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

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