The 1970 European Figure Skating Championships

From February 4 to 8, 1970, twenty years before school figures were skated for the last time at the European Championships in the exact same building, Europe's best figure skaters convened at the Yubileyny Sports Palace in Leningrad for the 1970 European Figure Skating Championships. The event marked the first time since 1911 that the city had hosted the European Championships. It was held at the exact same time as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The event received only scant coverage in the Western media as TASS (the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union) largely censored details of the event. Even Tamara Moskvina, who contributed a review to "Skating" magazine, required clearance of her article through the agency before it was released. Over three million requests for tickets were received, but the venue only had three thousand seats. With the stands packed to capacity, many Leningrad residents were forced to watch the event at home on television. To the delight of the home crowd, Soviet skaters won the most medals of any participating nation at the event: two golds, a silver and a bronze. Today, we'll take an ever so brief look at some of the stories from this event, which has been largely shrouded in mystery for decades.


The men's podium

At the previous year's European Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Czechoslovakia's Ondrej Nepela had decisively won his first European title by outskating France's Patrick Péra. Mere days after Groundhog Day, it seemed like déjà vu to many when nineteen year old Nepela amassed a considerable lead in the school figures in Leningrad and coasted to victory with a conservative free skating performance. 

Günter Zöller. Photo courtesy German Federal Archive.

Günter Zöller, an auto mechanic from East Germany, took the bronze, knocking 1969 European Bronze Medallist Sergei Chetverukhin off the podium. A young Didier Gailhaguet placed nineteenth in his European debut.


Trixi Schuba, Gaby Seyfert and  Zsuzsa Almássy: medallists in the women's event

After the school figures, Austria's Trixi Schuba had a twenty eight point lead over two time European Champion Gaby Seyfert of East Germany, with Hungary's Zsuzsa Almássy third, Great Britain's Patricia Dodd fourth, Austria's Elisabeth Nestler fifth and Italy's Rita Trapanese sixth. Rebounding with an exceptional free skate and capitalizing on Schuba's relative weakness in the free skating, Seyfert moved up to narrowly claim her third European title. Schuba dropped to second, Almássy remained in third and Trapanese moved up to fourth place with a free skate that some thought rivalled Seyfert's. Yelena Alexandrova, a nineteen year old student from Leningrad who was fresh off an upset win at the Soviet Championships in Kiev, managed a seventh place finish to the chagrin of the home crowd.


Irina Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov. Photo courtesy German Federal Archive.

To the surprise of few, the indomitable Irina Rodnina of Moscow and her partner Alexei Ulanov, a student of the Gnesin Music School who excelled at playing the bayan, utterly dominated the pairs event, easily besting their Leningrad rivals, twenty one year old Liudmila Smirnova and twenty two year old Andrei Suraikin. The bronze medal went to the East German pair of Heidemarie Steiner and Heinz-Ulrich Walther.

The pairs podium

Perhaps the most interesting anecdote regarding the pairs event in Leningrad surrounded a team who didn't even participate... Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov. The two time Olympic Gold Medallists had suffered a fall at the Soviet Championships that year that dropped them clear off the podium. Despite the fact that they'd clearly fallen out of favour 'at home' at that time, they were named to the European team but ultimately did not compete in Leningrad. Galina Karelina and Georgi Proskurin took their spot, placing a creditable fourth in their European debut.

Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov


Lyudmila Pakhomova and Aleksandr Gorshkov

Early in the compulsory dances, Soviets Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov stood atop the leaderboard, ahead of West German siblings Angelika and Erich Buck and Britons Susan Getty and Roy Bradshaw. To the shock of many, unheralded Soviets Tatiana Voitiuk and Viacheslav Zhigalin (only tenth at the previous year's European Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen) moved up to third after the third compulsory dance. 

The ice dance podium

In her book "Figure Skating History: The Evolution Of Dance On Ice", Lynn Copley-Graves recalled, "The Bucks, well synchronized in the compulsories, seemed stiff to Tamara Moskvina, who attributed this aspect to their British trainer. Zharkova/Karponosov skated in a severely formal style, ending sixth. The elegant Muscovites Lyudmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov, stunned the spectators and judges with expressive complexity in a free dance to music by Grieg, Moniuszko and Beethoven, earning thirteen 5.9's and two 6.0's. They had become the first Soviets to win an ISU Dance Championship, and they did it for an ecstatic home audience in Leningrad." The Buck's settled for silver, Voitiuk and Zhigalin took the bronze and Britons Getty and Bradshaw finished a disappointing fifth, behind Annerose Baier and Eberhard Rüger of East Germany.

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