Olympic Medal Upgrade Fifty Years in the Making

Which Color Is It!?

Back in 1964 at the Olympic Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria, my partner, Guy Revell, and I were competing against the skating super powers … West Germany’s defending World Champions Marika Kilius and Hans Jurgen-Baumler, the favorites, and the visionary Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, examples of the emerging pair skating movement coming out of the USSR.

Both those leading teams showed unique styles and excellent skating, the Germans with their glamorous Hollywood presence and the Russians with their magical and romantic artistry. Just watching each of the teams trying to out-maneuver the other to take control of the practice session was a ticket-worthy event all on its own!

That year Guy and I were considered “dark horses”.

With only two previous world championship outings on our resume, 1960 in Vancouver where I think we were second last and 1962 in Prague where we finished fourth. You may recall no competition was held in 1961 out of respect for the Prague bound US Team killed in a plane crash near Brussels.

When Worlds were held in Cortina, Italy in 1963, Guy and I were hoping to build on the previous year’s success and with a good performance show we had the stuff to be considered possible medal contenders for the Olympic Games just one year away. But after a disastrous fall while posing for photographers, my resulting facial paralysis and concussion forced us out of the event with team leaders sending us home early to deal with what might have been a career-ending injury for me. Fortunately the expert medical team at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto discovered that the paralysis was actually caused by internal hemorrhaging, a result of a hairline skull fracture not picked up at the small hospital in Cortina that dealt mostly with broken bones from skiing accidents.

All that background is to say, in the lead-up to the ’64 Games, nobody really knew who we were or what we could do. Remember … back then there was no Grand Prix Series and very few other international events where programs could be tested and judges could educate themselves. It was one 5:00 free skate that determined the 1964 Olympic Champions. (The Short Program was debuted that year at the World Championships in Dortmund, Germany.)

What the skating world did know was it was going to be a battle like no other. Change was in the air … and in the end, the traditional athletic razzle dazzle of the Germans could not fend off the new, fresh look and mesmerizing direction of the Protopopovs. The Russians claimed the gold medal in a 5/4 split … remember those? Guy and I were third to win the bronze medal and the dynamic US Pair team, Vivian and Ronald Joseph, settled for fourth.

It was a huge upset! But there was something else even more unsettling lurking beneath the on-ice event.

Rumor had it that the Germans were entertaining professional ice show offers prior to the Games, the ultimate taboo back in those days when the Olympic ideal was based on true amateurism. No money, no talk of money, no professional plans, no prize money, no government funding … we really did skate for the love of the sport.

Flash forward two years and out of the blue in 1966 Guy and I received a letter from either the ISU or the IOC … it’s a bit foggy after 50 years … saying that the German team had been disqualified. If we’d be so kind as to return our bronze medals, now to go to the Josephs, we would receive the Olympic silver medals. To say it was like winning the lottery would be an understatement!

And to my knowledge, for more than 20 years, that’s the way the placements stayed.

Suddenly in the late ‘80s, that all changed. Looking at the IOC official results, Kilius/Baumler were back listed as winning silver and Guy and I were once again in third place.

Although there was some scuttlebutt about what that meant, it was all speculation. Neither the CFSA (Skate Canada) nor Guy and I were ever informed of the change, however the biggest part of the mystery was we were never asked to return our silver medals. It was so weird and to tell you the truth, I began to feel a bit like an imposter. I still had the silver medal … but not according to the record books.

Over the next 25 years, nobody was able to get to the bottom of the story. Skate Canada, the USFSA, coaches, officials and the athletes involved all tried to find out exactly what happened. How could the German team be disqualified in 1966 only to reappear in the results some 20 years later?

A visit to Saint John, NB for the 2013 Skate Canada International was a turning point.

There I met Amy Rosewater, a freelance journalist writing for the New York Times. She was doing a pre Sochi story on the US team from 1964, in particular on Scotty Allen the men’s bronze medalist. There aren’t many of us around from that era so Barb MacDonald, Skate Canada’s Corporate Communications Director, suggested Amy speak with me about some of my Scotty recollections. We hit it off right away … had a great gab about my experience at the ’64 Games … which eventually led me to tell her the relatively unknown pair medal saga.

One week later, Amy phoned me at home to ask if I’d be willing to support her efforts to find out the details of the story. My response? “Of course … and may the force be with you.”

It took Amy two months and much probing to discover that the IOC did in fact conduct an investigation after Innsbruck and found evidence the German pair had indeed signed a pro contract during the Games, an action which led to their disqualification two years later.

But there’s more.

Apparently at the same time amateur rules were being enforced, there were political machinations going on in the background. Amy discovered this stunning revelation which she reported in the New York Times on December 13th/2013.

Willi Daume, a longtime German sports official, later said that had the (German) pair not returned their medals, it might have jeopardized Munich’s eventually successful bid for the 1972 Summer Games.

As for the remarkable placement turn-about in 1987, Amy followed up in the same December 13th/2013 NY Times article:

Prodded by two German members, the IOC quietly re-awarded the West Germans their silver medals in 1987, 23 years after the Innsbruck Games, at an executive board meeting in Istanbul. The couple was deemed “rehabilitated”.

Since then, although the record books have consistently shown confusing results and despite never notifying the countries involved, the IOC maintains it always intended that the silver medal would be shared between the pair teams from Canada and Germany.

And in one last note … it took another 11 months of Amy’s persistence before the change in placements was finally and official recognized on the IOC website. Silver for Canada and West Germany, bronze for the United States. That was November of 2014 … over 50 years after the competition.

So this week in Kingston if you see me wearing a rather large silver medallion around my neck, I hope you’ll understand.

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