Remembering Andre: Skating Coach's Legacy Lives On

The Ambrose Clarion

AMBROSE - With his icy blue gaze, erect posture and incisive speech, Malcolm Redgrave makes for an imposing figure. He has a presence that seems to extend across the entire surface of an ice rink, making him appear taller than he actually is. This aura of power and authority, however, belies the reality of an unassuming, quiet, and extremely gentle man.

"If I'm at all intimidating, it's simply because I'm old," the Olympic figure skating coach says with a smile, "and terribly old-fashioned."

Well, not as old as all that. Redgrave is fifty-four, and busier now than at perhaps any other time in his eventful life. For this article, he graciously made time for an interview about his former mentor, and in the process gave us a rare glimpse of the elusive, emotional side of Malcolm Redgrave.

Once a highly successful figure skater himself, Redgrave trained from childhood with Andre Grigoriev, the celebrated ice dancer turned coach. His respect and affection for his teacher remains clear to this day.

The exact year of Andre Grigoriev's birth is unknown, but he was born before 1900, and remained actively involved in ice dance until World War II. After sustaining a minor injury during military service in the war, he returned to Russia and became a top coach of singles skaters. More than ten years later, he defected from the former Soviet Union and moved to Great Britain, where he continued to coach until his death in 1982.

During his twenty-three years as Grigoriev's student, Redgrave was a prominent member of Great Britain's figure skating team, especially during its glory days in the 1970s. He claimed six British national and two world championship titles. Though he competed in two Olympics, however, a medal at the Games eluded him. His competitive career was finally ended on a tragic note in 1980, when his wife Margaret died of cancer.

"She was my soul," Redgrave reminisced quietly, in a rare moment of openness about the painful loss. "You can't skate without that."

Eventually, however, Redgrave emerged from what he described as "a self-imposed exile from life". He moved to America, where he took up coaching, following in the footsteps of his own late mentor Grigoriev.

"Andre was brilliant. He never married, and I believe it was because of his devotion to his work. Like an artist, he was never recognized as he should have been during his life, but I truly think he was probably the finest coach who ever lived. He was also very aware of history... He wanted to leave a legacy. After he passed away, I felt I owed it to him to carry on what he had brought to the sport."

In a light moment, Redgrave even admits one of his more notable trademarks was adopted from his coach. "There's something of a joke in the skating world about Russian coaches wearing furs. Part of the stereotype goes back to Andre; he was never without this lovely wool coat with a fur collar. I've worn it, or ones like it, since I first began to coach... as a tribute, and to inspire myself by remembering him."

But Redgrave's greatest tribute came only this year, as he brought the legacy of Andre Grigoriev to its fruition. Redgrave made history by coaching three skaters to Olympic medals--two of them to gold.

"I think Grigoriev's experience is something that's going to go from one generation to the next," says U.S. men's skater Eric Lansing, who is now one of Redgrave's Olympic champions. "It's always been important to Malcolm for me to learn about Andre, and where my 'roots' in skating are. I think I'll probably become a coach myself one day, so when that comes, I'm sure I'll be teaching my skaters about him too."

Grigoriev, says Redgrave, balanced a strong personality with a gentle hand in teaching.

"He was a very small man," Redgrave recalls. "He was very sharp and to the point in speaking, but I never once heard him raise his voice. He had more patience than anyone else I've ever met, as well as an extraordinary sense of humor. And he loved figure skating with a passion.

"That love is why I'm here today."

{Photo: Malcolm Redgrave offers rinkside instruction to Olympic champion Eric Lansing.}