Obituary: Gustave Lussi

Dennis Bird
Tuesday 06 July 1993 23:02

Gustave Francois Lussi, figure-skating coach: born Switzerland 27 December 1898; naturalised US citizen 1927; married 1932 Thelma McDowell (two sons); died Lake Placid, New York 24 June 1993.

WITHIN a space of 15 years, at the turn of the century, Switzerland produced four men whose individual genius was to place them among the world's leading teachers of ice figure- skating. The oldest of them was Gustave Lussi, who has died at the age of 94. His contemporaries and rivals were Jakob, or Jacques, Gerschwiler, two years younger; Armand Perren, born in 1902; and Jacques' half- brother Arnold Gerschwiler, more than a decade younger than any of them.

All were men of intellectual fibre and strong character; they enforced a strict discipline on their pupils, which may have been irksome at the time but which, for those who persevered, brought rich rewards in Olympic gold medals and world titles. Perren died in 1982, but the two 'Gersches' happily live on.

Gus Lussi did not originally expect a skating career. He was first a ski jumper, and was later to adapt much of what he had learnt then to the different world of the ice rink. Winter sports were badly hit by the First World War, and in 1915 Lussi emigrated to the United States, becoming a citizen 12 years later. After a spell washing dishes in a New York hotel, he decided on a new vocation. Like virtually every Swiss youngster he could skate as well as ski, and before long he was a producer and director of ice shows. He also began teaching at Lake Placid, New York, and 1942 was a significant year both for him and for a 12-year-old boy from Englewood, New Jersey. Dick Button became Lussi's pupil, and stayed with him throughout his amateur career. In nine years Button was beaten only twice; he was five times champion of the world, and Olympic gold medallist in 1948 and 1952.

Lussi and Button formed a powerful alliance which conquered the skating world and developed new techniques. First was the formidable double-axel jump, two and a half turns in mid-air, then the 'Button camel', or jump parallel spin. Finally, for the 1952 Olympics, Lussi and Button developed the world's first three- revolution jump, the triple-loop.

After that Lussi's fame was assured for the rest of his life. To name only the Olympic champions, Lussi helped Barbara Ann Scott of Canada, David Jenkins, Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton at various stages of their careers. And in 1975 the British skater John Curry, on the point of giving up in despair, went to Lussi for advice and had his whole technique in jumping turned inside out. With intensive coaching on figures from Carlo Fassi as well, Curry went on to win the 1976 Olympic title.

Gus Lussi was a man of tireless energy who continued teaching until a few days before his death; a pupil, Paul Wylie, was silver medallist in last year's Olympics. Lussi ran lumber camps, hunted moose, collected objets d'art, and with his wife Thelma designed and built 'Little Alps', a Swiss chalet five miles from Lake Placid.

He was a larger than life personality who made an unforgettable mark on skating.

(Photograph omitted)

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