Today marks the 50th anniversary of the crash of Sabena Flight 548, which killed the entire US delegation en route to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships. The sudden deaths of an entire generation of figure skating coaches, skaters and officials remains one of the greatest tragedies in sport and changed the world of figure skating forever.
The story of the team will be featured in RISE, but it is important to remember them for their skating and not just how they influenced Evan Lysacek and provided a cosmic connection for Michelle Kwan.
Maribel Vinson Owen was the most known member of the delegation killed en route to the World Championships. She was a nine-time US National Champion in singles and a six-time winner in pairs (with two different partners.) She was the bronze medalist at the 1932 Olympic Games (behind Sonja Henie) and finished fifth in the world in pairs. She was North American Champion in both singles and pairs. She was the silver medalist at the 1928 World Championships in singles. While competing in the 1930s, Maribel became the first female sportswriter for the New York Times. A graduated of Radcliffe College, she published several books about figure skating and the art of learning the sport. It is her stern influence that has led Frank Carroll to strive for excellence, as he knows she is always watching and judging his students and his teaching. Frank has said that he hopes Maribel Vinson Owen approves of Michelle Kwan's skating. Maribel coached Tenley Albright to Olympic Gold in 1956 and Frank Carroll finally coached an Olympic Champion last year.
By winning the 1961 US Nationals, Laurence Own was believed to be the successor to Tenley Albright and Carol heiss. Coach by her mother Maribel, much was expected of Laurence. Sports Illustrated even featured Laurence on its cover the week before the crash (perhaps a skatenastics curse given what happened to Kristie Phillips' career after being named 'The New Mary Lou' and Ivan Ivankov's Olympic woes after being painted gold on the cover of its Olympic Preview.)
Though she had a few jump errors, Laurence's overall skating skills and movement are superb. Laurence went on to win the North American Figure Skating Championships two weeks later. She was already expected to become the favorite for the 1964 Olympic Games.
Maribel Vinson Owen was a controlling mother who demanded that her children value her education. Maribel was furious with Frank Carroll for entering Hollywood and not immediately entering Harvard. Laurence Own planned to enroll in Radcliffe College and hoped to become a writer. Following her death, Laurence's teachers read the closing lines of a poem she wrote short before her death at a memorial service:
Laurence's main domestic rival was Stephanie Westerfeld.
Maribel Owen and Dudley Richards were the 1961 US National Pairs Champions. The first child of Maribel Vinson and Guy Owen, Maribel was known as 'Maribel Jr.' Eight years Maribel's senior, Dudley was a childhood friend of the Kennedy family and a longtime friend and college roommate of Ted Kennedy. Dudley once skated pairs with Tenley Albright (also coached by Maribel Vinson Owen) before teaming up with Maribel.
Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce were the 1961 US National Dance Championships.
Rhode Lee Michelson was third at the 1961 National Championships and landed double axels, which was in impressive fete for her day.
Donna Lee Carrier and Roger Campbell won silver in ice dance at the 1961 Nationals.
Clips from the 1961 North American Championships. The second skater shown is Stephanie Westerfeld and the third is Laurence Owen.
CBS aired a fitting tribute to the 1961 Team at the 1992 Olympic Games: