The First Skate America, Part 3

by Alexandra Stevenson

A Judging Controversy and a Worrying Premonition

Krisztina Regoeczy & Andras Sallay, a popular Hungarian couple, won the ice dance event of the Flaming Leaves Norton Skate in September 1979 in Lake Placid by a unanimous decision. They trained for most of their 17-year competitive career under the tutelage of Betty and Roy Callaway, in Britain, at the Richmond rink just outside of London, and in Germany where Callaway trained the West German champions, Angelika and Erich Buck, who won the 1972 European championship. In time, they became mentors and close friends of Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean when Callaway took over as coach for this British couple after they made their world championship debut in 1978. Their base then changed to Nottingham. That made it even more hurtful when, five months after the pre-Olympics, back in Lake Placid for the Games, they realized that it was the British judge’s misunderstanding of the rules which cost them the gold in what is regarded as one of the closest decisions in skating ever.

Regoeczy & Sallay, who made their European debut in 1970 and their world championship debut in 1973 finishing 13th, were never lower than 6th from then on. They earned the silver in the 1979 Worlds behind the Soviet Union’s Natalia Linichuk & Gennadi Karponosov but Linichuk had a small stumble in the free in the Olympics. The two couples were close enough that many felt this mistake should have decided the placings and the vocal response from the audience made it clear that they felt the result was wrong. The Hungarians confirmed their superiority when they won the 1980 world title a few weeks after the Olympics.

In a rare, expansive mood during one summer’s Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships many years later, sitting in the arena where he had won Olympic gold, Karponosov reflected on this judging controversy. “We didn’t have our best free skate,” he freely admitted. “Even the routine wasn’t the most creative. We were much better (in 1978 when they dethroned their teammates for the world title and in 1979 when they successfully defended the title). The whole 1980 season was very trying for us. We lost favor with our coach, who spent a lot more time with an up-and-coming couple and we weren’t given the backup we had previously.”

In those days, results were decided by ordinals, which reflected the order in which each judge placed each couple, not by the skaters’ total score. Overall, four judges placed the Soviets first and four the Hungarians first. The Briton tied the two. Since that meant that both the Hungarians and Linichuk & Karponosov had five votes of first place, the result was decided on which couple had the most votes for first AND second place. The Soviet judge had, in a completely political move, placed the Hungarians third behind the second Soviet couple, Irina Moiseeva & Andrei Minikov, so Linichuk & Karponosov had nine first and second place votes to the Hungarians’ eight. So the Russians got gold because of one judge’s nationalist agenda.

The British referee, Lawrence Demmy, was furious at this situation. “To me, to tie two couples for something as important as the Olympic gold is not acceptable,” Demmy told judging officials. His remarks left the poor woman so upset, she burst into tears and got herself in more trouble by trying to explain she didn’t realize what she had done. She thought she was voting for the Hungarians in the Free Dance, but actually voted for the Soviets.

Speaking over the telephone recently from Hungary, Regoeczy revealed that at the pre-Olympics she had had a strange feeling when she accepted the gold medal at the pre-Olympics. “When we stood on the podium, I looked around knowing everything would be the same that February. But then, when our national anthem was played, I had this strong, shivery premonition. I felt this couldn’t happen twice.” She was right.

“After skating we felt wonderful. It was a very bitter sweet moment. We felt we skated our best and the crowd really responded. When the result flashed up, it was really, really disappointing. We had trained so long in Britain and everybody there seemed to have adopted us. The British team doctor said he didn’t realize I was not British because my English was flawless though I’m not sure it is now. We knew that judge very well and she had always been very supportive of us. But that’s all history now.”

Regoeczy also said she remembered the Norton Skate very well. “It was an important part of our build-up for that VERY important season. We had worked so long to be in that position and we knew it would be our last. We created a Hungarian dance routine which we thought we projected well. But when people came up to us afterwards, they would say they really enjoyed the skating but then they would ask us about what it was we were doing. We thought, ‘This is not good. If they don’t see it right away, we’re in trouble.’ So we went back to the drawing board and made up a completely new routine, making it more open.”

Regoeczy is the appointed head of the ISU Development and Training Committee for coaches, which is struggling to transition ice dance into two instead of three sections at the top level. “It’s a no-win situation unfortunately. Few want the compulsories out, including me. That’s definitely against my beliefs. But if it is required (by the Olympic Committee) that ice dancing have only two sections, we have to work as hard as we can to get the best solution.” The Committee’s next meeting will be at the European Championships in Tallinn in Estonia. “Like many businesses nowadays,” Regoeczy explained, “The ISU is struggling to cut costs, so we don’t have as many meetings as we would like.”

Regoeczy is back living in Budapest, the beautiful capital of her home country, after making her home for many years in the United States, teaching in various locales from the SC of Boston to Los Angeles to San Francisco and Hawaii. Her skating partner has been involved in the managing of skaters for many years and in handling antiques. He has two daughters, Nora, 24, and Laura, 19, who is a glass artist, who recently had an exhibition in Japan.

All nine judges placed the Hungarians first in the pre-Olympics and they finished over ten points ahead of the surprise runners-up Natalia Bestemianova & Andrei Bukin. These Soviets had been only tenth in their debut in the 1979 world championship and it was a great surprise that they surpassed three couples who were ahead of them at that Worlds, 1978-80 Canadian champions Lorna Wighton & John Dowding, 1978-80 US champions Stacey Smith & John Summers and the Austrian champions, Susi & Peter Hanschmann (who invented the compulsory, the Austrian Waltz). (The brother and sister finished 7th in both the 1979 world championship and this first Skate America.

The extremely flamboyant B&B from Moscow, who had teamed up only in 1977, went on to have a great career, gaining the 1984 Olympic silver and dominating ice dance, winning four world championships 1985-8 and the 1988 Olympic gold. They continued to appear in the Tom Collins Tour of Champions for many years. In 1983, Bestemianova married 1981 European champion and world bronze medalist, Igor Bobrin. He founded a touring ice show which stared Bestemianova for many years.

In 2006, both she and Bukin became part of a very popular Russian reality show staring celebrities learning to skate. Bukin has a son, Ivan, who skates. He and partner, Aleksandra Stepanova, won silver in a field of 25 couples in the Junior ice dance competition in Dortmund earlier this month (Nov).

Wighton & Dowding had been sixth in the 1978 & 1979 Worlds and would also take that place in the Olympics, and then claim fifth in the 1980 Worlds before retiring from amateur competition. In the pre-Olympic contest, they were lying second going into the Free Dance and ended up with more total marks than the B&B, but because of the ordinal system, they finished with the bronze. Today, she and her photographer-marketer husband Michael Aldridge live in Lake Placid where she coaches. They have two children Shannon Marijane, 16, and Dylan, 14, both of whom learned to skate, although Shannon’s main sport nowadays is horse racing around barrels.

Caught for a few minutes between aerobics class and teaching duties, Wighton explained, “I rather like that she enjoys a sport I’m not involved in. They both have a political side and are expensive so she had to choose one.” She & Dowding were the first ice dancers to be signed for Ice Capades. “We later performed in Las Vegas and, because of the small ice, we had to learn adagio moves, which made me appreciate how difficult and dangerous it is for skaters to do the lifts they have to do today. I don’t want to sound like someone stuck in the past, but I do think our routines were more enjoyable and relaxing for the audience to watch. There was more variety because the rules weren’t so specific making everyone’s routines similar.”

Wighton & Dowding had some controversial routines as amateurs. For their free in the 1979 season they used classical music, The Swan, which was lovely to watch although some purists felt it was reaching too far away from ballroom. Wighton explained, “For the Olympic season, we did a tap dance with music from a Broadway roller skating show. I remember even back at the 1980 Worlds, they were talking about getting rid of compulsories. We did three then and they kept reducing the number. I’m totally opposed to the possibility of them being dropped and, I think, most coaches are.

“My husband and I came to Lake Placid purely by chance. The rink in Toronto had a break in ice time in June and my husband and I went wind-surfing in Aruba. We were just relaxing having a drink when we ran into Sergei, Gus Lussi’s son, and he sold us on how wonderful Lake Placid was and how we should come there. Once here, it didn’t take long for me to totally agree with his opinion. It’s a great place to be.”

In fourth place in that pre-Olympics were Judy Blumberg & Michael Seibert, who pulled off a surprise by beating the top two US couples, despite taking a fall in the Tango Romantica. Their very fast free dance ranked them higher than the Canadians in this portion. Blumberg & Seibert had been third in the 1979 US championships and were first reserves for that worlds. The following season they were runners-up for the US title and on the Olympic and World team finishing 7th and 6th respectively right behind Wighton & Dowding.

Their career took off and they won the US title five times 1981-5 and hovered in and out of the medals at worlds. They would surely have medaled in the 1981 worlds were it not for a fall in the free which put them 4th in Hartford. They repeated 4th place in ’82 but earned the bronze in ’83. Then at the Olympics, there was a lot of controversy over whether their Sheherezade free had a beat and they finished 4th although they earned bronze at Worlds, a showing they repeated in 1985.

Today, Blumberg, who worked with Ice Theatre of New York for many years, is a Technical Specialist with an adopted child while Seibert is going great guns choreographing for the CBC’s reality television show Battle of the Blades. He is an Emmy Award winner for his work with Stars on Ice which he co-directed for 11 years. He also worked with Brian Boitano and Katarina Witt in their three-year tour.

Stacey Smith & John Summers, the 1978-80 U.S. champions, finished more than four points behind Blumberg & Siebert in 5th place in that pre-Olympics. They finished their career after that Olympics, where they placed 9th, which was the same position they had taken in the 1978 & ’79 Worlds. In the ’80 Worlds they were 8th

Carol Fox and Richard Dalley, who were 6th right through that Norton Skate first Skate America, over four points behind Smith & Summers, had a checkered career. Between 1978 and 1984 they won five silver and two bronze medals in the US championships. They were on the world team five times with a best place at Worlds of 5th. They were also 5th in the 1984 Olympics. They are both still very involved in skating, Fox as a coach in Denver, and Dalley as an official.

In 9th place, were a surprised British duo, Carol Long and partner, John Philpot. (Carol married British champion Jon Lane. Today they are top coaches in Canada, teaching, with choreographer Juris Razguliaevs, a bevy of talented youngsters in Scarborough, Ontario including Vanessa Crone, 18, & Paul Poirier, 17, runners-up for the 2009 Canadian title who were 12th in their first World Senior Championship in March.

Long was a very fiery, flamboyant performer, who competed in a great era for British ice dance. She and Philip Stowell won the bronze medal in the 1976 Nebelhorn Trophy behind the silver medalists, Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean. Winners were the Soviets, Marina Zoueva & Andrei Vitman. (Zoueva has also lived in North America for a long time and teaches alongside Igor Shpilband in Canton, Michigan. Torvill & Dean were to win that Germany competition the following summer.) In the summer of 1979, Carol and her next partner, John Philpot, won silver in the Nebelhorn Trophy and then went on to take part in the event in Lake Placid. “I don’t know why Torvill and Dean didn’t enter,” she explained. “Maybe, it was because it took place very early in the season (September).” At that point, T&D had placed eighth in their second World championship and they competed later that year gaining silver in the Rotary Watches event at Richmond.

“The second Britons, Karen Barber and Nicky Slater didn’t come because, I think, Nicky was struggling with an ankle injury. We were only fourth in the November ’78 British championship so we were delighted when they sent us. “A lot of the top competitors took part to get the feel of the Olympic ice. We (and the British Ladies champion, Karena Richardson, who was then training with Carlo Fassi in Colorado) were the ‘lone Britons’. There were no British men or pairs there.”

Long said, “We were just quite happy to come to the pre-Olympics and have that experience. We didn’t have a coach with us, of course. Gladys Hogg never flew so we were on our own. It was beautiful here, the leaves were turning. We left London on my 21st birthday, on September 16. Pam Davis was the judge and she bought me a little present at the airport. It was unexpected and very sweet of her. (Mrs. Davis, with her shiny, substantial black hair always immaculately in place, was a very powerful British international judge and referee.)

“We stayed at the Lake Placid Country Club as it was then on the other side of the lake with little cottages. It was very nice. And Joan Wallace was team leader. I roomed with her. I just adored her. She was great. I remember being very excited, madly taking lots of pictures. My father had bought me a camera for my birthday and I was very proud of it. But, on the way home, it was stolen out of my bag, so I don’t have a single thing from that competition.

“I had had my skates done before I left and when I got on my first practice, I found I couldn’t stop! They were much too sharp. Andras Sallay put a stone on them trying to fix them but there was still a problem and I nearly sliced my finger off on one of the blades. Finally, we decided we had to get them resharpened because we had so little time. Immediately after they were done, I had to go straight on and do the compulsories. I was absolutely terrified so no wonder the Ice and Roller Skate reporter said our Tango Romantica had ‘a lack of extension’ and our Killian ‘rather tight pattern’!”

The reporter did give the couple some praise, writing, “Carol has lots of personality with nice hand moves. Their original had crowd appeal. The free dance included some original moves and it was expressive. I remember there was an Opening Ceremony but we couldn’t do it because it was right before the compulsories. I do remember being amazed by (the late) Robert Wagenhoffer from California. Robert and his partner, Vicki Heasley, won the bronze in that pair event behind the East Germans Sabine Baess and Tassilo Thierbach with Kitty and Peter Carruthers, from the US, second. “Robert (a pupil of Frank Carroll’s) also did singles and, though he wasn’t competing in that mens event in Lake Placid, he was doing quad jumps in practice! Unfortunately, he wasn’t good at figures. We never expected to come here because we hadn’t been to Worlds, so we really enjoyed it and we placed ninth of 12.”

They were ahead of Elke & Dieter Kwiet of West Germany, Nathalie Hervé & Pierre Béchu of France and Marie McNeil & Rob McCall, who finished last but were to win the 1981 Canadian championship. (With Tracy Wilson, Rob was to win the ’88 Olympic bronze.) Long continued, “I remember they had a wonderful makeup company here and they picked me to do my hair and makeup. They wanted to take me to New York to Elite Models but my parents weren’t too keen on that and, anyway, I wasn’t tall enough. I’m 5’4”. But it was a nice experience. At the British championship that November, Jon and I won the bronze which put us as first reserves for the European and World championships and for the Olympics.

“I turned professional the following October. It was nice to have that bronze and I can always say I competed on Olympic ice, even if it wasn’t in the actual Olympics.”

Return to title page

Copyright 2009 ISIO