Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Other World Champions, Part 1

I wrote a series of articles called "The Other Olympic Gold Medallists" (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) that shared the stories of eighteen mens, ladies, pairs teams and ice dancing duos that won Olympic Gold and were lesser known to North American audiences. Their stories highlighted everything from love triangles and judging scandals to criminal convictions, a pop music career and winning an Olympic gold medal while pregnant. With the glory, magical memories and heartbreaking moments of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games now one for the record books and the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships in Japan just around the corner, I thought it only fitting to examine the stories of 6.0 World Champions that we may not know as much about we should:

ALAIN GILETTI



Alain Giletti started his skating career as something of a child prodigy, winning his first of 10 French titles (9 in singles and 1 in pairs with Michele Allard) at the age of 11 and competing against Dick Button at the 1952 Winter Olympics, where he finished 7th as a 12 year old. He wasn't another Shirley Temple though; his success was lasting and impressive. He won a total of five European Championships from 1955 to 1961 and in 1960, became the World Champion. becoming the first French men's singles skater in history to do so. What made his 1960 World Championships win so fascinating was that he was on leave from compulsory military service to even compete at the event and was expected to return and do a four month tour of Algeria following the competition.


Prior to his military service, Giletti trained with coach Jacqueline Vaudecrane in Paris and previously with Pierre Brunet in the U.S. His amateur career came to a halt when he was unable to defend his World title when the 1961 World Championships were cancelled due to the horrific Sabena Flight 548 tragedy that claimed the lives of the entire U.S. Figure Skating Team enroute to that year's Worlds. He turned professionally and toured with both Holiday On Ice and Europe's Scala-Eis-Revue and later settled in Chamonix, France where he coached for many years, Surya Bonaly being one of his former students. Giletti currently coaches in the Angoulême area of France and is much sought after for his expertise in the technical aspect of the sport.

SERGEI VOLKOV


Following the retirement of 1972 Olympic Gold Medallist Ondrej Nepela, the skater to beat in compulsory figures on the men's side of things was definitely Sergei Volkov. A 2 time Soviet Champion and 9 time medallist at that competition, Volkov was a master at compulsory figures but skated in the shadow of countrymen Sergei Chetverukin, Yuri Ovchinnikov, Vladimir Kovalev and Igor Bobrin for many years as he was not as dramatic of a free skater. Fortunes changed for him when in 1974, he won the silver medal at the World Championships and the World title the following year, besting not only his team members but outstanding free skaters like John Curry and Toller Cranston. To give you an idea of how weighted compulsory figures were at that time, Volkov finished 6th in the short program and 4th in the free skate but still hung on to win the title by more than 10 'placings' over his nearest competitor Kovalev. At the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, he again won the figures portion of the competition but dropped so significantly in the short programs and free skates that he found himself in 5th place overall. Volkov persisted in his amateur career from 1976 and 1978 with a new coach, Stanislav Zhuk, but by 1978 even found himself off the podium at his own National Championships. Volkov retired and started a career as a coach and a family, having a son with his first wife and twin daughters with his second. Tragically, he passed away in Moscow at the age of 41 of stomach cancer.

ZSÓFIA MÉRAY-HORVÁTH

If you were a ladies skater competing early in the twentieth century, you probably got more than a little nervous when they announced that the next skater to be judged was from Hungary. Lili Kronberger dominated for four years, winning four consecutive World Championships and in 1911, her teammate Zsófia Méray-Horváth was ready to take over the reigns, finishing 2nd to Kronberger at that year's World Championships. The next three years, it would be Horvath's time at the top and the next three World Championships were hers for the winning. Sadly, as World War I cancelled the World Championships from 1915 to 1921, what could have been an even bigger success story never was. Méray-Horvath never returned to skating, as was the case with many skaters whose careers were displaced by the outbreak of both of the World Wars. She turned to a new life as a language teacher. The Romanian born skater who represented Hungary died at age 87 in Hungary in 1977.

GUNDI BUSCH

Like Méray-Horvath who was born in Romania and represented Hungary, Gundi Busch was born in Italy and went on to represent West Germany, becoming the country's first ladies champion in 1954. The daughter of a German businessman, Busch lived in Italy and The Netherlands before settling with her family in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and taking up skating as a four year old. She trained both in Germany and in London, England and quickly moved up the ranks in the skating world, finishing tenth at the World Championships and standing atop the podium only a few short years later.


She turned professional following her 1954 World title win, performing with the Hollywood Ice Revue and marrying World Champion Swedish hockey player Lill-Lulle Johansson. The couple moved to Stockholm, Sweden, where they had their son Peter Johansson. Busch coached skating for many years until she retired from coaching in 1997, the year her husband passed away. Sad news courtesy Anne: "Gundi Busch passed away at the beginning of February at age 78. The German Skating Federation put an obituary onto their website 3.2.2014. RIP." Rest In Peace Gundi!

ANDREA KEKESY AND EDE KIRALY


Ede Kiraly was an accomplished skater both in men's singles and pairs skating, winning 3 medals at the World Championships (1948-1950) just behind 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist Dick Button and 6 Hungarian titles as a singles skater but 4 Hungarian, 2 European and the 1949 World Championships with his pairs partner Andrea Kekesy. The Budapest duo also won the silver medal in pairs at the 1948 Winter Olympics. When his partner Kekesy departed abroad in 1949, Kiraly graduated from the Technical University in Budapest with a degree in civil engineering and emigrated to Canada, where worked as an engineer and taught skating in Oshawa, Ontario. After a long illness, Kiraly passed away at age 83 in 2009. I wasn't able to find out much about Kekesy, who seems to have vanished off the face of the earth since she "departed abroad" in 1949. Someone call Jessica Fletcher! I've got a skating mystery.

PAMELA WEIGHT AND PAUL THOMAS


Ice dancing wasn't always dominated by Soviet and Russian skaters like it was for so many years. As we can see with times changing and the top teams out there right now being largely North American, ice dancing was at its beginning a predominantly British discipline. The first 9 years the World Championships including ice dancing in the competition, the Union Jack was flying high. The first four years were dominated by Jean Westwood and Lawrence Demmy, but the next British dance duo to rise to the top (however briefly) was the team Pamela Weight and Paul Thomas. Predecessors to great British dance teams to follow like Courtney Jones and his partners June Markham and Doreen Denny, Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Sinead and John Kerr and Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland, Weight and Thomas had been the previous year's silver medallists when they won their British, European and World titles in 1954. They retired immediately, Weight opting to raise a family and Thomas moved into the coaching world. He's currently a coach at the Calalta Figure Skating Club in Alberta alongside great skaters like Scott Davis, Annabelle Langlois and Cody Hay and Jeffrey Langdon, all accomplished skaters in their own right.

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2 comments:

  1. Gundi Busch passed away at the beginning of February at age 78. The German Skating Federation put an obituary onto their website 3.2.2014. RIP.

    Thanks for the amazing and intersting info about all the "other" champions....

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  2. Thanks for passing on that sad news Anne. :(( I've updated the article. Rest In Peace Gundi and thank you for contribution to skating! You won't be forgotten.

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