Swedish ice skater who attracted the attentions of the future Sir Peter Scott
Wednesday 29 January 2003
Vivi-Anne Hulten, ice skater: born 25 August 1911; married 1942 Gene Thesloff (one son); died Newport Beach, California 15 January 2003.
Vivi-Anne Hulten of Sweden was one of many Scandinavians who dominated ice figure skating in the early part of the 20th century. Her compatriots Ulrich Salchow and Gillis Grasström won between them every Olympic gold medal in men's singles from 1908 to 1928, as well as numerous world championships. Walter and Ludovika Jakobsson of Finland predominated in pair skating.
In the women's singles events the Norwegian Sonja Henie was supreme, winning three Olympic titles and 10 world championships. One of Henie's chief rivals, but one who never defeated her, was Vivi-Anne Hulten. Hulten later said, "I was a dancer. Sonja was an acrobat." She was known in her heyday as "The Flame of Sweden".
Born in 1911, Hulten was taught by Gillis Grasström's brother, and in 1930, aged 19, she competed in her first European championship. She gained the bronze medal.
At about this time she attracted the attention of a young Englishman who was himself no mean skater. He later became famous as Sir Peter Scott, artist, ornithologist and yachtsman. In his 1961 book The Eye of the Wind he wrote of
a new princess working quietly at Rockers in mid ice-rink. It did not take me long to discover that she was the champion skater of her own Scandinavian country. My little champion knew how to move, how to dance, she also knew how to draw. And she was delightfully pretty.
So long afterwards, I find it difficult to assess this romance of 30 years ago, but it was something gentle and tender and altogether happy. I discovered real humility for perhaps the first time. I simply was not good enough for her.
Scott did not name her in his autobiography, and in the 1990s another skater was suggested as a claimant. But Hulten telephoned me from her home in America and confirmed that it was indeed she who cherished similar fond memories of that relationship.
Scott was sufficiently impressed to follow her to Berlin in 1931, when she was placed fifth in her first world championship. Henie, in her memoirs, Wings On My Feet (1941), wrote of Hulten as "Sweden's rising national champion who by 1931 was already crowding the line". Nineteen thirty-two was an Olympic year and in the Winter Games at Lake Placid, the Swede came fifth. Her best year was 1933, when she beat every other skater except Henie, to take the silver medal in the world championship on home ice in Stockholm.
She continued to compete at a high level for the next four years, but she was unable to hold off the challenge of two teenage English girls, Megan Taylor and Cecilia Colledge. Third place became more usual for her, and sometimes she was down to fourth or fifth in the world.
In the Garmisch Olympics of 1936 it was Colledge who took silver medal and the Swedish champion had to be content with the bronze. Hulten's last chance came in 1937 when Henie had left the scene – but in that year's world championship the two Britons triumphed and Hulten finished third.
She then turned professional and, after appearing in the Blackpool summer ice show in 1938, she emigrated to the United States, where she took various teaching appointments. In 1942 she married a former weightlifter of Finnish extraction, Gene Thesloff, who had been Henie's ice-show partner. In 1949 husband and wife appeared together in Ice Capades and five years later they skated in Raymonde Du Bief's show Paris sur Glace. Hulten's last appearance, aged 81, was at a special Ice Capades show in 1993.
Vivi-Anne Hulten is perhaps best summed up in the words of Peter Scott:
She was quite different from the majority of the girl skaters. She did not have the thick muscular legs on the Axel Paulson-jumping girls, nor did she fill her free skating with ever faster scratch spins. She was not so much an athlete as a dancer, not a sportswoman but an artist. Her free skating had more artistry in it than all the others put together.
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