Their first success came in the1964 Olympics in Innsbruck when they won the gold medals in a very tight decision over Marika Kilius and Hans Jurgen Baumler of West Germany.
In 1969 the Protopopovs in their turn were dethroned by Irma Rodnina and Alexei Ulanov, a couple developed by Stanislav Zhuk who realised that the Protopopovs grace could not be surpassed and chose to eclipse them with pyrotechnics. Rodnina and Ulanov did combinations of jumps never seen in a pairs event and dazzled the spectators with their speed. When the Protopopovs returned home to Leningrad they were told to retire by their Moscow-based Association. They declined and found they could only obtain ice time from midnight to two or three in the morning and that only through the intervention of a friend. Protopopov later recalled that their names disappeared from the newspapers and each year they fell lower in the national standings.
They had hoped to take part in the 1972 Olympics. When that wasn t possible they managed, through Dick Button who was now presenting skating events for television, to take part in and win a professional invitation contest in Japan in December 1972. Back home, it took them nine months and the help of an important government official to get a job in Leningrads ice show. Even then their names were not included in the programme. By 1978 they realised their souls were being drained away. Protopopov scorned becoming a teacher, the only path open to him. He said they wanted him to stand by the barrier for eighty kopeks an hour, shouting C mon. C mon. The couple defected in 1979. After skating with an American show, Ice Capades, for a season, they now live in Switzerland. He has a dream of getting together enough money to make a six-hour epic film about skating.
First with Ulanov, and then with Alexander Zaitsev, Rodnina won ten consecutive World Championships and three Olympic gold medals, a record that matches Sonja Henies. Russian skaters were soon to take top honours in ice dancing too. Ludmila Pakhomova and her original partner, Viktor Rishkin, were the first Russians to enter a World ice dance championship. Although they did poorly in the compulsory dance section of the 1966 event they finished tenth out of sixteen after improving their standing with an expressive free dance. Rishkin appeared with a different partner the following year, and meanwhile Pakhomova had teamed up with Alexander Gorshkov, who was to become her husband. In 1968 the two Russian ice dance couples came fifth and sixth in the World event. To everyones surprise, the following year Pakhomova and Gorshkov took second place behind Britains Diane Towler and Bernard Ford, who were winning their fourth, and last, World title.
The Protopopovs, after they had defected to the \Vest, demonstrating the forward iilside death spiral,
a move they invented for the 1969 season