Thursday, July 23, 2009

Frozen in Time by Nikki Nichols

Title: Frozen in Time: The Enduring Legacy of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team
Author: Nikki Nichols
ISBN: 9781578603343, Clerisy Press, 2009
Genre: Non-Fiction
Rating: A

First Line: Laurence Owen bounded through the hallways of the Broadmoor Ice Palace sporting a luminous grin as she shook the fresh coating of snow off her boots.

The U.S. Figure Skating team was at the pinnacle of the sport in 1961 as 18 skaters, their family members and coaches boarded the plane for Prague and the World Championships. They never reached their destination. The plane crashed, and all on board were killed.

This book is a reverential look back by competitive figure skater and journalist Nikki Nichols. The focus is on the top two women skaters, Laurence Owen and her rival, Stephanie Westerfeld. Both faced a tremendous amount of pressure. Owen's mother, Olympic skater Maribel Owen was the most famous woman skater of her day. Maribel worked both her daughters (Laurence's sister Mara was a pairs skater) endlessly in order for them to achieve glory. Far from the Owens' turf in New England, Myra Westerfeld was doing the same thing with her daughters, Sherri and Stephanie, at the Broadmoor in Colorado. Laurence and Stephanie finished first and second in the U.S. Championships and were expected to do great things in the World Championships. Laurence graced the cover of Sports Illustrated on the day she died.

Nichols also goes into the history of the sport. Maribel's nemesis was Sonja Henie, the most famous figure skater in the world, who won many championships and starred in Hollywood movies. My mother fell in love with figure skating watching those movies, and she passed her love of the sport on to me. Nichols' overview of the sport's history was an important part of the book, and I needed the refresher course, not only on the history, but on those dreaded school figures and the partisan judging that seems to have always been a part of who wins and who loses.

Anyone who reads this book looking for juicy scandals will find none. What they will find is history, rivalry, and a national sport that was brought to its knees by a terrible tragedy. That the USFSA was back on top in 1968 when Peggy Fleming won the Olympic gold is an amazing feat.

Any fan who loves the sport of figure skating should enjoy this book.


  1. This sounds like a really good read. I love figure skating but really haven't read much about this tragedy.

  2. Alyce--I remember sportscasters making mention of it during the '68 Olympics, but I really didn't know what they were talking about. It was nice to be able to read this book and fill in all the gaps.

  3. I vaguely remember the talk about the plane crash during the 68 games. Sounds like a book that I'd like.

  4. Beth--I really didn't begin following figure skating until Peggy Fleming's Olympic gold. Since then I've seen Fleming skate (absolutely divine!), as well as Torvill and Dean and many other champions. They're magic!


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