Red hot Curry rules supreme in the figure skating
Many, if not all, fans of ice dancing believe John Curry is the greatest competitor the sport has ever seen – and his unusual combination of technical mastery and artistic expression put him head and shoulders above his competitors in Innsbruck in 1976.
Known as “the Nureyev of the ice,” the dance-focused figure skater won the gold medal for Britain – and redefined the sport with his elegant balletic style and dexterity, which he employed to reinterpret the great composers through his routines.
Curry had taken up the sport aged seven after his parents vetoed his first choice of ballet, Billy Elliot-style. However, he managed to incorporate a balletic sensibility into his routines with such success that he rose to become British national champion.
The years prior to his greatest ever Games were tough for Curry personally and involved several changes of trainer. The lack of proper training facilities in the UK was a major obstacle to him achieving his dream of winning Olympic gold. But all that was about to change with a transatlantic move.
Despite his incredible gifts, Curry was on the point of quitting the sport in 1973 when he emigrated to the US and put himself under the tuition of legendary free-skating trainer Gus Lussi, then Carlo and Christa Fassi. He emerged with newfound techniques in compulsory figures, introducing axel and lutz jumps, and a renewed confidence.
The confidence was justified and, allied to sponsorship from an American benefactor, would usher in his reign as amateur champion. He claimed near-victory in the 1975 European Championships, and a bronze medal in the World Championships. Then came his annus mirabilis in 1976 with a clean sweep of European and World titles.
But his crowning achievement came in February 1976 at the Olympic Winter Games, when he danced a superb routine to Leon Minkus’s ballet Don Quixote.
After his earlier performances had been criticised for lacking the more athletic and daring moves expected in men’s figure skating, he included three immaculate triple jumps to take gold with a perfect blend of athletic skating and musical interpretation.
Seven of the nine judges placed Curry first, with the USSR and Canadian judges placing him second – a surprisingly high score. Curry later revealed he’d been aware of the fact that the Soviet judges in particular considered his style of skating too feminine, so he included enough “masculine” jumps to satisfy them. It paid off.
The competition was also notable that year for American skier Terry Kubicka’s backflip – the first and only time the move, which was instantly banned, was legally performed at an Olympic Games. But Curry had unusual skating moves of his own, in that his jumps were counter-clockwise but most of his spins were performed clockwise.
After his triumph, Curry turned professional, forming his own touring company and working with famous ballet choreographers, in-keeping with his artistic style. In 1978 he established a skating school in New York City. Diagnosed with AIDS, the master of the sport retired in 1991 and died in 1994.