Worth The Hassle: The Nicole Hassler Story

Born in Chamonix, Mont-Blanc, France on June 1, 1941, Nicole Monique Marcelle Hassler was the daughter of Albert and Josephine Hassler and granddaughter of Ernest and Marie-Clémentine (Payot) Hassler. From an early age, Nicole and her brother Charles were no stranger to an ice rink. Their father was a decorated athlete who had competed in three Winter Olympic Games in two sports: speed skating and ice hockey. Albert Hassler played on the winning French team at the 1924 European Ice Hockey Championships.

Albert Hassler on the speed skating track

After retiring from competitive speed skating and hockey, Albert Hassler - who ran the Hôtel Beaulieu in Chamonix - became 'the original Suzanne Bonaly'. Despite having absolutely zero figure skating experience himself, he took it upon himself to coach Nicole as a figure skater for much of her career. Nicole's loyalty to her father's instruction actually proved to be a detriment as she was often not given the same attention in the French skating community as the students of Jacqueline Vaudecrane. Later in her career, she finally received formal instruction in the art of skating from no less a coaching great than Arnold Gerschwiler himself.

Despite the fact she had little formal instruction early in her career, Nicole made a slow and steady rise in the skating world from the late fifties to mid sixties. After placing a dismal twenty third of twenty nine entries at the 1958 World Championships in Paris and sixteenth at the 1959 European Championships in Davos, she climbed her way up to win her first French title in 1960, dethroning two time French Champion Dany Rigoulot. That particular victory capped off a fierce battle between the two talented young skaters. Nicole beat Dany at the 1959 European Championships; Dany beat Nicole at the 1959 World Championships. The following year, Nicole lost to Dany at both the French and European Championships. Dany turned professional, leaving Nicole to reign as French women's champion the next five years.

From 1962 to 1965, Nicole enjoyed both thrilling highs and crushing defeats on the international stage. She thrice won the Richmond Trophy in England and at the 1963 World Championships in Cortina d'Ampezzo (where she won the bronze medal) the Canadian and French judges had her ahead of the winner Sjoukje Dijkstra in the free skate.

Sjoukje Dijkstra, Regine Heitzer and Nicole Hassler on the podium at the 1963 World Championships (left) and 1964 European Championships (right). Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine, BIS Archive.

Despite winning four consecutive medals at the European Championships, Nicole's reputation as a medal contender was marred by a particularly poor free skating performance at the 1965 World Championships in Colorado Springs. She placed a disappointing eighth overall at that event and two judges had her as low as thirteenth in the free skate.

Though considered her country's only hope for a medal in the women's figure skating competition at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, Nicole ultimately chose to retire from competition in 1966. Three years later, she made history by becoming the first skater to pass both the Gold Figure and Dance tests of the Fédération Française des Sports de Glace. After this impressive feat, she opted to step away from the sport entirely for several decades to raise a family. She spent some time living in England and, of course, had ties to her family business.

Photo courtesy German Federal Archive

Though criticized for lacking the same attack in the jumping department as her competitior Sjoukje Dijkstra, Nicole was renowned as one of the finest spinners of her era. Denise Biellmann, Lucinda Ruh or Nathalie Krieg she was not, but as compared to many skaters of her time she was certainly a cut above the rest. Her talent certainly didn't go unnoticed. In her book "Patinage sur glace historique", skating historian Jeanine Hagnauer praised her effusively: "I can say Nicole Hassler is the most brilliant skater France [has seen] since the start of the women's French Championships in 1908, after Jacqueline du Bief." Following Nicole's retirement, another French skater didn't stand on the women's podium at the European Championships until Surya Bonaly won her first title in 1991 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Around the same time Surya Bonaly burst on the scene, Nicole slowly re-emerged into the skating world. She organized a skating club at Plaisir, a commune in Yvelines in northern France, and taught there for several years until her father's death in September of 1994. Sadly, Nicole only outlived her father by two years, passing away on November 19, 1996 at the age of fifty five. Today, a gymnasium in the Salle Multisports in Yvelines which bears her name is sadly one of the few reminders of this largely forgotten French star of decades past.

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": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.