Fassi, coach to stars, dies after heart attack Mentor of Fleming, Hamill was at worlds with Bobek

Figure Skating

March 21, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LAUSANNE, Switzerland -- A shocked figure skating community dealt yesterday with the sudden death of legendary coach Carlo Fassi, who suffered a fatal heart attack in the midst of the World Figure Skating Championships.

Fassi, the 67-year-old Italian-born son of a builder, was mentor to Olympic champions Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Robin Cousins and John Curry.

He was also the coach of Nicole Bobek, the American star who is set to perform in today's women's short program.

Fassi had complained of indigestion and dizziness at 11: 50 a.m. and was taken to the Canton Hospital University Vaud. He died at 2: 30 p.m., his wife Crista and son Lorenzo by his side.

A distraught Bobek managed to practice after the death was announced and then spoke with reporters. She said Fassi "took the place of being a father for me."

"I know Carlo is here with all of us," said Bobek, who had finally found a skating home with Fassi after working with seven other coaches. "I just can't see him."

Cousins stood in for Fassi when Bobek practiced late yesterday afternoon, and he will coach her through the women's competition today and tomorrow.

"From what I heard, one of Carlo's last words was to Crista [Fassi] to please be with me for the competition," Bobek said. "We all love him and we will miss him."

Fassi, a dour-looking man with a warm sense of humor, pursued skating with a passion. He won the bronze medal in the 1953 World Championships and was a European champion in 1953 and 1954.

He turned down a $10-a-week offer to join the Ice Capades and decided to go into coaching.

In the wake of the 1961 plane crash that killed most of the top American skating stars -- and coaches -- Fassi eventually was recruited to come to the United States, where he became a citizen.

In the early 1990s, he went back to Italy to bolster the country's skating program. But two years ago, he returned to the United States and joined the staff at Lake Arrowhead, Calif., a training base for many top stars.

"I went to Carlo to perfect my school figures, but the lessons he taught me changed my life," Fleming told reporters yesterday.

Cousins, red-eyed and choking with emotion, said Fassi "did not have a magic wand but he had a way. He will be missed."

Cousins added Fassi "had a unique ability to make everyone feel like they were the best."

One skater touched by Fassi was one of his new charges, Romania's Cornel Gheorghe, who finished 14th in the men's finals yesterday. Watching Gheorghe in the spot normally taken by the coach was Bobek.

"I knew he wanted me to skate and skate well," Gheorghe said.

Gheorghe remembered Fassi as a "nice person who pumped up my confidence 200 percent."

He said Fassi was a wonderful storyteller and remembered how the old coach gave him the best birthday present of all -- a night of skating talk and gossip.

"He was amazing," Gheorghe said. "So many jokes and stories about skating -- and skating mothers."

Pub Date: 3/21/97

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