All Hans On Deck: The Hans Gerschwiler Story
Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, NISA Archives
"Besides all the honours and fun that skating has brought me, along with the chance to travel and see other countries, I shall always be grateful for the many friends it has given me all over the world... They have been just wonderful to me - generous, kind and welcoming always." - Hans Gerschwiler, "Skating" magazine, January 1948
"Bring on the heavy artillery." - Hans Gerschwiler, on men's figure skating
Dame Anna Neagle and Hans Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy Elaine Hooper, NISA Archives.
Hans worked in a factory and as a fire watcher during the War. He was rarely able to train - sometimes only once a week - with the rinks at Queen's and Richmond being the only two that remained open... with blackout curtains on the windows and gas masks in the dressing rooms should an air raid siren go off.
Despite subsisting on meagre rations, Hans did manage to participate twice a year in exhibitions that benefited British war charities. He even did some pairs skating with Joan (Lister) Noble. Off the ice, he spoke English, French, German and Italian and was well respected by his peers. He played tennis, squash and swam, had a piano accordion and enjoyed yodelling "until his voice broke".
(Silent) footage of Hans Gerschwiler and Dick Button skating at the 1947 World Championships
When skating competitions resumed following the War, Hans returned to win two more Swiss Championships and easily skated to victory at the 1947 European Championships in Davos. His crowning moment came at the 1947 World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden when he claimed the gold medal ahead of Dick Button after securing a 34.9 point lead in the school figures. In his book "Dick Button On Skates", Uncle Dick recalled, "The fateful bell sounded again and it was announced that Hans had won. I was second. He had scored seven and I had eight in this placings. But there was more to it. The score was even closer. I had made up the deficit in points! I went beyond the Swiss by 352.86 to 350. But that didn't matter; it meant an E for effort, but Hans still won. He had a majority of first places in the votes of the judges - three to two - and that's what counted. Gerschwiler was ranked first by the Swiss, Czech and English judges, with me second. I won the Danish and United States votes, with Hans second on those cards... I congratulated Hans and assured him that the best man had won."
Left: Maja Hug and Hans Gerschwiler. Right: Hans Gerschwiler and Barbara Ann Scott.
Hans didn't win in Prague. Dick Button did... and decisively at that. This time, Dick had a 2.8 point lead on Hans in the figures too and ultimately beat the Swiss star by seven placings in the free skate. At the 1948 Olympic Games in St. Moritz, Hans' error on the back loop change loop allowed Dick to increase his early lead in the figures. Hans finished second, 29.6 points behind him. Skating after Dick received a 6.0 for his free skate, Hans managed to skate quite masterfully on terrible ice but a fall left him in second with a total of twenty three placings to Button's ten. Even though he was the defending World Champion, if you look the fact that those Olympics were only his fourth international competition... an Olympic silver medal was pretty damn impressive if you ask me. Hans rebounded at the 1948 World Championships in Davos, beating Dick 1149.3 to 1145.4 in the school figures but a flawed free skate left him again in second with nineteen places to Dick's eleven and 1948.5 points to Dick's 1928.7.
Many of Gerschwiler's students went on to become coaches themselves, among them none other than Doug Leigh, who coached Elvis Stojko to Olympic Silver and World Gold to match his coach's successes. Hans later relocated to the U.S. and got married. He was honoured by the ISI with an induction their Hall Of Fame in 1980. When Stéphane Lambiel won the World title in 2005, he was one of the first people to send him a congratulatory message.
Hans sadly passed away on September 27, 2017 at the age of ninety seven. When considering his unique contributions to the sport, skating historian Nigel Brown said it best: "Hans Gerschwiler was a scientific skater. Every movement or move, either in figure or free was calculated technically. Its cold correctness had a powerful charm about it, because it was performed to well-nigh perfection. The aim of the English school had been achieved by Hans Gerschwiler... Until now simple runs in preparation for getting a position or as momentum for a jump were often strewn all over the rink in wasteful fashion which dislocated the continuity of the exhibitions. Hans Gerschwiler pioneered the employment of intricate steps in relation to the other movements as an essential part of the programme."
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