One Judge Per Country

The Origins of the Rule

World Figure Skating Museum
Herma Szabó’s defeat at the 1927 Worlds forced the International Skating Union to enact the “one judge per country” rule.

Ever wondered how the International Skating Union determined selection of judges for competitions are selected? The answer to that question lies in an event that took place more than 90 years ago and a skater many have likely never heard of.

To this day, Herma Szabó remains the most decorated female skater in Austrian history. During a six-year international career the Vienna native claimed five World titles in singles and two in pairs.

Szabó made history when she was crowned the first Olympic ladies champion at the 1924 Olympic Winter Games.

She earned a place in the record books when, a week shy of her 23rd birthday, she claimed the 1925 World titles in the ladies and pairs events (with partner Ludwig Wrede), an accomplishment that has never been repeated.

The six-time singles and two-time national pairs champion cemented her place in history as the founding member of a very exclusive club as the first woman to claim five consecutive World titles (1922- 1926).

Eight decades later only two other women have joined the club: Sonja Henie, the all-time record holder with 10 consecutive World titles (1927-1936), and Carol Heiss with five (1956-1960).

Szabó enjoyed an uncontested reign in the years leading up to the 1927 Worlds, but in Davos, Switzerland she found herself the underdog when a 14-year-old Norwegian upstart named Sonja Henie won the title in a controversial judging decision.

Three of the five judges, all Norwegian, placed Henie first while the two judges from Germany and Austria had Szabó first. The subsequent uproar forced the International Skating Union to enact the “one judge per country” rule.

History records Henie as being the first woman to wear short skirts in competition, but Szabó made this fashion statement as early as the 1923 World Championships when she competed in a skirt cut above the knee.

Szabó was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1982. She passed away in her homeland in 1986 at age 84.