Szende In The Clowns: The Andor Szende Story

Born April 14, 1886 in Budapest, Austria-Hungary, Andor Szende was the son of Josef Steigenberger and Regina Szende. His father, who sold cotton, wool, cloth and textile goods, was Jewish. He adopted his wife's last name and changed the spelling of his first name to József. Andor had a brother sister named Ilona and a brother named Dezso who went on to be a doctor.

As a young student, Andor excelled at a variety of sports, including tennis, shooting and speed skating. He won local championships in the high and long jump, hurdles and running. At the age of twenty in 1908, he was nominated to represent his country at 1908 Summer Olympic Games in athletics. The "Hudzadik Szadad" reported he even met a team of athletes that departed from the Nyugati Railway Station in Bratislava but "did not travel to London" to compete.

That same year, Andor won the Hungarian junior figure skating title and an international free skating competition in Davos. A regular at the Városligeti Műjégpálya, he was a member of the prestigious Budapesti Korcsolyázó Egylet (Pest Skating Club). Training under Viktor Seibert, the Bosnian coach of Lili Kronberger, his skill on the ice improved rapidly. At his first international competition, the junior men's event at the 1909 European Championships, he seemingly came out of nowhere to claim the gold medal. He made his senior international debut the following year at the World Championships in Davos. So impressive was his performance that the Swiss judge had him in first in the school figures ahead of both Ulrich Salchow and Werner Rittberger. The "Hudzadik Szadad" reported, "Who would have expected the Hungarian Szende to win the third place? No one. We thought that a serious athlete like Szende would not be named in a World Championship without any foundation, but he played a significant role there and we did not really expect it... Szende is one of our best skaters. He does not have born talent, but his will, ambition and especially serious training have made him a dangerous competitor anywhere."

In 1911, Andor claimed his first Hungarian senior title and placed fifth in his first trip to the European Championships. Though he finished fourth in the World Championships that followed in Berlin, the German and Swedish judges had him tied for first with Salchow in the free skating competition. Salchow commented, "Szende skated well [but] a bit brutally." A reporter from "Les Sports d'Hiver" remarked, "Szende made a very good impression. In his countenance, athletic power is associated with great beauty. "

Over the course of the next three years, Andor claimed another three Hungarian titles, a silver medal at the European Championships and another bronze medal at the World Championships, establishing himself as one of the world's top competitive skaters. Unfortunately, in his final trip to the World Championships in 1914, he placed a disappointing fifth. Swedish skating historian Gunnar Bang noted that he was "odd and nervous" at this particular competition.

The Great War effectively ended Andor's competitive figure skating career. He served as as a Lieutenant in a Bomber Squadron in Kaiserliche und Königliche Luftfahrtruppen (Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops). Though he returned to win a final Hungarian title in 1922 and was listed as as an entry in the 1924 Winter Olympic Games in the January 9, 1924 issue of "Paris-Soir Sportif", he ultimately didn't attend, missing his shot at Olympic glory for a second time. The reasons why he didn't attend either of the Olympic Games he was selected to compete at are unknown.

Off the ice, Andor was an architect of some renown. In 1927, the "Magyar Építőművészet" noted, "Andor Szende has been known [as] the powerful champion of the great masses, the master of monumental architectural drawings. His enormous, serious, brilliantly drawn out perspectives have become almost stylized over time and he knows far from those who are interested in building art in our country. The work of the modern, great German builders began in his works, since he worked for almost a decade in the studios of Möhring and Schmitz and learned the formation and distribution of these masters... Andor Szende is not the man of the exaggerated modern concept, he continues to develop his own custom design for traditions... The castles and interiors of Andor Szende meet the needs of the tastefully conserved people and we will appreciate them."

Andor Szende, Kathleen Shaw, John Ferguson Page, Ethel Muckelt, Dunbar Poole, an unidentified Swiss skater, Georges Gautschi, Werner Rittberger, Artur Vieregg, Zsófia Méray-Horváth and Gillis Grafström in Switzerland in 1925. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Though his work as an architect demanded much of his time, Andor made the time to remain active in the figure skating world as a judge. From 1925 to 1939, he sat rinkside and scrutinized the performances of many of the world's top skaters at the European and World Championships. As a judge, he called it as he saw it and often went against the grain. At the 1925 World Championships in Vienna, he placed his former competitor Fritz Kachler ahead of the winner, Willy Böckl. Nine years later at the 1934 European Championships, he was the only one of the seven judges to dare to place Sonja Henie second behind Liselotte Landbeck.

Little is known about Andor's later life. We do know that he married German skater Elli Winter, worked as a skating coach in Budapest for a time, survived World War II and passed away in his mid eighties in the year 1972.

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