Thursday, 17 August 2017

Brackets And Bonds: The Adrian Swan Story


"People overseas are amazed to learn that Australia has ice skaters. They think that ice and sunny Australia don't go together." - Adrian Swan, November 26, 1952, :The Argus"

Born May 3, 1920 in Melbourne, Australia, Adrian Wildman Swan had quite the unconventional career as a competitive skater. After serving as a Corporal in the Australian Army's Air Liaison Section during World War II, he returned home and competed as a pairs skater, first with Betty Stringer and later with Gwenneth Molony, with whom he won the Australian pairs title in 1950 at age thirty. Thirty?! Can you imagine? The internet trolls today would have already have him signed up for a nursing home... but I digress. That October, Gwenneth and Adrian gave an exhibition at the opening of Australia's only open-air ice rink at the time, the Tasmanian Glaciarium, performing not only pairs and singles skating but ice dancing as well. According to the October 24, 1950 edition of "The Examiner", they skated "versions of the waltz, foxtrot and tango, as well as novelty items." Shortly thereafter, Swan gave up pairs skating and left to train as a singles skater in England.

Valda Osborn, Adrian Swan and Ann Robinson

At the 1952 Olympics in Oslo, Norway, Adrian made history as Australia's first men's competitor in figure skating at the Olympics. Only in twelfth place after the school figures, a ninth place in free skating assured him a spot in the top ten. He followed that up with a top ten finish at the 1952 World Championships in Paris. In April of that year in London, England, the Australian won both the British junior and senior men's titles, joining three other skaters from Sydney, New South Wales who competed in the event that year.



Then the controversy began. On July 16, 1952, the "Sporting Globe" in Melbourne reported, "A first-class Olympic storm is brewing over whether skater Adrian Swan signed a bond. Swan competed for Australia in the Olympic Games... at Oslo last January. At the time there were rumours that he had not signed the bond. These were officially denied by AOF secretary, Mr. Edgar Tanner. He told the chairman, Mr. H.G. Alderson, that every member of the winter sports team had definitely signed. Now Swan already has turned professional and is skating at Earl's Court, London, under contract. He will not say whether or not he signed the bond. Mr. Alderson states that action will taken against Swan if he is proved to have become a professional. In view of the trouble over Russell Mockridge's bond, Olympic officials will have to take a stand over Swan. If there has been any irregularity there are bound to be complaints from the cyclists." The drama continued for several months at a high octane, with Swan (residing in England at the time) ultimately leaving the ball in the AOF's court as E.J. Molony, the manager of Australia's skating team at the 1952 Olympics and Edgar Tanner couldn't seem to agree as to whether or not he signed a bond or not. Swan accepted a retainer while the whole mess got sorted out prior to skating in the Earl's Court show. To explain the 'bond system', the Australian Olympic Federation had a rather ineffective system at the time that required that skaters sign bonds stating that they would remain amateur athletes for two years as a sort of guarantee if they wanted to compete internationally. If Swan did indeed turn professional after competing in the Olympics, in essence the most they could do was tear it up. That's essentially what happened.

Adrian performed in several ice pantomimes at Earl's Court and Brighton in the fifties, appearing as one half of a shadow skating pair with Errol Lake. In the sixties, he moved to America and coached at the Valley Ice Skating Center in Tarzana, California. Known as a particularly tough coach, he coached in California for many years before returning to his home country. He died on February 21, 2006 in Melbourne at the age of seventy three... taking the truth about the murky details surrounding his decision to turn professional to the grave with him.

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