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The 1981 World Junior Figure Skating Championships

This week in Debrecen, Hungary, skaters from Israel, the Czech Republic, Japan and America won gold medals at the 2016 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. Today on Skate Guard, we will set the time machine for thirty six years ago, when the best young skaters in the world converged on the Thompson Arena at the University Of Western Ontario in London, Ontario for the 1981 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. It was the second World Junior Championships held that year and the first time in history that the event would ever be held on North American soil. Let's explore some of the stories that made this event particularly memorable!


In the short program, Lori Baier of Mitchell, Ontario and Lloyd Eisler of Seaforth, Ontario finished third behind defending World Junior Champions Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov and their Soviet teammates Marina Nikituk and Rashid Kadyrkaev. Although Selezneva and Makarov pretty much had a lock on gold (and DID win with a spectacular free skate), when Kadyrkaev injured himself in a practice session the day of the free skate, a door was opened for Baier and Eisler. They skated right through it with a flawless free skate that featured two back to back throw double Axel's early in the program. They moved up to second place ahead of Nikituk and Kadyrkaev with 3.2 points to the Soviet's 3.8.  In a Globe And Mail interview, Eisler said, "Tonight is the best we've ever skated. That's all that really matters. It is especially important to skate well in front of the home crowd. After we did the two throw double Axels, it felt really good and I knew we were on our way."


The ice dancers had a terrible go of things in London right off the bat in 1980. Defending sixteen year old champion Elena Batanova arrived from Moscow with her partner Alexei Soloviev... and a suitcase full of men's shirts and slacks. The compulsory dances were delayed by thirty five minutes due to a blinding snowstorm and many skaters arrived late, taking shuttle buses from the hotel which was usually only fifteen minutes away. Despite having to borrow costumes, Batanova and Soloviev skated to a convincing lead in the two compulsory dances skated - the European Waltz and Paso Doble - ahead of teammates Natalia Annenko and Vadim Karkatchev. Canadian siblings Karyn and Rod Garossino of the Calalta Figure Skating Club finished a strong third despite some peculiarly generous judging of the Soviet teams by the Eastern bloc judges. The Soviet judge gave Batanova and Soloviev a 5.3; all other marks were in the 4's. Despite slightly faltering in their OSP, a Middle Eastern belly dance themed program that would have been quite ahead of its time for a original set pattern dance, Batanova and Soloviev maintained their lead ahead of Annenko and Karkatchev and the Garossino's. In good ice dance judging fashion, the results of the twelve couples offered very little movement. You know how that story goes. The Garossino's, who worked with Sandra Bezic on their choreography for this event, captured the bronze medal overall behind their Soviet competitors. Lynn Copley-Graves, in her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", shed light on the free dance: "[Batanova and Soloviev] moved lightly in the free, with not much speed or edge, but with the musical interpretation and choreography so characteristic of Soviet ice dancers. For example, Alexei caressed Elena's boot and she clung to his neck and swung her legs from side to side. Elena, Alexei, and the second-placed Soviets... entertained with mime movements. The enthusiasm of these two couples drew in the crowd. Karyn and Rod Garossino, 15 and 17, coached by Michael Jiranek and Roy Bradshaw, looked elegant while skating their first free dance in competition and were surprised to receive a medal. Under the new marking system, the free dance carried more weight, allowing the third Soviet couple, Tatiana Gladkova and Igor Shpilband, to overtake Sophie Schmidt and Eric Desplats from France. Sophie and Eric would have had a large enough lead to hold fifth under the old system."


Fourteen year old Swiss Champion Oliver Höner, the winner of the school figures in the previous World Junior Championships in Megève, France (held in January 1980), once again claimed an early lead in the competition's first phase with a four/three split from the judging panel. In second with first place marks from the West German and American judges was a young Paul Wylie; in third with a first place nod from the Austrian judge was Scott Williams. Soviet skater Yuri Bureiko was in fourth and Japan's Masaru Ogawa fifth. Although Neil Giroday of the North Shore Winter Club had won the junior men's event at the Canadian Championships held earlier that year, strangely the CFSA decided not to send a single men's entry to the international competition held in their own country although they had two spots. An interesting note regarding the figures events in London that year would have to be the fact that the ISU tested an adaptation of its scoring system adopted on December 1, 1980. In essence, a 0.6 factor was given to the winner of figures, a 1.2 mark was given to the second place finisher, 1.8 to the third and so on. This mark was added to a 0.4 factor for the short program and a 1.0 for the free skate to give a skater a total of 2.0 points if they won all three rounds of competition. Then ISU honorary vice president John Shoemaker explained the changes in a December 11, 1980 interview in The Globe And Mail: "The new system reflects a desire to give good free skaters a more realistic chance to win, This is an attempt to have the results actually reflect the 30 per cent mark (for figures), 20 per cent (for the short program) and 50 per cent (free skating). In the past, the figures' weight could work out to as much as 70 per cent." In the short program, Paul Wylie skated clean, landing a double Axel/double loop combination to snatch the lead. Scott Williams moved up to second and Yuri Bureiko to third. Höner dropped all the way down to sixth. In the final phase of the competition, Wylie was again brilliant, landing two triple toe-loops and several double axels. His only mistake was a popped triple Salchow attempt. Bureiko won the silver, coming out incredibly strong but fading later in his program. Scott Williams, who was struggling with a back injury, dropped to third and had to be helped to the dressing room after his performance although he did recover sufficiently to accept his medal.


In the school figures, sixteen year old Andrea Rohm of Vienna (a student of 1968 Olympic Gold Medallist Wolfgang Schwarz) dominated the the rocker, change bracket and back outside loop, receiving marks of 3.5 and 3.6; the highest given during the event. Following in the standings were West Germany's Cornelia Tesch in second, American Maria Causey in third, Marina Serova of the Soviet Union in fourth, Canada's Diane Ogibowski in fifth and West Germany's Eva Drometer in sixth. Canada's second entry, Charlene Wong of Pierrefonds, Quebec was thirteenth. Sparing any modesty, Schwarz told reporters that Rohm was "following in the tradition of excellent Austrian school figure skaters such as myself, Emmerich Danzer, Trixi Schuba and [Regine Heitzer]." After the short program, Serova and Tesch were tied with the overall lead after placing first and fourth in their efforts. An article in the December 13, 1980 Globe And Mail explains that "they were followed by Maria Causey of the United States, Tiffany Chin of the United States, and Ogibowski. Andrea Rohm of Austria, the leader after the compulsory figures, faltered badly after the short program, missing two of the seven required elements and managed only a 15th-place finish; that dropped her to sixth over all and probably out of medal contention. The other Canadian entry, Charlene Wong of Pierrefonds, Que., performed flawlessly, finishing sixth in the short and moving up to ninth over all. Ogibowski, the current Canadian novice champion, elected to do her combination jump, a difficult double Axel-double loop near the end of her program. Ogibowski overrotated the double Axel and fell on the double-loop attempt. Wong, whose goal is to finish in the top five over all, did the same combination, but made it the second element. 'The double Axel has always been one of my strongest jumps, so it was natural to put it into the combination. The reason that I do it near the beginning is because I like to get one jump in first to warm up.' Her only mistake was a shaky landing on a double Lutz. Serova, who won the short program with a faultless performance, was fourth after the figures. Chin, a tiny 70-pounder from San Diego, Calif., made the biggest move, vaulting from eighth to fourth over all on the strength of a second-place performance in the short program."

In a remarkable come from behind win, American Tiffany Chin took the gold medal in the women's event, ahead of Serova and a second Soviet skater who made up some serious ground in the free skate, young Alexei Mishin student Anna Antonova. The December 15, 1980 issue of The Globe And Mail explained how it all went down: "Chin, a 4-foot-8, 70-pounder from San Diego, Calif., completed her rise from eight after the compulsory figures with an almost flawless free-skating performance. Her only fluff came on an attempted triple Salchow jump - a move not included in her program, but inserted on a whim when everything was going so well during her three-minute performance. Neither Chin nor her coach, Frank Carroll, had set any goals of winning a medal. 'I knew that I had a terribly talented child who could win if she were to skate well,' Carroll said. There are very few her age in the world so talented. I have learned, though, never to expect anything, so we didn't set any goals." Carroll, who coached Linda Fratianne to world titles in 1977 and 1979, has coached Chin for three of the four years she has been skating. Ogibowski miscued twice during her free skating, falling on a triple Salchow during the slow part of her program and on a double Axel near the end. She said afterward that she probably will make some changes in her training techniques, especially her compulsory figures. Ironically, she placed fifth in the figures, a surprise because they are considered her weakness. 'I'm not too disappointed with my showing here, but there will be some changes when I get back home. My figures need more time and I've never had a short program before. I have thought a lot about moving to Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver for more ice time and training, but I get lots of ice time in Minnedosa. As long as I train properly and don't goof off, I'll be able to improve.' Despite the excellent showing by Chin, Midori Ito, an 11-year-old and, at 3 feet 11, the smallest skater in the competition, stole the show. Ito, from Nagoya, Japan, jumped from 20th after the figures to eighth [overall] with a dazzling display in the free skating. Ito drew top marks from the judges to win that portion of the competition and a standing ovation from the crowd."

It would seem few international competitions from the eighties would be complete without a story of Midori Ito rallying an impressive comeback in the free skate. It's interesting to note that thirty six years later, yet another young woman from Japan - Marin Honda of Osaka - stole the show at the very same competition. As Shirley Bassey once fabulously sang, "it's all just a little bit of history repeating".

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 the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":