Alena Vrzáňová

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Alena Vrzáňová

Alena Vrzanova 2009.jpg

Vrzáňová in 2009
Personal information
Full name Alena Vrzáňová
Alternative names Ája Zanová
Country representedFlag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czechoslovakia
Born(1931-05-16)16 May 1931
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Died 30 July 2015(2015-07-30) (aged 84)
Manhattan, New York City, United States
Former coach Arnold Gerschwiler
Skating club VŠ Praha

Alena "Ája" Vrzáňová (Czech pronunciation: [ˈalɛna ˈaːja ˈvr̩zaːɲovaː] , also Zanová, married name: Steindler; 16 May 1931 – 30 July 2015) was a Czech figure skater who represented Czechoslovakia in competition. Vrzáňová is the 1949 & 1950 World champion and 1950 European champion.

Czechoslovakia 1918–1992 country in Central Europe, predecessor of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia, was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993.

The World Figure Skating Championships ("Worlds") is an annual figure skating competition sanctioned by the International Skating Union. Medals are awarded in the categories of men's singles, ladies' singles, pair skating, and ice dancing. Generally held in March, the World Championships are considered the most prestigious of the ISU Championships, which also include the European Championships, the Four Continents Championships, and the World Junior Championships. With the exception of the Olympic title, a world title is considered to be the highest competitive achievement in figure skating.

European Figure Skating Championships recurring sporting event

The European Figure Skating Championships ("Europeans") is an annual figure skating competition in which figure skaters compete for the title of European champion. The event is sanctioned by the International Skating Union (ISU), and is the oldest of the four annual figure skating competitions designated "ISU Championships". Medals are awarded in the disciplines of men's singles, ladies' singles, pair skating, and ice dancing. The competition is generally held in January.


Personal life

Vrzáňová was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1931. In addition to figure skating, she also played piano and attended ballet school. [1]

Prague Capital city in Czech Republic

Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the 14th largest city in the European Union and the historical capital of Bohemia. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of 2.6 million. The city has a temperate climate, with warm summers and chilly winters.

After spending the winter of 1949 at home in Czechoslovakia, her father advised her not to come back from the upcoming World Championships and she agreed. She defected [2] from Czechoslovakia during the 1950 World Championships in London and was eventually offered political asylum. Her mother followed her in March under dramatic circumstances – her plane was hijacked. [1] Her father, a professional cello player, visited them several times, but decided not to leave his country permanently. He was held as a political prisoner for 13 years and forced to work in a coal mine. [3] His daughter did not return to Prague until 1990, after the Velvet Revolution. [2]

The World Figure Skating Championships is an annual figure skating competition sanctioned by the International Skating Union in which figure skaters compete for the title of World Champion.

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Velvet Revolution democratization process in Czechoslovakia in 1989

The Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution was a non-violent transition of power in what was then Czechoslovakia, occurring from 17 November to 29 December 1989. Popular demonstrations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia included students and older dissidents. The result was the end of 41 years of one-party rule in Czechoslovakia, and the subsequent dismantling of the planned economy and conversion to a parliamentary republic.

In 1969, Vrzáňová married Czech-born innkeeper Pavel Steindler; [4] they adopted two children. They ran the Duck Joint restaurant in New York City, and later the Czech Pavilion. She died on 30 July 2015 at the age of 84 while living in New York City. [3] [5]

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States and thus also in the state of New York. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.


Vrzáňová started sports at the age of three when her parents bought her skis. They spent each winter in the Krkonoše mountains. After this tradition was interrupted during World War II, Vrzáňová started figure skating. The training conditions were difficult, as she had to skate in early winter mornings. [1] Her training sessions were held in darkness because of the dim-out regulations. She skated at the open Štvanice Stadium before the sessions for hockey players, or at the CLTK club tennis courts, which were flooded with water and frozen.

Krkonoše mountain range

The Krkonoše, Karkonosze, Riesengebirge (German), Riesageberge or Giant Mountains, are a mountain range located in the north of the Czech Republic and the south-west of Poland, part of the Sudetes mountain system. The Czech-Polish border, which divides the historic regions of Bohemia and Silesia, runs along the main ridge. The highest peak, Sněžka, is the Czech Republic's highest point with an elevation of 1,603 metres (5,259 ft).

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Štvanice Stadium

Štvanice stadium was a sports stadium situated on Štvanice Island, Czech Republic and was ranked among the oldest stadiums in Prague. The stadium was in its heyday in the first half of the 20th Century, but has been in decline since 1961. It was here, where in 1947 the Czechoslovak national team won the Ice Hockey World Championship for the first time.

In 1946, Vrzáňová became the Czechoslovak junior national champion. In early 1947, she moved to Richmond, London to be coached by Arnold Gerschwiler. [1] In 1947, she won the Czechoslovak national championships and placed 7th at the 1947 World Figure Skating Championships.

Richmond, London town in London, England

Richmond is a suburban town in south-west London, 8.2 miles (13.2 km) west-southwest of Charing Cross. It is on a meander of the River Thames, with a large number of parks and open spaces, including Richmond Park, and many protected conservation areas, which include much of Richmond Hill. A specific Act of Parliament protects the scenic view of the River Thames from Richmond.

Arnold Gerschwiler figure skater

Arnold Gerschwiler, OBE was a Swiss figure skating coach.

The World Figure Skating Championships is an annual figure skating competition sanctioned by the International Skating Union in which figure skaters compete for the title of World Champion.

Vrzáňová represented Czechoslovakia at the 1948 Winter Olympics. She placed fifth in the event, finishing fifth behind compatriot Jiřina Nekolová.

In 1949, Vrzáňová was awarded the silver medal at the European Championships in Milan and won her first World title in Paris. She seized her chance to win the gold medal as the Olympic runner-up and reigning European champion Eva Pawlik of Austria had dropped out because of a broken boot heel just before the free program. [6] [7] [8] At the event, she was credited as being the first woman to land a double Lutz jump. [9]

After winning the 1950 European Championships, she won a second world title at the 1950 World Championships. She then went on a European tour instead of returning home. She eventually moved to the United States and performed for the traveling show Ice Follies for three years under the name "Aja Zanova" before joining the Ice Capades. She also participated in television ads and other shows. After her husband's death, she worked for the Ice Capades and led New York City's largest public ice rink, the Wollman Rink.

Vrzáňová was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2009. [9] In 2009, she also received the title of the Sports Legend of the Czech Republic. In 2012, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg presented to her the 16th annual Gratias Agit Awards in recognition of those who promote the good name of the Czech Republic abroad. [10]

Competitive highlights

Event 1946 1947 1948 1949 1950
Winter Olympics 5th
World Champ. 7th 5th 1st 1st
European Champ. 6th 3rd 2nd 1st
Czechoslovak Champ. 1st J. 1st 1st 1st 1st
J. = Junior level

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  1. 1 2 3 4 Willoughby, Ian (5 July 2012). "Ája Vrzáňová-Steindler: Former ice skating world champion recalls 1950s defection – and much more". Radio Prague . Archived from the original on 5 July 2012.
  2. 1 2 Heller Anderson, Susan (4 April 1990). "Chronicle". The New York Times . Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  3. 1 2 Fox, Margalit (1 August 2015). "Aja Zanova, Top Czech Skater Who Defected to West, Dies at 84". The New York Times .
  4. "Západ hovoří s Ajou Vrzáňovou" [Západ interviews Aja Vrzanová](PDF). Západ (in Czech). April 1980. pp. 18–22. Archived (PDF) from the original on 24 November 2016.
  5. "Zemřela krasobruslařská legenda Ája Vrzáňová" [Figure skating legend Ája Vrzáňová has died]. Česká televize (in Czech). 30 July 2015.
  6. "Figure skating: "Favored to win, Eva Pawlik was forced to withdraw"", Life Magazine, 14 March 1949
  7. Russell, Susan D. (January 2008), "Eva Pawlik and Rudi Seeliger", International Figure Skating Magazine
  8. Hampe, Matthias (2010), The genesis of figure skating. Doctoral thesis at the Potsdam University, p. 218
  9. 1 2 Elliott, Helene (13 March 2009). "Brian Orser heads list of World Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductees". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  10. Richter, Jan (1 June 2012). "Foreign Ministry honours 12 people for promoting good name of Czech Republic". Radio Prague . Archived from the original on 5 July 2012.