The 1935 European Figure Skating Championships

"Although [Sonja Henie] is only twenty-two it is held that she has ceased to improve, while each year the opposition is stronger." - "Yorkshire Post And Leeds Intelligencer", February 11, 1935

Held from January 23 to 26 at the Suvretta House rink in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the 1935 European Figure Skating Championships proved to be somewhat of a nightmare for ISU officials and the Swiss organizers. For starters, there were far more entries than initially anticipated. Nineteen women, fourteen men and ten pairs registered to compete in the senior events as well as a couple dozen more in international junior men's and women's competitions included in conjunction with the event. Despite a few withdrawals, organizers still had to start the competition a day earlier than originally planned in order to accommodate the higher than expected number of entries. Then there was the weather. When the competition began, the weather was cool. Then it became warmer, hot (by Swiss standards) and cooled off again. The ice became mirror smooth but very brittle, far from ideal conditions for both the competitors and the judges, who struggled to see the figures traced on the ice.

Austria's Herbert Alward was the unanimous choice of the judges in the junior men's competition. Eight young girls and one married woman, Italy's Anna Cattaneo Dubini, vied for the junior women's crown. The victor was Austria's Maria Schweinburg, with a young Daphne Walker and Belita Jepson-Turner placing an impressive second and fifth.

After one withdrawal, nine couples took to the ice to compete in the pairs competition. Germany's Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier, who had arrived in St. Moritz well in advance to train at the Kulm Rink, showed off their combined strength as singles skaters with a program that included shadow skating, side-by-side jumps, lifts and dance steps. Seven judges had them first, but British judge Kenneth Macdonald Beaumont had them fourth, not appreciating their athletic approach. One judge apiece had silver medallists Idi Papez and Karl Zwack of Austria second and bronze medallists Lucy Gallo and Rezső Dillinger of Hungary first. Of the top teams, Gallo and Dillinger's marks were the most all over the place. They received one first place, a second, two thirds, a sixth, a seventh and a ninth (last) place!

Top: Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier. Bottom: Karl SchäferPhotos courtesy National Archives of Poland.

To the surprise of literally no one, six time and defending European Champion Karl Schäfer was first on every single judge's scorecard in the men's school figures. The January 24, 1935 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" noted that he skated "without any nervousness... calm, but still attentive in almost every figure, especially those with higher difficulty." All but German judge Artur Vieregg - who preferred his countryman Ernst Baier - had Schäfer first in the free skate as well. The marks in the men's event were quite all over the place, but silver and bronze medallist Felix Kaspar and Ernst Baier were extremely close in the free skate. Four of seven judges actually actually had Great Britain's Jackie Dunn in the top three, but he settled for fourth on account of his score in the figures, ahead of Finland's Marcus Nikkanen, Austria's Erich Erdös and Hungary's Elemér Terták.

Ill in Zürich, Austria's Bianca Schenk withdrew prior to the start of the women's competition. France's Jacqueline Vaudecrane and Great Britain's Mia Macklin also pulled out, dropping the number of entries from nineteen to sixteen. Notably absent were Sweden's Vivi-Anne Hultén and Great Britain's Megan Taylor. To the surprise of few, Sonja Henie amassed a fifteen point lead over Cecilia Colledge in the school figures, earning first place ordinals from every single judge. The women performed the exact same figures as the men that year, and despite poor conditions, many thought the women fared just as well as the men - if not better - in the compulsories.

Sonja Henie

The January 28, 1935 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" offered a wonderful summary of many of the women's free skating performances in St. Moritz: "Mme. de Ligne started off in a green velour shipyard dress with rainbow tulle volants. The elegant appearance of the Belgian woman had strong effect, even after she twice touched hands on the ice after jumps. Hungary's young champion Nadine Szilassy appeared in a white velvet dress. Her attitude is very much too decorative, and she skates without tempo and momentum. Mme. Gaby Clericetti, French champion, skated to the song 'Im Salzkammergut, da kann man gut lustig sein', but in French. She wore a beautiful velvet dres with white ermine trim. Her skating was elegant and powerful, but without the least difficulty. Nanna Egedius can be very good, but she slid once after a pirouette out of fatigue. Grete Lainer skated in a white dress and again showed her well-known spin combinations and jumped the Axel Paulsen beautifully. It was the first success of the afternoon. Gweneth Butler is considered an excellent compulsory skater but a weak free skater. She skated very softly, with swing, had her highlights in the standing pirouettes. There were moments when it appeared she would do something [but she didn't]. The English cheered after the final whistle of the referee. She wore a dark velbet dress. The small, graceful Mollie Phillips skated to 'Dein ist mein ganzes Herz' in English. One noticed her courage in training, but her program contained no particular difficulties. Diana Fane-Gladwin wore a white dress with silver trim and was much weaker than her predecessor. She fell once and, as the Viennese say, was very much hearty. The Viennese Hertha Drexler appeared in a black dress with a rose. One clearly noted the contrast between the Viennese and the English school. She skated very lightly, performed an Axel half-way, and so got strong and deserved applause. Cecilia Colledge, well developed for her 14 years, skated one of the most difficult programs of all. She included the Axel, Rittberger and Lutz jumps, and pirouettes, ballet jumps and combinations. Everything with this 'little one' is done with complete security. There was no idle moment in her performance, but her performance speaks not to our taste but to that of the Englishman. She wore a blue woollen dress. Our master Liselotte Landbeck was next. She was enthusiastic about the elegance and attitude of her movements. She turned both slow and fast pirouettes, one better than the other, jumped Axels three at at a time and performed everything in the modern skating repertoire. It was a masterly performance and our master skated in a fraise, feathered dress. The German Lindpaintner skated next. She skated a lot of pirouettes, which had some effect in her waltz to 'Wiener Praterleben' in a lime green dress. 13 year old Emmy Puzinger, who ended the European championships in thirteenth, skated as naturally as poor Hilde Holovsky. She had a wonderful feeling for her music, lots off momentum and a soft bounce after her jumps. The little one wore a white crepe-de-chine dress. 'Hello, hello. Miss Sonja Henie, Oslo Skating Club' said the announcer, and thunderous applause passed through the arena. Everyone was eager for the Queen Of The Ice. Sonja began in a fabulous posture and she looked as beautiful as no other. Sonja jumped an Axel Paulsen, but her balance could not hold and she came down on the ice. For a fraction of a second, Sonja sat on the ice, but then she rose smiling and skated on. But it was no longer the real Sonja. She had become uncertain, she had no more time to dare to do risky jumps. She went on to do a pirouette and ended with a wonderful Lutz, but it was not the great performance that one had expected of her. She appeared in a blue-green shipyard dress and a uniform hat. Hedy Stenuf had the audience [behind her] within seconds. Her program was overloaded with the most beautiful and difficult things ice skating has to offer. She jumped six Axels, three of them in the last minute. Yet she skated at a pace that could almost be described as insane. Had she included more ballet and made less of a sporty impact, her performance would have had a greater impact. Still the people in the stands cheered and wanted an encore, which of course was not possible. So the little one went in her white silk-dress to the dressing room. Germany's young champion Maxi Herber skated last. She skated well and showed original figures, jumped the Rittberger and Axel jumps, although they were, of course, both on two feet. Her pirouettes, because of her long legs, were not always beautiful. She wore a light green simple silk dress."

Grete Lainer in 1935. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

As a result of her uncharacteristic tumble and the fact she ended her program before the regulation four minute time, only three judges had Sonja Henie first in the free skate. The Hungarian, German and Austrian judges actually had her in fifth, sixth and seventh! Several judges may have had the balls to mark the Norwegian ice queen down for her uncharacteristically poor free skating performance, but journalists from Zürich and Davos took French judge Charles Sabouret to task, questioning how he could have given her such high marks when she clearly didn't have the performance of the night. In the February 4, 1935 issue of "L'Express", one Swiss journalist wrote, "One would have liked to be able to eliminate the judges who consider the competitors not according to their real value, but rather by serving certain particular interests and showing an obvious bias, thus influencing the judges who wish to classify competitors objectively on their merits alone." Once the math was all done and the school figures taken into account, Sonja Henie was actually first on every judge's scorecard ahead of Landbeck, Colledge, Herber, Butler, Lainer, Stenuf and Phillips. Though Papa Henie celebrated yet another victory for his prize pony, the Swiss audience was less than enthusiastic about the final result. The "Svenska Dagbladet" noted that after the results were announced, Colledge's coach Jacques Gerschwiler "threw his arms up in a fit of anger". Sonja, annoyed by the whole incident and rumours she was washed up', allegedly remarked privately, "My fall resulted in my finding out just how cruel and bitchy people can be, if they wish you no good."

Ilse and Erik Pausin, Hedy Stenuf, Karl Schäfer and Emmy Puzinger in 1935. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Following the competition, a large banquet was held at the Kulm Hotel, attended by skaters, ISU officials, the representatives of ten national skating associations and many Swiss political figures. Competitors were presented with awards, the kirschwasser flowed and a good time was had by most. The Austrian medal winners were congratulated via telegram by Vice-Chancellor Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg and Ulrich Salchow raised a glass to toast the unbeatable Sonja Henie.

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