A Right-Sized Amount Of Reader Mail


It's once again time to unpack the mail bag, answer some of your questions and share some of the interesting e-mails and social media messages that have come my way over the last few months. As always, if you have a question you'd like me to tackle or feedback on a blog please reach out via e-mail.


S: An updated version of Jackson Haines biography.

A: When I cover a skater or topic, I will occasionally go back and update the original blog post with a new photo or tidbit that I come across. The Jackson Haines piece from 2015 is one of those pieces I've added a few small updates and new photographs to over the years. I don't really have any plans to do any major updates in the future but never say never, I suppose!

S: Don Watson was my company manager in Ice Capades. He was a protégés and life long friend of Sonja Henie and one of Ája Zanová's closest friends. In addition to skating professionally Don has worked in a large variety positions in the performing arts industry. I have begged him to put his life in writing and/or orally via videotape. He's very humble about it all. I think he would add a lot to all of the amazing work you have done already.

A: Great suggestion and I'd love to talk to Don in the future. What an amazing front row seat to skating history he's had!

S: Are there stories of skaters defecting? Unlike the famous ballet stars we know of, it must have been less famous skaters to flee their Communist countries.

A: Great suggestion. There have certainly been some very talented (and brave) skaters who have defected from Communist countries and quite a few of these stories have already been covered on the blog already. You can find pieces on the defections of Maria and Otto JelinekJiřina NekolováEde KirályGünter Zöller and Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov. The defection of Ája Zanová was briefly touched on briefly in this 2014 blog. Ede and Ája's defections will come up again in a future blog on the 1950 World Championships.


Lyudmila Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin

From Virginia (via Facebook): "I remember the story about Alexei Ulanov leaving Irina Rodnina and teaming up with Lyudmila Smirnova after the 1972 Olympics. Whatever happened to Lyudmila's partner?"

A: When Lyudmila Smirnova teamed up with Alexei Ulanov, Andrei Suraikin briefly teamed up with Natalia Ovchinnikova, but the partnership didn't last long. They were hampered by injury and finished off the podium at the few competitions they entered. Andrei turned to coaching at the Sport Club 'Zenit' in St. Petersburg, and later coached in Czechoslovakia and Finland after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Among his students (early in their careers) were a young Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov and Andrei Bushkov. He sadly passed away in 1996.

From Peter (via e-mail): "I quite enjoy reading Skate Guard... I am wondering how the pandemic has impacted your writing?"

A: Glad you're enjoying reading Peter! I've had a lot more time to devote to writing over the last year and as a result have quite a lot of material already finished that will be coming out in the weeks and months to come. Over the past few months, I've been devoting a lot of time to working on the fourth and fifth Skate Guard features. Having more time to pursue my passion has been wonderful, but like everyone, I'm looking forward to being vaccinated and having a life outside my front door! The downside to writing during the pandemic has definitely been the impact it has had on libraries and archives. I rely heavily on 'help from afar' from librarians and archivists around the world. Limited hours and closures have made things a little tricky at times. 

From @Huriye (via Twitter): "I recently saw a clip of Joan Haanappel (NED) skating outdoors at a WC with part of the ice on one side out of bounds with cones due to the poor quality. I was amazed!! Was that the reason why only indoor rinks were assigned Championships afterwards? What year was that?"

A: In the first half of the twentieth century, many of the higher-up's in the ISU were from a generation where international competitions were rarely held in indoor rinks. 'Hothouse' skaters regularly trained outdoors in Switzerland to become accustomed to skating in all manner of conditions - snow, wind, rain, unbelievably cold temperatures and as you mention, poor ice quality. Ulrich Salchow, who was the ISU's President for over a decade before World War II, was famously unsympathetic towards anyone who was phased by poor conditions. At one event, held in absolutely miserable weather, someone approached him suggesting the event be postponed. He replied, "Isn't figure skating an outdoor sport?", the show went on and everyone froze their buns off. The consensus vote to hold all ISU Championships in covered rinks came about at the 1967 ISU Congress in Amsterdam. It was likely based on a number of factors - the previous success of ISU Championships that had been held indoors, the (fresh) memories of the weather reaking havoc at outdoor events and the availability of suitable venues from host countries at the time. Keep in mind that in 1967, when this rule was passed, Norway (which had played host to many ISU Championships and was a major player in skating) didn't have any indoor rinks. The ISU didn't actually require the rinks used in its Championships to be completely indoors until 1980, so in the interim some international competitions were staged in rinks that had roofs, but were open on one side allowing for the wind to sweep through. An example of a rink like this was one in Oberstdorf, which had a roof but was open at both ends. 

Jan Hoffmann and Frau Jutta Müller

From Barbara (via Facebook): "Dr. Hoffmann was impeccably coached by Frau Müller. She took him on as a pupil at age 9 and became a second mother to him when he moved from his home in Chemnitz to Dresden to train. He looked up to Gunter Zöller and we all know how that turned out!
A lot of pressure was put on an to step into Zöller's shoes when he was only 16 years old. He doubled down on the task and was world champion at age 18. A devastating training accident on his 19th birthday almost ended his career, yet, with Frau Müller's support and guidance, he came back to win a bronze in the 1976 World Championships. 4th at Olympics, he lost the bronze when he inexplicably missed his Double Axel in the short program. Balancing full-time training with university and then medical school, he was always 1st or 2nd at Europeans and Worlds, except for a third place at the 1979 Worlds. Gorgeous compulsory figures and strong jumps kept him at the top. The 1980 Olympics ended in a 6-3 victory to Robin Cousins, who skated beautifully. Jan regained the World title the next month in Dortmund, Germany, and retired on top of the podium. Fran Müller was with him every step of the way. Often criticized for his lack of 'artistry', he was, nonetheless, a man who left the sport better than when he arrived at the age of 12."


From Crystal (via e-mail): "I met Karen Grobba once and looking for footage of her skating. She won bronze 1970 Canadian senior ladies. She became Karen Cahill after marrying, and choreographed Ice Capades and some other shows, and coached. Do you have any pictures or video of her skating? I used to skate too, but not at that level. Thank you for any help you can provide."

If anyone happens to have videos or photos of Karen, send them my way and I'd be happy to pass them on to Crystal!


From Betsy (via e-mail): "I'm wondering if anyone might know anything about Charlene Adams, who skated out of Chicago in the fifties?" 

If anyone knew/skated with Charlene, feel free to reach out and I can connect you with Betsy!


From John (via e-mail): "I have just finished reading your article about the 1986 US national figure skating championships. This was the last US nationals which I had attended. Your wonderful article brought up such wonderful memories. I was living in Northern New Jersey at the time. Drove out to Long Island New York.  When you mentioned that it was 35 years ago, I was in shock. ( and felt Very Very Old ) Once again, I worked at the USFSA booth at those championships once again.   A group of us went into Manhattan and we ate in the Little Italy section. I use to frequently go to the Little Italy section in Manhattan when  younger. One of their restaurants Umbertos Clam House was open until 6 am. I was young and we would drive back home , sleep for an hour and work the next day on our 8 hour shifts. However, that time, we went  to Il Cortille restaurant. It is still there. The people whom I knew from the USFSA have passed on since then but it is a very nice memory... I had brought my Mother to these championships and remember how much she loved Paul Wylie's long programme. He finished in fifth overall. The Uniondale rink where the event was held was closed for a number of years but reopened in 2020 where the ice hockey team of the New York Islanders now I shall play full time once again since last year. I also remember the silver pair medalists Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard wore outfits in the long which looked like ice cream vendors. (Pastel tan) I had the brother of Gillian Watson video taping the event as I was as well. Senior ladies was probably the most exciting event . The defending champion Tiffany Chin was landing triple flips in the warm up for the long. One of my favorites Caryn Kadavy skated well but a bit conservative. I am not a big Debi Thomas fan but she won with a good long program. She just landed a triple loop with triple toes and triple Salchows. Brian Boitano (whom I am not a big fan of either ) was injured and skated conservatively. Still he landed triple Axel/double toe loop and triple Lutz in the long... Thanks again for the article on the 1986 US nationals."

Left: Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin. Right: Ulrich Salchow.

From Frazer (via Facebook): "I was just going through some papers on the early days of Russian skating (pre-USSR dominance) and came across a translation of mini skating book reviews by Nikolai Panin. These were published in Panin's 1938 book 'Figure Skating Skill'. He varies from gushing to constructively critical of all the books he mentions (Brokaw, Meyer, Fuchs, Magnus etc). That is, until he gets to his last mini review of Salchow's 'Handbook in Figure Skating', 1906. I quote: 'This small book not only is of no help to it's readers, but contains several wrong instructions which make me think the author purposely misled readers because he didn't want to divulge his own technique'."


From Bridget (via Twitter): "One of the most generous gestures I witnessed at a Tour of Champions show was Barbara Underhill collecting all the programs from kids waiting outside the tour bus, taking them on the bus, and emerging with them all signed. It was such a practical, kind, special task for these young fans... I think it was 1988 or 89. My programs were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina; but I’ve always held on to that memory of true gracious champions."

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.