Sewing And Salchows: The Lev Mikhailov Story

Stanislav and Nina Zhuk, Tatiana Vladimirovna Nemtsova and Lev Mikhailov in 1961

Born April 26, 1938 in Moscow, Lev Federovich Mikhailov began skating on an outdoor rink on Shiryaev field at Sokolniki Park in Moscow rented by the DSO "Spartacus" during the gloomy post-War years. Training conditions were severe. It was often bitterly cold and snowy, the ice conditions varied wildly and needles from trees often littered the ice.

After taking lessons from Georgiy Konstantinovich Felitsyn, Lev began working with Evgeny Vladimirovich Nikitin. Both coaches focused on improving his school figures, which were a characteristic weakness from the beginning to the end of his competitive career. However, in free skating, Lev was something of a prodigy by Soviet standards at the time. He began competing at the age of thirteen, winning his first competition in 1951: a joint meeting of Soviet and Czechoslovakian skaters at the "Dynamo" stadium. Nikitin recalled, "His skating is unforgettable for those who saw it. It's a pity that his name is almost unknown to modern specialists... So far in the world he has no equal."

Lev's school figures weren't his only roadblock. Another was his grades in school! In the July-December 1960 issue of "USSR" magazine, Victor Kuprianov recalled an amusing incident from Lev's youth thusly: "Regular medical checkup is one requirement [in youth sports], another is grades. At school tournaments the contestant is required to produce his report card. One poor grade and he is disqualified... This happened to Lev Mikhailov, the present figure-skating champion, a good many years back when he wasn't on speaking terms with math, and so he was barred from competition."

Lev Mikhailov on the podium at a competition in the Soviet Union

After winning his first of five Championships of the USSR in 1956, Lev headed to Paris to compete at the European Championships. Along with Valentin Zakharov and Igor Persiantsev, he was one of the first three skaters representing the Soviet Union to compete in an ISU Championship at that event. Though he placed a dismal fifteenth, by the following year he climbed to eighth on the strength of his free skating.

After amassing another two top ten finishes at the 1958 and 1959 European Championships, Lev made his only trip to the World Championships in 1959, placing a disappointing seventeenth. In his final major ISU Championship, the 1960 European Championships in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, he placed only eighth but wowed audiences by performing an airy double Axel and single Axels in both directions, earning the admiration of Dick Button who told a reporter from the German newspaper "Sportecho" that Lev performed the jump better than him. Though his record in major ISU Championships wasn't overly impressive, Lev amassed a number of medals in domestic and international competitions in Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union in the late fifties. He won the Winter Spartakiade of Moscow in 1957 and the Winter Spartakiad of Sverdlovsk in 1958. Lyudmila Kubashevskaya recalled, "He had a memorable appearance: short stature, curly hair, dark 'gypsy' eyes. He had his own peculiar style of skating, combining unusual plasticity of movement, vortex speed, high jumps and at the same time the elegance of skating, the internal culture of movement. On ice, he was inimitable, he could make a new element out of any mistake. Telling about his skating is just as impossible as telling the words in words... His every program was unique."

Though only in his early twenties, Lev worked as a coach from 1961 to 1963 in the Central Army Sports Club's (CKSA) figure skating section while serving in the Soviet Army. His students included Elena Kotova and two time Champion of the USSR Tatiana Vladimirovna Nemtsova, the first Soviet woman to compete at the World Championships. During this period, he arranged a 'viewing' of young skaters in hopes of recruiting the more talented ones to the CSKA. One of the skaters he chose to admit to the Club was Irina Rodnina.

Lev returned to competition one final time in 1963, placing a disappointing fourth at the Championships of the USSR behind Alexander Vedenin, Vladimir Ivanovich Kurenbin and Valeri Ivanovich Meshkov. For his contributions to figure skating, he was honoured as a Master of Sport of the USSR. Unsurprisingly due to the fact that when he wasn't skating, he was often found rinkside with his knitting needles making sweaters, scarves and hats, Lev became a tailor after retiring from the sport. He passed away on August 31, 2004 at the age of sixty six, his contributions to the skating world during the post-War era virtually unknown outside of Russia.

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