Retrospective takes a look back at the 1948 Olympics. Please also check out Manleywoman's great new interview with Dick Button, which you can find here. Also, her previous interview with Barbara Ann Scott
The key facts in relation to these Olympics are:-
- The 1948 Olympics, the first post World War 2 Olympics, were held in St. Moritz, Switzerland. The 1948 World Championships, which followed the Olympics were also held in Switzerland, in Davos. The Olympic figure skating events were held between the 2nd February - 7th February 1948. The World Championships followed less than a week later - held between February 11th – February 15th 1948.
- Dick Button wins the first of his 2 consecutive Olympic titles. In the process, he performed the first ever 2A. He had only landed a 2A for the first time in practice 2 days prior to the free skate. However, as he only had a slender lead after the compulsories, he decided to risk trying the 2A in his free skate, and it paid off. In retaining his Olympic title at the 1952 Olympics, he would perform the first ever triple jump (a loop). Two weeks prior to the 1948 Olympics, he had won the European title - the first and only non-European to win the Men's title at Euro's. Non-Europeans were barred from competing at the European Championships following the 1947/48 season. Following his 1948 Olympic win, Button went on to win the first of his 5 consecutive world titles at the 1948 world championships.
- In winning his 1948 triple crown (Euro's, Olympics, Worlds), Dick Button beat Switzerland's Hans Gerschwiler on each occasion into 2nd place. Whilst Button was in his prime in the post war years, Gerschwiler's career had been ruined by World War 2. He was almost 28 by the time of the 1948 Olympics and retired at the end of the 1947/48 season. His competitive career began in 1938 and he was coached by his uncle, Jacques Gerschwiler (who also coached many of the most successful British skaters of the period - Cecilia Colledge and Jeannette Altwegg). During World War 2, Hans stayed with Cecilia Colledge's family. He worked as a factory worker and fire watcher, and was only able to train once a week. Nevertheless, after World War 2, he was able to make a successful comeback, winning the European title in 1947, and he beat Dick Button into 2nd place in winning the 1947 World title (Gerschwiler won the compulsories, Button won the free skate, Gerschwiler won the overall title by 3 judges to 2). This was the last time, Button would ever lose a figure skating competition
- The favourite for the Ladies title was Canada's Barbara Ann Scott. She had become the first non-European to win the European Championships in 1947 (a title she retained a year later), and followed this up by winning the 1947 World title (which she also retained a year later). She duly won the Olympic title comfortably. However, like all of the other skaters, she had to be more careful than usual during the free skate, as 2 Ice Hockey games held earlier in the day had badly scarred and rutted the ice. As Scott stated in her interview with Manleywoman: "[Eileen Seigh came into the dressing room after her free skate and said], girls, that ice is impossible, I fell three times. And her chiffon dress was kind of torn. But she was such a good sport to come and tell us all this. We kind of knew the ice wasn’t great, but that’s how bad the ice was. So I don’t think anybody skated their best, just very cautiously. I did all my double jumps and stuff and spins, but [laughs] I was looking carefully before I took off or started a spin." In 1942, at the age of just 13, Scott had become the first lady to land a 2Z in competition. After turning professional at the end of the 1947/48 season, Scott replaced Sonja Henie in the Hollywood Ice Revue show in 1949, and later became a figure skating judge.
- Scott's main rival was Eva Pawlik. Pawlik was a precocious figure skater from a very young age - producing fast spins and single axels by the age of 4 with ease. However, like Hans Gerschwiler, her career was badly affected by World War 2. She had been due to compete at the ultimately cancelled 1940 Olympics at the age of just 12 (only slightly older than Megan Taylor and Cecelia Colledge were at the 1932 Olympics). However, ultimately, she would have to wait 8 years to make her Olympic debut. Moreover, her postwar comeback was further hampered by the fact that as an Austrian skater, she was barred from competing in the European and World Championships until 1948 (a legacy of the War). Hence, a 2nd place finish at the 1948 Olympics was an immense achievement, given the circumstances. Following the Olympics, she decided to continue in competition for one final season, to try and win the World title. She won the 1949 European Championships, despite having just suffered an appendicitis (she had to go to hospital immediately after the event). However, at the 1949 World Championships, one of the heels on her skates broke, and the judges refused to allow her to continue with replacement skates, forcing her to withdraw. It was suspected that her skates had been deliberately damaged, but the rumours of sabotage remain unproven to this day. She turned professional (joining the Vienna Ice Revue) at the end of the 1948/49 season (as her parents required financial support), and she went on to become one of the most successful show skaters of all time, also making several movies. Surely, one of the most unlucky skaters ever (in competitive terms), she is probably one of the greatest skaters never to have become a World or Olympic champion. It is also worth noting that Pawlik was at one time also a pairs skater with her later husband, Rudi Seeliger. Following Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria on the 12th March 1938, Seeliger was forcibly drafted into the German Army. He was captured by the Soviets during the War, and forced to work as a slave/coal miner until his release in December 1949. Moreover, until Seeliger was actually released, Pawlik did not even know that he was still alive.
- Prior to World War 2, Europe domintated figure skating. However, after World War 2, North America was very much in the ascendancy. One of the reasons for this was the sheer economic dislocation caused by the war, which would take the continent roughly a decade to recover from. For example, in the BBC Book of Skating, Sandra Stevenson states that: "[It was] not surprising that North Americans, whose skating activities had not been interrupted [during World War II] should do well when the sport resumed in 1947. When Eva Pawlik of Austria unsuccessfully challenged Barbara Ann Scott in 1948, one reason given for her failure was that she skated with dirty boots and holes in her tights. The boots were so old that they no longer responded to cleaning and the holes were darned. It was the best she could manage with all the shortages in her country" (which were enormous). Moreover, whereas the North American skaters could train all year around, Pawlik's training was mostly confined to October - March as there were no indoor rinks in her country.
- When Gus Lussi was asked to compare Barbara Ann Scott and Eva Pawlik for a newspaper article, the newspaper article stated:-
These remarks by Lussi go too far and there is perhaps more to them than meets the eye. It would be interesting to know what the context behind them was. Personally, I think Scott and Pawlik were very evenly matched, and had there been no World War 2, and had they therefore performed on a more equal footing, then the outcome of the 1948 Olympics would have been extremely close and could have gone either way. Moreover, had there been no World War 2, then Pawlik could very conceivably have been the 1944 Olympic champion, and who knows whether she would have even carried on to 1948. Although Scott was only 7 months younger than Pawlik, looking at her history, I think 1944 would have been an Olympics too soon for Scott in terms of her chances of winning Gold.Queried whether the contemplated movie would star Button with Barbara Ann Scott, Lussi Promptly replied: "Ann is far too slow on the ice for Dick." Lussi further stated that in his opinion Austria's Eve Pawlik is superior on skates than his former protege who won the Olympic championship. "Pawlik," said Lussi, "is much better in free skating than the Canadian girl and is practically on a par with her rival in the compulsory events."
- Jeannette Altwegg of Great Britain won the bronze medal at these Olympics. She would go on to win the Olympic title 4 years later at the 1952 Olympics. Like Trixi Schuba, Altwegg was far stronger in the compulsories, than as a free skater. Indeed, at the 1948 Olympics, she was second, only slightly behind Scott, after the compulsories, with Pawlik in 3rd. However, Pawlik, a much stronger free skater than Altwegg, overtook Altwegg in the free skate to take the silver medal.
- America's Gretchen Merrill, coached by Maribel Vinson-Owen, was one of the medal favourites going into the Olympics, having won bronze at the 1947 World Championships. However, she finished a disappointing 8th. Sadly, she passed away at the age of only 39 in 1965. The circumstances surrounding her death are uncertain. According to a poster from this FSU thread from back in 2010, "Gretchen's body was found on April 23, 1965 on her living room floor in her apartment. Police said she had been dead for as long as a week. She apparently died of natural causes."
- Micheline Lannoy & Pierre Baugniet of Belgium won the pairs competition. They had won the 1947 world title (a title they retained a year later) and were the favourites going into the Olympics. Their gold medal was Belgium's first at a winter Olympics and remains the countries only gold medal in the figure skating events. They retired at the end of the 1947/48 season.
- Although Ice Dance was not a part of the Olympics, Walter ‘Red’ Bainbridge recounts his memories of demonstrating the sport at the Olympics in this article and video.
For obvious reasons, the amount of video material in relation to these Olympics is rather limited, but here is what there is:-
Gold: Dick Button (USA)
Free Skate, Free Skate - 2 mins 15 secs in, Free Skate, Free Skate, Free Skate, Free Skate - 1 min 50 secs in, Free Skate, Free Skate, Footage - on route to the Olympic Games, Practice in advance of the 1948 Olympics, 1948 World Championships - Free Skate
Silver: Hans Gerschwiler (Switzerland)
No video available
Bronze: Edi Rada (Austria)
Free Skate - 1 min 40 secs in
Gold: Barbara Ann Scott (Canada)
Free Skate - 4 mins 30 secs in, Free Skate, Free Skate - 2 mins 30 secs in, Free Skate, Free Skate, Welcome Home Following The Olympics, Remembering Barbara Ann Scott, 1964 Profile
Silver: Eva Pawlik (Austria)
Footage from 1937, Footage from 1955
Bronze: Jeannette Altwegg (Great Britain)
1948 British National Championships, 2011 Interview with Nicky Slater
8th: Gretchen Merrill (USA)
Free Skate - 3 mins 30 secs in
11th: Eileen Seigh (USA)
Practice in advance of the 1948 Olympics
Gold: Micheline Lannoy / Pierre Baugniet (Belgium)
Silver: Andrea Kékesy / Ede Király (Hungary)
No video available
Bronze: Suzanne Morrow / Wallace Diestelmeyer (Canada)
Practice Footage - 30 secs in
Many thanks again to Floskate for many of the videos