Ice Network

Dunfield remembered as teacher, motivator

Renowned coach taught students lessons that went beyond the ice
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Peter Dunfield, seen here with Olympic silver medalist Elizabeth Manley, passed away this week at the age of 82. -Skate Canada Archives

World champion Yuka Sato didn't know it at the time, but when she was being coached by Peter Dunfield, she was not only learning skills that would serve her well in competition -- she was also building a perspective on life and sport that she would later utilize in her own coaching career. Dunfield, the coach of Sato and other skaters such as Elizabeth Manley, Charlene Wong and Scott Allen, died earlier this week at the age of 82.

"He had so much impact in not just my career but in my life, in many ways," said Sato, who trained with Dunfield from the age of 16 to 21. "Obviously, my purpose was to learn skating and how to become a better competitor, but what I ended up learning from him was more than that. There were life lessons.

"Today, as a coach, how I pass [information] onto the next generation, my students, I realize how much I learned from him," she continued. "What I learned from him now is really happening."

Dunfield was born in Canada, winning the national junior men's title in 1951. He twice finished third in the senior division and competed at the world championships. In the early 1960s, he began coaching in New York City, after marrying former U.S. ladies champion Sonya Klopfer. They were fixtures at New York's Sky Rink, where Moira North, the founder and director of Ice Theatre of New York, first met the couple.

"When I first came to Sky Rink (in the early 1980s), Sonya and Peter were the icon teaching couple," North said. "Peter always was very interested in the formation of Ice Theatre (an ensemble skating company) and very encouraging. He had lots of advice and quiet caring.

"He was known best as a master coach, but he really got the idea of Ice Theatre and loved performance on ice," she added. "His involvement with skating didn't end [when he retired]; it carried on. It's the passion for skating and the continued contribution to that skating world -- whether it's attending PSA (Professional Skaters Association) or other conferences, speaking, turning up at events. He and Sonya both were very passionate about skating."

Ice Theatre honored the Dunfields in 2002. Sato was among those in attendance.

The Dunfields moved to Canada in the early 1980s, where they revived Manley's promising career -- guiding her to two Olympic appearances, including her 1988 silver medal in Calgary.

After being coached by her parents, Nobuo Sato (coach of Mao Asada) and Kumiko Sato, Yuka Sato moved from Japan to Canada to train with Dunfield. She spoke little English, and the transition was initially quite difficult. In time, the coach and student settled into a positive working relationship from which Sato's skating flourished.

"From the mediocre competitor to become somebody who could be highly competitive, there has to be some kind of a turning point," Sato said. "[Dunfield] triggered those key points for me.

"He really looked at the bigger picture of where my skating should go, which created a lot more for me to open my eyes, open my mind, to look at the value of my career, look at my life," she added. "If it wasn't for that, I don't think I would have been as good as I am now."

Dunfield also coached top U.S. pairs teams, including 1964 Olympic bronze medalists Vivian Joseph and Ronald Joseph. He also coached the Militano siblings, Melissa and Mark.

"He was a great motivator," Mark Militano said. "He gave me complete creative freedom."

Sato began working with four-time U.S. men's champion Jeremy Abbott five years ago. In the last three years, Sato realized she was applying much of Dunfield's approach to her teaching.

"My parents have taught me great skill and also great values, but I think Mr. Dunfield brought a vision for me to look further," she said. "To discover what my true strength is and what my true weakness is and to cherish the strength and improve it even more, and to manage the weakness instead of [thinking], 'I have to fix this. I have to fix that.'"

Internationally known designer Vera Wang was also among Dunfield's students.

"Peter Dunfield was a Renaissance man in the world of figure skating," Wang told icenetwork. "His love for the sport, his knowledge of music, costume, dance and choreography gave me the encouragement to explore my own creativity from a young age. I will always treasure his friendship."

Dunfield retired from coaching in the late 1990s but continued to stay involved in the sport.

In addition to his wife, Dunfield is survived by two sons as well as grandchildren.