Norway’s Sonja Henie was without doubt figure skating’s first major international star, having caused a sensation at Chamonix in 1924 by taking part in the women’s competition at the age of only 11, finishing eighth and last behind Austria’s Herma Szabo.
Henie closed the gap considerably on Szabo at the 1926 World Championships in Berlin, taking second place behind her. A year later the Norwegian teenager overcame her Austrian rival in Davos (SUI) to win the first of her ten world titles – a record that has yet to be beaten – and send the great Szabo into retirement.
The women’s figure skating competition at St Moritz featured more than twice the number of athletes that appeared in Chamonix four years previously, with 20 skaters from eight nations taking part. Still only 15 years and 315 days old at the start of the compulsory figures, Henie entranced the spectators and judges alike, with all but one of them placing her first.
Skating her free programme to the sound of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the sparkling Henie took figure skating to a new level. The first to perform an entirely dance-based routine, she executed a series of graceful sequences and jumps that had never been seen before, all with astonishing speed, her performance earning her the lifelong nickname of the Ice Queen.
That ground-breaking routine secured her a first Olympic gold medal ahead of Austria’s Fritzi Bruger and Chamonix 1924 runner-up Beatrix Loughan of the USA.The legendary Henie retained her Olympic title in 1932 and again in 1936, and won every world championship title between 1927 and 1936, not to mention six European gold medals from 1931 and 1936, putting together a career record that has yet to be matched. A truly global star, she went on to stage the first major ice skating shows in the USA and Europe and made it big in Hollywood, featuring regularly on the cover of magazines around the world.