The 1964 World Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze

Radios blared with news of the Vietnam War and Beatlemania. Cassius Clay had just been crowned the heavyweight champion of the world. Agatha Christie's Miss Poirot mystery "The Clocks" was on every nightstand and The Swinging Blue Jeans' cover of Chan Romero's "Hippy Hippy Shake" topped the music charts. 

The year was 1964 and from February 25 to March 1, a who's who of figure skating gathered at the twelve year old Große Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, West Germany. The 1964 World Figure Skating Championships proved to be one of the most exciting and well attended post-Olympic World Championships in history but it wasn't an event without drama.

Left: Mr. and Mrs. Willy Böckl in Dortmund. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Right: German lobby card of Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler. Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

NATO refused the visas of East German skaters who hoped to compete on the other side of the Berlin Wall and then the team dramatically withdrew when West German announcers refused to say "Deutschland Ost", instead announcing the East German skating association Deutscher Eislauf-Verband. An angry mob was waiting for Suzanne Morrow-Francis when the Canadian contingent arrived by bus in Dortmund. The judge dubbed by the European press as 'The Red Devil Of Innsbruck' had given low scores to the popular West German team of Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler at the Olympics and the patriotic Dortmund crowd was out for blood from the moment she arrived.

In her book "Ice Time", Debbi Wilkes recalled, "They were ready to tear Suzy apart. She switched outfits with Marg Hyland and quickly walked out with the kids with Marg's hat pulled over her face. Marg sauntered out in the red coat and said, 'Hi, everybody.' Everyone stared at her. 'Who are you?' She said, 'I'm one of the mothers.'"

Photos courtesy Julia C. Schulze

Soon after the Trojan Horse like ruse was discovered, the media frenzy continued. With all of the theatrics off the ice, tension was building in the Westphalian city before the competition even began but the action on the ice turned out to be just as exciting as the hype. Let's take a look back at the thrills and spills of this fascinating event!

Manfred Schnelldorfer and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler


Men's medallists in Dortmund. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

Despite the fact that twenty one year old Munich student Manfred Schnelldorfer had walked away with a surprise gold medal at the 1964 Winter Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria, many of those 'in the know' in the skating community still considered twenty three year old Alain Calmat of France - the defending European and World Champion - the overwhelming, hands down favourite entering the men's event in Dortmund.

German press clipping featuring Sjoukje Dijkstra and Manfred Schnelldorfer. Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

However, in the school figures, five judges had Manfred Schnelldorfer first.  Two gave Alain Calmat the nod, the Canadian judge favoured Karol Divín of Czechoslovakia. The Italian judge tied Schnelldorfer and Calmat. The free skate was won by Tommy Litz of Hershey, Pennsylvania, who made history by landing the first triple toe-loop in international competition in his athletic performance.

Tommy Litz

Manfred Schnelldorfer finished second in the free skate and Scotty Allen, Emmerich Danzer and Calmat were close behind. Karol Divín imploded and received ordinals from sixth to twelfth place in the free skate but narrowly held on for the bronze behind Schnelldorfer and Calmat. Scotty Allen of Smoke Rise, New Jersey settled for fourth place ahead of Danzer and Litz. Canadians Donald Knight and Charles Snelling placed ninth and twelfth.

In unseating Alain Calmat, Manfred Schnelldorfer became the first skater from East, West or unified Germany to win a gold medal at the World Championships in men's singles since Gilbert Fuchs in 1906.

Scotty Allen on "To Tell The Truth" following the 1964 World Championships


Left: Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman. Right: Janet Sawbridge and David Hickinbottom. Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine.

Eighteen and twenty one year old Czechoslovakian siblings Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman led the pack after the compulsory dances with first place ordinals from every judge. Janet Sawbridge and her bespectacled partner David Hickinbottom sat close behind in second. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On The Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "Eva and Pavel won unanimously, skating faultlessly and in perfect unison the same free dance program they had used for three years. The key to their success was elegant dancing. The gallery criticized the prevalence of pair-like moves and skating apart in the free dances, especially among the lower placed European Continentals. The English-speaking countries locked up second through eighth place. [Paulette] Doan/[Kenneth] Ormsby, recently engaged, had a lot to celebrate in moving up from third to second with their charming performance. Skating very close together and smoothly, their lively footwork brought fewer points but more ordinals to rise a place and beat the couple with higher marks. Sawbridge/Hickinbottom dropped to third with their classically English free incorporating neat changes of temp. [Yvonne] Suddick/[Roger] Kennison skated as well as they could for fourth."

Photo courtesy Marie Petrie McGillvray

Canadians Carole Forrest and Kevin Lethbridge and Marilyn Crawford and Blair Armitage placed seventh and eleventh. The judges didn't know quite what to do with an unheralded pair of sixteen year olds named Diane Towler and Bernard Ford. Only fourth in Great Britain's junior ranks ten months earlier, they were completely unknown to the international judges. British judge Harry Lawrence had them tied for fourth in the compulsories and seventh overall. They finished an unlucky thirteenth, with a last place ordinal from the Hungarian judge. Lawrence earned a one year suspension for 'inexperience' and two years later, Towler and Ford were World Champions. Demonstrations of the Cha-Cha, Cuban Rhumba, Jamaican Rhumba, Samba, Silver Samba, Starlight Waltz were skated by Peri Horne and Courtney Jones and Joan and John Slater and the Starlight Waltz was accepted as a new compulsory by the ISU, with the others taken under consideration.


Marika Kilius, Hans-Jürgen Bäumler, Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell in Dortmund. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

The 1964 World Championships in Dortmund marked the first time a two and a half minute compulsory connected (short) program was skated by pairs at the World Championships. The compulsory program had been tested at that year's European Championships in Grenoble, France but had not been included at the Olympics in Innsbruck. Olympic Gold Medallists Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov took a slight lead in the first phase of the pairs competition. Six judges had them first, one had them tied with Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler and two gave the latter the nod. The West Germans had won the European Championships and the Soviets the Olympics and the battle between the two pairs in the free skate - on Kilius and Bäumler's home turf - was the talk of the entire competition.

Left: Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler kiss for the photographers. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives. Right: Photographic postcard of the pairs medallists.

In his 1966 book "Winter Sports", British sportswriter Howard Bass described the showdown in front of twelve thousand, two hundred skating fans thusly: "The Russians, skating their free programme first, were at their classical zenith, achieving lifts and daring spirals of even greater difficulty than at Innsbruck. Their victory seemed assured but the tension was electric as the West Germans followed immediately afterwards. Knowing that something fantastic was necessary, they risked everything - and by a miracle everything came off in their greatest-ever performance. Five of the nine judges gave them 5.9 for technical merit and six awarded the same for artistic impression. Their seemingly impossible triumph was a fitting farewell for the Garmisch students."

Pairs medallists. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

As in Innsbruck, Canada's Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell decisively took the bronze ahead of Americans Vivian and Ronald Joseph. Debbi Wilkes recalled, "We had gold costumes that were totally beaded. We didn't dare wear them for the Olympic Games because everything was black or navy back in those days - that was the trend and the expected fashion. We didn't want to do anything that was going to jeopardize our ability to finish as high as we could, so we opted to stay with the black. There was no short program at the Olympic Games, but there was a short program for the first time in pairs, at Worlds. I think we wore black for the short program and then we decided, 'What the hell... we're going to wear the gold!' We wore the gold for the free program and it was like, when we stepped on the ice, the air went out of the building. It was like, 'Oh my God! What are those Canadians doing?' It was pretty funny... I remember Guy coming off the ice at Worlds saying, 'Those beads have got to come off the waist of that dress. They're making my hands bloody!' How true though - all those catches and twists with those bugle beads which were glass. He was trying to catch me around the waist and he was getting cut in the process. It wasn't very funny at the time, but it seems funny now."

Tatiana Zhuk and Alexander Gavrilov made up serious ground in the free skate to move up to sixth behind West Germans Sonja Pfersdorf and Günther Matzdorf. The Soviets had been ranked as low as eleventh of the twelve teams competing by the West German and Hungarian judges in the compulsory program.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

Interestingly, the whole debacle surrounding the medals in the pairs competition at the 1964 Winter Olympics didn't ultimately tarnish Kilius and Bäumler's World title win in Dortmund as the complaint regarding their amateur status had been made to the International Olympic Committee - not the International Skating Union. Nevertheless, it was their swan song to amateur skating.


Women's medallists. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives

More than six thousand people came from Holland on four special trains to watch the newly crowned twenty two year old Olympic Gold Medallist Sjoukje Dijkstra skate in her final World Championships. Of the twenty two women who skated their school figures, Dijkstra and Austria's Regine Heitzer were unanimously first and second. Canada's Petra Burka was a solid third, followed by Christine Haigler of the United States and Nicole Hassler of France.

Left: Sjoukje Dijkstra and Arnold Gerschwiler toasting her success in Dortmund. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives. Right: Peggy Fleming in 1964. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

Twelve thousand spectators packed the Große Westfalenhalle for the women's free skate. Though she turned out of an early double Axel attempt, Dijkstra - dressed in turquoise silk crepe - won the gold medal with first place ordinals from every judge. Interestingly, the Dutch judge gave Burka the nod over Dijkstra in the free skate. Another judge, Dr. János Zsigmondy of West Germany, had the two tied. Both Heitzer and Haigler had disastrous showings in the free skate. Heitzer fell twice - once on a double Axel attempt and a second time while making a turn at the edge of the rink. One judge had Heitzer in a tie for fourteenth; three judges had Haigler nineteenth. The skater who actually finished third in the free skate, Helli Sengtschmid of Austria, shockingly remained in twelfth place overall, hindered by a disappointing showing in the school figures and ordinals for other skaters that were all over the place.

Top: Scotty Allen and Regine Heitzer. Bottom: Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler. Photos courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

A young Peggy Fleming placed seventh in her first trip to the World Championships and Canadians Shirra Kenworthy and Wendy Griner placed tenth and eleventh. Sengtschmid's result contrasted with Heitzer's sparked much discussion about the weight of school figures in determining the overall result of international competition.

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