I’m sure you’ve been glued to your tellys this week, watching the Olympic figure skating events. Even though I’m partial to Canadian skaters, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everyone’s performance and have an ever-growing crush on Jason Brown… Mr. Smiles-On-Skates, what’s not to love?
I categorically refuse to give my take on all the performances thus far, as I’m writing this in between the short dance and the free dance. And, I am also not going to join the legions of journalists and bloggers who lament the demise of the 6.0 System and how figure skating is dying. Nor will I rant on about any of the current conspiracy theories: there are lots of people who continue to beat that dead horse.
Instead, how about a figure skating judging controversy that took place in Russia and pre-dated the Salt Lake City Olympics by 112 years? It involved someone who was a founding father of figure skating in both Canada and the International Skating Union.
Louis Rubenstein, born in 1861, was one of Max and Leah Rubenstein’s 12 children. Max and Leah had emigrated from Poland in 1850 to Montreal, Canada to establish a brass and silver plating business. Somewhere in between going to school and learning the family trade, young Louis had time to become a top local figure skater at age 16 and North American Champion when he was in his mid-twenties.
In 1890, he became the first North American Champion to compete at a World Championship in St. Petersburg. Because he was a Jew, the police detained him, confiscated his passport and pressured him to leave the country. Having expected such harassment from an anti-Semitic government, Rubenstein wisely obtained an introductory letter from Lord Stanley (yes, he of hockey’s Stanley Cup), who was Canada’s Governor-General (ie Queen Victoria’s representative for my non-commonwealth readers) and a fan, before setting out to Russia.
The British Ambassador in Russia intervened on Rubenstein’s behalf, he was not sent to Siberia and was permitted to participate.
However, he still had an up-hill battle. For one thing, the competition was held outdoors and Rubenstein only ever practiced indoors. (Montreal had one of the first indoor ice surfaces in the world, but that’s a story for another time.) He also discovered that he would be expected to display his jumping and spinning prowess… when all he had ever practiced were figures. These figures were not the serpentines and eights that some of us adult figure skaters have a dim memory of, but rather all the fancy figures, shapes and flowers for which figure skating was named.
He won. Then, he had his title removed, and then restored. He returned to Montreal and never skated competitively again.
He was way too busy founding the Canadian Figure Skating Association (now Skate Canada), becoming a founding member of the International Skating Union, serving on several local athletic associations, working in the family business, and traveling around the world several times.
In his spare time, he excelled at curling, hockey and cycling, ran for election and became an immensely popular city councilor, occasionally replacing the mayor.
He died in 1931. A memorial fountain was built in his honor and still stands today, on a very busy Montreal street corner.
He was a true champion in all aspects of his life and a role model for all of us. What figure skaters do you know of, who have gone on to great things following their retirement from the competitive world?
Want to know more?