The 1983 Canadian Figure Skating Championships


In early February 1983, a who's who of Canadian figure skating descended upon the Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal for the first Canadian Figure Skating Championships to be held in Québec in almost a decade. The fact it had been so long since the Canadian Championships were held in the province was no coincidence. 


Thanks to a snowstorm, the 1975 Canadian Championships in Québec City were a huge financial failure - in fact, the event had ended with a fifteen thousand dollar deficit. Things weren't nearly so grim in 1983 and today on the blog, we'll look back on some of the fascinating history that was made at this long overlooked competition!

THE NOVICE AND JUNIOR EVENTS

With first place ordinals from all but one judge, tiny Penny Schultz won the novice pairs event with partner Scott Grover, defeating a young Isabelle Brasseur and then-partner Pascal Courchesne. With couples from the Atlantic Provinces opting to compete in the Canada Winter Games instead of the Canadian Championships, only twelve novice ice dance teams competed in Montreal. Siblings Jennifer and David Chow won the compulsory dances but lost the variation dance and title to Debbie Horton and Curtis Moore. Fourteen year old Nathalie Sasseville of Laval dominated the novice women's event from start to finish, besting Pamela Giangualano, Kitty Kelly and Sandra Meeres to become to first woman from Québec in history to claim the novice women's title at the Canadian Championships. In sixth place after figures, a young upstart from the Royal Glenora Club named Kurt Browning thought his chance at a medal was unlikely. He skated brilliantly to take the gold over David Peacock and Jeff Partrick but didn't know he'd won until, plopped down in a media center interview with CTV brass including Johnny Esaw, he was interviewed by Donald Jackson... who asked him how it felt to be Canadian novice champion. Kurt did a happy dance right in front of the skating legend he had just met for the first time.

Siblings Lynda and John Ivanich of the North Shore Winter Club fended off a formidable challenge from two Preston teams coached by Kerry Leitch to claim top spot in the junior pairs event. Sixteen teams from every province but Saskatchewan competed in the junior ice dance event, which was dominated from start to finish by Michelle McDonald and Patrick Mandley. The previous year's novice champion, Melissa Murphy, dominated the junior women's event from the school figures to the free skate, besting Barbara Butler and Tracey Robertson for the gold in a diverse field of sixteen. Entering the junior men's free skate, Jack Holmes of the North Shore Winter Club led the pack of thirteen. His disappointing eleventh place free skate dropped him off the podium entirely. The winner, with three clean triples including a Lutz, was Patrick Greasley of Copper Cliff, Ontario. In second and third, with triple Salchows and triple toe-loop's in their medal winning free skates, were Lloyd Eisler and Marc Ferland.

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini 

In contrast to the large spate of entries in the novice and junior pairs events, the senior pairs event in Montreal in 1983 was comprised of a mere six teams. Although their side-by-side camel spins were out of whack, nineteen year old Barbara Underhill and twenty two year old Paul Martini landed a beautiful set of side-by-side double flips and took an easy lead in the short program, earning marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.9. Second were Kerry Leitch's new pair, Katherina Matousek and Lloyd Eisler, followed by seventeen year old Cynthia Coull and twenty three year old Mark Rowsom.

Katherina Matousek and Lloyd Eisler. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Cynthia Coull and Mark Rowsom

Both the second and third place teams had been skating together for less than a year. Underhill and Martini won their fifth consecutive Canadian title with an confident and charismatic free skate choreographed by Sandra Bezic. Coull and Rowsom ousted Matousek and Eisler from the second place position, in doing so depriving the latter of a spot on that year's World team. That bronze would be the fourth of Eisler's incredible twelve medals in the senior ranks at the Canadian Championships. Fourth place went to Melinda Kunheygi and Lyndon Johnston, followed by junior champions 'skating up' Lynda and John Ivanich and Melanie Buzek and Eric Thomsen.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall

Coached by Bernard Ford, Tracy Wilson of Port Moody, British Columbia and Rob McCall of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia easily finished first in all three compulsories, receiving marks as high as 5.6 for their Argentine Tango. Albertans Karyn and Rod Garossino were second and a new team, nineteen team year old Kelly Johnson and twenty two year old John Thomas, were third in a field of eight. Wilson and McCall retained their lead with an entertaining Rock N' Roll OSP and with second place ordinals from six of the seven judges, Johnson and Thomas edged the Garossino's for the runner-up position. Wilson and McCall's dramatic free dance to selections from the French film "Les Uns et Les Autres" won the gold medal in the ice dance event, a perfect 6.0 from Kitchener judge Marlene Young and the Bursary Award for the best performance of the entire competition. Johnson and Thomas, also coached by Ford, snatched the silver from the Garossino's with an excellent free dance set to music from "West Side Story". In their first year as seniors, Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay almost missed the 1983 Canadian Championships as Paul was quite sick at the time. They struggled in their first compulsory dance - the Ravensburger Waltz - and gained ground on Karen Taylor and Robert Burk, who had been ahead of them in the OSP, to finish fourth overall.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

Brian Orser

Of the twelve men competing at the 1983 Canadian Championships, the one judged to be the best in the school figures was Gary Beacom of the Cricket Club in Toronto. Brian Orser was in second, followed by Gordon Forbes of the Minto Skating Club, Andre Bourgeois of Dieppe, New Brunswick and Kevin Parker.


Orser skated brilliantly to win the short program with marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.9 for technical merit and 5.7 to 5.9 for artistic impression. However, Beacom maintained his overall lead with one his finest competitive performances, landing a difficult triple flip/double toe combination and igniting the crowd with innovative footwork and spins and exuberant choreography. Parker finished third in the short program, Forbes fourth setting the stage for a battle royale in the free skate.



Brian Orser's free skate in Montreal was just fantastic. After landing a gorgeous triple Axel, he went on to reel off triple after triple. He even performed a triple flip for the first time in competition. His only error, however imperceptible, was an aborted crossfoot spin. His marks matched the performance. He received nothing lower than a 5.9... and his first 6.0 ever in competition. In "Orser: A Skater's Life", he wrote, "I felt like I was just sailing through the program, playing to the audience. Someone wrote later, 'You could see the fire in his eyes.' I could feel it." Beacom's self-choreographed free skate to "Born Free" was artistically appealing, yet technically far from his best. He landed only one triple, yet received surprisingly high marks from 5.2 to 5.7. With the crowd on his side, the audience even booed these 'too low' marks. Brockville's Gordon Forbes missed two triple Lutzes in his free skate but landed four other triples - a flip, loop, Salchow and toe-loop - to take the bronze ahead of Parker, Dennis Coi, Campbell Sinclair, Neil Paterson and Bourgeois.

THE WOMEN'S EVENT

The road to Montreal was an extremely rocky one for several of the women competing at the 1983 Canadian Championships. After the 1982 World Championships in Copenhagen, eighteen year old Kay Thomson had cracked a vertebra when she landed on her tail bone in practice. After missing the entire summer, she returned to the ice in September only to tear ligaments in her right knee. Despite only two months of training, she arrived at the competition with three new tricks in her arsenal: the triple flip, triple Lutz and Hawson spin - named after coach Louis Stong's assistant Doug Haw and herself. If Thomson had bounced back, 1982 Silver Medallist Elizabeth Manley was at the lowest point of her career. Training in America under World Champion Emmerich Danzer, she was struggling desperately with depression. She had gained over thirty pounds in water retention and was even losing her hair. Recalling the Montreal competition in a December 2013 interview with PJ Kwong on Open Kwong Dore Podcast, Manley explained, "I was asked not to go... I was asked not to compete because of how I looked. I got angry and said no, that was unfair. I was ill and I wasn't getting the support that should be given to a young girl in this situation... I showed up in Montreal and I was treated like I was crazy. People, when they'd walk down the hallway of the arena, ran into other rooms. They didn't want to talk to me, they didn't know what to say to me... It was like I had leprosy."

In the school figures, Kay Thomson edged another skater who was attempting to mount a comeback - dethroned 1981 Champion Tracey Wainman - for the lead. Surrey's Andrea Hall followed in third place ahead of Manley, who somehow managed to skate some of the best figures in her career to date, and home province favourite Charlene Wong of Pierrefonds.


Backstage prior to the short program, an older skater handed Elizabeth Manley a can of hairspray, taunting her by saying "Want to borrow it?" Tracey Wainman comforted her, saying, "Don't let it get to you, Elizabeth. I think you look just fine. Just go out there and break a leg." Sadly, both Manley and Wainman struggled in the short program and landed in seventh and eighth places. Manley tacked a single toe-loop on the end of a triple Salchow; Wainman fell on a double Axel.


In contrast, Kay Thomson won with a history making triple Lutz/double toe combination - the first landed by a Canadian woman in competition - and earned a standing ovation. With elegant choreography yet a much easier double Axel/double toe combination, Wong finished second. A surprise third with a short program inspired by mime was pairs silver medallist Cynthia Coull, who had only been tenth in the figures.

Cynthia Coull. Photo courtesy Toronto Public Library, from Toronto Star Photographic Archive. Reproduced for educational purposes under license permission.

Kay Thomson defended her Canadian title with an equally brilliant free skate, earning five 5.8's and two 5.9's for technical merit and two 5.8's and five 5.9's for artistic impression. She announced that the triple Lutz she performed was "the best I've ever done" and told reporters in the February 5, 1983 edition of "The Globe And Mail" that she "was going to do a triple flip tonight, but I didn't get time to do it in the warmup, so I didn't."


Charlene Wong finished second overall with a gutsy triple toe-loop attempt. Seventeen year old Cynthia Coull of Greenfield Park, Quebec was second in the free skate and third overall, making history as the first woman since Jane Kirby in 1951 to medal in both senior women's and pairs in the same year.



Tracey Wainman, then training in Orillia with Doug Leigh, missed all three of her double Axels and didn't do her triple Salchow either. She was a shocking tenth in the free skate and seventh overall. Manley, fifth in the free skate and fourth overall, was destroyed after her experience in Montreal. In the aforementioned Open Kwong Dore interview, she recalled, "I had lost my title, I had lost my World team... My whole life was about making the Olympics and I'm a year away from the Sarajevo Olympics, I'm thirty five pounds in water retention, I'd lost all my hair... I'm a wreck. It was over for me." She was dropped like a hot potato from the Canadian Figure Skating Association's good graces. Before the week was even over, they were at her hotel room asking for her world team uniform back. In the months after the competition, Liz quit skating and started working with psychologist Terry Orlick. By the same time next year, she was back on the podium at the Canadian Championships... and in true, spectacular Liz Manley fashion, on that Sarajevo team.

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