November 01, 2002

The Shalyapin of Russian Soccer

On December 1, legendary Russian soccer and hockey player Vsevolod Bobrov (1922-1979) would have turned 80. Poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko called Bobrov “the Shaliapin of Russian soccer, and the Gagarin of the puck in Rus.’”

In fact, there was a time (before artificial ice) when Soviet ice hockey players were as good on grass as they were on ice, switching to soccer in the summer to keep in shape. Bobrov was on the team that won the USSR Soccer Championships from 1946-1948, but the pinnacle of his soccer career was at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. It was the first Olympics in which the USSR participated, and in a dramatic final match against Yugoslavia (which had special value for Stalin, given his cooling relations with Yugoslavian leader Josef Broz Tito), the USSR, led by Bobrov’s spectacular performance, came back from 1:5 to tie the match at 5:5. Unfortunately, however, the Soviet team lost the rematch.

After 1952, Bobrov switched to hockey, where he achieved even greater success. On top of many national titles, “Bober” (“Beaver,” as fans dubbed him) helped the USSR take the gold at the first World Championships in which it participated (1954), beating Canada 7:2 in the finals. Later, in 1956, Bobrov led his team to Olympic gold (again defeating Canada) at Cortina d’Ampezzo.

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