Legend figure skater still going in skating world
By Graeme McNaughton/Active Senior’s Digest
He was the first in history to land a triple lutz. In fact, no other professional figure skater was able to manage the feat again in competition for another decade.
The bronze medallist at the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, California, Donald Jackson was the first Canadian in a dozen years to medal in figure skating, and the first male since Montgomery Wilson in 1932 in Lake Placid.
But for Jackson, it all started as a young teen, skating in Oshawa’s Hambly Arena, building up his skills before he made it to the big time, eventually being coached by Pierre Brunet, himself a multi-medallist skater.
However, it wasn’t all easy times for Jackson when, in 1961, Sabena Flight 547 crashed on its way from New York City to Brussels. The crash killed 73 people, including the entire American figure skating squad on its way to the world championships in Prague in the former Czechoslovakia.
At the time, tensions were high between the Americans and the Soviet Union, democracy versus communism. But with the devastating loss, Jackson says it was up to Canada and other countries at the competition to step up.
“We were representing the free world,” he says.
And step up he did, with Jackson tearing the house down during the free skate portion of his program, during he which he became the first to ever land a triple lutz jump.
It was this performance that, Jackson says, earned him the respect of his fellow competitors, with Czech skater Karol Divin, who would finish second, tell him it was the greatest performance he’d ever seen and that he would give him his gold should he take it over Jackson.
“That’s why I loved amateur skating,” Jackson says with tears in his eyes.
The toast of Canada at the time, Jackson wasn’t even able to call home to Oshawa to tell his mother the good news.
“It was too much money,” he says. “We had to be connected through a radio station.”
However, despite his seven perfect scores at the world championships and a bronze medal in his back pocket, Jackson still had bills to pay, leading to him turning pro, landing a spot with the Ice Follies, a long-running professional skating squad that has featured other former Olympians over the years, such as 1968 gold medallist Peggy Flemming and 1972 bronze medallist Janet Lynn.
Jackson would also pass on what he had learned on the ice to future skaters, including some who would go on to the Olympics themselves.
And Jackson, even at the age of 76 and more than 50 years removed from his Olympic performance, still takes to the ice, performing in Stars on Ice in 2016 with legendary Canadian skater Kurt Browning.
Although he isn’t skating at the moment – he has a sore leg – Jackson says he keeps active and looks forward to tying up his skates again.
“I hope that’s not my swan song.”