Rita Kohn

Frozen in Time: The Enduring Legacy of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Team

By Nikki Nichols

Emmis Books; $21.95

Feb. 15, 1961, the entire U.S. Figure Skating Team died, as did their family members, coaches and skating officials, along with others taking the Boeing 707 to Brussels. This book is the first full-scale examination of the people and events leading up to this tragic event. It comes at the 45th anniversary of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

It's a fine book, but be forewarned that the writing style is breathless hyperbole. It is, nevertheless, worth the effort to slog through the verbiage and regain a half century ago. It was the era of the Cold War, Cassius Clay, JFK and at least one television set in 90 percent of American homes. TV fostered a craze for viewing sports within reach of the refrigerator.

That's the context for the tragedy that still catches the breath of those of us who were enthralled by a skating team expected to sweep the 1961 World Figure Skating Championship.

Nikki Nichols, an Indianapolis-based competitive figure skater, writes as an insider carrying the legacy of loss. The book is told from the point of view of two families of intergenerational skaters. Nichols builds her book to reflect the drama within families and between skaters who compete across regions to become members of the U.S. team. Once on the team, they work devotedly as a unit while competing fiercely as individuals. Nichols also presents the history of skating - it began as an early mode of transportation - and the saga of figure skating as a competitive sport.

The irony of the tragic crash is how it democratized figure skating through the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund, which awards scholarships to promising teens whose families could not otherwise afford the staggering training costs. Prior to 1961, only children of wealth could even think of competing.

Indianapolis' losses on the ill-fated Sabena Flight 548 were members of the then-Winter Club of Indianapolis. Dallas "Larry" Pierce was an award-winning partners skater. Daniel Ryan, a 1952 and 1953 World Championships partners winner, was coach to Pierce and his new partner, Diane Sherbloom of Los Angeles, who replaced his injured regular partner, Marilyn Meeker. Ironically, her injury saved her life. Visit


Recommended for you