Arnold Gerschwiler

Inspirational ice-skating coach

Arnold Gerschwiler, ice-skating trainer: born Arbon, Switzerland 28 May 1914; OBE 1997; married 1941 Violet Blundell (two daughters); died Cheam, Surrey 22 August 2003.

For nearly 50 years from the mid-1930s Britain's ice skaters owed much of their success to two gifted Swiss coaches, Jacques and Arnold Gerschwiler. Jacques died in 2000 at the age of 101. Arnold, his half-brother, was nearly 16 years his junior.

Jacques, originally Jacob, was born in 1898 and first studied to be an athletics coach in Berlin. While there he became acquainted with ice skating in the international style and evolved his own theory of skating technique. After a visit to London in 1929 he settled in Britain, teaching at Queen's Ice Club, Bayswater, and later at Empress Hall, Earls Court, and then at Streatham until the 1960s.

Encouraged by his brother, Arnold followed him to England and competed in the British Open Professional Championships in 1935 and 1936. His true métier, however, was as a teacher and he joined the staff at Richmond Ice Rink. There in 1937 he met a young social skater named Violet Blundell; they were married in 1941.

In 1939 Arnold Gerschwiler was called up by the Swiss army for a year; he came back to England in 1940 and after the fall of France was unable to return to his own country. He resumed teaching at Richmond, taking his turn at fire-watching at the rink. He was there when a 2,000lb bomb fell in the engine room but did not explode. One of his pupils in 1940 was an elderly man with a heavy moustache - Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, who was sometimes able to get away from his task as Commander-in-Chief, RAF Fighter Command, to relax on skates.

After the Second World War, the Rank Organisation came to Richmond to film skating sequences in The Wicked Lady (1945) and The Man Between (1953) and Gerschwiler tutored James Mason and Patricia Roc on the ice. More seriously, he was involved in organising the Richmond International Trophy, an important competition which ran from 1949 to 1980.

By now he had many gifted pupils, both British and European. He coached his own nephew Hans Gerschwiler to victory in the 1947 World Men's Championship, and the British Women's Champion Daphne Walker was second in the women's event. Gerschwiler had many Continental pupils, and in 1949 and 1950 he had the satisfaction of seeing the Czech girl Aja Vrzanova win two world titles. When she fled from her Communist homeland, he and Vi took her temporarily into their Twickenham house. She remained a lifelong friend.

Gerschwiler's brother Jacques was also enjoying good results. His first great success had been in training the pre-war British Champion Cecilia Colledge; she won a silver medal in the 1936 Olympics and was World Champion next year. Now, Jacques had a new star; Jeannette Altwegg. Twice European Champion, she won the world title in 1951 and an Olympic gold medal in 1952.

The two brothers always remained on friendly terms despite this rivalry. Jacques concentrated on British skaters such as Bridget Shirley Adams, Barbara Wyatt, Jacqueline Harbord (a musically gifted skater who appeared in John Curry's shows) and Sally Anne Stapleford. Arnold's many European students including a Dutch girl, Sjoukje Dijkstra. For three years from 1962, she won European and World titles and at Innsbruck in 1964 she brought Arnold Gerschwiler an Olympic gold medal to match the one his brother's pupil earned in 1952. He also taught Valda Osborn, European Champion in 1953 and the British Champions Michael Booker and Patricia Dodd.

Arnold and Vi Gerschwiler made their home in Twickenham a byword for warm hospitality. He was more than just a skating instructor. Bridget Adams (now Lady Bengough) pays tribute:

Jacques and Arnold played an enormous part in the lives of so many young people, and were dedicated not only to making them skate to the best of their ability, but to bringing them strength of character and courage, which has served us in all our lives.

I remember Arnold Gerschwiler for his kindness. I first met him in 1950 when I reported the Richmond Trophy for the magazine Skating World. He said: "You'll come to the party after" - a black-tie reception. I said: "I can't come like this, in a sports jacket." "Of course you must!"

I last saw him in 2001 at a splendid party at the Roehampton Club to celebrate his and Vi's 60th wedding anniversary. It was a joyous evening, crowned by a card of good wishes from the Queen, who in 1997 had appointed him OBE for services to British skating. Asked about the secret of a happy marriage, Arnold said: "Infinite patience; I have that." To which Vi immediately added: "So have I!"

Dennis L. Bird

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower