David Bruce: Competition Anecdotes

Early in his ice dancing career, Christopher Dean skated with Sandra Elson. Once, they won a bronze medal in Czechoslovakia, while Russian skater Andrei Bukin and his wife won the silver. After the medal-award ceremony, Mr. Bukin, who knew little English, came over to Mr. Dean and started pointing back and forth to the medals the two teams had won. At first, Mr. Dean thought he was being congratulated, but Mr. Bukin said, “No, no. Look. Is wrong.” He then looked closely at the medal he had been given, and he discovered that the judges had given out the medals incorrectly — he and his partner had the silver, and the Bukins had the bronze. They quickly exchanged medals, laughed, and shook hands. 

Called the Last Great Race on Earth, the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a race among sled dog teams through 1,049 miles of Alaskan wilderness and villages. After Libby Riddles became the first woman to win the race in 1985, and after Susan Butcher won it in 1986, 1987, and 1988, T-shirts appeared bearing the slogan: “Alaska. Where men are men and women win the Iditarod.” (Ms. Butcher received a lot of encouragement from native Alaskan women as she attempted to win the Iditarod — as she passed their villages, the women told her, “Do this for us.”) 

Size can be deceptive. At one time, important gymnasts were mostly grownups, not teenagers. When Rodney and Debbie Hill brought their Denver School of Gymnastics team, the Hill’s Angels, to compete in Romania, they were amazed that the Romanian teams appeared to consist of little girls. Debbie even considered not competing because she was an Olympian, and she wanted to make the competition more even. However, in the competition, Debbie won only the balance bean — 13-year-old Nadia Comaneci won the other three events.

When Kurt Thomas joined the Miami (Florida) Central Rockets high school gymnastics team as a freshman, the team was rated dead last out of 14 teams before the season started — but it went undefeated for the entire season. Remarkably, the team was number one despite horrible training conditions. Team members practiced gymnastics while other students played basketball around them. In addition, the team had only one mat which they had to drag from one piece of apparatus to another.

At the 1896 Olympic Games in Greece, American discus thrower Robert Garrett was an underdog — he hadn’t even trained with the proper equipment. In fact, he had someone make a discus for him using as a model a drawing of an ancient discus thrower. But when he handled his first real discus at the Olympic Games, he discovered that it was lighter than the discus he had been using. His training with a heavier discus paid off — he won first place.

Shannon Miller won gold as a member of the United States “Magnificent Seven” women’s gymnastics team in 1996 at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Ms. Miller says that the Magnificent Seven were so caught up in doing their routines as well as possible that they forgot about the other gymnasts. According to Ms. Miller, “We were so excited at the end when the results were known, we could hardly believe there was still a competitor on the beam!”

Early in his career, Farinelli sang an aria with a trumpet obbligato. Each night, there was a contest between Farinelli and the trumpet player. Farinelli and the trumpet player would take a deep breath, then Farinelli would sing a note accompanied by the trumpet player. Each night, the audience waited to see who would run out of breath first and lose the contest: Farinelli or the trumpet player. Each night, Farinelli won the contest.

In figure skating, there is much competition to get the best coach. The mother of a young figure skater once telephoned Frank Carroll, the coach of Michelle Kwan, at 2:30 a.m., although he was asleep and had to get up at 4:30 a.m. The skating mother explained, “I thought this was the only time that I could get through to you.” Mr. Carroll responded by living without a telephone for the next three years.

Figure skater Gary Beacom once felt that judge Kathy Casey had given him an unfairly low score at a competition, so he publicly skated over to her and handed her a dollar the next time he skated. He was satisfied with the result of his “bribe” — she gave him a higher score than she had the first time. Mr. Beacom jokes, “It does seem possible to bribe the judges, even in broad daylight.”

Soprano Helen Traubel and heldentenor Lauritz Melchior used to engage in a friendly rivalry each time they sang in an opera together. Mr. Melchior used to hold climatic notes as long as he could, and Ms. Traubel soon began to do the same thing. However, Mr. Melchior usually won their contests — even though to do so his face turned purple.

Early in his career, figure skater Michael Weiss also played hockey, and when the members of a rival hockey team teased him about being a figure skater, he challenged them to get a radar gun and find out who was fastest. Mr. Weiss defeated the members of the rival hockey team by achieving a speed of 22 miles an hour.

When she was a girl, Pat McCormick (who later won four Olympic gold medals as a diver) entered a pier-to-pier competition in which she swam from one pier to another pier placed two or three miles out into the ocean. She came in second — but there was only two swimmers in the competition.

In 1881, William Muldoon wrestled Clarence Whistler in a match that took nearly seven hours and ended in a draw. By 4 a.m., most of the spectators had left, so the promoter ended the match by simply turning out the lights.

The Canadians are serious about ice skating. They sometimes simulate competitions — complete with judges, camera flashes, and television cameras — to ready their skaters for the real thing.

In 1911, Ludowika Eilers of Germany and Walter Jacobsson of Finland won the world pairs skating championship — they were the only pairs team to show up.

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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