Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Thursday, May 11, 2006


For most people, their first skating crush was Brian Boitano. Victor Petrenko. Elvis Stojko. Alexei Yagudin. John Zimmerman or Evgeny Plushenko.

Me? Carlo Fassi.

There was just something about his old world, European charm, his Italian, visible appreciation of women, and the way he could tell the most fascinating stories, that got to me.

I was in Switzerland when he unexpectedly died during the 1997 World Championship, and, the following summer, I was honored to be involved in ESPN's A Skater's Tribute to Carlo Fassi.

A two-time European champion, Fassi, with his wife Christa, came to America in 1961, following the plane crash that not only wiped out the United States' champions, but many of its top coaches, as well.

His first notable student was Peggy Fleming, a girl whom Carlo once described as his most talented pupil, and his laziest.

According to Carlo, by the time Peggy finished fixing her hair and stretching her leg and skating a few warm-up laps, the 45-minute practice session would be almost over. But, when competition time came and she knew she had to deliver, she did.

Peggy Fleming, however, came with another component: her mother, who some likened to Mama Rose from Gypsy, while others saw as her daughter's greatest advocate.

Every night during the years Peggy trained with Carlo, Mrs. Fleming would call the Fassi home, often during dinner-time, and engage Carlo in an hour -- sometimes longer -- discussion of her girl's progress that day, and of his plans for their session tomorrow. Realizing this could take a while, Christa would prop a pillow underneath Carlo's head, and give him a blanket so that he could stretch out along their kitchen counter and rest, while Mrs. Fleming spoke. At his memorial service in Switzerland, a tearful Peggy predicted that the moment Carlo got to heaven, there would be a ring of the phone, and her mother would be on the other end.

It was while instructing Peggy that Carlo pioneered the team teaching technique used at many training sites today. Besides his wife, without whom Carlo swears he never could have achieved equal results, he invited various choreographers to contribute to Peggy's programs. Said Carlo, "You must have a team, because not everyone can be good at everything. One coach may be technically good and not have the personality to bring out a champion."

But, if there was one thing Carlo Fassi had in spades, it was personality. At any competition, he was the best show in town. A gregarious man who knew everyone from every association, he could most often be found in the hotel lobby, smoking and holding court. He sat back, and he let the acolytes come to him. Skaters, judges, federation heads, television staffers, they all wanted to hear what Carlo thought of the upcoming competition, who Carlo thought would win, who Carlo thought they should keep an eye on. Carlo answered every question graciously, offering a joke here, an anecdote there, and then, he was off to the rink to oversee his students' practice, to help them in any way he could -- be it through body-language or shouted instructions in broken English or pounding the barrier with skate-guards to boost their energy -- to squeeze out one more jump, one more spin, than their exhausted bodies' ever dreamed possible.

Coming Up Next: Carlo strikes Gold -- twice -- in 1976.


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