A Momment in History: The Original Queen

I’m currently reading Noel Streatfeild’s Skating Shoes book. You might be more familiar with Streatfeild’s other book, Ballet Shoes which was made into a movie with Emma Watson and Emilia Fox (Georgiana Darcy from the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries). It’s not the most compelling film but it’s rather sweet just like the book.

Anyways, back to business: Skating Shoes. The book was published in 1951 when there was no short program, only a freeskate worth 40% of the mark and compulsory figures worth 60%. (!) The skating queen that everyone worshiped back then was not Yuna Kim or Michelle Kwan but Sonia Henie.

Sonia’s skating career was quite impressive: 6 time European champion, 10 time world champion and 3 time Olympic champion. She also became famous in Hollywood too! I decided what all the fuss about Sonia Henie was all about and youtubed her.

Sonia’s skating may seem completely juvenile now (little girls would be able to do what she did and even better too!) but this was the era when single jumps and half axels were the content for both men and women. In fact according the wikipedia, these are the dates of invention of each jump:

Toe-loop: 1920s
Salchow: 1909
Loop: 1880s? Possibly earlier?
Flip: sometime before 1913, which was known as the Mapes back then
Lutz: 1913
Axel: 1882

In the 1920s, ladies doing jumps was considered to be “unladylike” so these single jumps, which seem so easy nowadays, were actually quite revolutionary back in the 1930s, which was the height of Sonia’s career. (But the posture (or the lack of)! And the extension (or the lack thereof – and I thought Meryl Davis had poor extension… although Sonia’s foot is more turned out than Yuna Kim’s…)! <– Inner figure skating snob talking.)

I don’t find it surprising that Sonia was queen back then. Like many other Queens *cough*Katarina Witt*cough*, she had quite the temper:

Towards the end of her career, she began to be strongly challenged by younger skaters including Cecilia Colledge, Megan Taylor, and Hedy Stenuf. However, she held off these competitors and went on to win her third Olympic title at the 1936 Winter Olympics, albeit in very controversial circumstances with Cecilia Colledge finishing a very close second. Indeed, after the school figures section at the 1936 Olympic competition, Colledge and Henie were virtually neck and neck with Colledge trailing by just a few points. As Sandra Stevenson recounted in her article in The Independent of the 21st April 2008, “the closeness [of the competition] infuriated Henie, who, when the result for that section was posted on a wall in the competitors’ lounge, swiped the piece of paper and tore it into little pieces.

Poor posture, extension and bad temper aside, Sonia seemed to have a darling smile and an infectious sort of happiness. I wouldn’t know because she was before my time but there seems to be a sort of genuine happiness to her skating. Her skill was quite considerable in her early days so I guess you could think of her as the Yuna of the 20s and 30s.

All in all, reading Skating Shoes has made me appreciate how far figure skating has come since Sonia Henie and her predecessors. I can’t imagine obsessing over a figure eight I made over the ice and how that could be exciting to anyone. Or just imagine if women didn’t do jumps in their free skate because of the judges’ censure of being unladylike. Just look how far we’ve come:


~The Rinkside Cafe

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. ay-sa
    Jan 19, 2011 @ 00:29:20

    “I can’t imagine obsessing over a figure eight I made over the ice and how that could be exciting to anyone.”

    But…..watch this clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTDLjhTUMbA): the sheer quality and precision of Trixie Schuba’s (the first skater) edging and control is to me exciting as any triple jump! Absolutely superb.

    Then again, not every skater is like Trixie.


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