The 1955 World Figure Skating Championships

Hayes Alan Jenkins and Tenley Albright

Held from February 15 to 18, 1955 at the Wiener Eislaufverein in Vienna, the 1955 World Figure Skating Championships marked the first time since 1937 that the World Championships were held in Austria. Although World War II ended ten years earlier, Allied soldiers from France, the Soviet Union, America and the UK still had a visible presence in the occupied city. Despite the fact it snowed almost every day, capacity crowds of up to sixty-five hundred spectators turned out to watch the free skating events that chilly February. In between events, they may have danced to the latest hit, Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock", to keep warm.


In attendance were a team of eight Soviet 'observers' led by Alexander Tolmachev, the head of the Figure Skating Federation of Moscow. They came to the event to study "international figure skating technique", with the idea in mind of sending skaters to the 1956 Winter Olympic Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo.

A murder of photographers taking pictures of Hayes Alan Jenkins. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

The poor weather affected both practices and competitive events in Vienna. In her book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman noted, "Officials cleared the snow off the ice every fifteen minutes for... still, the snow caked under the skaters' blades, stopping them dead in their tracks."

Willie Frick, Tenley Albright and Maribel Vinson Owen in Vienna. Photo courtesy Dr. Tenley Albright, Elee Krajlii Gardner (personal collection). Used with permission.

To prepare for the event, Maribel Vinson Owen took Tenley Albright, Hugh Graham and several of her other students to Grossinger's Catskill Resort Hotel in New York, which had an outdoor rink. Maribel coached, wrote for "Sports Illustrated" and the Associated Press in Vienna. She was up early every morning for practices and up late at the bar with the other reporters every night. After she went back to her hotel room, she could be heard pounding away on her typewriter. 

If you're wondering what Maribel might have been writing about, look no further... we're going to hop in the time machine and take a look back at this exciting competition!

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The first three compulsory dances (Fourteenstep, American Waltz and Quickstep) were skated in a blizzard, and though crews busily swept the ice, the Wiener Eislaufverein kept getting smaller as snow was packed around the outside. The wind kept blowing the dancers off their pattern and a decision was made by the referee to postpone the final dance, the Tango, until the following day. Despite the trials and tribulations, Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy managed to take a commanding unanimous lead in the first phase of the competition over two other British couples, Pamela Weight and Paul Thomas and Barbara Radford and Raymond Lockwood. Three American teams, Carmel and Edward Bodel of Berkeley, California, Joan Zamboni and Roland Janso of Los Angeles and Phyllis and Martin Forney of Hershey, Pennsylvania, sat in fourth, fifth and sixth places.


Westwood and Demmy's luck didn't last. In the warm-up prior to the free dance, they had a collision with another team. Westwood was knocked unconscious and attended to by doctors. Demmy left the ice. Mere minutes later, they returned to capture their fifth and final World title, if you count the 'unofficial' dance competition held at the 1951 World Championships... which you really should. The French and British judges actually tied Westwood and Demmy and Weight and Thomas in the free dance, but with compulsories counting for sixty percent of the score, you could hardly call things close. Radford and Lockwood took the bronze in what was the first British sweep of the medals at the World Championships in any discipline.

Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy in 1955. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Skating to a Wurtlizer organ rendition of Ray Henderson's "The Birth of the Blues", Canada's Lindis and Jeffrey Johnston placed a disappointing eleventh, with marks in the free dance that ranged from eighth to fifteenth place. One of the factors that may have hurt them was the fact that year was the first time the free dance was included at the Canadian Championships. The Johnston siblings actually won the 1955 Canadian title on the strength of their compulsories, having received only one first place ordinal in the free dance.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Hayes Alan Jenkins signing autographs. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

The men's school figures were skated in high winds and freezing temperatures. Frequently, skaters were thrown off balance by gusts of wind. One skater was even almost brought to a standstill when the winds faced him. All but the French judge had twenty-two year old college student Hayes Alan Jenkins, the two-time defending World Champion, in first. The one vote Jenkins didn't receive went to France's Alain Giletti, who finished second, some thirty points ahead of another American, Ronnie Robertson. 1936 Olympic Gold Medallist Karl Schäfer was in attendance, pointing out that though the weather conditions were less than ideal, they were the test of a good skater. Schäfer remarked, "Skating is, after all, a winter sport."


The winds prevailed during the men's free skate as well. Hayes Alan Jenkins recalled, "You had to really push and pump if you were going upwind; if you had it downwind it pushed you to the opposite end of the rink too fast. You tried to jump at an angle so you didn't jump directly into the wind. You made those adjustments constantly and instinctively." David Jenkins remembered, "The wind used to whistle through the stadium so that skating against it was like trying to skate up a mountain... The ice sometimes got so cold that it... cracked, leaving cracks an inch or so wide."

Skating a technically demanding program brilliantly, Ronnie Robertson received first place marks across the board in the free skate... including a perfect 6.0. Skating to Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", Hayes Alan Jenkins also delivered an outstanding performance, as did his fourteen year old brother David. All three earned standing ovations for their efforts. Robertson wasn't able to make up enough ground to unseat Hayes Alan Jenkins and finished second in the second American sweep of the men's podium at Worlds in history, the first being in 1952 in Paris when Hayes won the bronze behind Dick Button and Jimmy Grogan. All three of the 1955 medallists were coached by Edi Scholdan at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. With three mistakes, Giletti dropped from second to fourth with ordinals as low as tenth and eleventh in the free skate from the West German and Czechoslovakian judges. Karol Divín of Czechoslovakia, in his first appearance at the World Championships, placed an impressive fifth. Canada's sole representative in the men's event, Charles Snelling, placed eighth behind British skater Michael Booker and Austria's Norbert Felsinger.

Ronnie Robertson. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Following the men's event, a correspondent for the "Neue Wiener Tageszeitung" made a point of criticizing the American men for the difficulty they faced in contending with the inclement weather. They wrote, "In the western world ice skating has turned into something that is done in heated and air-conditioned hall rinks. Ice skaters, therefore, are more like hot house plants than winter sportsmen. In the rough winter air, the enthusiasm of the Americans wilted away, and they did not feel so much like showing their high class skating. When gusts of wind swept over the ice during the performance of the second school figures the boys, who are used to drawing their circles without interference, were desperate. On the other hand, the Central European open air ice rink skaters, put up quite well with the unsatisfactory conditions."

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION


After winning the World title in 1953 at the age of seventeen, Tenley Albright of Newton, Massachusetts lost her World title in 1954 to West Germany's Gundi Busch. Though Busch had since turned professional, Albright wasn't without her challengers in Vienna. In addition to Ingrid Wendl and Hanna Eigel, two young specialists in compulsory figures from Austria, the pre-med student faced stiff competition from her fifteen year old American teammate Carol Heiss. However, in the figures, Albright took a commanding fifty point lead over Eigel and Wendl... and Heiss placed fifth.

Judges closely examining one of the women's school figures. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

In the free skate, Albright skated brilliantly to Mischa Spoliansky's score from the 1948 film "Idol of Paris", earning several 5.9's and over one hundred and ninety points. Unanimously first on every judge's scorecard in both the figures and free skating, she reclaimed her spot at the top of the World podium in one of the most resounding wins of her career. Following the competition, she announced, "It is the biggest thrill of my life. Losing something makes you appreciate it all the more."

Top: Carol Heiss, Tenley Albright and Hanna Eigel. Bottom: Tenley Albright. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

The skaters ranked second through tenth were separated by less than eleven points. Heiss, a student of Pierre Brunet, moved up from fifth to earn the silver with an outstanding free skating performance that included a double Axel. The fact she was only ten points behind Albright overall was a credit to her ability as a free skater. Heiss' mother had made the trip to Vienna despite just getting out of the hospital, where she'd had cancer-related surgery. She was in tremendous pain but never missed a single practice. That April, she went back to the hospital for another operation. She passed away in October of 1956, having had the opportunity to see Carol win her first World title live the following year. 

Hanna Eigel took the bronze, less than two points ahead of Ingrid Wendl. Erica Batchelor, who finished fifth, received a third place ordinal from the American judge, while Carole Jane Pachl, who finished sixth, received a third place ordinal from the Canadian judge. Canadian reporters felt that the fact that Pachl had drawn first to skate in her group had made the difference between her finishing third and sixth. While in Vienna, she received an offer to turn professional and skate in one of the British ice pantomimes, which she promptly declined as she wanted to compete in the 1956 Winter Olympics. Tacoma, Washington's Patricia Firth finished seventh, ahead of the UK's Yvonne Sugden, Canada's Ann Johnston and California's Catherine Machado. Holland's Sjoujke Dijkstra placed dead last in her first trip to the World Championships, but caught the eye of the Canadian and American judges, who had her thirteenth and fourteenth.


Miroslava Nachodská

After the competition, Czechoslovakian skater Miroslava Nachodská told Soviet guards she "only wanted to go out and buy a lipstick". Instead, she took a taxi to the city's American Refugee Center, with a plan of defecting to America. In a press conference after her defection she said, "In Czechoslovakia I might be considered as having had everything a person could hope for. Like few others in the country, I was well paid, I could travel, I could sometimes buy things abroad. I was nationally known. I had everything but freedom and security. I felt like a bird in a cage who had the freedom to move about the cage, but not beyond... [Defecting at Worlds] was my big chance because I was not considered politically reliable and had not been permitted to perform in the West since 1947." Maribel Vinson Owen's student Dudley Richards, on leave from performing at the Casa Carioca in Garmisch-Partenkirchen as part of his service with the U.S. military, helped sneak Nachodská out of the city to Linz and got her a job in the revue. The incident had long-reaching implications. The following year when the American team came to Europe to compete in the Olympics and Worlds, they were hassled by Communist officials at the airport "in retribution" for Nachodská's defection. A complaint had to be lodged with the Czechoslovakian federation. Senator (later President) John F. Kennedy investigated the incident.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Though they tied in ordinal placings, Canada's Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden beat Austria's Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt by one sixth of a point in a five-four split of the judges panel in the pairs event. Newspapers claimed it was "the closest margin ever recorded in world competition". Hungarian siblings Marianna and László Nagy took the bronze medal ahead of Americans Carole Ann Ormaca and Robin Greiner and Canadians Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul. The Czechoslovakian pair of Věra Suchánková and Zdeněk Doležal, who placed sixth, received the most wide-ranging marks in the event. The Czechoslovakian judge had them third, while the Italian judge had them twelfth and dead last.

Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul

As in the other disciplines, the pairs contended with some pretty hellish weather conditions, including icy wind and pelting snow. Frances Dafoe recalled, "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."

Despite the fact that the Austrians suffered a fall late in their program, the Viennese press was infuriated by Schwarz and Oppelt's loss. The Communist newspaper "Der Abend" even went so far as to headline one news article "Scandal In The Figure Skating Championships" and write that the Austrians were "the real champions" and that the American had been hailed with snowballs. There certainly was enough snow around that the audience wouldn't have had to look far to make that happen, so who knows?

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Following the competition, a number of the competitors including Dafoe and Bowden went on an exhibition tour of Europe. Skaters performed in three Swiss cities, two Italian cities and Paris, France. After returning, Dafoe and Bowden skated in several carnivals and defended their North American title. With the 1956 Winter Olympic Games fast approaching, the best skaters of 'the Atomic age' barely had time to sit down.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html

Howard Bass, Skating Scribe


"You can never stop learning about skating. It is highly specialized and progressively fascinating the more one gets to know it." - Howard Bass, "This Skating Age", 1958

Born October 28, 1921 in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, England, Howard Bass happened upon skating almost by accident. At the age of nineteen, he was an instructor in the Royal Air Force when Bournemouth's Westover Ice Rink was requisitioned to train pilots. He worked the night shift and slept during in the day in the office of the rink's manager. His 'bedside reading' was a stack of discarded issues of "The Skating Times". He fell in love with the sport, which he had only been briefly exposed to in a trip to Switzerland just prior to the outbreak of World War II.


Howard later recalled, "Towards the end of the war, with victory in sight, my job in Germany became redundant and I spent the final month of mobilization at Bückeberg as an R.A.F. educational teacher in English and journalism, at the same time editing the 'B.A.F.O. Times' newspaper for the British Air Forces Overseas. In the latter capacity I had a W.A.A.F. sargeant interpreter, Marion Schreiber, to assist my dealings with German printers. I wrote to several celebrities for articles, and one of these was Cecilia Colledge. She responded admirably with an interesting feature about skating and subsequently invited me to see her when on leave. So, by pure chance, having already befriended Graham Sharp at Bournemouth, the only two skaters I knew in the world, and with whom I now found myself on excellent terms, were also formed World Champions."

When Howard was on a leave in England, he met Bob Giddens, the editor of "Ice Hockey World" magazine. Giddens invited him to freelance, editing a page on professional skating. One of his first assignments was a trip to the Empire Pool, Wembley. While interviewing Herbert Alward, who had won the bronze medals at the 1938 European and World Championships, he was introduced to his interview subject's wife. She was Marion Schreiber, the sargeant interpreter he'd worked with in Germany.

In the post-War years, Howard emerged as one of the most active sportswriters in England. Covering skiing and hockey but primarily figure skating, he founded a publishing company with his father and produced and edited three magazines - "The Skater", "The Skater, Skier and Ice Hockey Player" and "Winter Sports". In the years that followed, he served as the winter sports correspondent for the "Daily Telegraph", "Evening Standard" and the American magazine "Christian Science Monitor". He also penned entries on figure skating for the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" and "Guinness Book of Records" and produced The Skater's Radio Programme for Radio Luxembourg. He was one of only a handful of journalists to extensivelly travel around the world to provide international coverage of figure skating in the fifties and sixties. His reports on international competitions, which also appeared in "Skating" and "Skating World" magazines, serve as some of the most detailed accounts of these competitions we have today.

Brenda Williams, Jennifer Williams, Pamela Davis, Alex Gordon, Leslie Tear, Courtney Jones, Kathleen Warne, Howard Bass, Diana Kingswood, Antony Swaine and Veronica Blunt. Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine.

Over a career that spanned over five decades, Howard wrote prolifically about figure skating. He penned nearly a dozen books on the subject, including "Winter Sports", "Success In Ice Skating", "Encyclopaedia of Winter Sports", "Let's Go Skating", "Tackle Skating" and an excellent biography of Robin Cousins. British skater Erica Batchelor once remarked, "Howard Bass... indeed seems to be every skater's friend... His uncanny understanding of skaters' problems and feelings has been acquired, no doubt, through knowing so many leading performers, whose trust he seems easily to win and never to betray. I learned a long time ago that he never prints anything told in confidence - and of how many writers may that be said truthfully!" Though he admirably never 'scooped' information skaters asked him not to, he was one of the first to tackle one issue head-on that few other sportswriters dared touch with a ten foot pole - the financial hardships skaters faced under the ISU's strict rules of amateurism. He had no qualms with calling English politicians out for not investing in their country's athletes. In 1963, he quipped, "The time has come when British sportsmen should no longer have to suffer the indignity of appearing the 'poor relation'."

Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine

Sadly, Howard's five-year military service during World War II thwarted his own skating dreams. He felt he started skating "too late to be seriously ambitious" and in 1966 remarked, "The opportunities [to skate] are now so few that, when I do escape and dare to perform in public, initial shakiness surely inspires the justified observation, 'And he actually has the nerve to write about it!' So let it be stressed that I am not a star performer but can claim to have spoken and virtually eaten and slept constantly in a winter sports environment throughout the post-war years, enjoying the good fortune to pick very many of the most expert brains. I have witnessed championships, competitions, exhibitions, galas and matches galore, organizing and even compèring some of them. I have learned to recognize the ecstasies, hazards and pitfalls while in the company of the greatest and smallest, and enjoyed rewarding pleasure through being able to accelerate and simplify the progress of new adherents by passing on the wisdom gained from their predecessors. Winter sports enthusiasts are the most unique community in the world, the most fanatical about their respective arts and partly, because of that, the most difficult to understand and misunderstand. Only years of long experience in their company and atmosphere can possibly enable one to appreciate their ways and outlook."


An extremely important contribution to skating that Howard made that is often overlooked was his work in founding the International Figure Skating Writers' Association. The international co-operative of journalists was founded in March of 1965 at the World Championships of Colorado Springs with the aim of keeping "the world's leading specialized newspaper correspondents in touch with round-the-world ice news." Howard served on the Board Of Directors, along with Canadian journalists George Gross and Brian Pound and American sports editor Lee Meade. Without the Association's efforts, the quantity and quality of figure skating coverage in print and radio in the sixties and seventies would likely have been diminished.




Howard passed away on October 30, 2007, two days after his eighty-sixth birthday. Though he always wanted to stay out of the limelight, his important contributions to figure skating absolutely deserve our respect and admiration.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html

St. Paul's Prodigy: The Robin Lee Story

Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library

"It takes nerve and stamina to be a good figure skater." - Robin Lee, "Jamestown Evening Journal", January 12, 1939

The only child of Martha (Schroeder) and Ayner Robert 'A.R.' Lee, Robin Huntington Lee was born December 2, 1919 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He grew up on St. Anthony Avenue, a stone's throw from Concordia University. His father was a telegraph operator with the Northern Pacific railroad who moonlighted as a figure skating instructor and salesman for the Olympiad Skate Company. His Norwegian born grandfather Knut was a machine operator in a shoe factory. His uncle Arthur was a well-known sculptor who travelled abroad on a Guggenheim fellowship. After his mother died when he was six following a long illness, his father decided to make him "a little sportsman".

Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

As a boy, blonde-haired, blue eyed Robin golfed, swam, played tennis and attended Mattock Grammar School. He started skating at the age of four on a St. Paul pond wearing a pair of double runners. In no time, the double runners were shelved in favour of a pair of Olympiad skates. Coached by his 'pop', also an accomplished skater and mentored by Chris Christenson and A.C. Bennett, Robin was a fast learner on the ice despite his diminutive size. He later recalled, "I never would have been a champion at all if if hadn't been for Dad. Until I was ten I had no ideas about being a figure skater. But Dad had the ideas and they were serious." Some of Robin's father's ideas were rather unorthodox. In "Skating" magazine in 1996, Robin remembered, "My father took me secretly out on a frozen lake with a couple of nails and a piece of light rope. We drew circles onto the ice. I tried to trace them (it was so windy that I was blown all over the place and we gave up on it). It was the forerunner of the 'scribe' but we didn't know that at the time."


Quoted in "Skating" magazine, Chris Christenson remarked, "He has a rare ability for a boy of his age, being proficient in many sports. He won the Junior Golf Championship of St. Paul... and took second prize in a swimming meet, competing against boys twice is size. He was picked as the best boy singer from a number of different schools to sing at a teachers' convention here. He is also a very good piano player but does not take much interest in either the piano or singing. All these activities have not interfered with his school work for he passes his examinations with better than average marks. He is a modest young man, and his athletic ability has not spoiled him as it does so many young people. He has confidence in his own powers and lots of determination to win."


Left: Audrey Peppe and Robin Lee in 1931. Right: Robin Lee holding a golf club. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library.

Robin's father told reporters, "Get 'em while they're young and start teaching 'em: that's the way to make a champion. Experts have told me my boy is one in a million. Maybe he'll get there eventually if he keeps at it. He likes skating - likes it about as much as golf. I picked out those sports for him because a person can get a lot of fun out of them, and they are the two sports that wear best: you can last a long time in each, and the sooner you start in 'em the better."


Right photo courtesy Hennepin County Library

Unlike many 'hothouse' skaters who weren't accustomed to skating outside, Robin had the advantage of much experience skating outdoors in The Twin Cities, as well as in indoor rinks with less than pleasant conditions. His future student Dorothy Snell recalled, "Though under cover and protected from wind or snow, indoor rinks in the Twin Cities lacked equipment until the mid-thirties to freeze water artificially. The cold in these places was outrageous. Heavily wrapped against it, one was too constricted to move well; lightly wrapped and one was too cold. I remember once dashing out to the center of the rink amongst the circling long bladers and carelessly brushing up against one of them. Unhurt, we both went on skating. Later in the warming room for a routine count of fingers and toes, I discovered I had been cut because as my skin approached normal temperature, a small wound in my leg began to bleed... While free skating, we could warm up enough to overcome the inhibiting nature of cold muscles, but school figures, executed with far less exertion and pace, were not comfortably practiced for long at low temperatures. On the other hand, skating on natural ice may have offered training advantage in that the skater had to work harder in cold temperatures to overcome the resistance to the blades than was necessary on artificial ice in air temperatures of 350-400 F. where a moistened surface reduced resistance."


At the age of eleven, Robin claimed the Minnesota state title in Mankato despite abysmal outdoor ice conditions, the first such championship held in the Midwest under USFSA rules. The following year, he became the youngest skater in history to win the U.S. junior title. All of his competitors were in their twenties and thirties.

Sonja Henie and Robin Lee. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library.

Later that year, twelve year old Robin had the valuable experience of competing in the World Championships in Montreal. His father couldn't make the trip, so he travelled by train alone, with one of his father's friends keeping an eye on him. He placed dead last but showed great promise for the future.

Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

At thirteen, Robin struck gold at the first Midwestern Championships in St. Louis and finished third at both the U.S. and North American Championships. The next year, he took the Middle Atlantic senior title and finished second in the senior men's event at the U.S. Championships by less than a point.

Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library

Robin won his first of five consecutive U.S. senior men's titles in 1935 at the age of fifteen, unseating defending Champion Roger Turner, who was more than twice his age. He made history as the youngest U.S. Champion in history and as the first man to unseat a seven time U.S. Champion. That winter, he also finished second at the North American Championships.

Robin Lee and Maribel Vinson Owen. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library.

Robin was praised by Maribel Vinson Owen for his especially well done mazurka, walley and loop jumps. He had also had a Lutz, Axel, double Salchow and double loop in his repertoire and came up with his own free skating choreography, skating as Robin Hood and performing a German slap dance. His father once described him as "a funny kid. Right now I think he'd rather be over there helping those fellows smooth the ice with those trick scrapers. Always into something new... Maybe he doesn't take a bath just as often as he might, because I don't keep after him. Maybe he doesn't eat his spinach or get as many spankings as he might - but he's getting the big things."

A.R. and Robin Lee. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library.

Prior to winning his first U.S. senior men's title, Robin had left Minnesota to train in New York under World Champion Willy Böckl, first living with his uncle in lower Manhattan and attending a public school and later moving in with his aunt and transferring to Erasmus High School. 

Robin Lee. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library.

Robin's move east resulted in heaps of publicity, largely due to his age and likability. When he appeared on "The Kate Smith Hour", The First Lady Of American Radio introduced him by saying, "He has that odd but romantic name of Robin." He answered, "It seems to me that the way you sing, so nicely, your name should be 'Robin' instead of mine."

Right photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Robin's results at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games and World Championships - twelfth and eighth - were somewhat disappointing, but he missed valuable training time in the lead-up to his trip to Europe due to a serious case of 'the grippe' (the flu). In an interview in "Skating" magazine in 1991, he recalled, "I remember seeing Hitler and Goering in the stands, and having to squeeze up against buildings in Garmisch while tanks and groups of German soldiers came up narrow alleys... The wind snow and ice conditions kept me down to twelfth... place. Luck and weather were important back in the days of outdoor ice. You could start a figure at the right speed, and a gust of wind might bring you to a complete stop."

Left: Robin Lee and Joan Tozzer at the 1938 U.S. Championships. Right: Robin Lee. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

An injury prevented Robin from vying for the 1937 North American title, but he did manage to reclaim the silver at the event in 1939 and win the Midwestern men's title in 1937, 1938 and 1939. At this point in his career, he was training in Chicago with Norval Baptie and Karl Schäfer, the winner of the 1936 Winter Olympics who had since turned professional. He mastered three different double jumps: the Salchow, toe-loop and loop.

Left: Arthur Vaughn Jr., Jane Vaughn Sullivan, Gene Turner, Donna Atwood and Robin Lee. Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide". Right: Belita Jepson-Turner and Robin Lee.

Robin was named to the 1940 Olympic team, but when the Games were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War II. He decided to turn professional and accept an offer teaching skating at the Winnipeg Winter Club. When his contract at the Manitoba club ended, he toured with the Ice Capades alongside Belita Jepson-Turner and Megan and Phil Taylor. 

A.R. and Robin Lee. Photo courtesy Hennepin County Library.

Try as he might, Robin couldn't escape the press in 1942, when his then sixty year old father was arrested for second degree assault after stabbing his twenty-nine year old housekeeper Elizabeth Birch multiple times in his St. Paul apartment during an argument. It was just months after Robin had married his sweetheart, an Ice Capades skater named Betty Brown.

Top: Robin Lee and Bobby Specht in the military. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Bottom: Robin Lee's draft card.

After three years of service as a Boatswain's Mate on a destroyer in the United States Navy, Robin was discharged from the military when the ship that he was on hit a reef off of Okinawa, Japan. 

John Nightingale, Robin Lee and Janet Gerhauser. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Robin returned to America and joined the cast of the Ice Cycles in 1946. In an era when many men still skated in blacks, whites and greys, Robin performed in a scarlet jacket and azure blue tie. He stopped performing in the late forties, became a father and stepfather and embarked on a lengthy career teaching skating in Chicago and the Twin Cities. Among his students were Janet Gerhauser and John Nightingale, Olympians in 1952.

Photo courtesy Minnesota Sports Hall of Fame

In 1963, Robin was inducted into the Minnesota Sports Hall Of Fame. He retired from coaching in 1991 and was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1995. He passed away of bone cancer on October 8, 1997 in Minneapolis at the age of seventy-seven.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.