The Greatest Figure Skaters: Ulrich Salchow, Sonja Henie, Rodnina & Zaitsev, Torvill & Dean

This is a list of the most successful figure skaters in each of the four Olympic disciplines.  I have ranked them in terms of the number of years when they were the world or Olympic champions.  By doing this it reduces the effect of being very successful in an Olympic year which give two chances of winning a title.  Where skaters win both world and Olympic titles they receive a full point but if they only win one they receive half a point for that year.  After that the number of titles is used as a tie-break.

Men

Rank Name When Ranked Number One World Titles Olympic Titles Total Years At Number One
 1 Ulrich Salchow (Sweden) 1901 – 1911 10  1  10
 2 Karl Schafer (Austria) 1930 – 1936  7  2  7
 3 Richard Button (USA) 1948 – 1952  5  2  5
 4 Gillis Grafstrom (Swe) 1920 – 1929  3  3  4.5
 5 Hayes Jenkins (USA)  1953 –  1956 4  1  4
 Scott Hamilton (USA)  1981 – 1984 4  1  4
 Alexei Yagudin (Rus)  1998 – 2002  4 1  4
 8  Kurt Browning (Can)  1989 – 1993 4  0  4
 Willy Bockl (Aut)  1925 – 1928  4  0  4
 10  David Jenkins (USA)  1957 – 1959 3  1  3.5
 Evgeniy Plushenko (Rus)  2001 – 2006  3  1 3.5

Women

Rank Name Best Years World Titles Olympic Titles Years At Number One
1 Sonja Henie (Norway) 1927-1936 10 3 10
2 Michelle Kwan (USA) 1996-2003 5 0 5
3 Carol Heiss (USA) 1956-1950 5 1 4.5
4 Herma Szabo (Planck/Jaross) (Austria) 1922-1926 5 1 5
5 Katarina Witt (GDR) 1984-1988 4 2 4
6 Lily Kronberger (Hun) 1908-1911 4 0 3.5
7 Sjoukje Dijkstra (Neth) 1962-1964 3 1 3
7 Peggy Fleming (USA) 1966-1968 3 1 3
9 Madge Syers (GB) 1906-1908 2 1 2.5
9 Tenley Albright (USA) 1953-1956 2 1 2.5
9 Kim yu Na 2009- 2 1 2.5

Pairs

Rank Name Nation Best Years World Titles Olympic Titles Years At Number One
1 Irina Rodnina / Alexander Zaitsev USSR 1973-1980 6 2 6.5
2 Ekaterina Gordeeva / Sergei Grinkov USSR 1986-1990 4 2 5
3 Liudmila Belousova / Oleg Protopopov USSR 1965-1968 4 2 4.5
4 Andreé Joly-Brunet / Pierre Brunet France 1926-1932 4 2 4
5 Maxi Herber / Ernst Baier Germany 1936-1939 4 1 4
5 Barbara Wagner / Robert Paul Canada 1957-1960 4 1 4
5 Irina Rodnina / Alexei Ulanov USSR 1969-1972 4 1 4
8 Ludowika Jakobsson-Eilers / Walter Jakobsson Finland 1914-1923 3 1 4
8 Emília Rotter / László Szollás Hungary 1931-1935 4 0 4
8 Aliona Savchenko / Robin Szolkowy Germany 2007-2012 4 0 4

Irina Rodnina appears twice in this list for a total of 10 world, 3 Olympic and 10.5 years at number one with her two partners.

Dance

Rank Name Nation Best Years World Titles Olympic Titles Years At Number One
1 Liudmila Pakhomova / Alexander Gorshkov USSR 1970-1976 6 1 6
2 Jean Westwood / Lawrence Demmy GB 1951-1955 5 0 5
3 Oksana Grishuk / Evgeni Platov Russia 1994-1998 4 2 4.5
4 Jayne Torvill / Christopher Dean GB 1981-1984 4 1 4
4 Natalia Bestemianova / Andrei Bukin USSR 1985-1988 4 1 4
6 Eva Romanová / Pavel Roman Czech 1962-1965 4 0 4
6 Diane Towler / Bernard Ford GB 1966-1969 4 0 4
6 Marina Klimova / Sergei Ponomarenko USSR 1989-1992 3 1 3
9 Meryl Davis / Charlie White USA 2011- 2 1 3
Courtney Jones GB 1957-1960 4 0 4

Courtney Jones won his titles with two different partners.

These tables give a good idea of the number of titles and length of dominance of each skater.  I think in three of the four events the top ranked skaters in the table could be fairly claimed to be the greatest ever.  The exception is the ice dance.  Many people believe that Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who achieved more perfect marks than anyone in the history of the sport, redefined that event and were the greatest ever.  It’s a hard one to call. Do you choose the pair with the most titles or those who arguably achieved the highest level ever seen?  I would probably choose Torvill and Dean but being from the same country and city I may be biased.

 

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