The 1934 World Figure Skating Championships

Signed menu from the banquet at the 1934 World Championships. Photo courtesy Deutsches Sport and Olympia Museum.

In February 1934, North America was in the depths of The Great Depression, a new Conservative government was formed in France after riots broke out in the streets of Paris and all eyes were on Scandinavia as the world's best figure skaters convened in a trio of Northern capital cities for the World Figure Skating Championships in men's, women's and pairs skating. 

Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki were all accustomed to hosting major international competitions and huge crowds came out in subzero temperatures to watch the events unfold. The women's competition was held in Oslo on February 10 and 11, the men's from February 16 to 18 in Stockholm and the pairs on February 23 in Helsinki. 

Left photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Right photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze, The Estate of Mollie Phillips

Today, we'll hop in the time machine and take a look back at the stories and scandals from these Scandinavian competitions of yesteryear!


Left: Sonja Henie at the 1934 World Championships in Oslo. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland. Right: Megan and Phil Taylor.

Thirteen women vied for the 1934 World title. All eyes were on two-time Olympic Gold Medallist Sonja Henie as she went after her eighth consecutive World title in front of a hometown audience at the Frogner Stadion in Oslo. There were allegations that Papa Henie treated the referee to a lavish dinner and gave him a vehicle as a gift prior to the competition. Some speculated that either ISU President Ulrich Salchow or the Norwegian reporter who broke the story might have been in on the scandal as well. Maribel Vinson recalled, "Sonja's popularity at this competition was peculiar. The public had evidently got fed up with six weeks of Pop Henie's ballyhoo for Sonja and were praying for anyone to beat her... The Henie organization is unbelievable and has had as bad an effect on the internals of the sport as Sonja's real virtuousity has had a good effect in spreading the popularity of skating through the world."

In the compulsory figures, Sonja Henie took the lead as expected with first place marks from six of the seven judges. Sweden's Vivi-Anne Hultén blew her last figure and thirteen year old Megan Taylor capitalized on her mistake and moved up to second. German judge Artur Vieregg had her first, ahead of Henie. Many of the skaters complained about the poor ice conditions. Maribel Vinson recalled, "We skated the figures... on a sunny springlike morning [and] the ice melted before we came to the bracket-change-bracket backwards, so whether there were 'double runners' in our turns was more a matter of intuition with the judges than seeing!"

Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze, The Estate of Mollie Phillips

King Haakon VII, Queen Maud of Wales, Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Martha were among the twenty-one thousand spectators in attendance for the women's free skate. Maribel Vinson missed her Lutz jump and had one of the most disappointing free skates of her career, while Austria's Liselotte Landbeck had one of her best. Every single judge had Landbeck second in the free skate behind Henie except Swedish judge Per Thorén, who had Landbeck and Taylor ahead of the Norwegian ice queen. Henie missed several spins and skated slowly, according to Maribel Vinson, but skated well enough to win her eighth World title. 

Based on the figures, Taylor (who missed an Axel in her free skate) defeated Landbeck by one ordinal placing for the silver. Hultén's artistry stood out during an era when women's skating was becoming more and more acrobatic. The ideal at the time was to dazzle the crowd and judges with technical highlights... not to waste time on the interpretation of music. Swedish skating historian Gunnar Bang noted how one reporter remarked, "Sure, Vivi-Anne's program was very musical, but if she left the music home on the piano, there is no point." French judge Charles Sabouret had her ninth in the free skate... which didn't go over well with the Swedish press whatsoever. She ended up fourth overall, ahead of Vinson, Austria's Grete Lainer, Germany's Maxi Herber and six others. 

In her book "Wings On My Feet", Henie recalled the win as "a sentimental victory... The crowd was enormous for Frogner Stadium. Fifteen thousand packed the grandstand, and another three thousand or so stood on the surrounding hills [with binoculars]. Throughout the competition I kept remembering my first World Championship eight years before on the same ice, and the first pink carnations the royal family of my country had ever given me."

In her book "Maribel Y. Vinson's Advanced Figure Skating", Maribel Vinson recalled, "In 1934 after the world championships at Oslo I had tea with Sonja at her town apartment. There I saw her prizes - and what a collection it was! At the time I wrote in my diary, 'sideboard with special fitted drawers full of a complete silver set, over a dozen of each, marked - a cocktail set, cream and sugar set, tremendous special bowls, myriads of huge cups and vases set in a specially lighted cabinet. Her world-Championship, Olympic, European, and Norwegian medals were all strung out in separate cases.' In addition there was the gift of an electric radio and repeating Victrola to which the tea party danced, and at the country house a Cord convertible coupe, given [to] her after earlier Chicago exhibitions and shipped to Norway... On the table in the living room was a lovely bouquet from King Haakon and the Crown Prince, sent after her victory, and in the billiard room were ten or twelve enormous scrapbooks which Sonja at that time used to put together in the summer. They contained clippings from her earliest skating years from newspapers all over the world and were most interesting."

An international men's event was held in conjunction with the World Championships for women in Oslo. The winner was Austria's Erich Erdös. British skater Jackie Dunn finished fourth.

Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze, The Estate of Mollie Phillips

After the competition, a special banquet was hosted by the Oslo Skøiteklub at the Hotel Bristol. Sonja Henie's picture was included in the invitation and a dessert called 'Bombe Sonja' was made in her honour.


The eight men who sought the 1934 World title in Stockholm ranged in age from fifteen to twenty-nine. Both Austria's Karl Schäfer and Germany's Ernst Baier performed uncharacteristically poorly in the figures but in a sea of mistakes, Schäfer was still able to earn first place marks from all but one of the judges in the first phase of the competition. Though Schäfer was some one hundred and fifty points ahead of his closest competitors, Baier, Finland's Marcus Nikkanen and Austria's Erich Erdös were separated by only forty points. Gunnar Bang recalled, "Ernst Baier was clearly better, but in the paragraph Nikkanen failed as well."

Karl Schäfer and Ulrich Salchow in Stockholm. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Karl Schäfer earned first place marks from five of the seven judges in the free skate, with the Hungarian judge giving the nod to Hungary's Dénes Pataky and the Finnish judge placing Erich Erdös - who the Stockholm papers proclaimed to be "a better skater than Schäfer" - first. Although Schäfer easily defended his World title, Baier, Erdös and Nikkanen all tied in ordinals. Their point totals ultimately determined their second, third and fourth place results. Pataky, in fifth, was second overall on the scorecards of the Hungarian and Polish judges.

Ernst Baier's silver medal from the men's event at the 1934 World Championships

Maribel Vinson recalled the event thusly: "The men did their free skating perfectly marvellously. There were only eight in the competition and I have never seen eight such errorless performances. The only one to make any kind of mistake was the World's Champion himself! However, the men's school figures were not up to the standard set by the women; Gail [Borden] drew all the figures he likes least and they seemed to bother everyone a bit. Schäfer was of course best with Baier and Nikkanen close behind; all the others were mediocre. But the free skating made up for any figure delinquencies. Gail skated first, jumped faultlessly in beautiful form, lacked only speed, while Erdös, the second Austrian, had an absolutely inspired day and brought the audience to its feet cheering. There were auxiliary competitions for women and pairs as well as exhibitions by the whole troupe [of world level men, women and pairs in attendance] the next day. The Stockholm Stadium is a beautiful structure, justly famed as the handsomest of its kind in the world. It holds twenty thousand and has an ice surface equal to at least five of our standard hockey rinks. Many gay parties by the Stockholm club as well as Gail's birthday party, composed of all the choicest spirits and cosmopolitan as could be, featured the post-competition days. Mrs. [Ulrich] Salchow was our most charming hostess and guide on many occasions. Then, minus Sonja who had not come to Sweden, minus Karli Schäfer who had to go to America for the carnivals, minus Gail who was also returning to America, the rest of the troupe boarded ship to sail through a sea of ice - to Finland."


The pairs in Helsinki in 1934. From left to right: Margit Josephson and Anders Palm, Idi Papez and Karl Zwack, Anna-Lisa Rydqvist and Einar Törsleff, Ms. Kothe and Gun Ericson, Zofia Bilorówna and Tadeusz Kowalski, Randi Bakke-Gjertsen and Christen Cristensen, Emília Rotter and László Szollás and Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Held in subzero temperatures, the pairs competition in Helsinki curiously did not include a couple from Finland! The event was the first time that the ISU tested the use of open marking in an international competition. Of the pairs that entered, the top three were quite close. 

Three judges voted for Hungary's Emília Rotter and László Szollás, two for Austria's Idi Papez and Karl Zwack and two for Germany's Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier. When the marks were tallied, the Hungarians came out on top, with the Austrians second and Germans third. Gunnar Bang remarked that the Polish pair Zofia Bilorówna and Tadeusz Kowalski, who placed fourth, skated "a very difficult program [full of] acrobatics". 

Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier with Maxi's father in Helsinki. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Maribel Vinson recalled the event thusly: "The Pair Championship of The World featured two of the best pair programs I have ever seen, ranking with the Brunets and Badger-Loughran of the 1932 Olympics in my mind. Rotter-Szollás, who won, skated their extremely 'pair' program with uncanny precision, while [Ernst] Baier and Maxi Herber, who are a new combination and had been a trifle ragged up till then, suddenly clicked and gave a daringly difficult program without a flaw. By some freak of judging, they came only third although the audience and all the skaters present agreed they should have been either first or second. Idi Papez and Karl Zwack, the Austrians who normally have the most spectacular program of all and do it beautifully, had an off night and made a good many serious mistakes. Although if they had skated their usual best, their final place (second) would have been justified, their compatriots were the first to say that they did not deserve to beat Baier and Maxi that evening. Another competition for men and women, plus two exhibitions, made a full weekend of skating for us. [Marcus] Nikkanen was a popular winner of the men's competition, as it was combined with a civic contest and he retired a huge cup which he had won twice before. Nikkanen and his friends 'showed us the town' and it was the sixtieth anniversary of the Helsingfors Skating Club, there were many festivities. It is impossible to describe in such a brief summary all that went on - suffice to say that the Finns know how to have a good time and certainly how to give one to their guests!"

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