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Figure Skating

Canadian figure skating legend Barbara Ann Scott dies

Barbara Ann Scott, the only Canadian to win an individual gold medal in Olympic figure skating, died Sunday. She was 84.

'Canada's Sweetheart' won gold at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics

Barbara Ann Scott, the only Canadian to win an individual gold medal in Olympic figure skating, died Sunday. She was 84.

She died at her Amelia Island, Fla., home with her husband Tom King by her side, according to Skate Canada.

"Canada's Sweetheart" won gold at the 1948 St. Moritz Olympics. Wearing a hand-sewn, cream-coloured fur dress, she won seven of the nine first-place votes and took home the top prize despite skating on an ice surface riddled with holes and ruts, thanks to two morning hockey games.

'Source of inspiration'

"What can you say except that Barbara Ann Scott was a sports legend and a source of inspiration for so many," CBC Sports figure skating writer Pj Kwong said late Sunday. "As gracious and charming off the ice as she was fiercely competitive on the ice, she was one of a kind and will be sorely missed."

The Ottawa native won the world championship in 1947, and nearly had her amateur status revoked after she received a convertible as a gift for her accomplishment. After much wrangling, the car was returned, and she defended her title the following year.

Scott won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete in 1945, 1947 and 1948.

"The Canadian Olympic Committee joins the rest of Canada in mourning the death of Olympic champion Barbara Ann Scott," Canadian Olympic Committee president Marcel Aubut said in a statement Monday. "Ms. Scott’s grace and humility put her in a class of her own. Her accomplishments will never be forgotten as she has paved the way for generations of figure skaters.

"...This is a tremendous loss to the sporting community and indeed to the entire country. We send our deepest condolences to her husband Tom, her family, friends and loved ones. Our thoughts and prayers are with them as they mourn their loss."

She was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 1955. In 1991, she was named an officer of the Order of Canada and inducted into the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

"Barbara Ann set the standard for generations of female athletes and women skaters who came after her," said Skate Canada president Benoît Lavoie in a statement. "The discipline and focus that she learned early in her career were the foundation of her success, as Canadian, North American, European, World and Olympic Champion.

The Barbara Ann Scott Doll, made after her 1948 Winter Games triumph at St. Moritz, Switzerland, remains a prized possession of admirers and collectors alike. She was honorary chair of the 2006 world championships in Calgary and her autograph was the most coveted by fans of the sport during her visit.

"She remained so connected to the sport, and to Canada after her own career was over," said Lavoie. "Every time she attended our events, she inspired our skaters and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

"We extend our sincere sympathy to her husband Tom, her family, and her friends. She will be sadly missed by the international skating community and by her many fans worldwide."

Just call her Barbara Ann

Her married name was Mrs. Thomas Van Dyke King, but most simply called her Barbara Ann.

Scott was one of the first Canadians to carry the Olympic torch on its way to Calgary for the 1988 Winter Games and she carried the torch into the House of Commons in December 2009 to a standing ovation as part of the run-up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

"I can't tell you what a thrill this has been," she said at the time. "Imagine, an 81-year-old gal being invited to carry the torch into the Parliament buildings."

Scott was born in Ottawa in 1928 and began skating at the Minto Club when she was seven.

She was only 12 when she won the national junior championship. In 1942, she became the first woman to land a double Lutz in competition — at the age of 13.

Coached by Otto Gold and Sheldon Galbraith, she was national senior champion by the age of 15 and won the title three more times. She also won North American championships, and by the time she was 17 she was posing for renowned photographer Yousuf Karsh.

Ottawa friends raised enough money to send Scott, her mother and a coach to the 1947 European championships in Davos, Switzerland, and the world championships in Stockholm. She won both titles.

Upon her return to Canada, children were let out of school and were among the 70,000 admirers who lined the streets of Ottawa. She was given the key to the city and a new yellow convertible but returned it after Avery Brundage, president-elect of the International Olympic Committee, said she'd lose her Olympic eligibility by accepting the gift.

She won the European title again in 1948 in Prague. The rules were then changed to allow only Europeans to enter.

Greatest win

It was in St. Moritz, Switzerland, at the 1948 Olympics, where she posted her greatest win — in difficult circumstances. The ice at the outdoor venue was chewed up by hockey players and the temperature just above freezing when rink attendants removed the hockey boards and decided to resurface the ice. A slushy mess greeted the figure skaters after the sun rose.

Scott revised her four-minute program because of the poor ice. She did one double loop instead of three at the beginning and ended with three double Salchows instead of the double loops original choreographed. Her bright blue eyes glittering, she emerged victorious.

"When you have to skate outside in the elements, you tend not to worry about the small stuff," she said at the time.

Two forwards from the Ottawa RCAF Flyers team, who had won the hockey gold medals, hoisted her on their shoulders and the photo was distributed around the world.

"Beauteous Barbara Ann Scott, Canada's sparkling ballerina on the ice, won the women's figure skating championships before 7,000 dazzled admirers who hailed her performance as superior to Sonja Henie's best as an amateur," the New York Daily News reported.

She went on to Davos to win another world championship. She was 19 and she'd won the European, world and Olympic titles in a six-week period. She returned home a hero, and she finally got that convertible. The personalized licence plate read 48-VI, signifying her triumph at the 1948 sixth Winter Olympics.

Prime Minister Mackenzie King lauded her success as a factor in helping her fellow Canadians persevere through the era's post-war gloom. Her face graced the cover of Time, and the Reliable Toy Company created a doll in her image.

She left the competitive scene and skated in ice shows for the next five years, succeeding Henie as the feature performer in the Hollywood Ice Revue. Her contract stipulated that a percentage of all her earnings go to aid crippled children.

She grew tired of living out of a suitcase and gave it all up at age 25 and in 1955 married Thomas Van Dyke King, who was the publicity agent for her touring show. They settled in Chicago.

Scott turned her attention to raising show horses and became one of the top-rated equestriennes in the United States.

She appeared in television commercials, authored two books, ran a beauty salon for a time and was a director of a summer theatre. She remained involved in figure skating as a judge at competitions and often returned to Canada as an honoured guest at sport and charity events.

With files from

Broadcast Partners