We often hear people saying that sport can be so complicated and involved that it feels like a drama. At the Sapporo pair figure skating, the expression was, for once, true.
The two leading figure skating pairs in Sapporo each hailed from the Soviet Union.Irina Rodnina and Aleksei Ulanov were the favourites, having taken over from Lyudmila Belousova and Oleg Protopopov as their country's most heralded skaters. The former pair had won the last four European titles and were the reigning world champions.
Their nearest challengers were Lyudmila Smirnova and Andrey Suraykin. The two couples were intertwined in a complex mesh.
Rodnina and Ulanov had once been close friends, but their friendship became strained as the Sapporo Games grew closer. Partly this was because of the amount of time they had spent together, but also because Ulanov had become romantically involved with none other than Smirnova. The almost myopic focus that they had shared on winning competitions appeared to be in jeopardy.
Yet the two knew that, as long as they could focus on the Olympic title, they remained the most talented pair in the world. And so it proved as they won both the short programme and the free skate in dominant style.
At the end of the free skate, knowing they had won the gold medal, Rodnina left the ice in tears. Meanwhile Smirnova and Suraykin clinched the silver medal. Not long after, Ulanov stopped skating with Rodnina and married Smirnova. It meant that Ulanov gained the unlikely distinction of having beaten his own wife in an Olympic contest.
Rodnina formed a new partnership with Alexander Zaytsev, and went on to enjoy huge success. The couple, who would later marry, won gold at the next two Winter Games as well as six world and seven European Championship titles.