A Short History Of Skating Siblings

Kate Greenaway's illustration "Brother And Sister". Photo courtesy New York Public Library.

Throughout figure skating's rich history, the masses have loved a good romance. What could be more appealing to the general public's sensibilities than a couple whose feelings for one another transcended the ice?  It makes a great story, right?

Though many champion pairs and ice dance teams have had off-ice relationships, countless others were subjected to the endless speculations of "are they or aren't they?" In 'skating's early days', many on-ice couples who had no romantic interest in one another were creepily asked by photographers to "just give us a little kiss for the camera". Heaven forbid two people just enjoyed skating together and wanted to win some medals.

The tired argument that "a brother and sister dance team couldn't express romance on the ice, so their skating couldn't possibly be as beautiful to watch" has been peddled for decades. Sadly, these kinds of comments have long plagued skating siblings and influenced the perceptions of their abilities and potential.

The reality of the matter is that siblings have been skating together as long as there has been ice... and they've been doing a tremendous job of it despite the prejudices they've sometimes faced along the way. Today's blog looks back at some of the sport's most famous siblings... and the history they made.

Constance and Bud Wilson. Photo courtesy City Of Toronto Archives.

In 1905, Ottawa siblings Katherine and Ormonde Haycock won the first Canadian title in pairs skating. They defended their title in 1906 and in 1908, Ormonde and his other sister Aimée took the title. The Haycock's would pave the way for Toronto siblings Constance and Montgomery 'Bud' Wilson, who went on to win five Canadian pair titles from 1929 to 1934 and become the first sibling pair to win the North American title. Lindis and Jeffery Johnston became the first sibling pair to win a Canadian dance title in 1955, a feat they repeated the following year. The first time two Canadian sisters won a competition together was in 1939, when Hazel and Dorothy Caley were members of the top-placing Toronto four at the North American Championships. They never got to enjoy their victory though. The deed of gift for the Connaught Cup (awarded to the champions) required that all members of a four represented the same club. The Caley's were Granite Club members and their teammates were from the Cricket Club, so the Cup was awarded to the second place team.

Left: Grace and James Lester Madden. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Right: Maia and Alex Shibutani.

Boston's Grace and James Lester Madden became the first sibling pair to win a U.S. pairs title in New Haven in 1935. Incredibly, a sibling ice dance team didn't manage to top the U.S. senior dance podium until 2016, when Maia and Alex Shibutani finally claimed the title.

The first sibling pair to win a European title were Jennifer and John Nicks, who claimed gold in 1953. They subsequently became the second sibling pair to win a World title the following year. The first were Seattle siblings Karol and Peter Kennedy in 1950.

Karol and Peter Kennedy

In 1962, Czechoslovakian ice dancers Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman won their first of four consecutive World titles, cementing their place in history as the first sibling ice dance team to win gold at Worlds. Not all champion skating siblings in the fifties and sixties were pairs skaters or ice dancers. There were, of course, the famous Jenkins brothers - Hayes and David - who both won Olympic gold medals and dominated the World Championships for seven years straight. It was the first and only time two brothers both won the Olympic and World titles.

Ilse and Erik Pausin, a brother and sister from Vienna, made history as the first sibling pair to win an Olympic medal in 1936. Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay, Canadians skating for France, were the first sibling dance team to win an Olympic medal in 1992. Critics of the unique duo used the fact that they were brother and sister as a 'go-to' argument in their case that ice dancing wasn't ice dancing unless there was a suggestion of romance. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves argued, "Did dance have to be an interaction between two lovers? As sister and brother, Isabelle and Paul could not bring out this aspect of dance because of its potential incestual overtones. Other successful dance partners had been siblings: Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman, The Becherers, the Becks, and the Garossinos. Some cultures used dance to celebrate reaching manhood or as an offering to gods. Others used dance to celebrate the joy of life, as a catharsis in times of turmoil. Round dances and country folk dances needed no sexual overtones. In the broadest sense, dance could range between movement for lovers to movement for movement's sake. Dance could tell a story, paint pictures, or explore feeling from music."

The rest of the history of skating siblings is unwritten. There are still plenty of 'firsts' to achieve - an Olympic gold medal and World titles won by two sisters among those. Who are your favourite skating siblings? Share your thoughts on social media.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.