The 1969 World Figure Skating Championships


Sly and The Family Stone's "Everyday People" topped the music charts, newspapers and radio stations couldn't stop talking about the FLQ bombing of the Montreal Stock Exchange and the Boeing 747 made its maiden flight. Yet, for figure skating fans the only news that mattered came out of the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

From February 25 to March 2, 1969, the venue played host to the World Figure Skating Championships for the fourth time. Hank Beatty, a former USFSA President who'd played an instrumental role in the three previous Colorado Springs Worlds, returned as the event's General Chairman for the fourth time. Though the event drew considerable praise for its efficient management, the organizers had little power over the usual grumblings about the location. At nearly one mile above sea level, skaters with little experience skating at high altitudes struggled with conditioning. 

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Behind the scenes, many members of the American skating community mourned the death of Charlotte Wilkinson McDaniel, who passed away suddenly while attending the event with her husband Delaplaine 'Delly' McDaniel, a fellow USFSA judge. Mrs. McDaniel was a long-time member of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society. Representatives of the International Professional Skating Union and ISU sat down for a historic first meeting during the event.

Commemorative badge from The 1969 World Figure Skating Championships

Media coverage of the Championships was extensive. Dick Button and Chris Schenkel commentated ninety minutes of coverage which aired on ABC's "Wide World Of Sports". Button wasn't the only skating luminary in attendance. The Jenkins brothers, Hans Gerschwiler, Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy, Tenley Albright, Bob Paul and the wife of the late Gillis Grafström all took in the event. Former Olympians Christine Haigler and Tina Noyes served as in-arena announcers for the women's and ice dance events. Olympic Gold Medallist Manfred Schnelldorfer, who was coaching the West German team, was seen rinkside in a fifteen-gallon black cowboy hat and sheriff's badge. In "Skating" magazine, an unattributed writer quipped, "He looked... like a fugitive from 'Wagon Train'." The same writer also remarked, "The Russians may have a Santa Claus complex. They would reach into their pockets and pull out photos, pins, handpainted wooden bowls, dolls and vodka (the last reserved for the Broadmoor staffers). Most speak English; all are gregarious. Tamara Moskvina's English is beautiful, and she often served as interpreter for other team members when the going got rough." Let's take a look back at how all the excitement played out during that fateful week just before the dawning of "The Age Of Aquarius"!

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION

For the first time at the World Championships, the number of compulsory dances was reduced from four to three to make way for the ISU's newest addition to international ice dance competition - the OSP. To no one's surprise the three-time and defending World Champions Diane Towler and Bernard Ford were unanimously first in all three compulsories - the Viennese Waltz, Paso Doble and Tango - with marks ranging from 5.3 to 5.7.

Diane Towler and Bernard Ford. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The OSP, which didn't have a 'prescribed rhythm', introduced a mishmash of styles and music choices. As with anything new, there was much criticism and pushback, with many critics calling for "better rules" and the need for a second mark for presentation or artistic impression. Some drew parallels between the OSP and compulsory pairs program, stating that ice dancing was becoming too much like pairs. Americans Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky performed the Peanut Polka, Britons Susan Getty and Roy Bradshaw the Paso Doble and West Germans Angelika and Erich Buck the March. Soviets Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov drew praise for their waltz to "Beryozka", as did Britons Janet Sawbridge and Jon Lane, who performed a Sailor's Hornpipe in the reverse direction. Towler and Ford again took top honour but not without some controversy. One of the rules gave teams the option to change position up to six times per circuit. There was some debate as to whether or not they exceeded this. They also received deductions from two judges because Diane trailed Bernard on her knee, which was another 'no-no' as far as the Dance Committee was concerned.

Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov

In the free dance, Towler and Ford brought the house down with a lively, syncopated free dance that climaxed with music from "Zorba The Greek". Though their marks were mostly 5.8's and 5.9's, Canadian judge Barbara Lane gave them a 5.3 and 5.4, placing them third in the free dance behind Pakhomova and Gorshkov and the Bucks, who finished fifth overall. Reviewing the event in "Skating World" magazine, coach Alex McGowan referred to Lane's marks as "laughable". When the marks were tallied, Towler and Ford were still unanimously first overall, even on Ryan's scorecard. Pakhomova and Gorshkov finished a strong second, making history as the first Soviet ice dancers to stand on the World podium. Canadians Donna Taylor and Bruce Lennie placed eleventh, while Schwomeyer and Sladky took the bronze... furthering the already incessant talk about the legitimacy of the judging at the North American Championships. Though there was no movement among the top eight teams, Americans Debbie Gerken and Raymond Tiedemann made a notable jump from unlucky thirteenth to ninth with a charming free dance. Both Bernard Ford and Jaochim Iglowstein wore boot covers that matched their partners, a novel costuming concept at the time.

Ice dance medallists. Photo courtesy Judy Sladky.

Judy Schwomeyer was believed that she and Jim Sladky's controversial loss at the North American Championships played a part in them not winning the silver in Colorado Springs, and ultimately never winning the World title: "At the Worlds, it was a really big deal about who was going to be third, because Towler and Ford were quitting after that... It was all opened up because the British were starting to move around and I actually heard a judge at the competition - not one of our judges - say, 'Oh, well they couldn't even win North Americans'. I think that started the whole thing running. The British had been there forever and it was, "Who is going to be next?' The Russians of course wanted [the silver] and that's the way it went. "

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

Three-time World Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist Peggy Fleming's decision to turn professional meant that a new women's champion would be crowned in 1969. Several women were considered to be in the medal conversation, but when they arrived in Colorado Springs they started dropping like flies.

Linda Carbonetto, Jay Humphry and Karen Magnussen practicing in Squaw Valley in the spring of 1969. Photo courtesy Jay Humphry.

Karen Magnussen in her wheelchair. Photo courtesy World Wide Photos.

1968 Canadian Champion Karen Magnussen went to Squaw Valley to train after finishing second at the North American Championships in Oakland. In her book "Karen: The Karen Magnussen Story", she recalled, "I'd been feeling some pain in my legs for quite a while. It actually started in early October, but I thought I was just out of condition from the summer and that if I really worked, my muscles would get stronger and there would be no problem... One morning at Squaw Valley the pain came back and started working into the backs of my legs. It got so bad I had to get off the ice right away. I went to a doctor and his diagnosis was 'pulled Achilles tendons.' So it was back on the ice, then over to Colorado Springs for the final practices. On the Sunday evening we were practicing when I felt a pain like a sledgehammer was hitting me in both legs. Both my feet were beginning to swell. However, Tenley Albright was there and said, 'I'm sure you'll be fine in the competition tomorrow. You're skating so well!' But the pain was so bad I had to be taken to a hospital... to see a bone specialist. He gave me a sequence of tests, some of which I just couldn't do at all, like rolling up my toes, and took some X-rays. It was midnight by that time, with the championships starting the next day., when the specialist came back with the verdict: 'No way you can skate, my dear. You have stress fractures in both legs.'... That was it. I had to listen to the doctor, finally. I was to stay in a wheelchair. Tenley Albright came up again the next day and said, 'My God, if you can skate like that with two broken legs, what are you going to do next year?'" For much of the event, Karen parked her wheelchair next to Dick Button, taking notes on her competitors for Vancouver newspapers.

Gaby Seyfert

Olympic Bronze Medallist Hana Mašková arrived in Colorado Springs nursing a back injury. Before the event, she told Associated Press reporters, "I took a bad fall during my free skating practice last night. The pain is so bad I can hardly move. It is an old injury that was reactivated. I am going to see the doctor. I hope to skate but I am not sure that I will be able to do so." She skated the first four school figures, finishing behind Austrian figure specialist Trixi Schuba and twenty-year-old East German student Gaby Seyfert, the Silver Medallist at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble. Her ultimate withdrawal after the LFO-RFI paragraph double three was to the advantage of Hungary's Zsuzsa Almássy, who'd already outpointed her but was behind on ordinals. Sitting behind Schuba, Seyfert and Almássy after the figures were a pair of Americans, seventeen-year-old Julie Lynn Holmes - a Colorado College freshman from South Pasadena - and fifteen-year-old Janet Lynn of Rockford, Illinois, the prodigal student of Slavka Kohout.

Gaby Seyfert takes a tumble. 

In the free skate, Trixi Schuba skated a strong but conservative program, landing double Lutzes, flips and toe-loops. Her marks ranged from 5.3 to 5.6. Eighteen-year-old Zsuzsa Almássy's program featured crowd-pleasing illusion spins and Arabians, but was criticized by Dick Button for its lack of fluidity and choreography. The Italian judge didn't agree, giving her a 5.8 for artistic impression. Gaby Seyfert delivered a more gutsy program but took a tumble on one of her double Axel attempts. Despite her error, all but one of the judges gave her 5.9's for technical merit. She told Associated Press reporters, "I can't explain what caused me to fall [on the double Axel]. This is a jump I can do in my sleep." 

Wearing a 'shocking pick' chiffon dress, Julie Lynn Holmes brought down the house with a flawless performance that featured two double Axels, a double inside Axel and a double flip. Despite the fact she skated cleanly and landed two double Axels to Gaby Seyfert's one, every single judge gave her lower technical marks. Janet Lynn landed two double Axels of her own, but popped a double Lutz and omitted a double Salchow/double Salchow sequence. Three judges rewarded her beautiful artistry with 5.8's.

Canada's Linda Carbonetto, only ninth after figures, delivered an inspired and athletic performance that featured a double Lutz, walley into double Axel, delayed Axel, Axels in both directions and unique combination spins.

When the marks were tallied, Seyfert took the gold, Schuba the silver and Almássy the bronze. Though Holmes and Carbonetto finished second and third in the free skate, they placed only fourth and sixth overall. The fact that their marks were lower than Seyfert's drew a loud chorus of boos and catcalls from the knowledgeable American skating crowd. For the first time since 1963, a North American woman wasn't on the podium at the World Championships. Canadian journalist Jim Proudfoot declared, "It damages skating when judges are staring off into space instead of watching the athletes, suggesting they've made their mind up in advance. And the marks they post often reaffirm that suspicion."

THE PAIRS COMPETITION

Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov 

Though reigning Olympic and World Silver Medallists Tatyana Zhuk and Alexander Gorelik were out of the picture as Tatyana was expecting a baby, the trio of Soviet pairs teams that showed up in without peers. At the European Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov, Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov and Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin made history by sweeping the podium for the Soviet Union for the first time. Rodnina and Ulanov's victory over the legendary Protopopovs gave critics cause to spout that their style was outdated and their programs lacked the technical difficulty of their rivals. Upon his arrival in Colorado Springs - where he'd won his first World title back in 1965 - Oleg fired back to an Associated Press reporter, "We have lost some small skirmishes but we shall not lose the war... Comparing our style of skating with the more aggressive style featuring jumps and spins is like comparing the Bolshoi ballet with vaudeville or popular music with Bach and Beethoven. Bach and Beethoven will live forever. Similarly, there can be no death to our style of pairs skating. It is classic. Others may win but the victory belongs to us."

Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov

Despite Oleg's unwavering confidence and the fact both teams skated quite well, the thirtysomething Protopopovs lost the compulsory short program to nineteen-year-old Rodnina and twenty-one-year-old Ulanov. Oleg wasn't discouraged, he was infuriated. He told an Associated Press reporter, "This isn't pairs skating; it is two people skating single."

Heidemarie Steiner and Heinz-Ulrich Walther practicing for the 1969 World Championships. Photo courtesy German Federal Archive.

In the free skate, the teams in fourth and fifth (Americans Cynthia and Ron Kauffman and East Germans Heidemarie Steiner and Heinz-Ulrich Walther) took unfortunate tumbles, as did the Protopopov's, who faltered on Axels, double loops and even in their footwork.

 Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov celebrating their victory

Rodnina and Ulanov skated brilliantly, landing side-by-side double Salchows, Axels in both directions and displaying an array of difficult lifts. Their marks were all 5.8's and 5.9's. Moskvina and Mishin drew applause with a rousing, athletic program set to folk music which featured a variation on the forward inside death spiral they called 'the flower'. They received mostly 5.7's and 5.8's, but three judges gave them 5.6's for artistic impression.

Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin

However, the 'stars of the show' were teenagers JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley. They brought down the house with a delightful and daring performance, earning the only standing ovation of the evening. Their marks, mostly 5.6's and 5.7's, were loudly booed. The French judge who gave them a 5.4 and 5.5 got the most abuse from the crowd.

When the marks were tallied, Rodnina and Ulanov, Moskvina and Mishin and the Protopopovs were first through third, repeating their history-making Soviet podium sweep from Europeans at Worlds.  Starbuck and Shelley were only able to move up from seventh to sixth overall, which didn't exactly go over well with the crowd.

Following the event, Oleg Protopopov told Associated Press reporters, "I was strong and skated as well as ever, but Ludmilla - she is still weak from two attacks of the grippe. She was very ill before our own national championships but the public and authorities asked us to compete. It was the same in the Europeans."

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Notably on the missing list in Colorado Springs were Austrians Wolfgang Schwarz and Emmerich Danzer, the reigning Olympic and World Champions and Olympic Bronze Medallist Scotty Allen. Schwarz and Danzer had both turned professional, and Allen was devoting more time to his studies at Harvard. The favourite was twenty-year-old Tim Wood, a pre-law student at John Carroll University in Cleveland. Wood, the youngest of Dr. and Mrs. Kenneth Wood's four sons, had joined the Detroit Skating Club at the age of two and lost the gold medal at the 1968 Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble to Schwarz by the narrowest of margins. After the first four figures, he amassed a sixty-nine point lead over eighteen-year-old Ondrej Nepela of Czechoslovakia. On his fifth figure - the LBO-RBI paragraph loop - he earned the highest mark of any of the men in figures, a 5.5. After the final figure, the RBO-LBI paragraph bracket was completed, Wood had a unanimous one hundred and twenty-six point lead over Nepela and France's Patrick Péra.

Ondrej Nepela, Tim Wood and Patrick Péra in Colorado Springs. Right photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In hindsight, it's fair to say that the men's free skate in Colorado Springs in 1969 was one of the best-skated competitions of the sixties. The standing ovations were successive, and even the skater who placed eighth in the free skate - Canada's David McGillvray - landed three triple jumps and had the audience on its feet. Tim Wood's performance featured a triple Salchow and toe-loop and earned him perfect marks of 6.0 for artistic impression from the American, West German and East German judges.

Tim Wood's American teammates, John 'Misha' Petkevich and Gary Visconti, also skated fabulous programs chock full of difficult technical content. Canada's Jay Humphry, who'd jockeyed positions with Visconti in the figures, delivered one of the finest performances of his career, landing a triple toe-loop and two double Axels. It's worth noting that although Péra and Nepela placed fifth and sixth in the free skate, they landed triple jumps as well. When the marks were tallied, Wood was unanimously first and Nepela and Péra held on for silver and bronze on the strength of their scores in figures. Visconti was fourth, just ahead of Petkevich and Humphry, who placed second and third in the free skate.

It's interesting to note that although Humphry received a standing ovation and was in the top three in the free skate with marks as high as 5.9, he dropped a spot in the standings based on his point total, though his ordinals were lower than both Visconti and Petkevich. This was a testament to both the depth of the field and the 'confusing' nature of the computerized judging system in place at the time. After being declared the winner, Tim Wood told reporter Loudon Kelly, "This was the best performance of my life." He became the first American man since David Jenkins in 1959 to stand atop the podium at the World Championships.

Gaby Seyfert and Tim Wood

On the closing day of the competition, many of the stars of the event participated in an afternoon exhibition. One of the many highlights was a 'sextet' performance by Moskvina and Mishin and West German pairs Gudrun Hauss and Walter Häfner and Brunhilde Baßler and Eberhard Rausch.

That evening, skaters and judges alike celebrated at a lavish awards banquet at the Broadmoor Hotel before embarking on the first-ever post-Worlds Tom Collins tour, which visited North American cities instead of European ones.

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.