Keepin' it real
Former world champion recalls 1950s defection
Radio Prague - Ája Vrzáňová-Steindler is a remarkable woman. Now aged 81, she was twice crowned world figure skating champion, in 1949 and 1950, while still in her teens.
Interesting life, a bit sad too obviously but indeed a remarkable woman!!
What an adventurous life. That was an awful time, after the 1948 Communist takeover. Vrzhanova got away, but the sad irony of amateur skating is that you can only compete as a representative of a nation, so her career was over. I remember reading her name on lists of champions as I got interested in skating. Thanks for the update.
Originally Posted by ladyjane
It's been quite a few years since the fall of Communism, but I still find it thrilling to contemplace the fact that people can now go back and forth freely to their countries. Czechoslovakia is an especially lovely story. I worked with a Czech-American friend during the Velvet Revolution, and we followed the quickly unfolding events avidly. Vaclav Havel became one of my heroes. One American who played a helpful role in the proceedings was former child star Shirley Temple, who at that time was the U.S. Ambassador to the country.
Last edited by Olympia; 07-05-2012 at 08:34 AM.
She was one of several brave Czechs who managed to escape from behind the iron curtain. Jaroslav Drobny and Martina Navratilova were others. All suffered consequences as a result, but stood up for their principles. The Czechs were unique under communism for standing up more than once to the Soviets.
Here are Drobny and Navratilova's stories.
Trixie Schuba's biggest fan!
This brother/sister pair also defected in the 40's (from Czechoslovakia to Canada):
I remember one of the sayings someone during the 1989 Velvet Revolution cited was that it was better to die on your feet than to live on your knees. When that thought sweeps through a group, it can be one of the most powerful forces on Earth.
Another note about Navratilova: She defected immediately after losing the 1975 US Open semifinal. She told only one fellow player of her intention to do so as the communist Czech chaperones with her on the trip to the States were monitoring her every move. That person was her opponent and close friend who defeated her and kept her secret, Chris Evert. Martina was just 18 and Chris was 20. Imagine the stress and tension on two such young athletes competing for one of the biggest titles in the sport.
There were immediate and harsh penalties Martina had to suffer. She could not visit her parents and sister for four years and they could not travel to watch her play. Phone calls home were wiretapped by the Czech government. Martina did not tell her mother of her intent to defect on her father's instruction. He felt it would further guarantee both their safety. That had to be agonizing for both. Her televised matches at the biggest events like Wimbledon were banned from broadcast. Her citizenship was stripped and for a time she became a pariah at home, unable to reenter the country. Also her Fed Cup coach, Vera Sukova, a former top player herself shouldered the brunt of the blame for the country losing its top woman player. Her coaching career was severely hampered as result. Still things worked out for most in the end. Martina became a US citizen and an all time great. She was eventually reunited with her family, welcomed warmly back to the country in 1986 when it hosted the Fed Cup, and had her Czech citizenship restored alongside her American one in recent years. Sukova's daughter (Helena) and son (Cyril) went on to become top singles amd doubles players in the 80s and 90s. Helena was for a time the best doubles player in the world, following in Martina's footsteps, and reach four Grand Slam finals in singles where she had the misfortune to run up against the three greatest women players of the last 45 years (Evert, Martina and Steff Graf). In another time, she could have won some of those finals.
Last edited by jcoates; 07-05-2012 at 08:48 PM.
What gets me from many of these stories is the spitefulness of the government's reaction to someone's defection. A parent loses his or her job. Medals and trophies are confiscated and "lost." The name is forbidden mention. It reminds me of a story I recall reading after ballerina Natalia Makarova defected to the U.S. from the U.S.S.R. A few years later, someone from the West went on some kind of officially sanctioned trip to the Kirov Ballet and was taken on a tour of the facility. Somehow, a picture of Makarova had been left up on the wall. The visitor asked who the picture showed. The straight-faced response was, "That is a very beautiful picture of an unknown dancer." Thank goodness things have moved on from that point.
What an amazing and touching story about Martina and Chris. Though the situations aren't parallel, this kind of reminds me of the way Jesse Owens and Lutz Long were able to reach past sports and national rivalries to create a bond of trust and friendship.
Last edited by Olympia; 07-05-2012 at 05:55 PM.