The 1962 European Figure Skating Championships

On February 27, 1962, Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm survived a failed assassination attempt. Fifty four miners in Yugoslavia weren't so lucky - they perished in the Tito Coal Mine collapse. The atmosphere was much lighter at the indoor Patinoires des Vernets in Geneva, Switzerland, where spectators hummed Joey Dee & The Starliter's new hit "The Peppermint Twist" on the first day of the European Figure Skating Championships.


The venue's surface was two hundred and thirty feet by one hundred and thirty and the rink had room for upwards of twelve thousand spectators. The event was the first major ISU Championship since the Sabena Crash the previous year that claimed the lives of the entire U.S. figure skating team. Three of the defending champions, Alain Giletti of France and Doreen Denny and Courtney Jones of Great Britain, had moved on from the competitive ranks, opening the door for new winners in the men's and pairs events. Let's take a look back at how things played out!


Two time European Champion Karol Divín of Czechoslovakia, competing in his first European Championships since 1959, narrowly defeated France's Alain Calmat five judges to four in the school figures. Divín had a massive thirty three point lead after the first four figures but botched his fifth, the change loop. Malcolm Cannon of Great Britain won the change loop, while West Germany's Manfred Schnelldorfer took the sixth, the back paragraph bracket. After all six figures were performed, Divín's lead was decimated to only ten and a half points and a small majority of ordinals.

Left: Karol Divín. Right: Malcolm Cannon. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

The tables turned in the free skate when all but Italian judge Ercole Cattaneo had Alain Calmat - who had the skate of his life - first in that phase of the competition. Cattaneo gave first place marks to East Germany's Bodo Bockenauer. Bockenauer actually defeated Divín in the free skate, but he was so far back in the figures that he could only manage sixth place overall. Divín took the silver; Manfred Schnelldorfer the bronze. A pair of Austrians, Peter Jonas and Emmerich Danzer, were fourth and fifth. Danzer's program included a triple Salchow attempt. Great Britain's Robin Jones and Malcolm Cannon, placed seventh and twelfth. Schnelldorfer had to be the unluckiest skater in Geneva. In the weeks leading up to the event, he injured his foot in Frankfurt and his back in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. When he took to the ice for his free skate, there was a problem with his record and his music was played at a tempo so fast he never would have been able to keep up with it.

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

One unusual judging discrepancy were the marks given to Soviet skater Valerii Meshkov. The Hungarian judge had Meshkov third in the free skate, while no other judge had him higher than ninth. There was no Soviet judge on the men's panel in Geneva, but there were most certainly Soviet officials in attendance.


Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

After fourteen couples danced the Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Kilian and Tango, France's Christiane and Jean Paul Guhel earned four first place ordinals to Great Britain's Linda Shearman and Michael Phillips' one. The Swiss judge - preferring to stay neutral - tied the two couples. In the free dance, the Swiss judge tied Shearman and Phillips with Czechoslovakia's Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman. The Italian judge had Shearman and Phillips first, the French judge had the Guhel's first and the rest voted for Romanová and Roman. By two ordinal placings, the Guhel's narrowly defeated Shearman and Phillips to take the gold. Despite winning the free dance, Romanová and Roman were only able to  move up to take the bronze over Great Britain's Mary Parry and Roy Mason, who had defeated them in the compulsories. It was the first time ever a British couple didn't stand atop the European podium.

In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The free dance attracted 8,000 (3,000 more than for the ladies' final!). The Guhel's earned a 5.3 and some 5.4's in an elegant but not overwhelmingly difficult program with a cha-cha section. Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman... [Dennis Bird thought they] were 'easily best in the free,' incorporating unusual touches in a program that 'looked like pair skating without the jumps'. Howard Bass thought the top three couples were "virtually inseparable in quality"... Ann Cross and Len Williams had neat footwork a la Len Liggett, but their personalities did not come across. The crowd cheered for Györgyi Korda and Pál Vásárhelyi, twelfth, who skated a Csárdás - a national Hungarian dance of passionate character and changing tempo. They excited the audience and paved the way for incorporating folk dances in the free dance, causing [Dennis Bird] to remark, 'The adaptation to the ice of other national dances from Eastern Europe or Spain would be a welcome variation in the somewhat limited programmes seen at present". Royston Sidley thought the judges were too generous with Eva and Pavel, but NSA roller Gold Test Judge Ralph Hullah preferred them over the British. 'The Czechs ... did skate, and we did get some rhythmic undulating edge running from them, instead of all that prancing up and down on toe-rakes we had to suffer from others... For the first fifteen seconds [Shearman and Phillips] didn't cover more than a square yard of ice - they just pranced up and down on their toe-rakes. How the referee knew when to start his stop-watch is beyond me, because normally it is started from the first edge to be skated . . . later the man practically knelt on the ice while the girl went into orbit around him. This to me wasn't free dancing.'"


Karl Schäfer watching his student Helli Sengtschmid practice her figures in Geneva

Defending European Champion Sjoukje Dijkstra earned five first place ordinals in the figures, while the British and Czechoslovakian judge placed Austria's Regine Heitzer first. Heitzer won two figures, the forward loop-change-loop and the backward paragraph bracket. Dijkstra was no stranger to Switzerland. Though she spent much of the year training in England, she'd often practice in Davos during the winter months with her Swiss coach Arnold Gerschwiler.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

In the free skate, seven judges again had twenty year old Dijkstra first. This time it was the British and French judges who had her second. Both had Austria's Helli Sengtschmid, first in the free skate. Some felt that Sengtschmid gave the performance of the evening. One reporter from "Le Nouvelliste" remarked, "By her admirably rhythmic program, by the daring of her figures and her natural grace in the eyes of the public, [she] surpassed the title holder."

Sjoukje Dijkstra and her father. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archives.

Despite the four second place ordinals (two in figures and two in free skating), Dijkstra was still unanimously first overall. Heinz Maegerlein noted, "In contrast to the previous year in Berlin, this time she also skated a glamorous [program], interspersed with high single and double jumps and was balanced and [performed a] difficult combination of steps."

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

Regine Heitzer, Karin Frohner and Helli Sengtschmid occupied places second through fourth. Great Britain's two entries, Diana Clifton-Peach and Jacqueline Harbord, finished fifth and ninth. A young Gaby Seyfert, competing in only her second Europeans, placed twelfth and Tamara Bratus (Moskvina) was nineteenth.


Twelve teams, including defending Champions Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler, vied for gold in Geneva. The event marked the ISU's first experimental trial of a two-program format. Sonia Bianchetti Garbato remembered, "The free program [was performed] twice on consecutive days, with the first performance being marked closed - that is with no marks displayed. The result was calculated but not announced. The draw of the starting order for the second performance was based upon the result of the first, with the better pairs placed skating in the last group. The second performance was marked open in the usual manner, but the final result was based upon the combined marks for both performances." Dennis L. Bird recalled that the first round of competition "was virtually a series of exhibitions, lacking the zestful atmosphere of public marking, and skated before a small and unenthusiastic audience." The fact that the couples were kept in the dark over the results of the first round in the twenty four hours between skates undoubtedly psyched some of them out.

The results tell the story of a very close competition. Kilius and Bäumler had four first place ordinals, Soviets Ludmilla Belousova and Oleg Protopopov three and West Germans Franz Ningel (Kilius' former partner) and Margret Göbl two. Less than five ordinal placings separated the top three, and Kilius and Bäumler managed to defend their title by the slimmest of margins, much to the delight of their coach Erich Zeller. Disappointingly, Valerie Hunt and Peter Burrows were forced to withdraw prior to the first program due to illness. Great Britain's only other entry, Vera Jeffery and Peter Webb, placed dead last. Webb was an accomplished speed skater.

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

As is often the case, there was a little more to the story of the pairs event in Geneva than the results would suggest. Heinz Magerlein noted, "Göbl and Ningel were given serious prospects for the European Championships in Geneva... The first day in Geneva's new splendid indoor stadium seemed to support this prediction. The first day... because for the first time the couples fought on the ice on two days... the rating should have been secret, but it was not... Obviously, in the world of figure skating nothing can remain secret... It was clear the morning after the first skate that Göbl and Ningel would have won the title. On the second day, they lost the title because they were nervous, probably in the consciousness of being suddenly clear favourites. When the otherwise clean Franz Ningel fell [twice], the big chance was gone. Belousova and Protopopov skated best that evening, but Kilius and Bäumler won as the pair with the better average of both programs, becoming the European Champions for the fourth time."

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