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Bradley Lord’s 1961 U.S. Gold-Medal Winning Performance


by Liz Leamy


A Template for the Ages

(7 May 2021)  In light of the fact that this past winter marks the 60-year anniversary of the 1961 U.S. World figure skating team who tragically lost their lives on the Sabena Flight 548 crash near Brussels, Belgium on route to the World Figure Skating Championships that February, it is enlightening, inspirational and gratifying to learn about the incredible depth and talent, as well as the touching personal stories of those individuals who had been on that flight.

Bradley Lord, in particular, was a driven and talented 21 year-old top American contender who represented the Skating Club of Boston at the 1961 U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs where he famously clinched his first U.S. title with a remarkable free skate that still stands in terms of its choreography, execution and overall layout.

Lord, who had been second in the figure portion of that competition, held at the original Broadmoor World Arena, triumphantly pulled up to the first place overall with his electric program, edging out his talented rival, Gregory Kelley, a 16 year-old Newton, Massachusetts native who was the 1959 U.S. junior champion who wound up claiming silver at the 1961 U.S. Championships to earn a spot on that U.S. World team.

Skating to an operatic medley of Pagliacci, La Taviata and Sleeping Beauty, with visible determination, command and strength, Lord, who came from a family of Italian descent and lived in Swampscott, a North Shore coastline town nearly 15 miles north of Boston, demonstrated astonishing technical and artistic aptitude as well as notable speed and energy throughout his entire program, performing every primary turn and step including rockers, counters, loops, Mohawks and Choctaws performed in both directions, among other notable things.

At the same time, Lord does some show stopping moves, including a back-to-front pivot with a complete change of direction, clockwise-direction split jump (he is a counter-clockwise jumper and spinner) and double loop landed on a left-back inside edge, all of which generated thunderous applause from the packed crowd at the Broadmoor arena.

For Lord, it was all about doing his best.

“After I had skated, I felt I did the best I could,” said Lord, who attended Boston University and had wanted to eventually pursue a career in commercial art. “As long as I had done [my] best, I was happy. I knew Greg [Kelley] was a strong free skater and it all depended on how I did.”

Although this program dates all the way back from 1961, and Lord’s technical content consisted of double jumps (all of which were high, fast and technically solid), his components were dazzling on all counts and could still stand in competition today.

Specifically, his connecting steps were rich and complex, his skating skills were superior and his choreography and presentation is intriguing, full of depth and clear, powerful and effective in terms of its narrative and messaging, rendering this program as a true template for much of what the International Judging System stands for today.

Lord, who had placed fourth at the 1960 U.S. Championships and sixth at that year’s World Championships, was coached by Montgomery ‘Bud’ Wilson, a Canadian Olympic bronze medalist (who was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic military efforts as an artillery officer during World War II) at the Skating Club of Boston, who also did the choreography for this program as well.

Known as a ‘great guy and friend’ among his peers at the storied Skating Club of Boston venue where he trained all the way from the group lesson level up through the National and World Championship level, Lord had faced some struggles throughout his competitive career.

For one, he was said to have worked extremely hard to pay for his skating expenses, and had taken several aside jobs to help cover costs.

Further, Lord labored extremely hard to get through the challenging eight U.S. Figure Skating school figure tests, most of which did not come easy to him (or most anyone else, for that matter).

At the same time, Lord worked dogmatically to prepare to face off against Gregory Kelley, the formidable young American international contender who was fifth at the 1960 U.S. Championships and ninth at the1960 Worlds.

Known for his terrific speed and high jumps, Kelley, like Lord, had worked with Montgomery Wilson for many years at the Skating Club of Boston, but had made a coaching change several years prior to the 1961 U.S. Championships so he could train with Eduard ‘Edi’ Scholdan, an Austrian figure skater and coach at the Broadmoor Arena in Colorado Springs.

Somehow, all of these challenges only seemed to motivate Lord in his pursuit of winning the 1961 U.S. title, something that was evident in his victorious free skate performance.

Ultimately, his impact among those who knew him, just as like his skating, was potent and still resonates to this day.

“Bradley was so nice. He would always come by to chat to see how we were all doing,” said Nancy Madden Leamy, a U.S. national coach based in Greenwich, Connecticut who trained with Lord at the Skating Club of Boston growing up. (She was also coached by Montgomery Wilson.) “We all worked hard at the club and then many of us would then go out to eat afterward and would sit together and just talk and laugh. It was a lot of fun and we had a good time.”

Certainly, the legacy of all the talented and fascinating members of the 1961 U.S. World team, as illustrated in the work and story of Bradley Lord, has had a great effect on so many and continues to serve as a powerful prototype and means of inspiration today for those who comprise the domestic and global skating world in terms of their skating, determination and perhaps more than anything, heart.