Hailing from Toronto, Canadian pair Barbara Wagner and Robert “Bob” Paul had been skating together since 1952, when they were mere 14 and 15 year olds respectively. Paul’s love for skating can be traced back to his recovery from a childhood bout of non-paralytic polio, during which he asked his parents for a pair of skates. From that point on he barely left the ice, teaming up with his teenage partner to represent Canada in the pairs at Cortina d’Ampezzo 1956, where they took sixth place.
“We had a choice to make after the Games,” recalled Wagner. “We could either go back to high school or carry on skating. We took our decision.” It turned out to be the right one.
The pair won consecutive world titles in Colorado Springs (USA) in 1957, Paris (FRA) in 1958 and Colorado Springs again in 1959, while a fourth would follow a month after the Squaw Valley Winter Games. In the meantime they also landed every Canadian and North American title going, and were very warm favourites by the time they went for gold on their Olympic debut in California.
Held on the day after the Opening Ceremony, in which Paul had carried his country’s flag, the pairs figure skating final took place before a packed crowd at the Blyth Memorial Arena, with spectators anxious to see who would secure the first gold of the Games.
The Canadian pair were hampered in their bid to land it when the music suddenly stopped at the start of their routine incident. “As it turned out, it was a big help to us,” commented Wagner. “When the music stopped, it lifted all the pressure from us and gave us the chance to have a little extra training, which allowed both of us to raise our performance levels.”
When the music restarted, Wagner and Paul gracefully and skilfully glided, waltzed and tangoed their way through their programme, turning on a sparkling and precise display that had the crowd on their feet and all seven judges placing them in the lead.
Their points total of 80.4 gave them the gold ahead of Germany’s Marika Kilius and Hans-Jürgen Bäumler and the USA pair of Nancy and Ron Ludington, and won Canada its second Olympic figure skating title after Barbara Ann Scott’s in the women’s individual competition at St Moritz 1948.
Wagner and Paul called time on their amateur career following their fourth world title triumph in Vancouver (CAN) in March 1960. After taking part in professional Ice Capades tours across the USA through to 1964, they stayed in figure skating but went their separate ways, with Wagner coaching in Canada and Paul choreographing in California. The pair were inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1957 and into figure skating’s International Hall of Fame in 1980.
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