The 1978 World Junior Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Ethiopia and Somalia had just signed a truce to end the Ethio-Somali War, but in Japan the New Tokyo International Airport was damaged in a terrorist occupation. In America, the most popular television shows were "Three's Company",  "Laverne & Shirley" and "Happy Days". In England, BBC Radio released its first broadcast of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". The Bee Gees ruled the airwaves in Canada with their hit single "Night Fever". 

The year was 1978, and from March 21 to 26, eighty-one skaters from twenty-one countries gathered at the Palais des Sports in the ski resort village of Megève, France for the 1978 World Junior Figure Skating Championships . The maximum age limits for singles skaters was sixteen; for pairs and ice dance eighteen.

With the support of the community and Fédération Française des Sports de Glace, Megève had played host to international junior competitions the previous two years, but the 1978 was the first to be billed by the ISU as the World Junior Figure Skating Championships. The 1976 and 1977 events were 'experimental' efforts only recognized as World Junior Championships after the fact, similarly to the 'Ladies Championship Of The ISU' being formally recognized (years later) as World Championships. Now that we've looked at the background, let's take a look back at how things played out on the ice...


Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater" magazine.

After finishing only fourth in the short program, Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini rebounded with a brilliant free skate to claim the gold medal in the pairs event, besting Czechoslovakia's Jana Bláhová and Luděk Feňo and American siblings Beth and Ken Flora. The Soviet pair who had been second after the short program, Marina Gurieva and Vladimir Radchenko, bombed in the free skate and dropped to fourth. The Canadian judge had them as low as seventh. Canada's second entry, Lorri Baier and Lloyd Eisler, placed sixth.

Lorri Baier and Lloyd Eisler

Underhill and Martini had only been skating together since the summer of 1978 and had won the Canadian junior title the month prior to travelling to France. Martini told a reporter from "The Globe And Mail", "It was very close to the way we skated at the Canadian Championships. We skated well there and we skated well here. I don't think I even broke out into a sweat tonight."


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Soviet skater Kira Ivanova and West Germans Petra Ennert and Corinna Tanski took the top three spots in the school figures. Coming behind from eighth place, Jill Sawyer of Tacoma, Washington won both the short program and free skate and managed to win the gold over Ivanova and Enert by less than five points. Only the Norwegian and Swiss judges had Ivanova first overall. 

Fifteen year old Jill Sawyer's winning free skate featured a triple toe-loop, triple Salchow and several double Axels. Ten year old Tracey Wainman, the youngest and smallest of the twenty-six competitors, rebounded from fourteenth in figures to place sixth overall. British sportswriter Howard Bass mused, "Could this be the budding 1988 Olympic Champion?" Canada's second entry, Lorri Baier, placed fourteenth. Interestingly, Wainman and Baier were both novice skaters. The CFSA had chosen to send them instead of the top two skaters in the junior women's event at the Canadian Championships, setting what some no doubt believed was a dangerous "precedent". At a press conference, Barbara Graham told reporters, "I think both girls have demonstrated that it wasn't too much for them, even at their young age... The girls came for experience and we're satisfied with what they did."


Tatiana Durasova and Sergei Ponomarenko

Nine teams competed in the ice dance event, but it was really a two-way race between Soviets Tatiana Durasova and Sergei Ponomarenko and Canadians Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber. Durasova and Ponomarenko ultimately dominated the event from start to finish, winning both the compulsories and free dance and earning first place marks from every judge.

Kelly Johnson and Kris Barber. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater" magazine.

Soviet skaters hadn't participated in the preceding two international junior events in in Megève. In 1977, the Soviet Union had actively boycotted the event due to the situation that ultimately resulted in a one-year ban for Soviet judges. They were reprimanded by the ISU for this. Incredibly, Durasova and Ponomarenko's win would be the first of sixteen consecutive victories in dance for Soviet or Russian dancers. The bronze went to France's Nathalie Hervé and Pierre Husarek, to the delight of the home crowd.

In his book "Skating In America", Benjamin T. Wright recalled, "The U.S. had not sent a dance couple because of the problem of age-eligibility, since the junior level in the United States was strictly skill based with no age limit, while the international junior level was strictly age based, a problem which would plague the selectors of the World Junior team members in the future. Often in dance especially, the only age-eligible couple would be too far down domestically to merit selection."


Dennis Coi. Photo courtesy "The Canadian Skater" magazine.

Vladimir Kotin of the Soviet Union, Michael Pasfield of Australia and Ivan Králík of Czechoslovakia earned the top three spots in the figures. As in the women's event with Jill Sawyer, Canada's Dennis Coi came from behind to win both the short program and free skate and snag the gold. The silver went to Vladimir Kotin and the bronze to America's Brian Boitano. Boitano had won the short program and landed two triples in his free skate despite suffering from the ill effects of the flu. Brian Orser, second in the short program, placed fourth overall despite trying - and tumbling - on a triple Axel attempt. It was the first of many meetings of 'the two Brian's' who would battle it out in Calgary in 1988.

The French sugar industry sponsored a team trophy - the Nations' Cup - with skaters/couples placing in the top ten earning points for their country. By almost twenty points, Canada won the cup and bragging rights. The Soviet Union and United States finished second and third.

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