A Canadian Coryphee: The Marilyn Ruth Take Wittstock Story

The daughter of engineer Percival Horace Take and Alice Marjorie Young, Marilyn Ruth Take was born on March 11, 1928 in Toronto, Ontario. 

Marilyn took up skating at the Toronto Skating Club at the age of nine and progressed quickly through the ranks, winning gold medals at her club's annual competition six times.

A student of iconic coaches Osborne Colson, Otto Gold and Madge Austin, Marilyn was one of the first Canadian skaters to employ principles learned in off-ice dance training to her skating and it paid off even at a young age. An accomplished ballerina, Marilyn studied at the Winnipeg Ballet and danced in one of the first all-Canadian ballets.

Marilyn earned her first medal at the Canadian Championships (a bronze in the junior women's event) in 1941, the same year she won the Toronto Skating Club's junior title. In 1942, she dropped to fourth and in 1943, won the silver.

Children's number from the 1942 Toronto Skating Club carnival. Marilyn Ruth Take is the butterfly pictured second from the left in the right photo. To her left is Suzanne Morrow.

By 1944, Marilyn had moved up to the senior ranks and made a strong statement in winning the silver medal behind Barbara Ann Scott, a placement she'd hold until 1946. Marilyn got her lucky break in 1947 when Barbara Ann skipped the Canadian Championships to compete overseas at the European and World Championships. This allowed Marilyn the chance to win the Canadian senior women's title in front of a hometown crowd - and she did it in spectacular fashion, defeating Suzanne Morrow, Nadine Phillips and Gloria Lillico by a forty-five point margin that year.

Due to time constraints, Marilyn skipped the 1947 World Championships in Stockholm and instead headed down to Washington, D.C. with Osborne Colson to focus on her training for the North American Championships, which were to be held in Ottawa that year. She finished an impressive third in the school figures in that event, but a disappointing free skate dropped her down to sixth overall behind Barbara Ann Scott, Janette Ahrens, Yvonne Sherman, Suzanne Morrow and Eileen Seigh. After the event, her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Marilyn remained in Toronto but was forced to take some time off from skating when doctors discovered a broken bone in her knee.

Competitors at the 1947 North American Championships (L-R: Janette Ahrens, Shirley Irene Lander, Suzanne Morrow, Barbara Ann Scott, Eileen Seigh, Yvonne Sherman, Marilyn Ruth Take)

Despite missing the World Championships, her disappointing showing at the North American Championships in 1947 and her injury, the 1947 season did have a silver lining for Marilyn. She secured spots on both the 1948 Olympic and World teams. Fortunately, she was able to resume training rather quickly after her injury healed. To improve her chances at the Olympics in St. Moritz, she headed down to St. Paul, Minnesota to work with Bud Wilson.

At the 1948 Winter Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Marilyn trained privately at the Palace Rink, where she had to shovel knee-deep snow off the ice in order to have a patch to practice on. Disaster struck in the school figures, when she lost her balance and had a freak fall. Falls in school figures were extremely rare so the judges had no clue what to do with her. One judge had her eighth; another in nineteenth.

Barbara Ann Scott, Marilyn Ruth Take and Suzanne Morrow at the 1948 Winter Olympic Games

Marilyn's free skating performance in St. Moritz to Amilcare Ponchielli's "Dance Of The Hours" turned some major heads. Captain T.D. Richardson, writing for "The Times" raved, "Marilyn Take of Canada... treated us to one of the most delightful displays of free skating... ever seen. It was a difficult program performed faultlessly, rhythmic and beautiful; it was, in a word, exquisite." In his 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History", Nigel Brown noted, "She took a very bold step at musical interpretation, presenting a programme largely dominated by ballet movements. Her performance was beautiful and it showed clearly that skating in its highest form must interpret music." 

However, the judges were every bit as befuddled by Marilyn's dazzling (and at that time unorthodox) free skate as they were by her fall in the school figures. One judge had her tied for fourth and another tied for sixth, while others had her in sixteenth and seventeenth places. She finished twelfth overall. 

In a February 14, 1948 interview in the "Montreal Gazette", Marilyn shared her thoughts on her  Olympic experience: "I'm very proud of myself. I don't think I did too badly in my first time skating in Europe, and the reason I'm proud is that I had two weeks practice before the competitions. I cut my foot back home in the summer and wasn't able to get down to training until just before the Olympics." 

At the World Championships that followed in Davos, Marilyn finished ninth in the figures and dropped down to twelfth after the free skate, the same result she'd had at the Olympics. 

Marilyn Ruth Take. Right photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Marilyn initially intended to continue in the amateur ranks for another two or three years after Barbara Ann Scott left the amateur scene but opted to professional instead. She signed a contract with the Ice Follies and took up permanent residence in the U.S. in June of 1948. She toured with the company until 1952 alongside such greats as Richard Dwyer, Frick and Frack and Ája Vrzáňová.

After marrying and having three children, Marilyn planted firm roots in Toronto. She started coaching in 1968 and remained active as a coach there for many years. She worked at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, Granite Club, Thornhill Figure Skating Club, Upper Canada Figure Skating Club and North York Figure Skating Club under her married name Marilyn Wittstock. Her students included sectional, divisional and national medallists.

A devoutly religious woman, Marilyn donated her time and knowledge to girls and women involved in Toronto churches and offered them free skating lessons. 

Marilyn passed away on April 14, 2023 at the age of ninety-five. At the time of her death, she was the last surviving member of Canada's 1948 Olympic figure skating team.

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