SI Vault
E.M. Swift
February 21, 2011
Fifty years ago, a fiery plane crash destroyed an entire generation of U.S. figure skaters and some of the sport's most celebrated coaches, including a grande dame whose influence is still felt today
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February 21, 2011

"the Day The Music Stopped"

Fifty years ago, a fiery plane crash destroyed an entire generation of U.S. figure skaters and some of the sport's most celebrated coaches, including a grande dame whose influence is still felt today

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Gladstone remembers the time Maribel Jr. swore at her mother during a lesson. In front of everyone, Big Maribel forced her to kneel on the ice and ask for forgiveness from God. Another time Big Maribel was yelling so loudly at Laurence that Laurence jokingly put her fingers in her ears. Furious, Maribel chased her daughter around the rink, but Laurence, her fingers still in her ears, was too fast. She fled the ice and took refuge in the bathroom.

McGinnis remembers the tension escalating in the weeks leading up to the 1961 Nationals. "Every time I went to the house to go over her program, Laurence would run away from Mama and go upstairs," he says. "I'd follow her, and Laurence would read her poems to me. Poetry was her escape."

But if Big Maribel's style and standards in any way hindered Laurence's development, you couldn't prove it by her 1961 results. At the Nationals in Colorado Springs she came from behind to beat Stephanie Westerfeld at the Broadmoor Skating Club, Westerfeld's home rink. Laurence then upset four-time Canadian champion Wendy Griner to win the North American championships in Philadelphia just days before leaving for the worlds. She'd never looked better.

Neither Laurence nor Maribel Jr. had ever been to Europe. Now they were going as national champions. The only negative was that Grammy wouldn't be traveling to Prague with them.

She was afraid of flying.

Out of respect for the U.S. team, the 1961 world championships were canceled. It would be 1965 before a U.S. skater medaled again at the worlds.

A month after the crash, a benefit was held in Boston Garden for the 1961 World Figure Skating Team Memorial Fund, established in memory of those who had died. Among the performers were Button, Noyes, Griner and David Jenkins. Noyes sold skating badges for a dollar out of a coffee can while walking the aisles in her performing costume and skate guards. The Memorial Fund is still active, and over the years it has helped finance the development of thousands of young skaters, among them Fleming, Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi and Lysacek.

Carroll says he did not fully understand what he and skating had lost with Big Maribel's death until he was coaching Fratianne in the 1970s. "I couldn't ask Maribel things like why [Linda's] rocker was pointing the wrong direction when she landed a jump," Carroll says. "I remember bursting out crying when that dawned on me." Now 72, Carroll still cries whenever he's interviewed about the crash. In February 2010 he coached Lysacek to the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver, the first of his long, distinguished career.

Ludington became America's top pairs coach, and under his tutelage Peter and Kitty Carruthers won silver in the 1984 Olympics, the highest placement ever for a U.S. pairs team. Ludington still coaches at the ice center built for him in Newark, Del.

Fleming, her ascendency accelerated by the sudden vacuum at the top, won the first of her five U.S. titles in 1964, at age 15, edging out Noyes. A year later she began training at Broadmoor under Carlo Fassi, who was hired to fill the void created by the death of Scholdan. In 1966, at 17, Fleming became the first U.S. skater since the crash to win a world championship, and two years later she was the first since the tragedy to win Olympic gold. Her performance was televised live and in color by ABC, also a first. It was the only gold won by the U.S. team at the '68 Games, and Fleming's popularity transcended the sport. Pretty and graceful, she ushered in the television age of figure skating. Fassi also coached Dorothy Hamill to a gold medal, in 1976, in Innsbruck, Austria. The tradition continued, but apart from 1991, when American women swept the podium at the worlds, the U.S. would never be as dominant in skating as it had been before the crash. A U.S. man would not win an Olympic gold medal until Hamilton in '84.

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