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Which female singles skater of the 1930s was the best - Henie, Colledge, or Taylor?

Discussion in 'The Trash Can' started by Maofan7, Sep 10, 2011.

Which female singles skater of the 1930's was the best - Henie, Colledge, or Taylor?

Poll closed Oct 11, 2011.
  1. Cecilia Colledge

    10 vote(s)
  2. Megan Taylor

    0 vote(s)
  3. Sonja Henie

    18 vote(s)
  4. Other

    1 vote(s)
  1. Maofan7

    Maofan7 Member

    It is sometimes automatically assumed that Sonja Henie was the greatest female singles skater of the 1930's. However, when one takes a closer look, she was extremely fortunate to win the 1936 Olympics 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 (Link Here): 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".

    British youngsters, 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). 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 (See attached photograph re the welcome she got after her win). 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 in controversial circumstances. 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).

    So how good were Sonja Henie, Cecilia Colledge and Megan Taylor when assessed from a modern perspective and which of the three was the best? Here is some footage of them (footage of their competitive careers obviously being very scarce):-

    Sonja Henie and Cecilia Colledge - 1936 Olympics

    Cecilia Colledge - Mini Doc (montage of career highlights)

    Megan Taylor - Ice Capades 1942

    Megan Taylor - Ice Capades 1942

    Sonja Henie - Mini Doc of career highlights

    Sonja Henie - Film: One in a Million

    World War 2 (WW2) 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. Does anybody know what happened to Taylor after Ice Capades?
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2011
  2. Sasha'sSpins

    Sasha'sSpins Well-Known Member

    To be honest I'd never heard of Taylor until I saw this thread. I'd probably still give Henie the edge with 3 Olympic gold medals and 10 World Championships but may experts of the day seem to agree Henie may have had some shady help in her final Olympics. From what I've read and seen about Sonja she was also believed to have been a little overly friendly with the Germans (okay the Nazis) especially after she greeted Hitler with the Nazi salute and that may have given her the edge she needed to beat Cecilia. But that is all just speculation-I've seen archive footage and although she had poor posture the lady skated FAST and for the day some pretty good spins!!

    I've been reading a little bit more on Henie where I can.

    At this site it states that in Henie's day there were five judges who scored the skaters-and three of those five were Norwegian until the Austrians complained which is why the rule was changed and now the judges have to all be from a different country.

    I think that with three of the five judges being Norwegian at the time it puts a big question mark next to many of Henie's championships:

    The same site mentions what many Henie contemporaries have said to media about her father-basically that wealthy elder Henie basically bought the judges.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2011
  3. Vagabond

    Vagabond Well-Known Member

    Let's not get carried away here.

    There was never more than one Norwegian on any of the judging panels at the Winter Olympic Games at which Henie competed, and there was no Norwegian at all on the panel in 1936 (though there was a Briton).

    For more information, point your browser here:

  4. floskate

    floskate Vacant

    I think sasha'sSpins might be referring to the the world championships of 1927 held in Oslo. This was Henie's first world title over Herma Plank-Szabo and her victory has always been controversial due to not only her home town advantage, but 3 of the 5 judges were Norwegian! However I only know of this happening on one occasion, not regularly.
  5. floskate

    floskate Vacant

    Re: Cecilia and Megan's rivalry. They both went to the 1932 Olympics aged 11 (Cecilia was the younger and still holds the record for the youngest person ever to compete in a Winter Olympics). Megan was beating Cecilia regularly around then but the tide started to turn in 1933 when Cecilia surprised everybody winning silver at Europeans aged 12 behind Henie. Megan did not compete at this event but Colledge was the first of the two to win a major international medal. They both continued to place well internationally through 1934 and 1935 but strangely they never competed against each other in a single major until the Europeans in 1937 which Colledge won.

    I've done a lot of research on Cecilia and little is really known of what they thought of each other. I did hear from someone who knew Cecilia that she did not like Sonja Henie at all but there is nothing on record regarding her thoughts on Megan. But the rivalry certainly was intense. With Colledge steam rolling through the 1937 season there was a lot of press interest in her in the UK. Results would regularly make the front pages of the daily press with natty little soundbites from Megan such as 'I'll beat her next time'.

    The press magnified the rivalry and competition reports seem to paint a picture of Colledge being a precise, but staid technician while Megan was the crowd pleaser with the flashy free skating style. Then inference from some is that then fix was in at times but in truth, Colledge had good figures and had the most difficult and innovative free skate in the world at that time, including all her inventions such as the 1-foot axel, camel spin, layback and double salchow.

    Megan finally turned the tables in Stockholm at the 1938 World championships. In the ISU centenary book by Ben Wright, he states that this was one of skatings most debated results and certainly a controversial one But goes no further than that. It was one of those bizarre results where Cecilia had morentotal points but Megan managed to win it on a split of the judging panel. The press had a field day when Cecilia left the post worlds dinner early and before the presentation of her medal. Reports from waiters at the banquet say she was crying so hard her Mother had to remove her. Others said she stormed out after lots of praise was given to Megan in a speech!

    None of this has ever been proved and of course Colledge denied it all, saying she had to leave early to catch a train as she had exhibitions in Europe. Whatever the real reason, the story rumbled on and H.J. Clarke - British judge at the event and future president of the ISU - went to the extraordinary lengths of writing a rebuttal to the Times newspaper.

    The incident did cause some damage to the relationship between Cecilia and Megan, so much so that Mrs Colledge invited Megan round for tea to 'clear the air' before the British championships began in late 1938. Cecilia resumed her winning ways at nationals and Europeans but was never able to regain her world title. She went to Prague for the 1939 worlds carrying an Achilles injury which was further agravavatednin practice there. Much was made of it in the press and there are even pictures of Megan tending to Cecilia at her bedside!

    That was that and they went they're separate ways pretty much. Many assume Megan to be the better of the two by virtue of her back to back world titles but they don't tell the whole story. My vote goes to Colledge but those of you who know my posting history wouldn't be surprised by that. I've long been a fan of what she did for skating. :)
  6. Nours

    Nours Active Member

    Again and again... Yes it happened... ONCE ! Look at the placements from all the judges and you'll see she was later on ranked first by a wide margin even by English and North American judges at every worlds, and only one judge at most for Norway ; she actally lost only one judge to Colledge during the whole 1935 worlds whereas her opponent placement where from 2nd to 6th and the same with Taylor the year after. Sonja is the Surya from the 30's, nobody like her specially in the english speaking world has she "robbed" so many titles and medals (the fact that she beat College and Owen made really her evil nowadays even though nobody from this board was there to watch the actual competitions), thanks to propagandan.
    I can understand there might as well be some political factor but quoting the 1927 worlds victory to consistently say she robbed everything and wasn't the best of her era seems a bit harsh. And really she won all her last 9 worlds in an impressive way when you look at where the judges placed her.

    This was only for worlds as the ISU books doesn't show the Olympics detailled result but from the internet it seems it was equally unclose with no problems with the judges.

    Behind this there's also the idea that judges are either incredibly stupid or big cheaters even though they are very qualified. It's up since forever in skating and now, thanks to some embittered persons, we have COP and no more skating.
  7. Karina1974

    Karina1974 Well-Known Member

    A LOT of athletes at both Olympics that year gave the Nazi salute, whether or not they were Nazi sympathizers.

    Also, I would suggest that you acquire and view in completion a documentary called The Third Reich - in one part it talks about how both 1936 Olympic cities were 'cleaned up" as it were, to give the international community a sanitized view of Germany at that time. They didn't get to see how things really were, what the reality of German life was (Germany had actually been one of the places hardest hit by the Depression); all that was hidden during the time the Olympics were going on. It would also do you good to remember that there was no such thing as "mass media" and there was a Depression going on at the same time, so the last thing the international community was interested in during 1936 was every minute detail of German life.

    Also, Sonja was rather sheltered in her own life; her focus was her skating and that was it. I doubt she had any clue what was going on with world politics.

    I would recommend that you do a lot less speculating and a lot more time on actual research.
  8. orbitz

    orbitz Well-Known Member

    Henie had been around competitive skating the longest, won the most important titles, and revolutionized women's skating and professional skating. She was the best.
  9. skatesindreams

    skatesindreams Well-Known Member

    floskate, thanks for the account of the Colledge/Taylor "relationship".
  10. Sasha'sSpins

    Sasha'sSpins Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the info floskate! I got it from this link:

    A world championship with 3 of the 5 judges being from the Henie's home country is rather bizaare. I wonder how it even came about. And besides this controversy I remember reading an interview with Colledge many years ago in which she pretty much said her wealthy father did all he could to influence the judges. I don't doubt it as it seems Henie's contemporaries all but accused her father of this.
  11. Sasha'sSpins

    Sasha'sSpins Well-Known Member

    Thanks but I don't need your recommendations. I'll continue to speculate on long ago events just as I please and research as best I can. I have read more than one account that Sonja agreed to meet with Hitler and whether you like it or not it appears that was frowned upon by some contemporaries of her day. And as to Sonja herself her own brother wrote a book about his own sister that wasn't entirely flattering about his sibling. As he was her brother one can take it as one chooses to just as one can take the less than flattering comments by some of Henie's contemporaries-believe what they had to say-or not.

    I didn't say Sonja 'robbed' anything. I said the fact that there were 3 of 5 judges at a worlds from her home country makes one question her results. Apart from this incident I have read, and seen interviews where it has been strongly implied that Sonja's father did what he could when he could to influence the results. Of course none of us here were likely to be alive or old enough at the time to have witnessed any of this.

    And for the record-I voted for Sonja. I happen to think that apart from any controversies there seems no question (in spite of curious behaviour from her father, hometeam judges or whatever) that Henie was the greatest female skater of her day. It doesn't mean she was always the best though. Certainly even through today there is often debate as to whether a skater who is obviously talented deserved to win on a given day over someone who may have outskated them come competition day.
  12. skatesindreams

    skatesindreams Well-Known Member

  13. briancoogaert

    briancoogaert Well-Known Member

    I can't say anything, but I'm really interested in everything said in this thread. Thank you :)
  14. aemeraldrainc

    aemeraldrainc Active Member

  15. Mafke

    Mafke Well-Known Member

    My own opinion is that 'best' doesn't really exist. You need to define what you mean by best.

    Henie had the most titles and made only one innovation in ladies skating (short skirts) and in a rather unlikely way parlayed her olympic fame into movie (and general stardom).

    Collede on the other hand had horribly bad luck in the timing of her career which meant fewer medals but for my money she was the more important innovator. She's arguably the single most innovative lady before Janet Lynn.

    In terms of personality, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence suggesting Henie was not exactly Miss Congeniality (the overall picture I get is superficial and unlikeable) while Colledge projected a tremendously likeable down to earth quality in her post career interviews. A little proper and schoolmarmish but in a charming way.

    But that's guessing, the reality might be different.
  16. gkelly

    gkelly Well-Known Member

    I think she introduced other innovations in what female skaters wore (white boots instead of black, and when everyone followed that trend she switched to tan; her father was a furrier and she popularized the use of fur on costumes at the time), but those are just cosmetic. Short skirts actually affected what kinds of moves female skaters were able to perform.

    I wonder if all the ballet-inspired tippy toeing around on her toepicks that she did in the movies also found its way into her competitive programs. If so, that was probably an innovation she contributed to program content -- but one that's not actually skating so purists would object.
  17. leafygreens

    leafygreens Well-Known Member

    I saw Cecilia in the stands at NE regionals, I think it was 2007. I wanted to speak to her but was too timid. Now that she's gone I'm kicking myself for not having the courage.
  18. Sasha'sSpins

    Sasha'sSpins Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the link!

    The allegations about Hitler are worse than I've read about. I've read she was all too willing to meet with him but not as far as an alleged 'romance'. I hope it's not true.

    Tonja Harding playing Sonja Henie? :lol:
  19. Sasha'sSpins

    Sasha'sSpins Well-Known Member

    Careful some in this thread have a problem with guessing-or speculating in my case! :lol:

    Here's a wonderful tribute to Cecilia-I knew she was the first woman to perform double jumps and she was the originator of several spirals and spins-but I had no idea until I saw this @1:07 that she had done what today might be called a half-Bielmann! She also did what looks very similar to Baiul's donut spin:

    Cecilia Colledge - A Figure Skating Pioneer

    Cecilia was far ahead of her time. Watching the tribute her style seemed much more modern than Sonja's. Had it not been for World War II I am convinced she would have won an Olympic gold medal.