The 1972 European Figure Skating Championships

Commemorative pin from the 1972 European Championships

Platform shoes and high waisted, flared boot cut pants were all the rage for men, Don McLean's "American Pie" topped the music charts and the Tequila Sunrise was the latest cocktail fad. 1972 may have been an Olympic year, but from January 10 to 15, all that mattered to many skating buffs was the European Figure Skating Championships.

Christine Errath. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

The event was held at the newly completed, state of the art Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden as part of the city's three hundred and fiftieth anniversary celebrations. The two hundred by one hundred foot arena, which had completed construction less than a year prior and seated up to ten thousand spectators, was the largest indoor rink in Scandinavia at the time. Ticket sales were astronomical, proving that Swedish skating fans were just as enthusiastic as they were in the days of Ulrich Salchow and Gillis Grafström. The thousands of spectators that showed up certainly weren't disappointed, for the competition proved to be every bit as engrossing as the Olympics and World Championships that followed. Let's take a look back at all of the excitement!


The ice dance podium

West German siblings Angelika and Erich Buck took a three point lead the compulsory dances and increased it through the entire event. They did the unthinkable in beating the unbeatable Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov, earning a string of 5.9's and one 6.0 in the free dance. It would prove to be the one and only time in the height of their career that Pakhomova and Gorshkov would ever be defeated in international competition and the crazy thing about it all was that it wasn't even particularly close in Gothenburg. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves noted, "Angelika and Erich Buck had never skated so well. Betty Callaway had guaranteed their content, style and musical interpretation."

Janet Sawbridge and Peter Dalby in 1972. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

The bronze medal went to Britons Janet Sawbridge and Peter Dalby, who were students of the legendary Gladys Hogg. Though they were an unlucky thirteen points back of the winners, Sawbridge and Dalby earned a 5.9 from the West German judge in the free dance and a great reception from the Swedish crowd. Only a fifth of a point separated the fourth and fifth place teams, Hilary Green and Glyn Watts of Great Britain and Tatiana Voituk and Viacheslav Zhigalin of the Soviet Union. As was more often than not the case back in those days, the results of the top ten teams didn't change a wee bit from the start of the competition to the end.


Liudmila Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin

As the three time and defending European Champions, Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov were heavily favoured to win again in Gothenburg. They took a lead in the compulsory short program with an outstanding performance and coasted to victory with an almost perfect free skate. Irina's two-footing of a double Axel and Alexei's difficulty on the second jump in their side-by-side four jump combination were their only errors. The silver medal went to their Soviet teammates Liudmila Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin, who challenged Rodnina and Ulanov artistically but failed to offer the same level of technical content.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

East Germans Manuela Groß and Uwe Kagelmann claimed the bronze, with completing Groß completing two throw double Axels and a throw single Axel on a bandaged knee. West German Erich Zeller students Almut Lehmann and Herbert Wiesinger were fourth and a second East German pair, Annette Kansy and Axel Salzmann, moved up from sixth after the compulsory short program to fifth overall. Only two pairs in the top team weren't from East or West Germany or the Soviet Union... a testament to the utter dominance of Eastern Bloc pairs at the time.


The women's podium

The women's competition in Gothenburg boasted a whopping twenty-eight entries, the largest field since the 1959 European Championships in Davos. 'Human scribe' Trixi Schuba showed her utter superiority in the school figures, amassing an insurmountable one hundred and thirty point lead in the school figures. Eminent skating historian Dennis Bird remarked, "It is doubtful that such a decisive advantage has ever before been achieved since the European Championships began in 1930; not even Jeanette Altwegg or Sjoukje Dijkstra were ever so far ahead."

Trixi Schuba. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine..

Trailing Schuba by some margin after the first round of competition were Switzerland's Charlotte Walter, Italy's Rita Trapanese, Hungary's Zsuzsa Almássy and the UK's Jean Scott. In the free skate, a pair of Jutta Müller students - Sonja Morgenstern and Christine Errath - claimed the top two spots. Morgenstern landed a triple Salchow and received a 6.0 for artistic impression from the Italian judge; Errath wowed the crowd with her technical difficulty and panache.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

However, the duo of young East German women  had only been sixth and seventh in figures - well behind Schuba and the others - and were only able to move up to third and fifth respectively. Despite a fall in her fifth place free skate to music from "Man Of La Mancha", Schuba still claimed the gold, defeating Trapanese by one hundred and twelve points.

Though she had more points than Morgenstern, Almássy lost out on the bronze by one ordinal placing. Walter finished sixth, Scott seventh and Maria McLean of Great Britain eighth. After the event, a German newspaper reporter who clearly had no understanding of the judging system in place at the time cruelly pointed out that Schuba was a "champion without a double Axel"... because of course, the judging system was totally her fault.


The men's podium

The biggest story of the men's competition didn't happen on the ice at all. It was, of course, the defection of Günter Zöller. Minus one East German boarding a boat to freedom, the twenty-three remaining men's competitors played out a game of chess on ice in the school figures. Many of the men shuffled positions considerably from figure to figure, but it was three time and defending European Champion Ondrej Nepela who was most consistent. Though he lost the RFO Paragraph Three to Sergei Chetverukhin of the Soviet Union, Nepela held a solid forty three point lead heading into the free skate. Chetverukhin, Patrick Péra, Vladimir Kovalev and John Curry followed in places second through fifth.

In the free skate, Péra fell on a double Axel and failed to complete any triples. Chetverukhin fell on a triple Salchow but skated an otherwise elegant and masterful performance. Curry tumbled on a triple loop but succeeded in landing a double Axel and triple Salchow. Yuri Ovchinnikov, only seventh in figures, took advantage of the mistakes of the others and claimed second place in the free skate... but wasn't even able to move up one spot overall.

Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd

Nepela delivered one of the most outstanding performances of his entire career, landing a triple Salchow, triple toe-loop, double Axel and double Lutz within the first minute of his program. When he landed a double Axel/double loop combination later in his program, it was clear that no one was going to touch him. He claimed his fourth European title with an impressive lead of sixty four points and fourteen ordinal placings over Chetverukhin. Péra, seventh in free skating, took the bronze ahead of Haig Oundjian, Curry and Kovalev.

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