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The Remarkable Life of U.S. Olympic and World Coach Ron Ludington

by Liz Leamy


 

(23 May 2020)  Ron Ludington, the iconic U.S. Olympic and World pairs and dance coach who was a force and fixture on the national and global competitive scene for many decades, sadly passed away on Thursday, May 14th, after having been admitted to the Christiana Hospital in Newark, Delaware earlier that week. He was 85 years old.

Ludington was born on September 4th, 1934 in Boston, where grewn up and trained as a competitive skater, eventually rising to the Olympic and World podium levels in the pairs division.

Regarded to be one of the preeminent coaches in contemporary figure skating, Ludington was known for hard work, technical excellence and terrific charisma.  He is a member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame, U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame, Professional Skaters Association Hall of Fame and Delaware Sports Museum Hall of Fame.  Certainly, most would agree that Ludington had a tremendous presence.

At any given practice, competition or show, he would always be surrounded by an entourage of skaters, colleagues, parents and members of the media, to who he would usually be relaying some sage advice or offering a humorous story or anecdote.

A rich skating history

As a youngster, Ludington grew up in Roxbury, MA, a then somewhat hardscrabble neighborhood located on the outskirts of Boston.

As a teenager, he trained with Maribel Vinson Owen, the decorated World and Olympic coach, 1932 Olympic bronze medalist and nine-time U.S. champion who had tragically lost her life, along with the entire 1961 U.S. World figure skating team, when the Sabena 548 flight they were traveling on had gone down on route to the World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia that February.

During his run as a competitive skater, Ludington reached national and world-level heights, claiming the U.S. pair title four consecutive times, the 1959 World pair bronze medal and 1960 Olympic pair bronze medal with Nancy Rouillard, his former wife who he had married in 1957.

In the spring of 1960 following that World Championships, Ludington began coaching at the Crystal Ice Palace in Norwalk, Connecticut, where he began to produce top-shelf results.

That season, he coached Patricia and Robert Dineen, his first students, to podium status in the dance competition at the 1961 U.S. Championships.  Sadly, the Dineens were on the ill-fated Sabena Flight 548 to Czechoslovakia in which 72 total people perished, 18 of which were U.S. World team skaters and their coaches.

As fate would have it, Ludington, a young coach bunking at a YMCA in Norwalk at that time, did not have the funds to make that trip to Prague, a decision that marked one of the most traumatic and life-changing times in his life.

Having been so closely connected to that event, Ludington struggled greatly, but managed to use that pain as a source of fuel to help carry on the legacy and spirit of Vinson Owen, along with every one else aboard that flight, through his work.

“It was tough, but I knew I had a job to do,” said Ludington in an interview at the 2009 Eastern Sectional Championships in Boston.

During that interview, Ludington spoke at length about the impact Vinson Owen, who also taught Frank Carroll, the legendary U.S. coach of Michelle Kwan, the nine-time U.S. champion, five-time World titlist and two-time Olympic medalist and Evan Lysacek, the 2010 Olympic gold medalist, among other standout professionals, had on his life.

“It was a very special relationship. She was tough and I had to work hard, otherwise she might lose interest and I would lose the opportunity,” said Ludington.

He also recalled a story when Vinson Owen had confiscated a pack of cigarettes that had fallen out of his pocket during a flying camel during a lesson.

Ludington said that when he had visited her mother, Gertrude ‘Granny’ Vinson, at the Vinson’s home near the Skating Club of Boston after the tragedy, Granny brought him to a closet and handed him back the same pack of cigarettes Maribel had taken from him years before.

“Maribel held onto them and that just meant the world to me,” said Ludington.

A Golden Touch

Certainly, Vinson Owen’s influence ran deep with Ludington, as he went on to incorporate everything about her method of teaching, including her technique, strong work ethic and love of skating to ultimately develop dozens of premiere U.S., Olympic and World competitors for many decades following this time.

Ludington left Connecticut in spring 1961 and then had some teaching stints in Florida and Detroit, but wound up setting up a home base at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club in Wilmington, Delaware, a locale that he soon transformed into a premiere U.S. World and Olympic training base.

During the 1970s, Ludington coached numerous international and U.S. medalists and had earned a reputation as one of the hardest-working and most influential coaches in the sport.

According to Nancy Madden Leamy, longtime director of the Greenwich Skating School at the Dorothy Hamill Rink in Greenwich, Connecticut (who also trained with Vinson as a young skater in Boston), there was one time when she had been teaching skaters at a competition in Lake Placid, New York and had spotted Ludington and his teams walking into the arena at 10pm or so (after that day’s events had concluded) to begin training.

According to Leamy, Ludington was said to have been there until the wee hours of the morning, having worked with his skaters straight through the night in order to optimize the opportunity of having that block of practice ice. (Lake Placid, evidently, had been Ludington’s main summer training base for many years.)

“He worked harder than anyone I knew. It was incredible,” said Leamy. “I’ll always remember that.”

During the 1970s, Ludington’s stable included Melissa Militano and Johnny Johns, the two-time U.S. pair champions, Gale and Joel Fuhrman, the 1973 U.S. pair silver medalists and Cozette Cady and Jack Courtney, who were fourth at the 1972 U.S. Championships, among other duos. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, Ludington also trained Mitch Moyer, who is the U.S. Figure Skating Senior Director of Athlete High Performance Development and competed nationally in pairs with Patti Johnson, the longtime coach of Sarah Hughes, the 2002 Olympic champion.

During the 1980s, Ludington continued with his upward trajectory, producing some of the finest pair and dance teams in the sport at a National, World and Olympic level.

In 1984, one of his top teams, Kitty and Peter Carruthers, the talented brother-sister duo from Winchester, Massachusetts who were four-time U.S. champions, famously clinched silver at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo, where they were worldwide and national media darlings.

Remarkably, at that same Olympics, Ludington coached a total of four total teams who represented the U.S.

In addition to the Carruthers, this contingent included Lea Ann Miller and Bill Fauver, the three-time U.S. pairs silver medalists, Carol Fox and Richard Dalley, the seven-time U.S. dance medalists and Lisa Spitz and Scott Gregory, the three-time U.S. dance medalists.

“It was a busy time,” said Ludington. “Everybody was working extremely hard and it showed.”

During the latter part of the 1980s and early 1990s, Ludington coached a bevy of other notable U.S. World and Olympic teams, including Calla Urbanski and Rocky Marval, the two-time U.S. pair champions, Kim and Wayne Seybold, the two-time U.S. pair silver medalists, Stacey Smith and John Summers, the three-time U.S. dance titlists and Suzanne Seminick and Scott Gregory, the two-time U.S. dance titlists.

During the 1990s, Ludington also worked with Karen Courtland and Todd Reynolds, the 1993 and 1994 U.S. pairs bronze medalists, along with numerous other leading U.S. singles, pairs and dance contenders.

An inspiration to his peers

Then, heading into the 2000s, Ludington continued to produce dozens of other leading U.S. regional, sectional, national and international contenders and at the same time, served as a power of example for all of the coaches on his staff at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club.

During this time, his colleagues included Pam Duane Gregory, coach of Kimmie Meissner, the 2006 World champion and 2007 U.S. titlist, as well as Shaun Rogers, the U.S. novice and junior medalist and renowned championship men’s contender during the 2000s.

Another coach who was greatly influenced by Ludington was Jeff DiGregorio, the U.S. international coach who taught Tara Lipinski, the 1998 U.S. Olympic gold medalist.

Then there was Priscilla Hill, the two-time U.S. ladies medalist and World and Olympic coach who taught Johnny Weir, the famed NBC sportscaster, 2008 World bronze medalist and three-time U.S. titlist, at the University of Delaware for many years.

Meanwhile, Jim Peterson, a former student of Ludington who competed at the National and international level, also rose to Olympic and World heights with his pair teams over the last few decades.

Peterson, who is based out of Bradenton, Florida, coached Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, the 2010 U.S. gold medalists and Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, the two-time U.S. silver medalists in 2010 and 2011, Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, the two-time U.S. medalists and Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea, the 2016 U.S. titlists.

Whenever asked about Ludington, virtually all of his colleagues would always recall him in a fond and gracious manner.

“Ron is a wonderful guy,” said DiGregorio, who was coached by Ludington in an interview. “He is a consummate professional who cares as much about the people around him as he does the quality of his work.”

During Ludington’s career at the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club, the club moved its base several times.

In the late 1980s, the club relocated to a two-surface complex in Newark, Delaware from its original base in Wilmington, which gave the skaters a greater amount of ice time.

During the 2000s, Ludington served as the Director of the Ice Skating Science Development Center at the University of Delaware.

In this role, he instructed students about the technical aspects of the sport and would often let them sit in on his lessons.

In 2010, Ludington officially retired from the University of Delaware, but continued to teach intermittently through the next decade.

By this stage, Ludington had coached at nine Winter Olympic Games and several dozen World Championships.

During his career, nine of Ludington’s skaters had achieved World medal placements and 65 of his students had clinched U.S. Championship titles.

Ultimately, with this expansive success as a coach, the real thrill for Ludington was just to have the opportunity to go to the rink everyday to do his work.

“I love doing what I do,” said Ludington during an interview at the 2009 Eastern Championships. “There are just so many aspects to it, the people, traveling, training and seeing the results from all the work everyone has done. You just can’t beat it.”

A lasting legacy

Ludington was a truly special individual in many ways, and someone whose presence at rinks, competitions and at practically almost every place he went, was memorable and indelible.

With Ludington’s recent passing, it is a given that his presence in the figure skating community, more than anything, will be very much missed.

He is survived by his sister, Charlotte Ludington of Sherborn, Massachusetts; his daughter, Karen Ludington Gullotti and her husband, James of Waltham, Massachusetts; his son, Michael Ludington and his wife, Diane, of Jacksonville, Florida; his granddaughters, Jaime Deschamps and Jennifer East; and his great grandson, Wyatt.

A memorial service will be held at a future date when larger groups are able to congregate to honor his life and passing.

Donations in Ron Ludington’s name can be made to:

The Skating Academy at the Patriot Ice Center
101 John Campbell Road
Newark, DE 19711