Member: Kingston (Ont.) and District Sports Hall of Fame (2004)
Jean Matthews served as a figure skating judge for the Battle of the Brians at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. Four years later, she again judged the men’s single program at the Olympics at Albertville, France.
She began judging the sport in 1967, earning her international credentials in 1976. She judged world figure-skating championships in the 1980s, but considered her two Olympic assignments the pinnacle of her career.
“It is the pressure cooker of all pressure cookers,” she told a reporter four years ago.
In 1988, Brian Orser of Penetanguishene, Ont., was a gold-medal contender when Calgary played host to the first Winter Olympics in Canada. His main challenger was Brian Boitano of Sunnyvale, Calif. Orser had won a silver Olympic medal four years earlier and enjoyed a long streak of success against Boitano in competition. Orser served as Canadian flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremonies. The Battle of the Brians promised to be one of the great competitions in Olympic sport and it did not disappoint.
Both men skated to martial music, “Napoleon” for Boitano and “Dance of the Carter” and “Dance of Kozelkov and His Friends” from the ballet The Bolt for Orser. Boitano landed eight triple jumps, including two axels. Orser landed seven triple jumps, but stepped out of a triple flip near the start of his routine. The judges split 5-4 with Boitano narrowly winning the gold, Orser taking a second silver. Matthews’ judging placed Orser first, Boitano second.
Four years later, the leaders in the men’s free skate at the 1992 Olympics “stumbled and bumbled” through their programs, according to the New York Times, leading to wide discrepancies in the judging. Kurt Browning of Caroline, Alta., was rated as high as second and as low as seventh. (It was Matthews, the Canadian judge, who rated him second.) Brian Orser of Canada memorably said, “The judging was worse than the skating.” Browning finished in sixth place in the competition.
Flora Jean Cameron Gilchrist was born in Toronto in 1928 as the youngest of five children. She took up the sport at the Toronto Figure Skating Club at age seven. In 1939, an older brother, Donald Gilchrist, won the first of his three national championships in the fours event, a discipline since cancelled. Her brother won the national pairs title with Marlene Smith in 1949 and 1950 before becoming a judge.
Jean Gilchrist was studying at l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques in Paris when she traveled to Milan, Italy, where her brother was judging a competition. “I thought this is nice, all these trips, nice hotels, no expenses,” she said. “You don’t get paid as a judge, but there are other perks.”
She married, raised a family, and completed an education degree at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., before becoming one of Canada’s top figure skating judges.
In 2004, she bought her grandfather’s home at Tottenham, a former Ontario village now part of New Tecumseth, where he had owned the general store before becoming a private banker. She died at the family home. She leaves a son, a daughter, seven grandchildren, two great-granddaughters, and her brother Donald Gilchrist, who was inducted into the Canadian Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1996. She was predeceased by her husband John Matthews, who died in 1996, and by a son, Peter Matthews, who died of leukemia in 2005, aged 49.
In retirement, she remained a faithful fan of the sport.
“I love the costumes, I love the music and I like to see the wonderful footwork and extensions get their due,” she told Simcoe.com in 2010.