The 1961 U.S. figure skating world team lives on 60 years later
On Feb. 15, 1961, Sabena Flight 548, traveling from New York City to Brussels under clear skies, crashed on approach to Zaventem Airport. The 72 people on board and one person on the ground were killed.
Among the dead were all 18 members of the U.S. world figure skating team, along with 16 coaches, officials and family members on their way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Sixty years later, skaters and fans are still haunted by poignant reminders of the tragic flight.
A heartbreaking photo of the skaters gathered on the steps of the Boeing 707, on the tarmac before take-off at Idlewild Airport. Faded black and white film of the 1961 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, broadcast from the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. A charred copy of Sports Illustrated, with a smiling Laurence Owen gracing the cover alongside the Mad Men-era caption, “America’s most exciting girl skater.”
“Most of us at the time, we really felt numb,” Tenley Albright, the 1956 Olympic champion, said. “We could not believe it. It didn’t seem real. We didn’t want to believe it. The idea we can talk about it now helps us heal, at least a little bit.”
Last Saturday, the Skating Club of Boston hosted an online panel discussion to commemorate the lives lost and the rebuilding of the U.S. figure skating program.
In addition to Albright, participants included revered coach Frank Carroll, whose own mentor, Maribel Vinson Owen, was lost in the crash; 1960 Olympic bronze medalist Barbara Roles Williams; two-time Olympian Albertina Noyes (1964, 1968); 2014 Olympic team event bronze medalists Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir; Paul George, another student of Vinson Owen who won the 1962 U.S. junior pairs title and is president of the U.S. Figure Skating Foundation; and others, including several SC of Boston coaches and current competitors…