For many years, I used to watch Oleg and Ludmila Protopopov on An Evening with Champions, an exhibition skating show benefiting the Jimmy Fund. I always marveled at how ridiculously fit and amazing this couple was. In the 2007 show (see left), the Protopopovs were in their 70s and put the rest of us younger folks to shame with their neverending youthful spirit!
The Protopopovs were the Olympic pairs champions in 1964 and 1968, and introduced the classical ballet style in pairs skating that we don't see enough of today. The Protopopovs were also the first skaters to perform side-by-side jumps and invented three death spiral moves: the life spiral on the forward inside edge of their skate blades, the love spiral on the forward outside edge, and the cosmic spiral on the backward inside edge.
When they became skating partners in 1957 in Moscow, Oleg was 23 and Ludmila was 20, and they were told not to expect much because they were "too old." But they persisted and success came quickly. In addition to the two Olympic gold medals, they were European and world champions from 1965 - 1968. When they won their second Olympic gold medal in 1968, Oleg was 35 and Lyudmila was 32. Soon the Soviets wanted them to retire from skating (again, age) and become coaches to the up and coming Russian pairs skaters. But Oleg and Lyudmila refused because they felt they were in top physical form, still had a lot to offer in the competitive world, and simply could not retire on someone else's terms. So, while touring Switzerland in August 1979, they defected and continued to enthrall audiences everywhere with their poetic brilliance.
Below is their 1982 World Professional program with really entertaining commentary by Canadian skater Toller Cranston: