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Lydia Skoblikova

Challenging Stereotypes

When Skoblikova entered the 1960 Winter Olympics, she encountered both gender and political preconceptions. As the first Games to feature women's speed skating, Skoblikova and the other female competitors were looked upon with suspicion. Speed skating requires quickness, strength, and endurance—attributes that many felt were unbecoming, if not absent, in females. Skoblikova offered a defense to Shenker of Sports Illustrated: "Skating makes us more feminine…. Cycling or skiingtakes a lot of muscle, but skating does you no harm."

Skoblikova's appearance and personality played a role in disarming detractors. The 5-foot, 5-inch blue-eyed blonde weighed a slim 126 pounds and was typically described as attractive in press accounts. Her ready, warm smile and gracious manner charmed spectators. After winning a race, she played to the crowd, waving and smiling broadly. As she told Sports Illustrated's Shenker, "At the theater you applaud a good actor who gives you pleasure. When I have won a race, giving people pleasure, I like to skate around the stadium wearing the laurel wreath of victory. People applaud and that gives me pleasure."

The dominance of the Soviet women at many of these Games' events also fueled rumors about the use of performance-enhancing drugs and even female impersonators. No one suggested Skoblikova, with her petite and shapely figure, was anything but a very talented skater.

Chronology

1939 Born March 8 in Zlatoust in the Soviet Union
1952 Decides to pursue competitive speed skating
1957 Marries Alexander Skoblikova
1959 Begins her international speed skating career
1960 Wins two races in first women's speed skating events in Winter Olympics history
1962 Begins teaching physiology at the Chelyabinsk Pedagogic Institute
1963 Sweeps all four events at World Championships and is crowned world champion
1964 Competes in her second Winter Olympics and wins all four races
1974 Becomes head of the physical education department at a Moscow university

Awards and Accomplishments

1957 Sets women's Soviet records in the 1,500 meter and 3,000 meter distances
1959-61 Wins all-around bronze medal at USSR National Championships
1959-61 Wins all-around bronze medal at World Championships
1960 Wins two gold medals at Winter Olympics
1962 Wins all-around silver medal at World Championships
1962-64 Wins all-around silver medal at USSR National Championships
1963 Wins four gold medals at World Championships and is named world champion
1964 Wins three gold medals at World Championships and is named world champion
1964 Wins four gold medals at Winter Olympics
1964 First woman named Soviet Athlete of the Year
1967 Wins overall silver medal at USSR National Championships
1996 Inducted into the International Women's Sports Hall of Fame
1999 Named by Associated Press as one of top 10 female Winter Olympians of the 20th century
2002 Named to Bud Greenspan's list of 25 Greatest Winter Olympians

The atmosphere at these Olympics, moreover, was thick with patriotic fervor. The Soviets seemed particularly unwilling to embrace the Games as a friendly competition. Instead, they viewed the Games as a way to prove Communist superiority and to instill pride among their people. Toward that end, the Soviets had supported and promoted their best athletes. Skoblikova benefited, receiving financial support and time off from her teaching duties to train. This led to charges, officially denied by the Soviets, that their athletes violated the Olympics' amateur-only requirement.

Despite the tension, Skoblikova won over many fans, including American figure skater Carol Heiss, who won a gold medal at the 1960 Games, where she met Skoblikova. Heiss later told Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star, "The Russians always intrigued us, and she was so nice. But the ways things were, I didn't see her again until about 10 years ago. It was so much fun. It was like the years melted away."

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsSpeed SkatingLydia Skoblikova Biography - A Natural Fit, Speed Skating's First Big Star, Challenging Stereotypes, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments