Ice Capades – The Blade
December 18, 2016
The Jacqueline du Bief Story
“One does not take up skating; skating just takes up you.” – Jacqueline du Bief, March 23, 1954
Back in the fourth installment of “The Other World Champions” series here on the blog, we oh so briefly explored the story of one of the most enigmatic skaters to capture the world’s attention during her era. For a long time I have wanted to write at length about Jacqueline du Bief’s important contribution to the skating world… but there have been a couple of roadblocks. There’s not a wealth a video footage of her publicly available and much of the source material written about her career isn’t in the English language. That said, with a translated copy of her 1956 autobiography in hand, a wealth of English sources and what French sources I could roughly translate, I put my nose to the grindstone and was able to come up with this biographical sketch which I hope will shed some new light on just how big a deal this French star really was.
Born December 4, 1930 in Paris, France, du Bief started skating at the age of four with her older sister Raymonde at the Molitor Rink and became immediately hooked. Both sisters actually studied ballet prior to receiving high level instruction in skating, which was a complete juxtaposition to how most skaters of the era would have approached the sport in their youths. When she started taking lessons with Lucien Lemercier, she was a quick learner and by nine years of age, she was already making quite an impression. One of the first mentions of du Bief wowing crowds was around this time. The August 21, 1939 issue of the French language newspaper “Le Figaro” cites her as a star of Lè bal des Petits Lits Blancs in Cannes, an opulent summer festival where she demonstrated her skating prowess alongside other performers such as soprano Lily Pons, ballet dancer Serge Lifar and le ballet de l’Opéra-Comique.
After winning the French junior title – her first competition – du Bief moved into the senior ranks. In “Thin Ice”, she explained that in her first senior competition “the day began with a heavy air raid and I arrived at the rink with a strange feeling of discomfort and fatigue… When my turn came, I presented myself without enthusiasm and I executed a programme in which the greatest difficulties consisted of one ‘Lutz’, 3 consecutive loop jumps on the same foot, and a long spin of four turns. There were six of us and I got fourth place, but we had not left the dressing-room before the siren went, announcing another aid raid. We remained for two hours in the underground shelters of the building. There, stretched on a bench, and rolled in a blanket, I became feverish and red spots broke out over my face. When we at length got back home, my mother said to me: ‘Tomorrow I will buy you a book and some crayons, and you’ll have to stay in bed – you’ve got measles.'”
When Paris fell to the Nazis on June 14, 1940, the trajectory of du Bief’s budding career was affected greatly. During the German occupation, power plants were taken over and ice rinks were closed. With no artificial ice to be heard of, du Bief returned to where she started, practicing wherever the nearest lake froze over once she recovered from her illness. After the Liberation Of Paris in August 1944, rinks reopened and du Bief returned, training at Boulogne Billancourt and the Molitor and Rue Nesnil ice rinks with coach Jacqueline Vaudecrane.
Click here to read the complete article
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Did you know…….
Tommy Litz is credited as being the first skater to land the triple toe loop jump, a feat he accomplished at the 1964 World Figure Skating Championships.
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