Prominent Russians: Valery Kharlamov
Valery Kharlamov was a famous Soviet ice hockey player and is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
A child of friendship
Valery Kharlamov was born in Moscow on the night of January 14. His father, Boris Kharlamov, was a mechanic at the Moscow plant “Kommunar”. His mother was an ethnic Basque from the city of Bilbao. Her real name was Aribot Abbad Hermann, but everybody called her Begonita. In 1937, still a girl, she was brought to the USSR as a refugee from Spain that was inflamed by the civil war.
Boris and Begonita met at a dance club. Boris Kharlamov came to the club with a Spanish friend, whom he had known before the war, and left with a wife.
Ironically, Valery Kharlamov was born in the car his mother was being taken to the hospital in. Boris Kharlamov left his wife and new-born son in the hospital, himself taking a walk home late at night, with a bundle of her belongings in his arms. He looked so suspicious that he was detained by the police. When asked by the police to proceed to the station for an identity check, he gladly agreed: it was too cold outside and he preferred to spend a night in the warm police station, treating police officers to his tobacco and telling them about his newborn son, “My son was just born,” the father of the future Olympic champion was saying to the police officers, “We named him Valery, after pilot Valery Chkalov.”
Later Boris Kharlamov recalled, “Valery was a very weak boy when he was born. His weight was less than three kilograms. But it is understandable, who can be born a healthy child when there was a food stamp system in the country at that time? We celebrated Valery’s birth right there in the dormitory where we lived with Begonita. We had a quarter of the room in our possession separated from the other families by a tiny wooden wall.”
Beside Valery, the Kharlamovs also had a younger daughter, Tatyana.
Valery Kharlamov’s hobbies in childhood were football and hockey. He first
stood on skates when he was seven years old. His father often played Bandy at the rink and took his son with him.
At that time ice hockey was already as popular as soccer and many young boys were dreaming to be like Ivan Tregubov or Vsevolod Bobrov, the famous Soviet players of that time. Young Valery dreamed about it as well. But on his way an obstacle occurred. In 1961 doctors discovered he had heart disease and were insisting on his quitting any kind of physical activity. Valery’s mother almost accepted the situation as it was, but Boris Kharlamov had a different opinion about his son’s future.
In the summer of 1962 the 14-year-old Valery appeared in the hockey section.
The talented young man was later recommended to the adult team CSKA Moscow, the Soviet Army sports club, but the head coach of the Soviet Army club and the national team, Anatoly Tarasov, did not consider young Kharlamov a valuable addition to the team. Nevertheless, Valery continued to work hard, gained muscle mass and became physically strong.
Gradually Kharlamov was accepted to the first team. October 22, 1967, was his debut for CSKA in Novosibirsk in a game against the team “Siberia”. CSKA breezed the match 9:0, but Valery didn’t perform well. As a result, he didn’t play any more games in the 1967/68 season. Moreover, he was sent to the second league to the army hockey team of the Urals Military District. The coach of that team received strict instruction from Tarasov, “Valery must have no less than seventy percent of the time on ice, regardless of how the game develops.” The next season Kharlamov was admitted to CSKA Moscow.
Part of CSKA and the Red Machine
Kharlamov began playing hockey with CSKA Moscow and played there until his tragic death in 1981. He won eleven Soviet titles (1968, 1970-73, 1977-81) and eleven European Champions Cup titles (1969-74, 1976, 1978-81) along with them. He was the leading goal scorer at the Soviet Championships in 1971 with 39 goals. Kharlamov was selected member of the best line of the Soviet Championships five times – in 1971, 1972, 1975 and 1978, and 1980.
Valery played 292 games with the Soviet national team, nicknamed the Red Machine, and scored 193 goals. In addition to his three Olympic medals (two golds and a silver), Kharlamov also won eight World Championships (1969-71, 1973-75, 1978-79) and six European Championship (1969, 1970, 1973-75, 1979). He also won silvers (1972, 1976) and bronze (1977) at the World Championships and silvers (1971, 1972, 1976, 1978) and bronze (1977) at the European Championships. At the 1976 World Championships Kharlamov was selected as the best forward of the tournament. He played seven games and scored three goals at the 1972 Summit Series, and eight games and two goals at the 1974 Summit Series. He also won the 1979 Challenge Cup between the Soviet Union and NHL all-stars.
Kharlamov gained international fame in 1972 and 1974, when the Soviet
Union played the NHL All-Stars in a series of games. Along with other Soviet stars – especially Vladislav Tretyak, Aleksandr Yakushev, Boris Mikhailov and Vladimir Petrov – he was noticed by the North American audiences. But his fame was cemented when he was anointed by all-time all-star Canadian Bobby Hull, who argued that Kharlamov was “the best winger in the world.”
Kharlamov combined superior hockey intelligence with outstanding natural talent, and, as the Canadian media put it, “established himself as one of the most formidable weapons in the dominant Soviet arsenal during the seventies.”
“His talents were God-given and he could do practically everything – a smart play, a tricky pass, a precise shot,” said Hall of Fame goaltender Vladislav Tretyak. “Everything he did looked so easy, so elegant. His execution of hockey was aesthetic and he amazed millions.”
Flirting with fate
The beginning of 1976 turned a difficult period for Kharlamov. During the North American tour, while playing against the Philadelphia Flyers in a memorable exhibition game, Kharlamov was knocked out by a hard hit from the Flyers' Ed Van Impe. This resulted in his teammates leaving the ice in protest.
Kharlamov had hardly recovered when yet another challenge awaited him.
Soon after the Soviet team returned home, Kharlamov was seriously injured in a car accident, which, as many believed at the time, could bury his entire career. He was forced to miss the 1976 Canada Cup. However, Valery triumphantly made it to the Soviet team in 1977 and continued grabbing titles with the Red Machine.
Four years after the accident he went to his third Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. The mighty Soviet team, however, only managed to claim a silver there, losing to Team USA in the final, which was later dubbed the “Miracle on Ice”. This turned to be Kharlamov’s last major international tournament as part of the legendary Red Machine.
On August 21, 1981, at about 07:00, while returning home from their country house,
Valery’s wife Irina lost control of their car on a slippery road and rammed a truck driving in the opposite direction. While the 1976 car accident threatened Valery’s career, the 1981 tragedy stopped the star’s heart as all three passengers in the car died at the scene.
Valery and Irina left two children – Begonita and Aleksandr. He was laid to rest in the Novokuntsevskoe Cemetery in Moscow.
At that time the Soviet squad was preparing for the World Cup in Canada and they couldn't bid their last farewell to Kharlamov and his wife at the funeral. As a sign of respect, they pledged to win the tournament – and fulfilled their promise, beating hosts Canada in the final game, 8-1.
During just 13 years of his professional career Valery Kharlamov gained the reputation of the world’s best on his position. Posthumously, his skills and talent received global recognition.
In 1998, Kharlamov was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame – the biggest sign of recognition for a European player.
In November 2005, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, becoming just the second Soviet-trained player in the list. Goaltender Vladislav Tretyak, Kharlamov's teammate for many years, was elected to the Hall in 1989. Their coach, Anatoly Tarasov, was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1974.
Valery Kharlamov has been honored with a trophy in his name, the Kharlamov Trophy, given each year to the best Russian NHL player as voted by all Russian NHL players, while since 2009 the KHL has a division bearing his name.
Russian hockey stars Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeny Malkin, born long after the 1981 tragedy wear the 17 and 71 (reversed 17) on their jerseys, in honor of all-time all-star Valery Kharlamov.
Written by Aleksey Kiselev, Leonid Laparenok, RT