Thursday, 2 March 2017

The Vasilyevsky Island Rink


Bordered by the Bolshaya Neva, Malaya Neva and Smolenka Rivers and the Gulf Of Finland, Vasilyevsky Island is a historic island in St. Petersburg, Russia. Just across the river from the Winter Palace, today it is home to over two hundred thousand citizens, several museums... and St. Andrew's Cathedral.

St. Andrew's was in fact the last Baroque cathedral built in the city. First conceived by Peter The Great, the cathedral went through three incarnations, a fire and a collapse before being consecrated in 1870. Following the Russian Revolution in 1917, the cathedral was handed over to the revisionists. Just over twenty years later, it was closed down, its priests arrested, valuables ransacked and bells destroyed. Abandoned, it fell into disrepair. However, in the mid-fifties it was resurrected in the most unlikely of ways... as St. Petersburg's first indoor artificial skating rink.

In a 2014 interview with Olga Ermolina for The Figure Skating Federation Of Russia, legendary coach Tamara Moskvina explained, "The fact that the church was constructed [as an] ice rink sounds blasphemous, but for the time use of abandoned churches was justified. Three parents of students from our group decided to make a skating rink in the church building. These parents weren't high-ranking officials, they were just active people. On their own initiative these people contacted the institute which [was] engaged in the development of refrigeration units. They went to meet him [and] made the necessary equipment that was placed in the basement of the church. Parallel to this was the rink, a non-standard 17 X 17 meters. And in 1958, it held its grand opening."

The rink operated as a training base for over two decades and played host to a who's who of Soviet skaters over the years including Ludmilla and Oleg Protopopov, Nina and Stanislav Zhuk, Tamara Moskvina and Alexei Mishin, Igor Bobrin, Yuri Ovchinnikov and Anton Sikharulidze. After the rink was dismantled, it was later restored with a gilded dome and beautiful altars and paintings. In the nineties, it was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Ever wonder why Soviet skaters always seemed to have the edge back in the sixties, seventies and eighties? Perhaps it's owing to the fact that if they wanted to pray to the Skate Gods, they were practicing in the right place!

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