The 1961 U.S. figure skating world team lives on 60 years later, in memories and through the Memorial Fund

U.S. Figure Skating/World Figure Skating Hall of Fame
0 Comments

On Feb. 15, 1961, Sabena Flight 548, traveling from New York City to Brussels under clear skies, crashed on approach to Zaventem Airport. The 72 people on board and one person on the ground were killed.

Among the dead were all 18 members of the U.S. world figure skating team, along with 16 coaches, officials and family members on their way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Sixty years later, skaters and fans are still haunted by poignant reminders of the tragic flight.

A heartbreaking photo of the skaters gathered on the steps of the Boeing 707, on the tarmac before take-off at Idlewild Airport. Faded black and white film of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, broadcast from the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. A charred copy of Sports Illustrated, with a smiling Laurence Owen gracing the cover alongside the Mad Men-era caption, “America’s most exciting girl skater.”

“Most of us at the time, we really felt numb,” Tenley Albright, the 1956 Olympic champion, said. “We could not believe it. It didn’t seem real. We didn’t want to believe it. The idea we can talk about it now helps us heal, at least a little bit.”

Last Saturday, the Skating Club of Boston hosted an online panel discussion to commemorate the lives lost and the rebuilding of the U.S. figure skating program.

In addition to Albright, participants included revered coach Frank Carroll, whose own mentor, Maribel Vinson Owen, was lost in the crash; 1960 Olympic bronze medalist Barbara Roles Williams; two-time Olympian Albertina Noyes (1964, 1968); 2014 Olympic team event bronze medalists Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir; Paul George, another student of Vinson Owen who won the 1962 U.S. junior pairs title and is president of the U.S. Figure Skating Foundation; and others, including several SC of Boston coaches and current competitors.

The 85-year-old Albright, who went on to a career as a surgeon and faculty member at Harvard Medical School, represented SC Club of Boston during her competitive days. Three of the 1961 U.S. champions – Laurence Owen; her older sister, Maribel Jr., and her pairs partner, Dudley Richards; and Bradley Lord – competed for SC of Boston. The 1961 U.S. ice dance champions, Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce, hailed from Los Angeles and Indianapolis, respectively.

Much of the discussion revolved around Maribel Vinson Owen, the nine-time U.S. women’s champion and four-time U.S. pairs champion who coached Albright, and her daughters Laurence and Maribel Jr. (“Little Maribel”), to their titles.

“She taught me great discipline, about being on time, always showing up, never backing out, not saying, ‘Oh, I don’t feel well today,’” Carroll, coach of Linda Fratianne, Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek, among others, said. “You go to the rink and you never complain about the ice.”

For Carroll, George and others of their generation, the memories burn as brightly as flashbulbs: Christmas Eve caroling on Boston’s Beacon Hill. Parties at the Vinson family home, a Federal-style house in Winchester, Massachusetts, built in 1803 that still stands today. Studying while riding in Maribel’s car, a broken-down station wagon with fungi growing in the back seat.

“Maribel drove with her skates and skate guards on, 70 miles an hour on Route 128,” Carroll drily recalled.

“My father finally bought Maribel a new station wagon,” Ronna Goldblatt Gladstone, a Maribel student who now coaches at SC of Boston, said. “He was afraid we were going to crash.”

Not all of the panel participants were from the Boston area. Roles Williams, a Californian, competed for Arctic Blades Figure Skating Club. Following the 1960 Olympics, she married and had a daughter, Shelley, in June 1961. Nevertheless, U.S. figure skating officials asked her to resume training, in hopes she would represent the U.S. at the 1962 world championships.

“I was asked if I would come back and try to back the top five ladies at worlds, which was the ruling then, in order to have three people in the world competition the following year,” Roles Williams said. “I said yes without hesitation. I thought it was the least I could do for all of these people who had given their lives.”

Those lost on Feb. 15, 1961 live on in more than memories. Just one month after the crash, a group of U.S. Figure Skating trustees, including the association’s president F. Ritter Shumway, established the Memorial Fund as a tribute to the team.

“The underlying thought was to create a living and continuing memorial that would be of assistance to aspiring skaters, rather than to erect memorials built of marble to their memory,” said George, who as president of the U.S. Figure Skating Foundation manages the fund.

Noyes, just 12 in 1961 and the newly crowned U.S. novice champion, remembers raising funds at an exhibition at the old Boston Garden soon after the crash.

“After we skated, they gave us pins and badges, and we were asked to go up in the stands with a tin can,” she said. “We were going to be selling [the pins] in the stands to raise money for the Memorial Fund. This was the beginning.”

According to Barbara Reichert, senior director, external relations at U.S. Figure Skating, the Memorial Fund has grown to $20 million in assets, and has distributed $500,000 in skating and educational scholarships in both 2019 and 2020.

“Peggy Fleming was one of the first people to receive support, and she used some of that money to buy her first pair of competitive skates,” Reichert said. “I think she was 12 or 13 at the time. Imagine if she had not been able to get the equipment she needed; would she have been able to go on to become the (1968) Olympic champion?”

Current stars, including five-time U.S. champion Nathan Chen, receive Memorial Fund grants to assist with the enormous expense of international competition, including choreography, costumes, off-ice training and more.

“The majority of our top athletes receive money from the Memorial Fund; however, so many thousands of names that people don’t know, and may never know, or perhaps will know, also receive funds to help support their journey on the ice and their education off the ice,” Reichert said.

During the past several months, close to $75,000 has been raised from COVID-related efforts.

“When you see those cutouts of fans at Skate America or the U.S. Championships, all of the proceeds go to the Memorial Fund,” Reichert said. “When people and clubs buy the U.S. Figure Skating face masks, those proceeds go to the Memorial Fund.”

U.S. Figure Skating is also launching the inaugural Get Up Virtual 5K, presented by Guaranteed Rate. In this virtual event, participants will have the opportunity to skate, run, bike, walk, roll or complete the 5K distance any way they choose. Net proceeds will benefit the Memorial Fund. For more information, see the Get Up Virtual 5K registration site.

“All participants will have the same number on their bibs, 1961, which they will post on social media once they complete their version of the 5K,” Reichert said.

Current SC of Boston competitors, including Maxim Naumov, Alex Krasnozhon, Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov, and Hanna Harrell, listened to the panel discussion, then joined to share their thoughts about the 1961 world team.

“Hearing the story again from all of these people, to see how everyone shared their heart… it just shows how strong skating connections can be, and how we create an extended family with other skaters and coaches,” Krasnozhon said.

“They set an example for our generation, and we want to set an example for the future generations to come,” Lu said. “The Memorial Fund has benefited us, helping us move to Boston, be a part of the SC of Boston, train at the amazing facility, have more ice time. We’re so grateful to the Memorial Fund.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

FIBA Women's World Cup Basketball
Getty
0 Comments

SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
Getty
0 Comments

The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 71, Australia 69 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia vs. Canada Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA vs. China Gold-Medal Game