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Olympic Love Stories for Valentine’s Day

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Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's Bolero won Olympic gold on Valentine's Day in 1984. Photo: Courtesy photo

By Philip Barker |

On February 14 1984 at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics, the story of two doomed lovers captivated not just the spectators in the city’s Zetra ice rink but millions of television viewers around the world.

British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean had swept all before them in the preceding three years but it was their interpretation of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero which is remembered even 38 years on.

For many watching, it was perfection, and this was reflected in the marks achieved for artistic impression. 

Every judge awarded 6.0, which was the highest mark available at the time.

Their performance seemed perfectly suited to the most romantic day of the year.

Although Torvill and Dean were partners only on the ice, many others who came together under the five Olympic Rings ended up exchanging two.

In the first Olympic ice skating event held in London in 1908, two married couples took part and won medals.

The Johnsons, Phyllis and James won silver in the pairs and bronze went to another couple, Florence and Edgar Syers.

Florence was known by all as “Madge” but she was the supreme female skater of her generation. 

So good was she when skating against the men that the International Skating Union was prompted to introduce a women’s competition.

Edgar was an official in the National Skating Association and helped organise the skating at the Games.

There have been husband and wife combinations at the Winter Olympics since.

Figure skater Hayes Allan Jenkins won men’s singles gold at Cortina D’Ampezzo in 1956 and later wed his American team mate Carol Heiss, who won silver at the same Games and gold at Squaw Valley in 1960.

Russian figure skaters Oleg Protopopov and his wife Ludmilla Belousova were already married by the time they won the first of two successive gold medals in the pairs at the 1964 Innsbruck Games.

When an Olympic Village became an established part of the Games, romance at the Games sometimes blossomed.

In 1956, American Hal Connolly won hammer gold in Melbourne but also fell in love with Czechoslovakia’s discus gold medallist Olga Fitokova.

The New York Times described it as a “fairytale cold war romance.”

It was necessary to ask permission for Fitokova to marry an American but this was granted.

They were married in Prague and a crowd of 30,000 came to see them arrive for the wedding service.

Another famous couple acted as witnesses.

They were legendary Czech runner Emil Zatopek who won 5,000 metres, 10,000 metres and marathon gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and his wife Dana who won javelin at the same Games. 

The magic of the Olympics even worked for the Royal families of Europe.

The future King Harald V of Norway was only given permission to marry Sonja Haraldsen weeks before the 1968 Mexico Olympics. 

The complication was that he was to compete in the 5.5 metre open class in yachting. His crew finished 11th.

“He was in the Olympic Village, I was in a hotel, that was my honeymoon,” Queen Sonja recalled with a rueful smile during the 2016 Lillehammer Youth Winter Olympics.

The Munich Olympics of 1972 proved the road to romance for another Scandinavian Royal as Sweden’s future monarch Carl Gustaf met his future wife Silvia Renate Sommerlath, a Brazilian who was working as a hostess at the Games.

American Kristi Yamaguchi won figure skating  gold at the 1992 Albertville Winter Games and met her future husband Brett Hedican the day after taking the gold medal.

“He was clean cut and soft spoken,” Yamaguchi told People Magazine though it was not until 1998 that the couple became engaged.

The couple married in 2000.

It was the year of the Sydney Olympics and Roger Federer met Slovakian tennis player Mirka Vavrenic in the Olympic Village.

The Olympic Village weaved its magic and they married in 2009, though Federer later admitted that had both continued their tennis careers, the relationship that begun at the Olympic Village may not have lasted.

Olympic disappointment for American shooter Matthew Emmons in the three position small bore rifle had its compensations when he was consoled by Czech Republic shooter Katerina Kurkova. 

He had won gold days earlier in the prone position.

The pair married three years later.

British cyclists Laura and Jason Kenny have swept all before them at three Olympics.

They were already a couple by the time they competed together at London 2012.

The relationship blossomed and so did their performances on track. Laura has now won five golds over three Games.

Jason had won seven in four Olympics.

At Pyeongchang 2018, a figure could be seen on the side of the course shouting encouragement for four-time Olympic gold medallist Dariya Domracheva of Belarus in the biathlon.

It soon became clear that the figure was Domracheva’s husband Ole Einar Bjørndalen who won eight gold medals in an Olympic career which spanned 20 years.

They had met at a biathlon World Cup event and were married in 2016.

Both were later signed up to coach the Chinese biathlon.

Snowboarders Red Gerard and Hailey Langland met when they were both 12 and started dating when they were 17, only weeks before the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.

Gerard even won gold in Korea.

COVID-19 restrictions will probably prevent a repetition but on the eighth day of August in 2008, the day of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony 314,224 couples got married.

It was considered an auspicious day.

Perhaps that was what inspired Chinese diver Qin Kai, to propose poolside to He Zi after she had won a silver medal at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

“We’ve been dating for six years, but I didn’t expect him to propose today,” she said.

Nor was that an isolated incident.

Brazilian rugby player Isadora Cerullo, was surprised when her partner of two years, Marjorie Enya proposed to her on the field!

In all there were at least five marriage proposals during Rio 2016 alone and to slightly adapt the Frank Sinatra song, there are “too many to mention.”

Love is all around it seems and perhaps that’s the way it should be at the Olympics.

Happy Valentines Day.

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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