Youth Of Yesteryear: The Yvonne Sugden Story

Born October 14, 1939 in the market town of Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England, Yvonne de Montfort Boyer Sugden was the daughter of Alan Boyer Sugden and Evelyn Freda Bertha de Montfort Wellborne. Her father hailed from Rochdale; her mother Lancashire. Yvonne and her beloved dachshund Midas grew up in London, where her father worked as a chartered accountant.

Yvonne Sugden (middle) as the winner of the Open Novices Free Skating Competition at Wembley in January of 1949. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Just before her seventh birthday, Yvonne's parents took her to see the Walt Disney film "Pinocchio". The cinema was too full, so they went to an ice rink "just to watch" instead. She was amazed by what she saw and started skating the next day. When she started turning down invitations to parties to focus on her skating lessons, her parents knew she was serious about it. At the age of nine, she won a novice competition at the Empire Pool, Wembley. 

Hans Gerschwiler, Yvonne Sugden and Ája Zanová. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

At this time, Yvonne's parents took her out of school at her instructor Jacques Gerschwiler's suggestion. She trained three to five hours a day at Queen's and Streatham Ice Rinks, going to bed every night at seven thirty and getting up at six. A governess was employed to teach her English, French and German studies. 'Gersch' also frequently took her to Davos and St. Moritz, insisting that training outdoors in Switzerland would better prepare her for competing in different weather conditions.

Left: Yvonne Sugden. Middle: Yvonne Sugden and Michael Booker. Photo courtesy Michael Booker. Right: Yvonne Sugden.

In her little off time, Yvonne enjoyed ballroom dancing... and actually won a bronze and silver medal at that as well. In the summers, she played golf, went swimming and rowed around in her three-seater collapsible canoe. She described the most exciting experience in her life as being presented to Princess Alexandra at the premiere of the film "Alexander The Great".

In 1949, Yvonne won the British junior women's title and in 1950 (the youngest competitor at age ten) she placed sixth in the senior women's event. She moved up to fourth the following year. Her breakthrough year was really 1952, when she just missed an Olympic berth at the British Olympic Trials and finished second to Valda Osborn (who was six years older than her) at the British Championships, defeating her in the free skate. At her debut at the European Championships, she placed a disappointing eighteenth but that autumn, she won the Richmond Trophy. She would go on to win the prestigious international event twice more in subsequent years.

In the autumn of 1953, Yvonne claimed her first of three British senior women's titles. It's significant to note that on all three of these occasions she placed ahead of Erica Batchelor, who was well-liked by audiences for her more theatrical style. Yvonne's successes gave the people of Great Britain something to cheer about during the bleak post-War era when rationing and unemployment were  harsh day-to-day realities.

Yvonne Sugden and Tenley Albright at the 1955 World Championships

Yvonne's international results were incredibly impressive. In 1953, she was fifth at the European Championships and eighth at the World Championships. At the latter competition, the Swiss judge had her third in the free skate, ahead of a young Carol Heiss.

Right photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

In 1954, Yvonne won the bronze at Europeans and was sixth at Worlds. Two judges had her in the top three in the free skate at Worlds, while Canadian judge Melville Rogers had her down in eleventh. In 1955, she won an international competition in St. Moritz (defeating Sjoukje Dijkstra) and placed second at Europeans. At the latter event, she led winner Hanna Eigel after the figures, but fell in the free skate costing her the title. At Worlds that year, she was eighth.

Competitive successes from 1953 to 1955 garnered Yvonne significant media attention both at home and abroad. She appeared on the BBC program "The Younger Generation" and received fan mail from all around the world. One letter from Hungary was simply addressed to "Miss Yvonne Sugden. Somewhere In England."

In 1956, Yvonne's final year of international competition, she claimed the silver medal at the European Championships - her third consecutive medal at that event - losing six judges to three to another Austrian, Ingrid Wendl. In her only trip to the Olympic Winter Games, she lost the bronze medal to Wendl by less than three points. She had been fourth after figures, but turned in what was judged only the ninth best free skate. This was particularly disappointing, as British newspapers at the time had been hailing her as "England's only hope" for a medal.

Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria

Those reporters weren't far off - Yvonne's fourth in Cortina d'Ampezzo was the British team's highest finish in any sport at those Games. Again finishing fourth behind Ingrid Wendl at the World Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Yvonne retired at the age of sixteen. Her mother/manager told reporters she wanted her daughter "to be an ordinary little person [that] will eventually marry a nice young man.". In her "BBC Book Of Skating", Sandra Stevenson later asserted, "Part of her problem was that her mother had to accompany her abroad for two months of the year just when her father's career was at its busiest and he needed her support the most."

Like Jeannette Altwegg, Great Britain's star skater four years earlier, Yvonne turned down numerous offers to skate professionally. She took a job as a secretary, relishing the fact she finally had some free time. Sadly, her father passed away in February of 1957. In 1958, she announced her engagement to a Warwickshire law student named Anthony Fear. She ultimately married a man named Michael Love in October of 1960 and divides her time between homes in Portugal and Hampshire, England.

What made Yvonne so successful a skater wasn't just her youth and fearlessness, it was the fact she was a well-rounded skater whose skill in both figures and free skating was considerable. Who knows what great things she might have gone on to had she stuck with it for another four years?

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":