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Aleksandr Zaitsev - Olympic and World Pair Skating Champion


Irina Rodnina and Alexandr Zaitsev

Irina Rodnina and Alexandr Zaitsev

Photo by Steve Powell - Getty Images

Aleksandr Zaitsev - Olympic and World Pair Skating Champion:

Aleksandr Zaitsev was the pair skating partner of the figure skating legend Irina Rodnina. They won every competition they entered. They won gold at the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympics and they won six world figure skating championships (1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978) and seven European (1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980) figure skating titles.

Date of Birth:

Aleksandr Gennadiyevich Zaitsev was born on June 16, 1952 in St. Petersburg, Russia (which was then Lenningrad). His name is among the legendary in Russia, so each year, his birthday is announced in Russia on the news, television, and radio.


Aleksandr Zaitsev has one younger brother. His father worked as a driver and his mother worked in management. His nickname is Sasha.

He married and then divorced his famous pair skating partner Irina Rodnina. The couple was married in 1975; together they had one son, Sasha Jr., who was born in 1979. Rodnina and Zaitsev did not compete at the 1979 World Figure Skating Championships the year Sasha was born. That year, U.S. pair skating champions, Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, won the world title.

Early Skating Days:

When he was about six years old, he was selected to train with other promising young Russian figure skaters. He attended regular schools in St. Petersburg and did much of his early skating training on an outdoor ice rink.

Began Pair Skating:

Zaitsev competed and trained as a singles skater at first. At the age of eighteen, Aleksandr began pair skating. He skated with two different partners before he teamed up with Irina Rodnina. His first partner was the daughter of his coach. With his second partner, he qualified for the Soviet National Figure Skating Team and was selected to substitute for international competition.

Teamed Up With Irina Rodnina:

In April of 1972, pair skating coach Stanislav Zhuk approached Zaitsev. A nationwide search for a new partner for Irina Rodnina took place and it is said that Aleksandr was taken from "out of nowhere" and was made into a figure skating champion.

Irina Rodnina had already won the 1972 Winter Olympics with Aleksei Ulanov, but Ulanov had fallen in love with another pair skater, Lyudmila Smirnova. Rodnina was heartbroken by that romance and wanted another partner.

The "try-out" with Rodnina lasted for one month. Nine months later the team won their first world championship.

Coaches and Training:

Rodnina and Zaitsev first worked with Stanislav Zhuk. They trained with Zhuk in Moscow. Eventually, they made a switch to Tatiana Tarasova who went on to coach more world and Olympic champions than any other figure skating coach in history.

The pair's training was their full-time job. They skated in the mornings and evenings. They worked daily off the ice on lifts. They spent hours working on choreography. Each day, they spent time running and working on their endurance.

Double Axels, Power and Speed, Innovative Lifts:

Rodnina and Zaitsev introduced side-by-side double Axels to pair skating. They were famous for their powerful lifts, unison, and speed. They did a spectacular back outside death spiral.

At the 1973 world figure skating championships, Rodnina and Zaitsev's music suddenly stopped in the middle of their five minute program. They completed their program without music and won gold. That performance earned a standing ovation.

At the 1974 European Figure Skating Championships, they earned eleven perfect 6.0 scores.

Throw Axel Trivia:

In the late 1960s, United States pair skating champions, Cynthia and Ronald Kauffman, introduced the throw Axel move to Russia. Since then, in Russia, the throw Axel is called "The Kauffman." Rodnina and Zaitsev did a spectacular throw Axel, but give the Kauffman's credit for inspiring them to do the move.

More About Aleksandr Zaitsev:

After the 1980 Olympics, Irina Rodnina and Aleksandr Zaitsev returned to the Soviet Union to begin careers in coaching and in figure skating administration with the Soviet Sports Federation. Several years later, together, in 1998 or 1999, they came to the United States and coached at the Ice Castle International Training Center in Lake Arrowhead, California for five years.

Today, Aleksandr Zaitsev lives in Moscow. He boasts that his skating club, the Sports Club of the Russian Army, has been in existence for over eighty five years.

He coaches in Moscow and also travels the globe giving figure skating seminars and guest coaches at rinks around the world. In 2008, he traveled to the United States to guest coach at the Colorado Springs World Arena Figure Skating Training Center. He continues to pass his knowledge of figure skating on to skaters of all ages and levels.

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