Ivan Patzaichin - The Most Well-Known Lipovan Russian In The World

Between 1968-1984 Ivan Patzaichin (b. 1949), won seven Olympic medals (four gold and three silver) and eight world championships in canoeing. A golden Lipovan who has never denied his identity of a Starover (i.e. Old Believer) Russian from the Delta. He is modest, honest, a people-person, willing to help anyone who asks for it. His celebrity didn't affect him, as it usually happens in the stars' world. He nostalgically remembers his childhood and home village, the place situated at the heart of the Delta which gave so many world champions to Romania. Ivan Patzaichin: I gladly remember the village of Mila 23, because the people there, mostly Lipovan Russians, are special people, welcoming and kind. You never risk remaining outdoors, you're always invited in, hospitality is one of their trademarks. I'm proud of my Lipovans because I originate from them and it's among them that I learned how to behave, first of all how to respect people, my friends, my colleagues, in other words I learned how to be human. It's with great pleasure that I remember my childhood, I was very happy back then. Ever since I was 2 or 3 my grandfather would take me on the boat with him and we would go in the middle of the pond. The sun would rise and I would wake up surrounded by water. I liked to be on the boat – it wasn't just hanging around, the boat was a necessity as well. Back then the village was flooded every spring and autumn and the boat was the only means of transportation. We would even go to school by boat, there was this big boat that would come and pick us up, taking us to and from school, like some maxi-taxi. Every year I go back to my home village, sometimes I even go there twice a year. I would like to go there more often, stay there a while longer, but time is always rough on us and there's never enough time to enjoy yourself. Each time I go back to Mila 23 I do it with great pleasure in order to see my birthplace, my relatives and my numerous friends. Alexandra Fenoghen: We all know that in our villages situated close to the water the kids learn to swim and to paddle from an early age. And the fishermen's boats are not that easy to handle if you don't know your way around it. Do you think that the fact that you knew how to handle a Lipovan boat helped you in your career? I. P.: It probably helped me to some extent since the sport that I chose is a very tough one and it requires a lot of work. It probably did me some good. In exchange, the canoe was very "mean" to me because, although I could swim, paddle and go by boat, it was difficult for me to maneuver the canoe, I would always fall out. I even wanted to give it up at some point. The former Olympic champion Simion Ismailciuc helped me a lot because he had a special feeling about me and he was very patient, he went in the canoe with me to show me a few .details and slowly I managed to tame it and that was the beginning of my career. A. F.: Everybody knows how to paddle in the Lipovan villages, yet not everybody gets to be a champion, especially not one like Ivan Patzaichin. Besides the inborn abilities one needs an iron will power and extremely hard work. What made you choose the difficult path of performance sport? What was the impulse? I. P.: I began my sports activities after having seen, a year before, in 1966, how two of my fellow village men, Lipovan Russians, Vicol Calabiciov and Serghei Covaliov, became world champions. Back then there weren't any newspapers in the village, we didn't have a TV set at home, but I saw them on the cultural center's TV. I saw how they made people proud and I said to myself why not try it myself. I asked them to register me at the Dinamo club and that's how I got into sports. In 1967 I went to Snagov for a month in order to give it a try. I've never left ever since.... I had come to Dinamo with my mind set on winning a medal. My fellow village people weren't the only Lipovan Russians champions. There were others, such as Toma Simionov, Petre Capusta, Gheorghe Andriev, Mitica Pricop, and many others from nowadays – Florin Mironcic, an European champion and one of the team's best member, Iosif Chirila and Simion Mihail. There are many others that I can't even remember right now, the last two of them are my pupils and I hope they will continue the champions' tradition among the Lipovans. Since 1994 Ivan Patzaichin has been the coordinating coach of the Romanian Kayak-Canoe Olympic Team and is preparing his pupils at the Nicolae Navasart aquatic base in Snagov, together with another Russian Lipovan coach, Sidor Liferi. It's there that this conversation took place, at the end of May, while the "admiral of the golden fleet" was in the middle of the training for new sports events. A. F.: What are your plans for the upcoming future? I. P.: We're preparing the European championship at the beginning of July, after which there are the world championships at the beginning of August, where we will also try to qualify for the Olympic Games, and our final goal for the moment are the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where we hope to get as many medals as possible. Zorile magazine, 7/2007

by Alexandra Fenoghen