Rodnina, Irina (1949—)

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Rodnina, Irina (1949—)

Soviet ice skater. Born in the USSR on September 12, 1949; married Alexsandr Zaitsev or Zaitzev (her pairs partner), in 1975; children: at least one son.

Won ten World and ten European titles, as well as three Olympic gold medals in pairs competitions (1969–80): with Alexei Ulanov, won four World championship titles (1969–72) and the gold medal at the Sapporo Olympics (1972); with Alexsandr Zaitsev, won six World championships in pairs (1973–78) and the Olympic gold medal (1976, 1980).

Irina Rodnina inherited the mantle of Ludmila Protopopov, one half of the dominant Soviet pairs team known as the Protopopovs. Between 1969 and 1972, Rodnina skated successfully with Alexei Ulanov, winning four consecutive World championship titles. But at the 1972 Olympics at Sapporo, Japan, when they won the gold medal, their partnership was coming to an end, and everyone knew it. Ulanov had fallen in love with another Russian skater, Ludmila Smirnova, who with her partner Andrei Suraikin had won the silver medal in the same event. A dejected Rodnina stood on top of the podium, Ulanov by her side, Smirnova to her right, while the band struck up the Soviet national anthem. Then, she went home and looked for another partner, and all of Russia helped.

After a nationwide search, Alexsandr Zaitsev was chosen in 1973. Though Zaitsev was three years younger than she, the couple jelled immediately and won the European Paris Competition in Zagreb, Yugoslavia, in 1974, with the highest number of maximum six marks awarded for one performance in an international championship. The highly emotional Rodnina was the dominant skater, performing technically difficult routines. Zaitsev was reserved and intellectual. But they meshed, noted Time, "like the gears in a Swiss watch." In 1975, they married; a year later, in the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, they won the gold medal.

Coming into the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, America's Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner were expected to be tough competitors, because they had upset the Soviets in the 1979 World championships. They had not, however, competed against Rodnina and Zaitsev, who at that time had been in temporary retirement awaiting the birth of their son. But at Lake Placid Gardner pulled a groin muscle and fell four times while warming up for the short program, and he and Babilonia were forced to withdraw. Rodnina and Zaitsev took to the ice to win their second Olympic gold medal. With ten Worlds and three Olympic medals, Rodnina had tied the record of major championship titles in ice skating set by Sonja Henie. Rodnina retired in 1980 and became a highly successful coach of pair skaters.


Time. February 2, 1976, pg 65.

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Rodnina, Irina (1949—)

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