Eilzabeth Manley with coach Peter Dunfield on August 18, 1983. (Fred Cattroll / Ottawa Citizen) Citizen neg. file # 83-4627. Roll B. Frame #4-4A.
Peter Dunfield, who coached Gloucester’s Elizabeth Manley to her glorious silver-medal skating performance at the 1988 Calgary Olympics, has died.
Dunfield, 82, passed away peacefully in his sleep Sunday night while resting next to his wife, Sonya, at their Seattle home. He had been suffering from a lung condition, according to Angela Derochie, a former Canadian singles champion, also from Dunfield’s camp.
“His condition had deteriorated quite a bit these last few weeks,” Derochie said in a note to Dunfield’s skating friends. “They had an anniversary party just a few weeks ago and Sonya said he was able to keep his head up quite well and be with the guests, but by the sounds of it, Mr. D. was very thin and very weak at that point.”
Along with Sonya, Dunfield coached Manley out of the Gloucester Skating Club to three Canadian women’s singles titles, plus an Olympic and world silver medal. They also coached Charlene Wong and 1994 world champion Yuka Sato.
Both Peter and Sonya were inducted into the Skate Canada Hall of Fame as builders. Fittingly, they were inducted along with Manley in 2001.
The Dunfields arrived in Ottawa during a difficult time in Manley’s life. It was 1983 and Manley’s coach, Bob McEvoy, had quit suddenly, after being struck with the HIV/Aids virus. After a brief and frustrating experience training in Lake Placid under coaches she didn’t know, Manley returned to Ottawa, frustrated, overweight and ready to quit skating at age 18.
Within six months, thanks to the nurturing and steadfast guidance of Dunfield, Manley was reinvigorated, representing Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo. Though she finished 13th, the table was set for her 1988 Calgary dramatics, where she famously pulled on a white Stetson tossed onto the ice following a singular performance that warmed the hearts of a nation.
An underdog up against Germany’s Katarina Witt and America’s Debi Thomas, Manley broke through to win the long program outright and came close to beating Witt for the gold medal. The image of Manley joyously sporting the white Stetson hat is part of Canadian Olympic lore.
To this day, Manley includes a “Calgary88girl” in her email handle. She has followed in her coach’s footsteps, teaching youngsters at the Gloucester club where she began years ago.
On Tuesday, Manley was in Moncton, attending a dinner gala, but sent along her thoughts on her beloved coach.
“Peter was such a role model and he inspired me in life,” Manley said. “Not only did he make me a champion but he brought the love of life and skating back to me. He taught me to have passion for skating, not just skate to win.
“He was and always be a hero in my life and I will miss him more than words can say.”
Dunfield’s passing sent a ripple through the sport. Skate Canada’s Emery Leger, who coached alongside him, referred to Peter and Sonya as “Royals” in the figure skating family.
“Dunfield will be missed by the skating community for his dynamic coaching style and his life-long passion for the sport,” said Skate Canada in a statement. “Skate Canada offers its sincere sympathies to Dunfield’s family and friends and a special condolence to his wife Sonya and their two sons.”
Involved in skating for over 50 years, Sonya was a medalist in two World Championships and participated in the 1952 Olympic Games for the United States.
Dunfield, who had moved to Seattle recently for health reasons and to be closer to his son, Greg, was awarded the Longines-Wittnauer Coaching Excellence Award in 1988 and the Wittnauer Coaching Excellence Award in 1994, both presented by the Coaching Association of Canada. He was named Canadian Figure Skating Association Coach of the Year in 1993, and the Professional Skaters Guild of America Coach of the Year in 1994.
Dunfield was himself a competitive skater in Toronto, winning the 1951 junior national title. He was the senior bronze medalist in 1952 and 1953.
According to Derochie, Dunfield’s body will be cremated this week. It’s expected the family will have a memorial service in Sun Valley, Idaho, where the couple have many friends.
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