The 1960 World Figure Skating Championships

"We have been to Championships that have been well organized, but no better than here. We have been to Championships with a very fine welcome, but never to Championships where we have received the warmth of welcome that we have had in Vancouver." - Jacques Favart

Canadians had just won four medals at the Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley; two of them in figure skating. Women rushed to department stores to buy patterns for bell-shaped skirts and blouson silhouette dresses. A quart of milk cost twenty four cents; a dozen eggs was fifty five. John Diefenbaker was Canada's Prime Minister and everyone was bopping to Brenda Lee's latest hit "Sweet Nothin's". The year was 1960 and from March 2 to 5, Vancouver, British Columbia played host to the World Figure Skating Championships.

When Georg Häsler travelled to Colorado Springs to meet with Thayer Tutt at the Broadmoor Hotel to discuss the planning of the 1957 World Championships, his old friend Dr. Hellmut May invited him to the CFSA's AGM at the Hotel Vancouver. Häsler's talks with CFSA executives, Billie Mitchell and June Pinkerton sparked interest in bringing the world to Canada. Häsler sent Mitchell all of the necessary information pertaining to the organization of the event. She went to Granville Mayall, a CFSA executive member from Vancouver, with the idea of hosting the World Championships in Vancouver. He suggested Calgary take on the event but she persisted and he finally agreed to help make it happen. Mitchell and Mayall then enlisted the help of George Sherwood of the Capilano Winter Club. A CFSA committee was formed, chaired by Herbert Crispo. He estimated that over twenty eight thousand dollars was needed to cover the costs of advertising, transportation, publicity and room and board for the judges. The fact that the 1960 Winter Olympics were in Squaw Valley and some of the competitors actually made the long drive up the Pacific Coast instead to attend helped lower transportation costs significantly. Rather than place the burden of hosting the event on one club, Mitchell, Mayall and Sherwood devised a plan where the Burnaby, Capilano, Connaught, Kerrisdale, Vancouver and Totem clubs would share the hosting duties. Over two hundred volunteers were recruited and  the CFSA enthusiastically applied to the ISU to host the 1960 World Championships in 1957. They were provisionally awarded the event the following year, and given the official nod a year later. Though the Figure Skating Department of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada had hosted the 1932 World Championships in Montreal, figure skating was a completely different beast some twenty eight years later. The showmanship of Sonja Henie had been replaced by the athleticism of Dick Button. Outdoor competitions were slowly becoming a thing of the past and the introduction of open marking in the thirties had led to the almost instant computation, tabulation and printing of marks by 1955.

The interior of the the Vancouver Forum. Photo courtesy City Of Vancouver Archives.

Ultimately, the 1960 World Figure Skating Championships were held just after the Closing Ceremonies of the 1960 Winter Olympics. "Most of the competitors came directly from Squaw Valley, wearing their Olympic uniforms and looking tanned and healthy," recalled Patricia Shelley Bushman in her book "Indelible Tracings". Upon arriving in Vancouver, the skaters - who were relieved to be at sea level after competing at an altitude of six thousand feet at the Olympics - received welcome baskets, which included boot polish, Coca Cola soft drinks, skate laces and fresh fruit. Practice sessions were held at the Capilano Winter Club. The host venue, the Vancouver Forum on the grounds of the Pacific National Exhibition, had a dark history. During World War II it was used as an internment and processing camp for Japanese Canadians.

Left: Program for the 1960 World Championships. Right: Advertisement for Harlick & Co. Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide".

The Vancouver World Championships marked and inspired an important series of firsts. Johnny Esaw, then with CFTO (a precursor of CTV) was contacted by ABC to negotiate the television rights for the event. He bought the North American rights for ten thousand dollars and turned them over to Roone Arledge, the President of ABC. Though the competition was ultimately only broadcast down in the States, it was the first World Championships broadcast in North America. Esaw's involvement led to Canadian figure skating's first televised broadcast the following year - a series of exhibitions featured on "On The Scene", a program sponsored by Simonize Wax Of Canada. The event also marked the first time that the number of entries per country per discipline was limited to three by the ISU.

Editorial cartoon from the "Vancouver Sun" in 1960: "All right Carol Heiss... never mind the fancy figure skating... just serve the tea." Photo courtesy Library And Archives Canada, Estate Of Leonard Norris.

The event drew standing room only crowds and brought in an impressive seven thousand, seven hundred and eighty three dollar profit, which went to back into the five British Columbian clubs who hosted the event. Canadian skaters enjoyed their best showing at the World Championships in many years, trumping the Americans in medal wins for the first time. Let's take a look back at how things played out in Vancouver!


Nine teams representing six nations vied for gold in the ice dancing competition in Vancouver. Though Courtney Jones forgot his skates for one of the compulsory dances - causing great distress to the Canadian referee - he and partner Doreen Denny easily took the lead after the Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Quickstep and Tango were completed. Writing in "Skating" magazine, Edith Ray lamented, "Dance followers saw excellent dancing [from Denny and Jones] and not-so-excellent dancing by some in the field. The general fault in the compulsory dances was the lack of individual flavour. There was bad timing, many flats and much two-footing displayed in the Viennese; the Tango was executed with some badly flatted mohawk sequences, and two couples skated this dance on the weak or secondary beat."

In matching gray outfits, Denny and Jones were the class of the field in the free dance, earning first place marks from all seven judges on the way to their second World title. It was Jones' fourth, as he had of course struck gold in 1957 and 1958 with June Markham. Edith Ray noted, "Their program was better constructed than last year, and showed masterful composition, with moves flowing into one another in kaleidoscopic variety. They covered the surface with these interesting moves and dance steps. into which they wove their highlights... although, just as everyone else does, they wasted time and motion on a few 'cutenesses'."

Canadians Virginia Thompson and William McLachhlan surprised many by finishing a decisive second behind the British favourites in their international debut, much to the delight of the Vancouver crowd. Moving up three places from the year previous, France's Christiane and Jean-Paul Guhel claimed the bronze with a free dance Ray described as "refreshing". The other two Canadian teams entered, Ann Martin and Gille Vanasse and Svata and Mirek Staroba, placed sixth and seventh.

Margie Ackles and Chuck Phillips Jr., the American team who placed fourth, earned the USFSA's new Hickok Memorial Trophy as the top placing American pair. Placing fifth and eighth were Ackles and Phillips' American teammates Larry Pierce and Roger Campbell. Though they skated with Marilyn Meeker and Yvonne Littlefield in Vancouver, they'd both team up with new partners the following season... and perish in the Sabena Crash.


Alain Giletti

With Olympic Gold Medallist David Jenkins telling the USFSA to go ahead and "suspend him" for opting to return to his studies at Western Reserve University rather than competing in Vancouver and Olympic Silver Medallist Karol Divín withdrawing due to the same hip injury he'd endured in Squaw Valley, the men's competition in Vancouver was set to be a showdown between the two French Alain's - Calmat and Giletti - and Canada's Donald Jackson. All three men were superb skaters who had studied under Pierre Brunet.

Though Donald Jackson was clearly favoured by the Canadian crowd, it was twenty one year old Giletti who amassed a thirty-three point lead and placed unanimously first in the school figures. An Associated Press writer noted, "Opportunity finally beckons for the 21-year old Giletti after 14 years of skating. Eight times he has been champion of France; four times champion of Europe. But in world skating there has always been a Dick Button, Hayes [Alan] Jenkins or David Jenkins to win for the United States."

Donald Jackson

It was standing room only for the men's free skate, and Assistant Referee Alec Gordon surprised many by insisting on doing his job despite having a temperature of one hundred and three. Though Giletti landed two double Axels, he fell twice - once just after the landing of one of the Axels and once on the entrance to a flying camel spin. Donald Jackson, who landed two double Axels and a triple Salchow, was placed unanimously first in the free skate. However, hampered by his showing in the figures, he lost the gold by one tenth of a point to Giletti, who made history as the first skater from France to win a World men's title. After the results were announced, Jacqueline Vaudecrane threw her arms around both Alain Giletti and Donald Jackson and said, "Now we have two champions; one in figures and one in free skating." In his November 2013 interview on The Manleywoman SkateCast, Jackson surmised, "Maybe it was good that [I lost] because I stayed in for another two years."

British Champion Robin Jones practicing for the event at Queen's Ice Club. He finished fourteenth. 

Moving past Austria's Norbert Felsinger, Alain Calmat claimed the bronze despite falling on a double Axel early in his program. Canada's other two entries, Donald MacPherson and Louis Stong, placed eighth and eleventh. Bradley Lord and Gregory Kelley, the American men who placed sixth and ninth, were both victims in the Sabena Crash the following year in Belgium.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd


Vancouver airport policeman Ed Perry and Carol Heiss

A whopping twenty four entries made the women's field in Vancouver the largest of the four disciplines. The start of the school figures was delayed by five hours when it was learned several competitors would arrive later than planned. To the surprise of absolutely no one, twenty year old Olympic Gold Medallist Carol Heiss took a commanding early lead ahead of Holland's Sjoujke Dijkstra and America's Barbara Roles, the silver and bronze medallists from Squaw Valley.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

The weather, which had been beautiful, took a turn for the worse just prior to the women's free skate. A rare snowstorm prevented Frank Ross, the Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia, and his wife from attending, but the rink proved to be standing room only anyway.

Though the Italian judge gave a lone first place vote to Sjoukje Dijkstra in the free skate, Carol Heiss' four-minute free skating effort was more than enough for her to claim her final World title... at the stroke of midnight in front of three thousand spectators. Though she played it a little safe and left out her double Axel, sportswriter Jack Hewin noted, "People who saw both performances said this was better than the free skating effort that helped win Miss Heiss an Olympic gold medal." In her December 2012 interview on The Manleywoman SkateCast, Heiss reminisced, "Worlds was a very hard competition, because you’re so excited from the Olympics, and there’s an exhaustion that sets in. And I don’t think there’s an Olympic gold medal winner who doesn’t say that. There’s such excitement winning the gold medal, and the interviews, and the crowds, even back then. It was sort of a whirlwind and it was hard to keep training, even though Mr. [Pierre] Brunet was very good about trying to keep me on the ice and keep me training. And then going to Worlds for the fifth world title - I never went in for the record, that never dawned on me. It was just finishing my career. And I probably would have gone on to Nationals, but that was the first year that they put nationals before Worlds and Olympics, and it’s stayed that way ever since. And after that, I just wanted to get married, and there was a ticker tape parade in New York. They just couldn’t have treated me better. Carol Heiss Day, the key to the city, and then Long Island did the same thing. But then the offers came in and there were decisions. The first decision was, I said, I want to get married and make the decisions together. So we managed with good friends and my dad and the Brunet's to put my wedding together in six weeks."

Barbara Roles somewhat outshone Sjoukje Dijkstra in the free skate, but the Dutch Champion bested her for the silver on the strength of her showing in the figures. Canada's three entries, Wendy Griner, Sonia Snelling and Shirra Kenworthy, placed seventh, thirteenth and fifteenth. Japan's Miwa Fukuhara placed only fourteenth, but garnered considerable attention by skating to 'Oriental' music and landing a superb double Axel.

The judges didn't know what to do with the second American woman, young Laurence Owen. Her ordinals in the figures ranged from fifth to fourteenth; in the free skating from fifth to thirteenth. She ended the competition in a disappointing ninth, and perished the following year in the Sabena Crash before her natural talent was ever rewarded on the World's biggest stage.


Maria and Otto Jelinek

Capping off an incredible career with a flawless final competitive performance, Olympic Gold Medallists Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul delighted the Vancouver audience and judges alike by claiming the gold in the pairs competition. They did so with unanimous first place marks from all nine judges and a smattering of 5.8's and 5.9's.

Finding redemption after their disappointment in Squaw Valley, siblings Maria and Otto Jelinek claimed the silver in a six-three split over West Germans Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler, making it one-two for Canada. Nancy and Ron Ludington, who had won the bronze at the Olympics, had an off night and placed only sixth. The Jelinek's didn't skate as well in Vancouver as they did in Squaw Valley either, but they placed higher. Muriel Kay, who covered the event for "Skating World" magazine, was impressed though. She wrote, "The young Jelineks skated the most thrilling and dynamic programme of the evening - it was fast and sure, with exuberant vitality. Maria missed landing her double loop, and there were a few other minor faults - but for this, the judges would have been hard put to make their decision for first place. A year ago they were two youngsters skating very well - now they have matured and gained poise and a depth of feeling for their music which led to this first-class performance."

Oleg Protopopov, Maria Jelinek, Ludmila Belousova and Otto Jelinek

Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov were competing in only their second Worlds but were already garnering considerable consideration for their virtuosity. Unfortunately, a fall from Ludmila on the side-by-side double flips kept them down in eighth. Muriel Kay wrote in  "Skating World" magazine, "Their opening music sounded like the cascading of fountains, and their interpretation was exquisite and beautifully flowing... Their lifts were some of the best in the entire competition, with that quality of hovering for a long second at the peak... For those who really wondered just what 'light and shade' really means, it was demonstrated here superbly. It was just not interpretation as dictated by loudness and softness, crescendo and diminuendo and change of speed, but all the subtle variations of the moods of the music, born of the soul and not merely of the intellect. Once they perfect their skating movements and lengthen their stroke, which is still a little choppy in places, they will be serious challengers for the title."

Maribel Yerxa Owen and Dudley Richards

The American teams who finished tenth and twelfth, Maribel Yerxa Owen and Dudley Richards and Ila Ray and Ray Hadley, were among the Sabena Crash victims in 1961.

Fresh off Olympic victory, Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul

Canada's third team, thirteen year old Debbi Wilkes and fifteen year old Guy Revell, placed eleventh in their debut at Worlds.  In her book "Ice Time", Wilkes recalled, "The championships were the culmination of my Dad's dreams for me and, for one of the few competitions of my career, both my parents came... I had a great time. I tried to make friends with a Soviet pairs skater, [Ludmila] Belousova, who was skating with Oleg Protopopov... I thought [Ludmila] was my age and that we'd have great fun together. She turned out to be twenty-five. I also got word from the CFSA through my mother that I should watch out who my friends were... I was very happy about [the Canadian one-two finish], not only because of Otto and Maria, but because Marika Kilius, the German ice princess, was the most hateful person I had ever met. Years later, when Marg [Hyland] thought my competitive instinct needed a boost, she just whispered in my ear, 'Marika Kilius.'"

Postcard of the Hotel Georgia. Photo courtesy City of Vancouver Archives.

Following the competition, a who's who of figure skating gathered at the Hotel Georgia for an afternoon awards banquet. The over three hundred attendees each received a small silver maple leaf and a small slate totem pole with a silver medallion as keepsakes. The Japanese team all wore traditional costumes from their home country, and the Russian Federation presented the CFSA with a pennant of goodwill. Following the banquet, attendees went on a pleasure cruise of the Vancouver harbour and Howe Sound on a privately owned yacht and attended a cocktail party and buffet dinner and ice dancing session at the Capilano Winter Club. By this time, noted June Pinkerton, the chair of the Entertainment Committee, "It was evident... that the language barrier was no obstacle. Farewells were said, and with the end of another World Championship it was felt that a lot of new friends had been made."

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