Russian Language Blog

Famous Athletes from the Former Soviet Union Posted by on Feb 4, 2015 in Culture, History, News, Russian life

So many athletes from around the world are famous. Believe it or not, some of the world’s top athletes hail from Russia. In researching this topic, I had a very large number of people to choose from; many of them were tennis and hockey players. Selecting only a few from a list of hundreds was difficult and obviously this list doesn’t do all the athletes the justice they deserve. Hope you enjoy:-)

Gary Kasparov

Let’s not forget that chess is considered a sport. Few have dominated their respective sport like Kasparov. From 1986 until 2005, when he officially retired, he was ranked number one in the world 225 out of 228 months – not too shabby! He was a world champion, Grandmaster, and considered to be the best of all time. At the age of 22, he became the youngest ever World Chess Champion. Since retirement he has dedicated time to politics among other things.

Here is a short documentary about his life and times:

Anna Kournikova

Once upon a time she was a tennis player that became one of the world’s highest ranking players reaching as high as number 8 in the world for singles play. She was ranked the number one player in doubles along with her partner, Martina Hinges. Together they won the Australian Grand Slam Title in 1999 and 2002. Back problems forced her to retire at the ripe old age of 21. To some people she received more attention for her beauty and less for her skills on the court. To those people I’d say: what can you do better than all but 7 people in the world?

You might enjoy this documentary about her:

Sergei Federov

Sergei Federov was one of the most dominant hockey players during the 1990’s. He played in the United States for the Detroit Red Wings; he also played for Team Russia three times in the Olympics. During his time in Detroit, he won 3 Stanley Cups and was recipient of the Hart Memorial Trophy. Sergei was the first Russian player to reach 1000 points in the NHL, he held the record for the most points in overtime, and he tied for the fastest skater in the NHL in 1996. Interestingly enough, he also dated Anna Kournikova for quite a while.

Here are some of his highlights:

Vitali Klitschko

Vitali is the first world boxing champion to hold a PhD. Both he and his younger brother, Vladimir, were world champions. Vitali was world champion in boxing and was very successful in kickboxing too. He won the gold medal in kickboxing at the Military World Championships in 1995. As if these impressive accomplishments weren’t enough, he has also succeeded in politics. He also was elected mayor in Kiev, Ukraine. It seems like anything he sets his mind to, he accomplishes. He even has a movie about him Klitschko which came out in 2011.

Hope you enjoyed some of the information and that it may have aroused your curiosity to learn more about these great athletes. Please remember that I do not necessarily consider these choices to be the best representations of our athletes, they simply were chosen because I happen to like them.

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About the Author: Jenya

Born in Russia, I spent the first twenty years of my life in Orenburg, Russia and Mogilev, Belarus. For the last eleven years, I've lived in New Hampshire and Michigan, US. While I continue to absorb and adapt to American culture, I am always thrilled to share my Russian heritage with those who find it interesting. Travel, photography and art play a special part in my life. Twitter: @iamnx2u


  1. Bob:

    Since you mentioned Kasparov, don’t forget Boris Spassky, who battled Bobby Fisher in 1972(?) in what was billed as the “Chess Match of the Century”.

    And let’s add Evgeny Malkin, center for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

  2. Jenya:

    Wonderful, Bob! I am sure if we dig deeper, we can come up with at least another handful :-).

  3. James Stewart:

    I must take EXCEPTION with your description of Vitaliy Klitschko & his brother Vladimir ARE Ukrainian & I am sure a lot of people in YKPAIIHI right now would also dispute their inclusion as RuSSians considering the butchery I have seen personally that is State Sponsored by “Mad Dog” Putler & his Gan of War Criminals at this time … I may STOP these ‘Blogs’as a result much to my chagrin !!!

    • Jenya:

      @James Stewart Magda and James,
      Ok, I agree, maybe Klitschko was not the ideal candidate for this post considering present political situation. However, in my defense, he was born in Kirghiz, one of former Soviet Republics, and Ukraine was part of USSR at that time.
      As for Putin, I am not sure one can truly understand the complexity of the Russian-Ukrainian relationship unless one has lived there for a long time. Ukraine has relied on Russia for many years and is still in need of major assistance from either the west or, lets say, east. It is currently in a position of an easy pray; therefore, every participant of this circus has their own agenda to hide and their own propaganda to distribute. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle but I do know that a lot of Ukrainians are fleeing to Russia. I wonder if major American corporations haven’t already done more damage to Ukraine than Putin…

  4. Magda:

    Vitali Klitschko is Ukrainian!!!!

  5. Moonyeen Albrecht:

    Two of my favorites are gymnast Olga Korbut and figure skater Irina Slutskaya. Also the beautiful skating team of Gordeeva and Grinkov. What a sad story that is! Oh, one could go on and on about the wonderful skaters from Russia . . . Who didn’t fall in love with Ilya Kulik?

  6. Moonyeen Albrecht:

    Breaking News! I just went back and read more and Ekaterina Gordeeva and Ilya Kulik marred!
    I didn’t know that. Hooray! I’m glad to see she found happiness in the end! Darling children!

  7. Moonyeen Albrecht:

    Why do Ukrainians want independence from Russia? Russian has not been kind to Ukraine in the past nor is it now.
    See web link below the following regarding genocide in the 20th century::

    Quote from “The History Place:”
    Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, set in motion events designed to cause a famine in the Ukraine to destroy the people there seeking independence from his rule. As a result, an estimated 7,000,000 persons perished in this farming area, known as the breadbasket of Europe, with the people deprived of the food they had grown with their own hands.

  8. Jenya:

    Moonyeen, Stalin was bad for Russia, not just Ukraine. Over a million people died in GULAGS during his rule. Neither Russia nor USA are in it out of generosity; they are not trying to be good to Ukraine or whatever other land they might have their eye on. In my opinion, politics is about greed, not generosity. It has always been a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Politics tries to give as little as possible with the intention of gaining as much as possible.

  9. Magda:

    It’s not so much about the war that’s going on in Ukraine right now, but about the straight fact that he is not Russian. Yes, he was born in the USSR, it does not make him Russian.

  10. Jenya:

    OK, fair enough :-). Maybe I should retitle the post into “Famous Athletes from the Former Soviet Union” :-).