The Kennedy Kids

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

"What we used to call 'carry lifts,' so spectacular today, were adagio skating, done only in professional shows. I could do all the lifts we were permitted on one foot and sneak in a few the others weren't yet doing." - Peter Kennedy, "The Seattle Times", February 25, 1994

The children of Michael and Clarice Kennedy, Michael Edward Kennedy III and Karol Estelle Kennedy were born on September 4, 1927 and Valentine's Day of 1932 - he in Olympia and she in Shelton, Washington. They grew up on East 17th Street in Olympia. Their Wisconsin-born father ran a photography studio and was a very successful dentist who gave clinics with the American Dental Association. At this christening, a relative took one look at the younger Michael and said, "That's Peter!" and the name stuck. Soon, Peter and Karol would earn another new name - The Kennedy Kids.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Seven-year-old Karol and twelve-year-old Peter first took up figure skating in 1939 at the Olympia Skating Rink, which was located in an old legion hall. Peter, who was then a Boy Scout usher for the nearby Seattle Skating Club's carnival, encouraged his family to attend the show. They loved it so much that the whole family bought ice skates. Karol, who had been interested in dancing, hung up her ballet shoes and Peter soon gave up his favourite childhood sport, tumbling.

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

When the Olympia Skating Rink was threatened by closure, Karol and Peter's father bought it - giving the young upstarts their very own ice rink to train. Though their father had no formal background in figure skating, he decided to make a pairs team out of them and acted as their coach and manager. Their mother sewed their costumes and got them ready to be at the rink every morning by four o'clock, so they could skate for four hours before going to school. Their father also regularly drove them to nearby Seattle for lessons from experienced instructors. He sold a home, mortgaged a yacht and downsized his dental practice to keep his children in skates and lessons. Members of the Washington Athletic Club stepped in to make generous financial contributions to the talented young pair's skating career.

Photo courtesy Washington Athletic Club

The Kennedy family moved to Seattle in 1943, the year after Karol and Peter won their first medal at the U.S. Championships, a bronze in junior pairs. They moved up to second in 1944. In 1946, they took the silver medal in the senior pairs category behind Donna Jean Pospisil and Jean-Pierre Brunet. In 1947, they were again runners-up at Nationals - this time to Yvonne Sherman and Robert Swenning - but made history at the first post-War World Championships in Stockholm by claiming the silver medal. It was the first silver medal ever won in pairs skating by an American team and the first American medal at the World Championships since Beatrix Loughran and Sherwin Badger's bronzes in 1930 and 1932. Karol and Peter also won the bronze medal at the North American Championships that season. 

At the ages of fifteen and twenty, Karol and Peter won their first of five consecutive U.S. titles in 1948 and earned a spot on the Olympic and World team. Though they placed a creditable sixth in St. Moritz and fourth in Davos, their experiences in Switzerland weren't exactly pleasant ones. Karol had injured her back while climbing on vacation in Scandinavia and was suffering from severe pain that radiated from her back down her leg, causing some loss of muscle control. When she later had a disc injury which left her with numbness in her left leg and a long scar, doctors were amazed that she had been able to walk, much less compete. To make matters worse, Peter later recalled, their record was ruined in St. Moritz and they had to skate their entire program in silence because they didn't have a back-up.

A contributing factor to Karol and Peter's early successes was their work with several Canadian and American coaches, among them Sheldon Galbraith, Clarence and Fayette Hislop, Eugene Turner and Mary Rose Thacker Temple. 

Hank Beatty with Peter and Karol Kennedy at the 1948 U.S. Championships. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In 1949, Karol and Peter rebounded to finish second at the World Championships in Paris and win their first of two North American titles... with Karol's back heavily taped due to her injury. At that season's U.S. Championships, Peter struck gold in a pair of borrowed trousers. Walter 'Red' Bainbridge, who had attended school in Seattle during World War II, loaned him the 'lucky pants' that had already won gold in the Gold Dance and junior pairs events. It wasn't the first time that clothing had played an important role in the team's skating career. Years later, Peter recollected, "We were later told we didn't win [the 1947 U.S. title] because I was in a costume instead of a tux. I went back to the tux and won with it in 1950 when the other men had gone to costumes."

Top: Peter and Karol Kennedy, Ája Vrzáňová and Dick Button. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine. Bottom: Karol and Peter Kennedy, Jennifer and John Nicks and Marianne and László Nagy - the trio of sibling pairs that swept the podium at the 1950 World Championships.

In London in 1950, Karol and Peter made history as the first American pair ever to win the World title. Their victory that year at the Wembley Arena was especially impressive in that they managed to defeat the British pair Jennifer and John Nicks on their home turf, by a wide margin. The 1950 World Championships marked the first and only time a trio of sibling pairs swept the podium.

By this time, Karol and Peter were training at the Broadmoor Skating Club under the tutelage of Edi Scholdan. They were Edi's first World Champions and their success paved the way for three other sibling pairs from the state of Washington - the Hadleys, Fotheringills and Kauffmans. This trio of teams all went on to medal at the U.S. Championships in the sixties.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In Milan in 1951, Karol and Peter lost their World title to World Roller Pair Champions Ria Baran and Paul Falk by three-tenths of a point. Their father was infuriated that Harold G. Storke, the American judge, gave high marks of 5.7 and 5.8 to the German pair. Benjamin T. Wright later recalled, "The Kennedys had arrived late on the scene, due to carnival commitments in the United Skates and had to skate almost immediately upon arrival, so perhaps 'propeller lag' (there being no jet aircraft yet) got to them."

Bottom photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

For the 1952 Olympic season, Karol and Peter enlisted the help of World Champion Cecilia Colledge, who helped develop a new program for them to music by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg - a fitting choice as the Games were to be held in Oslo. They also signed up for modern dance classes, hoping to improve the lines of their skating and use their five-inch height difference to their advantage. In Norway, they were closely monitored by Eastern bloc security officials, who thought they'd helped a Hungarian pair defect at the 1950 World Championships in London. The distraction didn't affect their performance but they were again unable to best Baran and Falk. When they again performed well and were again placed second at the World Championships that followed the Olympics, emotions were running high... and disaster struck.

The February 28, 1952 issue of "The Seattle Daily Times" reported, "Dr. Michael Kennedy of Seattle and his son were involved in a fist fight with a French news cameraman tonight at the World Figure Skating Championship and were separated by police. The incident came as Peter and his sister, Karol, had left the ice after finishing their pair-skating routine. As they left the ice, Karol stepped to the side of the rink and sat down to catch her breath. Dr. Kennedy said he asked the photographer not to take her picture because she was crying, but the picture was made anyway. In the melee that followed, the doctor's glasses were broken and the cameraman received a bloody nose. The police stepped in. The Kennedys hurried from the Sports Palace by a rear door and were taken to their hotel. Peter and Karol didn't wait to change to their street clothes."

In the months that followed, the ISU had its Congress and the USFSA its Annual General Meeting. It came out that in addition to the incident in Paris, Karol and Peter had also skated an exhibition without a proper sanction in Garmisch-Partenkirchen following the World Championships. The incident in question was a performance for American G.I.'s during a Bavarian skating competition, arranged by the U.S. military. Their father believed the German sponsors had applied for a sanction from the ISU, but they hadn't. Newspapers reported the exhibition as being the reason for their suspension, but the USFSA and ISU also acknowledged the incident in Paris.

Photo courtesy University Of Washington Archives

Though Karol and Peter's father had told the press that they intended to skate professionally, after the suspension Peter applied to his local draft board for induction to go fight in the Korean War. He was rejected because he had asthma. He had previously been given a deferment because he was a student at the University of Washington. He got a job at the First National Bank, married Sally Moffitt in 1957, became a father of two and settled in Mercer Island. When the Sabena Crash occurred in 1961, he worked for Boeing. He later shared his own theory about the tragedy: "It never officially came out, but Boeing claimed the pilot was shot in the head, and that someone from the Belgian Congo took the plane down. This information came right down from the guys who went and checked out the crash, but the FBI didn't want them talking." Monty Hoyt's mother, whose well-connected husband was the editor of the "Denver Post", shared a similar story.

Peter also developed a passion for skiing and competed in the 1956 U.S. Olympic trials, just missing a spot on the team. He went on to work as a consultant for several skiing firms and later founded his own company, Peter Kennedy Inc. He invented and manufactured the first aluminum ski poles, the first all-aluminum skis and the first foam-filled ski boot. His interest in windsurfing and water skiing led him to develop the banana water ski. He also acted as a representative for San Marco boots, Sport Obermayer and Yorex tennis racquets.

Karol and her husband with their first child. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Karol, who had graduated from St. Nicholas School in Seattle in 1950 and attended both Colorado College and the University Of Washington, married Robert Charles Kucher in December of 1953. The couple had met when she was boating at the Seattle Yacht Club with her parents. Her husband had served in the Korean War before taking a job as a manager at the Olympic Foundry Company. Karol and Robert had six children and divided their time between Seattle and a summer home in Sayulita, Mexico. She enjoyed entertaining, travelling, taking care of animals and playing bridge. In 1994, she opened The Original Children's Shop, a children's clothing store. She devoted countless hours to the care of her oldest son, who was paralyzed in an accident.

Photo courtesy World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame

Karol and Peter were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1991, alongside fellow American World Champions Dorothy Hamill, Charlie Tickner, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner. Though they were Olympic Medallists and World Champions, they have yet to be acknowledged by the Washington Sports Hall Of Fame. Only one figure skater from the state, Rosalynn Sumners, has been so honoured.

Peter Kennedy. Photo courtesy "Mercer Island Reporter" Archive.

Sadly, Karol passed away from emphysema on June 24, 2004, in Seattle at the age of seventy-two. She had been a heavy smoker all her life. At the time of her death, her daughter Kathryn told a reporter from the "Seattle Times" that her mother rarely talked about her skating days. "Occasionally, if we asked her a bunch of questions we'd get something," she said. "Skating was one chapter of her life. She got married and started a new one."

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":