One of the Semiahmoo Peninsula’s most accomplished athletes is set to be inducted into the Skate Canada BC/Yukon Figure Skating Hall of Fame more than 50 years after her crowning achievement – representing Canada at the Winter Olympics.
In March, Faye Marshall (formerly Strutt) will be honoured, along with her skating partner Jimmy Watters, for a career filled with firsts.
The duo, Marshall told Peace Arch News, was the first figure-skating pair from B.C. to go to the Olympics – at Innsbruck in 1964; the first amateur Canadians to pass the gold-level pairs test; and they were the first from Canada to win the compulsory short program for pairs at nationals.
They also won a bronze at 1964 and ’65 Canadian championships.
Not bad for a team that had just a few months experience prior to their first national championship – and had been together only six months when they hit the ice at the Olympics.
“It’s a great honour… It really came out of the blue,” Marshall said of the induction, which she learned about earlier this fall.
“The powers that be, I think, are kind of working their way through the athletes from over the years and they finally got around to my partner and I – luckily before we’re on the other side of the turf.”
While the Hall-of-Fame nod was a long time in coming, Marshall – who moved on to professional skating with the Ice Capades, and then coaching, after her amateur career wrapped up – said it has stirred up all manner of old skating memories – of both her Olympic journey and her professional career.
“I’ve been asked to provide some photos and other information (for the induction ceremony) so I’ve been going through some of my old albums. It’s been pretty fun.”
A half-century after the Innsbruck Olympics, she still marvels at the fact she and Watters were there at all, considering their age – Marshall was just 16 years old – and relative inexperience. At the time, even their coach, two-time Olympian Dr. Hellmut May, was skeptical of their chances for a top-three finish at Olympic Trials, which were held in Toronto. The top three teams qualified to represent Canada at the Games.
“We were a dark horse then – nobody knew who we were, out here in B.C. I had no previous pairs experience – I’d been a singles skater – but there were some influential people here who thought we should enter.
“(May) said ‘No, they’re not ready’ but these ladies submitted our names anyway… and then we finished third. For us, it was just a total thrill – I’d never even been on an airplane before (before trials).
“We weren’t really that experienced on the harder lifts because we just hadn’t been together long enough, but we were good individual skaters.”
Session after session of practise also helped, she noted, though it didn’t come without a few difficulties.
“Our jumps were good, our pairs spins were good, and our death spiral – the one where the lady spins around and her head is down near the ice, we were pretty good at that, too,” she explained, with a laugh.
“I have one arm longer than the other now, to attest to how many times we worked on that.”
Whether in old albums or simply in her memory, Marshall has incredibly fond memories of her Olympic experience, from the competition itself – Marshall and Watters finished 14th overall – to getting to watch other events such as downhill skiing and men’s hockey, to the town of Innsbruck, which she described as “a beautiful place.”
“The Olympic village – they were brand-new high-rises… We got there at night, so we had no idea what anything looked like. We got up in the morning – we were on the sixth floor – and we opened the blinds and looked out, and we actually had to (crane our necks) to see the top of the Alps.
“Oh my God, it was just brilliant. It was outstanding.”
Her skating partnership with Watters lasted through the end of the 1965 season, she said, and at that point, she moved into the professional ranks, while Watters stayed on the amateur scene. She joined the North American tour of the Ice Capades, first as an understudy with a few featured spots, and later in a pairs team with Richard Gilbert.
“It’s so cool – there’d be autographs to sign, there’d be fan mail, which was very neat. I went through some of it last year, and you kind of forget how cool it was,” she said.
After four-and-a-half years on tour, Marshall decided to retire from skating and move into coaching – and Gilbert came with her.
“Our first job was here in White Rock – it was the White Rock Figure Skating Club then, and is the South Surrey-White Rock Skating Club now. We really put the club on the map for about six years or so… within that first year of so, we had White Rock’s first national figure-skating champion, Christine Lee McBeth.”
Marshall, who also coached in Vancouver with the Kerrisdale Figure Skating Club – the club she competed for in the 1960s – said coaching has provided her some of her fondest memories. She retired from her post five years ago, though she said she still ‘subs’ now and then.
“I miss the teaching part a lot. I had such a wonderful coach myself – he taught me to teach – and then my professional partner, Richard, loved it. The two of us, we just had a great career.”
And no matter where he sporting career has taken her – from amateur to professional circuits, to coaching or her latest passion, golf – Marshall remains, proudly, an Olympian. She has the Olympic rings tattooed on her ankle.
“People ask me why I did that, and my silly answer always is, ‘Well, when I go into the nursing home, this way the nurses will know I was in the Olympics even if I can’t remember.’”
The Hall-of-Fame induction ceremony is set for Saturday, March 5 in Burnaby.