From Berlin To Brooklyn: The Arthur Held Story

"Brains and patience are the essentials for success. It means years of work, and if one of your hockey players were to devote the same time and brain study to his sport as the average skater does to his pastime, the question of salary limit would be even a more vexed one." - Arthur Held, "The Calgary Daily Herald", December 15, 1911

Arthur Held was born January 27, 1887 in Neustadt, Germany. Little is known about his early life aside from the fact he served for two years as a Corporal in the Imperial German Army's Engineers branch, won the junior championship of Munich in 1903 and taught figure skating for a time at the Berlin Eispalast. He later recalled of the famed German rink, "It was funny to see boys and girls who walked with the uncertain movements of their bodies like a young collie dog, skating in perfect position."

Arthur emigrated to America in 1910 and spent one winter teaching skaters in New York and Boston. In 1911, he was invited to the Minto Skating Club by the Earl Grey to teach his daughter Lady Evelyn Grey the finer points of school figures. He soon became the Minto Skating Club's first instructor and played an important role in introducing the new Continental (International) Style to Canada. He also helped develop fours skating, an evolution of the English combined figures. Among his students were some of Canada's earliest champions, including Eleanor Kingsford, Ormonde Butler Haycock, Douglas Henry Nelles and Philip Harvey Chrysler. Kingsford recalled, "Thanks to His Excellency who did so much to help the club, our first professional came out from Europe and quite revolutionized our style. How he enthused us and made us work, six hours a day and more, and what a joy it was being taught the correct way to swing and balance."

In her book "Minto: Skating through Time", Janet B. Uren noted, "Arthur Held deserves recognition as Minto's first coach, the one who helped Ottawa skaters to strive for and, for the first time, meet international standards. He also managed to win over at least one Ottawa audience by performing ten minutes of 'stunts' in the intermission of a hockey game. His program, the local newspaper reported, included 'spirals, counters, back rockers, serpentines, reverse swings.' The hockey audience, used to tougher fare, began by lustily booing 'the little fellow, alert, swift and natty in his skating uniform.' By the end of the program, the onlookers were cheering their heads off."

Arthur had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian, but behind the discipline was an understanding of figure skating's artistic possibilities. He believed skaters and sculptors each had something to teach one another, and noted it wasn't an uncommon sight for skaters to study the statues in European museums for inspiration. Quoted in the December 15, 1911 issue of "The Calgary Daily Herald", he remarked, "Following the plan of the continental teachers, I endeavor, and have had its success demonstrated, to have all those who come to me for instruction well versed in the ground work, that is, the correct poise of the head, the movement of the hip and shoulder, and the correct way of carrying the balance foot. When these have been properly learned and the whole body taught to swing in a line and not by jerky movements, the skater is then in a position to take up waltzing or even free to enter upon the wider field of free and fancy skating. I am often asked as to what constitutes the difference between the Continental and Canadian styles. In 1900, Salchow, the ten times world's champion, demonstrated how the various styles, which had been developed previous to that, could be adapted, each to some particular figure. He then worked out, as it were, a combination of all of these, taking in the better points of each, with the result that he believed he attained the perfect style. As skaters are quick to grasp anything in the way of improvement, it was readily adopted. This then is the Continental Style. It gives the skater a chance to develop individual 'mannerisms,' you might call them, yet the ground work is the same. So you see, there really is no Continental Style. It is simply the style for correct skating, and if it is taken up seriously, you might see within a few years a representative of the Minto club entered for the world's honours."

Mademoiselle Dazie and Arthur Held. Photo courtesy Library Of Congress.

Arthur and George and Elsbeth Müller were arguably the first European coaches to come to North America and 'raise' skaters on the Continental (International) Style, which was also being introduced to members of clubs in large centers by North Americans who learned the Style abroad around the same time. Other European coaches of renown, such as Sweden's Bror Meyer and Emmy Bergfelt, Germany's Karl Zenger and France's Armande Gobeille, soon followed. Several of these coaches did their rounds in New York, Boston, New Haven, Philadelphia, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, helping to spread the 'skating gospel' and fostering a sense of community between Canadian and American skating clubs, which began to intermingle at competitions and carnivals during the Edwardian era and the years that preceded The Great War.

After his tenure at the Minto Skating Club, Arthur returned to New York and taught at the St. Nicholas Rink during much of The Great War. In February of 1916, he won a competition for professionals judged by audience ballot at The Hippodrome in New York City, besting four other men. That same month, he skated an unconventional duet during the intermission of a hockey game at the St. Nicholas Rink. The February 24, 1916 issue of "The Sun" recalled, "Irving Brokaw and Arthur Held, the latter dressed as a woman, gave an exhibition of pairs skating." In 1917, he even appeared at the Hero Land exhibition at the Grand Central Palace in Manhattan with Bror Meyer, Emmy Bergfelt, Fanny Davidson and Freda Whitaker to promote figure skating in New York. After The Great War, he supplemented his income from teaching skating by working as a tool maker at an automobile engineering firm.

In 1921, Arthur began teaching at the Brooklyn Skating Club, which was undergoing a reorganization at the time. During his short stint teaching there, the membership grew from eleven to seventy one members. One of his last performances was a duet with Virginia O'Mallet in the first Intercity Scholastic Skating Championships held at the Brooklyn Ice Palace. 

Arthur passed away on May 25, 1922 in Manhattan at the age of thirty-three, six weeks after contracting pneumonia - in the days before antibiotics. He left behind his wife Maria and two children... and earned his place in the history books as one of North America's first notable European skating instructors.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Luyken's Schaatsemaaker

"Holland may certainly be called the skater's paradise." - C.G. Tebbutt

Published in 1694 by seventeenth century Dutch poet, illustrator and engraver Johannes 'Jan' Luyken of Amsterdam and his son Caspar, "Het Menselyk Bedryf" (loosely translated as "The Book of Trades") was a book of one hundred engravings, each depicting various trades in Amsterdam during the Dutch Golden Age. From the Vleeshouwer, the backer to the kaarsemaaker (butcher, baker, candle maker), each engraving was paired with a moralistic verse. The thirty-fourth of the engravings was "Schaatsemaaker" - 'the skate-maker' in english. The moralistic verse accompanying "Schaatsemaaker" was as follows:

"De Eydelhed, om vreugd te raapen
Wyl't weerels her naar uitvlucht dorst,
Begeeft sich op de waater korst,
En laat de Dood van onder gaapen:
So speeld de Mens op't aerdse wel
Als over't gaapen van de Hel."

The verse speaks of finding joy in moving over the 'water crust' and evading death below in the gap of hell. In her 1983 essay "Dutch prints of daily life: mirrors of life or masks of morals?", Linda A. Stone-Ferrier of the Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art interprets proverbs such as Luyken's from the period thusly: "Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century proverbs, such as 'the world moves on skates' also related the misfortunes of life to the perils of skating... Jan Luyken wrote a poem about the pleasures of skating, but also discussed skating as a symbol of mortality."

The contributions of the Dutch to skating's early history in Europe are countless. Hexham's "English And Netherduytch Dictionarie", published in 1648, mentioned skating in Holland. Eminent skating historian Nigel Brown noted in his 1959 book "Ice-Skating: A History" that "well before the middle of the seventeenth century ice-skating had become an important recreation in Holland. Several notable Dutch painters turned to the frozen ponds for inspiration. Life there was colourful and gay. It was practised by every class of society, from the simple peasant to the princes themselves... While speed would be the main preoccupation of the peasants hurrying to the market over the frozen canals to sell their wares, of the youths challenged to race their nearest companion, and of the soldier whose duty it was to move faster than the enemy, it would not have had the same necessity to the nobleman. Le grand siecle had just begun. Refinement and grace were a nobleman's passport. Exaggerated speed on ice, and the manner of performing it would appear vulgar to him. To his refined tastes it was an exercise of no appeal. The influence of elegance and good manners cannot be overestimated when following the early development of skating. It was this aristocratic interest which laid the foundation-stone of artistic skating. Sliding over the ice in an elegant fashion, listing over in a Dutch roll, gliding over the glistening surface balancing one foot behind like a graceful dancer had an irresistable attraction."

In seventeenth century Holland, a Schaatsemaaker was considered a noble profession. Skate-making was considered a specialized trade. The orders for iron and steel blades that skaters would strap onto their shoes would have been placed at a frenetic pace and work of the first quality would have been expected. Without those iron and steel blades, the Dutch would have never introduced the Dutch Roll, it never would have made it back to Great Britain and the trajectory of skating history would have been changed forever. Luyken's ode to the Schaatsemaaker was a depiction of how important skating was in Holland at the time and serves, in present day, as a reminder of just how paramount the Dutch were in the sport's early development. A copy of Luyken's "Schaatsemaaker" engraving can be found at the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in Colorado Springs, donated as part of the Grafström collection.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

The Summertime Reader Mail Edition

It's once again time to unpack the mail bag, answer some of your questions and share some of the interesting e-mails and social media messages that have come my way over the last few months. As always, if you have a question you'd like me to tackle or feedback on a blog please reach out via e-mail.


From @Huriye (via Twitter): "Could I please ask about Medal Ceremonies? When did they stop awarding a Sash to wear for the medalists? I thought they were a lovely touch & was it at Worlds & Olympics as well as Europeans? Also when did they stop having Medal Ceremonies on the ice rink after each event at Olys?"

A: A really interesting (and tricky) question. Looking back at old podium photos from international competitions, there's not a lot of consistency. At the 1964 European Championships, all of the medallists were given sashes to wear. In 1965, they were only given to the winners. In 1969, all of the medallists got them again. A picture of one of the podiums at the 1959 Worlds doesn't show any sashes, but one from the 1965 Worlds shows all three of the medallists wearing one. My guess is that it was probably up to the organizers of the events whether or not they were given or not? It's also worth pointing out that the pictures we see of podiums could be taken at any stage of the awards ceremony. Without reviewing video footage of every competition it's really hard to say definitively, and even then it's really not because awards ceremonies were rarely taped in their entirety. As for medal ceremonies at the Olympics, I'm not quite sure about the question? My understanding is that venue ceremonies have been consistently held even though in very recent years the actual medals have been awarded at different ceremonies.

From Susan (via Facebook): "For testing purposes, was the Starlight Waltz once a Gold dance? Was the 3-Lobe Waltz once a pre-Gold dance?"

A: The Three-Lobe Waltz was originally a Silver Dance in the USFSA test structure. It was moved to the Gold Dance Test in 1950. When a Pre-Gold Dance test was introduced in the mid-fifties, it was moved there. The Dance Committee dropped it from competitions in 1959 but kept it as a test dance. It was dropped altogether during the 1982-83 season, because it wasn't a dance that was adopted by the ISU. The Starlight Waltz was originally adopted as a Silver Dance in the NSA's High-Test Schedule and as a senior compulsory (Gold Dance) by the ISU in international competition in the mid-sixties. It was 'demoted' to the Senior Silver Dance test here in Canada prior to 1980.

Illustration from Walter Arian's 1941 book "The Fundamentals Of Figure Skating For The Beginner"

From Terese (via Twitter): "If you watch video of the Dick Button era, you see that it was common for skaters to have their free leg bent a lot. Who is responsible for changing that aesthetic, and when did it happen?"

A: Interesting question, Terese! When Sonja Henie won all three of her Olympic gold medals, the ISU's rules for correct form stated, "Free leg poised or swung entirely from the hip, in the socket of which it should be turned outward and backward as much as possible, always separated from the skating leg, knee slightly bent, toe pointing down and out." It wasn't any one person who was responsible for changing that aesthetic, but instead a gradual evolution of rule changes after World War II and evolving attitudes among skaters, coaches and judges. By the time Dick Button won his second Olympic gold medal in 1952, "a well-extended free leg and pointed toe" was considered good form.

From Alexis (via Facebook): "Which ice skaters have competed at an elite level on rollers?"

A: There have been quite a few! In recent years, the most notable is Matteo Guarise of Italy. He won the World pairs title in roller skating in 2008. A ridiculous amount of German skaters have found success on both ice and rollers. Ria Baran and Paul Falk, the 1952 Olympic Gold Medallists, were world roller pairs champions in 1951. Marika Kilius was also a World Champion on both ice and rollers, winning the women's event at the 1958 World Roller Skating Championships. Marika's first partner Franz Ningel, a World and European Medallist, won the 1955 and 1956 World Roller men's titles. Manfred Schnelldorfer, the 1964 Olympic Gold Medallist, was third at the World Roller Skating Championships in 1959. Two-time West German ice dancing champions Sigrid Knake and Günther Koch won the World roller pairs title twice and the roller dance title once. The list of elite German ice skaters who won medals at the World Championships on rollers also includes Freimut Stein, Marina Kielmann, Rita Paucka and Peter Kwiet, Thomas Nieder and Rita Blumenberg and Werner Mensching. There were a number of American skaters who achieved success competitively on both ice and rollers too. Sheryl Trueman and Jack Courtney won the 1969 World Roller pairs title, and Jack won the world men's title that year as well. They won the 1971 Eastern Great Lakes and Midwestern junior pairs titles on ice. Jack won the bronze medal in the senior pairs event at the 1975 U.S. Championships with Emily Benenson. Jane Pankey and Richard Horne were twice World Roller Dance Champions and finished second in the junior ice dance event at the 1970 U.S. Championships on ice. And as everyone knows, Olympic Gold Medallist Tara Lipinski got her start on rollers, winning the primary girls event at the 1991 U.S. Roller Skating Championships. 

From Ron (via e-mail): "When did plastic [ice] start being used for shows?"

A: Really interesting question, Ron! In 1967, two skaters (one of them an engineer) from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania - Randolph 'Sunny' McCulley and Vincent Stoltz Jr. filed for a patent for an artificial skating surface called Slick. Synthetic or 'muck' ice had already been around for decades at this point, but this was the first time a patent was filed in North America for an 'iceless' rink. Slick ice was manufactured by Vinyl Plastics Inc., based in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and sold for two dollars a square foot. As part of a publicity campaign several champion skaters, including Melitta Brunner and Debbi Wilkes, were invited to test out the surface. Slick ice caught on quickly and was hugely popular in the seventies. Shows were soon held in unlikely places like shopping malls, amusement parks, zoos and trade shows.

Marina Cherkasova and Sergei Shakrai

From Frazer Ormondroyd (via Facebook): "A very famous picture, it was featured in Sandra Stevenson's BBC book of skating. She barely looks 8 let alone 12. I could never get my head around it until I eventually saw the footage for myself many years later and actually, Zhuk's girls all had fantastic basics and were more than a match for their more mature partners. Plus the content for the era was incredible. SBS triple toes, quad twists, triple axel catch twists, throw double axel, extended jump combinations and more and more complex lifts etc. Cherkasova/Shakrai, Pestova/Leonovich, Pershina/Akbarov were essentially the same pair, their technique was identical and essentially they were Zhuk's blueprint for G&G. It's interesting to watch these pairs develop as they mature. Cherkasova's growth was too much for Shakhrai come 1981. Pestova got taller but stayed tiny and their most successful season was in 1982, six years after they debuted. Gross & Kagelmann managed to win bronze at two Olympics in which she was two different heights and very much a mature pair by 1976. They skated great in Sapporo but shouldn't have beaten out JoJo Starbuck and Ken Shelley for the bronze who were another John Nicks pair very close in height."

From Pam (via e-mail): "Interesting couples and quotes in the article. I was expecting some counter examples of similar height pair partners that had success - Babilonia and Gardner, Debbi Wilkes and Guy Revell (believe Debbi was even taller than Guy). Different times and earlier era I guess. Thanks for the article."


From Tracey (via Facebook): "Hi I am wondering if you can help me with finding out about a distant family member. My mum passed away recently and she had talked about one of our relatives - Elaine Skevington who came 8th in the European figure skating championship held in Germany in 1953.  It would be lovely if I could find out more.  Perhaps you could point me in the right direction.  Thanks in anticipation."

If anyone knew Elaine and can share any stories or information, please reach out and I'll pass your messages along to Tracey.


Barbara Wagner and Richard Dwyer posing for a publicity shot for the Ice Follies in 1969

From John McKilligan (via Facebook): "My favorite teacher of all time. The LADY was amazing. We were blessed to be accepted as Barbara's students for the summers of 1965 and 1966. My sister and I stayed with Linda Carbonetto Villella and her family for the summer of 1965 in San Mateo, California. When we arrived we thought we were already something. Barbara spent the first 5 or 6 weeks breaking us down to the very basics of how to stroke (and nothing else). So strict, so appreciated next year. For the summer of 1966 we got to stay with Barbara and her mother high up in the hills of San Mateo. Oh what a summer! Oh what memories! Awesome teaching, weekend trips to Squaw Valley, and other weekends in Haight-Ashbury and other parts of San Francisco in the Age of Aquarius. Those 2 summers are the highlight of my life and Barbara was the highlight of those summers. The amazing Barbara Wagner."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

#Unearthed: The Great Frost Of 1895

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's #Unearthed comes to you from the late A.C.A. Wade's book "A Skater's Cavalcade: Fifty Years Of Skating" and offers a first hand account of skating in England during The Great Frost Of 1895. Enjoy!


My happiest memories of open-air skating - or any skating - are those of the early months of 1895, when England had the longest frost for very many years. This protracted cold spell began soon after Christmas with two weeks' sharp frost, followed by snow and a short thaw. Before the snow and ice had disappeared, frost set in again in mid-January. Day after day the temperature went lower, and in the country the snow lay hard and white for many weeks. I was home at Gravenhurst from my last term at school, and had an almost unlimited holiday in front of me. Nearly every day Jack Titmas and I tramped across the fields to Wrest Park, where we had permission from Lord Cowper, the owner, to skate on all the lakes in the gardens and surrounding grounds. About half-a-dozen other youths from the neighbourhood. joined us daily, and on most days we had many acres of ice to ourselves until dusk, when a few more people arrived. We explored every corner of the gardens and found several quaint little lakes hidden away behind high centuries, old yew hedges, but the best ice of all was on our favourite Serpentine. We used to take our lunches with us, and generally sat on the snow-covered banks to eat. When the wind was very keen we occasionally had our lunch in one of the picturesque pavilions or summer-houses in the gardens. Usually we were so warmed up by the exercise that cold didn't worry us, but the air gave us wonderful appetites, and it was generally hunger that eventually drove us homewards in the evenings.

Some delightful ice picnics were organised by one of my aunts (Miss Maud Wade), when a merry party sat around in the snow by the lake-side to munch cakes and sandwiches. The boiling of the kettle for tea on a small bonfire of dry sticks required a good deal of ingenuity and patience. Those were very good days, before the age of thermos flasks and music from the gramophone or wireless. By the way, we once had a village band to play while we skated. Their job was certainly a chilly one, but we "thawed" them with something piping hot to drink besides tea. Although the thermometer was often near zero, and sometimes below, we did not seem to feel the cold nearly so much as we did when it was barely freezing. That was, I believe, due in great measure to the dryness of the atmosphere. I never wore an overcoat during that time, but was always careful to have warm gloves - just in case of frost bite. During that long, cold period the waters of many of the more shallow lakes and ponds froze right to the bottom, the ice being several feet thick. This was not always an advantage, as while there was no danger of falling through, the solid blocks sometimes cracked and the fissures would catch a skate blade and trip an unwary skater. Cattle and horses often wandered over the ice and trespassed in unexpected places, as the water no longer formed a barrier. A coach and four was driven across more than one river; in fact, most of the lakes could have carried a heavy train, complete with locomotive. Many rivers were frozen for miles, and on the Ouse at Bedford, where I skated one day for a change, there were hundreds of people on the ice which stretched from Bedford Bridge right to Kempston in one direction and to Newnham in the other. This frozen river proved a great boon to local Carters, who took a short cut with laden wagons and horses across the ice. In addition to hockey, we sometimes introduced some novelties into skating - or perhaps I should say ice sports. I remember a bicycle race in Crest Park which though not exactly a success gave plenty of amusement to those who watched - if not to the competitors.

"Jack Frost; Or The Future Universal Provider"

Directly the race started the fun began. Two machines immediately skidded on the slippery surface, the third, which was close behind, falling over the others. Nothing daunted, the cyclists tried again and one managed to keep up until he ventured to make a turn, when his machine slithered across the ice, bringing down an unwary spectator. Sail skating, or skate sailing, I don’t know which term is the more correct, was another novelty we tried which was decidedly thrilling. With a home-made sail stretched out on the arms, the wind sent us gliding along. When the wind was boisterous, steering became Very tricky and difficult, and naturally the sport became more risky and consequently more exciting. Unless great care was taken the wind might suddenly swirl the skater round and a crash would immediately result. This happened to more than one of us. Near the end of the great frost I was in London for a few days, and saw the Thames covered with great masses of ice floating down the river, with tugs churning through the floes like miniature ice-breakers. The Press had a good deal to say about this great frost, and the Morning Post recorded that "in the middle of February, 1895, the Thames was frozen over for a mile above Kingston Bridge and thronged with skaters."

"Showing how strong the ice is," the report continued, a correspondent states that "a gentleman rode on horseback from the Middlesex to the Surrey shore, and a horse and cart was driven up and down the ice for a considerable distance." There were many other unusual incidents recorded during this period. An ox was roasted on the Thames at Hampton Ferry. The knife and fork used to carve the ox were presented in 1934 to the Kingston Museum by Mr. S.W. Alexander, a member of the Kingston Council. A fancy dress carnival was held on the ice by torch-light at Teddington, and cyclists rode across the river at Kingston. A four-in-hand was driven across the ice at Richmond, and at Oxford a coach and four crossed the Cherwell. At the Thames near Putney a solid block was formed of ice floes from bank to bank. At Greenwich the river was blocked by ice for over a week, even high-powered steamers being unable to force a passage.

"Skating by Torchlight on the Serpentine" from "The Daily Graphic", 1895

The Serpentine in Hyde Park was crowded day and night, and one Sunday a battalion of Guards in full kit marched across the ice, where 100,000 people were skating. People in the Fens skated 30 or 40 miles as a matter of course, and many vehicles were driven over the ice to see a great skating match on Spinney Fen in Cambridgeshire. According to Haydn's Dictionary of dates, the great frost of 1895 actually began on December 30th, 1894. Except for a mild period from January 14th to 21st it continued until March 5th, 1895. The temperature in London on February 9th sank to 13 degrees Fahrenheit, and at Loughborough, Leicester, a temperature of one degree was recorded.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Maker Of Champions: The Arnold Gerschwiler Story

Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine

"No fool is any good at figures - only smart intelligent people!" - Arnold Gerschwiler

"He was an incredible, wonderful man. He was by far the most important person in international figure skating ever. He was responsible for England being the foremost figure skating nation in the world. He was internationally respected, admired and copied." - Richmond Meacock, "The Times", 2003

Arnold Gerschwiler was born May 28, 1914 in Andwil, a municipality in the canton of St. Gallen in northeastern Switzerland. Though he skated on natural ice as a schoolboy, it wasn't until his older half-brother Jacques invited him to visit England in 1931 that he began pursuing figure skating seriously. Under Jacques' guidance, he practiced tirelessly at Golders Green and Streatham Ice Rinks. Within a year, he passed the National Skating Association's Gold Figure Test and turned professional. He really believed he could make a difference in the sport, and it didn't take long at all before it became apparent he was a gifted teacher.

In the autumn of 1932, Arnold accepted a position teaching in Neuchâtel. While in the canton, he passed Switzerland's first class (Gold medal) test, finished third in the country's first Professional Championships and gave a number of exhibitions that helped foster interest in the sport. Interestingly, he not only demonstrated his figure skating prowess - but also performed a barrel jumping act. The January 29, 1934 issue of "L'Express" reported that he "jumped over barrels, the number of which increased with each turn, then over a table, through a frame hung with paper, and all with a smile on his face." 

Arnold Gerschwiler barrel jumping in Neuchâtel. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Under Arnold's guidance, skating in Neuchâtel progressed rapidly. His first students included Madeleine Matthys, Charles Clerc, Eugène Gallino and Otto Schmid. Two promising youngsters, eight year old Doris Blanc and his thirteen year old nephew Hans, were his first star pupils. Hans won his first two of five Swiss titles prior to World War II and Doris became Swiss Champion during Wartime.

Left: Arnold Gerschwiler in Switzerland. Right: Arnold Gerschwiler on stilt skates. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Arnold returned to England in 1934 to teach at the newly-opened Empire Pool, Wembley and in subsequent years not only demonstrated his skill as a teacher, but his own abilities as a skater. In 1936, he finished third in the World and British Open Professional Championships. 

Hazel Carle and Arnold Gerschwiler. Photos courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Arnold went on to pass the National Skating Association's Gold Pairs Test with Olive Robinson, Gold Dance Test with Hazel Carle and earned the First Class Instructors' Certificate in 1940. The fact that a Swiss skater was the first person ever to hold the 'triple crown' of NSA Gold Medals in Singles, Pairs and Dance and the First Class Instructors' Certificate was (quite simply put) a huge deal.

Left: Arnold Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy "International Ice Skating Directory". Right: Arnold Gerschwiler demonstrating a handstand for an off-ice class. Photo courtesy "The Skating Times" magazine.

Arnold's decades-long association with the Richmond Sports-Drome began in 1937. He became the legendary rink's head instructor the following year. When World War II broke out in 1939, he was a member of the Swiss military reserve. He was called upon to serve, but was given permission to remain in England in civilian employment. Both he and his nephew Hans (who had followed him to England not long after he started teaching at Wembley) served as fire-watchers during the Blitz. Arnold was at the Richmond ice rink when a two thousand pound bomb fell in the engine room. Fortunately for London - and Arnold  - it did not explode. 

Violet, Arnold and Hans Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Though wartime conditions led to several rink closures, Arnold continued to teach during Wartime and was responsible for several large ice shows that fundraised for War charities. He married the love of his life, Violet Blundell, in August of 1941. The couple later had two daughters, Stella and Claire and settled at a house on Ailsa Road, St. Margarets, Twickenham.

Hans and Arnold Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Arnold's influence on skating's development in England was nothing short of extraordinary. He played an important role in getting skating on television for the first time after the War, introduced Great Britain's first Zamboni and was one of the founders of the Richmond Trophy and St. Ivel competitions. The Bristol firm Stubbs & Burt even manufactured an Arnold Gerschwiler skating boot. He was known particularly as a specialist in school figures, but also did pioneering work with pairs skaters.

Group photos of Arnold Gerschwiler with his students. Photos courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Internationally, too, Arnold was a man of great influence. His student Michael Booker recalled, "The Gersches didn't hesitate to challenge judges. They had taught most of them." In 1952, Arnold came to teach in North America for the first time at a summer school in Stratford, Ontario. In 1968, he visited Japan and held clinics with skaters in Tokyo, Osaka and Karuizawa. Every winter, he brought his students to Davos to train to better prepare them for the harsh conditions they might encounter in international competitions.

Sjoukje Dijkstra, Arnold Gerschwiler and Joan Haanappel. Photo courtesy Dutch National Archive.

Under Arnold's direction, the Richmond Sports-Drome earned an international reputation as "a miniature United Nations". Skaters from as far away as South Africa, Australia and Japan flocked to England to work with him. Though the fact he'd worked with many champion skaters from an early age was a source of pride for him, the fact many top-level skaters went to him at the height of their careers to improve even more is also worth nothing. His students included Olympic Medallists in every colour, World and European Champions galore and the winners of over one hundred national titles in Europe and beyond. At the 1950 European Championships in Oslo, his students swept the gold medals in the men's, women's and pairs events.

Top: Sjoukje Dijkstra, Arnold Gerschwiler and Joan Haanappel. Second From Top: Valda Osborn and Arnold Gerschwiler. Third From Top: Ája Zanová  and Arnold Gerschwiler.  Fourth From Top: Maria and Otto Jelinek and Arnold Gerschwiler. Bottom: Malcolm Cannon and Arnold Gerschwiler. Photos courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

An incomplete list of Arnold's pupils (including those he worked with for decades or days) reads like a who's who of the sport's history: Sjoukje Dijkstra, John Curry, Donald Jackson, Hans Gerschwiler, Ája Zanová, Daphne Walker, Andrea Kékesy and Ede Király, Doreen Denny, Marianna and László Nagy, Arthur Apfel, Valda Osborn, Lorraine Hanlon, Joan Haanappel, Maria and Otto Jelinek, Michael Booker, Sonia Bianchetti Garbato, Patricia Dodd, Bridget Shirley Adams, Jacqueline Harbord, Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt, Susan Jackson, Joan Lister, Elyane Steinemann and André Calame, Barbara Conniff, Dagmar Lerchová, Hellmut Seibt, Leena Pietilä, Silvia and Michel Grandjean,  Nelly Maas, Birgitta Wennström and Sture Höidén, Joyce Coates and Anthony Holles, Adrian Pryce-Jones, Adrian Swan, Nicole Hassler, Annelies Schilhan, Vladislav Čáp, Winnie and Dennis Silverthorne, Lidy Stoppelman, Carole Jane Pachl, Zsuzsa Almássy, Yolande Jobin, Moira June Macdonald, Vanessa (Simons) Riley, Hanna Eigel, Sandra Cariboni, Susan Jackson, Rita Trapanese, Peter Burrows, Daniel Höner, Ingrid Wendl, Jiřina Nekolová, Bill Cherrell, Ann-Margreth Frei, Ursula Arnold, Kazumi Yamashita, Ann-Karin Dehle, Monika Zingg, Anne Reynolds, Thelma Perry, Malcolm Cannon, Carol Stephanie Noir, Kalle Tuulos, David Clements, Luny Unold and Hans Kuster, Jill Hood-Linzee, Valerie Moon, Walter Arian, Kim Alletson and Brian Pockar. I could keep going, but I'm afraid even the Google doesn't have the space. 

Top: Arnold Gerschwiler working with twelve year old Sjoukje Dijkstra. Bottom: Sjoukje Dijkstra and Arnold Gerschwiler sharing a drink. Photos courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Olympic Gold Medallist Sjoukje Dijkstra recalled working with Arnold in her delightful 2014 interview with Allison Manley on The Manleywoman SkateCast: "He was good at figures, but he was good at the free skating too. He had his methods and his ways, and patience. And especially when you're very young - you have to be careful with children, with their bones. You can't start doing too many difficult jumps too soon, because the bones are still soft. But he had a very good way. Sometimes he had to say, that's enough now, because I wouldn’t give up. But other times he would make me so cross because he said, you're not trying at all. And I was really trying very hard... He really knew how to teach his pupils, and he had a very good way. He could get through to you in a nice way. With figures, too, he had certain ways that you will never forget it and you will never do it again. Like with the push-offs in the figures, sometimes you would keep your foot on the ice and there would be a line on the ice. He wouldn't get mad or anything. If he saw you – he would give lessons to other pupils, but he could still see the others and what they were doing — he would call you over. He did that to me once, and he said, listen, can you go to the office and get me a pair of scissors. So I said, okay, thinking, well, that’s a waste of time, me going over to get a pair of scissors. But I went to the office and said to Betty - that was the secretary there - could I have a pair of scissors please? And she said, yes, who wants them? And I said, well, Mr. Gerschwiler asked me to get them for him. So I got them and went to him and said, here, Mr. Gerschwiler, the pair of scissors. And he said, good. Now take those scissors and go and cut your push-offs. So you would only do that once and never again, you would never forget to lift your foot off the ice."

John Curry, Arnold Gerschwiler and Patricia Dodd. Photo courtesy "Ice Skate" magazine.

Over the years, Arnold didn't only teach champions. He was one of the first instructors in England to develop a large-scale learn-to-skate program for youngsters. He was also one of the few instructors that had that the privilege of rubbing shoulders with - and teaching - both high society and royalty. 

Valerie Hobson and Arnold Gerschwiler working on a skating scene for the film "Great Expectations". Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Arnold gave lessons to Prince Charles and Princess Anne, and was later received by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace and Princess (now Queen) Beatrix of the Netherlands. He also gave lessons to Sir Hugh Dowding, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Air Force, during World War II and taught several prominent actors and actresses how to skate for film scenes, among them Claire Bloom, Valerie Hobson, James Mason and Patricia Roc.

Left: Arnold leading an off-ice training class. Bottom: Arnold overseeing a patch session. Photos courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Arnold took his job extremely seriously and expected his students to put in the same effort he did. He ran a tight ship, and during patch sessions you could hear a pin drop. Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, he shared some of his values about coaching in an 1965 interview for "Skating" magazine: "Figure skating needs good, conscientious coaches for the future. To any amateur considering teaching, my first advice would be to accept an instructional job in a small club or public rink where he has the opportunity of learning how to teach. He should keep his first job for two to three 'apprenticeship' years, during which time he could prove to himself whether he can cope with teaching, is capable of accepting a bigger job, and has had success with his pupils. I think that this skater should devise a definite program so that he can build a beginner to championship caliber. A good foundation in skating is also a necessity. The all-important understanding between teacher and pupil at championship level can only be accomplished after years of working together. I have found that when a pupil has been with me for a short time he always reverts to his old method of approach when under pressure at a championship. There is nothing more irritating for a teacher than to have all his work thrown overboard in a few minutes! All the World Champions I have taught have been with me for several years prior to their successes. My nephew Hans Gerschwiler I taught from the outset, Ája Zanová for five years, and Sjoukje Dijkstra since she was nine. Profiting from my years of accumulated experience, Sjoukje improved right up to the last championship in which she competed. Valda Osborn, who passed her NSA Gold Medal at nine, started skating with me at the age of three. Later, I had to reteach her the various movements so that she, being older, would understand their purpose."

For his contributions to the sport, Arnold was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1985. He retired from coaching when Richmond Ice Rink closed in 1992, and was bestowed the Order Of The British Empire (OBE) in 1997. In 2003, at the age of eighty-nine, he returned to Switzerland one last time to visit his life-long friend Karl Enderlin. On August 22, 2003, not long after his return, he suffered a heart attack and passed away at Cheam, Surrey. Though it's hard to really put into words the scope of Arnold's contributions to the sport, the fact he taught literally hundreds of champions speaks for itself. 

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":

Getting To Know Gersch: The Jacques Gerschwiler Story

Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler

"In the fog the other night, I got lost and I walk round in a circle and get back where I started. So I think immediately of skating. Yes. Now this is it. Some skaters do a clockwise turn; others do an anti-clockwise turn. They find it hard to do any other kind. Now I wonder... which way would a skater who does a clockwise turn walk if she was lost in the fog - clockwise or anti-clockwise. I must try that!" - Jacques Gerschwiler, "The Daily Mirror", December 10, 1952

"Oh, well, let me see if YOU can do it any better." - Cecilia Colledge
"Listen, my child, if I can't produce something better than I, than I'm no damn good as a teacher." - Jacques Gerschwiler (recalled by T.D. Richardson)

Jakob Gerschwiler was born September 10, 1898 in Rogwil, a municipality in the district of Arbon in the canton of Thurgau in Switzerland. He was German Swiss but (as he spent much of his later life abroad) his name was often adapted as Jacques, Jacob and Jack. Many knew him simply as 'Gersch'.

In his youth, Jacques excelled at gymnastics, athletics and tennis. In 1921 at the age of twenty-three, he began studying at the Deutsche Hochschule für Leibesübungen (German University of Physical Training) in Berlin. His studies led him to positions as an instructor of tennis and gymnastics. He discovered figure skating at the Admiralspalast, once home to impresario Leo Bartuschek's Eisballets which starred the famous German professional skater Charlotte Oelschlägel. It was at the Admiralspalast that he first became acquainted with the old Viennese School of skating, which would influence his later teachings.

After taking lessons from Bror Meyer, in 1925 he took a position as the director of skating at the Lyceum Alpineum Zwoz, an international boarding school two miles from St. Moritz. The following year, he took the ISU's Gold Test at the Kulm Rink in St. Moritz, passing with two hundred and ninety-four out of the maximum four hundred and ninety-two points. The minimum passing mark was two hundred and forty-seven. One of the three judges that presided over Jacques' test was Herbert James Clarke, who would go on to serve as the ISU's President. Jacques' only competitive success as an amateur was a win at a small Swiss competition which translated to the Championship Of The Plains.

In the mid-twenties, Jacques travelled to Paris in hopes of securing a position teaching skating there, but arriving too late in the season found the ice had melted. He stayed long enough to learn a little French before relocating to England. Visiting the Richmond Ice Rink during 'English hour', he observed English Style skaters performing their stiff 'Once Back And Q Outwards' combined figures and imagined them with their arms out, turning with their hips instead of their shoulders. It was through his exposure to English Style skating that Jacques conceived a method of teaching skating which has been dubbed The Modern English School.

Jacques decided to stay in London and establish himself as a skating instructor. He settled in Belsize Park, Camden and invited his half-brother Arnold to join him as a teacher at the Streatham and Golders Green rinks. In 1929, he began teaching a talented young skater named Cecilia Colledge at Queen's Ice Rink. During the period he was coaching Cecilia, he entered the 1933 and 1934 Open Professional Championships of Great Britain, losing on both occasions to his bitter rival Howard Nicholson. At the time, Nicholson was coaching one of Cecilia's chief rivals, Sonja Henie

Though Jacques never won the Open Professional Championships of Great Britain, he was impressed enough with the concept that he encouraged the Schweizer Eislauf Verband (SELV) to organize a similar championship in 1933. With his student Cecilia in tow, he travelled to Switzerland, entered the event and won - defeating Arnold in the process. Interestingly, though Jacques didn't get along with Howard Nicholson, he was quite chummy with Phil Taylor - the father and trainer of one of Cecilia's biggest rivals at home, Megan Taylor. Jacques actually travelled to Lake Placid to the 1932 Winter Olympic Games with the Taylor's aboard the S.S. Berengaria, the Colledge's making alternate travel arrangements.

Gersch and Cecilia Colledge

Jacques was by all accounts brilliant at teaching school figures and unorthodox in his methods of teaching free skating. Though different stories have been told, Cecilia Colledge was historically been the skater given credit for the invention of both the camel and the layback (or backbend) spins as she was the first to perform them in international competition in the early thirties. Jacques had Cecilia work with a gymnastics teacher named Miss Lee, who tied a rope around her waist, to help teach her the position for the layback. Belita Jepson-Turner, another of Jacques' exceptionally talented students during the thirties recalled, "He'd invented a machine of some kind like a brace in which we put our feet. He braced us against the wall with our feet going behind us. Well, I was very loose and it didn't take me very many days for my feet to be facing the wall on the other side of the room... but it did give me an absolutely super spread eagle. I did the spread eagle with my hip practically on the ice. The trouble was it ruined my legs for life. Many, many times later in my career I wished to heavens I could still be doing that spread eagle."

Top: Gersch with Cecilia Colledge, Pamela Stephany and Daphne Walker. Photo courtesy National Archives Of Poland. Bottom: Arnold, Hans and Jacques Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Remaining in England during much of World War II, Jacques rotated between London rinks that weren't commandeered for war purposes, teaching classes behind blackout curtains. He taught full-time at Queen's Ice Rink alongside his half-brother Arnold and Eva Keats in 1944. Just prior to the War, he had taught at Queen's, Westminster Ice Club, and the Empire Pool, Wembley. After the War, Jacques taught almost exclusively at Streatham Ice Rink. Richmond was considered Arnold's domain... and it was where Jacques' nephew Hans ultimately trained. Hans won the World title in 1947 and the Olympic silver medal behind Dick Button in 1948.

Jacques and Arnold congratulating Hans Gerschwiler after he won the 1947 World Championships. Photo courtesy Stella Gerschwiler.

Jacques played an important role in the education of other coaches. It was he who taught Miss Gladys Hogg when she transitioned from rollers to the ice. It was also he who acted as one of the founders of the Ice Teachers Guild in 1936, later known as the Imperial Professional Skating Association and British Ice Teachers Association. He often gave seminars on figure technique to Swiss coaches. In May of 1939, he became the first person to pass the NSA's First Class Instructor's Test. 

Jacques teaching skaters at Streatham Ice Rink in 1952. Photo courtesy The Jepson-Turner Private Family Collection. Used with permission.

When the SELV developed a Skating Coach Diploma in 1948, Jacques' methods of teaching figures were an important part of the exam. T.D. Richardson recalled, "In my mind 'Gersch', as [he] is known throughout the civilized skating world, is directly responsible for the improvement in the general accuracy of the 'general tracing' and for the uniformity of the turns which characterizes modern school skating, and I would go so far as to say that the 'still' change of edge was brought to perfection under his tutelage." Jacqueline du Bief recalled that he was "keen on pure technique, at the cost of individuality and the spectacular."

Jacques teaching skaters at Streatham Ice Rink in 1952. Photos courtesy The Jepson-Turner Private Family Collection. Used with permission.

Jacques' list of students was staggering, to the say very least. In addition to Olympic medallists Sissy Schwarz and Kurt Oppelt, Cecilia Colledge and Jeannette Altwegg and professional star Belita, he taught Carlo Fassi, Edi Scholdan, Yvonne Sugden, Joyce and Colin Bosley, Olive Robinson, Karin Iten, Sally Anne Stapleford, Bridget Shirley Adams, Patricia Pauley, Barbara Wyatt, Beryl Bailey, Susi Wirz, Jacqueline Harbord, Fiorella Negro, Pat Devries, Constanza Vigorelli, Günther Tyroler and Nancy Hallam.

Bridget Shirley Adams, Jacques Gerschwiler, Susi Wirz and Beryl Bailey in Switzerland. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Jacques also worked on figures with Denise Biellmann and Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill and gave lessons to Grace and James Madden. He told once told reporter Peter Thomas, "I also trained Lord Templewood to skate when he was fifty-five - and he got a medal too. I [coached] old ladies and gentlemen, little girls and boys of four. I am very happy man... I am glad I didn't stay as a schoolmaster in Switzerland. I would have missed so much happiness."

Left: Jacques Gerschwiler. Photo courtesy "The Skater" magazine. Right: Charles Landot, Jacques Gerschwiler and Cyril Beastall. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.

Jacques' male students were expected to wear suits; women dresses. Cecilia Colledge was made to go to bed early and was forbidden from smoking and drinking coffee, tea and alcohol. Cornered in a restaurant by a reporter from "The Daily Mirror" in 1952, he said, "It is not such an easy life, ice skating. Why, most girls get up at six o'clock in the morning to get to Streatham ice rink by eight o'clock. That is why I am not so worried about losing these girls for boyfriends. What boyfriend wants to be told at nine o'clock that the outing is over because the girl has to go to bed? All these girls, they write to me after I let them go. But me - I don't reply to letters. I hate it. They ask me questions. If I don't reply they know the answer is 'Yes'. And Christmas cards - I never send them. I telephone my girls. I like talking to them much better."

Top: Jacques, Cecilia Colledge, Arthur V. Hopkins, Ája Zanová and Arnold Gerschwiler at Richmond Ice Rink in 1950. Photo courtesy "Skating World" magazine.. Bottom: Gersch teaching a Swiss student in 1972

Later in life, Jacques returned to Switzerland. Until the age of eighty-five, he served as a consultant to the SELV. On his seventieth birthday, he was honoured with an engraved golden signet ring with the letters SELV and his initials. Nigel Brown recalled, "Upon receiving the ring, Gersch could not resist remarking that the 'S' looked like a bad change of edge; the 'E', a poor three; the 'L', a false start on the forward inside edge'; and the 'V', a bad three-turn." In 1977, he collaborated with Otto Hügin on an instructional book called "The Technique Of Skating".

Gersch and Karin Iten

In his golden years, Jacques lived at the Hotel Moderne in Geneva and had a second home in Baden-Baden. He enjoyed gambling in Monte Carlo and Biarritz and a kept a notebook 'full of numbers'. In 1952 he joked, "It is just a system. I have devised it so that when I go to Monte Carlo for a holiday I never lose anything [yet] never make a great deal. But who knows? One day I might break the bank." When his health declined, he moved into the Résidence Notre Dame near St. Gervais. He told reporters he wanted nothing to do with the skating judges he called "scoundrels" and remarked, "It takes an elephant skin in this sport of intrigue."

Honoured with an induction to the World Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1976 and a lifetime achievement award from l'Association Suisse Des Journalistes Sportifs in 1984, Jacques passed away in Geneva on May 4, 2000 at the ripe old age of one hundred and one, making him one of very few skaters who lived to be over the age of one hundred. He was posthumously inducted into the Professional Skaters Association Hall Of Fame in 2004.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

Once asked what his greatest accomplishment was, Jacques said, "I think it was when I encouraged [Jeannette Altwegg] to marry the right man." At the time of his death, Dieter Ringhofer recalled, "That he has a sister who is still alive, his friends learned only in recent years. Jack Gerschwiler had not wanted to see her before. As gracious as he could [be], he could be so vindictive. He also did not want to make public his departure. '[There] should not be made a fuss over me.' Only after his cremation was [his sister] allowed to be informed."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":