The Miracle of Prague

GEORGE GROSS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

Outside of the religious domain, a 'miracle' has been defined by Webster's Dictionary as an extremely remarkable achievement or event. An event that inspires incredible admiration and awe.

In hockey, it was "the Miracle On Ice" -- the stunning gold medal win by the United States in 1980 at the Olympic Games in Lake Placid.

In baseball, it was the "Miracle Mets" of 1969 who vanquished a Baltimore Orioles team heralded to this day as one of the greatest teams of baseball.

In figure skating, it was 45 years ago this past week that Canadians celebrated the Miracle of Prague when the then 21-year-old Oshawa youngster -- Donald Jackson -- became the first Canadian male figure skater to win a singles world championship gold medal.

And what a miracle it was before 19,000 cheering fans on March 16, 1962, when young Jackson made his blades perform sweeter music than Yehudi Menuhin on a Stradivarius. He had to, actually. Going into the free skate portion of the competition, he was 45 points behind Czechoslovakia's Karol Divin, an insurmountable lead to overcome since compulsory figures counted 60% of the overall point total.

"It's impossible for Jackson to catch Divin," said Dick Button, a television colour commentator and former world champion. "Jackson would need a score of perfect marks of 6s to win," said ABC's broadcaster Jim McKay.

Jackson didn't hear these comments. He was preparing himself for the performance of his life.

Earlier in the day, Jackson had awakened to see a gold medal hanging off the bed of his roommate, former Canadian sports minister Otto Jelinek, who, with his sister Maria, had won the pairs event the night before.

Later in the day, standing under the stands awaiting his turn, the Oshawa youngster began dreaming of his own gold medal. But not for long. He knew he had to concentrate, particularly in view of Divin's 45-point lead and the Slovak's average marks of 5.7 in the free skate, which had been performed a little earlier.

"I consulted my coach Sheldon Galbraith," Jackson told me the other day. "I asked him if there was room to pull up. He said that there was room at the top."

Jackson had a secret weapon in his arsenal, a weapon that never had been used by anyone in world championship competition -- a triple Lutz. He had landed it several times in practices, but he also had missed it many times. On D-Day in Prague, he tried it in the warmup. He missed it.

"But I felt good," he said. "I looked up at Mr. Galbraith and gave him the thumbs-up sign. It meant "I'm going for the triple Lutz."

And he did -- in magnificent fashion. The crowd, the media and the judges were aware that he might attempt it in order to make his dream come true.

And to make the gamble seem even more dramatic, Jackson had to do the jump in the first 10 seconds of the five-minute program.

A deafening roar of disbelief and approval erupted from the crowd as he nailed the jump. He then followed the feat with a series of difficult jumps and intricate, artistic footwork, all the while sporting an ear-to-ear grin. He completed a total of 22 jumps: Two triples, 10 doubles and 10 singles.

The judges were mesmerized by his performance. The lowest mark they gave the Canadian was 5.8. A few were 5.9s and then there were seven 6s -- seven marks of absolute perfection!

However, the end result was still up in the air until the judges tallied up the scores.

"I sat alone in the dressing room, waiting," Jackson said. "Just then Karol Divin came in and said: 'Don, I know the competition is very close and I just wanted to tell you if I win I wish to give my gold medal to you. You were the greatest one in this completion.' I was deeply moved."

So was the city of Prague by Jackson's incredible victory. The following day, an exhibition, usually called the tour of champions, was sold out. Over a quarter of a million people clamored to buy tickets, but were turned away.

The Canadians in attendance loved the Miracle of Prague. However, the icing on the miracle cake were the gold medal by the Jelineks, the silver medal by Toronto's Wendy Griner in the ladies singles and the bronze medal by Canada's dance pair of Bill McLachlan and Virginia Thompson.

It was the greatest world championship triumph in Canadian figure skating history. Indeed, the Miracle of Prague 45 years ago.


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