Rest In Peace Frank Carroll

 

Frank Carroll was a remarkable skater and coach. He first learned to skate on a pond and later joined The Skating Club of Boston. Under the tutelage of Maribel Vinson Owen, he was a medallist at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at both the novice and junior level. After winning the senior men's event at the 1960 New England and Eastern Championships, he turned professional and toured with the Ice Follies. His coaching career spanned decades. He coached numerous elite skaters over the years, including Michelle Kwan, Linda Fratianne, Evan Lysacek, Denis Ten, Timothy Goebel, Christopher Bowman, Gracie Gold, Tiffany Chin, Nicole Bobek, Fumio Igarashi, Angela Nikodinov, Daisuke Murakami, Michael Chack, Doug Mattis, Mirai Nagasu and Carolina Kostner. Frank was inducted to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1996 and the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2007. He passed away on June 9, 2024 and leaves behind an incredible legacy as a larger than life figure in the sport.

Oral History: Interview With Austin Holt

You're in for a treat this week! Greg Hill got in touch with me in the spring of 2024 to donate several interviews he conducted between 2001 and 2006, for a project on Maribel Vinson Owen. 

The first of these interviews I will be sharing is with Austin Holt, an American World Team member who was coached by Maribel. 

This interview was conducted on February 27, 2003. I reorganized some of Hill's handwritten notes to group skaters and topics together. 

I think you will agree that this oral history gives an interesting peek behind the scenes of figure skating in the 1940s and 1950s!

ON THE EARLY YEARS

I started skating with Maribel Vinson Owen. The rink in Berkeley opened in 1940. I had already been skating just a little bit once or twice a month down at the old Oakland rink, which was a 1/2 hour streetcar ride for me, at the time.

The opening of the rink was celebrated by a big amateur show, which I presume Maribel produced. I wasn't familiar with her at the time, so I don't know any of those details. My Dad took me to the opening of the show - I was fourteen. Very coincidentally, we sat next to one of the pillars of the skating club - Celia Bissel. She had 2 girls that skated, both Maribel's pupils, and she was a great friend of Maribel's. Mrs. Bissel twisted my arm to join the club, which I proceeded to do. I started taking group lessons. In the early winter of 1941-42, I entered my first competition (via group lesson).

I didn't have any private lessons from Maribel yet [though] I guess I took a private lesson to put together the program that I skated for State Novice - which I won. That was a unique experience in itself, because I came in third in figures, and then I came in third in free skating, and I won the competition. I was fifteen or sixteen at the time. I advanced rapidly.

After my grand triumph at State, I went to Regionals (West Coast) and lost to one of the fellows that beat me in free skating at State. It was a big triumph and then a big let-down, but a huge lesson. That gave me a dose of what was going on.

So, the next year, I was very well prepared, and I won the California and State Junior, and then went to New York City at Madison Square Garden, and won the National Novice - all under Maribel. She started giving me private lessons in the summer or fall of 1942. She was coaching at Iceland at the time. I skated under Maribel from 1940-43. Early on, it was mostly class and minimal contact, and then the last year, a little heavier on the private lessons.

Photo courtesy "Listen" magazine

ON GUY OWEN

Guy Owen was also coaching. He didn't specialize in figures. I took a couple of free skating lessons from Guy and a couple of classes with him. I admired his free skating fantastically, but I didn't much agree with his teaching technique. He was a wonderful showman, outstanding with his famous Gaucho routine. When he came out and did outside edges down the rink, everyone fell down clapping - it was fabulous. He was an amazing jumper because he had good elevation. He was a small person, very light. He could hang [in the air] - he had the idea of hanging. His best jump, I would say, was a stag jump, that looked like he was falling over a six-foot fence. That was sensational. I never saw him try a double jump but he did some spectacular 1 1/2 jumps - very, very high. He didn't do a very good Axel. It was more of a Sonja Henie turn-around jump backward-type Axel - sort of open spinning Axel. But he got tons of applause.

The thing that really appealed to me about his free skating was the effect of lightness - butterfly-like lightness. That was sensational. Because, up to then, I had subjected to the guys in Oakland - can't remember the guy's name and the Baxter Brothers (Skippy and Meryl Baxter). They were just turning pro and going into the show.

Meryl Baxter was one of the guys that I competed with in the State Novice, but Skippy had this very, very manly, not very good form. There was another fellow at the rink there (I can't think of his name), a younger fellow who skated somewhat like Skippy, and they would do a double flip and he got about 3 1/2 feet in the air - absolutely fantastic. I admired this, but it wasn't this light, floating butterfly-like appearance that Guy Owen had. So, that's what I aspired to.

Where I got into problems with his teaching is, I would watch him jump and then I would take a lesson on the same jump, and it would be different from what he did. For example, he always said that on a toe-loop, the emphasis was on the skating foot, not on the toe jump. In other words, it was an edge jump, but with a toe assistance. If you went and looked at the ice after he did a flip jump, you would see a humongous crater where his toe went in. So, I had time at that age reconciling that problem. 

His personality was dashing, easy-going, nonchalant. If he was ever morose, I only saw him in that kind of mood once in a while. I think he kept that pretty well private. At that time, he was just getting into the alcohol.

Guy Owen

ON CHOREOGRAPHY

One thing, however, that I took into my pro career. These days, coaches coach, instructors instruct and choreographers choreograph - and never the twain shall meet. In those days, Maribel taught me figures and free skating elements, and I did my own choreography, with her approval and assistance. That was expected. When I started teaching, I sort of compromised on that because I found that thirteen to fifteen-year-old kids were not really capable of creating a dramatic or athletic effect in a program, but if I created a program for them, it looked artificial. You know, I see that today a lot in international skating. I was totally out of skating for thirty-five years. I didn't watch it on TV or anything and then lately, I watch a little TV and then turn it off quickly. I get disgusted. I can tell when a program has been choreographed 100% for a skater, because I can hear music playing and a movement - like say there's a triplet in the music and a three-turn that's indicated - and then the person does the three-turn a measure late. I can hear the music and then I see the move. Well, the kid has learned the program, but can't skate it. I see that all the time, even in the highest level.

ON LAURENCE OWEN

Laurence Owen got most of her music sense from her Dad. Maribel's catchphrase was, "Pick out a nice waltz and skate to the rhythm." Which I did, a couple of times, that's fine. 

Laurence Owen and Maribel Yerxa Owen Jr.

ON MUSIC

I have a very heavy musical background - junior high, high school, college and all that, so I was really into doing musical interpretation but I didn't really realize that and get into it until I got into international skating, and did the five-minute mega-program, which I did all by myself, because later on, like I say, I was trying to remember the chronology.

ON THE WAR AND MARRIAGE

I was in the service until 1946 and then I got out, and hung around L.A. because I was very interested in a girl. We got married in L.A. and then we moved to Berkeley. One of the reasons we moved there was to skate in Berkeley and take lessons from Maribel.

ON THE 1949 AND 1950 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS

At Wembley in England in 1950, I came in fifth. Strangely enough, in 1949 in Paris, that was the best program I ever did and I came in seventh. I did pretty good figures too. Maribel warned me. She said, "Now you're not gonna be known, so you have to go at least one year to get known." Boy, was she ever right! The following year in England, I didn't do so well - didn't skate very well at all - but I got marked a whole lot better than I did the year before! That doesn't say a lot for international judging, but I think we're starting to get the routine on that.

I turned pro in the early winter of 1952. I got a job in Switzerland, due to Maribel indirectly. When I first went overseas to world competition, she set me up with connections like crazy. The big contact in England was Beecher More and a female dance teacher. I met them all. Maribel advised us where to stay, where to go and where to eat. Then, in Paris, again more connections. I can't remember the lady's name, but my wife and I went to dinner at the lady's house, and a big official - a big official in the French Worlds. 

ON CROOKED JUDGING AND WILHELM HENIE

Once Maribel was in direct competition with Sonja Henie (1936), it was a World Championship and Maribel was skating pairs with George Hill. Maribel's father, I believe, was on that trip, or it was one of the American judges. One of them went to Sonja Henie's father or had met him socially, or something. The conversation led to how people were expected to do, etc. Sonja's father was reputed to have said, "If you judge Sonja first in the free skating, we'll give you good marks on your pairs (George Hill and Maribel). So the reply was, "Well, that sounds interesting. What are you talking about?" He said, "Well, if you can put Sonja first, we'll give Hill and Vinson third in the pairs." And the response was, "Why not first?" Sonja's father said, "I'm sorry, first and second are already promised." Maribel recounted this to me, to try and prepare me for international competition.

Robert Brewer

ON COACHING ROBERT BREWER

I coached Robert Brewer for the Olympics. That was sort of my swan song. Coaching Robert was hard work. He was one of those people I talked about earlier, who was not very musical. He was very cooperative and brilliant - a fine mind - but he just didn't have a knack for music. I was telling you earlier about being able to tell when programs were choreographed. At the 1955 World's Championships, I choreographed what I considered one of the best programs I've ever done in my life, to Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody". It was fantastic. I had to teach it to Robert step-by-step, because he didn't feel it to the music. So practice, practice, practice until we got it so it was good. It moved to the music very well. We went to the Worlds in Paris and the record player... They played shellac records at that time. I had a nice shellac record cut of the piece. The record player was on top of temporary grandstands, so you can imagine when anybody got up or sat down, or walked around on these grandstands, the record player would go crazy. Well, that happened right in the middle of Robert's program. I was a nervous wreck. I about had apoplexy. I was beseeching the referee and asking for a reskate. Robert went on through his program as if nothing had happened. He just skated the program the way he knew it... which is totally to his credit. He got rather good marks, but he got marked down a little bit because the program wound up a little too short of the the timer and they were very fussy at that time about that. Robert had fantastic figures. He was one of the few people that I'd taught who was able to just strike an edge and make an absolutely perfect circle. I had one other pupil in the L.A. area that I'd take credit that I taught that to - she won National Novice and did rather good figures. I mostly retired from coaching in 1958. Surprisingly well, Robert did his own program for the '59 and '60 competitions. I coached him a little bit off and on in Pasadena when he was there, and then I got a pass as a coach for the 1960 Olympics. Robert was a very steady person. I couldn't quite say phlegmatic - not outgoing - and that was reflected in his skating. His figures, of course, were fantastic. His free skating was... not flamboyant. He had fantastic edges and developed very nice, steady jumps.

ON ICE SHOWS 

I got acquainted with the idea of fours skating when Maribel and Guy did very a good four routine in a couple of the amateur shows we did. It was 'show biz' with the spotlights, the makeup and a huge production. After I'd won the National Novice, I came back and did a show that spring. I was featured n a ballet number - I was the 'primo donna'. That was fun. Maribel did a big, big choreographed number. I think it was "Les Sylphides" or something like that. It was a huge production. Then, another time (1942 I think) she did a great big show and the theme was Aztecs. She was steeped in Latin American lore and we all ran around with these funny costumes and Aztec headdresses and kilts. Literally hundreds of skaters just pouring around the ice. She was big on big production numbers. I remember every time, about halfway through rehearsal, she would totally lose her voice, she yelled so much.

I also remember one she did, which I thought was standard procedure, and it scares the heck out of me now. She would choreograph the numbers as we were rehearsing them. She didn't have everything all written down. She said, "Well, let's try this. No, that's not gonna work. Go in the other direction. Okay, that works. That's it!" With twenty-five or thirty people on the ice. At the time it seemed normal, but since then, it's enough to give you a heart attack.

ON MARIBEL VINSON OWEN AND GUY OWEN'S MARRIAGE

I remember, about 1948, I was married at the time, and we'd just bought a house. My wife and I remember waking up one morning to something rattling on our window in our second-floor bedroom. Lo and behold, it was Guy outside, throwing pebbles up at our windows saying, "It's time to come for the morning session!" That was a time of difficulty with Maribel and Guy. They argued a lot. They'd argue about day-to-day stuff, like needing a car or whether they should go to a doctor.

ON THE SABENA CRASH

When I heard about the crash, it was a big shock to me, because had I stayed in skating, there would have been a good chance I'd be on that plane.

ON GRETCHEN VAN ZANDT MERRILL

Gretchen Merrill - "Queenie" - was a New Englander, and one whole summer I guess, or a whole year, she came out and trained in Berkeley. That was cats and dogs with Maribel. Gretchen and her mother and Maribel, going at it, around and around. Gretchen was opinionated and had a strong personality. Maribel admired people with strong personalities, but she had to be on a level slightly above, or it didn't work.

Maribel Vinson Owen. Photo courtesy Harvard University Archives.

ON MARIBEL VINSON OWEN

When Maribel was coaching me, I don't remember a lot of technique. I have since become a very technical instructor. I base my instruction on body position, hip position, lean and the mechanics of all the turns, which I worked out very well. Kinesthesiology hadn't been invented when I was teaching but yeah, I got into that pretty deeply and I stood me in good stead. Nowadays, I am just going back to teaching part-time, twice a week - a little class for adults only. I consider myself a very competent teacher but I was not a good coach. I couldn't beat people into doing stuff they didn't want to do. Which, to get back to Maribel, she had a knack of convincing you that you could do something which I thought was outstanding.

She exuded a total attitude of confidence and competence. She appeared to me, even as a kid, as the most sophisticated person I'd ever met. She was overpowering without being authoritarian. She was authoritative. She knew what she was talking about in almost any subject. You talk about Broadway plays or opera, just pick a subject, and she knew it. She was really big on Broadway shows. Noël Coward comes to mind. I was more into classical music, so we didn't have a meeting of the minds there... although she respected classical music and knew it pretty well. One of the things that she did in the summer of 1942 to 1943, she or Nash, the rink manager there, whoever it was, convinced the San Francisco Symphony to do a series of pop concerts at the Berkeley Ice Arena, which they did. Boy, skating to a live, world-class symphony orchestra was unbelievable.

In those days, I remember all of the concerts we did, all of the skating shows and everything - it was wartime, and all of the windows had to be painted black. It was pretty amazing for that time of year.

I got into arguments with Maribel and I still disagree with her on the problem of hip position. She had the world's most natural, easy spread eagle - when your feet are 180° in direction. She just naturally had that position - very open hips. She expected everyone else to be able to do that - and I couldn't. I have very tight hip structure. I can't turn out like that. So, over and over again, she tried to get me to do spread eagles and I never could. I had a problem doing that. I had a bad knee and that aggravated it. At age 65, I had arthroscopic surgery and it fixed me up perfectly. All during my skating career, my left knee would lock now and again. Four years later, I found out it was because of torn cartilage

One of Maribel's most famous remarks that I remember to this day was, on a good position, say on a forward inside edge - as in ballet, I'd turn my leg out and she'd say, "No, no, you look like a dog at a tree!" This really led me directly into analyzing hip position and free leg position on all the edges and stuff, in a very technical way. I don't think - I could be mistaken - I haven't gone back and read her books again - I don't think she presented that stuff in a really technical way.

I don't remember getting an awful lot of technical, basic rules from her. She must have been technically and fundamentally sound because I wound up with rather good figures, but I don't know how...

All the time that I knew her, she was an excellent skater herself, and very, very solid on an edge, and that was impressive.

She was an eminent party girl - particularly the second time around. After the War, when we came back to Berkeley, Maribel wasn't there and I remember corresponding with her, begging her to come to Berkeley. Eventually, she did. I was taking lessons in Berkeley from Hans Johnsen. I passed my gold medal in '48. I think it was with him. Then Maribel came and I went to Worlds under her tutelage. She was there from 1948 to 1950, at least. I was good friends with the Swennings.
 
One of the things Maribel really loved was camping. There would be Maribel, her current boyfriend and another skater I was married to. They went camping at the lake for a weekend. We hung around and always observed the cocktail hour. It was very nice. A couple of times we'd go over to the beach north of San Francisco - Schago Bay or Stinson Beach. That's when Maribel and Laurence were around 9 and 12, around there, maybe a little younger. Maribel [Jr.] was a typical teenager; Laurence was an absolute pixie... In both her manner of movement and her personality, she was a cute kid - bright. You couldn't take a bad picture of her. When Laurence was very young, we'd go to parties at their house. It would be the middle of the night and she'd have to get up and go to the bathroom and that was a big deal. There's this sleepy little kid in her long PJs, staggering around. Then, Maribel and family went back to Massachusetts around 1956. 

I remember that one of [Maribel's] gentleman friends in 1949 or 1950 was Carl Prussing. He was a real gentleman, very correct, sophisticated, a Renaissance man-type, very sociable and businesslike. Around Maribel, he was always very quiet. If you talked to him individually, he was a very forceful personality. She met Carl in the skating world of the San Francisco Bay Area. I think he was an official of the San Francisco Skating Club. He was the gentleman who accompanied us on some of our camping trips, or beach trips.

Maribel's "support group", so to speak, was largely made up of society matrons (I guess you'd call them) and skating mommas of the Berkeley area. A couple were very, very dear friends with her and they were mostly people of breeding [social status]. I remember one friend who actually was a skater - Margo Dodge - of the Dodge automobile family, from the Piedmont section of Berkeley.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Pioneering Pre-War Poles: The Stories Of Poland's Early Lesser-Known Champions

Though Poland joined the ISU in 1928, it was not always a nation that kept with 'the skating times'. By the mid-1950s, there were still no indoor rinks in the country and Mother Nature so limited the development of the sport outdoors that skaters could only train fifty to sixty days of the year on one of the country's two outdoor rinks. Despite their challenges, skaters persevered and had occasional successes internationally before World War II. However, weather, politics, and even war played a hand in the stories of many of Poland's early champions. In today's blog, we'll learn a little more about some of these pioneering Poles!

HENRYK KRUKOWICZ-PRZEDRZYMIRSKI

The son of Charles and Wanda Maria (Smirzitz) Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, Henryk Juliusz Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski was born March 27, 1889, in the village of Niemirów, which borders modern Belarus. His father was a pharmacist. In Warsaw in 1908, Henryk made history as the first and only Polish skater in history to win a medal in singles skating at the European Championships. However, he technically represented Austria due to his residence in Lemberg (Lviv), now part of Ukraine but then under Austrian rule due to the Partitions Of Poland.

After the end of The Great War, Henryk joined the military. He fought in the Polish-Bolshevik War, reaching the ranks of Captain Of Artillery and Supreme Officer of the First Artillery Division before studying at the Wyższa Szkoła Wojenna, a military college and receiving a scientific degree as a 'Certified Officer'. In 1922, he returned to the figure skating world, winning his first of three consecutive Polish Championships in pairs skating with his wife Olga (Pośniak) Przedrzymirska. That same year, he was elected Vice-President of the Polish Figure Skating Association. Three years later, he was also elected Vice-President of the Polish Ice Hockey Association.

Tragically, Henryk was killed on September 8, 1944, in downtown Warsaw during the Warsaw Uprising. His brother Emil, a general in the military, was captured by German troops and spent much of the War as a prisoner. After being liberated by Western allies, he emigrated to Great Britain and Canada.

WALTER GROBERT

Photos courtesy National Archives of Poland

Born August 2, 1911, in Dąb, a northern district in the city of Katowice, Poland, Walter Grobert trained with the Silesian Skating Association. He became somewhat of a local skating star by the early thirties. He won the Polish national title in 1935 and the following year made history as the first singles skater representing Poland to compete in the European Championships.

Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland

Henryk Juliusz Krukowicz-Przedrzymirski, a Warsaw native, had won the bronze medal at the 1908 European Championships but represented Austria at those Championships due to the Partitions of Poland at the time. Unfortunately, at the 1936 Championships in Nazi Berlin, Walter finished dead last. Surviving World War II, he returned to competition for a time before becoming a dentist. He lived in Katowice until his death on July 2, 1993.

EDYTA POPOWICZ

Edyta Popowicz. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

A Silesian Sonja Henie, Edyta (Gosiniecka) Popowicz was the darling of Polish figure skating during the early thirties. Though she never competed at the European or World Championships, she won four consecutive Polish national titles and earned a silver medal at the Slavic Games in 1932. Prior to 1930, women in Poland only competed in pairs skating - not singles - so she was truly a pioneer. Her husband fought in the Battle of Lemberg and the Polish-Ukrainian War and worked for the Central Mining Institute in Katowice, where he designed mining machinery and equipment. Edyta survived two World Wars and passed away on December 17, 1993, at the age of eighty.

THE BRESLAUER BROTHERS


Artur Breslauer. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Silesian siblings Artur and Pawel Breslauer were Poland's answer to the Jenkins brothers... when future Olympic Gold Medallists Hayes and David were just little boys. They came from a family of well-known Katowice morticians who arranged the funerals of the princes of Pszczyna and the famous Polish journalist and politician Wojciech Korfanty. The Breslauer family was chock full of accomplished sports stars. Artur and Pawel's father and brother were both accomplished road and speedway motorcyclists and Pawel himself was a champion relay runner before he began seriously pursuing figure skating.

Pawel Breslauer. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Pawel won the Polish Championships in 1936, 1937, and 1949 and Artur took top honours in 1938 and 1939. After World War II, Pawel changed his last name to Wroclawski, not wanting people to think he was German as Breslau was the Germanicized name for the city Wroclaw. Though Pawel enjoyed a long coaching career in Poland after the War, Court records sadly suggest that Artur may not have survived life in Poland during the War.

STEFANIA AND ERWIN KALUSZ


Stefania and Erwin Kalusz. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

Following the retirement of Zofia Bilorówna and Tadeusz Kowalski in 1935, Chorzów siblings Stefania and Erwin Kalusz reigned supreme as Polish pairs champions for four years running. Seeking better weather conditions by training in Zakopane and at the Engelmann rink in Vienna, the consistent young pair placed fifth at three European Championships and competed at three World Championships, their best finish being seventh at the 1937 World Championships in London.

Stefania and Erwin Kalusz. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

World War II effectively ended this promising young team's competitive career. Erwin, who was an accomplished cyclist and a mathematics student, enlisted in the Wojsko Polskie during World War II. He was killed on the Italian front while attempting to desert the army. After the War, Stefania married famous Polish singer Janusz Gniatkowski. She passed away in June of 1985.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Celebrate Figure Skating History This Pride Season!

Rainbow hearts above the text "Celebrate figure skating's fabulous LGBTQ+ history"

Happy Pride Season!

Check out Skate Guard's Pride Season page for a timeline of LGBTQ+ figure skating history, a required reading list and a Pinterest board highlighting how the history on the figure skating has intersected with LGBTQ+ history.

To nominate LGBTQ+ skaters to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here.

Celebrate Figure Skating History This National Indigenous History Month!

 Poster advertising National Indigenous History Month

Photo courtesy Government of Canada

June is National Indigenous History Month! What better time to highlight the important history of skaters of First Nations, Inuit and Métis heritage. You can view the special content for National Indigenous History Month by tapping on the top menu bar of the blog or visiting the following page:


To nominate skaters of Indigenous heritage to the Skate Canada Hall Of Fame, click here.

The 1929 European Figure Skating Championships

Competitors and judges at the 1929 European Championships

On January 18 and 19, 1929, a who's who of figure skating in Europe gathered in Davos, Switzerland to compete in the 1929 European Figure Skating Championships. 


The event was held as part of a Winter Sports Week in Davos that included hockey games and speed skating races. Though Scandinavians dominated the speed skating races, not a single figure skater from any of the Scandinavian countries participated in this event.

Lilly Scholz and Otto Kaiser. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Though the International Skating Union wouldn't officially institute women's and pairs competitions at the European Championships until the following year, 'unofficial' championships for both classes were included in the Davos event. In the women's event, Melitta Brunner and Ilse Hornung of the Wiener Eislaufverein claimed the top two spots, followed by Berlin's Else Flebbe, Grete Kubitschek of the Engelmann Club in Austria and Lilly Kuhn from Switzerland. Brunner's victory over Hornung was decisive - 198.9 to 187.6 points - but just over one point separated Flebbe and Kubitschek. Lilly Scholz and Otto Kaiser defeated fellow Austrians Melitta Brunner and Ludwig Wrede and Gisela Hochhaltinger and Otto Preißecker and Ilse Kilshauer and Ernst Gaste of Berlin to take the pairs title.

Dr. Georges Gautschi

A blanket of snow made for treacherous ice conditions in the men's school figures... and a panel that included two German judges didn't do a thing to help any of the five German participants. Both German judges, along with the Swiss and Belgian judges placed Austria's Karl Schäfer first, while the Austrian judge - former World Champion Fritz Kachler - cast his vote for Dr. Georges Gautschi of Switzerland. This was one of the few instances during the roaring twenties of judges working 'against' their own skaters.

Karl Schäfer in 1929. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

With a performance that was described by the Austrian press as "eclectic", sixteen-year-old Schäfer was the unanimous winner of the free skate and overall title. Gautschi was defeated by both Ludwig Wrede of Austria and Herbert Haertel of Germany in the free skate, but his strong showing in figures was more than enough to earn him the silver medal. Wrede took the bronze. Interestingly, the only skater who wasn't from Germany, Austria or Switzerland in the ten-skater field - Czechoslovakia's Rudolf Praznowski - received ordinals in the free skate ranging from third to last place. Schäfer's gold in Davos was his first major international win and Gautschi's silver was the first ISU Championship medal won by a Swiss skater in history. The January 21, 1929 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" remarked, "Since Grafström had not started, Schäfer's victory was never in question... In the compulsory figures on Friday morning, the snow had been strongly [dehabilitating] and thus possibly resulted in his reduced skills, but on Saturday they came to the fore. Schäfer was the best man in the field."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

Ice Originals By Lizette

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The year before the American skating community mourned the loss of a generation of talented skaters, coaches and judges in the Sabena Crash, Morris Adler, the founder of M. Adler Garment Co. in St. Louis, Missouri, passed away. Morris Adler's family company, which manufactured women's coats and dresses, had been an institution in St. Louis for fifty years. After his death, Morris' son Joseph took over the reins. However, it was Joseph's wife Henriette Lizabeth 'Lizette' Adler, who stole the show.


Lizette's daughters Barbara, Maralin and Terri were all avid figure skaters. Like many skating mothers, Lizette scoured the few local sports shops in hopes of finding skating wear that suited the individual tastes of her children and came up empty-handed. That's when she decided to design their dresses herself. The Adler children's first blouses and skirts were a huge hit. Soon other mothers were asking Lizette to come up with creations for their own children. Lizette soon realized there was a niche market for skating wear just itching to be filled. Her creativity and the access to her husband's dressmaking business soon gave birth to Ice Originals By Lizette, one of the most successful mail-order skating fashion companies of the sixties.

Advertisement noting the sale of Ice Originals By Lizette at the Alpine Ice Chalet in Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy Wendy Dager, Virtual Purse Museum.

Ice Originals By Lizette's annual catalogues and ads in "Skating" magazine garnered the bulk of their business, though 'stock' wool, polyester, lamé and corduroy 'skadresses', jumpers and skirts were also sold at Bloomingdale's, sports shops and rinks. The company's 'motto' was "All girls were made for Ice Originals By Lizette." At the height of her success in 1966, Lizette admitted, "Sometimes it scares me, but I'm wonderfully happy to be successful and to know that we're producing something original that so many people want and need." 

Two of the factors that made Ice Originals By Lizette so successful were the fact that its skating wear was manufactured in a wide range of sizes and the cost was extremely affordable. 'Mix and match' switchable skirts ranged from eight to eleven dollars, while competition dresses in vibrant 'technicolor' yellow, orange and hot pink generally retailed for less than thirty five dollars. One of the company's most popular dresses, an itchy long-sleeved wool number, was called the Sun Valley. 

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Ice Originals By Lizette continued to be quite popular in the first part of the seventies, but in 1982, Lizette decided to go in another direction. She co-founded Sage Skin Care with her daughter Barbara, which continues to sell non-comedogenic skincare products using natural ingredients to this very day. Sadly, Lizette Adler passed away on June 23, 1997, at the age of seventy-six after dedicating much of her life to making skaters look good and feel better about themselves.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.

30 Of The Most Searched Questions About Figure Skating Answered


I thought it might be fun to mix things up a little and have a gander at 30 of the most searched questions about figure skating! Have a pressing question of your own about figure skating history? Follow along on social media and leave your questions in the comments.


Who invented figure skating?

Skating's roots trace back to centuries ago when ancient people strapped animal bones to their feet in the winter as a means of transportation for getting across the ice. With the invention of metal skates, skating became a popular recreational activity around the world over the years. There wasn't any one person who just woke up and said "I'm inventing figure skating today!" It was an evolution over time. That said, many agree that Jackson Haines was the first figure skater to really draw attention to the sport as the art form it is today. He has been hailed as The Father of Figure Skating.



Jackson Haines. Photo courtesy Jimmy Leiderman.

Is figure skating hard?

Absolutely and unlike a lot of other sports, it's not like riding a bicycle. If you don't use it, you lose it... quickly.

What is a Salchow jump named after?

The Salchow jump is named after its Swedish inventor, Ulrich Salchow. He won the gold medal in the first men's event at the Olympics in 1908. He was also the winner of ten World titles and later served as the President of the International Skating Union. Ironically, Salchow was far more famous in his time for his skill in figures than free skating.

LEARN MORE: Read about Ulrich Salchow in the feature "Figure Skating in the Edwardian Era".

How much does figure skating cost?

Figure skating is one of the most expensive sports out there. In addition to custom skates, coaches fees and ice time, elite skaters pay thousands of dollars for costumes, off-ice training, physiotherapy, travel, competition entry, membership fees etc. For many years, there were two types of figure skaters - amateurs and professionals. That line started to blur in the 1990s when the ISU Grand Prix, ISU Championships and pro-am competitions gave amateur skaters a chance to win prize money to defray costs not covered by their federations. The reality is that the sport isn't cheap. Many parents of young skaters, even at a lower level, have taken out second mortgages on their homes and gone through tremendous financial hardship to allow their children to continue in the sport they loved. I don't say that to scare people off. I do think it's important that people have realistic expectations going in though. There is far less money in the professional side of the sport than there once was, so people should temper their expectations coming in. Very few people go to the Olympics and very few make back a fraction of the money they put into the sport.

What is a Lutz jump named after?

The Lutz jump is named after its Austrian inventor, Alois Lutz. He had the misfortune of really being in his prime as a skater around the time of the first World War when major figure skating competitions were cancelled. He passed away at a young age. The fact he received credit as the inventor of the Lutz was probably because he skated at the Engelmann Rink in Vienna, which was a major hub for European figure skating at the time. Had he have skated out of a rink where there hadn't been as many eyes on him, someone else likely would have got the credit for inventing the jump.

LEARN MORE: Read about Alois Lutz and the history of the Lutz jump in "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps".

Is figure skating on TV today?

Not as much as it once was! A huge part of the reason that figure skating was so explosively popular in the 1980s and 1990s boiled down to the fact that it was on television all the time at a time when television was very popular. People didn't have a million choices like they do now and skating became must-see TV. Figure skating hasn't firmly established a presence on popular streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. 2024 was the first year in decades that the Canadian Championships were not televised in some form. TV may not be as popular as it once was, but millions still watch it - and they aren't finding skating on their screens far enough.

LEARN MORE: Learn about the broadcast history of figure skating in Kelli Lawrence's book "Skating On Air".

Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov. Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine.

When was ice dancing added to the Olympics?

There are two correct answers to this question - 1968 and 1976. Ice dancing was first introduced as a demonstration sport at the Grenoble Games in 1968, but the first official competition wasn't until the Innsbruck Games in 1976. The winners that year were the Soviet duo of Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov.

Do figure skaters get dizzy when they spin?

You can, but you get used to it. If you're into the science as to why, check out this great article from Scientific American.

Who was the first figure skater to do a backflip?

One of the first skaters purported to do a backflip on skates was a noted turn-of-the-century skater and dentist from Ottawa named Dr. Alexander Martin. Backflips started to become popular when ice revues exploded in popularity around the time of World War II. An American show act called The Hub Trio (Len and Kenneth Mullen and Eddie Raiche) included backflips in their performances. Kenneth was the first of the trio to do the backflip on the ice and he broke both his kneecaps the first time he tried it. Other skaters doing backflips around that time included Adele Inge, Skippy Baxter, Sally Richardson and The Kermond Brothers. 

LEARN MORE: Read Skate Guard blogs about The Hub Trio, Adele Inge and The Kermond Brothers.


1942 cartoon featuring Adele Inge

When was men's figure skating added to the Olympics?
When was women's figure skating added to the Olympics?
When was pairs figure skating added to the Olympics?


The answer to all three of these questions is 1908, the first time that figure skating competitions were held in conjunction with the Summer Olympics. The events were held at Prince's Skating Club in London, England - a facility that had ties to the suffragette movement in England.

Do figure skating judges get paid?

Figure skating judges are volunteers. When I was a judge and was travelling to test days and competitions, they would cover your mileage (gas). Sitting for hours on end can get very cold, very fast, and skating clubs always took amazing care of all of the judges, referees and accountants. You never went home hungry and there was always lots of hot coffee, tea, hot chocolate and homemade soup to keep you going.


Madge and Edgar Syers

What were the early rules of figure skating competitions?

In the 19th century, the rules of 'fancy skating' competitions varied from city to city, country to country and it wasn't uncommon for a lot of funny business to go on. School figures had a lot more value than free skating and skaters didn't just show up with their music on a thumb drive, because they weren't invented yet. At the turn of the century, the development of the International Skating Union helped bring some semblance of order to the judging of international figure skating competitions. The ISU published a list of approved judges and decided that all competitions had to have a referee and at least five judges. The skating association that hosted an ISU Championship had the right to have at least one judge. Six school figures were drawn for every competition, and if special figures were included in the competitions, skaters had to submit diagrams and descriptions to the judges ahead of time. In free skating, men's programs were five minutes long and women's and pairs four. Skaters were signalled to start their programs by the dropping of a flag and the minutes were called by the referee during a skater's free skating program. At the end, 'time' was called and if the music hadn't ended, it was stopped. Madge Syers suggested skaters always have "one or two items to spare" in case their program ran short, for skaters weren't permitted to stop skating until instructed by the referee. In an article penned for the "Badminton Magazine Of Sports And Pastime", Madge's husband Edgar described what a typical free skating program at the turn of the century looked like thusly: "The judges are ranged at intervals round the rink, the first competitor has called to the band for his favourite tune, generally a waltz, and his name and club having been announced, he bursts into the skating area... The entry is usually made at speed on a large and bold outside or inside spiral, the [astrachan] cap is removed in salute and held high above the head, the body erect, with a free and graceful carriage. When the spiral has been brought to a centre the cap is replaced, and the competitor proceeds to demonstrate his programme of free figures. The point chiefly aimed at is continuity; the skater should never be at fault, and one figure should merge into another almost imperceptibly. The figures should be as attractive as possible, and on no account should the skater introduce any of those contained in the compulsory list, but should aim at producing novel combinations and tours de force."

LEARN MORE: Learn about how figure skating competitions were judged in the early days in the feature "The Lost Years: Skating and The Great War".

What are the types of figure skating?

There's room for everybody in figure skating! If you'd rather go it alone, you can compete in singles, solo dance and interpretive and artistic events. Rather skate with a partner? You can do pairs, ice dance, or both! Prefer being part of a team? Take up synchro skating or theatre on ice. The possibilities are endless in the sport. Do what feels right for you or even better - learn what discipline is the right fit for you by trying more than one.


Surya Bonaly

Why was Surya Bonaly disqualified from the Olympics?

Oh boy... here we go. Surya Bonaly was not disqualified from the Olympics. In 1998, she decided to include a backflip in her performance, even though it was an illegal element, much like Adam Siao Him Fa did at the 2024 European and World Championships. She was not the first skater, nor the first woman, to do a backflip. She was the first to do one on one foot in a competition. The fact that she landed it on one foot was irrelevant, because it was still a banned element. The backflip was banned by the ISU in the 1970s after Terry Kubicka performed one in the Olympics. The reasoning behind the ban was not only safety-based, as one might guess. The ISU also considered the backflip to be an acrobatic stunt with no "aesthetic value." Surya Bonaly was a tremendous athlete and a trailblazer in the sport. That said, the impression given about her career by Buzzfeed/Vice-style articles and the "Losers" documentary you might have seen on Netflix is very much revisionist history in the same vein as "I, Tonya". There's nuance to most questions about the sport's history and that's something that gets completely lost in TikTok videos and articles written by outsiders to the sport.

LEARN MORE: Listen to Surya Bonaly's story in her own words on CBC's Players Own Voice podcast.

What are some of the most controversial moments in figure skating history?

It depends on who you ask and there are a lot of right answers to this question. In terms of events that really burst through the bubble and into the public consciousness, there's no denying that 1994 was a big year for skating controversy. You had the whole Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan scandal, Surya Bonaly refusing to wear the medal and stand on the podium at Worlds and some much-debated results in the ice dance event at the Olympics. The judging scandals surrounding the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City were pretty controversial too and to this day, people have some pretty strong opinions about the pairs event. The women's event at the 2014 Sochi Olympics also generated quite a bit of controversy as did, most recently, the doping scandal at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. Dozens more stories could easily be added to this list! 

LEARN MORE: Read about the judging scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Joy Goodwin's book "The Second Mark: Courage, Corruption and The Battle for Olympic Gold".

When did figures stop being a part of figure skating?

There's a whole book devoted to this subject - "The End of The Compulsories" by James R. Hines. If you can get your hands on a copy, I suggest you do. It's also a topic I talk about a lot in my upcoming book "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s". The answer is the 1989/1990 season... sort of. Well into the 1990s, figures were still a part of novice and junior competitions and even today, there are some wonderful efforts to keep this dying art alive. Ask your coach if they did figures and if they can teach you some - there's a lot you can learn from them!



Skippy Baxter

Who was the first person to land a triple jump?

Triple jumps may well be traced back to the 1930s. Canadian-born skater Skippy Baxter claimed to have performed the first triple Salchow in a competition in Los Angeles, California in 1939. His achievement was the subject of a Ripley's “Believe it or Not” cartoon. The first skater to land a triple jump (a loop) in an international competition was Dick Button, at the 1952 Winter Olympics and World Championships.

Who was the first skater to land a quad Axel?

Ilia Malinin.

How often are the World Figure Skating Championships?

Every year. The 2024 World Figure Skating Championships were held in March in Montreal. The 2025 World Championships will be held from March 24-30 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Why do figure skaters jump?

When I wrote my book "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps", this was actually a question that a sports history scholar asked when they reviewed the book. Being so entrenched in the sport, I found it a really unusual one. Do we ask why baseball players hit a ball or why hockey players shoot a puck in a net? Figure skaters jump because, for better or worse, jumping is a key aspect of the sport.

Can figure skating be self-taught?

I would never want to discourage someone from skating but you need to work with a qualified coach if you want to become a proficient skater. That's not optional. In the early days of the sport, there were many self-taught skaters who made it quite far in the sport... but that was before jumps and spins were really a thing like they are today. If you want to be the best skater you can be, find a coach whose teaching style matches your learning style that you can build a rapport with. Even if you can only afford a lesson here and there, coaches will help correct bad habits and teach important things like posture, edges, skating skills and correct body positions. Please don't try to teach yourself because you won't be the best skater you can be.



Victorian era skating fashions, circa 1874

How have figure skating costumes changed over time?

Tremendously and there's no short answer that can sum up all of the changes. If you look back to the Victorian and Edwardian eras, most women wore corsets, long gowns and hats, which would have been completely prohibitive in terms of movement. For decades, major figure skating competitions were held outdoors, so warmth was a huge factor in skating costume design because it had to be. Wool was popular. After the second World War, people didn't have a ton of money and you can see that when you look at many skating dresses in the late 1940s and 1950s. Over the years, stretchy materials have become the norm. As the sport became popular on television, the costumes became more theatrical. 

LEARN MORE: Read parts 1, 2 and 3 of "A Century of Figure Skating Fashion".

Are figure skating blades sharp?

They're knives, so yes.

Historical results showing Carl and Gustav Euler, winners of the Paarlaufen, zwei herren title (Two men pair skating)

Who was the Euler jump named after?

A pair of Austrian brothers named Carl and Gustav Euler, who won the same-sex pairs competitions held in conjunction with the 1900 European Championships in Berlin and 1901 European Championships in Vienna. Depending on who you ask, one of the brothers invented the half-loop jump or Per Thorén from Sweden invented it. The ISU decided to start calling the half-loop an Euler in June of 2018. We've never heard about the Euler brothers from the ISU because they don't have a historian anymore.

Can figure skaters be tall?

Of course they can! Robin Cousins, the 1980 Olympic Gold Medallist in men's figure skating, is over six feet tall. World Champion Eric Radford is six foot two. If anyone ever tells you you're too tall for skating or makes any sort of unwelcome comment about your body at all, tell them to go pound sand.


Robin Cousins

Who was the first figure skater to do the Iron Lotus?

That was a movie and no, that's not a thing. 

Who are some of the most famous figure skating coaches?

It depends on the era and which country you are talking about but I think some of the most famous coaches are the ones who have coached the most famous skaters. If you look back over the years, there have been hundreds of incredible coaches who have left their mark on the sport... many with very colourful stories of their own - think about names like Ellen Burka, Sheldon Galbraith, Frank Carroll, Brian Orser, Jutta Müller, John Nicks, Tamara Moskvina, Betty Callaway, Gladys Hogg, Carlo and Christa Fassi, The Gerschwiler Brothers, Maribel Vinson Owen, Mabel Fairbanks, Ron Ludington... the list is just tremendous.

Learn more: Read about trailblazing figure skating coach Mabel Fairbanks and learn who coached many of figure skating's greats!

Who is the most famous figure skater of all time?

This is a really hard question because it really depends on your age and where you're from. If you're in the UK, the answer's going to be Torvill and Dean. In North America - for all of the wrong reasons - it will probably be Tonya Harding. With the younger crowd, there's really not an interest in the sport's history so you'll probably get an answer of a skater who is still competing or only recently retired. If you're of a certain age, maybe that answer is Barbara Ann Scott or Sonja Henie. In Japan, the answer's probably Yuzuru Hanyu. To me "famous" says that skater has crossed over from being a star in the figure skating world to being well-known among the general public.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.