Valda Osborn

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Valda Rosemary Osborn was born in London on 17th September 1934, the middle child of Cecil and Valda Osborn.

Valda began skating as a toddler and her talent shone from the beginning to such an extent that she had won her first trophy by the age of 4, in the Wembley Under 6’s competition.

A life member of our association she joined in 1942, at the age of 8, when she took her first test.

Valda began skating at her then local ice rink at Wembley and from the start was coached by Arnold Gerschwiler, a partnership that was to last her entire amateur career.

Wembley was requisitioned for wartime use. However by 1938, “Gersch“ had already relocated to Richmond and Valda followed him. After a brief calling up to the Swiss Army, Gerschwiler was released as Switzerland took a neutral stance in the war and had no need for a huge army. He quickly returned to Richmond and Valda was able to continue her training.

Valda’s skating prowess was such that she quickly passed her tests. Completing her first-class test in 1944, beating Bridget Shirley-Adams and Cecilia College by a few months to become the youngest to pass the gold test at the time.

She was a regular at giving exhibitions. An early one was at The Civil Service Skating Association Gala. In another she skated to a selection of music from “Lilac Time,” wearing a flame-coloured velvet dress. The programme contained 5 axels and 3 double jumps. Double jumps were not normally included in British Lady’s programmes at the time, although to beat competitors around the world Valda knew that she, like Cecilia College, in the 1930’s, would have to include them if she had any chance of winning an international championship.

Valda was described in “Skating World” of March 1946 as “Probably the most brilliant skater of her age in the world”

In 1946 Valda bypassed the Juniors and competed for the British Senior Ladies Championship at the age of 11 and finished 13th but gradually rose up the ranks each year finishing tenth, seventh and forth place twice by 1951. During that time Valda was also selected to represent Team GB at the 1949 and 1951 European and World Championships.

Valda won her first British Ladies Championship at Earls Court in March 1952, but also had the honour of selection for the Olympic Games where she finished 11th.

At the 1953 British Championships, in Streatham, in December 1952, Valda faced stiff opposition from Erica Bachelor and Yvonne Sugden both of whom had skated well in European Competitions and The Richmond Trophy. After a great skate in the school figures, she amassed a huge 26 point lead and only a disastrous free programme from her and magnificent ones from her main rivals could upset the result. However according to “The Times” her free programme was ”masterly and her presentation had greatly improved to ensure her the Championship for a second time”.

Valda, when interviewed, said that her success came from 6 hours a day of practice, no boyfriends, no smoking, no drinking and help from her mascot, a white teddy bear.

To be near to the rink Valda lived with her detective uncle in Hampton during the week and spent the weekends at the family farm in Kent. She also fitted in acrobatic and ballet lessons to keep her supple. Although she was very dedicated to her training regime, she also found time to read, play the piano and sometimes play tennis.

All this hard work and dedication paid off in 1953 when Valda competed at both the European and World Championships.

At the European Championships she had a very small lead over Gundi Busch, in the school figures, of 1.02 points but her wonderful free programme saw her through to win the title. Valda remains the last British lady to win an individual gold medal at the European Championships.

At World Championships she did not have the best day on figures and finished over 30 points behind and so the gold medal would be out of reach no matter how good her free skate was but battle she did and she gave a performance to make us proud to have a World Championship Bronze medallist at the 1953 Championships in Davos. A magnificent year for Valda.

Valda’s greatest successes were derived from her amateur skating career, but it did not end there.

After the heights of 1953 Valda decided to turn professional and join Tom Arnold’s Ice shows starting in Brighton at a reported salary of £100 per week, £3500 at today’s value. However after starring in a few shows Valda decided on a different path for the remainder of her career in skating.

Valda decided on coaching and when, on September 3rd 1954, The Manchester Ice Palace reopened, after the summer break, she was a new addition to the coaching staff. In 1955 a new Ice rink opened at Whitley Bay and Valda made the decision to leave Manchester and work at the new rink. Her career at Whitley Bay soared and her reputation as a successful coach was cemented. She not only coached but produced the rink’s successful amateur shows, with her colleague, Adolf Schiff. Valda was very popular at Whitley Bay and had many notable pupils, among them future Junior Champions, Lorna Brown and Allan Williamson.

By the mid 1960’s Valda had moved south to Brighton, where she remained for some years, making lifelong friends. By this time Valda also had a family. Such was her dedication to her pupils that when the rink closed for the Party Conference Season, Valda took her pupils to Southampton to train.

After Brighton, Valda returned to Richmond, where she had enjoyed great success as a skater. Some of her pupils joined her at Richmond, including some from Whitley Bay.

Eventually Valda made the decision to leave skating behind and, together with her husband, bought a motorhome and spent some time travelling around Europe before settling in Northern Cyprus to run a bar and restaurant in the mountains.

In the mid 1990’s Valda returned to England and to Littlehampton in West Sussex before finally settling in Rustington. In later years she enjoyed her garden and reading, as well taking bus rides to the town. Valda also enjoyed going to the cinema with her friends.

Valda Osborn was one of the most elegant and successful skaters of her time and a great champion. She made the British Skating community and her country proud of her achievements. Her career covered multiple aspects of skating and earned her well, deserved respect and friendships in skating.

Valda, died in Horsham, West Sussex, on 28th December 2022 and is survived by her daughters Debbie and Helen and her grandchildren James and Charlotte.

Valda has requested a private cremation but donations in her memory can be made to either Cancer Research or Alzheimer’s UK.

Elaine Hooper

BIS Historian, January 2023

Many thanks to Debbie Thistle, Phil Hayes and Frazer Ormondroyd