Ondrej Nepela - A lost champion?

Discussion in 'The Trash Can' started by floskate, Mar 23, 2013.

  1. floskate

    floskate Vacant

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    Having read with interest Maofan7's great retrospective of the 1972 Olympics - hard to do considering the lack of material - I was struck by some perceptions which can often miss the mark a little, especially when there is such a lack of video evidence. Trixie Schuba's Olympic freeskate is a case in point.

    However it also got me to thinking that very little is really known of Ondrej Nepela despite being the 1972 Olympic champion who was also a five time European and three time World champion. Considering these incredible accomplishments, it is for something else entirely that he is remembered, namely the infamous tryst with Toller Cranston at the 1973 World Championships. Of course this is only Toller's version of the story - easy to do when the other person is dead and can't give their side of the story. I love Toller but have always had issues with him revealing this when the other person can't answer back. Toller also condemned him to the 'generic soviet satellite skater' descriptive. OK so he didn't have the artistic genius of Toller or John Curry but he wasn't exactly shabby when it came to free skating.

    To prove a point and to hopefully change opinions on his skating, I made a montage of his career which include a lot of rarely seen footage. To me he was a skater of quality - a master of figures who skated on good edges, with speed and flow, together with great spins (not many men today could match those camel positions), high consistent jumps, and an awareness of how to present himself with line and stretch. Yes the jump technique looks clunky to our eyes but you have to remember that he skated at the highest level from 1964 to 1973 when modern jump technique was in its infancy. His packaging is dated, but as a communist skater he literally had no choice but to skate the way he did. Luckily he was allowed an artistic outlet within his professional career with HOI as seen here.

    Waltzes of Faust

    Thankfully his home country remembers him with love and pride. In 2000 he was voted the athlete of the century and his memory lives on in the annual memorial competition that bears his name, as well as the Ondrej Nepela stadium in Bratislava where he won his third and last world title before an adoring home crowd.

    So here's my tribute to Ondrej, a great skater who IMO deserves a better reputation.

    Ondrej Nepela - The Lost Champion

    Please share your memories of his skating if you remember him, or thoughts if he is new to you :)
     
  2. skatesindreams

    skatesindreams Well-Known Member

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    Thank you, floskate!

    It's a pity that he isn't as appreciated as he should be.
    You are doing your part to rectify that.
     
  3. Maofan7

    Maofan7 Member

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    What a brilliant montage! That you so much Floskate
     
  4. bardtoob

    bardtoob Well-Known Member

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    I never thought of Nepela as a bland Eastern Bloc skater as much as I thought of him as a transitional skater as the men's competition became more theatrical. He black jump suite was more modern than the tuxedos of previous champions, yet still a dignified masculine black and white that did not distract one's attention from the skating.
     
  5. hanca

    hanca Well-Known Member

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    Flo, what is the name of this music? I really like it.
     
  6. SmallFairy

    SmallFairy Well-Known Member

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    Floskate, thank you SO much! The montage is lovely, I had to watch it twice back to back because I enjoyed it so much! The photo where he's in the air during a flying spin is so great, so dynamic, and he seems so happy with his coach, lots of sweet moments.

    I've always had a soft spot for Nepala, from what I've read and the videos I have seen. He was a very good skater, great edges, and he carries himself beautifully, to me he has the "it" factor, there's something about him that makes you wanna keep looking. Of course he was very handsome, but I also think he had charisma,thou it maybe wasn't so evident during his competitive years, being a eastern bloc skater, but in the Faust-clip he really shines. He moves like ballet dancer. And my love of figures are everlasting. Ondrej ruled figures, and was also a good free skater. He's my man!

    Thanks again Floskate, Ondrej really deserves to be anything but "the lost champion", he was far to good for that. (and I'm far too young to do anything but watch YouTube, I was born 1977 lol. But I love the history of figure skating so much!)
     
  7. falling_dance

    falling_dance IMVHOTINHAAOIWBDATIITW

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    I think it's an instrumental version of "Scène d'Amour" by Francis Lai. Butyrskaya skated to the Sarah Brightman version during the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons.
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2013
  8. vivika1982

    vivika1982 Well-Known Member

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    Great tribute floskate. Nepela is not a lost champion .Whoever think about him the other way and prefers the sTollertelling is not really interested in figure skating.Thank you for the montage :respec:
     
  9. floskate

    floskate Vacant

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    Thanks for the comments guys. I'm glad others enjoy his skating. The music is called 'Les Deux Nudites' and is from Francis Lai's Bilitis soundtrack. :) At one point it was also the theme tune for the BBC's coverage of gymnastics.
     
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  10. judgejudy27

    judgejudy27 Well-Known Member

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    I like his skating. It looks quite stylish and nice. The only thing is some guys of his era had higher jumps and more speed, but he did the jumps others were probably doing then, just not as dynamic as some.
     
  11. Seerek

    Seerek Well-Known Member

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    Interesting that Ondrej Nepela's name came up, as watching Peter Liebers at 2013 Worlds and Alex Johnson at 2013 US nationals made me think of Nepela maybe not in terms of music, but in terms of uncluttered style and body movements.

    In fact, a lot of the men in the 1965-1972 era had fantastic basic posture and line...we would be highly praising them in this era had they been around.
     
  12. nicklaszlo

    nicklaszlo Member

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    What is the combination about 50 seconds into the compilation? Do I see a double half loop?
     
  13. skateboy

    skateboy Well-Known Member

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    Yep!
     
  14. manleywoman

    manleywoman podcast mistress

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    Thank you floskate!!!
     
  15. TheIronLady

    TheIronLady New Member

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    Being of Slovakian descent myself, I have been fascinated by this skater and his behind the iron curtain mystique. One thing that is intriguing is his high profile among Slovaks. Knowing that Slovakia is a fairly conservative country, it interests me that the nation has celebrated Nepela's accomplishments with no or little scandal even though he was an apparently gay/bisexual skater. Furthermore he was tragically taken by AIDS at the end of the 80s. I find it refreshing that in Europe, the memory of a male skater who died of AIDS in 1989 was not stigmatized but has been memorialized and honored. There is a hockey arena in Bratislava and the prestigious Ondrej Nepela Memorial championship in his name. I believe the Slovak Republic named him "athlete of the 20th century," which is a high honor indeed.

    What little I have read about him as a personality comes from the always entertaining Toller Cranston:

    He coached for a time the lethargic but statuesque 1980s German skater Claudia Leistner. He may have started coaching Leistner in the 1987-88 season and worked with her until he became too ill (I am not sure). She finished fourth at the 1988 worlds and sixth at the Olympics. He appeared not to address her most serious flaws. It is kind to say she had issues with "style." She is a wonderful personality nevertheless, and they look very cute together in the kiss-and-cry in this video from 1988.

    Claudia Leistner 1988 Olympics FS

    Does anyone know of others he coached?
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2013
  16. TheIronLady

    TheIronLady New Member

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    His accounts of everything are quite interesting, and I am skeptical of any account of any event that is rendered as interesting as he makes it. I am glad still that Cranston writes about it. There had to be gay life in the background of the skating world in those days. There is enough going on today that is unspoken, but it's not as shadowy as it was in those days I'm guessing.
     
  17. floskate

    floskate Vacant

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    I think the jump in the combination would be known as a double one-foot loop. It's interesting as I've seen the same variation done on salchows many times (Robin Cousins regularly did this jump in combination in the late '70's) but never a loop.

    TheIronLady - ITA that it is interesting the way in which Nepela is revered in his home country despite his personal life. I'd also love to know how, despite being from a then communist country, he was able to skate with Holiday on Ice for 13 years!
     
  18. skatesindreams

    skatesindreams Well-Known Member

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    Was there some sort of payola/percentage to the government which made it possible?
     
  19. bardtoob

    bardtoob Well-Known Member

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    It is unlikely that an Olympic Champion would be tossed aside by such a small nation when the people really struggled to keep there own identity while being frequently absorbed into empires and artificial nation-states. Heros and champions are very important to the identity of a people.

    Communist professional athletes and performers could work abroad but they had to surrender their earnings to the states. Martina Navratilova, Chen Lu , etc. worked under these conditions.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2013
  20. aliceanne

    aliceanne Well-Known Member

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    Thanks Floskate. Your montages are a work of art in themselves.
     
  21. pollyanna

    pollyanna playing the Glad Game

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    He coached Claudia in the 1986-1987 season as well. He was at the 1987 Cincinnati Worlds with her - the commentator notes that Nepala complained about Claudia's SP scores like any good coach should do.

    Claudia Leistner 1987 Worlds LP
     
  22. TheIronLady

    TheIronLady New Member

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    I love Claudia's beautiful legs. That 1987 program may be one her most visually appealing performances. Claudia looked beautiful with longer hair back in the 1987 video. Her hair looked crazy in both Olympics. A German punk mullet in 1984 and total grandma in 1988 and 1989. I like to think Ondrej helped her improve technically.

    So how did he end up in Germany? Did he leave Czechoslovakia illegally as prior generations of Czech and Soviet skaters did?
     
  23. Tottoi

    Tottoi New Member

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    Thank you for this thread. I always wondered why there is so little footage of Nepela, who was the most successful athlete in men's singles in the late 60's- early 70's: the same era of Janet Lynn and Rodnina-Ulanov, who have a much bigger video legacy.

    He can not be compared to Shuba: she was an outstanding figure skater and B-list free skater, Nepela was great in figures and very competent and pleasant in free skating, with his own style.

    Was back then the average level of men's free skating superior to women's? France's Pera, 8th in the free skating in Sapporo, was a good free skater as far as I know.
     
  24. Dr.Siouxs

    Dr.Siouxs Well-Known Member

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    He had the cutest sideburns. :swoon:
     
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  25. floskate

    floskate Vacant

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    I think all the top men were doing triples. Looking at the results from Sapporo, all of the top 13 up to and including Gailhaguet had triples in their LP's. Most had toe and sal, some had sal and loop (Curry & Cranston - they added the toe loop later in their careers.) This was pretty much the standard up to '76 when Curry landed three different triples. That seems to have been the standard leading into 1980. Women were artistically more evolved thanks to Peggy and Janet although the men's artistic revolution that was about to happen helped them to catch up and IMO pretty much surpass the ladies by the time 1980 rolled around.
     
  26. orbitz

    orbitz Well-Known Member

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    I think men skating in general tends to be more intricate and interesting than the women. Compare the choreography Robin Cousins and Charlie Tickner were doing verses their women counterpart, Fratianne and Poetzch, for example.
     
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  27. bardtoob

    bardtoob Well-Known Member

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    ^ Fast intricate skating takes a lot of stamina, so the men probably have an advantage.
     
  28. floskate

    floskate Vacant

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    Some good news on this front. I've managed to make contact with a few people who knew and skated with Ondrej back in the day. If I can get enough info, I might write an article on his career. Hopefully it's all interesting stuff.
     
  29. manleywoman

    manleywoman podcast mistress

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    Yes floskate! Do it!
     
  30. pollyanna

    pollyanna playing the Glad Game

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    That would be wonderful!