The 1965 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

In the years that followed the Sabena Crash that claimed the lives of the entire U.S. figure skating team, the American media largely centred its narrative on figure skating on loss, not on rebirth. Yet, at the 1965 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, held from February 10 to 13, 1965 at the very arena where Sonja Henie had claimed her second of three Olympic gold medals, it was clear that a new generation of stars had incredibly already emerged. More than one hundred skaters representing clubs from sea to shining sea descended upon the Jack Shea Arena that February, each with their own hopes, dreams and unique stories. Let's take a look back at how it all played out!


Paul McGrath and Robert Black

Competitions in novice pairs and ice dance were not yet included on the ticket at the U.S. Championships, but young Julie Lynn Holmes dazzled in the novice women's event, fending off challenges from Coco Gram and Nancy Brunnckow to claim the gold medal in that event. Roger Bass claimed the gold and Christopher Young the bronze in the novice men's event, but the real star was thirteen year old Atoy Wilson, the son of a Los Angeles Parks and Recreation Department supervisor. Wilson, who had taken from Peter Betts and Mabel Fairbanks, claimed the silver medal and in doing so was the first African American skater in history to both compete and medal at the U.S. Championships. As an unfortunate testament to the language and sentiment of the time, in a February 10, 1965 article in "The Leader-Herald", coach Nancy Rush praised Wilson thusly: "He can skate good figures and he is a very good free skater. He has all the jumps and a very nice style. If a Negro is going to make it, Atoy is the one." Twelve year old Paige Paulsen and fourteen year old Larry Dusich of Pasadena defeated Susie Berens and Roy Charles Wagelein to win the junior pairs title. Sixteen year old Betty Lewis and twenty one year old Richard Gilbert of Boston claimed the bronze ahead of Sharon Bates and Richard Inglesi of Oakland. Bates redeemed herself by maintaining an early lead in figures to win the junior women's event ahead of sixteen year old Pamela Schneider of Lincroft, New Jersey and seventeen year old Sondra Lee Holmes of Artesia, California. Finishing eighth of nine skaters in Lake Placid that year was a young Janet Lynn. In the Silver (junior) dance event, eighteen year olds Kathy Flaherty and Roger Berry of La Crescenta and Los Angeles, California moved up to defeat compulsory dance winners Sandra Schwomeyer and James Pennington. Dolly Rodenbaugh and Thomas Lescinski of Pittsburgh took the bronze. In the junior men's competition, fifteen year old Robert Black of Melrose, Massachusetts lead after the figures but was overtaken in the free skate by eighteen year old Paul McGrath of Jamaica Plains, Massachusetts. Ron Frank took the bronze and a young John Misha Petkevich placed fifth.


After winning the 1963 and 1964 U.S. pairs titles, Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill had retired. Highland Park, Illinois siblings Vivian and Ronald Joseph had been runners-up to the Fotheringill's the two previous years and were favoured heavily to ascend to the top of the podium. Ronald was a pre-med major at Northwestern University in Chicago; Vivian was a high school junior. Their mother had enrolled them in skating lessons together when they were youngsters when Ronald wanted to play hockey but needed to learn how to skate first. With outstanding poise and precision, the Joseph's easily bested Cynthia and Ronald Kauffman of Seattle, Washington and Joanne Heckert and Gary Clark of East Lansing, Michigan to win their first and only U.S. pairs title.


The defending men's champion, fifteen year old Scotty Allen of Smoke Rise, New Jersey, was considered the skater to beat in his training base of Lake Placid. However, in the school figures Gary Visconti built an early lead over Allen. The reigning Olympic Bronze Medallist fought back in the latter figures but it just wasn't enough. Visconti took first place with eight ordinal placements and two firsts, three seconds; Allen second with two firsts, a second, and two fourths. Sixteen year old Tim Wood and seventeen year old Duane Maki, both from Detroit, placed third and fourth. In the free skate, Allen landed a triple Salchow but fell on a triple loop attempt. Visconti didn't attempt the loop, but skated a flawless performance and earned a standing ovation from the capacity crowd of two thousand spectators. The five judges split the first place marks, with Visconti earning three firsts and two seconds; Allen two firsts, a second and two thirds. Tim Wood took the bronze, ahead of Duane Maki, Billy Chapel of Hollywood, Buddy Zack of Chicago and Richard Callaghan of Rochester. I spoke with Visconti about the event in September 2016.  "I was going against Scott Ethan Allen in New York. He was third at the Olympics and the Worlds and he was the shining little boy. I won the figures and he came second. I remember my Mom was sitting up in the bleachers and Mrs. Allen was behind her. She said to my mother, 'Oh, Gary's doing so wonderful! He's going to be an easy second.' And my mother said, 'Oh, THANK you.' My mother didn't care. The next night was freestyle and everyone said, 'Gary, we're glad you won figures but you know you're going to be second tomorrow, right?' I said, 'Yeah, that's okay. That's fine.' So I skated second to last and he skated last and I did fine. I did a good job and he did a good job but I won... And then everyone said it was a big fluke that I had won."


The defending champions, Darlene Streich and Bucky Fetter Jr., had retired and Lorna Dyer and John Carrell, ranked fifth in the world, were heavily favoured to win their first U.S. Gold Dance title after placing third the two years previous. That's not exactly how it all panned out. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Skating in their smooth an unaffected style, Kristin Fortune and Dennis Sveum beat the established couple, Lorna Dyer and John Carrell. Jean Westwood coached the first two couples in Championship Dance. They and the top Silver Dance couples all came from Los Angeles. Stanley Urban's injury had healed, but Sally Schantz turned pro, so Stan skated with his sister and ended third for the Buffalo SC. Carole MacSween and Bob Munz, second in 1964, could do no better than fourth because Carole had missed so much training time with her broken leg." Wilma Piper and Thomas Easton and Janet and Nicholas Burhans took the bottom two slots in the standings.


Left: Christine Haigler. Right: Peggy Fleming.

Eight women contested the senior women's title in Lake Placid and sixteen year old Peggy Fleming of Pasadena, representing the Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club, was considered by insiders as a sure bet to defend the national title she had won the year prior in Cleveland. Fleming took a strong lead early in the school figures but seventeen year old Christine Haigler of Colorado Springs, who had received medical attention after two bad falls in a free skating practice earlier in the week, rallied from behind to grab a narrow lead. Both skaters had eight ordinals. Haigler had three firsts, a second and a third, while Fleming had two firsts and three seconds. Sixteen year old Tina Noyes of Arlington, Massachusetts was third; sixteen year old Carol S. Noir of East Orange, New Jersey fourth.

In the free skate, Haigler's practice injury was evident as she fell thrice and was not up to her usual snuff. Noyes skated a clean performance with a fine double Axel but Fleming's dazzling display, replete with double Axels and Lutzes, was deemed by the judges as the skate of the evening. Her marks ranged from 5.4 to 5.9 and she was first on every judge's scorecard. Overall, Haigler had three second place ordinals, a third and a fourth, while Noyes had two seconds and three thirds. Under the factored scoring system, Haigler got the nod over Noyes for the silver behind Fleming. Myrna Bodek overtook Carol S. Noir to place fourth.

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