Maribel Yerxa Vinson-Owen (1911 – 1961), was an American who competed in ladies and pairs. She competed in the disciplines of ladies single and pair skating. As a single skater, she was a nine-time U.S. national champion and the 1932 Olympic bronze medalist. As a pair skater, she won six national titles, two with Thornton Coolidge and four with George Hill. She is a member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame and a three time inductee in the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame as a singles skater, pairs skater, and a coach.
Maribel Vinson was the daughter of Thomas and Gertrude Vinson of Winchester, Massachusetts. Both of her parents were figure skaters and Maribel was made an honorary member of the Cambridge Skating Club at birth. She began to take lessons with Willie Frick at the Boston Arena at the age of 9. She won the U.S. junior ladies title at the age of 12.
A good student, she studied at Radcliffe College while pursuing an interest in ice skating. In the ten years between 1928 and 1937, Maribel Vinson won the Women's Singles title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships every year except for 1934. During this stretch, she also teamed up with Thornton L. Coolidge to win the United States Pairs championship in 1928 and 1929 then in 1933 she partnered with George Hill to win the U.S. Championship again, followed by three more Pairs' titles in 1935, 1936, and 1937.
At the 1932 Winter Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York, Maribel Vinson earned the bronze medal behind the Norwegian champion Sonja Henie and the Austrian runner up, Fritzi Burger. While still competing, in the 1930s, Maribel Vinson became the first woman sportswriter at the New York Times newspaper. Following her retirement from amateur ice skating she married Canadian skater Guy Owen with whom she toured as professionals in an ice skating review. Following the birth of their two daughters: Maribel Yerxa Owen (born 1940) and Laurence Rochon Owen (born 1944), she returned to the rink as an ice-skating coach.
In 1952 Guy Owen died unexpectedly and the 41-year-old widow was left to raise their young daughters alone. Living in her native Winchester, Massachusetts, she earned a living as a figure skating instructor at rinks in the Boston area. Her daughters developed a love for ice skating and she trained them in the sport. A master instructor, Maribel Vinson-Owen coached Tenley Albright to five U.S. titles and then to the first Olympic Games gold medal for an American in Ladies figure skating. She also taught Frank Carroll who himself went on to be one of America's top skating instructors.
During her lifetime, Vinson-Owen authored several books on her sport:
- Primer of Figure Skating - McGraw-Hill/Whittlesey House (1938)
- Advanced Figure Skating - McGraw-Hill/Whittlesey House (1940)
- The Fun of Figure Skating - Harper & Brothers (1960)
In 1961, her daughter and namesake, Maribel Owen, won the United States figure skating Pairs title with partner Dudley S. Richards. These national championships were broadcast on television for the first time. In that same competition, her younger daughter, 16-year-old Laurence Owen, won the ladies singles championship and because of the television exposure the Owen family became instant celebrities.
As a coach, Maribel Vinson-Owen was part of the United States team scheduled to compete in the 1961 World Ice Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia. With her daughters' winning championships, they too were part of the American team that boarded Sabena Flight 548 at New York City's Idlewild International Airport bound for the World Championships in Prague. The overnight flight had a stopover scheduled for Brussels, Belgium and on its arrival in the morning of February 15, 1961 the captain had to abort the approach and circle around for a second attempt to land on a different runway. The plane, a Boeing 707, never made it back to the airport; instead, it plunged into the wooded farmland of the village of Berg, Belgium taking the lives of all 72 passengers and crew plus a farmer at work in his fields. All 18 members of the American figure skating team plus 16 of their relatives, friends, and coaches, were among the dead.
The 1961 World Championships at Prague were canceled. The remains of Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughters were brought home for interment in the Story Chapel Columbarium at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
In 1976, Maribel Vinson Owen was posthumously named to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame and was inducted a second time in 1994 with George E.B. Hill in the Pairs category. In 2011, she was inducted a third time as a coach for the 1961 World Team. In 2001, Maribel was inducted to the inaugural class of the Professional Skaters Association' Coaches Hall of Fame. In 2002, she was inducted in the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
In Winchester, Massachusetts, the Vinson-Owen school was named in her honor.
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