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The 1955 North American Figure Skating Championships

Tenley Albright

When the 1955 North American Championships were awarded to the Wascana Skating Club at the Canadian Figure Skating Association's annual meeting in late October 1953, I don't think anyone any of the men (and they were all men) on that year's executive had taken into account Mother Nature's wrath.

Skaters travelling by air from the United States and other regions of Canada were grounded by an unforgiving March blizzard in the Prairies that left them forced to continue their trip to Regina, Saskatchewan by train. After the blizzard ended, the temperature plummeted outside to almost minus twenty nine degrees Celsius. That's minus twenty Fahrenheit to those of you who aren't hip with the metric system and whatever way you spin it, absolutely freezing. Although the weather outside was frightful, luckily the rink the event was held in was heated and the competition was able to continue without a hitch once everyone arrived.


The pairs competition was won by twenty five year old Frances Dafoe and twenty eight year old Norris Bowden, with unanimous first place marks from all six judges. The marking for pairs at that time was out of 10.0 and not 6.0 and their lowest mark for content was a 9.4. For manner of performance, their marks ranged from 8.6 to 9.5. Second place finishers were Americans Carole Ann Ormaca and Robin Greiner, while Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul claimed the bronze. The March 16, 1955 issue of the "Ottawa Citizen" noted, "Dafoe and Bowden, both of Toronto, put on a dazzling display of split jumps, stag lifts, spread eagles and [Axel] jumps, adding the variations which earned them their second world title at Vienna last month." Americans Lucille Ash and Sully Kothman and Canadians Audrey Downie and Brian Power rounded out the five team field.


Capitalizing on a strong lead in the school figures, nineteen year old Tenley Albright, representing the Skating Club Of Boston, fended off a formidable challenge in the free skate from her younger American teammate Carol Heiss to take the title. Albright's win in Regina wasn't without controversy either; she fell twice and still received first place marks in free skating from all six judges. A disappointing last place finish in the school figures (which counted for sixty percent of the total score) left seventeen year old Carole Jane Pachl too far behind to be able to make up ground in the free skate and a third American, Patricia Firth, claimed the bronze in the first U.S. sweep of the women's event in the history of the North American Championships.


In the men's event, twenty one year old Hayes Alan Jenkins (who like Albright was skating to defend his North American crown from two years earlier) took a formidable lead in the school figures and coasted to a unanimous victory ahead of his younger brother David and eighteen year old Canadian Champion Charles Snelling of Toronto with near perfect marks from all six judges in the free skate. Hugh Graham of Boston finished fourth. Graham was a substitute for an ill Ronnie Robertson.


Carmel and Edward Bodel

Lynn Copley-Graves' fantastic book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice" tells us that "only five couples contested Dance, so the referees cancelled the First Round of compulsories. The Bodels lead after fluidly skating the Three-Lobe Waltz, Quickstep, Argentine Tango and Viennese Waltz. Crowd pleasers Joan Zamboni and Roland Junso stayed on their heels. Virginia Hoyns, now with Bill Kipp, substituted for [Phyllis and Martin Forney] to round out third. Their effervescent free dance had novel, surprising sequences, but borrowed many moves from pair skating to the judges' dismay. Lindy and Jeff Johnson slipped above [Geraldine Fenton and Gordon Crosland] who could easily have gained higher marks with a more relaxed style." Although the win for the married couple from Orinda, California would be the fifth in a row for American ice dance teams, it wasn't with unanimous first marks and it would prove to be the last North American title a U.S. ice dance team would win until 1965.

In his book "A Nobody's Dream... Came True", Gordon Crosland recalled, Our second ranked placement meant we were on the National Team to go to the Worlds and the North American Championships. North Americans were to be held in Regina in mid-January, during a below zero blizzard. Yes, it was cold. So cold in fact that the natural ice in the Wascana Skating Club, which was hosting the event, was cracking in all directions, leaving long splits running through the entire surface. We were supposed to practice there, but didn’t as the ice was just too dangerous. Jumping over ice cracks isn't conducive with dance patterns and specific footwork. Each country had three teams and we came in fifth. My fault! I drew a total blank on the straight-line footwork sequence, or I think we might have been second or third... The Fentons were even less impressed [than they were at Canadians]. My ice dance career was over!"

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

The 1955 event would mark an important first in figure skating history for it was the initial time that any international figure skating competition would be held in the province of Saskatchewan. Despite the cruelty of Mother Nature, the show went on.

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":