Retrospective takes a look back at the 1936 Olympics
Sonja Henie won the third of her 3 consecutive Olympic titles at the 1936 Olympics. Nevertheless, she was very fortunate to win the 1936 title as Cecilia Colledge ran her a very close second. As Sandra Stevenson pointed out in her obituary on Colledge for the UK Independent on the 21st April 2008:-
Furthermore, somewhat oddly, the start of Colledge’s free skate at the 1936 Olympics had to be delayed due to problems starting the music...... It so unnerved Colledge, that she almost fell during the early part of her free skate. However, Colledge recovered to score an average of 5.7, to Henie's 5.8[after the School Figures], "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. The draw for the free skating [then] came under suspicion after Henie landed the plum position of skating last, while Colledge had to perform second of the 26 competitors. The early start was seen as a disadvantage, with the audience not yet whipped into a clapping frenzy and the judges known to become freer with their higher marks as the event proceeded. Years later, a fairer, staggered draw was adopted to counteract this situation".
In terms of medals, Sonja Henie is the most successful Ladies singles skater of all time - 3 consecutive Olympic titles, 10 consecutive World titles, and 6 consecutive European titles. She was renowned for her speed across the ice, her balletic choreography (connecting the elements of her program in a way that had not been done before), her artistry and grace, the quality of her spins, and her charisma and flair. She made short above the knee skirts the norm, which made it possible for female skaters to perform jumps and other elements that had previously only been performed by male skaters. Previously, long heavy black skirts had been the norm. Henie made an immense contribution to the sport in terms of raising its profile and popularity, and she went on to enjoy a highly successful Hollywood film and professional skating career after retiring after the 1936 World Championships.
Nevertheless, Henie was an extremely controversial figure. Not only was the outcome of the 1936 Olympics controversial, but so was the result pertaining to her very first World title in 1927 (held in Oslo, Norway) in which she beat defending 5 time world champion, Herma Szabo, into 2nd place. Henie won the title by 3 judges to 2, but what caused consternation about that was that the 3 judges who gave Henie victory were all Norwegian! This led the ISU to introduce the rule shortly afterwards, that there could only be no more than one judge per country for each event.
There were also suggestions that Henie was a Nazi sympathizer. At a Berlin show in 1936 just prior to the Olympics, she greeted Hitler with a Nazi salute and said "Heil, Hitler." Moreover, according to the book, 'Queen of Ice, Queen of Shadows: Unsuspected Life of Sonja Henie', Henie even visited Adolf Hitler. She was also criticised in Norway after the war for not having contributed to the war relief effort and for not having provided financial assistance for training resistance troops in Canada’s "Little Norway."
There were also other criticisms of Henie. In a 1999 Newsweek article, Cecilia Colledge stated:
Also, in this obituary article on 1936 Olympic Bronze medal winner, Vivi-Anne Hultén, Dennis McLellan states:-"To her, there were no other skaters....Even on the podium after the Olympics, there were no kisses, no handshakes, not even a word."
British skaters, Megan Taylor and Cecilia Colledge were Henie's closest competitors during the 1930's. Taylor and Colledge were both selected to compete for Great Britain at the 1932 Olympics - Colledge was 11 years and 68 days old at the start of the 1932 Olympics on the 4th Feb 1932 - 11 years and 73 days old at the start of the Ladies figure skating competition on the 9th Feb 1932, and Taylor was 11 years and 102 days old at the start of the Olympics - 11 years and 107 days old at the start of the Ladies figure skating competition. They were the youngest ever female competitors in any Olympic sport and the youngest ever competitors at the Winter Olympics. Taylor finished 7th and Colledge 8th. Taylor and Colledge went on to have a intense rivalry thereafter. Colledge finished a very close second to Henie at the 1936 Olympics (which Taylor unfortunately missed due to an accident). Colledge would then go on to become World Champion in 1937 (beating Taylor into second place), but Taylor famously beat her into second place to become World Champion in 1938. Colledge gained her revenge though by beating Taylor in the 1939 British and European Championships in 1939, but missed the 1939 Worlds (due to an achilles tendon injury), thereby allowing Taylor to retain her world title. Without doubt, either Colledge or Taylor would have become Olympic champion in 1940, but tragically World War 2 deprived them of that opportunity. An illustration of just how ardent the rivalry between Colledge and Taylor was, was that after Colledge beat Taylor into second place for the British title in 1938, Taylor congratulated Colledge and then immediately burst into tears - so upset was she! Their rivalry reached its zenith during 1937 - 1939. During this period, they competed against each other 8 times in British, European, and World Championships. Taylor finished second to Colledge on every occasion, except at the 1938 World Championships when she beat Colledge into second place (with Benjamin Wright calling it one of skating history's most controversial results in his book, 'Skating Around the World: International Skating Union , the One Hundredth Anniversary History 1892 -1992'), with Colledge losing on a split of the judges despite accumulating more points). Hence, the head-to-head between them during 1937-39 was 7-1 in Colledge's favour. This is in stark contrast to the period 1932-34 when the head-to-head between the two was 6-0 in favour of Taylor (who beat Colledge into second place at all 3 British championships during that period. At both the 1932 Olympics and Worlds, Taylor finished 7th and Colledge 8th, and at the 1933 Worlds, Taylor finished 4th and Colledge 5th)."[In interviews], Hulten characterized Henie as a foulmouthed, self-centered and ruthless competitor.
The rift began at the 1933 world championships, when Hulten finished only two-tenths of a point behind Henie. "You are not nearly good enough to get second next to me," Henie screamed afterward, pointing a finger at Hulten's nose. "I'm so much better that you are. You deserved to be fourth." At the 1934 world championship, Hulten came in fourth. "Her father arranged it," Hulten told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "She was afraid of me."
Hulten asserted that Henie's father made deals with judges at world championships to ensure his daughter's victories and to thwart Hulten. "Papa Henie would go to these places and tell the organizers, 'You can have my daughter [for an exhibition]; come up to my hotel room and I'll tell you how we can arrange it,' " she told the Sporting News in 1994. "He played poker with them. If he won, he got an appearance fee for Sonja to skate and he got an agreement that the judges would place me no higher than third. I didn't have a chance. I know this is true because one of my best friends was the president of our club in Stockholm, and he told me about it. Back then the judges were always with the clubs."
"Look, I have a great admiration for what Henie did," [Hulten] told Sports Illustrated. "On the ice she was terrific, a wonderful acrobat, just like a circus princess, a big smile, dressed perfectly. But she was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a very nasty person off the ice.... I'm just telling it like it is."
On a 1935 Olympic training trip to St. Moritz, Hulten told the Sporting News, she was detained at the German border for seven hours and searched "from head to toe," with no explanation from the guard, whose name was Ulrich Schmidt. Hulten said she later sought out Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to complain. Goebbels, a skating fan, had Schmidt brought to him. "Goebbels made him get down on a knee and apologize to me," Hulten recalled. "[Schmidt] said, 'Well, a young lady came through before her whose name was Sonja Henie. She told me this girl here would be smuggling jewelry, so we stopped her.' "
At the 1936 Winter Olympics in Germany, medal winners were told to give the Nazi salute to Hitler. Gold medal winner Henie saluted, but bronze winner Hulten refused."
Compared to Henie, Colledge was the greater innovator. At the 1936 European Championships, Colledge became the first female skater to land a double jump (a 2S). She also invented the Camel Spin and the Layback Spin, and the 1-foot axel is named after her (i.e. "the Colledge")
World War 2 practically finished both Colledge's and Taylor's competitive careers, although Colledge returned after WW2, but then turned professional after just 1 year. Colledge drove an ambulance in the Motor Transport Corps during the London Blitz, moved permanently to the United States in 1951 (saying of Britain that "there was nothing left for me there except unhappy memories" - due to her experiences during WW2 and the death of her brother during the war), and pursued a distinguished career as a coach with the Skating Club of Boston between 1952 and 1977, coaching skaters such as Ron Ludington. Taylor spent much of the early 1940's with Ice Capades. However, after finishing with Ice Capades, not much is known about what she did thereafter and she died in Jamaica in 1993. Nevertheless, Katarina Witt states in her book, Only with Passion that:-
The men's event at the 1936 Olympics was won by Karl Schäfer from Austria. He was the defending Olympic champion as he had also won the Olympic title at the 1932 Olympics. He won the world title on 7 consecutive occasions between 1930-36. He was the first person to land a double loop (1925 - in practice, but never performed it in competition). He also invented the Schafer push (a school figures move now also used in free skating), in which a backward outside push is used to start loops. He retired after the 1936 World Championships, and created one of the first European ice shows, the Karl Schäfer Ice Revue. He was one of the original skaters to be inducted in to the Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1976. The Karl Schäfer Memorial event was held in his memory up until 2008 (having previously been known as the Vienna Cup up until 1996), serving as an Olympic qualifying event in 1997 and 2005. Whilst Schäfer's 1936 Olympic win was an easy and impressive one, his 1932 Olympic victory will be remembered far more. That's because in winning the title in 1932, he beat the legendary Gillis Grafström in the process, who was attempting to win a 4th consecutive Olympic title (having won the title at the 1920, 1924, and 1928 Olympics). Grafström collided with a photographer during his Olympic title defence, but even if he hadn't, Schäfer would still almost certainly have won, ultimately winning by a comfortable margin of almost 90 points."Some coaches just teach to make a living. Other coaches, like Frau Muller, live for the sport. She skated in the 1950's, but was never a star herself. In those years the GDR never did well internationally. At one point they hired an English coach, Megan Taylor, to try to improve their performances at the World Championships, but she left after one season. "Those East German skaters have what it takes to go to the World Championships, all right," the Englishwoman told a reporter after she'd left. "But only as ticket takers." Frau Muller never forgot that slight, and it motivated her in her career as a coach. She proved the Englishwoman wrong, too. Under her tutelage, GDR skaters won ten World Championships between 1969 and 1980. Her daughter, Gabriele Seyfert, and Anett Potzsch and Jan Hoffmann all won twice, and I won four times. Frau Muller was the most successful coach of her generation."
Great Britain's Graham Sharp was expected to win the silver medal at the 1936 Olympics (just as he had done at the 1936 European Championships, and would go on to do at the 1936 World Championships). However, he performed poorly at the Olympics, finishing a very disappointing 5th. The silver medal was instead won by Ernst Baier of Germany, whose main focus at the Olympics was on the pairs competition.
The favourites for the pairs competition going into the Olympics were the 4 time and then current world champions, Emília Rotter & László Szollás, from Hungary. Their main rivals were expected to be European Champions, Maxi Herber & Ernst Baier (Rotter & Szollás had missed the 1936 European Championships). In the Olympic competition, Maxi Herber & Ernst Baier won comfortably, with 7 out of 9 judges placing them 1st. Herber & Baier went on to win 4 consecutive world titles (1936-39), and would almost certainly have won a 2nd consecutive Olympic title had the 1940 Olympics not been cancelled due to the outbreak of World War 2. They revolutionised pairs skating, performing the first SBS jumps in competition, and injected greater technical difficulty and artistry into their programs
There is not a great deal of footage of the 1936 Olympics available. However, here is what there is:-
Gold: Karl Schäfer (Austria)
Silver: Ernst Baier (Germany)
Bronze: Felix Kaspar (Austria)
5th: Graham Sharp (Great Britain)
Footage of the 1936 Olympic Men's Competition from 1m 43 secs in
Footage of the 1936 Olympic Men's Competition from 2m 35 secs in
Karl Schäfer winning the 1936 Olympic title
Footage of Karl Schäfer
Brief footage of Karl Schäfer at 30 secs in
Gold: Sonja Henie (Norway)
Silver: Cecilia Colledge (Great Britain)
Bronze: Vivi-Anne Hultén (Sweden)
5th: Maribel Vinson (USA)
Sonja Henie and Cecilia Colledge - 1936 Olympics
Sonja Henie & Cecilia Colledge - 1936 Olympics
Footage of the 1936 Olympic Ladies Competition from 2m 30 secs in
Footage of the 1936 Olympic Ladies Competition from 2m 10 secs in
Profile - Sonja Henie
Sonja Henie - Mini Doc of career highlights
Cecilia Colledge - 1936 Olympics
Cecilia Colledge (montage of career highlights)
Colour footage of Cecilia Colledge from 1939
Megan Taylor & Cecelia Colledge - 1937 World Championships (won by Colledge)
Megan Taylor - Ice Capades 1942
Megan Taylor - Ice Capades 1942
Sonja Henie - Film: One in a Million
Gold: Maxi Herber/Ernst Baier (Germany)
Silver: Ilse Pausin/Erik Pausin (Austria)
Bronze: Emília Rotter/László Szollás (Hungary)
Maxi Herber/Ernst Baier winning the 1936 Olympic pairs title
Maxi Herber/Ernst Baier winning the 1936 Olympic title
Maxi Herber/Ernst Baier winning the 1936 Olympic title
Footage of the 1936 Olympic Pairs Competition from 6m 48 secs in
Footage of the 1936 Olympic Pairs Competition from 2m 50 secs in
Maxi Herber/Ernst Baier - 1936
Maxi Herber/Ernst Baier
Maxi Herber/Ernst Baier training in St. Moritz in 1935
As usual, many thanks to Floskate for many of the videos featured