Scott, Barbara Ann (1928—)
Scott, Barbara Ann (1928—)
Canadian figure skater who won the North American, European, and World championships and a gold medal at the 1948 Olympic Games. Born on May 9, 1928, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Clyde Scott (military secretary to Canada's Minister of Defense) and Mary Scott; attended the Ottawa Normal Model School until age nine and received private tutoring; married Tommy King (a press agent), on September 17, 1953; no children.
Began skating at age of six; was Canadian Junior Ladies' champion (1939), Canadian Senior Women's champion (1944–48), North American champion (1945–48), European and World champion (1947–48); at 19, won Ladies' Figure Skating gold medal at Olympic Games, St. Moritz, Switzerland (February 6, 1948); was the first Canadian woman to win the Lou Marsh Trophy as best Canadian athlete (1945, 1947, 1948); was a professional skater (1949–54); published autobiography, Skate With Me (1950); upon retirement, began training horses and was rated among the top equestrians in the U.S.; made an Officer of the Order of Canada (1991); inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame (1997).
In the first half of the 20th century, Canadian women had not achieved celebrity when it came to the world of sports. All that changed on February 6, 1948, when a 5'3", 105-pound dynamo named Barbara Ann Scott captured the women's Olympic figure skating championship in St. Moritz, Switzerland. "From one end of Canada to the other there is great rejoicing," cabled
Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to 19-year-old Scott, who had made a clean sweep of the highest titles in her sport, the Olympic, European, and World championships.
Born on May 9, 1928, in Ottawa, Ontario, Barbara Ann Scott grew up during the Great Depression, but appears to have enjoyed a privileged upbringing. As a youngster, she excelled in swimming, golf, and horse riding, but skating became her passion. Having received her first pair of skates as a Christmas present at age six, she began serious training three years later, already intent on becoming the world's greatest figure skater. To accommodate their determined daughter, the Scotts rescheduled her life to include private academic tutoring and long hours at the rink at Ottawa's Minto Club. Scott's father Clyde, a disabled veteran of World War I who worked in the Division of Veterans' Affairs, had considerable impact on his daughter's early life. He encouraged her natural athletic abilities, while instilling in her perseverance and self-reliance. "The main lessons my father taught me were those of sportsmanship and of self-help," said Scott. Her mother Mary Scott also did her part, keeping her daughter grounded. "I told her that her ambition was fine, but if she ever displayed temperament, her skating was finished," said Mary.
To learn to skate well … [y]ou must like the quiet concentration of long practice sessions on a gloomy, shadowy old rink when no one speaks and the only sounds are the grind of a skate on a rough bit of surface.
—Barbara Ann Scott
At age ten, Scott became the youngest skater ever to win first place for passing eight tests in basic school figures, the standard ice routines which are judged by tracings left on the ice. Her high standing in the tests spurred her to enter the Canadian Junior Ladies' championship in Ottawa the following year, which she won on the strength of her precise execution of figures. Following her win, she was taken to tea by Olympic champion Sonja Henie .
By now, Scott's courage and grace were becoming evident, and reporters vied for interviews. Once, several arrived at her house for a 6:30 pm mini-press conference, only to find the skater tucked in bed. Before turning out the light, she recounted her "normal" day, which included music lessons, school work, and seven hours of skating. "Good skating takes up much of your life," she told the media, adding that she was determined to keep "busy" and not "fritter" her life away.
In 1940, skating with early symptoms of measles, Scott reached fifth place in the North American championship competition, and a year later she was runner-up in the Canadian Senior Ladies' championship. But that year, Clyde Scott died suddenly, and Mary and Barbara were left not only emotionally bereft but somewhat strapped for money. The loss only made Barbara more determined, and she managed to keep up her full-day training schedule. She finally won the Canadian Senior Ladies' championship in 1944, then defended her title successfully in 1945. That March, she also won the North American Figure Skating title in New York, beating out U.S. champion Gretchen Merrill and six other contenders. "It was the spectacular display of youthful skating exuberance by Miss Scott which carried her to victory," wrote Harry Cross in the New York Herald Tribune. "Little Miss Scott performed three graceful loop jumps in swift succession and went into the air freely in Salchow and Lutz leaps, varying her display with dizzy spins, all skated with a fast, perfectly balanced pace … and graceful repose." For her effort, Canada presented her with the Lou Marsh Memorial Trophy as the country's outstanding athlete of 1945, an award never before given to a woman. She would receive the trophy again in 1947 and 1948.
The year 1947 marked Scott's debut into international competition. That February, she won the Women's European Figure Skating championship at Davos Platz, Switzerland, and two weeks later, in Stockholm, she bested Merrill once more to become the first Canadian woman to win the Women's World Figure Skating championship. Following her European and World victories, she sailed home on the Queen Elizabeth and was greeted on arrival with more exuberance than was given the British royal family in 1939. She received keys to six Canadian cities, life memberships in six skating clubs and two flying clubs, a number of Canadian medals, and the key to the prestigious Men's Press Club in Toronto (which she later wore for luck while competing in the Olympics). Another gift, a canary-colored Buick convertible presented to her by the mayor of Ottawa, her hometown, became a source of controversy. By accepting such an expensive present, Scott found her amateur status threatened, as was her dream of competing in the Olympics. Following a protest from Avery Brundage, chair of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), and the ensuing debate among sports columnists and even members of the Canadian Parliament, she returned the car. (After she won the Olympic medal, Ottawa's mayor again presented her with the car, now painted blue.)
In the summer of 1947, Scott embarked upon a grueling training schedule with coach Sheldon Galbraith to prepare for Olympic competition, devoting seven or more hours a day to executing figures and perfecting her routine. By her estimate, over the years she had put in a total of 20,000 hours of practice. For her final round of training, she arrived early in St. Moritz, hoping to acclimatize to the high altitude well in advance of the Winter Games.
When the competition finally got under way, Scott, wearing number 13 which she considered lucky, was called upon to execute her school figures on a succession of warm days, which made for watery ice conditions. Despite the poor ice and the encroachment of eager press photographers, she made no errors, maintaining a concentration which her fellow skaters admired and reporters extolled. The free-skating portion of the Olympic program proved equally as challenging as the figures. Without Zamboni machines to groom the ice, the surface was so full of holes and ruts from a preceding hockey game that Scott was forced to mentally revise her program while waiting her turn to perform. Nevertheless, dressed in a white fur-trimmed outfit, she turned in a flawless performance described by one reporter as "a dazzling exhibition of grace and beauty that left her rivals nowhere." Scott shared the Olympic podium with Eva Pawlik of Austria and Jeanette Altwegg of Great Britain, the silver and bronze medalists, respectively.
Following her Olympic win, Scott received a new round of honors and awards, including an audience with Princess Elizabeth (II ) at Buck-ingham Palace and a commemorative doll fashioned in her image by American doll designer Bernard Lipfert and manufactured by the Reliable Toy Company. The doll, the first ever in the image of an athlete, was provided with a new costume each year, in the same manner as the later Barbie doll, and is now a collectors' item.
On June 1, 1948, Barbara Ann Scott turned professional, announcing that a portion of her earnings would be given to the newly formed St. Lawrence Foundation, a "charitable organization for crippled and underprivileged children." During her early professional career, Scott skated at the Roxy Theater in New York, and performed an exhibition tour of Canada. Between 1949 and 1954, she performed with the Ice Capades and the Hollywood Ice Revue, keeping up an arduous schedule of constant travel. "I hate living out of a suitcase," she told reporters. "Some time I want to marry and have children, and I believe that should be organized economically, tidily, and exactly, like Olympic skating or anything else."
Scott retired from skating in 1955 to marry press agent Tommy King, whom she met when he was working for the Hollywood Ice Revue. The couple moved to Chicago, where King became an executive with the Merchandise Mart and Scott pursued various sports and business activities, including the Barbara Ann Scott Beauty Salon, located in a Chicago suburb. In her mid-40s, she became a top equestrian, winning some 64 ribbons and 21 first places in 1966 alone. She also golfed and flew her own plane, having received her pilot's license in 1947.
Known as "Canada's Sweetheart," Barbara Ann Scott remains the only Canadian woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating and is still connected to the skating world, serving as a judge at professional competitions. In 1991, she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 1997 she was inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame.
Current Biography 1948. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1948.
Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of …? 2nd series. NY: Crown, 1968.
Moore, Cay. She Skated Into Our Hearts. Toronto, Canada: McClelland & Stewart, 1948.
Scott, Barbara Ann. Skate With Me. NY: Doubleday, 1950.
Prentice, Alison, et al. Canadian Women: A History. Toronto, Canada: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.