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Here Come The Judges

Cover to Lilac City Figure Skating Club (Spokane, Washington) cookbook, 1984

For as long as figure skating competitions have existed, there have been dedicated men and women freezing their fannies off to judge them. From the encouraging judges who guide us through our Preliminary Dance tests to the crooked 'tap-dancing judges' and Marie-Reine Le Gougne in Salt Lake City, these volunteers certainly do run the gamut. The last Jumble Of Judging Tales was such a hit, I decided to share another collection of judging stories you may not have heard!


In December of 1945, Herbert J. Clarke became the President of the ISU. Prior to World War II, he had been a perennial judge at the European and World Championships. He first judged at the Worlds in Vienna in 1923, when Sonja Henie's one-time rival Herma Szabo won her second World title. He was the only judge to place her second in the free skate.

Left: Sonja Henie. Right: Herbert J. Clarke. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland.

In 1927, Sonja Henie controversially defeated Herma Szabo at the World Championships in Oslo. Three of the five judges were Norwegian. The following year when the event was held in London, Clarke sat on the panel. He placed Henie third in figures was the only judge to place her second overall behind Maribel Vinson. At the 1929 Worlds in Budapest, Clarke was the only judge to place Henie third in free skating. In 1930 in New York City and 1932 in Montreal, he was the only judge to put her third in figures. In 1935 in Vienna, he was the only one of the nine judges to place her second in figures.

Though a small handful of judges dared not to place the Norwegian skating queen first during her decade long reign, no other judge was perhaps more despised by Sonja Henie than Herbert J. Clarke.

Etching by Russell Sherman. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. 


To say that judges have been disagreeing since skating's earliest beginnings is no exaggeration. The first judge to place a World Champion outside of the top three was Ivar Hult. Way back in 1897 in Stockholm, he was the only one of five Swedish judges to have the winner Gustav Hügel fourth overall on his scorecard. The first judge to do this under the Open Marking System was one Mr. Voordeckers of Belgium in 1950. He had World Champions Karol and Peter Kennedy sixth. All but one other judge had them first.


Though the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz were the fourth Games to include figure skating, they were the first where a competitor didn't perform 'double duty' as a judge. In London in 1908, Horatio Tertuliano Torromé judged the pairs event and competed in the men's. In Antwerp in 1920, Walter Jakobsson judged the men's and competed in the pairs.

Georgette Herbos and George Wagemans

In Chamonix in 1924, Belgium's George Wagemans competed in pairs and judged the women's. Perhaps sitting with Walter Jakobsson on the judging panel jinxed him. He and partner Georgette Herbos placed only fifth. In all three cases, the men in question served alongside judges who scored them at the same event.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine


In Troppau in 1908, Gustav Hügel made history as the first former World Champion to 'turn the tables' and act as a judge at the World Championships. That autumn, he and Henning Grenander judged together at the Summer Olympic Games. In 1914, Olympic Gold Medallists Walter Jakobsson and Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin sat on a judging panel together at the World Championships in Helsinki but it wouldn't be until 1926 that two World Champions sat on the same judging panel at Worlds. Walter Jakobsson and Fritz Kachler judged the men's and pairs events in Berlin that year.


If you get your figure skating history from Wikipedia, you might think that the first woman to judge at the World Championships was an Austrian woman with the last name Schwarz. The ISU's records list a 'F. Schwarz' and a 'Fr. Schwarz' as judges of the women's and pairs events in 1911, but the Fr. didn't stand for Frau or Fraulein. Primary sources reveal that both Schwarzes were men. Ferdinand Schwarz represented one Viennese skating club; Franz Schwarz another.

A woman didn't judge at the World Championships until 1929, when Olympic Gold Medallist Ludovika Jakobsson picked up a clipboard and marked the pairs event. She made history again in 1936, when she became the first female Olympic judge, again in pairs. In 1938 and 1939, she and Ethel Muckelt successively judged the pairs event at the Worlds. 

Mollie Phillips. Photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine.

Following World War II, Mollie Phillips emerged as a pioneering female judge, officiating at the 1947 European Championships and 1948 and 1949 Worlds. In Milan in 1951, she judged the pairs and men's event and Pamela Davis judged the women's, making it the first year that all three disciplines had female representation on the judging panel. When ice dance was officially added in 1952, she and Katherine Miller Sackett, the first female judge at Worlds from America, sat on the panel. In 1953, she became the first female referee at an ISU Championship, presiding over the dance event. Canada's first female judge at Worlds was Pierrette (Paquin) Devine in 1957.

Women didn't outnumber the men on a judging panel at the World Championships until 1965. The pioneering judges of the women's event in Colorado Springs that year were Great Britain's Pamela Davis, France's Jeanine Donnier-Blanc, East Germany's Carla Listing, the Soviet Union's Tatiana Tomalcheva and America's Jane Vaughn Sullivan. The year prior, Mrs. Donnier-Blanc had served on the first five-female judging panel at the European Championships.


In 1892, a series of North American fancy skating contests were embroiled in judging controversies. At the Championships Of America, held that year at the Hoboken Thistle Club in New Jersey, George Dawson Phillips of New York beat J.F. Bacon of Boston by six points. It was charged that the judges were all close personal friends of Phillips and that they "misinterpreted" the rules and given Phillips an extra two points and deducted three from Bacon's tally. 

Photo courtesy Canadian Jewish Heritage Network, Jewish Public Library Archives

At the New England Skating Association's championship in Brighton, Massachusetts, Bacon beat Louis Rubenstein's brother Moses by twenty points. When newspaper reporters decided that Rubenstein had been screwed, the organizers of the event declared the results null and void, and when it was later decided to allow the original results to stand, Rubenstein refused the second prize. 

When Rubenstein defeated Bacon by twenty points at the next event in Montreal, one of the judges (a hockey player named Charles E. Torrance) gathered up all of the score sheets and threw them in the fire to avoid scrutiny. That December, a reporter from "The Boston Globe" joked, "Figure skating is about as difficult and unpleasant thing to judge as a prize lot of babies, and the judges may, like the Western singer, have been doing the best they knew how."

While we may not agree with some of the PCS scores being doled out in figure skating competitions today, at least the judges can't burn their scoring sheets.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":