Oleg Protopopov

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Oleg Protopopov
Protopopov in 1965
Full nameOleg Alekseyevich Protopopov
Born(1932-07-16)16 July 1932
Leningrad, Russian SFSR, USSR
Died31 October 2023(2023-10-31) (aged 91)
Interlaken, Bern, Switzerland
Height1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)
Figure skating career
Country Soviet Union
PartnerLudmila Belousova
Medal record
Representing  Soviet Union
Pairs' Figure skating
Olympic Games
Gold medal – first place 1968 Grenoble Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1964 Innsbruck Pairs
World Championships
Bronze medal – third place 1969 Colorado Springs Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1968 Geneva Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1967 Vienna Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1966 Davos Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1965 Colorado Springs Pairs
Silver medal – second place 1964 Dormund Pairs
Silver medal – second place 1963 Cortina d'Ampezzo Pairs
Silver medal – second place 1962 Prague Pairs
European Championships
Silver medal – second place 1969 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1968 Västerås Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1967 Ljubljana Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1966 Bratislava Pairs
Gold medal – first place 1965 Moscow Pairs
Silver medal – second place 1964 Grenoble Pairs
Silver medal – second place 1963 Budapest Pairs
Silver medal – second place 1962 Geneva Pairs

Oleg Alekseyevich Protopopov (Russian: Оле́г Алексе́евич Протопо́пов; 16 July 1932 – 31 October 2023) was a Russian pair skater who represented the Soviet Union. With his wife Ludmila Belousova he was a two-time Olympic champion (1964, 1968) and four-time World champion (1965–1968).[1] In 1979, the pair defected to Switzerland and became Swiss citizens in 1995. They continued to skate at ice shows and exhibitions until their seventies.


Belousova and Protopopov in 1966

Protopopov started skating relatively late, at the age of 15, and was coached by Nina Lepninskaya.[2][3] In 1951, he was drafted into the Baltic Fleet but used each leave to skate.[3] His first partner was Margarita Bogoyavlenskaya, with whom he won the silver medal at the Soviet Championships in 1953.

Protopopov met Ludmila Belousova in the spring of 1954 in Moscow.[3] She moved to Leningrad in 1955 and began training with Protopopov in 1956 following his discharge.[3] The pair trained at the VSS Lokomotiv sports club and competed internationally for the USSR. They were coached initially by Igor Moskvin and then by Pyotr Orlov, but parted ways with Orlov after a number of disagreements.[3] The pair then trained without a coach at a rink in Voskresensk, Moscow Oblast.[4] In 1961, they decided to work with Stanislav Zhuk to raise their technical difficulty.[4]

Belousova and Protopopov in 1968
Belousova and Protopopov in 2007

Belousova and Protopopov debuted at the World Championships in 1958, finishing 13th. They competed at their first Olympics two years later, placing ninth. In 1962, they made the World Championship podium for the first time, earning the silver medal. They were the first pair from the Soviet Union or Russia to win a world medal subsequent to the introduction of the pair skating discipline at the 1908 World Championships (in which only three pairs competed). Later in 1962, they won silver at the European Championships, becoming the second Soviet pair to win medals after Nina Zhuk / Stanislav Zhuk (who won silver in 1958, 1959, and 1960).

The pair's first major international gold medal came at the 1964 Winter Olympics. It was the first Olympic pairs gold for the Soviet Union. Belousova and Protopopov began the forty-year Soviet/Russian gold medal streak in pair skating, the longest in Olympic sports history, from 1964 to 2006. They won their first World and European gold medals in 1965, becoming the first Soviet/Russian pair to win those titles.

Belousova and Protopopov became Olympic champions for the second time at the 1968 Winter Olympics. At 32 and 35 years old, respectively, they were among the oldest champions in figure skating. The following season, they won the silver medal at the European Championships and bronze at the World Championships as Irina Rodnina began her reign with her first partner, Alexei Ulanov. Those were the pair's final appearances at major international competitions but they continued to compete within the Soviet Union until 1972.

In total, Belousova and Protopopov won two Olympic titles and won medals eight times at both the World and European Championships, including four consecutive World and European gold medals. After retiring from competition, they continued to skate together in shows for many years. In September 2015, they renewed their long-standing tradition of skating in a charitable exhibition in Boston, Massachusetts, at an event called "Evening with Champions".

Belousova and Protopopov contributed to the development of pair skating, including the creation of three death spirals: the backward inside (BiDs), the forward inside (FiDs), and the forward outside (FoDs), which they respectively dubbed the "Cosmic spiral", "Life spiral", and "Love spiral". Dick Button stated: "The Protopopovs are great skaters not only because they were the finest of Olympic champions, but also because their creative impact was extraordinary."[5] Figure skating writer and historian Ellyn Kestnbaum stated that they "raised by several degrees the level of translating classical dance to the ice".[6] Also according to Kestnbaum, Protopopov identified romantic heterosexual love as the meaning he and Belousova conveyed in their pair skating. As Kestnbaum stated, "Their performances set a benchmark for romantic heterosexuality on the ice and for classical line and expressiveness that influenced not only pair skating but also singles and [ice] dance".[6]

Personal life[edit]

Born on 16 July 1932,[2][7] Protopopov was raised by his mother, a professional ballet dancer, and his stepfather, the poet Dmitry Tsenzor. He graduated from Herzen University, faculty of physical education.[4]

Protopopov married Ludmila Belousova in December 1957.[2] Although Belousova kept her maiden name after their marriage, the pair were commonly referred to as "The Protopopovs".[5] Eager to keep skating, the couple decided not to have children.[8]

On 24 September 1979, Protopopov and Belousova defected to Switzerland while on tour and applied for political asylum.[9][10] They settled in Grindelwald and eventually received Swiss citizenship in 1995.[1][11] Though Switzerland remained their winter home, their summer home and training center was Lake Placid, New York.[12][5] On 25 February 2003, they visited Russia for the first time after a 23-year exile, at the invitation of Vyacheslav Fetisov.[8] They attended the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and performed their last exhibition dance in 2016, when Protopopov was 84.[13]

Belousova died on 29 September 2017, at the age of 81.[14] Oleg Protopopov died on 31 October 2023, at the age of 91.[15]

Competitive highlights[edit]

(with Bogoyavlenskaya)

Event 1953
Soviet Championships 2nd

(with Belousova)

Event 1954–55 1955–56 1956–57 1957–58 1958–59 1959–60 1960–61 1961–62 1962–63 1963–64
Winter Olympic Games 9th 1st
World Championships 13th 8th 2nd 2nd 2nd
European Championships 10th 7th 4th 2nd 2nd 2nd
Soviet Championships 3rd 4th 2nd 2nd 2nd 2nd 1st 1st 1st
Event 1964–65 1965–66 1966–67 1967–68 1968–69 1969–70 1970–71 1971–72 1972–73
Winter Olympic Games 1st
World Championships 1st 1st 1st 1st 3rd
European Championships 1st 1st 1st 1st 2nd
Soviet Championships 1st 1st 1st 2nd 4th 6th 3rd
Prize of Moscow News 3rd 1st 2nd


  1. ^ a b Evans, Hilary; Gjerde, Arild; Heijmans, Jeroen; Mallon, Bill; et al. "Oleg Protopopov". Olympics at Sports-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Archived from the original on 17 April 2020. Retrieved 19 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b c Oleg Protopopov and Lyudmila Belousova, Encyclopædia Britannica, retrieved 1 September 2011
  3. ^ a b c d e Олег Протопопов. Биографическая справка [Oleg Protopopov. Curriculum Vitae]. rsport.ru (in Russian). 16 July 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Звезды советского фигурного катания – Протопопов и Белоусова [Stars of Soviet figure skating – Protopopov and Belousova]. rsport.ru (in Russian). 16 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Sausa, Christie (31 August 2011). "Lake Placid to honor icons". Lake Placid News. Archived from the original on 7 October 2011. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  6. ^ a b Kestnbaum, Ellyn (2003). Culture on Ice: Figure Skating and Cultural Meaning. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan Publishing Press. p. 112. ISBN 0-8195-6641-1.
  7. ^ "Oleg Protopopov". ESPN. Retrieved 20 February 2011.
  8. ^ a b Коньки с бриллиантами. sim-k.ru. 1 March 2003.
  9. ^ "Scooting Away on Skates", Time, 8 October 1979, archived from the original on 15 October 2010, retrieved 1 September 2011
  10. ^ Russell, Susan D. "Ludmila and Oleg Protopopov: Revolutionaries in pairs skating" (PDF). Skating Club of Lake Placid.
  11. ^ Srebnitskaya, Daria (24 January 2002). Людмила Белоусова, Олег Протопопов: Нас прятали в швейцарских отелях [Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov: We hid in a Swiss hotel]. Sovetsky Sport (in Russian). Archived from the original on 20 July 2012.
  12. ^ "Lake Placid honors figure skating legends". icenetwork. 18 August 2011. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  13. ^ "Хранительница гармонии. 85 лет со дня рождения олимпийской чемпионки Людмилы Белоусовой" [Keeper of harmony. 85th anniversary of the birth of Olympic champion Lyudmila Belousova]. tass.ru. 19 November 2020.
  14. ^ "Two-time Soviet-era Olympic champion pair skater Ludmila Belousova passes away". tass.ru. 29 September 2017.
  15. ^ Двукратный олимпийский чемпион Олег Протопопов скончался на 92-м году жизни (in Russian)

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year
(with Ludmila Belousova)

Succeeded by