How St Annes tennis player Eva Romanova once conquered the world on skates
From Ice to Slice by Shelagh Parkinson @ Blackpool Gazette | 6th July 2019
These days Eva Graham enjoys nothing more than trading shots across the tennis court.
But what opponents might not realise is over the net is a former world champion from another sport which also requires great footwork.
For back in the 1960s Eva and her brother Pavel were unbeatable on the ice, winning four consecutive World Pairs Skating Championships between 1962 and 1965.
Representing the former Czechoslovakia, they received standing ovations for their achievements which also included seven national championships and two European titles.
This year their accomplishments were recognised when they were inaugurated into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado, USA, in the legends category for contributions from more than 50 years ago.
Eva, who is listed under her unmarried name of Romanova, now lives in St Annes after moving to the Fylde coast with her late husband Jackie Graham who was a skater with the Blackpool Ice Show at the Pleasure Beach.
Aged 73, she plays her tennis at St Annes Tennis Club on Avondale Road, a long way from her childhood growing up in a communist country.
Eva said: "As children we played lots of sport as our parents didn't want us doing nothing. I started skating at the age of four just on frozen ponds but then the family moved to Prague where they built an open air ice rink. It was mainly used by the hockey teams, so my brother and I had to train early in the mornings before school to get our time on the ice."
"My brother wanted to play ice hockey but my father said you have to learn to figure skate first. There weren't many boys doing that so they wanted to pair him up with other girls. But my father said, no he has a sister so we ended up skating together. We gave up other sports after that and concentrated on ice dancing which is all about footwork. You don't do any lifts and we had to stay very close together on the ice because the traditions come from ballroom dancing."
Eva was just 12 when she and Pavel, who was three years older, competed in their first European Championships, and just 16 when they won their first world title in 1962 in Prague in front of a home crowd including the president of Czechoslovakia. They should have competed a year earlier but a devastating tragedy saw the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships, also due to be held in Prague, cancelled. The entire US team,including many medal prospects, was killed in a plane crash in Belgium on their way to the competition.
Eva recalls: "It was a terrible thing to happen and of course the championships were cancelled. The next year, it was also held in Prague and we thought we might get in the top 10. We couldn't believe it when we won and it's very rare you win the first time you compete.""Our mum made all our costumes in pink and other bright colours which was unusual at that time, and we danced to music from The Shadows which was also something different in those days. After winning we were invited to go to America and skate in exhibitions but we were told we couldn't go. So a letter was sent to the president of Czechoslovakia saying it would be chance to represent our country in a positive light. Eventually we were allowed to go but only one of our parents could accompany us. They didn't want us all to go because they thought we might leave the country. And I remember when we were in America, it was the first time we ever had cornflakes!"
Eva and Pavel went on to win further world titles in Italy (1963), Germany (1964) and Colorado Springs (1965). When they travelled abroad, communist rules meant they were mostly unaccompanied by their parents as at the time there were fears they could defect. Eva's other brother (not Pavel) did defect, but returned on his own accord three weeks later only to be jailed for three years as punishment. It was a difficult time to compete on the international stage. Eva remembers how families of athletes like themselves were given extra food coupons to ensure they received better nutrition.
Ice dancing did not become an Olympic sport until 1976, with its most famous moment in the UK coming in 1984 when Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won gold in the discipline at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics. For Eva and Pavel, after winning four world titles, there was nothing more to achieve competitively and they earned no money as amateurs. So they joined the Holiday On Ice show touring the world - and earning enough money on the way to buy their parents a house back home in Czechoslovakia. Eva was with the show when she met Jackie, who had joined from the Blackpool Ice Show. They married at Blackpool Register Office when Eva got her visa, but she had to pay Â£2,000 to the Czechoslovakian government as well as 10 per cent of her earnings in order to leave and take up British citizenship. The couple went on to perform on the ice together in a comedy show involving chimpanzees which they brought up as part of their family before releasing to safari parks. After living in Devon and then the US, they returned to settle on the Fylde coast where Jackie died four years ago.
Pavel sadly died in 1972 aged just 29 in a car crash in the US where he was living.
Eva says: "It never crossed my mind we would ever be part of the Hall of Fame. I am absolutely honoured that after all these years they thought about us and it is especially touching to see my brother's name because he was only 29 when he died. Also, our parents would be very proud. I am also thankful to meeting my husband and enjoying a brilliant 46 years together. It's thanks to him I live in a beautiful part of England. I have not skated for many years, but have gone back to enjoying some of the other sports of my childhood including tennis in particular."
Anyone interested in joining Eva and other players on the courts at St Annes can find out more by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or go to the website at stannestennis.co.uk