Tibor von Földváry, The Father Of Hungarian Figure Skating

"Földváry's posture is completely correct and elegant; his school [figures] also meet the [standards of] the most pedantic English and Swedish skating textbooks." - "Vadász- és Versenylap", January 19, 1888

Tibor von Földváry was born July 5, 1863 in Öttevény, a tiny village in Győr-Moson-Sopron, Hungary. As a young man, he studied science in Budapest. He penned the thesis "The Evergreen Plants In Winter Coloration" at the age of twenty. As talented an athlete as he was an academic, he excelled in several sporting pursuits including the high jump but it was his rise to prominence as a figure skater in the latter two decades of the nineteenth century that brought him respect and honour in his home country.

In his youth, Tibor rubbed shoulders with the elite class of Hungary on the ice, regularly skating with Count Béla Széchenyi, the son of famous politician and writer Count István Széchenyi de Sárvár-Felsővidék as well as members of the aristocratic Nádasdy family. 

By the early nineteenth century, Tibor was widely regarded as his country's best figure skater by a mile. The January 11, 1891 issue of the "Vadász-és Verseny-Lap" noted, A few days ago in Vienna, the daughter of a rich industrialist, accompanied by her father and brother came down and unconditionally seized [the audience's attention] with her calmness on ice. However, our own Tibor Földváry absolutely dominated the ice with his elegance... It was beautiful to see." At a competition later that month in Budapest, he defeated János Ehrlich, Adolf Palkovits and Károly Raichl. The "Vadász- és Verseny-Lap"  raved, "Competitors cannot doubt his skill. The movements and exercises he presented eclipsed all others and reaped deserved applause. Földváry is already the best skater in many years." That same winter, he translated a Csárdás dance to the ice which caught the attention of the Viennese skating community.

Pattern for a Csárdás dance adapted for the ice by Tibor Földváry

In 1892, Tibor travelled to Vienna to compete in the second European Figure Skating Championships ever held. He placed an impressive second but the competition could not have been more stacked against him. Number one, he was the only skater not from Germany or Austria participating in a competition Vienna in number and number two... there was only one Hungarian judge versus six Austrian and three German judges on a panel which consisted of an even number of judges.

To add insult to injury, when free skating was included in the European Championships the following year in Berlin, one judge had him first in that phase of the competition but he placed fourth and off the podium behind Engelmann, Henning Grenander and Georg Zachariades. The results of that particular competition were later ruled invalid by the ISU Congress and then reinstated. Undeterred, he returned and won the bronze medal in Vienna in 1894 and won the first international figure skating at Davos the same winter, defeating Fuchs, Zachariades and Germany's Fritz Rehm.

Gilbert Fuchs, Georg Zachariades, Tibor Földváry and Fritz Rehm in Davos in 1894

When the European Championships came to Budapest in 1895, the home ice advantage paid off for the thirty one year old skater. Earning first place ordinals from every judge in figures and from all but one judge in free skating, Tibor soundly defeated Gustav Hügel and Gilbert Fuchs at the Városligeti Műjégpálya, won his first and only European title and promptly retired from the competitive skating world.

Photo courtesy Fortepan

Perhaps inspired by his negative first impression, the young Hungarian set to work to improve the sport. He sat with Robert Holletschek and others on the ISU's first Figure Skating Committee, formed to draft and submit regulations on the governance of the sport. He also judged numerous competitions in Hungary and Vienna as well as several European and World Championships, among them the 1903 World Championships where Ulrich Salchow defeated Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin in Russia and the first World Championships for women in 1906, won by Madge Syers.

Ulrich Salchow and Tibor von Földváry on the ice in Davos during the 1906 European Championships

Sadly, Tibor passed away on March 27, 1912 in Budapest at the age of forty eight. We may not know his name, but in Hungary he's considered the father of figure skating.

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