The 1936 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In the same format employed four years previous prior to the Lake Placid Games, The 1936 U.S. Figure Skating Championships actually consisted of two separate competitions. The first, held December 27 to 30 in New York City, featured competitions for senior men, women and pairs. The latter, held in February 1936 in Boston, had Silver (Championship) Dance and junior and novice events on the bill. The reasoning behind this division was to allow judges an 'up to date' selection process for deciding which skaters would be named to the 1936 Olympic team. The senior men's and women's school figures were held at The Ice Club, while the free skating finals as well as an exhibition were held at Madison Square Garden.

Joan Tozzer and M. Bernard Fox. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

For the third time, Maribel Vinson and George 'Geddy' Hill claimed the senior pairs title. They did so with little competition, as Grace and James Lester Madden - who had won the title in 1934 in Maribel's absence - did not participate. Ten days prior to the event, James had sustained an ankle injury in practice. The silver medal went to Polly Blodgett and Roger Turner, also of The Skating Club Of Boston. At thirty four years old, Turner was more than twice Blodgett's age. The hometown favourites, Marjorie Parker and Howard Meredith, took the bronze. In fourth place was a married couple -  Eva Schwerdt and William H. Bruns, Jr. - and in last place were fourteen year old Jeanne Schulte and fifteen year old Ollie Haupt Jr. of St. Louis.

Sixteen year old Robin Lee of Minneapolis, who was represented the Skating Club Of New York as he trained there under Willy Böckl at the time, had no trouble defending his senior men's title either. After the school figures, he held a forty point lead over seven time U.S. men's champion Roger Turner. With a superb free skate, he received first place ordinals from all five judges. Turner finished only fifth in free skating and - though he tied in ordinals with George Hill - dropped to fourth overall based on his total point score. The silver medal went to Erle Reiter of Minneapolis and fifth and sixth places were occupied by Ollie Haupt Jr. and Brooklyn's William Nagle. Reiter celebrated his nineteenth birthday during the competition.

There were no surprises in the women's event either. In the school figures, Maribel Vinson racked up a sixty eight point lead over Louise Weigel of Buffalo. Skating to "The Lady In Red" - appropriately wearing red - Vinson earned unanimous first place votes in free skating on the way to her eighth senior women's title. Audrey Peppe, only fourth in figures, finished second in free skating and moved up to third overall behind Louise Weigel. Louise's sister Estelle finished fourth, ahead of Polly Blodgett, Ardelle Kloss and Katherine Durbrow.

In "Skating" magazine, Richard L. Hapgood noted, "Although giving excellent performances, Miss Vinson did not skate quite up to her best in either singles or pairs. She was fighting a severe cold and bronchial trouble all during the events and was obliged to go to bed for a week afterward in order to recover and to recuperate her strength. It is truly remarkable what that girl can do. Besides holding down a very responsible position with 'The New York Times' - a position that is mentally and physically exhausting as well I know - and besides devoting a good deal of energy for the New York club, she can still keep her skating up to a high standard."

Maribel Vinson and Robin Lee

Although the winners in the senior men's, women's and pairs events in New York City were in no way controversial, the competition wasn't without its fanfare and drama. Following the competition, the top four finishers in the singles events and the top three pairs were invited to skate in a closing carnival at Madison Square Garden sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee. This carnival drew in some eight thousand spectators and included a ceremony introducing the Olympic ski, speed skating and bobsled teams, a comedy skating act and exhibition hockey game between members of the American Olympic team and the New York Rovers of the Eastern League, as well as the official announcement of the 1936 Olympic figure skating team.

Avery Brundage wished the athletes "godspeed and success" in an address that was broadcast on radio nationally. One of the bombshells that was dropped when the U.S. figure skating team was announced was the decision to name Grace and James Madden to the Olympic team. In fact, the injured James was named not only in pairs but in singles... based on his competitive record.  This was one of the first instances of the USFSA considering a skater's 'body of work' when naming an Olympic team.Though he was a past U.S. Champion in pairs skating, the fact that he was named instead of Roger Turner - a seven time U.S. Champion in singles - was surprising. Polly Blodgett, Turner's sixteen year old pairs partner, was consequently 'skipped over' for the team as well, something that Turner resented for many years afterwards. Following the event, skaters and judges gathered at the Waldorf-Astoria - a hotel with a rich figure skating history of its own - for a supper and dance. On January 15, 1936, the U.S. Olympic team set sail for Europe aboard the American liner Washington.

Left: Katherine Durbrow. Right: Marjorie Parker and Howard Meredith. 

With little ceremony or press attention, the Silver Dance and U.S. novice and junior events were held in February in Boston. To delight of the hometown crowd, M. Bernard Fox was tops in both junior men's singles and pairs, winning the latter with partner Joan Tozzer. He was the first man in almost a decade to win both titles in the same year. Jane Vaughn and Katherine Durbrow, representing Philadelphia and New York respectively, came out on top in the novice and junior women's events. Manhattan's Edward Berkson, the son of a well-to-do film manager, won the novice men's title. Seven couples competed in the revamped ice dance competition, which consisted of four Silver Dances - the Continental Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot and Fourteenstep. The winners of the new Harry E. Radix Trophy were Marjorie Parker and Joseph K. Savage. Nettie Prantel and Harold Hartshorne and Clara Rotch Frothingham and F. Ashton Parmenter rounded out the top three.

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