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Frank Carroll, Prominent Figure Skating Coach, Dies at 85

Frank Carroll, who coached elite figure skaters like Michelle Kwan and Linda Fratianne to silver medals in the Olympics but who had to wait until the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver to see one of his students, Evan Lysacek, win gold, died on Sunday at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 85.

The cause was complications of colorectal cancer, Ann Jensen, his personal assistant, said in an email.

No immediate family members survive.

As he approached 60, Carroll expressed amazement at the route he took to become one of the top figure skating coaches in the United States.

“When I’m on the Eiffel Tower, in the Jules Verne restaurant, I think, ‘What am I doing here?’” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1998. “In my mind, I’m still just a kid from Worcester, Mass., skating on a frozen pond.”

Carroll strayed far from that pond. Over his decades-long career, he became known for his tactical skills, his outspokenness and his dapper appearance.

In all, he coached one Olympic champion, six Olympic medalists, three world champions, three world junior champions and six United States champions.

Heading into the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Michelle Kwan was the reigning national champion and the favorite to win.

But she skated cautiously and earned the silver medal, while Tara Lipinski took the gold. Carroll blamed Kwan’s father for an approach that he said should have been more aggressive. In an interview with The New York Times in 2010, he said: “Her father told her, ‘Be slow, take your time, stay on your feet and you’ll win.’ She stayed on her feet and she didn’t win.”

Then, in the fall of 2001 — months after Kwan won gold at the 2001 World Figure Skating Championships — she abruptly parted ways with Carroll, even though the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City were just four months away.

“I thought there was nothing we couldn’t work through,” Carroll told The Times a few days later. “I think she’s having a lot of trouble with her own head. I think right now she doesn’t understand herself and what’s going on.”

In a conference call when she announced the split, Kwan said: “It must be earth-breaking news, but for me, at this moment, it’s the right decision. I think the person who knows best is me.”

Carroll soon took on another skater, Angela Nikodinov, who didn’t make the 2002 Winter Olympic team. And, in a disappointing finish, Kwan was awarded a bronze medal in Salt Lake City.

In 2018, when Carroll announced his retirement, the longtime figure skating reporter Philip Hersh wrote on his blog, Globetrotting, “Whether she might have won gold with Carroll still at her side remains a tantalizing question.”

“After all,” he added, “as Kwan noted this week, among her most vivid memories of the decade working with Carroll was how he cut the tension before she took the ice at a competition by talking about books or playing a game to see whose hands were more still — and, therefore, less nervous. ‘He made those moments very easy and relaxed,’ she said.”

Francis Michael Carroll was born on July 11, 1938, in Worcester, Mass. His father, Thomas, taught industrial arts, and his mother, Agnes (Mulvahill) Carroll, was a city clerk.

When Frank was a teenager, his passion for skating took him to a local rink — he had somehow gotten a key — where he would regularly get on the ice at dawn before the College of the Holy Cross’s hockey team arrived.

“The hockey players had to wait until I got off the ice,” he told The Baltimore Sun in 1998. “If I missed anything in my program, they’d be hissing at me, ‘Carroll, you stink.’ And if they liked what I did, they’d bang the sticks on the board and applaud.”

Carroll went on to win national junior singles bronze medals in 1959 and 1960. His coach, Maribel Vinson-Owen, her two daughters and the entire U.S. figure skating team died in a plane crash in Belgium in 1961 on the way to the World Figure Skating Championships.

After graduating from Holy Cross with a bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1960, Carroll performed with the Ice Follies for four years. He then moved to Los Angeles, where he appeared in small, uncredited parts in beach movies. He began coaching in 1965 in Van Nuys, Calif.

In 1972, he coached a U.S. Olympic team alternate, Robert Bradshaw, and four years later he coached his first Olympian, Linda Fratianne. She was considered the favorite at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. but left with a silver medal.

Carroll believed that the results there had been rigged against Fratianne, and that the five German-speaking judges had conspired to award the women’s gold medal instead to Anett Pötzsch of East Germany.

“I thought about pulling Linda out of the competition,” he told The Times in 2010. “I wish I had.”

Carroll’s other top-level students included Tiffany Chin, Gracie Gold, Denis Ten, Timothy Goebel and Christopher Bowman. He believed Bowman was the most gifted skater he had ever coached until his career was derailed by substance abuse.

Bowman — who died of an accidental overdose in 2008 — earned a national title and two world championship medals with Carroll as his coach, according to U.S. Figure Skating, the governing body of the sport.

“He could abuse all the rules, abuse his body, have no discipline and still skate fabulous,” Carroll said.

Carroll, who was elected to the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1996 and to its world counterpart in 2007, had a better experience with Lysacek, who rewarded his decades of coaching when he won the gold medal in Vancouver.

“It’s his moment, not my moment,” Carroll said, “but I’m happy for me, too.”

In an email to NBC Sports after Carroll’s death, Lysacek wrote, “I WAS NOT one of the best or most talented skaters Frank ever coached, but he rarely ever talked to me about how to be great … he only talked to me about how to win.”

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