Szabo lights up the ice
Born in Vienna (AUT) on 22 February 1902, Herma Szabo had figure skating in her blood. She was the daughter of Christa Von Szabo, herself a two-time world champion in pair skating, and niece of Eduard Engelmann Jr., a three-time European men’s singles champion and the man behind the 1909 construction of the world’s first open-air artificial ice rink. Not surprisingly, she learned to skate from an early age. After showing great promise on the ice, she went on to fulfil her potential by amassing five consecutive individual gold medals at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships between 1922 and 1926, as well as two pairs titles with Ludwig Wrede (AUT) in 1925 and 1927.
In Chamonix, there were eight competitors vying for gold in the women’s individual competition. Adding to the sense of anticipation, was the hype surrounding one of the participants, an 11-year-old Norwegian prodigy named Sonja Henie. However, there was to be disappointment for Henie’s fans, as the future superstar’s lack of experience saw her finish last. Meanwhile, a confident Szabo, who raised eyebrows by wearing a short skirt, hit peak form at just the right time. Spectators present in the ice rink were treated to a veritable masterclass from the 22-year-old in the figures segment, as she established a clear lead over the USA’s Beatrix S. Loughran.
Szabo continued in the same vein in the free skate portion on 30 January 1924, but Loughran also performed impressively, matching her rival’s graceful pirouettes and jumps. In the end, the judges unanimously agreed that Szabo was a worthy winner, while Loughran and Ethel Mucklet (GBR) were awarded silver and bronze.
It was an improved and rapidly maturing Henie who would finally bring Szabo’s remarkable run of success to an end, emerging victorious from a tightly contested ladies’ competition at the 1927 World Championships in Oslo (NOR) and hastening the end of the great Austrian’s career in the process. After being inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1982, the first-ever Olympic ladies’ figure skating champion passed away at her home in Styria on 7 May 1986, aged 84.