Figure Skating Hodge Podge, Volume 6

As autumn crept in the last five years, I introduced you to a Maritime classic: hodge podge.  If you've never had a proper bowl of hodge podge, you don't know what you're missing. It's a traditional Nova Scotian fall dish that uses nothing but the freshest harvest vegetables. It just warms your soul and I'm craving it already by just mentioning it.

Here in Atlantic Canada, we use the expression 'hodge podge' to describe anything that's got a little bit of everything. Figure skating constantly evolves and changes that much that it's not always easy to keep track of all of the developments, stories and (sometimes) dramas that develop along the way. I've had several topics that I'd been wanting to write about for quite a while that all seemed to have two common denominators. For one, they are all tales that many people may not know or if they did, might not remember. Secondly, they don't all really have enough material to constitute a full blog of their own. Fasten your seatbelts and prepare for a tour of compelling stories with a skating connection... and a delicious 6.0 finish!


Today, few us venture far without some sort of electronic device at arm's reach. It's hard to imagine a time when technology didn't play some role in figure skating but for many years, judges held up their scores on cards and the results of competitions were calculated painstakingly by hand, with only a table of factors and an adding machine to assist the accountants in their math. "We were still doing it by hand in 1952," recalled ISU historian Benjamin T. Wright. At the 1962 U.S. Championships in Boston, a computer was used to calculate ordinals, print schedules and create seating charts for social events. A computerized scoring system with 'instant' print-outs wasn't used at the U.S. Championships until 1968. It was an IBM System/360, Model 30 and the competitors at that year's Nationals in Philadelphia were affected greatly by its use. In "Skating" magazine, Tim Wood remarked, "It's swell to have your marks posted so quickly. With your first compulsory figure's scoring in hand, you can skate better on the second figure because you know you must skate well to stay in contention against the champ... [but] it's easy to see how a skater who places below the first five spots might become discouraged... So discouraged that he might skate poorly in the third figure and afterward."

IBM System/360, Model 30. Photo courtesy Computer History Museum.

The CFSA didn't pay for "the immediate programming of computers for determination of results" at the Canadian Championships until 1972. Though computers had previously been introduced to the CFSA by Hugh Glynn to keep test records, the use of a computer to calculate competition results was considered a groundbreaking move in Canada at the time. However, the ISU beat the CFSA and USFSA to the punch by years! The first instance a computer was used to calculate the results at the World Championships was in 1964 in Dortmund, West Germany. An IBM systems engineer from Stuttgart named Ulrich Barth developed the software used. Prior to that, a computer had been used for the same purpose at both the 1960 and 1964 Winter Olympic Games.


PJ Kwong often jokes about the time she placed second in a competition... when she was the only entry. The concept of 'skating to a standard' in competition - having to receive a certain mark in order to win - was no stranger to skaters who found themselves in the unenviable position of not having skaters to compete against in days gone by. In fact, it was one of the oldest rules on the books of the ISU! Skating historian Benjamin T. Wright noted that skaters were required to earn "marks of at least 'good' (4.0) from a majority of judges in order to win a Championship... The level of marks awarded, especially in the figures... in Cologne [at the 1973 European Championships] were so low that the title of European Ladies' Champion was almost not awarded!" The rule, which had been established in 1907, was removed at the 1973 ISU Congress in Copenhagen. It had only been applied in international competition twice - when Lili Kronberger took the World title in Budapest in 1909 and when Ludovika and Walter Jakobsson won pairs in Vienna in 1911.


Romy Kermer and Rolf Ã–sterreich performing a death spiral in 1974. Photo courtesy German Federal Archive.

The two-handed back outside death spiral was a popular 'trick' among professional pairs skaters in the twenties and thirties such as Sadie Cambridge and Albert Enders and Katie Schmidt and Howard Nicholson. Curiously, Schmidt and Nicholson termed their two-handed version the 'lay-back spiral' and a simple dip the 'death dip'.

First popularized in the amateur ranks by Swiss pair Pierrette and Paul Du Bois, the death spiral got a makeover when Suzanne Morrow-Francis and Wally Distelmeyer started performing it with a lower, arched back position in the forties. They have been credited as the first team to perform this version in amateur competition.

In the sixties, Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov performed three new variations of the death spiral on the back inside, forward inside and forward outside edges. They gave the death spirals the names the Cosmic, Life and Love Spirals and actually claimed to have invented the back inside death spiral accidentally. Quoted in a September 9, 2011 in the "Lake Placid News", Ludmila explained, "We were practicing the death spiral one day, and by mistake I slipped from the outside to the inside edge. That was the move we decided to call the cosmic spiral." Other skaters from the Protopopov's era copied their efforts. Americans Cynthia and Ron Kauffman performed a death spiral with a change of hands in 1964 and by the seventies, all four of the death spiral positions became standard tools of the trade. Interestingly, Tamara Moskvina and Igor Moskvin claimed a different origin story for the forward inside death spiral, which the Protopopov's called the Life Spiral: "The death spiral forward inside was invented after having seen a film in the 1970's with the death spiral backward inside, shown in the reverse order."


Illustration of the Westminster Waltz pattern, circa 1950. Courtesy Erik van der Weyden's book "Dancing On Ice".

In 1938 in England, the National Skating Association unveiled its new First Class (Gold) Dance Test. The first to pass was Walter Gregory, with Reginald Wilkie serving as one of his judges. Interestingly, one of the dances Gregory tested - and passed - was the Rhumba, which was one of his own creations, the Rhumba. The first time Gold Dances were tested in America was during a judges school conducted by Roger Turner in Lake Placid in 1942. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "In the first actual tests, eight candidates skated the Blues and one the Viennese Waltz, first with a partner, then alone, and again with a partner. Each candidate also skated some patterns with a judge. Six passed the Blues. Those who passed the Blues attempted another dance. Three chose the Kilian, two the Quickstep, and one the Viennese. Two passed the Kilian... The cooperation and patience of these skaters, used as guinea pigs in this early development of Gold Dance standards, helped define the technique that later made the U.S. skaters competitive in world meets." It wasn't until April 9, 1950 in Toronto that the first Canadian Gold Dance Test was passed. In the months that followed, students of Markus Nikkanen and Hans Gerschwiler at the Schumacher summer school lined up for their turns. That same year, the ISU Dance Committee met in London and proposed a Gold International Dance Test, consisting of the Argentine Tango, Paso Doble, Quickstep and the Viennese and Westminster Waltzes. Four years later at the 1954 World Championships in Oslo, Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy and Virginia Hoyns and Don Jacoby became the first couples to take and pass the ISU's Gold Dance Test.


Peri Levitsky

On November 29, 1956, a sixty four year old widow sent a telegram from Budapest addressed to the S.C.E. Palace in Birmingham, England. It was signed 'Mutti' and asked for a reply. The telegraph was undeliverable, as there was no such address. A paragraph about the telegraph appeared in a Birmingham newspaper, calling for assistance in determining who the recipient was and the county welfare officer for the Red Cross even joined in the search for its recipient. A skater at the Birmingham Ice Rink recognized details in the telegram and surmised that 'S.C.E.' had been a typo for 'ICE'. He surmised the intended recipient of the telegram was none other than Peri Levitsky, a former Hungarian Champion in figure skating who had been teaching at the rink. Peri rushed to the post office at 9:30 at night... and was shocked to find the telegram was from her mother, who she believed had been killed during wartime bombing or the uprising in Hungary. Peri's mother had managed to trace her to Birmingham through friends at the 1955 European Championships in Budapest. 


Sop up what's left with some nice hearty bread and be sure to double or triple up so that you have leftovers... this is always better the second day! This recipe is for four to six people:

Ingredients (fresh from a farmer's market or garden):

10-12 new potatoes – scrubbed/not peeled, and halved – quarter any large potatoes, and don't cut the small ones – you want the potato pieces to be about the same size
2-3 cups chopped new carrots – scrubbed/not peeled, cut into bite sized pieces (you can peel them if you like)
1 cup chopped yellow beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup chopped green beans – 1 inch long pieces
1 cup shelled pod peas – you want just the peas, not the pods
1.5 cups cream
1/4 – 1/2 cup butter
salt and pepper to taste

1. Fill a large, heavy pot about halfway with water, and salt lightly (about 1/2 teaspoon of salt). Bring to a boil.
2. Add the potatoes to the boiling water. Cook for about seven minutes.
3. Add the carrots to the pot, and continue cooking for about seven minutes.
4. Next add the yellow and green beans to the pot, and continue cooking for about five minutes.
5. Finally, add the peas, and continue cooking for about three minutes.
6. Drain off most of the water – leave about an inch of water (no more) in the bottom of the pot with the vegetables. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce burner heat to low. Add the cream and butter, and some salt and pepper (I start with a 1/4 teaspoon of each).
7. Gently stir to combine, allowing the the blend and butter to heat through. As you’re stirring, the potatoes might break up a bit. As the the blend and butter heat through, the broth may begin to thicken. This is normal. Don’t allow the mixture to boil.
8. Once the mixture has heated through, it is ready to serve. Season with a little salt and pepper to taste. Serve with bread.

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":