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Canadian star joins illustrious judging panel

July 30, 2015
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Don Jackson is a man of many accomplishments: Canadian National Championship titles, a world title, an Olympic bronze medal and the first person to land a triple lutz jump to win the 1962 World Championships in Prague.

Jackson had a long and successful pro career, and even created Jackson figure skates, which is a brand still used by figure skaters of all ages and levels.

Now, he will add "figure judge" to his list of accomplishments, when he serves in that capacity at the inaugural World Figure Championship Aug. 28-29 in Lake Placid.

Article Photos

Canadian skater Don Jackson poses for a photo during his competitive skating career.
Photo courtesy of Don Jackson

As a judge, Jackson will join many other illustrious figures in the sport, including Olympic gold medalist Trixi Schuba, Olympic bronze medalist Janet Lynn and many other skating celebrities at the competition.

Skating stars like Kurt Browning, Sandy Lenz, Charlene Wong and Shepard Clark and others will be competing for the title of world figure champion.

In addition to the championship, there will be a Figure Festival that will allow skaters of all ages and levels to participate in and learn figures from the best in the sport. During the Figure Championship & Festival event there will be cultural events taking place as well, including art exhibitions, autograph signings, guided tours and the screening of never-before-seen performances by Olympic pair skating legends Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov.

Jackson might find his involvement in a figure championship amusing, as he will be the first to admit that his path to skating stardom was not easy. Jackson initially struggled with school figures, before becoming one of the most legendary Canadian figure skaters of all time.

"I tried my first test one, two, three, four times and he (coach Ede Kiraly) told my mother not to worry as he knew what he was doing and I was on the right track. I passed my test on the seventh try and because of that I only took four tries to pass my second test," Jackson said. "I don't know how my parents continued, as most parents by now would have pulled their child out of skating. I guess they could see I loved skating and trusted Ede's advice. Thank goodness for that!"

Jackson started skating in his hometown of Oshawa, Ontario, and found an excellent coach in Ede (pronounced like "Eddie") Kiraly, a talented Hungarian figure skating champion. Kiraly won silver at the 1948 Olympic Games and was world pairs champion and world men's silver medalist in 1949.

"My early years of skating I was fortunate to have a coach who was a world pairs champ and runner-up to Dick Button in the men's singles event in 1948," Jackson said. "The Oshawa Skating Club president (Richard McLaughlin) was a world judge in figure skating and offered Ede a job teaching skating when Ede decided to not return to Hungary."

Despite not knowing his credentials initially, Jackson's mother enrolled him in lessons with the master skater.

"No one in Oshawa knew Ede, but my mother signed me up without knowing his coaching ability. That's how much we knew about skating," Jackson said. "Within a week of his arriving at the Oshawa Skating Club he was solidly booked for lessons. We made an excellent choice."

School figures were difficult for even the best skaters, as they required absolute precision and control. For lighter skaters, the challenge was greater, as it was more difficult to see the tracings on the ice and therefore evaluate which improvements could be made. Jackson struggled with this for several years.

"I was very light and unable to see my tracings on the ice," Jackson said. "Ede was not interested in the tracings and worked on my control of the body over the edge and flowing edge."

Steadily Jackson's figures improved, as was required. At that time, figures accounted for 60 percent of a skater's score; figure skating then was about mastering the fine techniques of figures while also completing the jumps and spins required in the freestyle events. Therefore, Jackson had to be proficient in both to win his many championships.

The first major event Jackson placed at was the 1956 Canadian Figure Skating Championships where he took second, an accomplishment he would repeat in 1957 and 1958. From 1959 to 1962 he was the Canadian national champion.

At the 1960 Olympics, Jackson competed against the best skaters in the world, including American David Jenkins. Jackson's coach at the time was three-time Olympic pairs skating medalist Pierre Brunet, perhaps best known for coaching various champions like Scott Hamilton and Carol Heiss Jenkins.

Brunet accompanied both Heiss Jenkins and Jackson to the Olympics.

"It was difficult for him to be in two places at the same time," Jackson said. Therefore, Canadian team coach Sheldon Galbraith watched out for Jackson at his practices if Brunet could not be present.

Jackson's memory of the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, California is a particularly stressful one, as a schedule re-shuffling almost caused him to miss his warm-up session.

"I was in the dressing room, putting on my skates and an official came running in and said I should be on the ice, my warmup had begun," Jackson said. "I hurried, got on my warmup fast as I was scheduled to skate first after the warm up. All I could think of was where was my coach and why didn't I know of the change. After the warmup I was waiting for my name to be announced and to my surprise another skaters was announced to take the ice. This gave me six minutes to cool down and concentrate on my skating. What had happened was a skater in my group had been injured so a skater from the previous group was moved down to my group of skaters. I always checked the skating order from then on for myself and my students I taught."

Despite this inconvenience, Jackson skated well enough to win bronze at the Olympic Games.

"Squaw Valley, California (in) 1960 was my first and only Olympics I competed in so everything was new to me," Jackson said. "(It) was the only outdoors competition I skated in although the rink had a roof and an open end. I don't remember my skating except I did not miss anything in the program. No falls, a good skate overall"

From there, Jackson continued to place well in competitions until he came to the event that would perhaps define his career: the 1962 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Jackson said that his World Championship performance was perhaps so well remembered not only because of his accomplishment, but because "the stage was set."

"The 1962 World Championships in Prague were covered by television for the first time. It was on live and by satellite in North America and covered by ABC Wide World of Sports (and) it was a made for television script," Jackson said. "I was 45 points behind the home team Czechoslovakia, shorter after the compulsory figures.

"It was during the Cold War and Canadians represented the free world and I was behind a boy in his home country, behind the Iron Curtain."

Jackson performed well, and feels skating luminary Dick Button's presence as well as his love for skating helped him to excel.

"Dick Button's commentary helped and I came through and landed my triple lutz, the first one landed in international competition," Jackson said. "I love to skate and I believe I showed that love and enjoyment when I performed, this (helped) the audience relax and enjoy the performance."



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