The 1966 European Figure Skating Championships

The Luna 9 spacecraft made history as the first object to make a controlled landing on the moon. The deaths of gossip columnist Hedda Hopper and silent film star Buster Keaton and the deadly crash of Lufthansa Flight 005 in West Germany were front page news. A pint of milk delivered to your door in England cost 4p and everyone was mesmerized by Simon & Garfunkel's hit "The Sound Of Silence". 

The year was 1966, and from February 1 to 6, the eleven thousand seat Zimný Štadión in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia played host to the European Figure Skating Championships. It marked the second time in history the picturesque city played host to the European Championships, the first time being in 1956. Three of the defending European champions managed to defend their titles that year.

Skaters from fifteen countries competed in Bratislava and the ISU celebrated an important milestone - the thirtieth women's event at the European Championships. History was also made on the technological front. Helmut Strohmayer's report of the event for "Skating World" magazine noted, "Results were issued from the computer centre of the Research Institute of Economics and Organization of Building Industry very promptly - the evaluation of each category was processed by the computer in less than one minute. This was the first time a computer had been used in connection with a sports event in Czechoslovakia. Printed and bound copies of the protocol were available less than fourteen hours after the completion of the competitions."

Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive

Eurosport provided coverage of the event to millions of viewers in twenty two countries. The BBC broadcasts commentated by Alan Weeks totalled about three and a half hours of coverage, including a repeat of the dance event. British viewers chuckled at the fact 'Towlerová' and 'Sawbridgeová' flashed up on their screens.

The competition was extremely well skated and full of fascinating stories and familiar names. Let's hop in the time machine and see how it all played out!


In the school figures, Wolfgang Schwarz pulled off quite the upset in defeating reigning European Champion Emmerich Danzer quite soundly, five judges to three. Danzer had led after the first three figures, but bumbled a counter and lost concentration. Czechoslovakia's Ondrej Nepela sat in third after the figures, followed by France's Robert Dureville and Patrick Péra.

Twenty two year old Emmerich Danzer rebounded with one of his stronger free skating performances, landing a triple Salchow and a novel double Lutz with arms folded. He earned two 6.0's for artistic impression. Wolfgang Schwarz landed a triple toe-loop, double Axel and double Lutz and received good marks, but lost the free skate to Danzer by exactly twenty points.

Overall, Emmerich Danzer bested Wolfgang Schwarz by a margin of just over six points and five ordinal placings. Fifteen year old Ondrej Nepela won the bronze - his first European medal - in his home city. In "Skating World" magazine, Howard Bass wrote, "Every time he skates, this slim Czech youngster looks better and tonight was no exception. Hardly marred by just one rough landing, double jumps of every kind abounded from his light frame and his cross-foot spin finale brought a well-deserved ovation from his delighted home rink crowd."

Emmerich Danzer, Wolfgang Schwarz and Ondrej Nepela with their medals

France's Patrick Péra and Robert Dureville followed in fourth and fifth, though they were both defeated by East Germany's Ralph Borghardt in the free skate. Future Olympic Medallist Sergei Chetverukhin of the Soviet Union placed twelfth in his second trip to the European Championships and Great Britain's representative, twenty one year old Malcolm Cannon, placed a discouraging fifteenth with two falls in the free skate.

The men's podium. Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive.

Enroute to Vienna following the event, Dick Button - who was there covering the event for American television - told sportswriter Howard Bass that he thought Emmerich Danzer would be the next World Champion. He was right.


With Eva Romanová and Pavel Roman having turned professional, the field of sixteen ice dance teams in Bratislava was wide open. Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, teenage students of Miss Gladys Hogg at the Queen's Ice Club in London, took a decisive lead in the compulsory dances over fellow Britons Yvonne Suddick and Roger Kennerson but the teams nipping at their heels couldn't have been closer. Brigitte Martin and Francis Gamichon, Jitka Babická and Jaromír Holan, Gabriele and Rudi Matysik and Janet Sawbridge and Jon Lane all received third place ordinals in the compulsories. The dances performed were the Foxtrot, American Waltz, Kilian and Tango.

Dance medallists. Photo courtesy "Skate" magazine.

To the delight of British fans, Towler and Ford's fancy feet won them their first European title. Seven judges had them first, the Hungarian judge tied them with their training mates Suddick and Kennerson. The West German judge placed twenty year old Suddick and twenty one year old Kennerson first. Summarizing the event in "Skating World" magazine, Dennis Bird remarked, "As soon as Bernard Ford and Diane Towler started it was evident that we were about to see skating of a noticeably higher standard. Their carriage, precision, and harmony of line were impeccable."

Gabriele and Rudi Matysik. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

In the battle between the rest, the Austrian, Czechoslovakian, Hungarian, Dutch, Polish judges all placed the Czechoslovakian team third; the French, British and Italian judges went with Martin and Gamichon and the West German judge opted for their entry, the Matysik's. The Czechoslovakians took the bronze, followed by the French and West German teams, Sawbridge and Lane, Lyudmila Pakhomova and Victor Ryzhkin and nine other teams. In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "Deftly timed tempo changes in [Towler and Ford's] free dance music accompanied traditional and original footwork and moves, such as Diane's head on Bernard's boot while lying parallel to the the ice... Jon [Lane] skated with a painfully infected foot. Gladys Hogg was able to attend, travelling over land, and the NSA officials, competitors, and Betty Callaway (there with the Matysiks) paid her tribute as the backroom star."


Gabriele Seyfert in Bratislava. Photo courtesy the German Federal Archive.

Twenty two year old Regine Heitzer, the daughter of a wealthy Austrian businessman, took a massive lead in the school figures with first place scores from every judge ahead of Diana Clifton-Peach, a talented twenty year old from Great Britain. Nicole Hassler of France, East Germany's Gaby Seyfert and Sally-Anne Stapleford of Great Britain rounded out the top five after the first phase of the competition.

Sally-Anne Stapleford. Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine.

Eleven thousand spectators showed up to watch the women's free skate, which was decisively won by Seyfert, with Czechoslovakia's Hana Mašková second and Heitzer third. Seyfert's program included two double Axels, a double Lutz and a double loop. Dennis Bird reported that she was landing triple loops in practice. Mašková had suffered an injury in practice and skated with her left hand in a plaster cast. Heitzer had caught a virus so severe that she lost ten pounds, but her free skate in Bratislava was far from a disaster. She landed a double Axel and double Lutz.

The women's podium. Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive.

Adding the free skating totals with the figures, Regine Heitzer received overall first place ordinals from every judge and a score of 2244.4 points to Seyfert's 2168.5 and Hassler's 2136.1. Mašková, Clifton-Peach and Hungary's Zsuzsa Almássy placed fourth, fifth and sixth respectively. Clifton-Peach earned ordinals ranging from tenth through nineteenth for her free skate, but her low marks were loudly booed by the Bratislava crowd. Howard Bass said he'd "seldom seen her free-skate so well." Sally-Anne Stapleford dropped to seventh - and it was a miracle that she skated at all! Just hours before the free skate, she cut her instep with her skate blade. She performed her free skate with a bandaged foot and fell twice.


Emmerich Danzer, Ludmila Belousova, Viennese mayor Bruno Marek, Oleg Protopopov and Gabriele Seyfert. Photo courtesy German Federal Archive.

It's extremely rare when an entire panel agrees on the result of a competition but in Bratislava in 1966, every single judge placed Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov and Tatiana Zhuk and Aleksandr Gorelik first and second in the compulsory short program, free skate and overall. The same couldn't have been said for the rest of the field. Margot Glockshuber and Wolfgang Danne, Tatiana Tarasova and Georgi Proskurin, Irene Müller and Hans-Georg Dallmer and Gudrun Hauss and Walter Häfner all received third place ordinals in the compulsory short program. The East German team of Heidemarie Steiner and Heinz Ulrich Walther received ordinals ranging from fifth through seventeenth! The seemingly erratic judging perhaps had something to do with the fact there were nineteen pairs - a number that officials in the sixties simply weren't used to.

In the free skate, sixteen year old Glockshuber and twenty four year old Danne separated themselves from the pack with a fine performance that earned them the bronze over Tarasova and Proskurin seven judges to two. It was a redeeming moment for the West Germans, who had finished only third at their Nationals three weeks earlier. Twenty one year old Sonja Pfersdorf and twenty five year old Günter Matzdorf delivered an outstanding free skate that earned high marks. They perhaps the most unusual off-ice jobs of the field. She worked as a secretary at a biscuit factory in Nuremberg; he was a sports car driver.

The pairs podium. Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, BIS Archive.

After the event Rudi Marx, then President of the DEU, complained about the fact the judges chose to reward the balanced, artistic style of the Protopopov's and not the more rough and tumble West German pairs. "Where will it end? That's artistry without power," he bemoaned in the February 28, 1966 issue of "Der Spiegel". The article neglected to mention that the Protopopov's skated a clean and balanced free skate in Bratislava that received two perfect 6.0's. They also showed off their athletic side in an exhibition program to "Rock Around The Clock".

Sylvia Oundjian, Diana Clifton-Peach, Sally-Anne Stapleford, Malcolm Cannon, Diane Towler and Bernard Ford being serenaded at their Bratislava hotel. Photo courtesy "Winter Sports" magazine.

On February 6, 1966, a four hour gala was held that was attended by eleven thousand spectators. At the very end, the skaters lined up down the center of the rink, the lights went out and the audience lit up thousands of sparklers... Because that's safe, right? Alan Weeks wrote, "The building was a mass of flickering lights and the skaters lapped round the rink in this memorable fairyland. Unfortunately, our television transmission had ceased before this quite moving moment. Otherwise, it would have been as dramatic as the closing day of the 1960 Olympics in Rome." The good news is that the people of Bratislava didn't burn down their rink that day.

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