Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Friday, March 11, 2005


It is better to die on the ice, than in a clinic for old people!

Interview with Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov by the correspondent of the Russian Language newspaper "New Isvestia" OKSANA TONKACHEEVA published on March 11, 2005.

For the last 24 years Russia did not see their first Olympic and world champions in figure skating! Ever since 1979, when they didn’t return from a foreign tour. "They have run away,” the official version sounded! Silence absorbed their names so deeply, that in the 1985 directory, "All about the Soviet Olympians,” their names were not mentioned at all. Meanwhile, these " traitors of their native land " have not left the ice. They participate in exhibitions, are not living in misery and are in tremendous form. Before the World Championship in figure skating opens on March, 14th in Moscow, Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov came home as guests of honor.

It was only at the beginning of "perestroika" that their names were mentioned without implied scolding and humiliation. I remember that I became somewhat lost before the first interview with them, having seen on the faces of these "enemies of people" their sincere and benevolent smiles. We spoke about figure skating, about their life in Switzerland, about their preparation for the Winter Olympics of 1998 in Nagano (in which they could not participate as a result of a bureaucratic mix-up ), and about life in general. Only once in the words of Ludmila and Oleg, could I feel the flash of latent insult; when they started talking about Russia. "We cut off our past once and for all. We are very resolute people. Why would we go back there? But two years ago on Vyacheslav Fetisov's invitation (" Such honor was not rendered to us for all of the 48 years of our sports life") we could not refuse.

In St.Petersburg, where they have gone, having taken their skates with them, their appearance on the ice on a modest training skating rink was met by an ovation which did not abate for some time. They did not perform for the fellow countrymen their exhibition numbers, but simply practiced in their native palace of sports "Jubilee", that was constructed after Oleg's persevering request and under Khruschev's order. They were skating for themselves and for the most devoted fans who once were sending them from all over the country letters with rubles for the construction of this skating rink.

To transfer into words what these seventy-year old Olympic champions did on the ice, is difficult. To take your eye off them - impossible. I can tell now that only when I could see them with my own eyes, I understood at last, how right was one German colleague who suggested that Belousova and Protopopov would become "traitors", if they only remained in the Soviet Union. For then they would be the traitors to the purpose of their life - to "Its Majesty Figure skating". Now I know, why they left.

Today, the Protopopovs say that despite difficult years of oblivion in their native land, they would not change anything in their life: "Our decision to leave was correct and timely because people of our type, people belonging to the world of arts, are possibly more sensitive to that what occurs in the country, to those deep processes which finally led to today's situation. But there were no politics in our departure. We simply understood that we were strangers in our homeland, that we will not be allowed to remain on ice for as long as we wanted and could. In the USSR ,they could do with us anything they like. By the way, Alexander Gavrilov, the bronze prize-winner of the World Championship in pairs with Tatyana Zhuk, was placed in a psychiatric hospital for " freedom statements,” and then forever left figure skating. We would not like to repeat his fate.”

Those who knew them in those years said that the behavior of Belousova and Protopopov really did not keep within habitual norms. They did not allow control of themselves. Probably it was the essence of their conflicts with the Soviet sports bosses. They felt themselves too freely, and nobody reflected then, that this freedom came from the ice - only there they could understand all sense of this word. And this condition transferred to their regular life. Those who wanted that they should go away perfectly understood that their strength was only in that they went on ice every day. If they would lose that, they would lose everything.

Every year they appear in front of the general public in August - in the American city of Lake Placid, where they practice from May till September, and in October in a traditional show of Olympic champions in Boston, the money from which goes to fight against childhood cancer. They are always met with standing ovations. And not only because Belousova and Protopopov are unique Russian 2-time Olympic champions in a pair figure skating who continue to perform till now. But also because till now they execute the elements which none of the modern pairs can reproduce.

They gave the names to unique elements, based on the events that occurred then in the USSR and glorified their fatherland. Their move - “the swallow", well-known in the whole world - when partners slide together, and then Lyudmila is separated and starts to move forward - symbolized the launch of a rocket. "A space spiral " - the first output of cosmonaut Leonov in a free space. "We always lived on ice as in life, and in life as on ice,” they explained. But Lyudmila's sister told us that their well-known move "the swallow" was born in their imagination during that moment when they observed how the coin turned while falling to the floor.

Oleg Alekseevich admits that he feels awkwardness when he hears from the interlocutor: "When do you plan to stop performing?” He immediately replies: "Never." While the interlocutor comes to their senses, he explains: "In our opinion, figure skaters today cannot reach perfection because they are too much in a hurry. You know, how it happens: people are rushing somewhere and only once in a while they stop and reflect - what is it all of this for? Comprehension that it is not necessary to hurry comes later, in the course of time. As the saying goes: "If youth would know and if old age could?” Our strength is in our years. In that condition when we both know, and can. In essence, that is why we remain on the ice till now, and therefore we were going to participate in the Olympic Games in Nagano. We wished to try to connect the past, the present and the future ".

The Protopopovs have admitted that during their last stay in Russia most of all they were asked about the state of their health. Both of them do not like to talk about this subject, but for the " New Isvestia" they have made an exception, having told us in passing about their visit to Petersburg scientist Vladimir Volkov, who is engaged in studies of the prolongation of human life, and about the intentions (quite serious) to skate till they are 100 years old, and may be more. But very few people know that during their blossoming years Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov did not shine with health. Having seen in diaries of their stardom period in the column "pulse" a figure 40 for Oleg Alekseevich, I thought that it was a mistake. It appears that it was not a mistake. 40 was actually a good number! Usually his pulse did not rise above 20-30 impacts per minute. Arrhythmia accompanied him throughout his sports career. Later, doctors in Switzerland did not believe that with such a heart condition it was possible for him to win two Olympics. They have established a file named "The Phenomenon of Protopopov,” and it was presented at medical conferences. It they would only know that at the Grenoble Olympics he was competing for the second gold while suffering from a bleeding in kidneys. (There was no way that he would have an operation at that time).

Today on the open skating rink in Grjundenvalde, they practice from two till five o'clock daily. Depending on state of health. And it, as a rule, does not fail them. In the morning, at the house, they perform a small warm-up and stand upside down. Then, already on a skating rink, they have a full warm-up, work, and, having removed skates, spend some more time at the rink. By the way, Lyudmila still can perform the splits. When you ask them whether they are afraid to make a mistake or to fall on an ice, Oleg Alekseevich with a smile, as always, replies: "If in my 70 years I can lift my partner not worse than when I was 30, then what is it to be afraid of? As a matter of fact, we practice so as to feel more confidant on ice.”

Speaking of which, they weigh today almost the same as in the years of their triumph. Lyudmila is 41-42 kg, ( 91-93 pounds) Oleg - 64 kg (142 pounds). It had been said that they recently tried pm the suits in which they shone at the Grenoble Olympics. It is not a torture, but an elementary discipline, - they are convinced. “We like to be always in the best form. Besides, we are always inclined to consider that it is better to die on the ice, than in a clinic for aged. When the organism of the sportsman is young, much is compensated by itself, and a regenerative process after heavy loads goes more quickly. To us - if we want to skate for long, it is only necessary to contain ourselves in the ideal order. That is why we do not torture ourselves with diets, and we simply observe a regiment. We follow system of a separating the food groups. On a regular basis we cleanse our organisms from waste. It has for a long time already became a style and a norm of our life."

Ludmila Evgenevna and Oleg Alekseevich, out of principal, are not engaged in coaching. " Tchaikovsky and Mozart also had no pupils. We protect energy and strength for our own creativity.” They could not also allow themselves to have their own children. " We have been involved in figure skating so deeply, that we did not think at all of it.” But they have left a fine legacy to all of figure skating. As the president of Federation of Figure Skating of Russia Valentine Piseev has told the press: it was that to receive this world championship, Russia needed to win 73 (!) gold medals, and all this history began with Belousova and Protopopov.

" No,” said Oleg Alekseevich, “We do not regret anything. What is to regret, when one lived for all these years. We are happy people. The only thing that we want now is to finish the movie about our performances so the people would see it with their own eyes. Because we are sure our creativity predated modern figure skating for many years in advance. Sportsmen still will return to our harmony. You will see.”

Translation by G. Sivorinovsky
Web Translations in Real Time

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  • At May 13, 2009 1:43 AM, Anonymous teri said…

    i have been given great pleasure to say that i know these two ppl and i love them dearly.
    aloha to you both...teri on maui


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