January 01, 2014

The Original Pair

A death spiral starts with a firm grip. The man anchors his skate in the ice, and his partner pitches downward, using him as a pivot. It is a centrifuge of two bodies. At its zenith, the man leans to counter-weigh the woman’s force of inertia, her body nearly parallel to the ice while orbiting his. The move collapses if either partner doesn’t commit fully with hand grip, bodyweight or blade-edging. A break of trust or focus can mean a head-first fall to the ice for the female partner, but a stable, smoothly-paced spiral can be hypnotic.

Ludmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov are famed for the variations they created on the death spiral, which they named the life spiral, the love spiral, and the cosmic spiral. Clearly they recognized more passion and beauty in the move than dread or danger. Skating, for them, has always been more artistry than athletics.

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata played as the couple started their performance during the 1968 Grenoble Olympics, one that would transform figure skating through its innovation. All their routines told a story, and in this one Beethoven’s life was depicted though movements that figure skating commentator Dick Button described as “utter perfection.” The Protopopovs, as the couple is known, took their second gold medal (their first was in the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics). They also commenced a streak of Russian dominance; Russians would take first place in pairs figure skating for the next forty-two years, the longest winning streak in Olympic history.

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