I viewed several of my old figure skating videos and found several clips from the 1973 World Figure Skating Championships, held in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. Once again, here are a few of my impressions from that memorable competition:
"Hello, Short Program"
The 1973 Worlds were the first to include the new short program. Up until this time the singles competition was decided by the compulsory school figures and the long program. The school figures carried a great deal of weight, and a skater who was extremely strong in this discipline and who entered the long program with a substantial lead could count on winning a medal, if not the competition, provided that she/he skated a reasonably competent program. In Peggy Fleming's day, the school figures were 60 percent of the overall score, with the long program 40 percent, so a skater absolutely HAD to be strong in the school figures if she/he wanted to medal. By 1972 the ISU leveled the percentages to 50/50, but this still meant that a strong school figures skater had a jumpj-start on the competition. Dynamic free skaters such as Janet Lynn, who were not so strong in the school figures, constantly had to play catch up to climb into medal position. Janet's comparative weakness in the school figures kept her off the podium at the 1970 & 1971 Worlds. She won the Olympic and World bronze medals in 1972. Still, there had been a considerable buzz over the women's Olympic and World champion, Austrian Trixi Schuba, who was probably one of the best school figures of all time but who was a relatively weak free skater. Many fans, including myself, who did not have the opportunity to see the school figures, found it difficult to understand how a skater as comparatively uninspiring as Trixi (nothing personal, folks, I'm just writing about her skating) could win championships over dynamic free skaters like Karen Magnussen and Janet Lynn.
Anyway, the ISU decided to even the playing field, and in 1973, the school figures were reduced to 30 percent of the overall score. A new short program, consisting of selected required elements, would count for 20 percent of the score, with the long program counting for 50 percent. In essence, the balance was swayed in favor of the dynamic free skaters.
Janet Lynn came into the 1973 Worlds with her fifth US title, and she was considered the likely winner. The skate gods were not with Janet during her short progam, however, as she fell twice, and was scored 12th in the short program. The next day she skated a dynamic long program (which she won) and finished second overall.
Karen Magnussen of Canada, who had won the 1972 Olympic and World silver medals, skated consistently throughout the competition and won the gold medal. I remember reading that she was honored with a luncheon with the Canadian Prime Minister, received the Order of Canada, and signed a lucrative contract with Ice Capades.
So....the short program was in the mix. As we've all seen in the years that have followed, and to quote some of the commentators, "You can't win a championship with the short program, but you can lose it with the short program."
"When the Music Stopped"
In my opinion, this was one of the oddest occurrences at Worlds. Soviet pair skaters Irina Rodnina and Alexandr Zaitsev, skating together in their first Worlds (she had won four previous Worlds and the 1972 Olympic pairs gold medal with former partner Alexsei Ulanov) had just begun their long program when their tape broke, and the music stopped. Dick Button, commentating, gasped, and said (to paraphase), "Oh, oh, oh...something has happened. The music has stopped..and they're still skating." Indeed, Rodnina and Zaitsev continued on, with the crowd clapping encouragement and the referee blowing his whistle for them to stop. The pair completed their program, and they won the gold medal. While I admired their gutsy performance, I wondered how the judges would score them on presentation - musicality, etc. - as there was no music for 75 percent of the program. I suspect that if the same thing happened today, the judges would insist that the skaters stop and either reskate from the beginning or pick up where the music stopped.
"Kicking a Little Butt"
Irina Rodnina had been dumped by her partner Alexsei Ulanov, who had fallen in love with Ludmilla Smirnova, who was half of the Soviet silver-medal winning pair of Smirnova and Andrei Suraikin. Irina had cried her eyes out after skating her final competitive performance with Ulanov at the 1972 Worlds, after which she returned to the USSR, auditioned a large number of pair partners, and chose Alexandr Zaitsev. At the 1973 Worlds, Irina had the pleasure of defeating her ex-partner with her new partner. There's nothing like the fury of a woman scorned.....
"You are Strongly Encouraged to Compete"
Ondrej Nepela of Czechoslovakia had won the 1971 and 1972 World titles, and he won the Olympic gold medal in 1972. Ondrej was a very strong school figures skater and a consistent, if not spectacular, free skater. He had wanted to retire from competition after the 1972 season, but the Czech Figure Skating Federation strongly encouraged him to stay on for one more year so that he could compete, and hopefully win, another World title in his home country. I remember Dick Button making a comment along the lines that "Ondrej knew what was good for him, so he remained in competition for another year." He certainly did not say that Ondrej was threatened, but the inference was that the Czech FSF felt that Ondrej "owed" his country the opportunity to win yet another World title - on home ice.