Jeannette Altwegg obituary

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Jeannette Altwegg, who has died aged 90, was the past British pistillate to triumph an Olympic idiosyncratic ice-skating golden medal – astatine the 1952 Winter Games successful Oslo. Her uncommon and celebrated triumph, astatine the property of 21, would usually person led to a lucrative nonrecreational vocation – oregon astatine slightest different mates of tilts astatine the Olympics arsenic an amateur. But successful information Altwegg opted soon afterwards to permission skating altogether, taking up a home presumption astatine a location for kid refugees successful Switzerland earlier getting joined and raising 4 children. When she unexpectedly came backmost into the nationalist oculus successful 2011, she explained unapologetically that “my household has been, and is, my career”.

However, Altwegg besides revealed that wounded had played a portion successful her disappearance. “I messed up my genu successful my past twelvemonth of competing and astatine that clip they were not capable to run connected it arsenic they are now,” she said. “In a mode it’s bully to halt erstwhile you’re astatine your peak. It’s bully that you don’t spell connected and on.”

Whatever the merits of Altwegg’s determination to quit, her astonishment aboriginal status was undoubtedly a large nonaccomplishment for British skating. Aside from Olympic gold, she had won the satellite rubric successful 1951, was European champion successful 1951 and 1952, and could person continued to beryllium a planetary unit implicit the adjacent decade. No British pistillate has travel adjacent to winning an Olympic idiosyncratic golden successful fig skating since her victory, and the lone different to person matched her accomplishment was Madge Syers, who won the ladies singles astatine the London Olympics successful 1908, the archetypal twelvemonth that women’s fig skating was an Olympic event.

Altwegg’s mother, Gertrude (nee Muirhead), was from Scotland and her father, Hermann, was a Swiss national. She was calved successful Bombay (now Mumbai) successful India, wherever Hermann worked with the Liverpool Cotton Exchange. But the household moved backmost to the UK erstwhile Jeannette and her brother, Christopher, were inactive young.

She learned to skate astatine the property of six astatine the Palace Ice Rink successful Liverpool and wrong 4 years she had shown specified committedness that her parents had taken her retired of schoolhouse for backstage tuition focused astir the skating rink. By the property of 16 she was representing Great Britain successful the European and satellite fig skating championships of 1947, finishing 4th and 5th respectively.

Jeannette Altwegg winning golden successful the 1951 European fig skating championships.

Also an fantabulous tennis player, successful the aforesaid twelvemonth Altwegg was runner-up successful the singles astatine the British inferior championships astatine Wimbledon, raising questions arsenic to which athletics she mightiness take to pursue. But her caput was made up successful 1948 erstwhile she won the archetypal of her 4 elder British fig skating championships and past went connected to instrumentality 1 of lone 2 medals won by Great Britain astatine that year’s Winter Olympics successful St Moritz, with a bronze successful the women’s singles aft an particularly bully show successful the compulsory figures.

Altwegg’s spot ever laic successful those compulsory figures – a present defunct constituent of fig skating successful which competitors were judged connected their quality to hint precise shapes successful the ice. Although by nary means a mechanical skater, she was little formidable successful the escaped skating constituent of competition, which enactment much accent connected flair and creator invention than it did connected subject and control.

Although she grabbed different bronze astatine the 1949 European championships successful Milan, debased free-skating scores deprived her of a medal astatine the 1949 satellite championships successful Paris, wherever she finished fourth. But her dependable temperament ne'er allowed her to get upset erstwhile determination were setbacks. The pursuing twelvemonth she upgraded to metallic astatine some the European and satellite championships, and successful 1951 she won golden astatine some by amassing immense points leads successful the figures that made up for immoderate shortfall successful the escaped skating sections.

Jeannette Altwegg surrounded by photographers successful  1952, aft  winning golden  astatine  the Olympic Games successful  Oslo, Norway.
Jeannette Altwegg surrounded by photographers successful 1952, aft winning golden astatine the Olympic Games successful Oslo, Norway. Photograph: Hulton Getty

Altwegg retained her European rubric successful Vienna successful 1952, aft which she went consecutive to Oslo for the Winter Olympics. Working with her Swiss coach, Jacques Gerschwiler, and trying to disregard problems with her knee, she developed a caller escaped skating programme acceptable to Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann, which she hoped would supply a much coagulated instauration than erstwhile routines.

After posting a beardown people successful the figures, however, she could inactive negociate lone 4th spot successful her weaker event, though successful the extremity she had conscionable capable points to triumph golden up of the American Tenley Albright (silver) and Jacqueline du Bief of France (bronze).

Altwegg’s was the lone medal of immoderate statement won by her state successful those Winter Games, and served arsenic a invited morale booster successful postwar austerity Britain. But the triumph proved to beryllium her last competitory performance, and aft a celebratory objection astatine the Kingsway Rink successful Dundee, she consigned her skates to the cupboard.

There were plentifulness of lucrative offers connected the table, including a £2,000-a-week declaration from the Music Corporation of America to prima successful a worldwide crystal dancing tour. But Altwegg was not tempted. “No thanks, not for a cardinal pounds,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald. “I’m not funny successful luxury. I wouldn’t similar it. Besides, I’m not a melodramatic skater. I could ne'er bash fashionable euphony hallway stuff.” Her ambition, she said, was “to get joined and person children” – and truthful she did.

Made a CBE successful 1953, Altwegg spent overmuch of that twelvemonth successful Winterthur, Switzerland, taking a people successful children’s welfare, aft which she accepted a occupation astatine the Pestalozzi Children’s Village for orphaned kid refugees, successful Trogen. Earning the equivalent of little than £3 per week, she worked from 6.30am to 8pm each day, helping to attraction for the children portion besides washing, ironing, cleaning floors and doing wide housework.

In Switzerland she met Marc Wirz, an engineer, who was a member of the Swiss skating champion Susi Wirz, 1 of her erstwhile sporting rivals. They were joined successful 1954, aft which she near her occupation to rise their children. The household had a comfy beingness successful Switzerland; determination was a summertime location successful Spain, riding, recreational play and tennis, and she learned to fly. The matrimony ended successful divorcement successful 1973 and, aft resettling successful Berne, Altwegg declined each interrogation requests for the adjacent 4 decades, adjacent erstwhile she was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame successful 1993.

In 2011, however, she did judge an invitation to be the European fig skating championships successful Switzerland, during which she emerged concisely into the light. In assorted property interviews she revealed, among different things, that being taken retired of schoolhouse to ore connected her skating had made her turn up excessively accelerated and near her missing the companionship of children her ain age. It was possibly this that influenced her aboriginal determination to permission the athletics truthful aboriginal to ore connected household life.

She is survived by her 4 children and 13 grandchildren.