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Digging for gold in the Dolomites

February 1956. In a small Italian village, high up in the Dolomite Alps. These were the time and place of Sissy Schwarz’s greatest victory: She and Kurt Oppelt won the gold medal in the Pair Skating event of the Winter Olympic Games (WOG) in Cortina d’Ampezzo. The 1956-gold-medal was the only one for Austria in Pair Skating after World War II until the present day.

The 2 talented young athletes were already working on a promising career in Single Skating, especially their excellent free skating abilities attracted attention. After the end of Eva Pawlik’s era as a competitive skater when she won the Olympic silver medal in 1948, a gap in high-level figure skating arose and grew. Less Austrian skaters of this time like Helmut Seibt were able to rival with athletes from many other countries, esp. from the US and Great Britain.

But the former President of the Austrian Figure Skating Federation, Mister Grünauer, felt absolutely confident to end this misery and made a smart move: He knew that neither Schwarz nor Oppelt were able to succeed in Single Skating at the next WOG, he convinced them to team up in 1951. They ended up on ninth place at the Oslo-Games in 1952. From there on they became better and better - and got better marks and also better placements form season to season.  

The new formed team earned 2 silver medals at Europeans 1954 and one year later at Worlds. Sissy was still just 19 years old when they went to Cortina for their 2nd Olympic attempt. The target was clear, they wanted to take the gold medail. The Austrian top-couple of the 1950s showed a breathtaking Free Program to a music piece of famous Austrian composer Franz von Suppé. The performance turned Cortina’s ice rink into a magic winter wonderland. This excellent routine made the impossible possible. The Austrian top-couple even overrun their biggest rivals, the reigning World Champions Francis Dafoe and Norris Bowden from Canada. But wait, there is still more: They got the European Title in Paris as well a 3rd gold medal at Worlds in Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany) in the same year.

After four successful years at the Wiener Eisrevue Kurt Oppelt moved to the US and started to work at the University of Pennsylvania. He married in the early 1970s and never came back to Austria for longer. Kurt Oppelt died 2015 with the age of 83 years. Sissy Schwarz-Bollenberger (as she was named after her marriage with an attorney) still lives with her family in Wiener Neustadt, Lower Austria.  

"Figure Skating is coming home" is the main theme of #EuroFigure #Graz2020. This underlines the long and rich Austrian figure skating history. More information

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