Belousova and Protopopov prove a marriage made in heaven
Four years had passed since Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov, a married couple from the Soviet Union, had won the pairs figure skating title. In Grenoble, they faced renewed opposition, as well as doubts from those who said they were simply too old to win gold.
Belousova was now 32, while her husband was 35. By the demanding standards of their sport, they were indeed old – but they were also outstanding athletes who had only started skating in their teens. Perhaps the absence of childhood skating injuries helped to prolong their careers – certainly they showed no lack of energy in the 1968 Games.
Besides, the form book was on their side. Since winning gold in Innsbruck in 1964, the pair had been World and European champions each season. Their age may have slowed them slightly, but experience showed in other ways – their performance and confidence charmed the judges and spectators alike, as they delivered romantic and creative displays.
For the first time at an Olympics, the pairs had to skate a compulsory routine, followed by a free programme. The Protopopovs, as they were almost universally known, won both phases by a considerable margin.
It was the end of their era of dominance. Another Soviet couple, Irina Rodnina and Aleksey Ulanov, replaced them at the pinnacle of the sport. However, the Protopopovs remained in love with figure skating, as well as each other. They defected to Switzerland in 1979 and carried on skating in professional shows, performing into their 70s. The couple who were once considered too old to compete, eventually became two of the most enduring stars their sport has known.