Brunet and Joly launch pioneering career
“In the opinion of the experts, never has a pairs skating competition been so beautiful to watch and so difficult to judge, due to the quality of the competitors involved. Consequently, numerous couples were awarded the same number of points by several judges, and the standings were determined by the technical merit score, which outweighs the presentation score, as stipulated by the rules.” This was the way in which Frantz Reichel summed up the 1924 figure skating pairs competition in the official report for the Games.
And so it was that on 31 January, Helen Engelmann and Alfred Berger (AUT) triumphed in Chamonix courtesy of their technical merit score, pipping Ludowika and Walter Jakobsson (FIN) and Pierre Brunet and Andrée Joly (FRA) to a hotly contested gold medal.
The newly formed French pairing had only met for the first time a few months earlier at the Palais des Glaces in Paris, having each just become men’s and women’s individual champions. Brunet suggested to Joly that they should join forces and compete in pairs events. That led them to Chamonix, where their innovative routines and never-before-seen figures raised eyebrows, and caused a certain amount of consternation among the more conservative judges.
After their first experience of performing as a pair at a major international competition, Brunet and Joly would go on to become the greatest and most famous figure skating partnership in the world, pushing the boundaries of their sport by inventing, among other moves, mirror skating, the one-hand lift and a variety of new spins. In addition, Joly broke with convention by wearing black to match her male partner, whereas up to that point female skaters had always worn white.
Joining up every two years to compete in the world championships, the talented French pair came away from the competition with a gold medal in 1926, 1928, 1930 and 1932. At the 1928 Winter Games in St. Moritz, they delivered an astounding performance to land their first Olympic gold, and they defended their title in style four years later in Lake Placid four years later as a married couple, having tied the knot in 1929.
With three Olympic podium appearances under their belts, they subsequently turned professional, before emigrating to the USA, where they became coaches, mentoring a number of American figure skating stars of the future such as Carol Heiss (1960 Olympic ladies’ singles champion), Dorothy Hamill (Olympic gold medallist in 1976) and Scott Hamilton (Olympic men’s champion at Sarajevo 1984).