The 1976 Skate Canada International Competition

Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

The very first Toronto International Film Festival had just been held, attracting thirty five thousand film-goers. America was in the final days of the Presidential race between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Stretch Armstrong dolls, the Whac-A-Mole arcade game and the Everlasting Gobstopper were all the rage and the Steve Miller Band's "Rock'n Me" was the most requested song at radio stations.

The year was 1976 and from October 28 to 31, over forty skaters from eleven countries gathered in Ottawa, Ontario for the fourth Skate Canada International competition. The men's and women's figures were held at the Nepean Sportsplex and all other events at the Ottawa Civic Centre.

Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

Crowds swelled to nine thousand, while thousands more watched the event from the comfort of their floral print sofas. The generous coverage of the event on CTV, with knowledgeable commentary by Johnny Esaw, played a huge role in its success. Frank Fleming, the President of the CFSA's Skate Canada National Committee, remarked, "If it were not for this medium, Skate Canada could not have been... [If there had] not been cross-country coverage... it would have been Skate Calgary or Skate Edmonton."

Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

As in previous years, there was no pairs event - just singles and ice dance. However, audiences were treated to exhibitions by two of the best pairs in the world - Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev and Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Canadian skaters Lynn Nightingale and Sherri Baier and Robin Cowan also gave exhibitions. Let's take a look back at how the competitions played out on the ice!


Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

Toller Cranston had turned professional, allowing Ron Shaver of Cambridge, Ontario to emerge (without a doubt) as Canada's 'number one man'. Shaver had been forced to withdraw from 1976 Olympic Games due to a groin injury. The medical staff at McMaster Medical Center in Hamilton had helped him recover through a strict fitness and exercise regime. He told a reporter from the Canadian Press that he'd rather be the underdog "because then I can pull out all the stops. I skate more cautiously when I'm number one." Caution was Shaver's friend in the school figures, where he carved out a narrow lead over the Soviet Union's Igor Bobrin. Shaver and Great Britain's Robin Cousins finished one-two in the short program, dropping Bobrin down to third. America's David Santee knocked Bobrin off the podium in the free skate, winning the bronze behind Shaver and Cousins. It was Shaver's second and final win at the CFSA's annual autumn international. Canada's other two entries, eighteen year old Vern Taylor and seventeen year old Brian Pockar, finished eighth and eleventh.

Photo courtesy "Robin Cousins: Skating For Gold", Howard Bass

In the book "Skating For Gold", Cousins recalled, "Skate Canada '76 was my first international competition as the British number one. Since John [Curry's] retirement, I had, as it were, unofficially replaced him... Skate Canada has always been a great competition in every way. On this occasion, between the compulsory figures, I was standing by the barrier and having a conversation with Ronnie Shaver about eating and what I had brought with me from the Ottawa Holiday Inn, where we were all staying, to eat when peckish while waiting off the ice. We ended with a humorous argument about how the English and North American words differ in the meaning. For example, what we would call the boot of a car, they would call the trunk, our bonnet is their hood, and so on. After a while, we suddenly realized that he we were in the middle of a big, dramatic competition, arguing over the English language. A Canadian lady standing nearby found it most amusing to listen to the two of us - earnest rivals on the ice - talking like this. We also discussed the usage of words like buns, pastries, cakes, cookies, and cookies and gateaux, when I happened to mention currants and sultanas. Well, this lady started laughing very hard - and the following morning in my mail box at the hotel I found a little package that contained a very small packet of currants from this lady, who had been much amused by our conversation and had broken the tension for the two of us. That was a characteristic personal experience of the Canadian people and their involvement with the British skaters. Skate Canada was to be the beginning of my special relationship with the Canadian people and the Canadian press - and every time since when I have competed in Canada, I have always had an excellent reception... It is just as if I am skating at home."


America's Linda Fratianne and Priscilla Hill both withdrew due to injury at the eleventh hour and were replaced by Suzie Brasher and Karen DeAngelo. DeAngelo won the school figures over hometown hero Kim Alletson. Switzerland's Denise Biellmann and Great Britain's Karena Richardson placed one-two in the short program, with Kim Alletson sixth in that phase of the event. DeAngelo still held onto the lead overall heading into the free skate, but she dropped off the podium entirely.

Karena Richardson

Kim Alletson skated strongly to win the gold, earning just two more points than Richardson, the reigning British Champion, who had just turned seventeen the month prior. Richardson lived in Stanmore but trained in Deeside, North Wales. The bronze medal went to West Germany's only entry, Garnet Ostermeier, who trained in America. Canada's other two entries, Carolyn Skoczen and Camille Rebus, placed a disappointing eleventh and fourteenth. The event proved to be Kim Alletson's only major competition win.


Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell. Right photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

The announcement of the retirement of Olympic Gold Medallists Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexandr Gorshkov broke in newspapers during the competition, taking some of the attention away from the dancers in Ottawa. It was a very close contest. Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov (ranked fifth in the world) won the compulsories, Susan Carscallen and Eric Gillies (ranked tenth in the world) the March OSP and Janet Thompson and Warren Maxwell (ranked sixth in the world) the free dance. Linichuk and Karponosov skated uncharacteristically poorly. Their free dance had a fall which they had a hard time recovering from and their OSP wasn't well received by either the judges or the audience. Betty Ann Bagley described it in "Skating" magazine as more of a "flamingo flaunt" than a March. They only managed to take the gold because they had one more first and third place ordinal than Warren and Maxwell, who had two more second place ordinals.

Photo courtesy Shari Lee Canning

The only team to receive a standing ovation were Canada's Lorna Wighton and John Dowding. Only seventh after the OSP, the best they could do was move up to sixth behind the Soviet Union's Lidia Karavaeva and Viacheslav Zhigalin and Austria's Susi and Peter Handschmann. Canada's two other teams, Sherry Temple and Marty Fulkerth and Kelly Johnson and David Martin, placed tenth and eleventh.

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