She was Canada’s Sweetheart.
Barbara Ann Scott, the only Canadian to win the Olympic women’s figure skating gold medal, died Sunday at the age of 84.
She died at her Amelia Island, Fla., home with her husband Tom King by her side. The cause of death is not known.
“Barbara Ann set the standard for generations of female athletes and women skaters who came after her,” said Skate Canada president Benoit 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.”
Her married name was Mrs. Thomas Van Dyke King, but most simply called her Barbara Ann.
She was a role model for young Canadian women in the late 1940s and early 1950s. She won the admiration of Canadians with her beauty and grace, on and off the ice, and she dazzled the world.
Scott won the Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada’s top athlete in 1945, 1947 and 1948. She was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955 and the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1991. She became an officer of the Order of Canada in 1991, was inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1997 and was named to Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1998.
In 2009, she carried the Olympic torch into the House of Commons on its journey to Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Games.
Scott was born in Ottawa in 1928 and began skating at age seven at the Minto Club.
She was only 12 when she won the national junior championship. She became, at age 13 in 1942, the first woman to land a double Lutz in competition. Coached by Otto Gold and by Sheldon Galbraith, she was national senior champion by the age of 15 and won the title three more times. She also was winning 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 Ottawa, children were let out of school and were among 70,000 admirers who lined the streets as she stood waving from a convertible as a band played Let Me Call You Sweetheart. 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.
It was in St. Moritz, Switzerland, at the 1948 Olympics on Jan. 31, 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 magazine, 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 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, 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. She was one of the first Canadians to carry the Olympic torch on its way to Calgary for the 1988 Winter Games.
An Ottawa arena is named after her.
Her last nationals were in Calgary in 1948, which is why she always looked forward to returning to that city.