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The 1954 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

From March 18 to 20, 1954, the famed Polar Palace in Hollywood, California played host to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Though the U.S. Championships were held in California in 1947, the event marked the first time that Los Angeles had the distinction of playing host to the event. It was also the first time since 1947 that the event was held over a relatively short three-day span. The rink where Sonja Henie and Belita Jepson-Turner had once practiced couldn't have been a more regal setting for America's top skaters.

Senior medallists in 1954. Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Each of the event's evening free skating sessions had sellout crowds of one thousand, six hundred spectators and the rink's coffee shop was full of skaters and judges, who snacked and smoked while discussing the high and low points of the competition. The jukebox played "Mr. Sandman" by The Chordettes.

There were social events too - a dinner and cocktail hour hosted by the Inter-Club Association Of Southern California, a Judges Dinner and a turkey dinner and dance, which was held in one half of the lobby of the host hotel, The Ambassador. Every medallist received a solid gold pin with a diamond inset from Harry E. Radix, engraved "1954 National Championships". The event's success was credited to the efforts of Otto Dallmayr, the Competition Chairman and Deane McMinn, then President of the Inter-Club Association.

Tenley Albright center ice at the Polar Palace, carrying the American flag. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Now that we have a picture of the event, let's look back on the most important part... the skating!


Sidney Ann Foster and Franklin Stirling Nelson. Photo courtesy Dartmouth College Archives.

Sidney Ann Foster of Fargo, North Dakota and Franklin Stirling Nelson of Tulsa, Oklahoma were the only novice or junior winners who didn't hail from the West Coast. Sidney and Franklin trained in Boston, under Cecilia Colledge and were students at Radcliffe and Harvard. They took the Silver Dance title, making history by performing the first winning free dance in this category at the U.S. Championships.

Patricia Kilgore with the Heaton R. Robertson Memorial Trophy. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Dawn May and David Hertz of Seattle, Washington took the junior pairs title. They were the only other novice or junior winners who weren't from California. Joan Zamboni and Charles Coulon medalled in both Silver Dance and junior pairs. At the time, Coulon was President of the host Los Angeles Figure Skating Club. Tim Brown, a student of Eugene Mikeler from Glendora, coasted to victory in the junior men's event on the strength of his figures. The free skate and silver medal was won by Milwaukee's Raymond Blommer, who was seventh in figures. Patricia Kilgore of Compton took the novice women's title, winning the new Heaton R. Robertson Trophy. Placing dead last in her first trip to Nationals was Maribel Yerxa Owen.

Roderick Reid, John 'J.J.' Bejshak, Robert Brewer, Lawrence Lovett, Lorin Caccamise, Don Mike Anthony, James Short, Richard Swenning and Bradley Lord. Photo courtesy Robert Brewer.

Sixteen-year-old Robert Lee Brewer of Alhambra was the winner of the novice men's event. In fact, the top five spots in novice men all went to skaters from California! Placing sixth was young Bradley Lord from the Skating Club of Boston, a student of Bud Wilson.

Robert Brewer

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Machado, skating in her home rink, moved up from second after figures to claim the junior women's title. The leader after the figures, Sherry Dorsey of Mercer Island, Washington fell twice in her free skate and dropped to second. Mary Ann Dorsey, who was third after figures, withdrew after catching the flu. With a spectacular free skate, sixteen-year-old Claralynn Lewis of Colorado Springs moved up from being in a tie for seventh after figures to take the bronze. Machado was awarded the Oscar L. Richard Trophy for the most artistic performance in either the junior or senior women's events.


Edward and Carmel Bodel and Sidney Ann Foster and Franklin Nelson. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The 1953 Gold Dance Champions Carol Peters and Danny Ryan had parted ways to take jobs teaching in Washington, D.C. and at the Minto Skating Club. With unanimous first-place votes, married couple Carmel and Edward Bodel reclaimed the Gold Dance title that they had last held in 1951. For their effort, they earned the Harry E. Radix Trophy. Carmel worked as a secretary; Edward in the construction field.

Carmel and Ed Bodel

Phyllis and Martin Forney of the Hershey Figure Skating Club took the silver; Patsy Riedel and Roland Junso of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club the bronze. Finishing just off the podium in fourth were Janet Williams and Bill Kipp.

Dawn May and David Hertz and Carole Ann Ormaca and Robin Greiner. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Left: Phyllis and Martin Forney.

Only three pairs vied for the senior pairs event and the Henry Wainwright Howe Memorial Trophy. The winners, with first-place votes from four of the five judges, were Carole Ann Ormaca and Robin Greiner of Fresno. Margaret and Hugh Graham of Boston finished second; Lucille Ash and Sully Kothman of the Broadmoor Skating Club third. The results were exactly the same as the previous year's Nationals in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the only difference being that Sully had skated with Kay Servatius that year. Missing from the event were Anita Andres and Dudley Richards. They'd won senior pairs at the Easterns and were named to the World team but Dudley received a draft letter for the Korean War.


The Jenkins brothers

Twenty-two-year-old Hayes Alan Jenkins of Colorado Springs wasn't just the likely winner in the men's event in Los Angeles. He was practically a shoo-in. Hayes had won the last two World Championships and the previous year's World Championships. He also benefited from the fact that after the World Championships in Oslo, Jimmy Grogan - who would have been his closest competitor - had turned professional.

David Jenkins. Photo courtesy Dartmouth College Archives.

Though Hayes' younger brother David gave him a run for his money, Hayes won both the free skate and a second national title. Ronnie Robertson, who'd finished second the year previous in Jimmy Grogan's absence, took the bronze and Tulsa's Hugh Graham finished fourth. Though the Broadmoor Skating Club finished a strong second to the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club in the battle for the Bedell H. Harned Trophy for the club that earned the most points overall, Hayes was the only skater from the Broadmoor to earn a gold medal in Los Angeles. 

Hayes Alan Jenkins. Photo courtesy Dartmouth College Archives.

Hayes also won the Oscar L. Richard Trophy for the most outstanding artistic program in either the junior or senior men's events. Sevy Von Sonn wrote, "His tremendous poise and the ease with which he skated, coupled with his ability to coordinate his skating moves and music beautifully, were indeed a joy to behold."


Tenley Albright at The Polar Palace.  Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Eighteen-year-old Tenley Albright of Newton Center, Massachusetts may have been the defending U.S. Champion, but after losing her World title to West Germany's Gundi Busch in Oslo, she was determined to fight back from the disappointment. After amassing an incredible one hundred and fifty point lead in the figures, she appeared in a fuchsia satin dress with matching gloves at center ice to perform her free skate to "Birth Of The Blues" - the same program she'd performed in a film for the Polio Foundation.

After performing a double Axel, Axel/double loop combination and a spread eagle/double Salchow/spread eagle sequence, she earned a standing ovation and first-place marks from every judge on her way to her third national title.

Fourteen-year-old Carol Heiss, the youngest competitor in the six skater field, was unanimously second. The fact she even competed was quite a feat, considering that only two months earlier she'd suffered a serious injury in practice after colliding with her sister. "I really did nothing more than a double flip and a double loop, but I was so far ahead in figures that helped me to stay second," Heiss told Allison Manley in her 2012 interview on The Manleywoman SkateCast. Four judges to one, Frances Dorsey defeated Patricia Firth for the bronze. The only non-teenager in the field, twenty-two-year-old Margaret Ann Graham of Tulsa finished fifth. Miggs Dean of Farmington, Michigan was sixth.

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 "Jackson Haines: The Skating King" and pre-ordering "Sequins, Scandals & Salchows: Figure Skating in the 1980s", which will be released this fall where books are sold: