Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Skating Legends: A Tribute to the Protopopovs

Lake Placid is a mecca for elite athletes, and often hosts athletes from different countries and sports. Two of these are Olympic legends, and train tirelessly from June until early November in the Olympic Center.

I am referring to the legendary Protopopovs. Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov are the 1964 and 1968 Olympic champions in Pairs Skating for Russia, and call Lake Placid their home.

This year, the Skating Club of Lake Placid is hosting a show in their honor. “A Tribute to the Protopopovs” will take place on Saturday, September 3rd in the 1980 arena. Joining local skaters of all ages and levels will be special guests, such as Dick Button. Himself a Lake Placid figure skating icon (Button trained in Lake Placid with Gus Lussi in the 30s and 40s), Button will be on hand to help celebrate the achievements of the husband and wife pairs team.

Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov’s rise to figure skating prominence was not effortless. The Soviet Skating Association discounted them as “too old” for serious training, even though they were only in their teens. Not to be limited by the Association, the Protopopovs trained independently, often skating outdoors in sub-zero temperatures. Their dedication paid off when they won the 1964 and 1968 Olympic title in Pairs skating, as well as four World Championship titles from 1965-1968.

After the Olympics, they were routinely rejected by the Soviet Skating Associations because of their derivative style. The Leningrad Ice Ballet did not want to give them a job, because they were too athletic, and the skating federation did not want them because they were too artistic. They turned professional, and started touring professionally throughout the United States. The Soviet Skating Federation’s continued ill treatment, however, was constant. For example, they skated in a show at Madison Square Garden for the fee of 10,000 dollars, but all they were allowed to keep was 53 dollars. In 1979, they defected from the Soviet Union and became citizens of Switzerland; this change of citizenship permitted them to tour with the Ice Capades.

The love of their sport is evident, and now in their 70s, the Protopopovs continue training every day. Nothing is able to stop them from participating in their sport; not even a stroke. Oleg Protopopov suffered from a stroke in 2009, but a few weeks after the event started skating again. He is still skating, and has regained his skills. Residents of Lake Placid, it is not uncommon to see the Protopopovs walking or riding their bikes through town, or training on one of the 3 ice surfaces. After November, the Protopopovs travel to Switzerland and Hawaii, skating in Switzerland and surfing in Hawaii. No matter what, the Protopopovs always strive to keep healthy and fit.

The show will be a display of all ages and abilities. Admission is $10.00 for Adults (13-64), $8.00 for Youth (7-12) and Seniors (65+). Children age 6 and under are free. All proceeds benefit the Skating Club of Lake Placid. For more information, visit the Facebook event page.

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Christie Sausa

Christie Sausa of Lake Placid is a member of the historic figure and speed skating culture in the Olympic Village, and writes about those sports for the Lake Placid News and on Lake Placid Skater which she founded in 2007.

Christie holds degrees in Communications and Sports and Events Management and when not on the ice herself, or writing about what happens there, you can find her helping her mom with their local business, the Lake Placid Skate Shop.

Christie is a also a member of the Skating Club of Lake Placid and the Lake Placid Speed Skating Club.




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