INSTANT REPLAY: No more Axels, no more Lutzes?
If you felt the earth rumble around here over the last few months, I need to inform you that it was probably hall of fame figure skating coach Linda Brauckmann turning over in her grave.
You see, the North Shore Winter Club reduced its figure skating hours significantly last September and now has no figure skating program after 50-plus, mostly glorious years of providing B.C. and Canada… and yes, even the world… with skaters who mined gold, silver and bronze on many levels with regularity.
The NSWC first opened its doors in 1958, competing for members with the Capilano Winter Club which had opened earlier with the first artificial ice on the North Shore and had admirably hosted – with a great deal of much-deserved fanfare – the highly successful 1960 Canadian figure skating championships.
The NSWC had only curling ice then but, in order to try to skate circles around their Capilano competition, they needed to feature a strong figure skating program.
So the club came up with Austrian Edy Rada, their first head figure skating coach in 1960. As a competitor, he’d won bronze medals at both the 1948 St. Moritz Winter Olympics and the 1949 world championships in Paris.
And so it was that figure skating first brought fame to the NSWC. Skating families signed up and soon the club’s name was on the list of medal winners at Canadian championships.
Jay Humphry was the first. Living in Vancouver when he began skating at 10, he remembers going to the NSWC for lessons about age 12. That would make it 1960. Shortly afterwards, the family picked up and moved to 1210 East 14th St., just a jump sequence and a flying camel spin down Mountain Highway to the NSWC.
Humphry became the first NSWC Canadian champion when he captured the 1963 junior men’s title at 14. He was third at the senior level in 1964, ’65 and ’66, second in ’67 and the champion in 1968 and ’69. He was enticed to move to train at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club for nine months a year when he was 15 but he continued to call the NSWC his home and represented it in competition until the Ontario club insisted he put its name behind his which he did beginning in 1967.
However there was no shortage of other skaters who trained at and represented the NSWC in national championships although for this column the list has been shortened to those who placed in the top three in Canada in novice, junior or senior singles, or in pairs or ice dancing.
Other medal winners in the 1960s were Joey Summerfeld, David “Corby” Coffin, Judy McLeod, Mary McCaffrey, Madelaine Begg, Karel Latham, Karen Magnussen and the McKilligans, John, Betty and Patrick.
The Humphry family may have been the first to move to the North Shore to take advantage of the skating opportunities at the NSWC but they certainly weren’t the only ones. The McKilligans didn’t just move to North Van, they moved into a house right across the street from the NSWC. John and Betty captured medals at the Canadians in senior pairs, a third in 1966 and firsts in 1968 and ’69, the latter after switching to Hollyburn to accommodate coaching. Patrick copped bronze and gold in novice singles and gold in junior singles for the NSWC from 1966-68.
Karen Magnussen collected the most honours for the NSWC at Canadian championships with gold in juniors in 1965, silver in seniors in 1967 and ’69 and firsts in1968 and 1970-73. She was Canada’s only medal winner in any sport, a silver, in the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics where she was the Canadian flag bearer in the opening ceremonies. She was also second in the 1972 worlds and was crowned with gold at the 1973 world championships.
Linda Brauckmann, who learned to skate in Vancouver, began her coaching career in the Eastern U.S., but came back to take a position at the NSWC in 1962 and was still coaching despite health issues almost until she died in January 2010. Linda and her most accomplished protégé, Karen Magnussen, are both now in the BC Sports and Skate Canada halls of fame.
Canadian medallists from the NSWC in the 1970s were Marian Murray, Glen Moore, Carol Kreuzinger, Orin Cox, Kevin Cottam, Barb Terpenning, Patricia Woods, Gigi Boyd, Rob Dick, Naomi Taguchi, Susan MacDonald, Heather Anderson, Lisa Mowatt, Joyce Fordyce, Leslie Casper, Eric Thomsen, Katherine Matousek, Brad Starchuk, Bill O’Neill, Dennis Coi, Jim Szabo, Ronnie Unrau, Yvonne Anderson, Brad McLean, Martine Vigouret, Leonard and Karen Warkentin, Bonnie Epp and David Howe.
Magnussen, after returning from Boston where she taught skating, joined Brauckmann as a coach and was at the NSWC from 1987 to 2011.
In the 1980s Canadian medallists included Tracy Wilson, Neil Giroday, Rosemarie Sakic, Michelle Resch, Tammy and Dion Beleznay, Colin Epp, Michelle McDonald, Lynda and John Ivanich, Linda Florkevich, Shannon Allison, Tanya Bingert, Norm Proft, Neil Paterson, Jason Mongrain, Jennifer White, Bob and Katherine Kates, Jodi Barnes and Rob Williams.
Dominating would be a word to describe the impact NSWC skaters had on Canadian figure skating. Of all the medallists, going back to the 1960s, close to half of them took home a medal more than once.
By the 1990s the torch had been passed to Michael Steinbach, Lisa Daly, Tammy Wagner and Keyla Ohs.
Not all these noteworthy NSWC skaters were coached by the irrepressible Brauckmann of course. There were other coaches too. But Ohs was one of hers. Keyla was not only first in the Canadian junior singles in 1993 and second in seniors in 1998, but she actually beat out the McKilligans’ record for moving to North Van closest to the NSWC. She and her mom moved into the apartment block immediately next door to the club.
Canadian medal winners in the 2000s featured the likes of Eriq Lyons, Kathryn Kang and Rika Inoda. North Van’s Firus brothers, Liam and Shane, got their start at the NSWC. Liam was Canadian junior singles champion in 2010 and fourth in senior in 2013.
North Van-born Kevin Reynolds (second in Canadian seniors in 2012 and 2013 and fifth in the worlds last month) wanted to be a hockey player and Magnussen helped him with his skating for that and with figure skating at about the time he was making a decision on which to pursue.
Canadian 2013 medallists (Jeremy Ten, Eric Liu, Adonis Wong, Kelsey Wong, Belvina Mao) and other national entrants are listed as representing the NSWC but they train with the Burnaby-based BC Centre of Excellence which is not a member of Skate Canada. For competition, skaters must be affiliated with a Skate Canada-member club so BCCOE coach Joanne McLeod chose the NSWC at a cost of something less than $100 per skater. Whether even that will happen in the future is questionable.
Last week NSWC General Manager David Long said that he wouldn’t say that figure skating has been dropped totally and is excited about the recent addition of Victor Kraatz (2003 world ice dance champion) to the club’s coaching staff.
In an engaging chat on the weekend, Kraatz expressed his enjoyment with the group and private lessons he’s been doing at the NSWC although they are all geared to improvement in skating for hockey players. He is not doing any figure skating.
The club’s lengthy strategic plan released in February 2012, following research and suggestions by the McMahon Group, a St. Louis-based private club consulting firm, barely mentions figure skating.
Last fall, figure skating pictures were removed from display at the club, including the impressive one of Karen Magnussen – painted in 1973 by noted North Van artist Robert Banks – which hung prominently on the wall of the upper stairway landing for years.
For now, the figure skating era at the NSWC is apparently over.
This is episode 478 from Len Corben’s treasure chest of stories – the great events and the quirky – that bring to life the North Shore’s rich sports history.