The 1932 European Figure Skating Championships

Sonja Henie with French tennis player Suzanne Lenglen in Paris in 1932. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Tensions were high between European nations as economies tanked and banks closed in the height of The Great Depression. The governments of Germany and Bulgaria announced they would refuse to pay anymore reparations from The Great War, underscoring the importance of the upcoming Lausanne Conference. Astronomers reveled at Bernard Lyot's new coronagraph and aristocrats tapped their toes to Noël Coward's hit "Any Little Fish". 

The year was 1932 and on January 15 and 16, the Palais des Sports in Paris, the 1932 European Figure Skating Championships marked the first time in history all that men's, women's and pairs competitions were contested in the same city at the same time at the European Championships.

Ulrich Salchow in Paris. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Though it was also the first time that France hosted the European Championships, the proceedings received surprisingly little coverage in the French press, perhaps due to the fact that only Andrée (Joly) and Pierre Brunet were considered to be likely to win medals. Let's hop in the time machine and take a look at how this largely overlooked two-day competition played out!


 Karl Schäfer

As was expected, Austria's Karl Schäfer won the school figures unanimously by quite a large margin. Four of the five judges also had him in first place in the free skate, with the Belgian judge instead giving the nod to his teammate, Erich Erdös

 Karl Schäfer

"Freiheit" magazine reported that Karl Schäfer was "outstanding and received exceedingly strong applause." When the scores were tallied, he finished first on every judge's scorecard overall.

Georges Torchon

Germany's Ernst Baier finished second on all but one judge's scorecard and Erdös narrowly edged Dr. Hugo Distler for the bronze. France's two entries in the men's event, Jean Henrion and Georges Torchon, finished at the bottom of the pack.


Sonja Henie and Hilde Holovsky in Paris. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Prior to the event, three time Olympic Gold Medallist Gillis Grafström gave pointers to Vivi-Anne Hultén in St. Moritz, where the Swedes were training together in preparation for the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. In Paris, Sonja Henie won the school figures unanimously. The Belgian judge had Yvonne de Ligne second, the British judge had Fritzi Burger second, the Finnish judge had Vivi-Anne Hultén second and French and Austrian judges had Hilde Holovsky second.

Reneé Volpato (left), Gaby Clericetti (center) and Sonja Henie (right) in Paris

Both Henie and Holovsky were less than their best in the free skate, but three judges still had Henie first. The French judge, valuing artistry over acrobatics, placed Hultén ahead of Henie. The British judge, Sydney Wallwork, dared to place Henie third behind Burger and Hultén.

Fritzi Burger. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

With the help of her strong lead in the compulsories, Henie managed to hang on for the win by some forty points. Burger was second, Hulten third, Holovsky fourth. Austria's Liselotte Landbeck, who three of the five judges had in the top three in the free skate, settled for fifth. France's Jacqueline Vaudecrane almost withdrew due to illness, but opted to compete and finished dead last, two places behind her teammate, Gaby Clericetti.

Liselotte Landbeck, Sonja Henie, Hilde Holovsky, Gaby Clericetti, Jacqueline Vaudecrane, Reneé Volpato and Joan Dix. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.


Andrée (Joly) and Pierre Brunet

As all four of the singles skaters from France had fared very poorly, the Parisian audience was particularly invested in Andrée (Joly) and Pierre Brunet... with good reason. Their track record spoke for itself and the duo's participation in their first and last European Championships in their home country can't have been a coincidence. Despite the pressures of skating in front of a hometown crowd, they won the event with ease when both of the top Hungarian teams didn't show up despite submitting their entries. It was very close between Lilly Gaillard (Scholz) and Willy Petter and Idi Papez and Karl Zwack for silver, but Gaillard and Petter ultimately came as the top Austrian pair. Great Britain's Margaret and Kenneth Ord MacKenzie placed fourth.

Lilly Gaillard (Scholz) and Willy Petter

Following the competition, the Brunet's, Sonja Henie and Yvonne de Ligne embarked from the Gare Saint-Lazare to Le Havre and then boarded the Ile-de-France for the long steamship voyage across the Atlantic to America to compete in the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Schäfer (travelling via Cherbourg on the S.S. Majestic), Baier, Burger, Hultén and Joan Dix were the only other participants from Paris who also competed in Lake Placid.

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