The 1935 World Figure Skating Championships

The judges of the women's competition in Davos, 1935

In early 1935, the first canned beer was sold in Chicago, the FBI killed 'Ma' Barker in a shootout, Amelia Earhart became the first person in history to complete a solo flight from Hawaii to California Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" blared on gramophones and the world's best figure skaters convened in two European cities to compete in the 1935 World Figure Skating Championships. 

The women's competition was held on February 8 and 9, 1935 at the Engelmann rink in Vienna, Austria. The pairs and men's events were held on February 16 and 17, 1935 at the Városligeti Műjégpálya in Budapest, Hungary. Today, we'll take a look back at the skaters, scandals and stories that made these competitions so memorable!


Women's competitors in Vienna. From left to right: Hedy Stenuf, Vivi-Anne Hultén, Gweneth Butler, Sonja Henie, Helga Schrittwieser-Dietz, Bianca Schenk, Grete Lainer, Nanna Egedius, Cecilia Colledge, Hertha Dexler. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Of the thousands of spectators that showed up to watch Sonja Henie vie for yet another title in Vienna, perhaps the most surprising was Olympic Gold Medallist Herma Szabo, who bitterly retired after losing the 1927 World title to the Norwegian darling. Reigning World and European Medallist Liselotte Landbeck - considered by some as one of Henie's chief challengers - was bedridden with a high fever and under doctor's orders not to participate. The school figures were delayed significantly for two reasons. French judge Charles Sabouret was more than an hour late and referee Fritz Kachler and ISU Vice-President Herbert J. Clarke busily deliberated over what to do with a Hungarian judge and a ninth competitor, Nadine Szilassy, who arrived in Vienna but had not registered with organizers fourteen days in advance per the competition rules. Everything was more or less sorted out by ten o'clock. The Hungarian judge was sent packing but Szilassy was permitted to compete. Despite a frost, the ice conditions were good and the wind was still. The Engelmann rink was divided lengthwise into three sections - one for each of the first three figures - and when each section was used it was sprayed and resurfaced. 

Early in the figures, Szilassy withdrew, recognizing she was not up to the competition. Austria's Bianca Schenk also withdrew, suffering from a leg injury. An exhausted Grete Lainer also withdrew in tears. She'd arrived in Vienna after midnight and had very little sleep but was pushed by Austrian officials to compete. With Schenk, Lainer and Landbeck out, the Austrian team was at a significant disadvantage on home ice. Despite losing one figure to fourteen year old Cecilia Colledge, Henie was able to play catch-up and secure a narrow lead over her young British rival. After the figures, Great Britain's Gweneth Butler stood third, followed by Vivi-Anne Hultén of Sweden and Austria's Hedy Stenuf.

Sonja Henie training in Prague prior to the 1935 World Championships. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

If weather conditions were ideal for the school figures, the skate Gods weren't smiling when it came time for the eight women who remained in the competition to take the ice to perform their free skating routines. It was fiercely cold and the ice was hard and brittle. The February 11, 1935 issue of the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" recalled the competition thusly: "The first skater was the Englishwoman Miss Butler. She skated to a slow foxtrot in a dark red velvet ballet dress. She was extremely elegant but her program offered little difficulty. The jumps were missing almost completely; the Englishwoman left the ice surface very little... Nevertheless, the spectators did not lean against the guest with applause. To the music of 'Faust' next came the youngest competitor, Hedy Stenuf. She wore the white silk dress and drew the viewer's interest from her first movement. She performed a series of jumps and wonderfully turned pirouettes and excellent ballet steps and received tremendous, enormous applause. She did come to one small catastrophe. After two Axel Paulsen jumps one after another, Hedy set for a third, but she ended with a fall but quickly raised back to her feet. Without being disturbed by the accident, she skated her program further and finished to the tumultuous exultation of the spectators. Next was the Norwegian Egedius, who had chosen a waltz her musical accompaniment. She was very elegant and her program did not lack difficulties, but there was something lacking in the natural charm that the viewer tries to capture. Next came the great moment: Sonja Henie from the Oslo Skating Club was called. She wore a blue-green cargo shipyard dress with a slip in the same colour.  She began with modern music, then went to a Viennese waltz. On this day, Sonja Henie offered everything and her difficult figures seemed easy. Her chief opponent, the Englishwoman Colledge, came next. She wore a white velour shipyard dress with Bandeau and had chosen a march for her program. Her performance was as a whole breathtaking. It certainly contained more difficulty than Sonja's, especially in jumps... She was a darling of the enthusiastic masses but had the back luck of the English in the second minute, not on a difficult figure but with a simple one: a bow. The applause she received at the end was the most powerful that any competitor was offered. The 'Radetzky March' sounded and Frau [Helga] Schrittwieser, the only married woman in the competition rushed on the ice rink. She loves vibrant colours and skated in a light red dress with the same cap and around the neck a glittering necklace. She was already bold, but her a brown jersey and white skates made the costume too much. The performance was undoubtedly good ice skating. The pace was fast, the jumps pure and powerful and the pirouettes were perhaps among the best of the evening. But in the third minute, Frau Schrittwieser had a fall and remained sitting on the ice for a very long time. Fraulein Hertha Dexler was a very pleasant surprise. Dressed in her elegant white dress to the sound of a foxtrot, she looked graceful in appearance. But one was more than amazed when Fraulein Dexler gave a performance really no world champion would need to be ashamed of. She did not suffer from difficulties, and showed absolutely secure body control and soft, rounded edges. An interesting completion of the competition was the Swede Hultén. She wore a white dress with bandeau and skated to a quite varied selection of music. First an English march, then a little gypsy music and finally a bunch of Austrian music. The construction of the program was certainly extraordinary and interesting and though she completed her performance with musical nuances, she was not always in full agreement with the music. The performance was not as good as Sonja Henie, Colledge or Stenuf."

Ultimately, Sonja Henie was first on every judge's scorecard. With five second place ordinals, Cecilia Colledge settled for silver, ahead of Hultén, Stenuf, Butler, Dexler, Egedius and Schrittwieser. In her book "Wings On My Feet", Henie recalled how things behind the scenes in Austria were far from rosy for her: "Arriving in Vienna, a city that had always before given me a warm reception, I found the press none to friendly and the atmosphere in general one of having forgotten me. Thanks to the fact that some of my many friends in Vienna were true ones, I soon discovered the cause. Jan Kiepura, the singer, had been a staunch part of the Viennese skating group for many years and, I had thought, had been a good friend of mine. I had seen him often during training periods, and sometimes during competitions. He had been at St. Moritz. Burning with a desire to boost his compatriot, little Hedy Stenuf, he had hurried back to Vienna with the story that my fall [at the 1935 European Championships] indicated the end of the career of Sonja Henie, skater. I became, as the rumour grew, practically a thing of the past... It was bitter cold in the city when I went to the Engelmann Rink for the competition... The ice, as expected, had been prepared in the old way. It was far from smooth. Despite the zero temperature, the Vienna public was there, hailing their Hedy and anticipating the realization of Kiepura's prediction. I was glad to be going on after her and so have a chance to adapt myself to her technique. Wild ovations greeted her as she skated out on the wavy ice. Hedy was the soloist, we the additions. The music began. She was really splendid. But her program was too much for her. It was obvious from her first moment that, popular favourite though she was, I needn't fear her as a competitor. It was so obvious, in fact that I had time to get over my sense of relief and begin to feel sorry for her. Taking Kiepura's story for the truth, she had become over-confident and had permitted a top-heavy program to be pressed on her. She fell, right at the climax. This was competition, world competition. And the fall was due to loss of control. The public's enthusiasm, to say nothing of the judge's rating, fell with her. When it was time for me to appear, a number of thoughts were struggling for mastery within me, but I held one on top - that I must not fall. Suddenly I was in the spotlight, the music was playing, and I was drifting over the ice waves. I had perceived in advance that the corners were best for my performance, the center too risky, and all went well... There have been many championships that were hard-earned, and many that I cherished, but none that gave me the elation of that one. The Kiepura story had haunted me and my family and those who were my real friends. We knew it was foundationless, but it had not been pleasant to see that questioning look in people's faces - was Sonja Henie through? Now the expression had vanished."


Pairs competitors in Budapest. From left to right: Piroska and Attila Szekrényessy, Lucy Gallo and Rezső Dillinger, Liese Kianek and Adolf Rosdol, Emília Rotter and László Szollás, Zofia Bilorówna and Tadeusz Kowalski, Barbara Chachlewska and Alfred Theuer, Wally Hampel and Otto Weiß, Ilse and Erik Pausin. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

With Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier not in attendance, many believed the young Pausin siblings to be the biggest threats to Emília Rotter and László Szollás on home ice. The Austrian press was quick to point out that many of the male pairs skaters competing in Budapest were far from spring chicken. One reporter from the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" mused, "It was certainly funny that almost every [male] pair skater, such as Szollás, Kowalski, Theuer, Rosdol, Dillinger had thinning hair. The Polish man is something of an obese gentleman and the Hungarian Dillinger bespectacled." Decades before the Twitter and YouTube, cattiness was alive and well in the media.

Ilse and Erik Pausin in Budapest. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Though the Pausin's put on quite a show, they struggled somewhat on the solo elements in their program. To the surprise of few, Rotter and Szollás were first on every judge's scorecard and handily won their fourth and final World title to the delight of the Hungarian audience. The Pausin's settled for silver and Hungary's Lucy Gallo and Rezső Dillinger took the bronze.

The reporter who covered the event for the "Wiener Sporttagblatt" remarked, "Though Rotter and Szollás skated the usual standard program, they were by far the best. Everything went fine, there was good attitude and swing and thought was deliberately put into their skating. But it was, as said, the normal average program. It did not inspire... Seven of the eight pairs skated about the same program, the same figures, even the order was absolutely the same for some. This has aroused a bit of disgust for this [branch of] the sport has been around for nearly twenty or thirty years... [Liese] Kianek and [Adolf] Rosdol were totally unjustly judged. The two have momentum, they have musical sentiment, they can dance, and when they can make their program more original - this is the first condition for all couples - they will surely make their way."


Jackie Dunn, Karl Schäfer and Henry Graham Sharp in Budapest. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Just hours prior to the school figures, for the first time in his career Karl Schäfer and coach Rudolf Kutzer sat down with a piece of paper and a pencil and choreographed a five minute free skating program. It featured all manner of dance steps, three Axels, two Lutzes, two loops (one in each direction) and various spins and non-rotational jumps. He told an Austrian journalist that challenging himself to duplicate the program he'd designed on paper would "be fun".

In the figures, Karl Schäfer was in a class of his own. Winning every figure on every judge's scorecard, he amassed such a large lead that he could have just more or less improvised as he often did in the free skate and even played it safe or made a few mistakes. Instead, he delivered yet another outstanding free skating performance and again first place ordinals from every judge. A reporter from the "Wiener Sportaggblatt" remarked, "At the beginning of his career, people were delighted by Schäfer's colossal momentum. Later it was said that Schäfer was jumping too much and in doing so his program was unbalanced. According to the will of the people, he showed them he could dance like a master. Then the people came and said that Schäfer was dancing too much, he must bring more difficulties. Again Schäfer has changed. He has that right thing - difficulties and dance mixed." Only a difference of 0.78 separated the four men in places second through fifth. Eighteen year old Jackie Dunn of Great Britain tied in ordinal placings with Hungary's Dénes Pataky but narrowly prevailed in a three-two split of the judging panel. Henry Graham Sharp tripped early on in his program but rebounded with several clean loop jumps and his "peculiar zigzag steps" to finish fourth, ahead of Markus Nikkanen, Elemér Terták and Erich Erdös, who struggled on the landing of his Axel.


Sonja Henie, Cecilia Colledge,Vivi-Anne Hultén, Hedy Stenuf and others at the closing banquet with Prince Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

At a banquet following the competition hosted by the Budapest Skating Club, Count Joszef Hunyady de Kéthely and Herbert J. Clarke gave speeches. Karl Schäfer received a beautiful, large silver cup and returned to Vienna by train where he was greeted by Eduard Engelmann Jr., his mother and Professor Margarethe Holtz - the head of the Austria-America Student Exchange Committee - who was an ardent supporter of the Viennese star. Rumours later swirled that Sonja and Jackie Dunn were engaged. She snapped at one reporter and told them, "If you are determined to print something about marriage and me, you may be interested to know that I receive offers of marriage from all sorts of people. I get them by letter from people I've never seen. Furthermore, I have had a few from people I really like. Now make what you can of that, but at least do me and my friends the grace of keeping it general."

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