The 1978 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

They were hitting the floor to Chic's hit "Dance Dance Dance... Yowsah! Yowsah! Yowsah!" and queuing up at theatres to watch "Saturday Night Fever". Hungry, Hungry Hippos and ruffle belts were the latest fads and history was made when U.S. Senate proceedings were broadcast on radio for the first time.

Newspaper headlines were filled with stories of the arrest of the 'Vampire of Sacramento' and the Pacific Western Airlines Flight 314 crash. From February 8 to 11, 1978, they gathered at the Memorial Coliseum in Portland, Oregon for the 1978 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Photo courtesy Cora Boothby

It was the first time the U.S. Championships were held in the Northwest since 1969 and first time that Oregon played host to the Championships. Integral to the bid to bring the event to the state was James Lawrence, President of the Oregon Skating Council, which was created by members of three Portland area clubs specifically for the purpose of bringing the event to the area. It was also the first time a multi-club co-operative had been established for the purpose of organizing the U.S. Championships, which drew one hundred entries 'from sea to shining sea'.

Photo courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

The Northeastern United States blizzard of 1978, which killed approximately one hundred people and caused over five hundred million dollars in damage and delayed many travellers, happened during the event. Since many flights were grounded in the Northeast and the USFSA's headquarters were under thirty inches of snow, a number of people were unable to make it to Portland to watch the event. However, the blizzard actually proved a stroke of good luck for television audiences, who were treated to extra figure skating coverage on ABC's Wide World Of Sports when many sporting events in the East were cancelled. Let's take a look back at how things played out!


Photos courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

Sixteen year old Karl Kurtz of Hershey, Pennsylvania won the novice men's title, defeating the likes of Brian Wright, Nathan Birch and Rocky Marval. Los Angeles' Michelle Schelske translated a win at the Pacific Coast Championships to gold in the novice women's event at Nationals. Two youngsters who would soon win World titles placed third and fifth. Their names were Elaine Zayak and Rosalynn Sumners.

Photos courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

Californians Maria DiDomenico and Larry Schrier were victorious in the junior pairs event. Future Olympic Medallists Peter Oppegard and Paul Wylie, skating with Elizabeth Chabot and Dana Graham respectively, also competed. The previous year's novice women's champion, Jill Sawyer of the Lakewood Winter Club in Tacoma, Washington, claimed the junior women's crown.

Judy Ferris and Scott Gregory

It was the first year that junior (Silver) dancers performed three compulsories, a (Foxtrot) OSP and three-minute free dance at Nationals. Eighteen year old Richard Callaghan students Judy Ferris and Scott Gregory won the title with unanimous first place marks. More than ten thousand spectators cheered on their free dance, an eclectic mix set to "Hair", "Send In The Clowns", samba
and polka music. Ferris was a freshman studying criminal justice at SUNY in Buffalo and Gregory was a senior at Amherst Central High School. Gregory skated with a screw in one knee and had been kept off the ice for much of the last two seasons with two knee operations. The young couple had only been skating together for five months. Pacific Coast Champions Judy Blumberg and Robert Engler won the free dance, but finished third overall behind Midwestern Champions Becky Lee Baker and Rick Berg in a field of ten teams.

Photo courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

Twenty year old David Michalowski of Park Ridge, Illinois led after the junior men's school figures but dropped behind fourteen year old Brian Boitano of Sunnyvale, California in the short program. Boitano rebounded to win the title with an outstanding free skate... and a triple Lutz to boot.

Photo courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

Featured on the ABC broadcast, Michalowski, the deaf skater who had dropped from second to sixth in the junior men's event. He fell three times in his free skate, but earned a standing ovation. He had never been interviewed on national television before but was able to read lips. Off camera, Dick Button reminded him, "I fell twice in juniors" and encouraged him to keep skating. Michalowski was unable to hear his music, the groans of the crowd each time he fell, or their cheers when he finished his program. His coach Carol Witti Ueck used cues such as waving her right index finger, snapping and bringing her wrist down to signal his program was over.


Seventeen year old Tai Babilonia and nineteen year old Randy Gardner, defending U.S. Champions and reigning World Bronze Medallists, took the lead in the short program to no one's surprise. They represented the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club and were coached by John Nicks. Their free skate, set to "Taras Bulba - The Ride To Dubno", "Young Bess" and "Tsena Tsena", featured a split double twist, four different side-by-side double jumps, a gorgeous throw double Axel and their trademark pull Arabians. Their only errors were a fall on the side-by-side double Axel by Tai and a problem on an overhead lift in the slow section. Both technically and artistically, they were in a class by themselves and their marks ranged from 5.7 to 5.9, more than enough for them to defend their title.

Photo courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

Gail Hamula and Frank Sweiding of the Broadmoor Skating Club held on to their second place finish after the short program with their free skate set to to the music "Alfie", "Malaguena" and "Méditation" from "Thaïs" . They landed side-by-side double Lutzes, flips and toe-loops and a throw Axel but had a bad fall on the entrance to a cartwheel lift and stepped out of their first of two throw double loops. Like Hamula and Sweiding, Massachusetts teenagers Sheryl Franks and Michael Botticelli had their problems in the free skate but hung on for the bronze medal on the strength of their pair moves. Strong lifts and death spirals peppered both team's performances. Vicki Heasley and Robert Wagenhoffer finished just off the podium in fourth. Robert was the only man to compete in both senior men's and pairs at the Championships. The pairs medallists from 1977 placed in exactly the same order as they had the year prior, just as they had in 1971 and 1972.


Photo courtesy Cora Boothby

The twelve senior men in figures had to weave their way through three school figures and the seven required elements of the short program before taking to the ice for their free skates. The short program required elements in Portland were the double loop, double Axel, two jump combination consisting of a toe-loop jump together with any double or triple jump, crossfoot spin, spin combination, flying sit spin with change of landing foot and serpentine step sequence. Twenty four year old Charlie Tickner, the defending U.S. Champion from the Denver Figure Skating Club, won both the figures and short program.

Several men skated exceptionally well in the free skate, really giving the judges something to judge. Despite landing five triple jumps to Charlie Tickner's four, twenty year old David Santee of Park Ridge, Illinois had to settle for silver. Tickner earned three 5.9's for his free skate set to "Carmen", "L'Arlésienne", "El Cid" and "Mexicaine", which was chock full of inventive choreography and fast footwork. Scott Hamilton of Littleton, Colorado took the bronze - his first senior medal at the U.S. Championships - besting his rival Scott Cramer. He had placed ninth the year prior in his senior debut after winning the U.S. junior men's title in 1976. Robert Wagenhoffer, skating double duty in senior men's and pairs, placed sixth. He landed a triple Axel in the warm-up, but missed it in his performance.

Photo courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

In his book "Landing It", Scott Hamilton recalled, "In February, the weather in the Pacific Northwest was forbidding: dark, gloomy, cold and rainy. But I was in such a zone I didn't let it bother me. I was focused and confident, and in my best shape in two years... I repeated my solid performances from Midwesterns - I was third in the short, hitting the Lutz combination again - and third in the long. Placing third overall, I made the world team... As I was waiting for the medal ceremony, I went back to the dressing room and saw how much losing his place on the world team meant to Scott [Cramer]. He was really, really upset. A small group pof skaters - Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, and Michael Botticelli... were consoling him. I felt bad. As much as I wanted to represent the U.S. in Ottawa, I was even happier about beating Scott... I didn't know it at the time, but my rivalry with Scott was about to take one of those turns where I would never feel sorry for him again."

After winning, Charlie Tickner told reporters, "I was pleased with my performance. It wasn't my best, but I didn't miss anything. I wasn't really thinking of winning or losing. I was concentrating on my own skating. I felt that if I skated my best, I would end up the way I wanted to end up. There are good performances and then there are great performances and that difference is the nerves."


Photo courtesy 1978 U.S. Championships program, Cora Boothby

The retirement of 1977 U.S. Champions Judi Genovesi and Kent Weigle meant that new senior (Gold) dance champions would be crowned in Portland. 1977 U.S. Bronze Medallists Michelle Ford and Glenn Patterson had also retired, opening up the field even further.

Stacey Smith and John Summers of Wilmington, Delaware took a narrow lead in the compulsories (Starlight Waltz, Kilian and Tango Romantica) and Paso Doble OSP. Even closer in the free dance, they defeated Michigan's Carol Fox and Richard Dalley by just one ordinal placing in a four-three split of the judging panel. Susan Kelley and Andrew Stroukoff, also of Wilmington, took the bronze. Smith and Summers' win had been nothing less than dramatic. Barely into their free dance, Summers' bootstrap came undone. He tried to keep skating but tripped and fell on his back. Referee Edith Shoemaker allowed them to stop so Summers could fix the problem. The couple returned later in the group and started their program from the beginning. Smith and Summers and Kelley and Stroukoff were both coached by Ron Ludington. In a show of good sportsmanship and comraderie, Kelley and Stroukoff handed their flowers to Smith and Summers at the awards ceremony.


Left: Linda Fratianne. Right: Carrie Rugh.

Barbie Smith and Wendy Burge, the silver and bronze medallists at the 1977 U.S. Championships in Hartford, Connecticut, had moved on from the amateur ranks. Linda Fratianne, the seventeen year old reigning World and U.S. Champion, represented by the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club and was coached by Frank Carroll. She amassed a strong lead in the school figures and short program and based on her winning performance at the Pacific Coast Championships, everyone expected big things in the free skate. Skating to Kimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade", Fratianne performed exceptionally well, landing a triple toe-loop and two double Axels. Her only true error was a hand down on a third double Axel attempt, but she did double her planned opening triple Salchow. She earned marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.8.

On any other day, Linda Fratianne would have won the free skate no problem, but in Portland Lisa-Marie Allen of Garden Grove, California gave the performance of her life, earning a standing ovation and the only 5.9 of the event. Second in the short, Allen's fifth place finish in the figures kept her from claiming the gold. It was a devastating loss for the young student of former U.S. Champion Barbara Roles. Sixteen year old Priscilla Hill of Lexington, Massachusetts took the bronze, ahead of Carrie Rugh, making a comeback of her own after losing ground when she placed sixth in the short.

Lisa-Marie Allen told reporter Linda Kramer, "I just try to give everything I've got every time I skate. Sometimes I'm cautious but tonight I wasn't very cautious. It's not only the skill but the beauty of skating. I think I'm really good at theatrical skating."

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