The 1952 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

King George VI passed away and Princess Elizabeth was proclaimed the Queen of England. The United States senate ratified a peace treaty with Japan. Harry S. Truman was President, Brylcreem and beehives were all the rage, a movie ticket was forty cents and Kay Starr's "Wheel Of Fortune" topped the music charts.

The year was 1952 and from March 26 to 29, many of America's best figure skaters gathered at the Broadmoor Ice Palace in Colorado Springs, Colorado for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The Broadmoor had played host to the Nationals in both 1948 and 1949.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

The event was the grand finale of a long and arduous season. Most of the top skaters had already competed at the U.S. Olympic Tryouts just before Christmas in Indianapolis and at the Winter Olympic Games and World Championships, held in Oslo and Paris. Though the competition was serious business, the mild weather coupled with the popular outdoor swimming pool on the Lake Terrace of the Broadmoor Hotel provided more of a vacation vibe than anything. How did things play out on the ice? Let's take a look back!


Los Angeles' Georgiana Sutton lead the way after the school figures in the novice women's event, but was overtaken in the free by Mary Ann Dorsey. Fourteen year old Dorsey - 'Lulu' to friends - was a ninth grade student in Minneapolis who enjoyed knitting and playing ping pong. Another ninth grade student, thirteen year old Tim Brown of Baltimore, was the unanimous winner in the novice men's event. He had only been skating for three years at that point and carried around a wishbone for good luck.

The winners of the junior pairs title were Sharon Coate and Richard 'Buddy' Bromley, teenagers from the state of Washington. Coate and Bromley were competitors in singles, pairs and dance and represented two different clubs - she Seattle; he the Lakewood Winter Club in Tacoma. He was the editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper; she collected dolls from around the world. Finishing just off the podium in fourth were Carol Ann Peters and Danny Ryan, who skated 'double duty' in the Gold (senior) Dance event.

The Silver (junior) Dance event was won by a husband and wife team from Buffalo, Elizabeth and Roger Chambers. They had both been skating for around ten years; competitively for four. She was a mother of three and he worked in the sales department of Maxson Cadillac. Both were keen amateur photographers and were quite tall for dancers at the time. She was five foot six; he six foot one.

Carol Heiss and Tenley Albright

Though she had just won the Eastern title in the senior category, twelve year old Carol Heiss competed as a junior in Colorado Springs. She represented the Junior Skating Club of New York and came behind from third in figures to convincingly win the junior women's event. In doing so, she added her name to a long list of U.S. women who'd claim national titles as both a junior and senior... Tenley Albright, Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill, Yvonne Sherman, Beatrix Loughran and Maribel Vinson among them. In her 2012 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, Heiss recalled, "It was my first time dealing with the altitude. And I was third in school figures, and I remember thinking that I would have to work hard on them to get better. And I remember walking in and slamming the big arena doors on my finger. Even today it’s a little crooked, so I must have broken it."

When fourteen year old Ronnie Robertson, a ninth grade student at a progressive school in Colorado Springs, won the junior men's school figures, some thought his road to gold would be a cakewalk. It was anything but. He faced a serious challenge in the free skate from Cleveland's David Jenkins and California's Armando Rodriguez. When the marks were tallied, three judges had Robertson first, one voted for Rodriguez and another gave his first place ordinal to Philadelphia's William Lemmon Jr. - who ended up only seventh overall. The red-haired Robertson took the gold, followed by Rodriguez and Jenkins... and everyone agreed that the future of men's figure skating in America looked very bright indeed.


Only two pairs competed for the Henry Wainwright Howe Memorial Trophy in the senior pairs event. To no one's surprise, Karol and Peter Kennedy easily defeated Minnesota's Janet Gerhauser and John Nightingale to win their fifth and final U.S. title. Though there was no controversy in hthe judging - all five judges had the Kennedy's first - but behind the scenes there was a very different story going on.

The February 28, 1952 issue of "The Seattle Daily Times" reported, "Dr. Michael Kennedy of Seattle and his son were involved in a fist fight with a French news cameraman tonight at the World Figure Skating Championship and were separated by police. The incident came as Peter and his sister, Karol, had left the ice after finishing their pair-skating routine. As they left the ice, Karol stepped to the side of the rink and sat down to catch her breath. Dr. Kennedy said he asked the photographer not to take her picture because she was crying, but the picture was made anyway. In the melee that followed, the doctor's glasses were broken and the cameraman received a bloody nose. The police stepped in. The Kennedys hurried from the Sports Palace by a rear door and were taken to their hotel. Peter and Karol didn't wait to change to their street clothes."

In the months that followed, the ISU had its Congress and the USFSA its Annual General Meeting. It came out that in addition to the incident in Paris, Karol and Peter had also skated an exhibition without a proper sanction in Garmisch-Partenkirchen following the World Championships. The incident in question was a performance for American G.I.'s during a Bavarian skating competition, arranged by the U.S. military. Their father believed the German sponsors had applied for a sanction from the ISU, but they hadn't. Newspapers reported the exhibition as being the reason for their suspension, but the USFSA and ISU also acknowledged the incident in Paris.

Though Karol and Peter's father had told the press that they intended to skate professionally, after the suspension Peter applied to his local draft board for induction to go fight in the Korean War. He was rejected because he had asthma. He had previously been given a deferment because he was a student at the University of Washington. He got a job at the First National Bank.


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Six couples competed for the Harry E. Radix Trophy in Gold (senior) Dance in Colorado Springs, with two pairings eliminated after the initial round. The unanimous winners, to the surprise of few, were Baltimore's Lois Waring and Michael McGean. They had won the event previously in 1950 but opted not to compete the year prior and were also victors at the ISU's International Ice Dance Competition at the 1950 World Championships in London. Their free dance (rather daringly) included a couple of very small lifts. 

Twenty one year old Waring had studied at the University Of Miami and twenty four year old McGean was a graduate of Dartmouth College. She enjoyed dancing and dressmaking; he photography and squash. The Sunday following the competition, the couple got married outdoors on the Lake Terrace at the Broadmoor Hotel. Many skaters and officials stayed in town for the ceremony and reception.


Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

After losing to Sonya Klopfer at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, sixteen year old Manter Hall School student Tenley Albright of Boston had claimed the silver medal at the Winter Olympic Games in Oslo and withdrawn from the World Championships in Paris due to a serious bronchial infection. Sufficiently recovered to compete in Colorado Springs, Albright easily won her first of five consecutive U.S. titles, leading the field of six from start to finish. She also earned the Oscar L. Richard Trophy, awarded to the most artistic 'lady' skater. 

Seattle's Frances Dorsey took the silver, while St. Louis' Helen Geekie (competing in her eighth U.S. Championships) took the bronze. Sonya Klopfer and Virginia 'Ginny' Baxter, second and third at the World Championships, were notably absent. Shortly after the competition, both received suspensions from the USFSA for promising to compete at the U.S. Championships before leaving for Europe to compete at Olympics and Worlds, and failing to do so.


Tenley Albright and Dick Button

"A superbly built athlete of immense strength, as lithe as a panther, he is concerned with his figure skating, as an endeavour to reach even greater heights. A terrific worker, he trains has few athletes have ever trained before and anyone who has seen him skate must surely realize how necessary this hard training is in order to attain such exceptional brilliance and to perform his amazing programme". These were the words of famed British skater, judge and writer T.D. Richardson, describing two time Olympic Gold Medallist, five time World Champion and three time North American Champion Dick Button. It was a delight to the skating community that Button gave "perhaps the greatest free style exhibition of his career" (according to Mrs. R. Sanders Miller in "Skating" magazine) to win his seventh consecutive U.S. title in Colorado Springs. In his final competition as an amateur, Button put the boots to his competition in the figures and landed a triple loop and three double Axels to earn unanimous first place votes from every judge and the Oscar L. Richard Trophy for the most artistic performance by a male skater. Jimmy Grogan, the winner of the U.S. Olympic Trials (which Button hadn't competed in) took the silver, ahead of Hayes Alan Jenkins, Dudley Richards and Hugh Graham. The standard of skating was so high that any other year, any of the five competitors could have easily won.

In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Button wrote, "I knew that this last national championship might be by final competition and I slaved to make it a successful one. Winning the United States title for the seventh title, I equalled the record set by Roger Turner of Boston in 1934. When I retired after this '52 tournament, I left a sport which was waxing yet stronger, with no hint of a slowdown. I was amazed in 1949 to see novice skaters incorporating in their routines jumps which had been considered daring manoeuvres for champions as late as 1945. This trend became more marked through 1952, and it seemed that an original, difficult move was no sooner introduced than it became standard equipment down the ranks of competitors, from the seniors, through the juniors, into the more talented echelon of novices. The mastery of these new ideas was not easy, but the ambition and industry of our younger skaters was so intense that they were achieving in one season what would have been the work of several years in more leisurely pre-war times. In the national and sectional championships I could appreciate best the restless urge for perfection and progress in so many skaters. Their enthusiasm and drive had carried our made-in-America school to world supremacy, and had already established it on a sounder basis when I retired than at any time during my competitive career."

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