The 1958 World Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Sporting fans around the world were shocked to hear on the radio of the deaths of several Manchester United football players in a plane crash in Munich after a European Cup game in Yugoslavia. It was an eerie juxtaposition to one of the more popular songs of the time - Dan & The Juniors' cheery "At The Hop".

On February 17, 1958, Pope Pius XII declared Saint Clare the patron saint of television. Just mere days prior, many of the world's best figure skaters had gathered at the Patinoire Fédérale at Boulogne-Billancourt and the Palais des Sports near the Eiffel Tower in Paris to compete in The 1958 World Figure Skating Championships... the first World Championships to be televised on Eurovision.

Twenty-three men, twenty-nine women, fifteen pairs and sixteen ice dance couples entered, marking the largest number of entries ever at the World Championships at that point. The numbers would have been even higher, but two pairs, one woman and one man withdrew at the last minute. The large number of entries, coupled with the fact that the event was only three days long, was exhausting for skaters, judges, coaches, reporters and audience members alike. Eminent skating historian Dennis Bird warned, "The situation is serious. Twenty-nine girls, for instance, skating six figures, take at the very least, some fifteen hours of actual skating time, not allowing for meals or coffee breaks. 7 a.m. starts become necessary, with skating continuing until well after tea-time each day. A competitor who has just skated has two hours or more to wait until her next figure, with inevitable strain on the morale. If she is unfortunate enough to be first to skate any one figure, the interval is five hours. And what of the judges? How can the human brain possibly maintain a constant standard of judging after nine or ten hours? More than twenty-four hours judging in three days... It is an impossible demand to make of any judge."

Nancy Heiss, Carol Heiss, Donald Jackson, Carol Wanek and Pierre Brunet enroute to the 1958 World Championships

Though Russian skaters had competed at the World Championships prior to The Great War, the Soviet Union had never been represented at the ISU's most prestigious competition. A team of three men, two pairs and one judge made history in Paris, becoming the first Soviets to participate in the World Championships. Dennis Bird remarked, "I remember one amusing afternoon practice session when Sheldon Galbraith wanted to take some pictures of Stanislav and Nina Zhuk in one of their lifts. Not speaking Russian, he could not make himself understood, so he simply picked up Mme. Zhuk and whirled her over his shoulder to demonstrate. The other Russian skaters and their trainer (who wore a wonderful fur hat) enjoyed the little scene immensely, and the New York judge, Eddie LeMaire, recording it on his cine camera, truly remarked that the skaters seemed more successful than diplomats in breaking through the 'Iron Curtain'." Now that we've explored the fun behind the scenes,
let's take a look back at how things played out on the ice in Paris back in 1958!


Due to scheduling snafus, the compulsory dances started an hour and forty five minutes early. Because of this, the seats were nearly empty for the first two dances. When audience members finally arrived, the noise of them taking their seats caused a disturbance to the competitors and judges. The four compulsories drawn were the Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Paso Doble and Tango, and for the first time, a panel of nine judges presided over the event. Seven judges had June Markham and Courtney Jones in first after the compulsories, but the American judge had them in a tie for third behind Andree Anderson and Donald Jacoby and Geraldine Fenton and Bill McLachlan. The West German judge had the Canadians first. American, Canadian and British reviewers of the event all agreed that the standard was surprisingly low, with scraping threes, mohawks and timing issues all around. T. D. Richardson remarked, "Except for a few good couples, there seemed to be some shocking stuff, and in conversation with those better qualified to speak on ice dancing than I confirmed my opinion that for a world championship the standard was deplorably low."

A problem with the tonearm of the record player caused the music of nearly half of the couples to skip in the free dance. Unphased, June Markham and Courtney Jones unanimously won the free dance and gold medal with a lively performance that earned them 6.0's, nine ordinal placings and 134.5 points. Geraldine Fenton and Bill McLachlan took the silver and Andree Anderson and Donald Jacoby the bronze. Fenton and McLachlan had free dance ordinals ranging from second to sixth; Anderson and Jacoby's ranged from second to seventh. Fourth through sixth place teams Catherine Morris and Michael Robinson, Barbara Thompson and Gerard Rigby and Christiane and Jean-Paul Guhel also all received top three ordinals in the free dance. Canada's second couple, Beverley Orr and Hugh Smith, placed a strong seventh. T.D. Richardson recalled, "Courtney Jones and June Markham... are in a class apart and have mastered the art of presentation without that awful 'coyness' or showy nonsense seen, alas ! too often. What a wonderful programme is their's, displaying real skating ability. I was not greatly impressed by the Americans Jacoby and Anderson, but I thought the Canadians W. McLachlan and Geraldine Fenton, who were second, very attractive. I found the French couple, M. and Mlle. Guhel, most pleasing. They have elegance, a lovely sense of rhythm, and they skate well - and I was surprised they were not placed higher."

Dance medallists

Reviewing the event in "Skating World" magazine, Lenore Jennings remarked, "To a Britisher used to programmes skated, time after time, to the Foxtrot-Blues rhythms, it was very refreshing to hear so many varieties in the choice of music on this occasion - even though I fear some bore little resemblance to the skating - and in one or two instances were not suitable through lack of a specific beat. The programme and performance of Courtney Jones and June Markham was outstanding... The runners-up William McLachlan and Geraldine Fenton certainly provided food for thought! Not only was the music the same as Demmy-Westwood used a few years previously in the same, but the programme appeared to be Demmy-Westwood's in its entirety! What price originality - one of the points judges are supposed to mark?" Jennings also claimed that Fenton and McLachlan skated an incorrect version of the Tango, failing to cross from side to side. Her critiques infuriated Jean Westwood. Two months later, "Skating World" reported, "Jean Westwood, who has been teaching in Toronto of late, seems to have a flair for aggressiveness via correspondence! In response to her complaints about Mrs. Jennings' account of the World's Ice Dance Championship we would say - We have investigated at high level and find that McLachlan-Fenton appear to have had a basically wrong Tango (not a question of a version of this dance - see British judge's [Pauline Borrajo] marks). As to the question of the Canadian couple using the Demmy-Westwood free dance programme, Mrs. Jennings is by no means alone in contending that it was unoriginal. Miss Westwood admits that about five out of thirty or more movements were duplicated, but contends that others had previously copied parts of her old programme - so why shouldn't her pupils do likewise? Miss Westwood also contends that McLachlan-Fenton weren't the only couple to skate the version of the Tango that was criticized."


Pairs medallists in Paris

To the surprise of no one, Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul took the pairs title in Paris by a comfortable margin, earning first place ordinals from all but the Austrian judge. Věra Suchánková and Zdeněk Doležal of Czechoslovakia defeated Canadian siblings Maria and Otto Jelinek by just two ordinal placings for the silver.

Barbara Wagner and Bob Paul

The teams who placed fourth through sixth - Joyce Coates and Anthony Holles, Nancy and Ron Ludington and Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler - all had top three ordinals. Marika had won the silver medal the year prior at the World Championships with former partner Franz Ningel. Making their World debuts, Nina and Stanislav Zhuk and Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, placed eighth and nineteenth. Dennis Bird recalled, "The Russian judge, Mr. Adrianov, never allowed patriotism or politics to influence his marks. He put the Zhuks twelfth when most of the judges had them eighth, while he gave both the American pairs higher marks than Colonel Storke, the U.S. judge. He also showed a fine sense of humour when the Norwegian girl Ingeborg Nilsson crashed into him on some backward steps as he sat on the ice in his judge's chair. He seemed more amused than hurt; no less amused, in fact, than the laughing crowds, with whom he exchanged incomprehensible but good-natured repartee."

Nina and Stanislav Zhuk

Nina and Stanislav Zhuk attempted a double Axel lift in their free skating performance and were highly criticized for doing so. In his 1978 book "The Big Red Machine: The Rise And Fall Of Soviet Olympic Champions", Yuri Brokhin claimed "they were taken to task for making a Punch-and-Judy show of patinage artistique. Preoccupied with elegance and musicality, purity of line and unity of composition, the figure-skating establishment wanted no part of the young innovators' astounding acrobatics... Even Soviet judges were wary of their 'unseemly' style."

While in Paris, Maria Jelinek developed a crush on one of the Soviet skaters, who was under strict supervision. The two young lovebirds managed to sneak off for a walk in the Tuileries. When they parted ways, he gave her a Russian doll. They never saw each other again.

Joyce Coates and Anthony Holles

T.D. Richardson remarked, "The pairs provided us with a wonderful spectacle - the standard was remarkably high. The winners, Robert Paul and Barbara Wagner, are both very strong skaters, and their programme has all the elements necessary - some first-rate solo or shadow skating jumps, lovely lifts, steps and combined movements displaying technique of the highest order - a superb performance, athletic and beautiful. Doležal and Suchánková... skated a very fine programme which, in spite of a fall, gained them second place. The Jelineks... were unlucky to be drawn number one - they were certainly first-class - fast and accurate, performing a difficult programme with great musical sense. The British champions Tony Holles and Joyce Coates skated extremely well - a good orthodox programme with some lovely steps (a feature lacking in others.) They were very fast and did not put a foot wrong. The Ludingtons... gave the most original performance of the evening - some of the movements savoured of ice revue, but it was a very difficult programme very well executed, with superb rhythm expressing constantly changing tempo." Dennis Bird also made a point of lauding Holles and Coates. He added, "I think Tony Holles and Joyce Coates surprised everyone, perhaps even themselves. Last year, when they were fifth, critics could point out that only five pairs skated. This time they were fourth out of fifteen, and no one can deny that they are two of the brightest stars in the pair skating firmament today."


The men's school figures were the only event to be held at the Patinoire Federale at Boulogne-Billancourt, a rink built by the French Federation. In a bit of an upset, all but the West German judge had Tim Brown over David Jenkins after all six figures were skated. Many were surprised that European Champion Karol Divín was only fourth behind Alain Giletti, as figures were his speciality. T.D. Richardson bemoaned, "It would seem impossible that these cramped, stiff-legged, crouching creatures could be the same as those who on the Friday night brought the crowd and experts to their feet so often in enthusiastic applause. Most of these young men are far surer of a double Axel than of a bracket - because they practice them more... Suffice it to say that 'fives' were quite rare... During some of the school figures, there were nineteen people on the ice, apart from the skater: nine judges, the referee, assistant referee and eight other completely unnecessary and (unless the referee gave special permission, thereby breaking all the rules) unauthorized people. True, they were not selling ice cream or anything of that character, but they should not have been there."

David Jenkins

Though he put his hand down on a triple jump attempt, David Jenkins won the free skate and gold medal with one perfect 6.0, a slew of 5.9's and one 5.8. Donald Jackson - who was skating in Europe for the first time - was second in the free skate but only fourth overall on account of his poor showing in the figures. Jenkins' victory marked the eleventh straight year the World men's title had gone to an American. When it was announced he won, crowd of ten thousand cheered, applauded and stomped on wooden floors in approval. After winning, Jenkins told Associated Press reporters, "It was the most difficult program I ever skated. There was a lot of pressure out there. I wasn't sure I could do it [overcome Brown's advantage in figures]."

Eminent British skating historian Dennis Bird claimed that David Jenkins landed the triple flip in Paris. In his 2011 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast, David admitted to having "pretty much accomplished" the triple flip prior to attending medical school, but made no mention of landing it in Paris. It's possible either that Jenkins was being modest, but it's also certainly possible Dennis Bird the events misidentified a jump with a similar entry - the Salchow - or credited him with landing a triple he put his hand down on.

Tom Moore. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Though Jenkins and Jackson had been clear-cut victors in the free skate, the rest of the marks were all over the place. Alain Giletti, Alain Calmat, Eddie Collins, Charles Snelling and Tom Moore all received top three ordinals in the free skate. Tim Brown, who imploded, received marks ranging from fifth to seventeenth place. When the marks were tallied, Brown had more ordinal placings than Giletti but also more points, and he squeezed by him to take the silver by the narrowest of margins. Calmat and Divin followed. Karol Divín, only ninth in free skating, took sixth place overall. Collins was ninth; Snelling eleventh.


In the women's event, there was really Carol Heiss... and everyone else. The eighteen year old first year student at New York University wracked up a lead so massive in the school figures that showing up for the free skate was a mere formality. In fact, she almost didn't!

Left: Carol Heiss. Right: Nancy and Carol Heiss.

The morning of the women's free skate, Carol Heiss slept through her alarm and made it from her hotel to the rink just in time to put on her dress and lace up in her skates before they called her name.
Despite a shaky start, she turned out one of her best performances in Paris and won the event unanimously by over one hundred points. It was Carol's third consecutive World title - a record no other American woman had achieved at that point. T.D. Richardson raved, "We saw a changed Carol. With all its difficulties, its speed, and vivacious charm, her skating has acquired a commanding dignity and softness of movement that may well serve as a model."

Left: Women's medallists. Right: Carol Heiss receiving a cake after winning in Paris.

In the fight to be 'best of the rest', Austria's Ingrid Wendl was also in a class by herself. Unanimously second, Wendl was over eighty points ahead of her Austrian teammate Hanna Walter. West German sensation Ina Bauer actually defeated Walter in the free skate, but was unable to move up to bump her out of the bronze medal position. Gladys Hogg's student Dianne Peach was fifth; Carol Heiss' sister Nancy sixth. Margaret Crosland, a student of Hans Gerschwiler, was thirteenth. While the North American judges both had Crosland in the top five in figures, the West German judge had her in a tie for twenty first! Crosland's Canadian teammate, Sonia Snelling, placed fifteenth.

Regine Heitzer. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archive.

Regine Heitzer, the young Viennese skater who placed only twelfth, was an audience favourite. However, Dennis Bird recalled, "There was a tremendous and rather ugly demonstration after Regine Heitzer's free programme. She skated delightfully. Fast, dainty, and sure-footed, she gave a performance of real artistry. Up went her marks. 5.3's, 5.5's, one 5.7 - pretty good for a 14 year-old at her first World Championship. But the Parisians, I suppose, thought she should have had all 5.7's or 5.8's or something. Pandemonium broke out. There were howls and screams and boos sufficient to raise the roof, it seemed. When the next skater started - it was Dianne Peach - the first quarter-minute of her music was completely drowned. It must have been an unnerving experience for her to have to skate before a jeering, infuriated crowd of nearly 20,000 people." Canada's Nigel Stephens - who judged the men's and pairs events - was equally as unpopular with the Paris crowd for giving 4.6's when other judges were doling out 5.2's and 5.3's... even though his ordinals were the same as his peers.

Of all the competitors, eighteen year old Lois Thomson perhaps had the longest trip to Paris. When her coach Felix Kaspar left Australia to coach in Canada, she followed him there for a time, but spent the rest of year practicing down under. She made the trip across two oceans to the World Championships alone - without her coach or parents - and placed a disappointing twenty-fifth with a free skate that was deemed "entirely too old-fashioned."

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