Xenia Caesar, The Mother Of Russian Figure Skating

Born in 1889 in St. Petersburg, Russia, Xenia Genrichovna Caesar developed a sense of discipline and appreciate for melody as a child by studying piano with her father, a music teacher. Along with her sisters Barbara and Olga, Xenia joined the St. Petersburg Society Of Ice Skating Amateurs when she was still a student. At the frozen Yusupov Gardens, she excelled at the finer points of compulsory and special figures under the expert tutelage of none other than Olympic Gold Medallist Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin. Panin later recalled, "From the first meeting with her on the ice, I was amazed by her abilities... Soon Xenia took a leading place among the younger population of the 'Academy'."

In 1910, Xenia made her debut at the Russian Championships, finishing third in the men's event which was won by Karl Ollo. When a women's competition was formally introduced the following winter, she claimed the gold, defeating fellow Panin disciple Lidia Popova. That same winter, she finished second at a figure skating competition for women which was held in conjunction with the European Championships, which at that time were only contested by men. Xenia reigned as the Russian women's champion for five years in a row and in 1914 in St. Moritz, she became the first Russian woman to participate in the World Championships. Hampered by low marks in the school figures, she placed seventh of the nine entries despite earning third place ordinals from both the German and British judges in free skating. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Great War ended her competitive figure skating career.

Following the War, Xenia served as a professor at the Institute Of Physical Culture in Leningrad and was the founder and head instructor at the school of figure skating at the Leningrad Provincial Council of Trade Unions. She later taught at the Pischevkus and Lesgaft skating schools with Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin and fellow Russian Champions Karl Ollo and Fedor Datlin before returning to the Yusupov Gardens to teach skating with the Central Club of the Leningrad Provincial Council of Trade Unions. Among her students were 1937 and 1939 Soviet pairs champions Raisa (Novozhilova) and Alexander Gandelsman.

Although contemporary sources claim that Xenia passed away in 1967, the Russian National Library's "Book of Memory of Victims of Political Repression in the USSR" supports journalist Oleg Chikiris' claim that she actually died in May 1942 during the Siege Of Leningrad and was buried near Nikolay Panin-Kolomenkin in Piskarevskoe Cemetery. For those who aren't up on their World War II history, the German occupation of Leningrad was nothing short of horrific. Over one and a half million people died - the largest loss of life ever in a modern city - and starvation was so extreme that citizens resorted to eating sawdust, rats and cats - even murder and cannibalism. Many died on the streets. Hardly a fitting end to anyone's story, let alone the mother of Russian figure skating. Inducted into the Hall Of Fame of the Federal State Educational Institution of Higher Professional Education, National State University of Physical Culture, Sports and Health posthumously, Xenia's tragic story is all but forgotten outside of Russia today.

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