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  1. #1
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    Ondrej Nepela - A lost champion?

    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

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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.

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    What a brilliant montage! That you so much Floskate

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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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by floskate View Post

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

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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!)

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    Quote Originally Posted by hanca View Post
    Flo, what is the name of this music? I really like it.
    I think it's an instrumental version of "Scčne d'Amour" by Francis Lai. Butyrskaya skated to the Sarah Brightman version during the 1999-2000 and 2000-2001 seasons.
    Last edited by falling_dance; 03-23-2013 at 09:28 PM.

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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

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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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    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.

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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.

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by nicklaszlo View Post
    What is the combination about 50 seconds into the compilation? Do I see a double half loop?
    Yep!
    "I hit him with my shoes... if he had given me the medal like I told him to, I wouldn't have had to hit him!" -- 8-year-old Rhoda Penmark in "The Bad Seed"

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    Thank you floskate!!!
    In my spare time, I like to interview figure skating legends.

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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:

    In his autobiography When Hell Freezes Over, Should I Bring My Skates?, Toller Cranston describes (p. 54) a brief tryst with Nepela, and remembers him this way:

    "Many people perceived him as handsome or even as beautiful. He evidenced an androgynous, Nijinsky-like quality.
    In physical features he reminded me of a Tartar from the Eastern European steppes, with slanted Mongolian eyes yet light skin.
    He was small. He was fine. He was a steady, nerveless competitor, completely lacking in personality or finesse:
    a generic Soviet-satellite skater who had been browbeaten into becoming a fine technician -
    less fine in free skating and more precise or womanlike in the school figures."


    Ondrej Nepela
    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 by TheIronLady; 03-24-2013 at 04:22 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by floskate View Post
    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.
    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.

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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!

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by floskate View Post
    . . . 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!
    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 by bardtoob; 03-24-2013 at 03:42 PM.

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

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