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Another Jumble Of Judging Tales

Figure skating wouldn't be figure skating without its judges. From the encouraging judges who guide us through our Preliminary Dance tests to the crooked 'tap-dancing judges' and Marie-Reine Le Gougne in Salt Lake City, these volunteers certainly do run the gamut. 

In 2020 and 2022, the blog looked back at fascinating stories of judges from years past. It's been a couple of years but here's a third installment!


In 1964, British judge Harry Lawrence earned himself a one-year suspension from the ISU for 'inexperience'. Serving as a judge at the World Championships for the first time, Lawrence placed the number three British couple (Diane Towler and Bernard Ford) in a tie for fourth in the compulsories, eleventh in the free dance, and seventh overall. They had finished an unlucky thirteenth. Lawrence's suspension was considered quite controversial at the time, as he was an experienced N.S.A. judge who had done a fine job judging at the European Championships in Berlin in 1961. If anything, the ISU could have accused him of national bias. Lawrence stood by his scores, believing that the other judges hadn't known what to do with the virtually unknown young team. Two years later, Towler and Ford were World Champions. Lawrence never judged at the World Championships again. 


Harry N. Keighley. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Chicago's Harry N. Keighley served as the USFSA's President from 1949 to 1952. A prominent USFSA judge, referee and accountant, he devoted over thirty years to the sport of figure skating. Two years before his death in 1983, seventy-nine year-old Keighley suffered a heart attack and lost consciousness while judging Larry Holliday's Novice 4th Test figures at the Evanston Figure Skating Club in Illinois. Holliday recalled, "After he passed out, I got off the ice and waited a few minutes for him to come to. We waited thirty minutes, and after he recovered, he insisted on finishing the test. He would not allow the ambulance to take him away. Tough man! Club officials gave him a chair to sit as he judged. Back then, the judges stood on the ice right in front of the skater to terrorize us! He passed me and the running joke was always, 'Wow, Larry your figures were so bad, Harry couldn't take it.'"


Distinguished Canadian judge Flora Jean (Gilchrist) Matthews' first trip to the World Championships in Tokyo in 1985 was certainly memorable. When she gave American Debi Thomas (a newcomer on the World stage) high marks of 5.8 and 5.6 in the free skate, a Canadian fan in the stands loudly yelled out, "Fire the Canadian judge!" It didn't seem to matter that Matthews had Thomas fourth in the free skate, the same as the majority of the other judges. The fact that she was simply a high marker was apparently grounds for dismissal. Matthews had the last laugh the following year when she was in Geneva judging the men's event at the World Championships and Thomas took the women's gold. 

Not afraid to go against the grain, Matthews memorably served as a judge in the men's events at both the 1988 and 1992 Winter Olympic Games. In Calgary, she was one of four judges who had Brian Orser ahead of winner Brian Boitano. In Albertville, she was one of two judges to place Paul Wylie ahead of winner Viktor Petrenko in the free skate.


Left: Virginia Vale. Right: Mabel Lamborn Graham.

Virginia Vale (born Dorothy Howe) made all of her own clothes and had roles in over a dozen B-movies during World War II. In one, she played a race car driver. Elisabeth Daub Hickox rode her own racing pony in Shanghai and played the violin. Katherine Miller Sackett enjoyed canoeing in remote areas along the Minnesota-Canada border. Mary Natwick Meredith was a housewife by day; trapeze enthusiast by night. Minerva Burke tap-danced and played hockey. Mabel Lamborn Graham gave piano lessons, sang, and booked theatrical productions. Nellie Matson Jensen was a talented photographer who enjoyed fishing and skiing. All of these women had one thing in common: they were active figure skating judges in America in the fifties!


A smiling Adolf Rosdol (seated right) with Canadians F. Herbert Crispo (seated left) and Sandy McKechnie (standing) at the 1957 World Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

At its meeting prior to the 1957 Congress in Salzburg, the ISU voted to "permanently" suspend two Austrian officials, Hans Grünauer and Adolf Rosdol, for "improper conduct at international skating events." ISU historian Benjamin T. Wright recalled, "Mr. Grünauer had established a 'calculation office', to ascertain throughout a competition the exact position of each competitor with each judge, by means of which the Austrian judge serving on the panel was informed of the current standings and instructed (by signals) as to the marks to be awarded... The so-called calculation office had operated over many years since the advent of open marking, right up to the 1957 World Championships... The case of Mr. Rosdol was perhaps a more difficult one, since he was at the time of his suspension the Chairman of the Figure Skating Committee... Mr. Rosdol had been previously suspended for two years in 1951 for attempting to influence another judge to place an Austrian competitor higher. His engaging in comparable activities, first observed in 1949, had continued at various Championships thereafter and even during the period of his first suspension, as well as after he became an ISU officeholder." The Austrian federation opposed both men's suspensions vehemently, to no use. Grünauer's suspension from the ISU continued until his death in 1976, but Rosdol's suspension was lifted in 1977 by Jacques Favart. Incredibly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, he was soon reappointed as an international judge by the Austrian federation.

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 figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":