Figurno Pŭrzalyane: Exploring Bulgaria's Fascinating Skating History

During his reign as Prince Of Bulgaria from 1879 to 1886, Alexander of Battenburg opened an ice rink on a frozen marsh outside of Sofia. A nephew of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, he learned to skate as a child with the instruction of a private tutor and developed a lifelong affection for the exercise. When he officially opened the rink, he purportedly declared, "Long live our skating rink!"

Alexander of Battenburg, Prince Of Bulgaria

In 1901, an instructional book was penned offering instructions to Bulgarian skaters and following World War I, the sport enjoyed a boom of popularity in the country in the roaring twenties. One of the earliest documented skaters of great talent in the country was a lawyer named Miloslav Bogdanov, who went by the pseudonym Dr. Diodono when travelling abroad. In the Bulgarian newspaper "24 Chasa", George Kanazirski-Verin recalled him as "tall, skinny, always unshaven [and] extremely nervous... The lawyer felt safe only on the ice. He is the first Bulgarian who tried to bring together skating and art... He tried jumps, pirouettes and loops. On the ice at Eagle Bridge he slithered tirelessly from early morning to late night, made some dangerous figures, [and] though they lacked grace, [he] still raised eyebrows among numerous audiences around the lake."

A month after a skating society was formed in Sofia in January 1929, the country held its first figure skating competition a lake in the Knyaz-Borisova gradina park in Sofia by the light of kerosene lanterns. Visits from a troupe of touring ice acrobats and Olympic Gold Medallist Nikolay Panin helped further boost interest in the sport in the years that followed. Although thousands took to the ice in the Bulgarian capital prior to World War II, like in Yugoslavia a lack of artificial ice rinks and expert instruction ultimately slowed the development of the sport to a snail's pace during and after the War.

However, on September 6, 1949, the Bulgarian Skating Federation was established as part of the Bulgarian Committee of Physical Culture And Sports and five years later, the first Bulgarian Figure Skating Championships were held on a frozen cycling track in Sofia. In 1960, the country's first artificial rink was constructed at the Druzhba Stadium in Dobrich. A meeting between Bulgarian and Yugoslavian authorities in 1965 led to the development of the country's first international competition, the Sofia Cup. Two years later, the Bulgarian Skating Federation became a member of the International Skating Union.

Commemorative pin from the 1991 European Championships in Sofia

Although Bulgarian skaters did participate in international competitions in the late sixties, it wouldn't be until 1979 when Margarita Dimitrova would become the first skater from Bulgaria to compete at the European Championships. She placed an unceremonious twenty eighth of twenty nine competitors. In 1984, ice dancers Hristina Boyanova and Yavor Ivanov became the country's first skaters to compete at the World Championships and Winter Olympics. Their results were sadly equally disappointing.

By the nineties, Bulgaria was marking its mark on the skating world. It played host to both the 1991 and 1996 European Championships and Ivan Dinev, the late Viktoria Dimitrova, Zvetelina Abrasheva, Sofia Penkova and Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski gave the country representation in the figure skating competitions at three consecutive Olympic Games. At the 1999 World Championships, Ivan Dinev became the first Bulgarian skater to land a quadruple jump in international competition.

Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski at the Bulgarian Federation's fiftieth anniversary in 1999

In 2003, Denkova and Staviyski became the first skaters from Bulgaria to medal at both the European and World Championships. In 2006, they again made history as the country's first - and to date, only - World Champions. Although Bulgaria may be a relative 'new kid on the block' as compared to many other European countries in the skating world, the country's skating history is nothing short of fascinating.

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":