Alena Vrzáňová

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Alena Vrzáňová
Alena Vrzanova 2009.jpg
Vrzáňová in 2009.
Personal information
Full name Alena Vrzáňová
Alternative names Ája Zanová
Country represented  Czechoslovakia
Born (1931-05-16) 16 May 1931 (age 84)
Former coach Arnold Gerschwiler
Skating club VŠ Praha

Alena "Ája" Vrzáňová (Czech pronunciation: [ˈalɛna ˈaːja ˈvr̩zaːɲovaː]) (also Zanová, married name: Steindler) (born 16 May 1931), is a Czech former figure skater who represented Czechoslovakia in competition. Vrzáňová is the 1949 & 1950 World champion and 1950 European champion.

Personal life[edit]

Vrzáňová was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1931. In addition to figure skating, she also played piano and attended ballet school.[1]

After spending the winter of 1949 at home in Czechoslovakia, her father advised her not to come back from the upcoming World Championships and she agreed. She defected[2] from Czechoslovakia during the 1950 World Championships in London and was eventually offered political asylum. Her mother followed her in March under dramatic circumstances – her plane was hijacked.[1] Her father, a professional cello player, visited them several times, but decided not to leave his country permanently. His daughter did not return to Prague until 1990.[2]

In 1969, Vrzáňová married Czech-born innkeeper Pavel Steindler; they adopted two children. They ran the Duck Joint restaurant in New York City, and later the Czech Pavilion.


Vrzáňová started sports at the age of three when her parents bought her skis. They spent each winter in the Krkonoše mountains. This tradition was interrupted during the Second World War, and then Vrzáňová started figure skating. The conditions for training were difficult, as she had to train in early winter mornings.[1] Her training sessions were held in darkness because of the dim-out regulations. The sessions took place in the open Štvanice Stadium before the sessions for hockey players, or in the CLTK club tennis courts, which were flooded with water and frozen.

In 1946, Vrzáňová became the Czechoslovak junior national champion. In early 1947, she moved to Richmond, London to be coached by Arnold Gerschwiler.[1]

In 1947, Vrzáňová won the Czechoslovak national championships and placed 7th at the 1947 World Figure Skating Championships. After the communist party seized power in Czechoslovakia, the united sport leadership criticized Vrzáňová’s preparation in the United Kingdom. The Rudé Právo daily published several very offensive articles[citation needed]. The next time she went to Richmond for training, the communist State Security was watching her[citation needed].

Vrzáňová represented Czechoslovakia at the 1948 Winter Olympics. She placed fifth in the event, finishing fifth behind compatriot Jiřina Nekolová.

In 1949, Vrzáňová won her first World Championships title in Paris, overcoming difficult circumstances – loss of her music records and having blunted the edge of her skate just before she skated[citation needed]. At the championship, she was credited as being the first woman to land a double lutz.[3]

After winning the 1950 European Championships, she won a second world title at the 1950 World Championships. After this, she went on the European tour instead of going home.

Following her competitive career, Vrzáňová moved to the United States and performed for the traveling show Ice Follies for three years under the name "Aja Zanova" then joined the Ice Capades. She also participated in television ads and other shows.

After her husband's death, Vrzáňová worked for the Ice Capades and led New York City's largest public ice rink, the Wollman Rink.

She was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2009.[3]

In 2009, Vrzáňová received the title of the Sports Legend of the Czech Republic. In 2012, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg presented to her the 16th annual Gratias Agit Awards in recognition of those who promote the good name of the Czech Republic abroad.[4]

Competitive highlights[edit]

Event 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950
Winter Olympic Games 5th
World Championships 7th 5th 1st 1st
European Championships 6th 3rd 2nd 1st
Czechoslovak Championships 1st J. 1st 1st 1st 1st


  1. ^ a b c d Willoughby, Ian (2012-07-05). "Ája Vrzáňová-Steindler: Former ice skating world champion recalls 1950s defection – and much more". Radio Prague. Archived from the original on 2012-07-05. 
  2. ^ a b Heller Anderson, Susan (April 4, 1990). "Chronicle". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Elliott, Helene (March 13, 2009). "Brian Orser heads list of World Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductees". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  4. ^ Richter, Jan (2012-06-01). "Foreign Ministry honours 12 people for promoting good name of Czech Republic". Radio Prague. Archived from the original on 2012-07-05.