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Tenley Albright, the legendary flagbearer of American golden age

Updated on November 25, 2014

Tenley Albright: A pioneer of free skating

To Carol Heiss, one of greatest champions of all time, there was a mountain like figure who she couldn't overcome during her career.

That was the legendary Tenley Albright.

Heiss was never without the shadow of Albright.

Having long waited as second in command to Albright, only when Albright was about to retire, Heiss took over the post from her long time role model.

Albright was the first U.S. champion who opened up the golden age of Pax America, but more importantly, Albright was a skater whose technical proficiency contributed to establishment of free skating in ladies figure skating.

In other words, it was Tenley Albright's time when the format of free skating became an integrated routine for the first time.

And it was her technical proficiency that made it possible.

If you look at Albright's moves on ice and compare them to the current skaters', you will notice it immediately.

1951 World Chapionships with Jacqueline du Bief


Here is another great skater, Jacqueline du Bief in the 1951 Worlds.

Jacqueline du Bief is the 1952 World champion, the 1952 Olympic bronze medalist and the French national champion in 1947-1952.

You can tell difference between free skating in the 1951 Worlds and Albright's routine and moves.

Prior to Albright, free skating was a combined demonstration of several elements without contextual integration. They were just juxtaposed together.

But Tenley Albright's free skating was an integrated routine, the kind of free skating we know it today.

Tenley Albright in 1954

In a time when Albright reigned, figure skating was in a classic form, that is, compulsories-defined sport.

Skaters were expected to be more proficient in compulsories and those who did well in compulsories eventually would win the game.

This tradition would survive up to the 1990s.

What is important, however, in relation to modern figure skating is technical development and format of figure skating.

If in a historic sense, everything we know about classic ladies figure skating was complete with Peggy Fleming, Albright was the skater who made it possible.

It is fair to say that free skating, as an integrated routine, started with Tenley Albright.

In other words, Tenley Albright was a skater who first demonstrated a routine of free skating technically synchronized and integrated as a complete format that is independently established from compulsories.

Before Albright, skaters' free skating was just to throw several elements in variety.

Tenley Albright in 1953

Technicality line of legends?

Today's skaters' moves can't go beyond Peggy Fleming.

In other words, all moves you can see in skaters were actually conceived and done in Peggy Fleming.

For example, a popular combination routine of spread eagle and double axel today was done by Peggy Fleming.

And double axel in ladies figure skating had been explored in the time of both Albright and Heiss, and refined and completed by Peggy Fleming.

Such a technique has passed down all the way to Yuna Kim. Especially if you look at Yuna Kim's double axel, it's remarkably Fleming's.

The legend's genealogy in technicality's side starts with Tenley Albright, through Carol Heiss, Peggy Fleming, Janet Lynn, and Dorothy Hamill, and ends all the way with Yuna Kim.

We can speculate about triple axel. Midori Ito started, and Tonya Harding and many others challenged the technique, and Mao Asada was the latest one who included triple axel.

But technicality of triple axel hasn't completed despite its long history. Midori Ito's triple axel was a novelty, but came short of the ideal of ladies figure skating. Miki Ando did even quad but it has nothing to do with her skating.

So technically we are still living in the time of double axel and other triples.

Tenley Albright in 1956

What's important in Albright's skating was her skating was the very beginning of technical evolution of modern figure skating.

If you look at Albright's moves and her agility, you can tell her technical proficiency might even go beyond Fleming.

Albright's body moves were actually equivalent of modern day skaters.

When you appreciate skater of old times, you need to bear in mind two things aside from definition of the sport.

First is equipment. Think how good skating boots could be 60 years ago. There wasn't much benefit from sport science at that time as today's skaters enjoy .

Second is how skaters view jumps in their performances.

Figure skating is a sport of edge skills from the beginning. As the sport evolved, various elements came in to become parts of the discipline. Among them, jumps have become the most important element.

However, the importance of jump was not recognized in the early figure skating, especially before the 1970s.

Your "figures" could be perfectly drawn based on balance and stability by edge skills. Jump had almost nothing to do with that.

Back then, it wasn't a medal ceremony!

But it's something genuine and dignified, unlike today's fraudulent skating embedded institutional lies and audacity.


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