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.
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."
- Lydia Skoblikova - Chronology
- Lydia Skoblikova - Speed Skating's First Big Star
- Other Free Encyclopedias