Inspiring and Beautiful… The talented Russian women who pushed their limits to achieve excellence
Figure-Skating at the Winter Olympics

“Nothing makes a woman more beautiful than the belief that she is beautiful”

- Sophia Loren

Graceful and elegant… Beautiful and inspiring… Gentle and strong… These are traits denoting female ballerinas and figure-skaters.

I spent the first six years of my childhood in Moscow, the city where I was born, the city where figure-skating was positioned on a very high level. I followed figure-skating competitions since my childhood, and continue following and admiring this gentle type of sport until now. Since I was little, my desire was to practise figure-skating. Just as my mother decided to sign me up for ice-skating classes in Moscow, my family moved to Armenia. And my wish remained unrealized.

Russia is a country enriched with plenty of successful and talented figure-skaters and ballet dancers who proved the world to be the best in these areas. Within this article, you will read short biographies and stories of some female Russian figure-skaters and ballerinas. 

Before meeting inspiring figure-skaters, let's first dive into a bit of history:

Even though figure-skating is very popular in Russia, the founder of figure-skating was American ice-skater and ballet dancer Jackson Haines, who was the first one to combine the elements of music, dance and ballet, and create the marvellous figure-skating. Perhaps not everyone knows where the name “figure-skating” originated: some time ago designs in the form of the figure “eight” were skated on ice and these designs were called figures. Complex patterns, including stars and rosettes were painted on the ice with skates’ edges. These types of figures could be seen as a genuine work of art”.

Tatyana Navka

Navka_Kostomarov_EC_2005.jpg

Russian ice dancer who has captivated the world of figure-skating with her charm and originality. She is a two-time World champion, a three-time European champion, a three-time Grand Prix Final champion and Olympic Champion of 2006, with partner Roman Kostomarov.

Tatyana Navka  - known as an Ice queen - was born on April 13, 1975 in Dnepropetrovsk. Her first serious steps in ice-skating were realized at the age of five. However, her interest towards this sport was first ignited by the performance of the famous Russian figure-skater Elena Vodorezova. Later on, she participated in the TV show “Stars on Ice”, where she won first place with actor Marat Basharov. In 2011, Tatyana Navka was chosen as an Ambassador of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games.

Despite her successful career, Tatyana has seen instabilities in her personal life: while being a spouse of an ice dancer Alexander Zhulin for 9 years, Tatyana has had a passionate affair with artist Marat Basharov, which resulted in a divorce with Zhulin in 2009. According to several sources, in August 2015 Tatyana got married to the press secretary of the president of Russia, Dmitry Peskov.  

Elena Berezhnaya

Berezhnaya_and_Sikharulidze_2001_GPF.jpg

The route to Olympic championship for Elena has been hard and dramatic:

In early 1990s, Elena Berezhnaya moved to Riga, Latvia. There she started to dance with Oleg Shlyakhov, who was well-known for his complicated and riotous character. Elena didn’t have any other option than to tolerate his bad behaviour with tears in her eyes, thinking about the future success they would have together. However, later on she moved to Saint Petersburg where she started to dance under the guidance of trainer Tamara Moskvina. Afterwards, her dance partner became Anton Sikharulidze, who was Georgian by origin. Very soon, a romantic connection was born between them. Further on, Anton helped Elena to recover from a tragic trauma that happened during the dance with her former partner. After the trauma, there was a reanimation, then operation. By the support and care of Anton Sikharulidze, she could speak, walk and dance again. In 1998, the couple won second place in the Nagano Olympic Games. Later on, they won the Gold Medal in the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, which was somehow disputed with the Canadian figure-skating couple. 

Julia Lipnitskaya

Julia_Lipnitskaia_Olympics_2014.jpeg

Julia Lipnitsakaya , a solo figure-skater is only 15 years old, but has already reached fame and won first place in the 2014 European Championship, and the Gold Medal in the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. In the beginning, she was also practising gymnastics, but in the end, she chose figure-skating. She started skating at the age of four. Since her native town Ekaterinburg had limited opportunities for figure-skating, soon she moved to Moscow.

In 2011-2012, Lipnitskaya participated in a series of junior competitions, and won all of them.

A solo male figure-skater, world champion Evgeni Plushenko has named Julia as a “little genius”. In 2014 Sochi Olympics, Julia became a star due to her phenomenal free program. Lipnitskaya is the youngest Russian figure-skater to have won the Olympic Gold Medal.

Ballerinas, known for their tenderness and grace, are the symbols of vitality and perseverance... They are vivacious and strong, gentle and pure, they perform with wholehearted energy, but leave one nuance behind the scene: their sufferings… No one but them knows what it costs to go beyond the limits and win the admiration of the audience.

Anna Pavlova

AP_Cygne.jpg

Anna Pavlova, though not contemporary but listed among the worlds’ most influential ballerinas; famous for the creation of the role The Dying Swan, Anna is the first ballerina to have toured the ballet around the world.  

Born in 1881, Anna started to attend the Imperial Ballet Academy at the age of ten. After graduation, she entered the Mariinsky Theatre as a second solo ballet dancer. During the consequent year, Anna became the first solo ballet dancer. Anna’s repertoire has been very diverse and included the mix of foreign cultures.

Anna Pavlova spent her intimate days at Ivy House in Hampstead London, where she kept species of exotic birds and animals, including a pair of pet swans.  

Ulyana Lopatkina

Carte_Blanche_Ouliana_Lopatkina_(128).JPG

Charming and strong, graceful and elegant, Ulyana Lopatkina is known as a legend of Russian ballet.

Born in 1973 in the city of Kerch, Ukraine, Ulyana moved to Saint Petersburg and attended the Academy of Russian Ballet named after Vaganova. Her debut was performed in the “Swan Lake” Ballet in St. Petersburg, for which she was awarded the “Golden Sofit”. Ulyana has won a list of international prizes, like the Golden Mask and Benoise de la Dance. She danced in world famous theatres, among which are: Royal Opera House in London, Grand Opera de Paris, La Scala in Milan, Metropolitan Opera in New York, Bolshoy Theatre in Moscow and, of course, Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

However, despite all these achievements, she considers the most remarkable event of her life to be the birth of her daughter Masha, born in 2002.

These women have passed through storm and thunder, but proved the world that nothing is impossible. As Audrey Hepburn had noted: “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says “I’m possible”!”.

Author’s final note:

While writing this article, I was thinking: “what do these women have in common? Perhaps tenderness and femininity is what distinguishes Russian figure-skaters and ballerinas”. I have recently been discussing with a colleague, Hanna Starchyk, whether it is correct to differentiate between the girls’ stuff and the boys’ stuff since childhood, like it is done in our countries - former Soviet Union countries. In my view, it is necessary to cultivate the sense of femininity and masculinity starting from the early ages, so that the girls realize the genuine value of being feminine, and the boys grow up by valuing their belonging to the strong gender. This kind of upbringing, in my opinion, will help avoiding serious gender and relationship issues in the future. Therefore, I believe it is very useful to take your little girls to dance or ballet or figure-skating classes, which may breed a sense of femininity in your little princesses and help them grow as real ladies.