Betty Callaway: Skating coach who guided Torvill and Dean to the Olympic ice dance title
Saturday 09 July 2011
The most significant achievement of the ice dance coach Betty Callaway was devel-oping the skills of the sport's most famous exponents, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.
She guided them from 11th place in their first world championship, in 1978, through to the 1984 Olympic Games. Between 1981 and 1984 they were unbeatable.
With Callaway's input, their success culminated in a win at the Sarajevo Olympics in 1984 and the following World Championship in Ottawa. In both events, their stunning Bolero routine gained an unprecedented number of perfect 6.0 marks, and worldwide fame ensued.
No one would have predicted, least of all her parents, Elizabeth and William Roberts, that their convent-educated daughter, who was raised in London, would play such a high-profile role in the sport of ice dance. They were shattered when their strong-willed 16-year-old daughter, who had started skating at the Queens Ice Club in Bayswater, left home to become a chorus girl in the 1947 Blackpool ice show.
They were equally perturbed when she married another member of the Blackpool cast, Roy Callaway, who was eight years older and did not appear to have a reliable income. But the couple began teaching at the Purley rink then moved to Richmond, where she would stay for 19 years.
There, she taught Prince Charles one summer for "six or seven weeks" and Princess Anne for three winters. Her first successful British competitors were Yvonne Suddick and Roger Kennerson, who won the 1964 World Championship bronze medal.
In 1968, she became the first woman to become the national trainer in Germany, and in 1972 guided Erich and Angelika Buck to the European title. It was the only defeat the Soviets, Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov, suffered between 1970 and 1976, during which time they won six world titles as well as gold in the first Olympic Games to include ice dance, in 1976.
By the time of the following Olympic Games, in Lake Placid, Callaway was in charge of the Hungarians Kristina Regoeczy and Andras Sallay, and there was a huge outcry against the marking, with the audience booing during the medal ceremony after they finished only second behind the Russians Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponossov. Sallay was furious with the result, but he internalised his feelings. "Betty absolutely demanded that we be extremely gracious," Sallay said. "She believed in good sportsmanship. A few weeks later, we beat the Soviets for the world title, but it wasn't the same as an Olympic gold."
Callaway had also by then begun coaching Torvill and Dean; in Lake Placid they were disappointed to finish only fifth. Torvill gave up her job as an insurance clerk while Dean left the police force so the pair could skate together full-time.
"Lake Placid was a disappointment for them but it strengthened them," Callaway said. "They continued to improve each season solely due to their unstinting work ethic ... Chris was the one who thought up amazing new moves, and Jayne was the realist, translating his vision into what was actually possible."
In the 1983 season, he went too far. Their levitation lift devised for the circus routine set to music from the musical Barnum resulted in him pulling her shoulder out, and they had to miss defending their European title. Assisted in some of their routines by the Barnum star Michael Crawford, they won that year's World Championship in Helsinki.
Then came the glorious seasonof Bolero. "They deserved everyaccolade and honour heaped on them," Callaway said. She retiredas their coach when they turned professional following the Olympics, though she returned for their comeback 10 years later, when they could take only bronze at the Olympic Games in Lillehammer.
"Of course, my role, then, had completely changed and was more minor," Callaway said. "It was more of a confidante, a fresh pair of eyes, giving my opinion. It was a brave try. Although they were disappointed they finished only third, it was an amazing achievement. They won the rumba section.
"Their rivals had the advantage of building on Jayne and Chris's achievements. In the interim years, the sport had changed and become more athletic, and their main rivals were younger. But those were wonderful days."
Callaway's second marriage, to a British Airways captain, William Fittall, ended in his death in a fire in their home. "I was going off on an early flight and didn't want to disturb Bill," Callaway recalled, "so I slept downstairs and was able to get out." She and Roy Callaway drifted back together and remarried in 2003.
Callaway worked until well into the 21st century: she was advising the British champions in 2002 and the Lithuanian champions in 2006.
Betty Daphne Roberts, ice dance coach: born 22 March 1928; MBE 1984; married 1949 and 2003 E Roy Callaway (divorced 1975), 1978 William Fittall (died 1988); died Beaconsville, Buckinghamshire 27 June 2011.
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