Portraits on Russian Ladies: Olga Markova

Olga Markova in 1995.

Before Sochi 2014 and the ensuing dominance of Russian girls in the latter half of the current decade, the country experienced another golden age in ladies singles skating that younger fans might not be so familiar with. In the late 90s Maria Butyrskaya (1999 World Champion) was the face of a rising force of strong Russian female skaters. The young Irina Slutskaya (2x World Champion, 2002 and 2006 Olympic medalist) followed in her footsteps and established herself as a top contender in the early 00s. With Their rivalry taking center stage on the domestic scene, more young ladies rose to the occasion and enjoyed international success, albeit not as grand as the former two, including Julia Soldatova (1999 World bronze medalist), Viktoria Volchkova (4x European bronze medalist) and Elena Sokolova (2003 World silver medalist).

This is a series of short portraits illustrating the careers of ladies who skated shortly before or during this hegemony but are hardly remembered by fans today. With totally different artistic styles and varying technical skills, they all had strong points in their skating, and could have risen to the occasion at one point. Today we take a look at Olga Markova.

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The greatest Russian figure skater that never was (Part I)

In the wild spectacle of elite sports, stars ascend quickly, shine brightly and fall down in an instance if they are not able to win big during the narrow window when their physical abilities are at their peak. Media and fans, hungry for thrill and eternally seeking new favorites to replace yesterday’s heroes, usually do not put much thought into this endless cycle. It is either a story of continuous undefeated success that sticks in the minds of the viewers, or a tale of defeating impossible odds to raise to the top. It is no wonder why these stories of overcoming adversity receive high coverage during the Olympics, with the emergence of the concept of athletes making miraculous comebacks to fulfill their “Olympic dream”.

And figure skating, like all sports, is a straightforward, simple and extremely cruel game: the most capable rise to the top, the less talented or misfortunate ones are easily replaceable both by their federations and in the eyes of the audience. Unfortunately, little attention do we pay to the fact that for every Yuna Kim, Yuzuru Hanyu or Evgeni Plushenko who garner and inspire countless dedicated fans with their astonishing abilities and competitive drive to beat all odds, there are thousands of equally amazing figure skaters who come painfully short of achieving their immense potential. A few of them live in the collective memory of the community as a cautionary tale for the dangers of the sport; the overwhelming majority end up a mere sporting statistic.

Ilia Klimkin is arguably one of the most talented figure skaters to ever come out of Russia – and probably one of the biggest wasted talents from there, and that says a lot for a country that prides itself on being one of the leading powers in the sport. He was almost up there with Evgeni Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin in terms of raw talent and artistry, but unlike the other two, he lives in the minds of figure skating aficionados today as a collection of a few faint fragmented memories. Yet, I am still to find a story which more beautifully illustrates the hypocrisy, unfairness and ultimate meaninglessness of elite sports on all sides, like the career of this largely forgotten skater does .

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Yuri Ovchinnikov – A genius born in the wrong era

On paper, Yuri Ovchinnikov’s career doesn’t look too bad but he is barely remembered today. Being one of the emerging talents from the Soviet Union in singles skating during the late 60s and 70s, he won a bronze medal at the European championship in 1975, and made the top 10 of the world four times, often getting overshadowed results-wise by other soviet skaters including Sergei Chetverukhin (1972 Olympic silver medalist), Sergei Volkov (1975 world champion) and Vladimir Kovalev (1976 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion).

What sports records omit from the picture was that Yuri was far ahead of his time, being born in an era when his talents were just not rewarded the same way they would have been at a later time – with his infinite passion and energy on the ice, innovative choreography, musicality and lyrical expressiveness, and huge jumps which left spectators gasping in awe, he was considered a “king of the free skate”.

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