Patineuse Of Paris: The Gaby Barbey Story

Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France

The daughter of French Champions and 1928 Olympians Louis and Elvira Barbey, Gaby Barbey showed little interest in figure skating as a child, although her parents took her regularly to the Palais de Glace. Instead, she relished every moment spent on the ski slopes. Finally won over to skating after being inspired by the success of Andrée Joly, she started pursuing skating seriously at the age of thirteen and began taking lessons from her father.

Elvira and Louis Barbey. Photo courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Early in her career, Gaby was the Susan Lucci of women's skating in France, holding down fort in second place at the French Championships from 1925 to 1930. After Andrée Joly decided to focus solely on pairs skating in 1931, Gaby finally emerged victorious, winning her first of an incredible six consecutive French titles ahead of of Jeanine Hagnauer and Jacqueline Vaudecrane.

When the European Championships were held in Paris in 1932, Gaby placed dead last in a field of eight, losing out on a seventh place finish in a three-two split with Great Britain's Joan Dix. Illness forced her out of the following year's European Championships in London, but she shared the ice with Sonja Henie in a Paris exhibition later that winter.

In 1934, Gaby decided to try her hand at pairs skating at the French Championships. With partner Jean Henrion, she placed second... to her parents. That's right... Her father was both her coach and her competitor! The following year, she again claimed the silver medal in pairs with Henrion, this time behind the Brunet's. That same winter, she placed sixth out of eight entries in a five hundred meter women's speed skating race at Superbagneres Bagnères-de-Luchon and placed a disastrous last in both the women's and pairs events at the European Championships in St. Moritz.

Gaby's final international competition was the 1936 World Championships in Paris. She placed a disappointing fourteenth, but did outrank both of the other French women who participated. The Norwegian judge had her ninth in figures; the British judge had her eighth in free skating. In 1937, she lost her French women's title to Jacqueline Vaudecrane. Vaudecrane recalled that Gaby was gracious in defeat and was the first to congratulate her on her win. Taking into account just how many disappointing results this fine skater had, it's hard to imagine how she could have been so gracious!

Right photo courtesy Musée Carnavalet, Histoire de Paris

During much her competitive career, Gaby went by her married name, Gaby Clericetti. After her competitive career ended, she remarried and went by Gaby Moreau. After her retirement in 1937, she coached skaters for many years at the Club des Français Volants à Paris. An artistic soul, Gaby wrote in "Neige et Glace" magazine of her dream to transpose dance to the ice and skating to the floor: "What I would like to interpret on the floor is a rhythmic Celtic dance (gypsy orchestra beginning with a waltz). When I skate, I would compose a dance, and when I dance, I would slide like on ice. Creating [movement to] rhythm is my hobby. Both [skating and dancing] require interpretation and effort... Both interest me because I know thoroughly the possibilities of each. These ideas came to me during my choreographic exercises."

Despite her successes at home, skating wasn't exactly kind to Gaby. She had a late start and never really seemed to catch much of a break. Yet, her determination and interest in choreography foreshadowed the later efforts of Jacqueline du Bief, the student of her rival Jacqueline Vaudecrane. Though largely unknown today outside of France, Gaby played a subtle but important role in her country's skating history.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":