The Summertime Reader Mail Edition

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.


From @Huriye (via Twitter): "Could I please ask about Medal Ceremonies? When did they stop awarding a Sash to wear for the medalists? I thought they were a lovely touch & was it at Worlds & Olympics as well as Europeans? Also when did they stop having Medal Ceremonies on the ice rink after each event at Olys?"

A: A really interesting (and tricky) question. Looking back at old podium photos from international competitions, there's not a lot of consistency. At the 1964 European Championships, all of the medallists were given sashes to wear. In 1965, they were only given to the winners. In 1969, all of the medallists got them again. A picture of one of the podiums at the 1959 Worlds doesn't show any sashes, but one from the 1965 Worlds shows all three of the medallists wearing one. My guess is that it was probably up to the organizers of the events whether or not they were given or not? It's also worth pointing out that the pictures we see of podiums could be taken at any stage of the awards ceremony. Without reviewing video footage of every competition it's really hard to say definitively, and even then it's really not because awards ceremonies were rarely taped in their entirety. As for medal ceremonies at the Olympics, I'm not quite sure about the question? My understanding is that venue ceremonies have been consistently held even though in very recent years the actual medals have been awarded at different ceremonies.

From Susan (via Facebook): "For testing purposes, was the Starlight Waltz once a Gold dance? Was the 3-Lobe Waltz once a pre-Gold dance?"

A: The Three-Lobe Waltz was originally a Silver Dance in the USFSA test structure. It was moved to the Gold Dance Test in 1950. When a Pre-Gold Dance test was introduced in the mid-fifties, it was moved there. The Dance Committee dropped it from competitions in 1959 but kept it as a test dance. It was dropped altogether during the 1982-83 season, because it wasn't a dance that was adopted by the ISU. The Starlight Waltz was originally adopted as a Silver Dance in the NSA's High-Test Schedule and as a senior compulsory (Gold Dance) by the ISU in international competition in the mid-sixties. It was 'demoted' to the Senior Silver Dance test here in Canada prior to 1980.

Illustration from Walter Arian's 1941 book "The Fundamentals Of Figure Skating For The Beginner"

From Terese (via Twitter): "If you watch video of the Dick Button era, you see that it was common for skaters to have their free leg bent a lot. Who is responsible for changing that aesthetic, and when did it happen?"

A: Interesting question, Terese! When Sonja Henie won all three of her Olympic gold medals, the ISU's rules for correct form stated, "Free leg poised or swung entirely from the hip, in the socket of which it should be turned outward and backward as much as possible, always separated from the skating leg, knee slightly bent, toe pointing down and out." It wasn't any one person who was responsible for changing that aesthetic, but instead a gradual evolution of rule changes after World War II and evolving attitudes among skaters, coaches and judges. By the time Dick Button won his second Olympic gold medal in 1952, "a well-extended free leg and pointed toe" was considered good form.

From Alexis (via Facebook): "Which ice skaters have competed at an elite level on rollers?"

A: There have been quite a few! In recent years, the most notable is Matteo Guarise of Italy. He won the World pairs title in roller skating in 2008. A ridiculous amount of German skaters have found success on both ice and rollers. Ria Baran and Paul Falk, the 1952 Olympic Gold Medallists, were world roller pairs champions in 1951. Marika Kilius was also a World Champion on both ice and rollers, winning the women's event at the 1958 World Roller Skating Championships. Marika's first partner Franz Ningel, a World and European Medallist, won the 1955 and 1956 World Roller men's titles. Manfred Schnelldorfer, the 1964 Olympic Gold Medallist, was third at the World Roller Skating Championships in 1959. Two-time West German ice dancing champions Sigrid Knake and G√ľnther Koch won the World roller pairs title twice and the roller dance title once. The list of elite German ice skaters who won medals at the World Championships on rollers also includes Freimut Stein, Marina Kielmann, Rita Paucka and Peter Kwiet, Thomas Nieder and Rita Blumenberg and Werner Mensching. There were a number of American skaters who achieved success competitively on both ice and rollers too. Sheryl Trueman and Jack Courtney won the 1969 World Roller pairs title, and Jack won the world men's title that year as well. They won the 1971 Eastern Great Lakes and Midwestern junior pairs titles on ice. Jack won the bronze medal in the senior pairs event at the 1975 U.S. Championships with Emily Benenson. Jane Pankey and Richard Horne were twice World Roller Dance Champions and finished second in the junior ice dance event at the 1970 U.S. Championships on ice. And as everyone knows, Olympic Gold Medallist Tara Lipinski got her start on rollers, winning the primary girls event at the 1991 U.S. Roller Skating Championships. 

From Ron (via e-mail): "When did plastic [ice] start being used for shows?"

A: Really interesting question, Ron! In 1967, two skaters (one of them an engineer) from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania - Randolph 'Sunny' McCulley and Vincent Stoltz Jr. filed for a patent for an artificial skating surface called Slick. Synthetic or 'muck' ice had already been around for decades at this point, but this was the first time a patent was filed in North America for an 'iceless' rink. Slick ice was manufactured by Vinyl Plastics Inc., based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and sold for two dollars a square foot. As part of a publicity campaign several champion skaters, including Melitta Brunner and Debbi Wilkes, were invited to test out the surface. Slick ice caught on quickly and was hugely popular in the seventies. Shows were soon held in unlikely places like shopping malls, amusement parks, zoos and trade shows.

Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakrai

From Frazer Ormondroyd (via Facebook): "A very famous picture, it was featured in Sandra Stevenson's BBC book of skating. She barely looks 8 let alone 12. I could never get my head around it until I eventually saw the footage for myself many years later and actually, Zhuk's girls all had fantastic basics and were more than a match for their more mature partners. Plus the content for the era was incredible. SBS triple toes, quad twists, triple axel catch twists, throw double axel, extended jump combinations and more and more complex lifts etc. Cherkasova/Shakrai, Pestova/Leonovich, Pershina/Akbarov were essentially the same pair, their technique was identical and essentially they were Zhuk's blueprint for G&G. It's interesting to watch these pairs develop as they mature. Cherkasova's growth was too much for Shakhrai come 1981. Pestova got taller but stayed tiny and their most successful season was in 1982, six years after they debuted. Gross & Kagelmann managed to win bronze at two Olympics in which she was two different heights and very much a mature pair by 1976. They skated great in Sapporo but shouldn't have beaten out JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley for the bronze who were another John Nicks pair very close in height."

From Pam (via e-mail): "Interesting couples and quotes in the article. I was expecting some counter examples of similar height pair partners that had success - Babilonia and Gardner, Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell (believe Debbi was even taller than Guy). Different times and earlier era I guess. Thanks for the article."


From Tracey (via Facebook): "Hi I am wondering if you can help me with finding out about a distant family member. My mum passed away recently and she had talked about one of our relatives - Elaine Skevington who came 8th in the European figure skating championship held in Germany in 1953.  It would be lovely if I could find out more.  Perhaps you could point me in the right direction.  Thanks in anticipation."

If anyone knew Elaine and can share any stories or information, please reach out and I'll pass your messages along to Tracey.


Barbara Wagner and Richard Dwyer posing for a publicity shot for the Ice Follies in 1969

From John McKilligan (via Facebook): "My favorite teacher of all time. The LADY was amazing. We were blessed to be accepted as Barbara's students for the summers of 1965 and 1966. My sister and I stayed with Linda Carbonetto Villella and her family for the summer of 1965 in San Mateo, California. When we arrived we thought we were already something. Barbara spent the first 5 or 6 weeks breaking us down to the very basics of how to stroke (and nothing else). So strict, so appreciated next year. For the summer of 1966 we got to stay with Barbara and her mother high up in the hills of San Mateo. Oh what a summer! Oh what memories! Awesome teaching, weekend trips to Squaw Valley, and other weekends in Haight-Ashbury and other parts of San Francisco in the Age of Aquarius. Those 2 summers are the highlight of my life and Barbara was the highlight of those summers. The amazing Barbara Wagner."

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