On the weekend CSKA Moscow commemorated what could have been the 65th birthday of late ice hockey star Valery Kharlamov, who tragically died at the age of 33. RT recalls the brightest moments of the player’s career, which inspired fans worldwide.
Arguably the biggest star of Soviet ice hockey, Valery Kharlamov died in a car accident 31 years ago. Last Saturday people flocked to the CSKA Arena to commemorate 65 years since the legendary forward was born.
A special exhibition was opened dedicated to Kharlamov who played 438 matches for the Armymen. It was a night full of big names, as former greats played in a match named in his honor. Everything around the arena reminded people of the legend.
“It's impossible to name his best character trait. Probably that he was just a good person. It was always a great pleasure to deal with him. He was not a snob, although he was a superstar. Kharlamov was often beaten up, out on the ice, but he never complained,” recalls former CSKA and Soviet Union head coach Viktor Tikhonov.
Kharlamov’s father was Russian while his mother was from the Basque Country who came over as a refugee from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.
Named after Soviet pilot, Valery Chkalov, who was the first man to fly from Moscow to Vancouver via the North Pole, Kharlamov’s destiny was also to become a hero.
In childhood, he was diagnosed with a heart problem, and sports were restricted, but his father still took him to a training school for CSKA, the powerhouse of Russian ice hockey.
The explosive young forward flourished, and his flamboyant skating style and great stick handling soon made him a role model for every kid in the country.
“All the boys worshipped him. And I was no exception. Everyone wanted to skate like him or shoot like him. But, best of all, was his attitude to the game. He loved it, and you could see it. Later, when I played in the NHL, I heard that many people loved his style. He was a real star,” says former Russian international Andrey Nikolishin.
The CSKA trio of Boris Mikhailov, Vladimir Petrov and Valery Kharlamov became known worldwide after the famous USSR -Canada Summit series in 1972, where the Soviet forward proved himself to be one of the brightest talents of his generation.
The three players then led the all-conquering Red Machine to two consecutive Olympiс gold medals in 1972 and 1976.
However, soon after that second triumph, the famed number 17was involved in a car accident. He suffered serious injuries, but managed to pull through, get back on the ice, and even clinched his eighth world title.
But, in 1981, Kharlamov was in another car accident – on the same highway. This time, the car skidded off the slippery road and Kharlamov, his wife and her cousin all died. He was only 33.
“It's very important that the younger generation know exactly who made CSKA such a great club, who helped the Armymen put so much silverware in their trophy cabinet. Every sportsman has a short time in which to prove if he's worth being remembered. And Kharlamov was a player who'll be remembered for many years to come,” says former CSKA and Soviet Union captain Boris Mikhailov.
Kharlamov's dramatic life story has always been worthy of a film, and this spring, the movie will finally come out more than three decades after the tragic death of the national idol, who was simply ahead of his time.