The 1956 Olympic figure skating competition was contested outdoors at the Cortina Ice Stadium, the last time that this would occur at the Olympics. Indoor competition had been held in 1920 and 1932, and beginning with Squaw Valley in 1960, indoor figure skating would become the norm. Men and women skated compulsory figures and a free skating program, with the compulsory figures counting towards 60% of the final score, while pairs skated a single free skate program. Overall placements were determined by the majority placement system. Although nine judges were standard by 1956, the ladies’ event had 11 judges for the only time in Olympic history.
There was controversy with the judging in the pairs competition. The Austrian pair, Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt, 1956 European Champions, narrowly defeated the Canadian pair, Frances Dafoe and Norris Bowden, the defending World Champions. The difference came down to two third placements given by the German and Swiss judges, with the German judge ranking his own couple second. Leading up to the event, European experts had also been critical of the American and Canadian pairs in the press, claiming that many of their lifts violated the rules. Despite this, the 1956 Olympic figure skating was a highwater mark for North American figure skating, as US skaters won the men’s and ladies’ events, and overall, the US and Canada won six of the nine medals awarded.