Romance and Mystery Novels

by Alina Adams

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Irina Rodnina - a Figure Skating Legend

Translation of a biographical article published in Russian language Publication Russkoe Zarubezhje on December 7, 2007.

Legendary Irina Rodnina. She was adored by people in many parts of the world. They watched her sports' career and were happy for her successes. Her results were outstanding: there time Olympic Champion, ten times World Champion, eleven time Champion of the (former) Soviet Union.

Irina was born in Moscow. She was ill with pneumonia 11 times before going to school and was monitored by doctors for possible lung TB infection. Her parents - father a military man, mother a doctor -- decided that the best way to improve Irina’s health was to engage her in sports and in 1954 they took her to a rink.

Five year old Irina was skating for hours; she gradually became stronger and fell in love with the skates. Her fist coaches were Czechs who were working on contract in Moscow’s Central Sports Club of the Army in 1963. A year later, she was noticed by a Russian coach, Stanislav Zhuk, who said that she was unique and did not have an equal.

In 1969, Irina became European Champion and a month later she became a World Champion. At that time she was skating in pair with Alexey Ulanov.

In 1972, they became Olympic Champions at Sapporo. Three weeks later, a day before the World Championship, at practice, Irina fell down from a lift and ended up in a hospital with a brain contusion. She was unconscious for 2 hours. Some people speculated that Ulanov dropped Irina on purpose, because at that time he was married to a famous figure skater, Ludmila Smirnova, and it was possible that he wanted to skate with her.

Irina liked Ulanov as a handsome, smart and self confident man. Separated from him, she did not practice for a month. She stayed at home reading, listening to the Beatles and suffering from headaches. At that time, her coach told her that he found a partner for her and asked her to come over to the rink. In May of 1972 a new pair, also adored by the Russians appeared – Irina and an unknown figure skater – Alexander Zaitsev.

“I was very comfortable skating in pair with Alexander. I extended my hand without looking back. It is a wonderful feeling – not to have to look back. You stretch you hand and it is taken by a partner. It is like having some force with you,” - said Irina.

After a year of skating together, Rodnina and Zaitsev became European Champions. Those were unusual competitions. For the first time in the history of figure skating their performance was awarded so many 6.0 points. A month later, they became World Champions in Bratislava, even though in the middle of their performance of the short program, the music stopped.

It was 1974. Irina marked her birthday by leaving her coach Stanislav Zhuk. He was always authoritarian and rude, but Irina became stronger and more mature. Some kind of “parent – child” conflict was unavoidable. After many years they met again and made up, but Irina preferred not to remember the time when he was her coach. Irina and Alexander went on winning with a new coach. In 1975 they won the European and World Championships, and in 1976 the Olympic Games in Innsbruck. For the next 3 years they won all other major competitions.

Zaitsev fell in love with Irina and they got married. On February 23, 1979, after 8 month spent in a hospital bed, Irina gave birth to her son – Alerxander Junior. That day was a holiday – Day of the Soviet Army -- and for many years the boy thought that the flags in Moscow were raised to celebrate his birthday.

A year later, in 1980 Irina won another Olympic Gold and lest the big sport.

There are a lot of books written about Irina. She is entered in the Guinness Book of Records. She was working in the Komsomol’s Central Committee, than as head coach of the “Dinamo” sports club, and she was also teaching at the Sports Institute. Her new life was difficult. Some people, jealous of her success, or just ill-wishers decided to gang up on her and to get back at her for all of her successes in sports. Also, coming down to earth and beginning the life of mortals, Irina and Alexander started having marital problems. Soon after they finished skating, Irina came home and told Alexander that she fell in love. Nobody could understand Irina, even her mother was upset with her until the day she died.

Irina’s daughter Alena was born in 1986 when Irina was 35 years old. When asked how she risked having a child at such an old age, Irina replied that Alena was her most precious medal. She was a symbol of a kind of love that many women dream about all of their lives. After the birth of her daughter Irina quit her coaching job.

Irina’s second husband was a serious businessman. When in 1990 Irina received an invitation from the American International Center of Figure Skating (ed. note: In Lake Arrowhead, CA), he was the one who convinced her to accept the invitation. She did not object much. She was not pleased with her work at the Sports Institute, and her relations with her colleagues in the sports world were still complicated. Irina was worried. He husband told her that he would show her a different world and she agreed.

Their happiness lasted only a year. One day she learned that her husband had a girlfriend and soon he left Irina and was trying by all possible legal means to take their daughter away from her. She was suffering for a year and a half. He used the American law that children younger than 13 years old could not be left alone at home. If one of the parents violated that law, the courts would give the child to the parent who could provide better care for the child. Police were monitoring the status of Irina’s home, but she had to leave the children alone as to earn money, which was always in short supply. Endless court hearings were taking away her strength and she often caught herself wondering if it was worth it to continue living like that.

“There were moments that I wanted to get in the car and drive off a cliff” - said Irina. She started drinking. Her son helped her to overcome her condition. He came to Irina and told her that she did not look like herself and that she was getting old, having grey hear and did not take care of herself. She snapped out of her condition and won back her life.

She was saved by her children and her work. In that terrible for Irina 1992, sportsmen from the Czech Republic arrived to the International Figure Skating center. They wanted to be coached only by Irina. Radka (Kovarikova) and Rene (Novatny) became World Champions in 1995. It started a new stage in the life of Irina Rodnina. She became a World Class Coach and now her American colleagues envied her. Irina worked 14 hours a day, and regardless of her being very tired, looked good. She was getting strong physically, by her soul was hurting. She felt that she was betrayed not just in love but as a human being. She felt that if she and her husband fell out of love, it was their problem, but she could not forgive either of her husbands that they made their children suffer as well.

When her grown up son became a student in the States, Irina’s former mother-in law bought him a car. Alexander did not graduate at the top of his class and did not get a scholarship, so Irina was paying for his college, but she never reproached him for that, considering how difficult his childhood was. In Moscow, everyone knew him as a “star’s” child. He loved his father very much and it was a big trauma for him when Irina divorced Zaitsev and remarried. He said that if she would have another husband he would leave their home. Alena was different. She had a father who worshiped her, but Alexander needed her help.

These days Irina is doing fine. When asked which mistakes she would avoid now, she said that she would not get married any more. Learning from her 2 bad marriages she thinks that in youth people think that their whole life is ahead of them. If one makes a mistake there is time to fix it, to find someone else. Older people are just trying to protect themselves from mistakes. It is some physiological defense mechanism. One does not want any more stresses and sufferings in their life.

Irina said: “Every time when we are tested by out destiny, we ask God – what is it for? Why did it happen to me? Unfortunately one has to pay for everything in this life, and especially for success and an outstanding career. One always wants to believe that all of the suffering is behind you.”


  • At March 19, 2008 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just hope Ms. Adams' books read better than this garbled translation! It would have benefited from a bit of editing - and try using a spell check too!

  • At March 19, 2008 1:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I just hope Ms. Adams' books read better than this garbled translation! It would have benefited from a bit of editing - and try using a spell check too!

  • At June 19, 2008 1:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well, the author should be aware that first Irina's coach, Stanislav Zhuk was a pedofile. Everyone, proffesonaly involved in Russian sport knew it. In former USSR, the authoritarian and rude coaches were normal and therefore it could not be a reason for Irina's desicion to leave him. Years later, Stanislav Zhuk was accused by some of his young female students in rapes. As a metter of fact, it was a routine rape that took place with almost every young (13-14 y.o.) female scater. The sex increased female hormone lever and lead to a better performance. Many prominent Russian female scater has been described it as almost a routine. I believe, Irina also went through this, but because she belongs to older generation, she is ashame to discuss it.


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