In 1922, Nikolay Ozerov was born. Fifty years later he became one of the most notable symbols of the Soviet epoch. Remember the Big Red Machine, the Soviet ice-hockey team? Ozerov was the sportscaster, the man whose voice was inseparable from the games of the Machine.
Ozerov was not well-known to the west, as Sweden's Patrick Houda told us.
"I would say that Ozerov's name is only known among the old journalists over here in Sweden. But the same thing goes for Foster Hewitt who was almost an icon in Canadian broadcasting," Houda said.
"Canada had Foster Hewitt, the Russians had Nikolay Ozerov, the Czechs had Josef Laufer and Sweden had Lennart Hyland. All helped popularize the sport thanks to their great radio and TV broadcasts."
Arthur Chidlovski grew up in the Soviet Union, listening to Ozerov. Chidlovski said, "Ozerov's reports from the 1972 Summit belong to the classics of TV broadcasting. When the Soviets won the first game in Montreal, Ozerov said that the 'myth of unbeatable self-praised Canadian hockey professionals is over now.' "
Chidlovski added that although not intentional, Ozerov's phraseology would sometimes send a nation of hockey fans into fits of laughter.
In 1974, the WHA played the Soviets in an lesser-known eight-game series, won by the Russians, and Ozerov was there to broadcast the only international tournaments played by Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe.
"Gordie Howe is a legend of Canadian hockey," said Ozerov. "He is 46, has over 1000 scars on his body, his hair is gray but it's still not enough for him. Life is expensive and Howe needs money. He plays himself and forces his children to play too. His sons, Mark and Marty, are playing for Team Canada too. Canadian hockey pros don't wear helmets. They wear nothing. The only one who wears anything is Bobby Hull. He wears a wig."
That was enough to convince several of the North Americans on the committee that Foster Hewitt wasn't the only person who had hickey fans turned on and tuned into the radio.
His father was an opera singer and since his childhood Ozerov loved opera and knew by heart all operas from the repertoire of the Bolshoi theatre. When he was 9, he started playing tennis. Three years later he won the boys' championship of Moscow. In the end of the 1930s, when Henri Cochet, famous French tennis player, came to Moscow and visited the stadium to look at training children. "This fatty will go far", said he about Ozerov. He was right. 24 times Ozerov won the USSR tennis championships (in men's singles, men's doubles and mixed doubles).
In 1970s Ozerov met Cochet once again, when he visited the open championship of France in Rollan Garros. When he came back to Moscow, someone reported to KGB that Ozerov met a Frenchman who, probably, collaborated with the Nazis during the war. Ozerov had problems on TV, till another popular journalist, Valentin Zorin, found out that during the war Cochet was a member of the Resistance movement.
In 1941 he entered the theatre institute in Moscow and earned the "Master of Sports" title. During the war he participated in some "propaganda" tennis games. There were only three tennis players left in Moscow then, and they played on all tennis stadiums, and the radio broadcasted all these games to raise the spirit of the Muscovites.
After the war Ozerov became a theatre actor in the Moscow Art Theatre (MKhAT), one of the best theatres in the country. In the evenings, after the performance was over, he ran to play tennis or football (he played for Spartak, Moscow). In 1950, Vadim Sinyavsky, a famous sports journalist of those times, offered Ozerov to join him during a football game. So Ozerov became a sportscaster. Good knowledge of sports and the artistic talent made him the ideal candidate for the job. After the first game between Dinamo and TsDKA, the radio bosses waited for some time for the reaction of the listeners, but the responses were positive and Ozerov was now allowed to comment all football games.
Ozerov worked on 17 Olympic games, 9 football world championships, 30 hockey championships, in 50 countries. Once he had to work, sitting on a top of a tree. In Kiev, he worked on the roof of the stadium. In 1972, during the unforgettable Summit games between Soviet and Canadian hockey teams, Ozerov was in Munich, on the Olympic games, but nobody could even think of someone else working in Canada, so Ozerov commented the games watching them from Munich, and nobody ever learned it till many years later. Every time I recall the games of the Soviet hockey team, I still can hear his voice, saying one of his famous phrases, like: "So, these are the vaunted Canadian profies..." or "No, this is not the hockey we need!". The old rumors tell about another his phrase: "Goal! No! F*ck! Post!", but I don't know anyone who actually heard it :).
Ozerov once recalled a funny story. When he once came to a post-office, he noticed a vaguely familiar old man. Some seconds later he understood, it was Vyacheslav Molotov, former Soviet prime-minister and foreign minister, retired by Khrushchev in 1957. Ozerov offered him a ride, Molotov agreed, but he didn't recognize Ozerov. Some minutes later he said: "I can't recall you, but your face is somehow familiar. Have we met before?" "No", replied Ozerov, "but you might have heard me on radio. I'm sportscaster Ozerov. Nikolay Nikolayevich.". After a pause, Molotov replied: "My wife won't believe me: Ozerov himself gave me a ride!"
Theatre and cinema star Mikhail Ulyanov said: "Just like we cannot imagine the 1940s without the voice of Levitan, we cannot imagine 1950s-1980s without the voice of Ozerov, his passion and enchanting love to sports". The unique feature of Ozerov was his optimism, enthusiasm, sincerity and not a single aggressive note, only deepest respect to the sportsmen.
In the end of 1980s Ozerov was forced to leave the TV. Soon, when he was in Middle Asia, because of some infection, he lost his leg. He could not afford buying crutches, so the widow of Lev Yashin gave him her deceased husbnand's crutches. On 2 June 1997 Nikolay Ozerov died.
Here's an article about Ozerov written by Arthur Chidlovski (mentioned above):
Nikolay OZEROV was the legend of the Soviet sports broadcasting. For millions of Russian hockey fans, he was what Foster Hewitt was for the Canadian viewers and listeners. Ozerov never played hockey. Although he was a star tennis player in the 1940s, only a few historians associate his name with tennis. He acted professionally on the stage of legendary Moscow Arts Theater but very few people remember him as an actor. But for those who watched hockey on TV from 1950s to 1980s , Ozerov's name can't be separated from hockey. In a way, he was Mr. Hockey or, keeping up with the terminology of his prime time in broadcasting, Comrade Hockey. During these glorious decades in Soviet hockey, generations of viewers watched his hockey reports from Moscow and Toronto, Voskresensk and Helsinki, Montreal and Stockholm, Prague and Kiev.
Ozerov's reports from the 1972 Summit belong to the classics of TV broadcasting. I am not sure if it was the drama of the Series, the level of hockey shown in the Summit or the passion in Ozerov's voice that made these games in September 1972 one of the best sports spectacles ever shown on the Soviet TV.
When the Soviets won the first game in Montreal, Ozerov said that the "myth of unbeatable self-praised Canadian hockey professionals is over now." I was just a little kid at that time and watched many games after the Summit, but this phrase by Ozerov is still in my memory.
The difference between the Soviet and Canadian styles was obvious. "We don't need this kinda hockey!" This is another saying from Ozerov's reports in 1972. Although it was said in regard to the Team Canada's tough and sometimes brutal by the European standards hockey, the phrase itself went well beyond hockey.
Ozerov was not a comedian but it was his entertaining reports that made the whole nation laugh on his phrases and sometimes mistakes. In 1974, legendary Gordy Howe and Bobby Hull played in the Team Canada (WHA) vs. Team USSR Summit.
"Gordy Howe is a legend of Canadian hockey," said Ozerov. "He is 46, has over 1000 scars on his body, his hair is gray but it's still not enough for him. Life is expensive and Howe needs money. He plays himself and forces his children to play too. His sons, Mark and Marty, are playing for Team Canada too."
"Canadian hockey pros don't wear helmets. They wear nothing. The only one who wears anything is Bobby Hull. He wears a wig." Almost 30 years passed since Ozerov said these lines, but I still remember wondering what might happen to the Hull's wig in the game or counting Howe's 1000 scars.
Making my memory trips to the 1972 Summit, I always think about Ozerov. I guess it's not just me. He was an integral part of Soviet hockey of that time.