Olympic ice skater became showbiz star
NANCY KATHRYN BURLEY ICE SKATER 8-3-1930 - 7-1-2013
8-3-1930 - 7-1-2013
By BELINDA CHAMBERS
NANCY Burley, who fell in love with ice skating at an early age, competed in the Winter Olympics, became a show-business star and later devoted her life to promoting the sport, has died on the Gold Coast.
Nancy was born to Clarence and Gladys Hallam. Her childhood in Hawthorn remained precious to her throughout her life. It seems those days were filled with tennis parties and beach holidays. Pat Burley, the cousin of a friend of hers, recalls: "She was so athletic, so fit, she could run, swim like a fish, and was the best body surfer anyone ever saw. She was so full of fun, how can you not fall in love with a girl like that?"
Nancy went to school at Merton Hall. Her favourite subject was art, but for the most part she was a reluctant student. Her parents, thinking a change might help, moved her to St Michael's. She went on to study creative arts at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.
Her first major sporting achievement was to win the Victorian under-12 diving championship. The next step in her training was the high-diving platform. Being strong of mind, Nancy refused, bringing to an end her diving career. Not long afterwards she decided figure skating was her passion and began to skate seriously. She skated at the Melbourne Glaciarium where her coach was a world champion, Felix Kaspar. When Kaspar moved to Sydney she followed him.
In January 1951, Nancy married Pat at the All Saints' Church of England in St Kilda.
Later that year she gained the title of Victorian senior champion and in the national championship came second, after Gweneth Molony.
Not satisfied with second place, she sailed with Pat to London to train with Jacques Gershweiler, who coached Jeanette Altwegg, the then world champion and a future Olympic champion.
While in London she competed in the British championship, finishing a creditable fourth. Nancy was an exciting skater, known for her speed over the ice and the height of her jumps. Gershweiler credited her with the best double loop in the world. In 1952 Nancy followed Gershweiler to St Moritz in Switzerland to prepare for the Winter Olympic Games in Oslo, Norway.
Nancy enjoyed the accommodation in the Olympic village and was presented with the Australian Olympic athletes' jacket and tie, but the assistance she received was in stark contrast to that of today's Olympic athletes. Still, the challenge and the adventure were reward enough for Nancy.
She and Molony were the first women to represent Australia in the Winter Olympics. Nancy's inspiring freestyle performance won her 12th place, with an overall final placing of 14th. In 1973, the president of the Australian Olympic Federation, Sir Edgar Tanner, said in his official Olympic report that Nancy's performance at the 1952 Oslo Winter Olympics remained the best performance by an Australian winter Olympian in the intervening 20 years.
Following her Olympic career and at the request of Kaspar, her former coach, she turned professional to partner him in an "international ice show".
During this time she performed an impromptu audition for the famous Holiday on Ice show. Her performance was impressive and, although the casting had been finalised, Nancy was hired as the principal of the show. With Holiday on Ice she travelled throughout Europe and starred in the first ice show to tour Japan and east Asia after World War II.
Nancy was then asked to star in an ice show directed by Terry Rudolph at the Casa Carioca, a small but important nightclub in Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany, where skaters performed on a nine-by-12-metre ice floor accompanied by a 17-piece live orchestra.
While she was performing there, Pat succeeded in his application to design and construct a golf course in the Libyan desert for the American Air Force. Nancy went with him and their first child, Sharon, was born in May 1956 in Libya. They quickly decided that Tripoli was too dangerous for their child and returned to Melbourne where Nancy began a professional coaching career.
She coached at the St Moritz ice rink in St Kilda and trained several national champions and Olympic representatives, including Mary Wilson and Aileen Shaw.
In 1958, their second daughter, Robyn, was born. The two little girls were a gift for Nancy. Their ice skating talent was an immense joy to her and their development formed much of the purpose of her life for the next 20 years.
Pat and Nancy supplied the floor for the first international ice show to tour Australia, Ice Capades. The floor became the Moorabbin Ice Skating Rink, and began their many years in partnership owning and operating ice rinks across Melbourne.
In 1970, now parents to three daughters, Pat and Nancy opened Australia's first custom-built ice skating rink in Ringwood.
Under Nancy's guidance, the Ringwood Figure Skating Club became the most successful in Australia. It was home to 70 per cent of Australian championship titles and included world and Olympic representatives Sharon Burley, Billy Schober, Cameron Medhurst and world professional champion Robyn Burley.
Nancy used her many alliances around the world to benefit Australian ice skating, bringing many world-famous skaters and coaches to Australia.
In 1977 she left Melbourne to begin a new life on the Gold Coast. Her health declined in her last six months due to a form of blood cancer.
Nancy is survived by Pat, her three daughters and seven grandchildren.