Most people today think of Olympian jumps when they think of figure skating. But when I was a kid, everything I knew about the sport came from a 1951 novel called Skating Shoes by Noel Streatfeild. Rich, glamorous Lalla has been groomed to be a champion, but her downfall is her fondness for spins and jumps. Poor, plodding Harriet is no showboat, but she has the patience to plug away at figures such as “brackets” until she masters them. As a result, we learn at the end of the book, Harriet will win the medals, while Lalla fritters away her talent in ice shows.

It’s a classic triumph of the underdog, and today it wouldn’t happen. Skaters win competitions with quadruple flips, layback spins and other dazzling, Lalla-style tricks — what the U.S. Figure Skating Association calls “freestyle.”

Back in Streatfeild’s era, however, compulsory figures were a massive component of every skating competition. Until 1968, they were worth 60 percent of a skater’s total score, and not until 1990 were they removed from competition altogether.

Grayce remembers …

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