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© RIA Novosti. Yuriy Somov

Speaking to Soviet Winter Olympic legends

In the run-up to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Moskovskiye Novosti journalists Andrei Vdovin and Yevgeny Slyusarenko interviewed a number of Soviet Winter Olympic sporting legends. Here are some excerpts. The full interviews can be found at www. mn.ru/trend/legendy/

Boris Mikhailov, member of the legendary Soviet hockey team that won gold at the 1972 and 1976 Olympic Games

On attempts to lure them to the West:

- We three once had such a story in Toronto. The owner of the club comes up: "Here's a contract and a million dollars, tomorrow you wear the club's kit." But behind him stood Vasily Vasiliyev - that's what we called the people from the security services [KGB]. I did not have any other choice but to answer, "Thank you, but we are Soviet millionaires."

... We had family back at home. How could we go without them, what would we do with them? I didn't even want to think about it. Secondly, for me the Stanley Cup means nothing. For a long time I refused to be photographed with it, out of principle. The title of USSR champion meant far more. I won't hide the fact that I had, theoretically, a desire to try the NHL - to see how good I was and to earn some money. We did discuss that with the lads, but no more.

On facing off against Czechoslovakia at the 1976 Games in Innsbruck, Austria

- It was tough playing the Czechs. Very. I would say even tougher than the Canadians. They didn't do us any favors because of famous political events. They spat in our faces. Literally. But we had strict instructions: Don't respond to any provocations. Oh! How we suffered for not answering back.

On the "Miracle on Ice," when the legendary Soviet team lost in the final to a student U.S. team at the 1980 games in Lake Placid:

- I really don't like remembering that Olympics. Even today, there's an unpleasant aftertaste. The Olympic village was in a prison, and because of that we never slept properly; every step in the corridor created an echo. Freezing! ... Everyone, including the bosses, thought that all we needed to do was to go out on the ice, grab the gold and go home.

... Plus, there were terrible coaches' mistakes in the game - I think there was no need to change [goaltender Vladislav] Tretyak. And that's how the lads and I were left, without a third Olympic victory.

[The Soviet players weren't exaggerating: The Olympic village in Lake Placid was a prison. Built with funds from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it became a juvenile prison after the games. Sports Illustrated quoted Johan Schonheyder of the Norwegian Olympic Committee as saying it was "Shocking ... one has built a prison and invited the world's best winter athletes to live in it for three weeks." The Norwegians rented two villas and based their athletes there instead.]

Irina Rodnina, three-time Olympic pairs champion, Sapporo, Japan 1972, Innsbruck, Austria, 1976 and Lake Placid, U.S., 1980

On the difference between Soviet and Western skaters:

- We were dressed worse. That was especially clear in the dressing room. The costumes were worse and the skates were worse, but we knew that as soon as we went out onto the ice we would destroy everyone else. That was the important thing.

On technological advances:

- Competition results are announced automatically within a few seconds now, but then they took a long time to count  .... [partner Alexei] Ulanov and I understood that we were probably in the top three, but which one? First? Second? Third? ... In the Soviet Union, they called out the names of the bronze medal winners [first]. Our name was called out first and I ask, "Lelik, what are we going to do? Which step should we go on?" He says, "Let's go on the top step. If they chase us off, we'll move down." They didn't chase us off.

On the Lake Placid Games:

- The whole Olympics was very tough, starting with our arrival. The Americans didn't accept our planes because of the war in Afghanistan and we had to land in Canada. The accreditation procedure in the Olympic village took a terrible amount of time. It took me an hour and half to get in because of what they said were antiterrorist measures. But as an experienced person, I understood that it could not have been accidental.

And that Olympic Village prison:

- There was no window ... The bathrooms were down the hall. An air conditioner was above the door. That was deathly for us, and we closed it up with a towel. And [there was] an iron double decker bed which I fell off on the first night. I'm falling, and even half-asleep, I understood that I can't fall on my legs, that I need to protect them and the rest will heal. I landed on my face.

Vladimir Kozlov, member of the two-man Soviet bobsled team that won gold at the 1988 Games in Calgary, Canada

The Soviet team had the best bobsled in the world at the time, and foreign teams envied their vehicle:

- The Latvian members of [our] team told me of a funny situation where a Swiss [bobsled] pilot, an Olympic champion, came up to them and offered the keys of his Mercedes, the latest model, [for the bobsled].

Lidiya Skoblikova, speed skater who won six gold medals at the games in Squaw Valley, U.S, in 1960 and Innsbruck, Austria, 1964

On visiting New York:

- We knew of course that we were flying to the capitalists, that they are our opponents and that we need to behave well. ...I remember we landed in New York and we had a few hours before the transfer to San Francisco. We went for a walk and were stupefied. We had never seen so many beautiful cars. My father at the time worked as the deputy head of a factory, and a horse and cart were sent to pick him up for work. So we're wandering - all in the same official outfit - and everyone is looking at us and asking, "Where are you from? How are you?" and wishing us luck. The second thing that amazed us was the black gas station attendants in white, white suits. Can you imagine what clothes our fuel attendants in the airports were wearing at the time?

... We got in the bus to go to the Olympic village and the USSR hockey team was with us ... They gave up their places for us girls, took blankets and settled on the floor between the seats. I was astounded at the way they treated us.

On the return to her native Chelyabinsk:

- We flew back with the hockey players. I was invited into the cockpit and spoke to the pilot and one of the heads of the city, and they warned us that a few thousand people were waiting for us. I went back and told the hockey players, "You're going to laugh, but do you want to bet that the entire city will greet us when we land?" They go, "Ah, we know how we'll be greeted: A bus will drive up and take us off to training."

... The plane lands, a red carpet is rolled out and each sportsman is put into a separate car. The cavalcade takes us all the way to Chelyabinsk's central square. And all the way - and it's 20 kilometers - people, never mind that it's February, open their windows and wave at us. Anatoly Tarasov, the famous CSKA and USSR trainer, had tears in his eyes.

Viktor Shuvalov, member of the Soviet team that won the hockey title in 1956 in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

The Soviets were used to playing hockey with a ball on outdoor rinks. Shuvalov is asked about the difference between the two games:

- The artificial ice and the closed rinks, especially when the fans smoke. Once, when we were in France and played the Canadians, a foggy cloud hung over the arena because people smoked so much. Though at least it wasn't cold. At home, we played when it was -30°C. Once, we played so much that I almost lost two fingers on one hand because of frostbite.

Shuvalov sold his Olympic medal to survive:

- In the early 1990s, almost everyone did the same. There was no other way. You didn't want to die of hunger. Literally.

... I don't have a bad pension, like the military. A few years ago, as an Olympic champion, I was given a presidential award, so [my pension] is 15,000 rubles. We are grateful for that, of course, but why was it not possible to pay those who got medals at the Olympic Games? Take Radya Yeroshina - our famous skier who died last year. At the first Olympic Games she was a few seconds behind [the winner] Lyubov Baranova. Her pension, as an ordinary athlete, was 3,000 rubles. The last time I saw her, she said to me, "Vitya, how can I live?" tmn


Translated by Kevin O'Flynn

Read other articles of the print issue "The Moscow News #01-02"
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