Friday, 1 November 2013

The Untold Story Of Kira Ivanova


Ladies figure skating in the 1980's saw star after star being "born" into the sport. In 1981, Swiss prodigy Denise Biellmann finally overcame the disastrous showing in compulsory figures that kept her off the Olympic podium in 1980 and won the world title. The following year, New Jersey's Elaine Zayak had the skate of her life and won the world title. In 1983, Elaine's biggest rival Rosalynn Sumners won the crown. From 1984 to 1988, Katarina Witt's domination of the sport earned her 4 world titles and 2 Olympic gold medals. Her winning streak was only broken in 1986 by her rival Debi Thomas, who claimed the world title that year. Liz Manley's free skate at the 1988 Olympics not only won the free skate ahead of Debi and Katarina, but won over the hearts of skating fans in Canada and worldwide. No history of ladies figure skating in the 1980's, however, would be complete without talking about a skater who not only won a medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo but stood on the European podium 4 times and claimed the silver medal at the 1985 World Championships, right behind Katarina Witt. Kira Ivanova was not only a specialist in compulsory figures (winning the figures portion of the competition at the Calgary Olympics) but a strong free skater as well. Although not as theatrical or artistic as Katarina Witt, as athletic as Debi Thomas, Midori Ito and Elaine Zayak or as spunky as Liz Manley or Tracey Wainman, Kira Ivanova was a consistent and well-rounded skater who was able to put in strong enough showings in both figures and free skating to usually be around the top of the pack. She even landed a clean triple/triple combination at the 1982 Moscow News Trophy (which she won) demonstrating her strong jumping ability.


Behind her success was a different story that the world didn't always see. Kira Ivanova grew up living with her grandmother Liubov Mikhailova, who accompanied her to the rink. Her parents had divorced and her mother had remarried. She started skating at a young age, her first coach being Irina Anikanova, the daughter of Soviet speed skater Ivan Anikanov. She started training at the Moscow "Spartak" Club after Anikanova discovered her skating at a rink in a local park. Irina Anikanova not only coach Kira, but showed great concern for her and acted almost like a second mother, helping her financially as well. Kira's talent was quickly recognized and she was included in a special group for athletes that were to devote their lifetime to sport. Recognizing the importance of education, her grandmother Liubov insisted that she continue her studies throughout her training. Her coach Anikanova was blindsided by this special training group in 1978, when all of her students were taken from her and given to a more influential group. Kira refused to leave the coach that had acted like a second mother to her, but Anikanova was forced to leave the country and Kira moved to the training school of Viktor Kudriavtsev. That same year, Ivanova became the first Soviet figure skater to medal at the Junior World Championships, winning the silver medal at the competition held in Megeve, France.


Early success was all over the place for Ivanova. With choreographer Alla Kapranova and coach Kudriavtsev, she was landing two triple jumps in competition and skating programs that started to earn her results at home and internationally. The first gold medal of her career came in January 1979 at the USSR Championships in Zaporozhje. She made her European and World debut that year, finishing 10th and 18th. The following season, she qualified for and competed in the 1980 Winter Olympics (the first of three Olympic berths in her career). She finished 16th, completing 3 triple jumps in her free skate. By the following season, her results were steadily improving. She once again won the USSR Championships, which she had lost the previous year to rival Elena Vodorezova. She fnished 7th at the European Championships in Innsbruck, Austria and then went on to finish 12th at the World Championships, which were won by Elaine Zayak that year. She made a big splash that year at Worlds by finishing 4th in the short program. The success continued. By this time she was working extensively with 2 time Olympic Gold Medallist Alexander Zaitsev and Bolshoi Theatre choreographers.


Things started to change in 1982, when Kira changed training clubs to the "Dynamo" Club and started working with 2 time World Champion Vladimir Kovalev. Kovalev was in conflict with Russian skating authorities and was twice denied the "honored master of sport" Soviet title. Kira fell in love with Vladimir, who was 10 years her senior. Kovalev had a reputation as a bit of a player. In January 1982, right after moving to Kovalev's school, Kira went to Krasnoyarsk to compete at the Winter Spartakiada of the USSR. She won the competition but was disqualified and later suspended from the Soviet national team, banned from competing outside of the Soviet Union for 2 years. This all happened after she didn't arrive at the event's doping control, choosing to ignore this procedure and drink with her coach Kovalev instead. Expulsion from the team gave Kira the motivation to continue to work on her skating, especially her choreography and creativity. She regained her position on the national team after winning the USSR Cup in April 1983.



The 1984 season started off on the right foot for Kira, the time away from competition paying off in her training. She finished 4th at the European Championships in Budapest and headed to Sarajevo, Yugoslavia for her second Olympic experience. Interestingly, she was accompanied in Sarajevo by Eduard Pliner, not Kovalev. In the compulsory figures, she performed her forward inside rocker, paragraph double three and back change loop very strongly and was just outside of the top three. Her clean short program which featured a triple toe/double loop combination, double axel, double flip and good speed and footwork improved her case, moving her into the top three. Although she had issues on her first three triple jumping passes in her free skate, she cleanly performed 2 triples and a double axel later in her program to Soviet film music and made history in becoming the first Soviet or Russian ladies skater to win a medal at the Olympic Games. No Soviet or Russian skater would make it back on the podium until 2002, when Irina Slutskaya did in Salt Lake City. At the 1984 World Championships in Ottawa, she again had problems in the free skate, finishing 4th overall. At this event she was again not accompanied by Kovalev, appearing with Elena Tchaikovskaya instead.


In 1985, Ivanova finished 2nd at the USSR Championships to Anna Kondrashova and went on to have perhaps her most successful season ever, finishing 2nd at both the European Championships and World Championships that year, right behind 1984 Olympic Gold Medallist Katarina Witt of (East) Germany. Her results were again strong during the 1985/1986 season, when she again finished 2nd at the European Championships to Witt and finished 4th at the World Championships. Now an Olympic, World and European medallist, Ivanova was considered a definite medal threat looking towards the 1988 Calgary Games, especially with her strong aptitude for compulsory figures. Everything still wasn't all roses and Stoli though. At the 1986 World Championships, Kira sat down with Leonid Raitsin, a special physical preparation coach for the national team of the USSR in figure skating. Explained Raitsin: "I met Kira after the short program and she asked for help. She said that during the competition, she never sleeps at night, always was strongly emotional and due to this was tired and she not compete always successfully. I could not deny it, agreeing to come to her before bedtime. Everything was very simple (by energetical methods). I was a witness to her choreographer, who was present. After 15 minutes we have left, and Kira, as she later told, come sleep very good, as a baby. Well slept all night. Very well skate the free program and won competitions. After that she said that usually after the competition she was very tired and must have a the week for the relaxation, but at this moment even ready to compete again. Here is the case”. Raitsin also determined that anxiety and sleep were not the only issues in Kira's way: "Kira come to the free program, having the state of fatigue. Therefore it was necessary to link the music in such a way that she must to able to finish it. Regarding her jumps, Kira could do it the more accurately, if the velocity is lower, so with slow music she can do it better. Then we have already met with her on the warm-up - she requested her help in the preparation. Of course, Kira was a technically gifted figure skater, and with very good structure for figure skating." Raitsin's assistance did not ultimately help the next season. She again lost the Soviet title but rebounded to win the silver medal at the European Championships, held in the city where she won her Olympic medal in Sarajevo. At the 1987 Worlds in Cincinnati, Ohio, Kira dropped to 5th place overall.

Kira Ivanova with Katarina Witt rinkside at the Calgary Olympics

The 1987/1988 season would be Kira Ivanova's last season as an "amateur" skater. After winning her fourth consecutive silver medal at the European Championships in Prague, she headed to Calgary, Alberta for the 1988 Winter Olympic Games. The focus in the ladies competition was not on Ivanova but on Katarina Witt and Debi Thomas, who were preparing to showdown in "The Battle Of The Carmen's". Both skaters had selected the opera's score for their free skate and were portraying Carmen's character in completely different lights. With the pressure off her, Ivanova won the majority of judge's favor in the compulsory figures phase of the competition, placing 1st on 5 judges placards. In her short program to a modern arrangement of Beethoven's "Lunar Sonata", Kira needed to land her easier triple toe/double loop combination if she wanted to stay near the top group of ladies. Skaters like Midori Ito, Caryn Kadavy and Jill Trenary were attempting more difficult combinations and she didn't need to get lost in the shuffle. She was a little off in the short program, having a shaky landing on her double loop and touching down with her free leg and landing hard and with a short exit on her double axel. She also garnered a deduction on her final spin. Her oridinals in the short program had her between 8th and 11th places, and she dropped into 4th place heading into the free skate behind Thomas, Witt and canada's Elizabeth Manley. It would be difficult for Ivanova to even maintain 4th place. In recent years, she had been lucky to perform 2-3 triple jumps. Her rivals were doing 4, 5 and in Midori Ito and Claudia Leistner's cases 6-7. Another bronze medal was in reach but it wasn't at the same time. Heading right on the ice after Liz Manley brought the house down with the performance of a lifetime in her home country, one can only imagine the stress of "having to go on after that". Soviet press was criticizing Kira for not having enough risk and difficulty in her free skate, so she shockingly attempted the triple lutz for the first and only time in competition at the Olympic Games. She underrotated the lutz, doubled her triple loop and then barely eeked out a double axel. She almost tripped on the boards. Of five triple jump attempts, she landed zero. Without even a coach there to guide her, she was accompanied in the kiss and cry by her choreographer Alla Kapranova. Kovalev's on again, off again relationship with Ivanova had made
circumstances bizarre in competitions for her. The skater who had LED Witt, Thomas and Manley in the compulsory figures dropped to a generous 7th overall and decided to retire from "amateur" competition.


Kira turned professional after finishing 7th at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. She finally parted ways with Vladimir Kovalev. To make money, she took parts in movies, toured with Igor Bobrin's Theater Of Ice Miniatures in Russia and in 1991 started coaching. Things started to go off track in life for her when she turned professional. In 1989, her grandmother (who had raised her) passed away. When she started coaching, she was still really having an issue adjusting to life outside of an athlete's world. Suddenly, her three best students changed coaches. She was having trouble sleeping and taking sedatives. Twice in three months, Kira had car accidents. She broke her car. She was twice married, first to a dancer at the Bolshoi Theatre, but that marriage quickly ended in divorce. She then married Konstantin Tarelin, the Vice Director of Igor Bobrin's Theater. She became pregnant but the child was abandoned because it was "contrary" to her contract at the Ice Theater. She turned to alcohol and her second husband left her as well, moving to Istanbul, Turkey. By 1992, Kira was discouraged by life and was having a hard time finding work. After her sister Lena Sokol (who was raised by her mother) committed suicide in 1994, Kira was at a real low psychologically. She was fortunate to find work at the Dynamo Skating Club. The officials of Dynamo did everything they could to support Kira. She began to excel in coaching. One of her students was Anastasia Myshkina, the daughter of five time world champion and goalkeeper of the USSR hockey team, Vladimir Myshkin.

Continuing to coach, ill fortune continued to plague her. In 1996, she had another car accident (this time by no fault of her own). In 1998, she went to the Russian Sport Committee asking for an "honored master of sport" title and was refused. She publicly asked for forgiveness from former coach Viktor Kudriavtsev at the 2000 Russian Figure Skating Federation conference. Her addiction to alcohol was affecting her ability to do her job at the Dynamo Club and she was treated several times for her devastating addiction at the Sklifosovsky Clinic. Nothing seemed to help. In September 2001, Kira was dismissed from the Dynamo Club. This effectively meant she had no income and no livelihood. According to friends, she always had random people in her apartment and was selling her belongings to make whatever money she could. She continued treatments at the Sklifosovsky Clinic but was continuing to drink heavily. On December 8, 2001, she called skater Elena Alexandrova of the Club “Medvedkovo”, and indicated her willingness to return to work. On the evening of December 18, she telephoned her stepfather, telling him everything was fine. She sent her beloved German Shepherd Fidel to her roommate's country house that night. She spoke to neighbor Margarita Zhirnova met Kira, making plans to spend time with her in the near future. Little did these people know that this would be the last time they'd talk to Kira Ivanova. She was killed that night in her Dekabristov St. apartment.

On December 21, 2001, Ivanova's body was found covered in stab wounds by her neighbors and stepfather in the apartment building where she lived on the Northern outskirts of Moscow near Otradnoye Metro, a station of the Serpukhovsko-Timiryazevskaya metro line. She was only 38 years old and had been dead for several days. The door to Kira's apartment had been broken down and her naked body was found on her bloodstained bed. She had been stabbed 17 times and her hair had been cut. Police categorized the murder as being based on a personal dispute. At the time, her apartment was almost empty. All of the cups, trophies and medals she had won during her skating career were exchanged or sold for alcohol. The only remaining item from her skating career was a badge sign showing she was a participant in the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. A medical examination proved that although she had been brutally and sadistically murdered, her blood contained a lethal dose of alcohol. Then chairman of the Russian Figure Skating Federation, Valentin Piseev, told media that Ivanova had been suffering from alcoholism, stating "Ivanova became addicted to alcohol in recent years and underwent several treatments, but with no visible results." In 2001, the Moscow Butyrskiy district prosecutor's office started a criminal research investigation. Police found that over the past 2 years Kira’s social circle has changed. Kira's murderer was never found. The money for Kira's funeral was allocated by the Russian Figure Skating Federation and the Dynamo Club. Her mother reported that the urn with Kira's ashes is buried in the tomb with her sister and grandmother in Khovanskoye cemetery in Moscow.

1984 Olympic Gold Medallist Elena Valova was as shocked as everyone else at the time. "It's shocking. We used to be really good friends. Best friends, I'd say." Valova and Ivanova started skating together at age 11 as part of a program that was designed to groom Soviet ladies skaters. "Kira was very determined, eager... I knew she would get the medal because she wanted to be good. She was a great skater. A skater Russia was always proud of. She opened the door for everyone else, for those competing right now." Valova remembered Ivanova's exhibition program to the tango "Besame Mucho": "She was pretty happy, a little bit sexy, very confident. That's the way she skated and that's the way, I think, she lived her life."

I haven't lived an easy life myself. I think there are few people in the world that have. Tragedy, bad luck, bad choices, lessons, fate... they happen to all of us and are a part of our journeys and the lessons we live and learn. There's something so disheartening about someone who has achieved so much taking such a tragic fall. No one deserves that hard a life! At any rate, I thought it was so important to share Kira's story because a lot of people - even skating fans and skaters - don't seem to know the whole Kira Ivanova story or just how much she went through. However horribly sad the ending might have been, her skating put smiles on the faces of a lot of people and will be remembered for a very long time.

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7 comments:

  1. Poor Kira Ivanova! I was just thinking about past skaters today with the Olympics fast approaching and remembered her name. What a shock to see what happened to her. Very sad indeed.

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    1. Definitely a heartbreaking story... I don't think that's how anyone wants their story to end.

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  2. "She became pregnant but the child was abandoned . . ."

    What exactly does that mean? Does it mean what it sounds like?

    Very, very sad story.

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    1. The source material for this particular blog from back in 2013 was actually in Russian and translated so it's a little open to interpretation. I'd take it that she had an abortion or put the child up for adoption perhaps?

      Hugely tragic story.

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    2. OK, thanks for the info, Ryan. Yes, definitely tragic.

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  3. Thanks for sharing this Ryan, the 1988 Olympics I say was the first time I watched figure skating full coverage. I remembered Kira's skating and was very expressive, lovely arm movements, she was actually 1st after the compulsories and I thought she would be challenging with Kati and Debi. Tragic way to end... So sad for her but she left her mark in the sport and thanks yo YouTube we can continue to admire her skating.

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    1. So glad you enjoyed reading! Her story was without question tragic in its end but she accomplished so much during her competitive career. A life worth remembering!

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