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Obituary: Hans Gerschwiler

 

Hans Gerschwiler was born near Zurich, Switzerland, on 20th June 1921, the son of Johann Gerschwiler.

Surprisingly, despite having been born into the famous Swiss skating family, he did not start skating until he was 13 when his Uncle Arnold was teaching in Neuchatel.

The legendary Arnold moved to London to teach at the Wembley rink and Hans soon followed him to settle into life in Wembley.  Uncle and nephew lived near to the rink, in Alexandra Court, when Hans began to train for his NSA tests.

Our records show that he passed his 3rd class test on 29th October 1936 followed by the 2nd class on 23rd March 1937. Although he was training at Wembley, he passed his tests at Queens. In November 1937 he had passed his 1st Class test, just over a year after he came to England.

Hans development was such that in 1938 he won the Swiss Championship at his first attempt. He was 100 points ahead after the school figures which put him in an almost unbeatable position for the free skate. He went on to win again in 1939, 1946 and 1947. Had the war not intervened would he have won another 5 championships?

With the outbreak of war Arnold was called up into the Swiss Army, although the neutral Swiss soon discharged him enabling him to return to England and to Richmond, where he was now teaching. In the meanwhile, Hans and his Uncle Jacques, who trained our World Ladies Champion, Cecilia Colledge, moved into the Wimpole Street home of her parents.

Like everyone else Hans was allotted war work and so he was working by day at the MacLean’s Manufacturing Chemists in Brentford, and was fire watching by night.  As a Swiss he was designated a “friendly alien” and although we wanted him to help with the war effort he was given a midnight curfew. On one occasion he was fined £1 when a late train caused him to break his curfew time!

All of this left him very little time to skate but he managed to skate about twice a week at Richmond.

With the war over Hans was able to turn his attention to skating again and was training, at Richmond, with Uncle Arnold.

His hard work was rewarded in 1947 when he won the St Moritz International and both the European and World Championships. In the Europeans he finished 250 points ahead of the silver medalist, Vladislav Cap but in the Worlds it was a very close fight with the eventual silver medalist, the great Dick Button, who became a lifelong friend.

Hans tried other disciplines as well and entered dance competitions in English domestic competition and he was also pairs partner for a time with British Junior Champion Joan Lister, who later, as Joan Noble went on to become an international judge.

In 1948 Hans became the first Swiss to win an Olympic skating medal when he took the silver medal at the Olympic Games. He had now competed successfully at all the major events available to him  during his time training with his uncle in London.

 His skating was described by Peter West, the late BBC sports journalist as “Stamped with virile grace – the whole a symphony superb in execution. It has perfect balance and control and a versatility astonishing in conception and performance”.

Soon after winning his Olympic silver medal Hans turned professional and moved to Canada, where he taught at Schumacher in Ontario.

He met his wife Nancy Clarke from Toronto and they married in 1953.

He taught in both Canada, where Doug Leigh was one of his pupils, and the US until his retirement in 1990.

Hans was not only accomplished in Skating, he spoke 4 languages and played multiple sports. As if that was not enough he also enjoyed playing his piano accordion.

Hans Gerschwiler died on September 27th, in Pinehurst North Carolina, surrounded by his family. Hans is survived by his wife Nancy, 4 of his 5 children, 8 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.

 

Elaine Hooper

NISA Historian

September 2017