particularly adept at topping his gags. Just when you think a gag is over one more punchline comes. For example, his drag characters would slip and stumble across the ice finally coming safely to rest on the edge of a couch. Just as the audience starts to applaud, he reclines to relax, and the seat breaks away sending him crashing to the ice. Most clowns performing a drag number use balloon breasts which they fall upon and break. When Leiter falls, he breaks one balloon. He stands up and centers the remaining balloon which is helium-filled so it floats up out of his low cut neckline. He sadly waves good-bye to the balloon as it drifts away. Leiter improved upon any standard clown gag he used.  In his military act he performed his version of the "Bucket Chase." He had a sump pump mounted on a water trough, so the audience can see his assistant fill a bucket of water which he throws on Leiter. Leiter grabs another bucket which the audience sees him pump water into. What they don't realize is that the bucket has a screen bottom so that the water flows through the bucket back into the trough... When Hans chases his assistant towards the audience and throws the contents of the bucket, the spectators duck, but nothing comes out. When they straighten back up, Hans reacts with an 'I-fooled-you' gesture. Then spring snakes fly out of the bucket, causing the audience to duck a second time." Leiter referred to the gag in a 1982 "New York Times" interview, remarking, "I always involve the audience. It's funny how people want to be fooled. You skate over with a bucket. They know you're not going to throw water at them, but they always duck." A highlight of Leiter's programs was his superb backbend cantilever.

Photo courtesy City Of Vancouver Archives

A November 28, 1980 article from "The Chicago Tribune" offered great praise to Leiter's first performance but wasn't as crazy about his drag number: "As a light-hearted complement to all the technical fireworks, the show offers the hambone antics of Hans Leiter. A kind of Red Skelton on ice, Leiter can clown and carry on with endless comedic invention. His most hilarious gags come in a Romeo and Juliet spoof, in which he portrays the romantic hero as a clumsy, ice-bound clown. When Leiter's Romeo climbs a ladder to serenade his Juliet, he immediately slides back down again, crashing on to the ice. And when he plunges a blade into his heart, he falls to the ground, then rises again, not quite sure whether he is dead or alive. Occasionally, though, Leiter's humour becomes a bit heavy-handed, as in a no-holds-barred sketch called 'Cleo's Back In Town.' Here Leiter appears in a drag as a superbusty Cleopatra, and the routine is rife with all the obvious anatomical jokes."

Photo courtesy City Of Vancouver Archives

Despite painful hip spurs, Leiter carried on with his gruelling performance schedule well into his fifties. In 1983 he said, "Every year when the new kids join the show, some of them will tell me they saw me in Louisville or New York or Seattle when they were kids. They come and they stay for a few years and then go off to get married or the travelling gets to them and they quit. There aren't many old gypsies like me." Sadly, the following year Leiter suffered a heart attack that ultimately forced him to stop touring and slow down. He sadly passed away on Christmas Day, 2011.

Leiter once said that "you have to play to the top of the stadium in ice shows" and I think that advice rings true for any skater who has found great success in the comedy genre. Look at skaters like Kurt Browning and Scott Hamilton! Having an audiences in the palm of your hand while making them laugh is no easy feat... but if you want to make people roar, you have to go big or go home sweetie and ham it up! His legacy as a pioneering and enduring ice clown serves as an important reminder that we can never laugh enough.

kate 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, 21 February 2017

The 1981 Australian Figure Skating Championships


In August 1981, it was a balmy twenty four degrees Celsius in Brisbane, Australia. Not exactly the temperature most skaters are used to when they are heading to their country's National Championships! However, it was winter down under and the country's best were set to show their skills on the ice at the 1981 Australian Figure Skating Championships.

Moreso than now, in decades past it really wasn't uncommon at all for skaters to gain experience and exposure by competing in the National Championships of other countries. In 1976, Australia's Michael Pasfield had actually placed sixth at the Romanian Championships in Miercurea Ciuc, eastern Transylvania. In 1981, rather than exporting talent, the Australians imported it. 

Melanie Buzek of Brantford, Ontario and Brad McLean of the North Shore Winter Club in British Columbia were invited to Australia to compete as guests and made the long trek from Ontario together with judge Dr. Suzanne Morrow-Francis in late July of 1981. After being delayed for five hours in Vancouver, the three Canadians flew to Hawaii, Fuji and Sydney before finally arriving in Brisbane in one piece in early August. When they arrived, they were detained by authorities for 'questioning' because they didn't have a Visa to enter the country, and Morrow-Francis got them out of the jam by producing two letters of invitation.

Canadians Brad McLean and Melanie Buzek

The Canadian contingent finally arrived for the competition and Morrow-Francis found herself quite busy running a series of judging clinics. In an article in the October/November 1981 issue of the "Canadian Skater" magazine, McLean intimated, "Australians are friendly, fun loving, happy-go-lucky people. They enjoy Canadians, but we learned very quickly to be sure that we were recognized as Canadians, not Americans. There are still many bad feelings towards Americans left over from the second World War when many U.S. soldiers were stationed there. The competition atmosphere was equally friendly and relaxed. We met a lot of people and made many new friends. Although the arena was cold, it was nice to skate on a rink that is used strictly for figure skating. There were no lines on it and several times we received strange looks when discussing our programs or jumps and the problem we have coping with the blue lines or goal lines. Hockey is not a well-known sport there."

Australians Michael Pasfield and Vicki Holland

Brennice Coates and Les Boroczky, who had finished a disappointing last place at the previous season's World Junior Championships in Canada, found redemption in winning the ice dance competition. Although the Canadian guests were well received, the top honours in the singles competitions in Brisbane rightfully went to the Aussies. Representing the Sydney Figure Skating Club, Michael Pasfield claimed top honours in the men's event, while McLean finished third. Eighteen year old Vicki Holland of Greenacre won the senior women's event with Brantford visitor Buzek finishing a strong second. The pairs title was won by pint sized eleven year old Danielle Carr and her fourteen year old brother Stephen... who was no less than fifteen inches taller than her! Considering that the Soviet pair of Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakrai had been among the first pairs teams with a massive height difference to be demonstrating big tricks in competition only years prior, the Carr's aesthetic would have been quite a novel sight at the time. 

Although often overlooked, the small exchanges between skating nations in the seventies and eighties in particular were so incredibly valuable at a time when you couldn't just Google information about coaching, judging and rule changes. Knowledge is power in figure skating and now, like back in 1981, the sport's evolution can only improve by the imparting of it. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html

Saturday, 18 February 2017

The Sabena Aftermath, Part Three: The Patterson And Radix Report


Even so many years later, the 1961 Sabena crash seems almost surreal. How could have something so horrific have even happened? Why were they all travelling on the same airplane, anyway? Initially, the plan had been for the U.S. figure skating team to travel to the 1961 World Championships in Prague in two groups. The first group (primarily skaters) was planned to arrive by air in Czechoslovakia on February 15, 1961, giving them time to recuperate from jet lag and a second group (mostly family members, judges and officials) would have arrived five days later on a second plane. Those original plans changed at the 1961 North American Championships in Philadelphia after USFSA officials were unable to secure travel on two separate airplanes that didn't have Soviet ties, keeping in mind that this was during the Cold War. The negotiation of entry visas with the Czechoslovakian embassy also played a role in the USFSA's decision to opt to take that Sabena flight instead of two separate planes as initially plane. These assertions about the decision to fly with Sabena were made in a report written by then USFSA President F. Ritter Shumway shortly after the tragedy.

However, one document penned five years before the Sabena tragedy that I stumbled upon completely by accident nearly made me spit out my coffee. It was an official report written by Theodore G. Patterson of Boston, Massachusetts and Harry E. Radix of Chicago, Illinois, who served as the manager and acting coach of the 1956 U.S. Olympic figure skating team in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. This report appeared in conjunction with official reviews of America's participation in four international sporting events held in 1955 and 1956: the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City, the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo, the 1956 Equestrian Games of the XVI Olympiad in Stockholm and the 1956 Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne.

Patterson and Radix offered several recommendations in their report to future figure skating delegations sent to international sporting events, including an opening banquet so that skaters could become acquainted prior to competing against one another and adequate transportation arrangements to and from hotels and practice venues. The recommendation that almost made me spit java everywhere? "We had a pleasant airplane trip to London where the hockey team left us. We continued to Travisa, Italy, then by bus to Cortina. It was fine to have our entire team together with coaches, manager and parents, thus enabling the manager and coach to keep a sharp eye on the team and many pieces of luggage. This was the first time in the last three winter Olympic Games that the team travelled as one unit - which was a good arrangement and should be followed in the future if at all possible." The craziest part? The suggestion that all skaters travel on one airplane, though uncommon in America, was the norm in Europe at the time.

Passenger manifest of Swissair Flight 844 on February 20, 1957

The entire 1956 U.S. figure skating team had flown on a DC 6B operated Pan American World Airways from Idlewild Airport in New York through London to Italy's Traviso Airport. What Radix and Patterson neglected to mention in their report was the fact that that DC 6B flight had to make an emergency landing at the U.S. Military Airport in Stephenville, Newfoundland because of extremely bad weather. The fact they made it to Stephenville was a miracle in itself as the plane had tried to land in both London, Ontario and Gander, Newfoundland but was unable to do so. The 1956 U.S. Olympic figure skating team was delayed for four hours before conditions were safe enough for them to continue their journey. These facts were all brought to light in a detailed official transportation report about America's participation in the 1956 Winter Olympic Games penned by Amateur Athletic Union official Daniel J. Ferris.

One cannot fairly even consider placing a lick of blame on Patterson and Radix for their recommendation or Shumway or the USFSA for putting the entire U.S. figure skating team on one airplane five years later. I mean, who would have known? That said, reading that advice which was penned by two men whose opinions likely would have been taken into account by those in positions of influence at the USFSA at the time gave me chills. Hindsight's 20/20 and unfortunately, it took an unthinkable tragedy for figure skating federations worldwide to grasp the inherent risks of sending teams to international events together on the same plane and change travel policies.

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, 15 February 2017

The Sabena Aftermath, Part Two: Gertrude The Gallant


They say that no parent should ever have to bury their own child. Horrifically, as a result of the 1961 Sabena plane crash that killed the entire U.S. figure skating team, not only did Gertrude Vinson have to bury her daughter... but also both of her granddaughters. However, her courageous story of perseverance during a time that would break most of us is one that so few really know.

Born in 1880 to Leander and Mary Belle Cliff, Gertrude Yerxa Cliff graduated from Radcliffe College, a women's liberal arts college in Massachusetts, magna cum laude in 1902. In her book "Advanced Figure Skating", Gertrude's famous daughter Maribel Vinson-Owen recalled, "Mother... typified the skating belle of the outdoor rinks; the ponds, lakes and rivers. If fine 'black' ice were reported anywhere near, she would skip a class any day to pursue her merry course of Dutch rolls and great lilting strokes over miles of the local iceways. Sometimes, too, though she never tried a figure eight in her life, she would dance an ice 'valse' as it was then called." Gertrude skated regularly on the frozen Charles River and at the Cambridge Skating Club and it was on the ice that she met her husband, Thomas Melville Vinson, an accomplished skater who had gone head to head with the top Canadian skaters of his era in 'fancy' skating competitions. During World War I when their only child Maribel was but an infant, the happy couple joined the Skating Club Of Boston, taking lessons from a German coach named Herr Schmidt. They both soon warmed to the new International Style of skating and by the time Maribel started to compete, Gertrude was something of an expert in school figures despite never having done them herself.

In 1938, after Maribel had won an incredible fifteen gold medals at the U.S. Championships and an Olympic bronze medal, she married Canadian skater Guy Owen at Gertrude and Thomas' home 'the Locusts' in Winchester. Maribel and Guy gave her parents two granddaughters, Laurence and Maribel, who too went on to become U.S. Champions. Both Maribel's and Laurence, as we know all too well, sadly perished on that fateful plane crash in Belgium in 1961.

When news reached America of their deaths, Gertrude was ready to have breakfast. Her cousin Catherine Yerxa arrived and sat her down to eat but the phone kept ringing off the hook. Catherine told Gertrude that the plane had made a bad landing, and Dr. Hollis Albright (the father of 1956 Olympic Gold Medallist) and Gertrude's rector, Rev. Dr. John W. Ellison, stood outside the front door, debating how they'd break the news. Dr. Albright entered, gave her a sedative and told her there had been a crash. She asked, "Are they all dead? Tell me the truth. Don't keep anything from me." The doctor nodded yes. She reportedly responded, "I mustn't cry. My father told me I should never cry" and went upstairs to her bedroom.


Then something remarkable happened. In the midst of her grief, Gertrude took to the rink and became something of a fixture at the Skating Club Of Boston. She even began watching Maribel's former students and offering words of encouragement. Every gathering, every chance to be around others... she was there. In her wonderful book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman recalled, "The rink was the lifeline to her family. She always received lots of love and attention. In turn, many people visited her in her home and took care of her."

Dr. Hollis Albright recalled, "We were in a state of shock, frozen, not knowing which way or where to turn. It was Grammy who snapped us out of it. She did what all of us should have done. She turned her grief into something constructive - she started working with the young skaters. She is an amazing, marvellous creature. I have never seen anyone like her." Mrs. Louis Goldblatt said, "Grammy was out there every day hanging over the rails. She would examine the tracings with that sharp eye of hers, offer helpful hints and tell the kids what Maribel would have said." Reporter Will Grimsley noted that she moved "with the quickness of a 20-year-old", that she could "spot a flaw on a figure from 50 feet" and that she could "talk skating techniques with the best of them."

In her own words on her decision to come back and assist with her daughter's former students, Gertrude Vinson said in the "Spokesman-Review" that "Maribel wouldn't have wanted us to mope around and feel sorry for ourselves. She was one of the most vivacious persons I ever saw. Figure skating was her life. She would have said, 'Let's get up and get going'. That's what I intend to do."

Despite the support Gertrude received from members of the Skating Club Of Boston, the image painted by some contemporary journalists of her life in the wake of the Sabena crash was one of an isolated woman surrounded by sad memories. A February 11, 1962 article in the "Spokesman-Review" noted that she lived "alone with a Negro maid in the big onetime farm house, which has 14 rooms and six baths. Once the Vinson homestead sat in the middle of 62 heavily wooded acres but now all but four of those acres have been sold for home development. Inside, there is a small trophy room glistening with cups and medals won by her husband, Thomas M. Vinson, a lawyer who died in 1952 at the age of 84; by daughter Maribel, who for years was the chief rival of the great Sonja Henie, and more recently by her illustrious granddaughters. On one wall hangs a large, blown-up photograph of Maribel and daughters Laurence and Maribel, taken on the steps of the giant airliner moments before it took off from Ildewild on its ill-fated journey." However, other accounts noted her steadfastness, describing how she often got up at five in the morning and painted the interior of her massive brick and clapboard house without any help. Reflecting on her late husband's skating career, she told Will Grimsley, "He was a wonderful skater. Maribel was just like him. So were Laurence and little Maribel. I didn't skate competitively, but I could cover a pond in no time." On Maribel's silver medal finish behind three time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie at the 1928 World Championships in London, she remarked, "I would never say it, but others have said that Maribel should have won. Many people thought Sonja was a professional. She brought along a whole retinue of coaches and handlers with her. I only know that she was very cute, with those big flashing eyes and that turned-up nose. Nobody was going to beat her."

In the years following the tragedy as her health declined, members of the Skating Club Of Boston helped move Gertrude Vinson into a nursing home where she passed away at age eighty-nine on February 10, 1969. She is interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her daughter and granddaughters.

This woman's decision to not only go on when the world couldn't have been any darker but to go back to that rink and work with Maribel's students... it just gets you. I can tell you that if I was in her shoes, as much as I might have wanted to do it, I don't know if I could have. Brave is not the word! I think it was Will Grimsley who said it best: "While the load of her sorrow must have weighed like a ton on her frail, aging shoulders, Grammy, alone and her world shattered all around her, never once showed it."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Sabena Aftermath, Part One: An Unlikely Comeback


One question I always seem to get asked is why I haven't really covered the 1961 plane crash that tragically claimed the lives of the entire U.S. figure skating team. Well, there's honestly a great reason. Between the RISE documentary, Patricia Shelley Bushman's excellent books "Indelible Tracings" and "Indelible Images" and countless other sources, this extremely sad event has been documented extensively - and really well - already. That said, there were three particularly fascinating tales that stemmed from the aftermath of that horrific event that I have always wanted to delve into and in this three-part series, I aim to do just that. The first is the 1962 comeback of Olympic and World Medallist Barbara Roles Williams.

Skating somewhat in the shadow of Olympic Gold Medallist Carol Heiss Jenkins for much of her career, Barbara won the U.S. novice title in 1956, the U.S. junior title in 1958 and then the following two years, the bronze and silver medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships before her international successes during the 1959/1960 season. Coached by Nancy Rush and hailing from Temple City, California, Barbara married her first husband (a hairdresser) after retiring from the sport in 1960 and was then known as Barbara Roles-Pursley. The following June, she gave birth to daughter Shelley. Incredibly, just when the future of U.S. ladies skating couldn't have looked bleaker the new mother launched a comeback effort like no other, returning to competitive skating in top form at the age of twenty in time to compete in the 1962 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston, the first Nationals since the Sabena tragedy.


Back in 1962, the compulsory figures accounted for sixty percent of the final score and the free skating for forty, so success for Barbara in the initial phase of the event in Boston was paramount. however a controversy over the start time of the competition on Friday, February 2, 1962 almost dashed her comeback effort. After the skaters had left the rink after practicing Thursday night, officials changed the start time from 12:30 PM to noon and although all of the senior women's competitors staying at one hotel were notified, Roles-Pursley was not. In Patricia Shelley Bushman's book, Barbara remarked on her late arrival which sparked quite the controversy as to whether or not she should have been allowed to compete: "Most people treated me fine, but there were a couple of people that were not too kind because they wanted Lorraine Hanlon to win. For instance, the referee. The night before they changed the starting time - they put a newspaper clipping over it. I wasn't late for the regular time. I was late for the time change. They didn't call and tell me. I came in a taxi (the running-out-of-gas story was false). When I arrived they were starting to warm up. They let me skate because somebody else showed the referee that it was posted underneath and was not out in plain view. There was only one official that yelled at me, but he died of a dreadful disease." I love it!

Ultimately, Barbara had the last laugh. The February 3, 1962 edition of "The Bulletin" explained, "Mrs. Barbara Roles Pursley, a 20-year old California mother, took the lead in the featured senior ladies' class but still had to contend with a brace of teen-agers, Canadian native Frances Gold, now of Norwalk, Conn. and local favorite Lorraine Hanlon, 16, of Boston." Further, "The Spokesman-Review" of the same date noted she accomplished this "while her 7-months-old daughter snoozed peacefully in a corner of the Boston Skating Club rink (and) received only one first place vote from the five judges but had two second place votes and no vote below third." After a whopping six figures were completed, Pursley lead not only Gold (the daughter of coach Otto Gold, a Canadian citizen who was given special permission to compete as she had taken out U.S. citizenship papers) and Hanlon but Minneapolis' Victoria Fisher, Philadelphia's Lynn Thomas, New York's Carol S. Noir and Seattle's Karen Howland, who was forced to withdraw after being diagnosed by Tenley Albright's father with a paralytic condition known as Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Although Barbara had only one first place vote, her eleven ordinal points to Gold's fifteen gave her a healthy advantage leading into the free skate competition that was held on Sunday, February 4, 1962.

Her lead in figures was commanding enough that the February 3, 1962 edition of the "St. Petersburg Times" reported that she had "virtually clinched the senior national figure skating championship by virtue of her performance in the school designs" before the free skating segment of the event had even been held. The February 5, 1962 edition of the "Daytona Beach Morning Journal" described Roles-Pursley's free skate in Boston thusly: "A capacity crowd of 4,000 cheered wildly as Mrs. Pursley, dressed in devil red cashmere with a bejewelled neck, spun, pirouetted and leaped through a sparkling repertoire to the tune of three Italian operas. Mrs. Pursley, ranked one of the world's outstanding free skaters, was more daring and more acrobatic in her four minute routine than her two main competitors. Miss Gold's number was a mixture of artistic and athletic while Miss Hanlon's freestyle exhibition was of a ballet nature, smooth and graceful with a minimum of jerky breaks in the routine." In the end, it was the 1960 Olympic Bronze Medallist who became the first senior ladies champion from west of Philadelphia to win the U.S. title that year, with Hanlon second and Gold dropped from second to fourth place overall with Fisher claiming the bronze medal.


Explaining the ultimate reasons for her decision to come back to competition in 1962 in the "Spokesman-Review," Barbara said, "I shudder when I think how close I came to being on that plane. I was training for the world championships when I suddenly decided to get married. The accident was only partly responsible for my decision to try a comeback. The main reason was that I love skating - and I just got restless." Following her win in Boston, the California skater headed to the World Championships in Prague (the same European city that was slated to host the 1961 event before its cancellation) and finished an impressive fifth out of twenty one competitors. Following that event, she would again retire from competition. She had her second child later that year and toured with Ice Capades before moving on to an incredibly successful coaching career. Among her many students were Brian Pockar, Lisa-Marie Allen, Scott Williams, Wendy Burge and Vikki de Vries.

The return of a young mother to competition against all odds in an uncertain time in American figure skating to such incredible success is like something straight out of a movie to me... but the resilience that so many showed during this trying time is just something that tugs at your heartstrings.

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, 11 February 2017

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


How doth I love skating? Let me count the ways... Just prior to the Sochi Olympics, I put together the blog's first collection of poetry about skating called "Patinage Poetry: The Language Of The Ice". The topic of skating poetry has recurred often on the blog, in "Georg Heym: The Skating Prophet" and "Canada's Valentine" and the second, third, fourth and fith editions of "Patinage Poetry". Guess what? I just can't get enough! The sixth part of this collection is jam packed full of wonderful gems from Williams Haynes and Joseph LeRoy Harrison's 1919 collection "Winter Sports Verse". Put on your beret and get ready to snap afterwards for another fabulous collection of historical skating poetry.

"THE CHAMPION SKATER" BY A.G. SHIELL (DEDICATED TO GEORGE MEAGHER)

Behold the champion of the world appear,
Equipped his feet with blades of gleaming steel;
As Hermes light, he of winged heel,
Or, graceful as Apollo Belvedere,
He skims the gelid surface of the mere;
Swift as across the tarn the started teal
In noiseless flight he circles wheel on wheel.

In sable garb upon the water frore,
Is this we see a disembodied shade
From some remotest planet earthly strayed,
Thither escaped from the Stygian shore;
Or a creature of a more ethereal mould,
And by terrestrial matter uncontrolled?

"THE SKATER'S SONG" BY REV. EPHRAIM PEABODY

Away! away! - our fires stream bright
Along the frozen river,
And their arrowy sparkles of brilliant light
On the forest branches quiver;
Away, away, for the stars are forth,
And on the pure snows of the valley,
In giddy trance the moonbeams dance;
Come let us our comrades rally.

Away, away, o'er the sheeted ice,
Away, away, we go;
On our steel-bound feet we moved as fleet
As deer o'er the Lapland snow.
What though the sharp north winds are out,
The skater heeds them not;
Midst the laugh and shout of the joyous rout
Gray winter is forgot.

'Tis a pleasant sight, the joyous throng
In the light of the reddening flame,
While with many a wheel on the ringing steel
They rage in their riotous game;
And though the night-air cutteth keen,
And the white moon shineth coldly,
Their homes I ween, on the hills have been;
They should breast the strong blast boldy.

Let others choose more gentle sports,
By the side of the winter's hearth,
Or at the ball, or the festival,
Seek for their share of mirth;
But as for me, away, away,
Where the merry skaters be;
Where the fresh wind blows, and the smooth ice glows,
There is the place for me.

"O'ER CRACKLING ICE" BY SAMUEL JOHNSON

O'er crackling ice, o'er gulphs profound,
With nimble glide the skaiters play;
O'er treacherous pleasure's flow'ry ground
Thus lightly skim, and haste away.

"TEACHING A GIRL TO SKATE" BY THOMAS WINTHROP HALL

Oh, there's nothing in all the world so fine
As teaching a girl to skate;
There's the going up to her house to dine,
And the taking her home quite late;

There's the clamping of skates on her dainty shoes,
And it takes so long a while
That she calls you several times a 'goose' -
And you do not make denial.

There's the frightened grasp of her hand, in haste,
And her dear little shrieks and calls;
There's the putting your arm round her slender waist,
And the picking her up when she falls.

"MONTREAL CARNIVAL SPORTS" BY GEORGE MARTIN

The Frost-King sat on a throne of snow,
On a plain in the Royal Isle:
In his hand a sceptre of ice he bore,
On his brow a crown of ice he wore,
And his face was set in a holiday smile,
When he bade the carnival trumpet blow
For the famous Sports to begin.
The voluble hills returned the din
In echoes that travelled o'er many a mile ;
O'er the broad St. Lawrence to St. Helen's Isle,
To the sounding rapids of old Lachine,
To the Boucherville woods with their tufts of green,
And the peaceful hamlets that smiled between.
A multitude vast as the waves of the sea,
When Tritons rejoice that the winds are free,
People from far off Southern lands,
Where the eagle exults on outspread vans,
People who came from the prairied West,
And pine-clad East, and numbers untold
Of natives who laughed at the teeth of the cold
Were there for a gala- day, threefold blest.
The trumpeter wight was an Arctic sprite,
Whose limbs were lank and whose locks were white,
And when he had blown with all his might,
The Frost-King raised his sceptre high,
When it flashed all the lights of a boreal sky,
And thus, in accents of festive tone,
He welcomed the guests who encircled his throne :
"Friends! who have journeyed far to share
The verve of our Canadian air,
Greeting and love to all.
'Tis wise to lay aside each heavy care
And all the petty ills that do enthral,
To find in ampler scope this lusty joy,
This social amity, where no alloy
Of turbid passion mingles with the gold
Of kindly fellowship:
Where harmony betwixt the heart and lip
Its primal sanctity delights to hold.
Pleasure is native to the heart of man,
Here let it freely flow ;
Here let an ocean tide of gladness roll,
Here where no tyrant's interdict can ban
The sacred glow
That freedom kindles in the human soul.
Now let the Sports begin, and first
Let youths and maids who stand athirst
For Canada's supreme sensation,
For motion's wild intoxication,
Launch from yon hills their swift Toboggans.
Behold, upon the utmost crest,
How democratic Jones and Scroggins
With Lords and Ladies freely jest.
Blow, trumpet, blow !
The signal sound how well they know!
Down, down they plunge, what frantic speed!
No lightning-shod celestial steed
E'er swifter clove the azure air
Than headlong down the polished slide
Those young athletes and damsels ride,
Obedient to the trumpet's blare
Like foamy waves that seek the shore,
When red-mouthed storms behind them roar,
Like avalanches loosed from high,
Like meteors rushing down the sky,
They spurn the steep, they leap, they fly,
Till on the flats in bubbling joy they pour.
A Sport of more elastic grace
Now claims from us its honoured place.
Again, my merry sprite,
The trumpet sound, and let the night
In starry azure veil the face
Of Earth, enrobed in purest white.
The signal blast the Skaters know,
And eagerly with cheeks aglow,
Their costumes varied as the flowers
And blossoms that the Summer hours
On all the sunny lands bestow
They skim in joy the crystal floor,
So full their bliss they ask no more.
In sooth it is a goodly show,
Twice twenty hundred twinkling feet
In fairy flight, advance, retreat
Whilst others, more ambitious still,
In loops and scrolls assert their skill.
The Champion of a hundred rinks,
Behold him there ! his bosom mailed
With trophies rich ; what fancy jinks
Those lithe, light limbs that never failed!
What complicated, airy links
They weave, as weaves a spider's feet!
Till tip-toe wonder, stares and winks,
And plauding hands his triumphs greet.
What ho ! what means yon wild array,
In blanket-coats and sashes gay,
With red fire armed, that wind this way?
Stretching afar for many a mile,
Hither they haste in Indian file,
Ha ! Ha ! the rebel horde I know;
Blow, Trumpeter, the trumpet blow!
To arms! the Snowshoe host have sworn
To storm our castle walls, this morn
A faithful courier warning gave;
Defiant let our war-flag wave!
And you, my guests, remain in sight,
Spectators of the weirdest fight
That ever shook the vault of night.
To arms our veterans! man the walls,
Receive them with a million balls
Of roaring flame, with dart and brand,
And serpents that no mortal hand
Can parry ; let our trusty Pinch,
Who never has been known to flinch,
Protect the gates j our princely friend,
Great Zero, shall in wrath defend
The turrets and the loop-holed walls;
Let Blizzard a tremendous power
In fury guard the centre tower;
And Coldsnap, thine the task to shower
With fiery hail and blistering squalls,
And cannonade of burning snow
From every point the reeling foe!
The rebels advance with a shout and a cheer
But they reck not the might of that spectral host,
Each warrior chieftain a blood-freezing ghost,
Who answered their mirth with a jeer.
Strange voices such sounds as the winter winds make
When lattice and casement they wrench at and shake,
Were heard in those halls ;
And such terrible calls
As made the most valiant assailant to quake.
The castle, a lucent volcano, emits
An ocean of flame on the heads of the foe,
They waver they stagger they lose their five wits,
And print their appalling defeat in the snow.
Short, sharp and decisive the battle no breach
In that marvellous structure the rebels could reach.
To the mountain, abashed, bearing torches, they fled,
Oppressed with the weight of their wounded and dead.
The Frost- King, no longer enveloped in wrath,
With pity surveyed their laborious path;
And then, to the multitude bending, he said :
What folly, what ingratitude !
To think with such rebellious war
This wonder of the world to mar!
This temple that in mist and flood
And cataract in embryo slept,
Till near this Royal Island crept
The fluent particles, on which
I breathed and wedded each to each,
And made the solid lustre rich
In dazzling beauty, fit to reach
And rival, in these gleaming spires,
The loveliness of astral fires,
The mellow radiance of the moon.
Ah! whether late or soon
We with our retinue depart,
Is there a single human heart
Will mourn our exit ? Shall we not
Some few months hence be quite forgot?
If even so, another year,
With equal pleasure, equal cheer,
King Frost shall hold his court, we wot,
And meet your warmest welcome here.

"SKATING SONG" BY CORA ISABEL WARBURTON

Moon so bright,
Stars alight,
Clouds adance, adance;
Snow of night,
Fleecy white,
Silver ice agleam, aglance.
High, hey, high, hey,
Skimming the smooth, bright way,
High, hey, high, hey,
Over the ice away.

Cheeks so bright,
Face alight,
Heart adance, adance;
Eyes of night,
Brow of white,
Silver skates agleam, aglance.
High, hey, high, hey,
Skimming the smooth, bright way,
High, hey, high, hey,
Over the ice away.

"SHE SKATES ALONE" BY PHILIP VERRILL MIGHELS

She skates alone, and swift as swallows fly
She skims and glides until she seems a shy,
Fleet winter nymph, for whose bewitching sake
The frosty gnomes the glittering mirrors make
All glassy smooth. And ah! a yearnsome sigh
Escapes from scores of swains, who far and nigh
To win the slightest notice vainly try,
With fancy curves and fine, as o'er the lake,
She skates alone.

But ah! they fail that with her muff would vie
To hold her hand. They little dream that I
Alone the place of warming furs may take,
And merely sit upon the shore and shake
Because I never skate - and that is why
She skates alone.

"SKATER" BY GORDON MARTIN

When the frigid hand of winter froze the surface of the lake,
old McGinley did some talking and he made a big mistake.
He declared he was a skater who was far and wide renowned,
and he bragged of phony honours when the youngsters gathered 'round.
Thus he found himself in trouble when the kids procured some skates,
and demanded that he show them how to do some figure eights.

Now McGinley, even with a youth, was not a skater bold,
And he soon found out, upon the ice his feet were uncontrolled.
But the kids demanded action and they shoved him out in front,
in the hope that old McGinley could perform a fancy stunt.
Then he staggered and he slithered 'cross the floor of glassy ice,
and for all his blatant brags, he had to pay an awful price.

For 'twas then the children organized a game of crack-the-whip,
and McGinley soon was flying at a mile-a-minute clip,
But he lost his hold and slipped and fell, a-slidin' on his face,
and he ended in a bank of snow - the picture of disgrace.
Now McGinley, bruised and battered boasts no more of figure eights,
and there's no amount of money that could get the guy on skates.

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, 8 February 2017

The History Of Figure Skating In Harlem

Winter scene in Harlem. Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

Founded in the nineties by Sharon Cohen, Figure Skating In Harlem has enriched the lives of countless young people living in New York City... in particular, young people of colour. In December 2016, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sharon about the history of this incredible, one-of-a-kind organization and the importance of sharing the stories of skaters of colour who helped paved the way for a program like this to even exist.

It all began in 1990, when Sharon moved to New York City after graduating from Brown University and learned of the Ice Hockey In Harlem program, which had started in 1987. "It was a happy accident. I was working at CBS News at the time right after college and I heard about the after school ice hockey program in Harlem," she said.

Sharon called the organizers of Ice Hockey In Harlem up to congratulate them and learned that many young people of colour living in Harlem hadn't been exposed to ice sports and that the prohibitive costs of participating in hockey played a big factor in that. She recalled, "They said they had some girls that wanted to figure skate - would I meet them?"

A meeting between Sharon and these girls in a church basement was what set the ball in motion for a figure skating program in Harlem. "They were amazing, very embracing and we got some old used skates, we put them on and we started to skate on the north end of Central Park on Lasker Rink. I did that for about seven years. I just volunteered in my spare time and what was amazing to me was that it was like a Pied Piper effect. More and more girls wanted to do it and what I saw was that real transformation in them. Once they were given this opportunity to be introduced to figure skating, they really started to take pride in setting goals and learning to be resilient - falling down and getting back up," she said.

In 1997, when Sharon was coming out of graduate school, the after school program that was linked to the Lasker Park skating lessons was closing. Several parents, impressed by the positive changes they'd seen in the lives of their children, asked if she'd continue the program. "I took a break from my film pursuits, paired with the parents and together we launched Figure Skating In Harlem," explained Sharon. "I always believed that if you created something of value, the support would follow... The only caveat to this was that I believed if we to do a full-blown, youth development organization that education had to be the heart and skating was really the hook. We went from there and now, twenty years later, so many hundreds of girls have come through the program and gone on to colleges like Spellman, Brown, Michigan State, Williams... I could go on and on. We're just so proud of the results, because really, skating was the vehicle to teach lessons in perseverance and discipline and appreciating the arts... It's really just had a very positive effect and I'm so proud of the many people who have played such a big part in building this over the years - the parents, the students, the board and the community." Today, the program has a staff of over seventy time full-time and part-time workers... coaches, teachers, tutors, social workers and counsellors.

In a sport that has been - let's face it - extremely dominated by white people since its early roots, young skaters of colour growing up have had few role models to look up to on television. Sharon had skated with Bruno Jerry in Delaware, a skater of colour who went on to tour with the Ice Capades, but recognized her own need to learn more about the history of the community she was working with. She made educating herself on the history of Harlem, the Renaissance and African American skating history a priority. "So few African Americans had participated in the sport, let alone risen to the top. In my era it was Debi Thomas but we learned about Mabel Fairbanks, who was really an extraordinary pioneer. I have her photograph in my office and all my students learn about her history. She really broke barriers and was an unsung hero, really. She was skating in the same rink where we started at - in Lasker Rink - where they didn't allow people of colour to even get on the ice. She just defied that and got on the ice anyway. We really have great reverence for her history and the people she taught. Tai Babilonia and Atoy Wilson have been wonderful supporters of Figure Skating In Harlem because I think they see we are providing access to a sport that has historically never done any outreach to communities of colour."


For now, the biggest struggle for the program is getting ice time. "We create own culture of success and positivity but if we have more ice time I'm sure the next great skaters would be coming out of Figure Skating in Harlem. For now, our biggest focus is education," explained Sharon. However, the program has plans for expansion to Detroit, Michigan in 2017. Cohen hopes the program will continue to grow in the years to come. "I just realized that when you open the door and invite people in and you give them the same equality and access as anybody, they will fall in love with the sport. I think what makes me the most happy are the hundreds of girls who came through the program who never would have known that they loved to ice skate... And we're building leaders, young women who are educated, who have voices and are unafraid to take risks. We're really a holistic program and the support is needed, especially for young people today, with so many distractions, so many inequalities... We feel we're a second home to many young women. It's truly a village and there are so many talented, kind-hearted people out there."

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.