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Friends, peers recall fond memories of icon Scott

Canadian legend touched countless lives in her lifetime

Barbara Ann Scott conveyed an elegance and a dignity throughout her life.
Barbara Ann Scott conveyed an elegance and a dignity throughout her life. (Skate Canada Archives)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(10/03/2012) - Liz Manley was preparing for the biggest competition of her life, the Olympic Winter Games, which were being held in her home country, in Calgary, in 1988. Manley had been so ill leading up to the Games that there had even been some thought of her withdrawing.

But moments before she was set to compete, she was told that someone wanted to meet her. Manley was taken to a VIP area in the Saddledome and standing before her was none other than her lifelong idol, Barbara Ann Scott, the 1948 Olympic champion. If it had been almost anyone else, it might have been a distraction, but as Manley said, "It was just what the doctor ordered."

"I saw her and I literally fell on the backs of my heels," Manley said. "I mean, I skated in the Barbara Ann Scott Arena in Ottawa. She said, 'I'm such a big fan of yours,' and I was so overwhelmed. She was my idol.

"I do remember her telling me not 'Go out and win' but 'Enjoy the moment. Enjoy the spirit of the Games.' I think that inspiration and those words of encouragement were just what I needed at that time."

Manley, of course, went on to capture a silver medal in the 1988 Games -- 40 years after Scott claimed her gold -- and that memory of meeting Scott continues to be one of Manley's fondest. Manley even put a photo of the two of them from that meeting in a plastic bag and pinned it to her good-luck charm, a stuffed koala bear, and kept it close to her at the 1988 World Championships in Budapest, where Manley also took the silver.

Manley is far from the only skater who was touched by Scott, and many in the skating world, especially in Canada, are recalling their memories of Canada's lone Olympic singles skating champion in the wake of her death Sunday at her home on Amelia Island in Florida. Scott was 84.

The cause of her death remains unknown. A funeral has been set for Friday morning at the Bosque-Bello Cemetery in Fernandina Beach, Fla.

Manley could not help but know of Scott as a youngster skating in Canada, and for some time in Scott's hometown of Ottawa. She even recalled that her mom had a Barbara Ann Scott doll in the home when Manley was a young girl.

"I grew up wanting to be her," Manley said.

After Manley's breakthrough performance in Calgary, she and Scott appeared at several events together and, eventually, a friendship blossomed.

Now Manley hopes to carry on Scott's legacy of being a skating role model in Canada.

"She truly loved the sport and was such a class act," Manley said. "She was so much fun and lively, and I hope I can be looked at in the same way."

Peter Dunfield, who along with his wife, Sonya, coached Manley, was saddened to hear the news of Scott's death when reached by phone Tuesday at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho. Dunfield grew up training with Scott in Toronto.

"She was a generation ahead of me as a skater at the Toronto Skating Club," Dunfield said, "But she never forgot the developing group of skaters she trained with. She wanted us in the parade, and we got to ride in a car. I'll never forget that.

"There were thousands of people at that parade. I mean, thousands of people were there screaming for Barbara Ann Scott."

Scott became a huge star in Canada, gracing the cover of Time magazine, having a doll made in her image and even receiving a convertible with the license plate 48-VI, marking her 1948 victory in the sixth Winter Games.

Even though Scott had become the new skating queen, Dunfield said she remained true to her friends, noting that she still wanted to play tag with the younger skaters when she returned to the rink after her victory in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Scott's mother even had a special bond with the young skaters at the rink. Dunfield said the first time he qualified to compete at the world championships, Scott's mother came to his family's home.

"She gave me a $20 bill, which was a lot of money back then, to help with my expenses and to wish me good luck," Dunfield said.

Scott's victory at the Olympic Games was not her only skating claim to fame. She was just 10 when she became the youngest Canadian to pass the Gold Medal test and was the Canadian junior ladies champion in 1940. She went on to win the national title every year from 1944-48.

In 1947, she won her first world title and the European championship. She defended those titles in 1948. Following her victory in Prague at Europeans (coupled with that of Dick Button's win there that year), North Americans have never competed at Europeans since.

Scott was known mostly for her high-quality school figures but also had a classic free skating style.

"She loved figures," Dunfield said. "I often skated near her and looked at her patch. It looked like a mosaic."

In a nation where ice hockey is king and at a time when women were not considered in the same class as male athletes, Scott was named the winner of the Lou Marsh Trophy, given to Canada's Outstanding Athlete of the Year, on three occasions (1945, '47, '48). Only the great Wayne Gretzky won the trophy more times (four).

Not long after her Olympic win, Scott joined the professional ranks and performed in ice shows, succeeding the great Sonja Henie in the Hollywood Ice Revue. According to Skate Canada, her contract stipulated that a percentage of all her earnings from the show would benefit children with disabilities.

As a young girl, Carol Heiss (now Carol Heiss Jenkins) recalled meeting Scott during a show at the Dartmouth Winter Carnival. Heiss, who was a novice-level skater at the time, traveled on a small airplane along with her sister, Nancy, and their mother to perform in the show. Heiss said she and her sister were thrilled to share the ice with the Olympic champion.

"Barbara Ann had a special tent, and someone came by to tell us that she wanted to speak with us in her tent," Heiss said. "I was just in awe of her. She welcomed us and gave us both silver blade pins. I think I probably wore that pin for about 10 years."

Heiss went on to earn the silver medal at the Olympic Games in 1956 and the gold medal four years later in Squaw Valley, Calif. She and her husband, Hayes Jenkins, the 1956 Olympic champion, had planned to visit Scott and her husband in Florida next month.

"We became friends, exchanged Christmas cards for years," Heiss Jenkins said. "She was just a very, very good soul."

Karen Magnussen, who earned an Olympic silver medal at the 1972 Games in Sapporo, Japan, recalled meeting Scott shortly after reaching the senior skating scene when she was about 14. Magnussen went on to win a world title in 1973, following in the footsteps of Scott and another Canadian, Petra Burka, who won the world crown in 1965.

"Barbara Ann, Petra Burka and I called ourselves the 'Three Musketeers' since we were the only three women in Canada to have won the world championships," said Magnussen, who lives in Vancouver. "When we would meet at the Canadian championships, Hall of Fame or other skating events, we would laugh together and realize just how much we had in common and how lucky we were.

"The three of us would get together and would look forward to seeing each other at the next event," Magnussen continued. "It's just so sad now that she's gone. She was of an era when there was so much glamour in the sport, and she was just an elegant lady."

Although Scott was not overly active in skating in recent years, she remained one of the most popular skating icons in Canada. She was one of the first Canadians to carry the Olympic torch on its way to the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, the city where Scott won her last Canadian title.

She also carried the Olympic torch into the Canadian House of Parliament during the 2010 Games and was one of eight distinguished Canadians to carry the Olympic flag into the stadium during those Olympics.

During those Games in Vancouver, another Canadian skater named Joannie Rochette, captured the hearts of the nation when she earned the bronze medal just days after her mother died of a heart attack.

Rochette was getting ready to board a flight for Japan this week to skate in the Medal Winners Open when she reflected on Scott's death.

"Growing up, I always looked at Barbara Ann Scott as skating royalty," Rochette said. "She was like a dream for me and such an inspiration. I was lucky enough to have met Barbara Ann Scott several times. She was so kind, sweet, and made me believe in what I was doing as a skater. She is Canada's skating legend, and we will miss her very much."