The 1964 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

President Lyndon B. Johnson had just announced the "War On Poverty" in his first State Of The Union address. The latest food fads were cheese fondues and grotesque lime gelatin aspics with tuna, celery and olives. Record players blared "Sugar Shack" by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs and The Twist was quickly being overshadowed by The Shake.

From January 9 to 12, 1964, America's best figure skaters gathered in Cleveland for the U.S. Championships. It was the second time in history the Ohio city played host to the U.S. Nationals, the first being twenty-four years prior during World War II. The competition determined entries for the 1964 Innsbruck Olympic team. 

Back (left to right): Monty Hoyt, Tommy Litz, Cynthia Kauffman, Vivian Joseph, Ron Kauffman, Ronald Joseph, Tina Noyes, Christine Haigler. Front (left to right): Scotty Allen, Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill and Peggy Fleming. Photo courtesy World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame.   

Months prior, the USFSA had voted in their autumn meeting in Chicago to send the top three in each class to the Olympics, which (along with the expense of sending officials) would cost a whopping eighteen thousand dollars. Less than a month before the event in Cleveland, less than a quarter of those funds were raised. To help make up the difference, the Cleveland Skating Club sold pins and badges, but a good portion of the proceeds came from ticket sales. A whopping eight dollars and fifty cents for a 'season reserved seat' to all events was outlandish by sixties standards, but it got the job done.

The figures, the initial rounds of the dance event and the new compulsory connected pairs (short) program were held at the Cleveland Skating Club's rink in Shaker Heights. All other events were contested at the eight thousand seat Cleveland Arena, located in the city's downtown. Practices were held at both rinks, as well as the Northfield Plaza rink in Warrensville Heights. Social events included ice dancing sessions and two buffet dinner-dances. The Cleveland Skating Club's rink had their own dining room and 'grille' and skaters and judges had a free shuttle from the host Wade Park Manor hotel at their disposal. Let's take a look back at how the competition played out!


Gail Newberry and Bobby Black

In the novice men's and women's school events, the victors were fourteen year old Bobby Black of Melrose, Massachusetts and thirteen year old Gail Newberry of Niagara Falls, New York. Though Black faced stiff competition from a young John 'Misha' Petkevich in the free skating finals, his lead in the figures was so insurmountable that Petkevich's performance was almost irrelevant. Black had started skating after seeing an ice revue with his family.

Gail Newberry (center) with her parents and younger sister

Gail Newberry shared a passion for skating and a coach (Ede Király) with her younger sister Carol. She hung on to lead in figures to win the novice women's title, aided by the fact her father owned an ice rink where she had free reign to practice day and night. Winners in junior pairs were fifteen year old Barbara Yaggi and nineteen year old Gene Floyd of Troy, Ohio.

Fifteen year old Tim Wood of Detroit decisively beat his club mate Duane Maki in the junior men's event, four judges to one. Besting Taffy Pergament in a very close junior women's event was Carol Stephanie Noir of East Orange, New Jersey. Noir had medalled in novice and junior in 1960 and 1961, finished fifth in senior in 1962 and won a medal at a senior international competition - the Richmond Trophy in England. ISU historian Benjamin T. Wright recalled, "It [was] probably the only known instance of a skater 'going back down,' as it were, to a lower class, but she was after all, still only fifteen."

Photos courtesy "Skating" magazine

Eleven teams competed in Junior (Silver) Dance. Sixteen year old Dale Lynn and twenty-two year old Russell Bowen of New Haven, Connecticut won the initial round. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "Silver Dance still had no free dance. After the winnowing out of the Initial Round, the top two couples were tied after six dances. Kristin Fortune, 17, and Claude Sweet, 25, from Northridge and representing the LAFSC, emerged on top by the slimmest of margins to the credit of their pro, Bert Wright." Second and third places went to Lynn and Bowen and Sandra Schwomeyer and James Pennington.


The unlucky Patti Gustafson and Pieter Kollen were forced to withdraw prior to the pairs event due to a serious head injury suffered by sixteen year old Gustafson during a practice in Lake Placid the week prior to the competition. They had managed to place in the top ten at the previous year's World Championships after withdrawing from the North American Championships due to another injury sustained in a practice.

The defending champions, nineteen year old Judianne and Jerry Fotheringill of Tacoma, Washington, were the children of a Northern Pacific railroad conductor. As in the year prior in Long Beach, they faced stiff competition from Vivian and Ronald Joseph of Highland Park, New Jersey. Vivian was a high school student at South High School in Denver; Ronald a twenty one year old freshman at Northwestern University who earned his letter in track and field. Seattle high school students Cynthia and Ron Kauffman were also a factor. They had won the U.S. junior title the year prior and had spent the summer training - and improving by leaps and bounds - in Lake Placid.

Despite a tumble by Judianne, the Fotheringill's managed to defend their title by one point. It had been even closer between them and the Joseph's in 1963 - one tenth of a point. The Kauffman's took third, skating commendably to best Michigan's Joanne Heckert and Gary Clark. After winning, the Fotheringill's told an Associated Press reporter, "It was the hardest routine we've ever done." The 1964 pairs event marked the first and only time in history a trio of sibling pairs swept the senior pairs podium at the U.S. Championships.


Scotty Allen. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Men's was the only senior discipline in Cleveland where all three medallists from Long Beach in 1963 returned. In the school figures, fourteen year old Scott Ethan Allen of Smoke Rise, New Jersey took a slim lead over nineteen year old 1962 Champion Monty Hoyt of Denver and defending champion Tommy Litz of Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was a very close contest. Allen had three firsts to Hoyt's one. Litz had two seconds, two fourths and a sixth. When told of the sixth place, Litz responded, "Holy smoke!" The judge who placed Litz sixth had Billy Chapel, who came fifth, first. Chapel had passed his Eighth Test during the off-season, despite losing his home rink - the famous Polar Palace in Hollywood - in a fire.

Tommy Litz. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In the free skate, Tommy Litz skated tremendously well, attempting over twenty jumps in his performance. It was a tremendous effort considering he'd missed the 1963 World Championships due to an ankle injury suffered in practice after North Americans. Scotty Allen followed him, skating impeccably well but putting a hand down on a triple jump attempt. He later told reporters, "I knew I had to give it my all and my program was a new one... [After the mistake] I told myself I have to get moving again." When the marks were tallied, Allen was in first overall - by a fraction of a point. Litz and Hoyt settled for silver and bronze, ahead of eighteen year old Gary Visconti, Billy Chapel, David Edwards and Buddy Zack.

In winning, Scotty Allen became the youngest senior men's U.S. Champion ever and broke a long-standing 'jinx' in U.S. men's skating by becoming the first man to win the senior men's title without having won the junior title first. Allen's win also marked the closest margin by which a reigning senior men's winner was dethroned in the history of the U.S. Championships. Allen wasn't just a pro on the ice either. During the off-season, he had won the Greenwood Lake Sailfish Regatta in New Jersey.

The event wasn't all roses for everyone. In his book "Falling For The Win", Gary Visconti recalled, "February in Cleveland was bitter cold outside and intense inside on the ice as the competition level was keen. We had high expectations and I performed extremely well... [and] many people in the know said [Monty Hoyt] should have been sixth... Leaving those Olympic Trials (the Nationals) as the alternate was devastating. The bronze had been the goal and I fell just short. We had a big family meeting and Mr. Don felt the National Association let us down big time. Maybe they didn’t want us on the team? Maybe we were not what they wanted in a potential champion? So many thoughts and doubts filled my mind. We were all very down and beaten. Going back home empty-handed seemed so shallow. We were ready to stop the quest."


Darlene Streich and Charles Fetter, Jr. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Defending U.S. Champions Sally Schantz and Stanley Urban did not return to defend their Gold Dance title. Urban had injured his leg during an intramural football game and spent close to two months in a cast, while Schantz had turned professional to teach at the St. Lawrence Figure Skating Club. Newlyweds Yvonne Littlefield and Peter Betts had also retired from competition to coach. All eyes were on Lorna Dyer and John Carrell, 1963 bronze medallists who had spent the summer in Victoria, B.C. working with World Champion Jean Westwood. John was a junior in high school, Lorna a freshman at the University Of Washington.

The compulsory dances were the Rocker Foxtrot, Blues, Westminster Waltz and Paso Doble. A third place finish took Dyer and Carrell out of the running. It was clear the competition was to be a two-way race between Darlene Streich and Charles 'Bucky' Fetter Jr., the Silver Dance runners-up from 1963, and Carole MacSween, the Silver Dance winner in 1963, and her new partner Robert Munz. Streich was engaged to World Champion Otto Jelinek and Munz was a pre-law student at John Carroll University. After the marks from the free dance were tallied, Streich and Fetter emerged victorious over their rivals... but it was close. Both of the top two teams received two firsts and two seconds. The fifth judge had Dyer and Carrell first.

Charles Fetter, Jr.

In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "Darlene Streich, 20, and Bucky Fetter, 21, skated to 'Down by the Riverside,' 'Rain on the Roof,' and the overture from 'Irma La Douce'. Bucky, from Kentucky, attended college at the Indiana University Extension. He and Darlene trained at the WC of Indianapolis with Ron Ludington. Unlike Midwesterns, Darlene and Bucky edged out Carole MacSween and Bob Munz from Cleveland, even though Carole and Bob's free medley to 'Third Man Theme,' 'Summertime,' and 'Tropical Meringue' scored higher. Lorna Dyer and John Carrell from Seattle won the other berth on the World team. Too many foxtrot/blues variations had little to offer in terms of excitement and innovation."


Christine Haigler. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Much fuss was made about 'the state of women's figure skating in America' following the Sabena Crash in 1961, as has always been the fashion. However, the senior women's event in Cleveland was a thriller from start to finish. All but maybe one of the eight competitors were world-class skaters and with only three spots on the Olympic team, the school figures proved to be a real nail-biter.

When the marks from figures were were tallied, sixteen year old Christine Haigler was in first, followed by seventeen year old defending Champion Lorraine Hanlon and a pair of fifteen year olds - Pasadena, California's Peggy Fleming (coached by Peter Betts) and Boston, Massachusetts' Tina Noyes (coached by Cecilia Colledge). In "The New York Times", Lincoln A. Werden recalled, "Miss Haigler did [her loop] so well that the spectators applauded. Applause is generally unknown and frowned upon in the setting of silence that prevails during the school-figures competition." In a terribly disappointing sixth was twenty year old mother of two Barbara Roles Pursley, who had come out of retirement after the Sabena Crash to win the 1962 U.S. title but taken the 1963 season off to give birth to her second child. The judges had split their votes between the top four women, allowing for an exciting climax in the free skate.

Top: Christine Haigler, Tina Noyes and Peggy Fleming. Bottom: Peggy Fleming rinkside with ABC's Jim McKay. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Skating to the strains of "Prima Ballerina", Peggy Fleming brought down the house with a superb free skating performance and earned first place marks from three judges - just enough to give her the gold. Her parents Albert and Doris, who had driven all the way from California to watch her compete, were elated. After the results were announced, her father told a reporter, "Cleveland is special to Peg. This is where she learned to skate - here at the Arena - when she was nine years old." 

The silver went to Tina Noyes and the bronze to Christine Haigler. The champions from the previous two years - Lorraine Hanlon and Barbara Roles Pursley - finished off the podium and missed the Olympic team. The women's event in Cleveland went down in history went down as one of the biggest shockers in U.S. figure skating history, and Carol Heiss had called the fact that Peggy Fleming was going to win it.

Peggy Fleming. Photo courtesy "Life" magazine archives

In her book "The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories", Peggy Fleming recalled, "My parents and I stayed in a cheap motel, the kind where someone flushing in room #1 can wake up everyone down to room #20. But it was all we could afford, and the excitement of being there more than made up for the low-rent accommodations. Cleveland was the place where just a few years before, Harriet Lapish had first seen some promise in my skating. I was back again, still a young girl, but now I was competing with the best in the country... I was in no way prepared for what followed."

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