The 1961 United States Figure Skating Championships was an event organized by U.S. Figure Skating to determine the U.S. national champions and the U.S. team for the 1961 World Championships. Medals were awarded in four colors: gold (first), silver (second), bronze (third), and pewter (fourth) in four disciplines – men's singles, ladies' singles, pair skating, and ice dancing – across three levels: senior, junior, and novice. The event was held at the World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado, from January 25 to January 29, 1961. The competition was dedicated to the memory of Howard D. Herbert, president of the United States Figure Skating Association, who had died suddenly just a few days before the competition opened.
The event is noted especially for its catastrophic aftermath, in which most of the U.S. team died in the crash of Sabena Flight 548 on their way to the World Championships in Prague. Because many of the top American figure skaters (including Carol Heiss and David Jenkins) had retired from the sport after the 1960 Winter Olympics, new champions were crowned in all four disciplines.
In the ladies' event, Stephanie Westerfeld had a narrow lead over Laurence Owen after the compulsory figures and performed well enough in the free skating that she might have won the competition. However, Owen followed with a superior effort in the free skate and won the title on a 4-1 split of the first-place ordinals. The men's competition was won by Bradley Lord, likewise in a come-from-behind victory in the free skating after having been second to Gregory Kelley in the compulsory figures. Maribel Owen and Dudley Richards, the silver medalists from the previous year, were the clear winners of the pairs event, while Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce -- skating in their first season together—took the ice dance championship.
A notable feature of this event is that it was the first time the United States Figure Skating Championships were covered on national television, with a modest rights fee being paid by CBS. Sportscaster Bud Palmer provided the "play-by-play", and Dick Button provided the commentary for the event, a role Button continued to perform for decades after the Championships broadcasts were picked up by ABC Sports in subsequent years.
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... Championships, all the top skaters with the exception of Brown (who was ill his place was taken by fourth-place finisher Ramsay) took part in the North ... then immediately departed for the World Figure Skating Championships in Prague on February 14, 1961 on board Sabena Flight 548 ... Figure Skating Memorial Fund was established eight days after the crash by F ...
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