Ice skating coach behind Torvill and Dean's gold at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
In 1978, two young ice skaters approached Betty Callaway and asked her to be their coach. Callaway agreed, and the decision shaped all their lives; Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill went on to become the most celebrated of Britain's Winter Olympians, and Callaway, who has died aged 83, was forever linked with their successes.
The next six years were a heady rise to the pinnacle of the sport; from 1981 to 1984 Torvill and Dean won every competition they entered. The important numbers: three European titles, four world titles and the 1984 Olympic title. "Whatever competition it was, she would just pat us on the shoulders before we went on the ice and when we came off she would say, 'Well done, dears.' She had impeccable manners and was always elegant. She was a really strong lady, but I'm sure she wasn't always as calm inside as she looked," said Torvill.
In 1983, their world championship routine was based on the musical Barnum (about the American showman PT Barnum), and the show's star Michael Crawford assisted with their training, teaching Torvill and Dean the acrobatics from the show. He would call Callaway "Henry", as he felt he couldn't call her "Betty". The culmination of four seasons of invincibility came at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, when their "Bolero" routine earned Torvill and Dean maximum sixes from all nine judges for artistic impression. "It's one of the best I think I have seen," said an immaculately attired Callaway to the BBC interviewer Alan Weeks. Understatement was perhaps her forte.
Callaway retired as Torvill and Dean's coach after Sarajevo, when the couple turned professional, but was patting their shoulders again when they made a comeback in 1994, the International Skating Union rules having been amended to allow professionals to rejoin the ranks. They won a fourth European title, but at the Winter Games in Lillehammer that year, politics took priority over performance and Torvill and Dean were denied another Olympic gold. In difficult circumstances, Callaway was as polite and obliging as ever.
Born Betty Roberts in Reading, Berkshire, and educated in London, she was disappointed in an early ambition to be a ballerina and instead pursued a career in ice skating; she had learned at Queens ice rink in west London. At 16, in the aftermath of the war in Europe, she signed up for the ice show at the Blackpool pleasure beach and progressed through the skating ranks. In 1949, after five years at Blackpool, she married the company's principal skater, Roy Callaway. Together, the Callaways embarked on a coaching career and for the next 17 years based themselves at the Richmond ice rink, Surrey. Betty took her coaching examinations and was awarded her gold star. She also coached royalty: a young Princess Anne was her pupil for three winters. Some of the princess's lessons were held at Streatham ice rink where the Daily Express posted the photo- grapher Stanley Meagher. He sat in the rafters every day for six weeks – camera at the ready –before finally catching the princess in action.
The first successful championship skaters coached by the Callaways were the ice dancers Yvonne Suddick and Roger Kennerson, who were twice runners-up in the national championships and reached the podium in three European championships. Their nemeses, in British terms, were the skaters Janet Sawbridge and David Hickinbottom; and it was Sawbridge who would become the first coach to Torvill and Dean.
Before Betty Callaway could take her place as the second, she had a spell coaching in West Germany. There was no Olympic ice skating until 1976, and at world and European level, British skaters were dominant until Diane Towler and Bernard Ford retired in 1969, when the Soviet ice dancers took over. No German skaters had ever figured at the business end of an international championship, but under Callaway's tutelage, the West German champions Erich and Angelika Buck – a brother and sister team – won the 1972 European title and were three times runners-up in the world championship.
Callaway's reputation as a world-class coach was sealed when she guided the Hungarians Krisztina Regöczy and András Salley to the 1980 world title, but by that time a couple from Nottingham were already on the roster. Torvill and Dean had parted with Sawbridge in 1978 and approached Callaway. "One of the other coaches recommended her and we gave her a call. To start with, we only saw her about four hours a week, when she would come up to Nottingham. What she was good at was nursing the creativity. She saw the creative side, particularly in Chris, and drew it out of him. She encouraged us to be ourselves," recalled Torvill.
After parting with Torvill and Dean, Callaway continued to coach; enjoying a more modest success with Marika Humphreys, who won five British titles with three different partners – Justin Lanning, Philip Askew and Vitaliy Baranov.
Callaway was appointed MBE in 1984. She and Roy divorced in 1976, and her second marriage was to a pilot, William Fittall. After his death, in 2003 she and Roy remarried, and he survives her.
• Betty Daphne Callaway, ice skating coach, born 22 March 1928; died 27 June 2011
Article originally featured on www.guardian.co.uk
Last Updated: 7th July 2011 8:26am