The 1971 World Figure Skating Championships

In 1968, the ISU announced that the 1971 World Figure Skating Championships would be held in Lyon, France. The winning bid was a huge disappointment for the CFSA, who had hoped to host that year's World Championships in Calgary. However, it was a huge boost to the morale of the people of Lyon. The success of the Winter Olympic Games in Grenoble had somewhat obscured the city's failed bid to host the 1968 Summer Olympic Games.

One of the buildings constructed in conjunction with that failed bid - at a great cost - was the Patinoire Cours Charlemagne. It would finally serve a purpose... as a practice skating rink. This pleased Jacques Favart, who served as both the ISU and FFSG President at the time Lyon's successful bid was announced. The main venue, the Palais des Sports, seated ten thousand spectators. 

When skaters, coaches and officials arrived in Lyon, they were delighted by an unseasonable warm snap in the weather, a chartered bus service between the hotels and rinks and enthusiastic French organizers and spectators. 

Poster for the event designed by René Déjean

One of the most interesting 'behind the scenes' footnotes of the 1971 World Championships involved a Quebec man named Robert Bonin. When the CFSA developed the Quebec section, he had become its first Chairman and in 1971, he was in his final year of office. Bonin travelled to Lyon and set up meetings with Antoine Faure of the FFSG in hopes - he said - of developing "an exchange between ourselves and France, so that either skaters or professionals would crisscross the ocean and... benefit." John McKay, who was the CFSA Vice-President at the time, was one of many who believed that Bonin had ulterior motives for the trip. He later asserted that Bonin "wanted to start a Quebec federation. He went to France to the World Championships in 1971 with the idea of negotiating with the French as a representative of Quebec. It was more than a simple exchange." Bonin's move to break away from the CFSA ultimately failed and the 'exchange program' never happened.

With Tim Wood and Gaby Seyfert not returning to defend their World titles, two of the four gold medals in Lyon were ripe for the picking. With over twenty entries in both singles events, healthy competition was certainly expected. Many expected Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov to defend their pairs title but the competition that defending ice dance champions Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov faced was formidable. Let's take a look back at how things played out in Lyon in 1971!


Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov, Lyudmila Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin and JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley on the podium

More than a few mâchoires - that's French for jaws - were on the floor when defending World Champions Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov made several uncharacteristic errors in their compulsory short program. Surprisingly, they were still awarded marks for high enough for second place behind their Soviet teammates Lyudmila Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin.

Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov. Video courtesy International Skating Union.

A capacity crowd of ten thousand packed the Palais des Sports for the pairs free skate. Rodnina and Ulanov managed to come from behind and defend their title with a near-flawless performance, defeating their teammates Smirnova and Suraikin in a seven-two split of the judging panel.

Melissa and Mark Militano. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Americans JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley were crowd favourites, earning a standing ovation for their exciting free skating performance. The French crowd booed their low marks but they won the bronze medal, becoming the first North American team since Cynthia and Ron Kauffman to infiltrate the Eastern Bloc domination of international pairs skating. Their teammates, Melissa and Mark Militano and Barbara Brown and Douglas Berndt, placed sixth and eleventh.

Sandra and Val Bezic. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Canada's lone entry, Sandra and Val Bezic, placed ninth in their second trip to the World Championships. Sandra recalled the Lyon Worlds in 1971 thusly: "A fabulous Worlds with all the French touches. We loved the stadium. The seats went straight up coliseum style so the audience felt so close, yet the surface was huge with no boards - only flower pots.  The ice was supposedly made with distilled water and it was the fastest ice we'd ever skated on - jumps and toe lifts popped up so easily. The French audience was packed and loud – fabulous. In the pairs event, they fell in love with JoJo Starbuck... whenever she skated the guys in the audience would howl 'JOOOOO JOOOOO!' like a mating call! We skated well and cracked the top ten. I roomed with Louise Soper (gorgeous no matter what time of day!) at the Hotel Terminus. We had a fireplace in our room. The hotel had fabulous gourmet cuisine - and a fabulous bar that served the best croque monsieurs. I remember sitting at the bar counter one day with my competitor, Willy Bietak. After our event I hung out with Vera Wang - Patrick Péra's girlfriend at the time - and others, at the American's hotel. Teams were in separate hotels scattered around the city. Cathy Lee Irwin taught me how to put on make-up for the banquet... techniques I use to this day! Toller and Val roomed together and I roamed the streets with Toller going through antique shops."


Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov, Angelika and Erich Buck and Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky on the podium. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon.

The practice sessions in Lyon were jam packed with ice dance fans, eager to watch all twenty teams choctaw their way through the challenging compulsories that lied ahead. Though France's Anne-Claude Wolfers and Roland Mars weren't major contenders, they received enthusiastic applause from the French crowd at every turn.

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon

The three compulsory dances skated were the Viennese Waltz, Paso Doble and Tango. Couples chose their own rhythm for the OSP and Americans Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky made a particular impression in this phase of the event with their creation, the Yankee Polka. They received first place ordinals from the American, British and Canadian judges for their efforts. However, a four judge Eastern Bloc placed Soviets Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov first. The West German judge voted for siblings Angelika and Erich Buck and the French judge tied the Buck's and Schwomeyer and Sladky. Though the top two teams were only separated by half a point, the Soviets managed to squeak out a narrow lead over the Americans after the compulsories and OSP.

Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Pakhomova and Gorshkov ditched the Tango and Paso Doble free dance that had won them the European title in Zürich and wowed the French crowd with a brand new program set to Russian music. Their program contrasted greatly with the Buck's free dance to selections from "Manuel and The Music of the Mountains" and "Swiss Polka" by Bert Kaempfert. Pakhomova pulled her partner along to receive marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.9. French judge Lysiane Lauret switched alliances and voted with the Eastern Bloc for Pakhomova and Gorshkov. 

Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon.

The Buck's managed to move past Schwomeyer and Sladky and claim the silver because of the fact the fact they had more second place ordinals, even though the Americans had three first places and the West Germans only had one. After receiving his bronze medal, James Sladky told an Associated Press reporter, "We knew the East Europeans would vote together when we came here. The first three pairs were almost even, any one of them could win on a given day. If we had skated a little better, maybe we could have had the French vote."

Top: Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky. Bottom: Angelika and Erich Buck. Photos courtesy Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon.

Sue and Roy Bradshaw, students of Joan Slater, skated superbly to "Oye Negra", "Hernando's Hideaway", "S'Agapo" and "Millionaire's Hoedown" but were unable to crack the top three. All of the remaining positions in the top ten were occupied by teams from the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States, with Canada's lone entry, Louise (Lind) and Barry Soper, placing eleventh.


Julie Lynn Holmes, Trixi Schuba and Karen Magnussen on the medal podium in Lyon. Bottom photo courtesy "Ice & Roller Skate" magazine.

At the 1969 and 1970 World Championships, Gaby Seyfert had finished second to Austria's Trixi Schuba but won the free skate and the overall title. Schuba, a virtuoso in school figures, again amassed a monstrous lead in the first phase of the competition. The two strongest free skaters, Canadian Karen Magnussen and American Janet Lynn, sat in fourth and fifth place after the figures, behind Julie Lynn Holmes and Rita Trapanese. An especially poor showing in the paragraph double three played a big part in Lynn's result. That margin all but sealed the deal for Schuba to succeed Seyfert as World Champion long before the first of the twenty-two competitors took the ice to perform their free skate.

East Germany's Sonja Morgenstern set a high bar, landing a rare triple Salchow in her free skating performance. However, a ninth place finish in the figures kept her out of the running for a medal. She ended the competition in sixth place.

Trixi Schuba. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

A report that appeared in "Skating" magazine following the competition recalled the women's free skating performances thusly: "Often underrated for her free skating, [Schuba's] main problem continues to be her appearance, although her recent efforts toward improvement in costume and hair style have been worthwile. Miss Schuba produces a solid program with a good sense of musical feeling, although the total effect is rather uninspiring. Executing two clean double Lutzes, she then slipped on a double loop, but recovered to perform a successful Axel and double flip... Miss [Julie Lynn] Holmes evidenced some problems with her Axels, slipping on the first double and omitting the second entirely. Her inside Axel also had a slight slip, and on yet another Axel toward the end of her program, she almost fell... Some of her freedom of presentation seemed at least temporarily lost. [Magnussen's] two reverse spread eagles into an Axel and a double loop went off beautifully. Known for her consistency, Karen made no terribly obvious errors other than a slip on a double Lutz and a wild free leg on a double Axel. Her other double Axel was excellently performed as were later moves of an Ina Bauer into a spin and an Ina Bauer into a sit spin... The audience had almost as much 'fun' as [Janet] Lynn did, responding in particular to her combination of four consecutive jumps followed by elaborate footwork... Her smooth, exquisite style was in full bloom this spring. Janet's efforts were rewarded by two perfect 6.0's, which left her with high hopes for a medal." Lynn opted to omit a planned triple toe-loop in favour of a double Lutz.

Janet Lynn

Though Janet Lynn won the free skate in Lyon, all but Soviet judge Nonna Nestegina (who placed Karen Magnussen first) gave their overall first place ordinals to Schuba, who was only seventh in the free skate. Holmes, fifth in the free skate, held on to claim the silver on the strength of her showing in the figures. Magnussen outranked Lynn for the bronze with a majority of first and second place ordinals, while Trapanese settled for fifth place. Canada's other two entries, Diane Hall and Ruth Hutchinson, finished sixteenth and nineteenth. 

Though Janet Lynn clearly had the performance of the night by a mile, the media hoopla that followed her loss in Lyon somewhat tarnished the event for all of the top four finishers. Following the competition, Associated Press reporter  Harvey Hudson claimed, "Boos and whistles of derision broke out from the crowd when Miss Schuba went to the victory stand. The same voices of disapproval broke out again while all three medal winners were in the center of the ice. When Miss Lynn appeared at rinkside a bedlam of cheering broke out and the crowd chanted 'Lynn, Lynn, Lynn.' Miss Schuba was disheartened by the display." Interrogated by Hudson following her loss, Schuba shrugged and aptly said, "I didn't get any special benefit from the rules. The rules weren't made for me."

Karen Magnussen, Janet Lynn and Trixi Schuba in Lyon. Photo courtesy "Peace And Love" by Janet Lynn.

Canadian writers viewed the situation following Lynn's loss in Janet Lyon a little differently. In his book "The Golden Age Of Canadian Figure Skating" David Young asserted, "The producers of ABC television twisted the facts to suit their own purposes, and perpetrated a fraud on the American viewers. As the crowd applauded for the three medallists, the television camera focused on another unauthorized podium where Janet Lynn, who had finished fourth, was standing. The announcer explained that Janet had completely won the hearts of the French audience, and that all the applause was for her. Trixi, in what should have been the moment of her greatest triumph after years of hard and heart-breaking work, had to be consoled instead by the two other winners. It was a blatant example of the media moulding an event to suit the image which suited it best, and a great many people were extremely upset by the incident, including the U.S. team manager Charles DeMore, who later apologized for the whole thing although he had nothing to do with it." In her book "Peace And Love", Janet Lynn recalled that the whole situation in Lyon was "very embarrassing."

Karen Magnussen. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

The evening after the women's free skate, there were two separate victory parties going on. Karen Magnussen went across the hall to the room where the Austrians were, grabbed Trixi Schuba by the hand and brought her in to the Canadian room. She announced, "Now I'd like you all to applaud the real world champion."


Ondrej Nepela, Sergei Chetverukhin and Patrick Péra on the men's podium

Patrick Péra was France's best hope for a gold medal at the 1971 World Championships in Lyon. An Olympic, World and European Medallist, Péra was hyped significantly by the French press prior to the competition despite finishing off the podium at the previous year's World Championships in Ljubljana and missing the European Championships in Zürich with a slashed foot.

Six of the nine judges placed reigning Olympic Gold Medallist and World Champion Ondrej Nepela first in the compulsories. However, less than a point and only two ordinal placings separated the two men. With several exciting free skaters set to enter the mix in the second phase of the competition, the battle was far from over.

Top: Patrick Péra and girlfriend Vera Wang. Bottom: Ondrej Nepela, Sergei Chetverukhin and Patrick Péra on the men's podium.

As in the pairs event, America's Ken Shelley was a popular audience favourite. Many felt that he gave one of 'the performances of the night' in Lyon but was lowballed by the judges. He finished a disappointing eighth overall, but was fifth in the free skate.

Ken Shelley. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

A report that appeared in "Skating" magazine following the competition recalled some of the other men's free skating performances thusly: "Of course, since the championship was hosted by France, there was a great deal of support for and speculation about Péra. There was little doubt that his foot injury suffered prior to Europeans, took its toll on needed practice time, and as such, his stamina was low in free skating. He fell hard on his triple Salchow and slipped on a double Axel; however later on in his program he recouped with three solid butterfly jumps... Although frequently criticized for lack of expression, Nepela unquestionably 'gets the job done, both from the standpoint of content and technicality in jumps. His two triple jumps were performed early in the program, a clean Salchow and toe-loop. Confidently executed, his program was polished, sure-footed and packed with a variety of jumps, yet lacking in originality and personality of style to which the spectator can respond. Nepela was worth of his technical marks whic were mostly 5.9's. Despite a slip on an Axel, [Sergei Chetverukhin's] performance seemed strong, although a bit on the slow side. His real strength lies in his pleasing style, good looks and musicality... Jan Hoffmann presented a most difficult, triple jump-studded program, but must develop a great deal of maturity before he will be able to become a true champion... John Misha Petkevich was not up to his usual standard of excellence in free skating. Early in his program he did a single Lutz instead of a planned double Lutz, but recovered with style by replacing a subsequently planned jump with the missing double Lutz. However, with a program such as his, lacking in footwork and dotted with empty moments, omission of key jumps is most evident... Kudos must also be accorded to Canadian Toller Cranston who was well received by the crowd. A truly artistic skater, Toller packs his program with all that he can, as well as interpreting his music with style and grace."

Ondrej Nepela. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Though the French and American judges opted for Patrick Péra, Ondrej Nepela won both the free skate and overall title by a wide margin. Only eighth in the free skate and tied in ordinal placings with Jan Hoffmann, Sergei Chetverukhin held on to win the bronze on his strength in the figures and a majority of third place ordinals. 

Ondrej Nepela. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon.

John 'Misha' Petkevich of Great Falls, Montana settled for fifth, though the American judge had him second. Chetverukhin's medal was the first at Worlds for a Soviet man, though Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin had medalled representing Russia in 1903.

Toller Cranston in 1971. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Toller Cranston, hampered by a disappointing finish in the figures, was only able to move up eleventh. Recalling the event in his book "Zero Tollerance", Cranston said, "I placed fifteenth in the figures, near the bottom of the barrel, below all the people I had beaten weeks earlier. I told Ellen [Burka], 'I just won't be able to skate the long program. I'm too ashamed.' Nevertheless, when the music started, my mind said no but my legs said yes, I skated a dazzling long program and got high marks right off the top, the third skater out. I took sixth place in the free skating but should have won it. Ellen and I thought we'd forget about skating, go to Morocco, and smoke hashish, but reason prevailed."

John Curry. Video courtesy Frazer Ormondroyd.

Three places behind him, skating in his first World Championships, was John Curry. It wasn't the World debut that the young Briton wanted. He had spent the weeks preceding the event training in Davos, spending more time on the ski hills than on patch sessions. By the time he arrived in Lyon, he wasn't even speaking to his coach Arnold Gerschwiler. He placed an unlucky thirteenth in both the figures and free skate and one judge had him as low as sixteenth overall. After his disappointing free skate, he left the ice by a side-entrance to avoid his coach. A few weeks after returning to England, he and Gerschwiler parted ways.

Photo courtesy Canada's Sports Hall Of Fame. Used with permission.

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