Obituary: Carlo Fassi

Dennis Bird
Wednesday 26 March 1997 00:02 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Carlo Fassi was one of the world's finest teachers of figure skating, who coached his pupils to an awesome number of world and Olympic championship titles. At the time of his sudden death in Lausanne he was working with a young American, Nicole Bobek, who had previously taken the bronze medal in 1995 and has potential to do even better.

Unlike some great trainers, Fassi himself had a notable championship record. I first saw him in the 1949 world championships in Paris, when I rather condescendingly wrote in the Skating World: "Carlo Fassi of Italy was inclined to toe-poke (a common fault in compulsory figure skating) but is generally conceded to have improved since last year's Olympics." He continued to do so, becoming European men's champion in 1953 and 1954. He competed in two Winter Olympics and in his own country he was unsurpassed - 10 times national men's champion and with Grazia Barcellona nine times the best Italian pair skater.

In 1954, he turned professional to teach at Cortina in the Dolomites, where he stayed for five years. One of his pupils was a fair-haired German girl Christa von Kuczkowski. In 1960, he married her, and the following year - now Senora Fassi - she was champion of Italy. She too became a trainer, and for more than 40 years they were a splendid partnership. Each had qualities that complemented the other, to the benefit of their pupils.

Fassi's great opportunity came in 1961 when he was appointed chief instructor at the Broadmoor Ice Rink in the United States. Soon the world's most gifted skaters were travelling to Colorado Springs for tuition, among them Peggy Fleming of California. She was a perfectionist, a quiet, concentrated artist whose skating seemed to be a private communion between herself and the ice. The Fassis coached her to three world titles and the Olympic gold medal in 1968.

The Fassi teaching style owed its success to its flexibility. As he wrote in his 1980 textbook Figure Skating With Carlo Fassi: "A good teacher has to adjust his or her technique to the ability and personality of each skater. The best technique for one skater may not be the best for another." The value of this approach became particularly evident in 1976 when two Fassi pupils of greatly differing personality each won world and Olympic gold medals. One was Dorothy Hamill, the other John Curry. Hamill later described how Fassi was "able to tune in to his students' moves. If we were just being lazy, he showed no mercy. But if we were truly upset, he would say kindly, 'Go on home.' "

John Curry, a skater of genius, wrote that, at first, "I did not like Mr Fassi and Mr Fassi did not like me". But very quickly, with the tactful aid of Christa Fassi, they "got along together; in fact we soon enjoyed each other's company." Curry's final verdict was: "Mr Fassi is the best trainer in the world."

Four years later, Robin Cousins was also to benefit from Fassi's tuition. He won the 1980 European Championship as well as Olympic Gold. He has described Fassi as "a tremendous morale booster and very good at giving you confidence . . . he could make people feel they could win".

Another title came Fassi's way in 1990 when Jill Trenary of the United States became world champion. She is now the wife of the skater Christopher Dean.

During the 20 or so years when I was the Times's skating correspondent I met Fassi often. I could always rely on him for an honest opinion. Some trainers are over-keen to boost their pupils' chances when talking to the press, but Carlo Fassi would not hesitate to tell me of their weaknesses as well as their strengths. His fluent Italianate English was vivid, often hilarious. He spoke several languages and on one occasion, suffering from jet-lag, he absentmindedly spoke to me in German while simultaneously conversing with someone else in Italian.

Outside the ice rink, he had a passion for making models of Second World War warships. The last time we met, he asked me to find out the exact camouflage pattern of HMS Warspite and HMS Prince of Wales.

Carlo Fassi, skating trainer: born Milan 20 December 1929; Italian Champion in singles 1943-54, in pairs 1942-51; European Men's Champion 1953, 1954; married 1960 Christa von Kuczkowski (two sons, one daughter); died Lausanne 20 March 1997.

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