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Thread: A Tribute to the 1961 US World Team

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  1. #1
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    A Tribute to the 1961 US World Team

    The attached link presents a moving narrative with photographs of the 1961 United States World Figure Skating Team that was tragically killed en route to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague.

    At that time, the majority of the members of the ISU voted to cancel the Worlds that year in memory of the lost US Team. President John F. Kennedy issued the following statement from the White House:

    "This disaster has brought tragedy to many American families and is also a painful loss to the international community of sports. Our country has sustained
    a great loss of talent and grace that had brought pleasure to people all over the world."

    The American men and women singles skaters had dominated the World and Olympic competition during the post World War II years until 1961. Great skaters such as Dick Button, Haynes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Tenley Albright, and Carol Heiss all won World and Olympic gold medals. After the plane crash, the U.S. figure skating program undertook a massive reconstruction program, and to its credit, the very young American team who competed at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria, came home with a bronze medal, won by 14-year-old US men's champion, Scott Allen, a sixth-place finish by 15-year-old US women's champion Peggy Fleming, and other commendable finishes by the rest of the team.

    http://www.vesperis.com/skate/1961/

  2. #2
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    Thanks

    Thanks SF4L. I followed every link. There is more in one place w/your links than I've ever seen in one place before.

    I'd been to the Iceland Rink in Paramount a zillion times before noticing the bronze memorial plaque high on the wall remembering those who were lost. The crash happened when I was a little kid. I only remembered it barely, until, that is, seeing that bronze memorial. Then, that day came back to me....how I saw it on the news (big old cabinet-style b/w TV at my grandparents' house, a continent away from Paramount) and was too young to find out any more about it on my own. Following the recent articles about it (for years I never heard a thing) is like finishing an interrupted story for me.

    I've heard one coach explain once that, when all those top American coaches died, there was no one to ask for help as they struggled to develop a new generation of competitive skaters. Not only did our skating pool die in one fell swoop, but the coaches who trained them, who would have also been the ones to mentor anyone who entered the coaching field. Yes, Nicks and Fassi moved here, but they were not showing others how to develop into a good coach of a national or international competitor; there was only so much of them to go around. They had their hands full just trying to get skaters trained. Back then, school figures were required and were worth so much, and singles competition was just then starting to warm up to triple jumps (I think, for instance, Dick Button and Donald Jackson had done them in competition). Developing coaches not only had to develop their skaters, but try to figure out without much guidance how to polish up those figures for international competitiveness, and train jumps that they'd never done or barely even seen. There were few around to advise. That next generation of coaches included not only Nicks and Fassi, but the likes of Barbara Roles Williams and Frank Carroll, who had to figure things out on their own. I think they did, but I also think that few understand that their early coaching careers were not so easy, and probably often filled with the grief of loss. I should think that the ice was always filled with "ghosts" for them. How could you not see resemblances to lost friends year after year in rising skaters: the way they look or the way they carry an arm motion? How could you not stop yourself from thinking "I wish I could ask her about how to teach this move".........?

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by pipsqueak
    Thanks SF4L. I followed every link. There is more in one place w/your links than I've ever seen in one place before.

    I'd been to the Iceland Rink in Paramount a zillion times before noticing the bronze memorial plaque high on the wall remembering those who were lost. The crash happened when I was a little kid. I only remembered it barely, until, that is, seeing that bronze memorial. Then, that day came back to me....how I saw it on the news (big old cabinet-style b/w TV at my grandparents' house, a continent away from Paramount) and was too young to find out any more about it on my own. Following the recent articles about it (for years I never heard a thing) is like finishing an interrupted story for me.

    I've heard one coach explain once that, when all those top American coaches died, there was no one to ask for help as they struggled to develop a new generation of competitive skaters. Not only did our skating pool die in one fell swoop, but the coaches who trained them, who would have also been the ones to mentor anyone who entered the coaching field. Yes, Nicks and Fassi moved here, but they were not showing others how to develop into a good coach of a national or international competitor; there was only so much of them to go around. They had their hands full just trying to get skaters trained. Back then, school figures were required and were worth so much, and singles competition was just then starting to warm up to triple jumps (I think, for instance, Dick Button and Donald Jackson had done them in competition). Developing coaches not only had to develop their skaters, but try to figure out without much guidance how to polish up those figures for international competitiveness, and train jumps that they'd never done or barely even seen. There were few around to advise. That next generation of coaches included not only Nicks and Fassi, but the likes of Barbara Roles Williams and Frank Carroll, who had to figure things out on their own. I think they did, but I also think that few understand that their early coaching careers were not so easy, and probably often filled with the grief of loss. I should think that the ice was always filled with "ghosts" for them. How could you not see resemblances to lost friends year after year in rising skaters: the way they look or the way they carry an arm motion? How could you not stop yourself from thinking "I wish I could ask her about how to teach this move".........?
    I remember someone posting once, that Frank missed Maribel very much when he was coaching Linda before the 1980 Olympics, when he said that Linda was having trouble with a particular figure (incidentally, Maribel believed that figures is the backbone of figure skating), and he felt sad that he couldn't just call her up and ask for her help.

    Imagine, though, what direction our program would be if the crash hadn't happened. There may have been no Peggy, Dorothy...

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    Quote Originally Posted by thisthingcalledlove
    Imagine, though, what direction our program would be if the crash hadn't happened. There may have been no Peggy, Dorothy...
    Huh? What do you mean?

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    Peggy and Dorothy would still have come along and still have been great! Maybe Peggy not so quickly, but she came through in '64. The real question of what might have been concerns Laurence Owen - Maribels daughter who was destined to be the Olympic champion in 1964. Have you ever seen her skate? I've only seen clips but she was just wonderful and probably would have been in the running to win the Worlds in 1961 had that awful tragedy not happened. :(

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    Quote Originally Posted by floskate
    Peggy and Dorothy would still have come along and still have been great! Maybe Peggy not so quickly, but she came through in '64. The real question of what might have been concerns Laurence Owen - Maribels daughter who was destined to be the Olympic champion in 1964. Have you ever seen her skate? I've only seen clips but she was just wonderful and probably would have been in the running to win the Worlds in 1961 had that awful tragedy not happened. :(
    I've never seen Laurence Owen skate, but she reminds me a lot of Sarah Hughes. I heard she really didn't fit one type, and unlike her mom, was actually a free skater, instead of a figures skater.

    Have you seen clips of the other skater of the time- Sjouke Dijkstra? I wish I could've seen clips of both of them; I would love to compare and see...

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by thisthingcalledlove
    Imagine, though, what direction our program would be if the crash hadn't happened. There may have been no Peggy, Dorothy...
    Say what? I have to respectfully disagree with you on this. Peggy Fleming may not have won the US title at the age of 15 in 1964; indeed, she may not have won any major titles until several years later, but who knows for sure? Perhaps she would have won her five US, three World and the 1968 Olympic gold medal anyway, plane crash or no plane crash.

    As for Dorothy Hamill, she came along many years after the crash. I don't think she was at all affected by this tragedy.

    Coincidentally, of course, both Fleming and Hamill were coached by Carlo Fassi, who came to the US after the 1961 plane crash to help train American skaters. Still, even if Fassi had not come to America, I suspect that Peggy and Dorothy would still have become champions. They were not to be denied!

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    [QUOTE=pipsqueak]Thanks SF4L. I followed every link. There is more in one place w/your links than I've ever seen in one place before.

    I'd been to the Iceland Rink in Paramount a zillion times before noticing the bronze memorial plaque high on the wall remembering those who were lost. The crash happened when I was a little kid. I only remembered it barely, until, that is, seeing that bronze memorial. Then, that day came back to me....how I saw it on the news (big old cabinet-style b/w TV at my grandparents' house, a continent away from Paramount) and was too young to find out any more about it on my own. Following the recent articles about it (for years I never heard a thing) is like finishing an interrupted story for me. [QUOTE]

    I recall that Peggy Fleming trained in California in her early years. After the 1961 plane crash, all of the top coaches and skaters who trained in her rink were suddenly gone. As she said, "There was nobody for me to look up to."
    She was fortunate to join forces with Carlo Fassi, the great Italian coach who guided her to her three World titles and her 1968 Olympic gold meda.

  9. #9
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    I've seen some clips of Laurence Owen, the 1961 United States and North American Ladies Champion, and she appeared to be a strong and very "perky" figure skater - sort of an early version of Dorothy Hamill. Laurence had finished a respectable sixth at the 1960 Winter Olympics, and she surely would have been primed to win a medal at the 1964 Winter Olympics, had not her life ended in that tragic plane crash. I saw a film clip of Laurence being interviewed after she had won her 1961 US title. Dick Button told her he was very proud of her and that she had done a "wonderful job". Laurence was overjoyed at her victory, and she spoke of her upcoming trip to the Worlds at Prague.

    Her sister, Maribel, was the 1961 pairs champion with Dudley Richards, and they, too, showed signs of greatness. Had they lived, perhaps they would have won a medal at the 1964 Winter Olympics.

    Not only Laurence and Maribel, but their mother, Maribel Vincent Owen, also perished in that plane crash. Maribel had been a US ladies champion and had won the bronze medal behind Sonja Henie and Fritzi Burger at the 1932 Winter Olympics, held in Lake Placid, New York.

    A whole generation of top skaters and coaches, not to mention family, friends, the other passengers, and crew, perished on that flight.

    Carlo Fassi was brought over to help in filling the coaching void, and he had a great deal of success in coaching Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, and Robin Cousins to their Olympic gold medals. It was said of the late Mr. Fossi that he only took on pupils who had already established themselves as top skaters. He was undoubtedly a great school figures skater, and that was the primary reason that Peggy Fleming's family moved from California to Colorado so that she could polish her school figures. In those days the school figures counted for 60% of the total score, so you absolutely had to have solid figures to stand any chance at winning a World or Olympic medal.

    Coach Evy Scotvold said (of the plane crash) that it was like the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. Everything stopped. The sense of shock and loss was overwhelming.

  10. #10
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    A moving tribute to the 1961 US World Team was aired during the telecast of the 1992 Winter Olympics. If anything good can come from such a tragedy, it was the establishment of the USFSA Memorial Fund, which has given thousands of dollars in funding to eligible figure skaters during the past 40-plus years. Brian Boitano, Kristi Yamaguchi, and countless other American figure skaters have received funding via this fund, and it enabled them to train and reach their skating goals.

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    Wow! Now that tribute is something I would love to see!

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    Quote Originally Posted by floskate
    Wow! Now that tribute is something I would love to see!
    It was a very moving tribute. Another good reason to reach for the Kleenex.

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