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A Fitting Tribute

September 9, 2011 - Christie Sausa
LAKE PLACID - Skating icons Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov were honored by skating luminaries and ice show performers Saturday with "A Tribute to the Protopopovs" show in the Herb Brooks Arena in the Olympic Center.

Hosted by the Skating Club of Lake Placid, the show benefited the club's scholarship program. Special guests including skating icon and Emmy award-winning skating commentator Dick Button were present, and the Protopopovs skated a brief program at the beginning of the show.

The celebration included a large projection screen suspended above the ice surface that played video highlights of the Protopopov's career, spotlights and speeches from guests about the impact of the Protopopovs on the sport of figure skating.

Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov are innovators and champions of the sport, winning Olympic gold medals in 1964 and 1968 in pairs skating and four world championships. They also contributed new versions of the death spiral, a staple move of pairs skating.

The death spiral is a move in which the male skater is in a pivot position, one toe anchored in the ice, while the female skater circles her partner on a deep edge with her body almost parallel to the ice. Although the move was invented in the 1940s, the Protopopovs developed variations of the move: the cosmic spiral (backward inside edge), life spiral (forward inside edge) and love spiral (forward outside edge). According to the Protopopovs, the move was invented by accident.

"We were practicing the death spiral one day, and by mistake I slipped from the outside to the inside edge," Ludmila Protopopov said. "That was the move we decided to call the cosmic spiral."

Other components of the Protopopov's skating, however, are certainly not accidents. Their pure and classical skating style made figure skating more than a sport; it became an art form.

"The Protopopovs were the first to be very different; their skating was purely classical, with musicality, body position and the uniformity of two skating together as one," Button said. "It is very rare today for skaters to put the energy into presenting that type of skating."

As much respect as Button has for the Protopopovs, they have an equal amount of respect and admiration for him.

"Mr. Button was my idol when I was a boy," Oleg Protopopov said. "My mother brought me an American magazine with Mr. Button on the cover and I couldn't believe how well he extended and pointed his toes in the split jump position."

Oleg Protopopov added, "My mother said, 'you must be a better skater than him someday,' and it never happened."

Button replied that it did, and that they were an inspiration.

"After seeing the Protopopovs skate, I realized what beautiful form and quality truly meant," Button said.

But how did Soviet Olympic and World skating champions end up in Lake Placid?

"We first came to Lake Placid because we were always hearing that they had beautiful arenas here," Ludmila Protopopov said. "We also wanted to work with coach Gus Lussi. Unfortunately, he had passed away. We came here in 1997, and stayed forever."

The Protopopovs, as usual, are gracious about their success.

"It is a great honor to be a member of the Skating Club of Lake Placid, and we are honored to be recognized for our achievements," Ludmila Protopopov said.

The entire village seemed to feel the same Saturday, as Art Devlin, Village of Lake Placid Trustee, awarded the Protopopovs the key to the village and declared September 3 to be "Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov Day" in Lake Placid.

The Olympic Regional Development Authority also awarded the pair an Executive Office Citation, presented by president/CEO Ted Blazer, in honor of their dedication to the sport of figure skating.

Ann O'Keefe, the United States Figure Skating Eastern Region Vice President, presented an award on behalf of US Figure Skating honoring their skating achievements.

The Protopopov's endless quest for purity and perfection in skating is best viewed during daily practices, where they spend hours practicing. Perhaps Ludmila Protopopov said it best.

"We love figure skating; it is our life."

*reprint of Adirondack Daily Enterprise article*


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