The 1971 European Figure Skating Championships

The third manned lunar landing, achieved by the Apollo 14 mission, was a top news story. A carton of eggs cost sixty cents and bacon a pound of bacon was less than a dollar. The film "Love Story", starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O'Neal, was number one at the box office. Lynn Anderson's "(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden" topped the music charts.

The year was 1971 and from February 2 to 7, the Hallenstadion in Zürich, Switzerland played host to the European Figure Skating Championships. The historic city had only played host to the competition once before, exactly twenty years prior. However, the 1951 event had been held outdoors on the Dolder Kunsteisbahn, a massive open-air ice rink atop the city's biggest hill, surrounded by a forest. 

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

How did things pan out in Zürich that chilly February? Let's take a look back at the stories and skaters that shaped the event.


Pairs medallists

In 1969 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Soviet pairs had swept the pairs podium at the European Championships for the first time. In 1970 in Leningrad, the East German pair of Heidemarie Steiner and Heinz-Ulrich Walther had taken the bronze - putting a wrench in the hopes of the Soviets repeating their 1969 feat on home soil. In Zürich, Steiner and Walther stood at the boards as coaches, hoping that their efforts teaching in East Berlin would propel another East German team to the European podium. 

Left: Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov. Right: Lyudmila Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Two-time and defending European Champions Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov took the lead in the compulsory short program. Despite an uncharacteristic tumble from Ulanov in the free skate on a side-by-side double Axel attempt, they managed to best their teammates Lyudmila Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin both in the free skate and overall. Both teams received huge ovations from the Swiss crowd. In a dramatic battle for the bronze, Soviets Galina Karelina and Georgi Proskurin completed the Russian sweep of the podium. They outranked East Germans Manuela Groß and Uwe Kagelmann by just three points and one ordinal placing. 

Manuela Groß and Uwe Kagelmann

Fourteen year old Groß and twenty year old Kagelmann completed side-by-side double Lutzes in their free skate, which were just as rare as Rodnina and Ulanov's planned side-by-side double Axels at the time. 


 Left: Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov. Right: Angelika and Erich Buck. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Twenty couples representing eleven countries competed in Zürich, but the two most talked about were Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov and Angelika and Erich Buck. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted that at that event, "Gossip and publicity brought about prejudging in the case of the Bucks. The judges marked them higher than both British teams who, many believed, had programs of equal technical merit but richer in style. The Bucks, however, were well-matched and smooth in their free dance to 'Music of the Mountains' and Kaempfert's 'Swiss Polka'... Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov brought to Zürich a free dance to real dance music that displayed their athleticism. Their Spanish theme blended tango ['Jalousie'] and paso doble rhythms.'" 

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

However, as would happen at several events in the next couple of years, Angelika and Erich's strengths versus those of Pakhomova and Gorshkov's divided Communist and Western bloc judges. Both teams ended with same total of place ordinals and only a 0.4 difference in points. The Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Soviet and Polish judges voted for the Soviets, while judges from West Germany, Austria, Great Britain and Switzerland voted for the West Germans. The deciding vote in favour of Pakhomova and Gorshkov was made by France's Lysiane Lauret. 

Susan Getty and Roy Bradshaw. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Skating to "Oye Negra", "Hernando's Hideaway", "A'Agapo" and "Millionaire's Hoe-Down", Britons Susan Getty and Roy Bradshaw took the bronze, besting Soviets Tatiana Voituk and Vyacheslav Zhigalin by a comfortable margin. In fact, the fifth place British couple - Janet Sawbridge and Peter Dalby - were only two points and ordinals behind the second Soviet couple. 


Men's medallists

Patrick Péra and Günter Zöller, medallists at the 1970 European Championships in Leningrad, were both absent from Zürich. Zöller was recovering from a foot operation and Péra slashed his foot only three days before the competition. These absences would have somewhat taken the pressure off of Ondrej Nepela, the two time and defending champion. 

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

After racking up a solid lead over Soviets Sergei Chetverukhin and Sergei Volkov in the school figures, Nepela delivered a steady and confident free skating performance that was enough for him to coast to victory. He actually outranked Chetverukhin, the silver medallist, by a margin of almost sixty three points. 

Sergei Chetverukhin. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

That said, the star of the show was Great Britain's Haig Oundjian. Skating to "Carmen", Oundjian landed a triple Salchow and triple toe-loop on the way to becoming the first British man since Michael Booker in 1956 to win the free skate at the European Championships. He earned the bronze overall, climbing all the way up from sixth after figures. At the time, he was ranked second in Great Britain to John Curry.


John Curry had been training in Switzerland prior to the competition with Arnold Gerschwiler, and managed a comeback of his own. He moved up from eleventh to seventh with a fine free skating performance, marred only by a tumble on a triple loop. 

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

Places fourth through sixth were filled with Eastern bloc skaters - East Germany's Jan Hoffmann and Soviets Yuri Ovchinnikov and Sergei Volkov. With his high flying jumps and unique style, Ovchinnikov was a favourite of the Swiss crowd.


With the retirement of defending European Champion Gaby Seyfert, little stood in the way of nineteen year old Trixi Schuba of Austria finally winning the competition she had medalled at but not won the previous three years. In true Trixi Schuba fashion, she amassed an astonishing one hundred and nineteen point lead over Italian Champion Rita Trapanese in the school figures. In the free skate, Trixi struggled on two jumps but managed marks ranging from 5.2 to 5.6. On the strength of her figures, she managed to best Hungary's Zsuzsa Almássy and Trapanese to win her first European title. 

Zsuzsa Almássy. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Interestingly, all three of the medallists were criticized for their free skating efforts... among other things. Almássy, the showgirl of the bunch, was called out on her dramatic weight loss. A report in "Skating" magazine noted, "The dynamic champion's chances of winning the European title this season were real, and to jump higher, she went on a strict diet. The successful results were very evident when she appeared for training the first day; a journalist at the usual press conference asked her about her diet. The gay Zsuzsa said, 'I went to the doctor, who gave me pills. I asked him if I had to take them before or after meals. He replied, 'Instead of the meal.'"

Sonja Morgenstern. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The women who earned the most praise were a pair of Frau Jutta Müller's students, sixteen year old Sonja Morgenstern and fourteen year old Christine Errath, and Zürich's own Charlotte Walter, who was skating on home ice. 

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

Sonja Morgenstern won the free skate, landing a triple Salchow and moving all the way up from eighth to fourth overall. Christine Errath leaped from tenth to seventh with a technically demanding performance of her own. Charlotte Walter placed an impressive fifth, the highest finish ever in singles skating by a Swiss woman at the European Championships at that point in time.

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