The history of comebacks in figure skating
By Olga Fluegge,
special to World Figure Skating
Currently there is a real boom of comebacks in figure skating. Many famous and titled athletes decided to return into competitive sports. In this regard it will be interesting to look back to the history of skating comebacks.
One of the earliest and famous comebacks was certainly the return of Olympic champion Ulrich Salchow. In 1920 he tried to defend his title at the age of 42 years. After the compulsory figures (one of disciplines in old skating rules) he was on the 2nd place but fell colliding with a board in the free skate and finished 4th overall.
Another famous skater Werner Rittberger, the inventor of the loop jump, wanted to tempt fate again at the 1928 Olympics. He skated successfully in twenties, but as a German was not allowed to compete at Olympics in 1920 and 1924. Rittberger withdrew from the competition because of the 12th place he finished after compulsory figures.
The emergence of numerous and successful ice shows in the 30s years influenced the further development of figure skating. A skater needed about 10.000 USD per year to fund skating career. It was a big money in those days. Many skaters were forced to conclude preliminary contracts with ice shows to pay for trainings. The shows acted in self-interest as promoters of amateur figure skating. In subsequent years the amateur skating was short-lived because World and European champions had to “sell” well their titles and turn into professional career very early.
The prize money at the ISU Championships was very small compared to what could be earned in ice show. In early 90s the competitive figure skating loses its popularity; it became more technical and difficult. The quality of figure skating changed considerably. One of the reasons was the removing of compulsory figures from international competitions. They were skated for the last time in 1990.
The individual personality of the skater could not develop fully as it was earlier. Pro-competitions, galas and exhibitions were well attended unlike the amateur events. The 44th ISU Congress in Davos decided to return the eligibility to compete at amateur competitions for professional skaters by request.
Until the 1994 season ISU Board has accepted applications from 33 skaters. Many Olympic champions and medalists were among applicants: Katarina Witt, Brian Boitano, Viktor Petrenko, Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov and Jayne Torvill/Christopher Dean.
Only Gordeeva/Grinkov won another gold medals. Torvill and Dean won the bronze. Other champions failed to show the desired result. Petrenko placed fourth, Boitano sixth, Witt seventh respectively.
At the age of 30, with a sore knee, Brian Boitano took off 8 months of professional skating to prepare with his coach Linda Leaver for 1994 Olympics, which took place in Lillehammer, Norway. The time of preparation for the Olympics cost him about 1 million USD, which he could earn continuing to perform in ice shows. At the Olympics he did not come close to the podium after a big mistake in the sport program. He remembered he felt horrible then. Some of American skaters complained about his comeback, because he already had the moment of glory at 1988 Olympics, where Boitano took the gold medal.
Despite the fact that the comback to the competitive sport is a risky decision, many athletes go for it. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the true spirit of real competition can hardly be replaced by even the most modern ice show.