Nordic ski champ Nikolai Anikin, 77, diesNikolai Anikin’s superb technique as a Nordic skier helped the Soviet Union become a force in the sport starting in the 1950s. He died at his Duluth home Saturday morning at age 77.
By: Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune
Nikolai Anikin’s superb technique as a Nordic skier helped the Soviet Union become a force in the sport starting in the 1950s. Anikin was a member of the gold-medal winning 40-kilometer relay team as his country competed in the Winter Olympics for the first time, in 1956 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy, and led the medal count.
Anikin, who grew up in Ishim, Siberia, earned three Olympic medals at two Winter Games and later spent 27 years as Russia’s national team instructor before coming to the United States in 1990 to share his teaching talent. He and his wife, Antonina, moved to Duluth in 1994 to help the emerging Gitchi Gummi Sport Association.
Anikin was diagnosed with cancer more than two years ago and was given three months to live. He died at his Duluth home Saturday morning at age 77.
“Nikolai was a natural at skiing, and his technique was copied around the world, and he was such an effective teacher,” said Ron Caple, a close friend and a professor in Minnesota Duluth’s chemistry and bio-chemistry department. “He was a wonderfully gentle man, but also very physically strong.”
The Anikins were part of the Gitchi Gummi Sport Association for 10 years before it came to an end, and continued to coach adult skiers in the area. Antonnina, 75, has been teaching for 56 years, but also suffered a setback when diagnosed with cancer this year and underwent a double mastectomy last month.
“They are wonderful, warm people with divergent personalities. They love skiing, love gardening, love the outdoors and love people,” Caple told the News Tribune in 2007.
Their teaching and coaching has aided a generation of skiers in the Northland, including John Bauer, who attended Anoka (Minn.) High School, but lived in Duluth leading to the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics, and received training help from Anikin. Bauer was 12th in the 15-kilometer classical race in 2002, the best Olympic finish by an American in a Nordic race since 1976.
“[Nikolai] knew what was needed to prepare, and his patience was enormous. I implemented a lot of [the Anikins’] philosophy and ideals, and it was very productive,” Bauer said in 2007.
Former U.S. Olympic Nordic skier George Hovland of Duluth, owner of Snowflake Nordic Ski Center, forged a relationship with Anikin the past 15 years, and was appreciative of having such a talent in Northeastern Minnesota.
“To have an Olympic champion right in our midst was amazing,” Hovland, 83, said Sunday. “He was still in good spirits the last time we visited, but he also knew that it was time to start saying his goodbyes.”
Antonina said she is recovering from surgery while grieving for her husband of 51 years.
“It’s difficult, but we were ready for this after 2½ years,” Antonina Anikin said. “We had many good friends who helped with his care.”
The Ankins have a son, Nikolai Jr., 28, of Duluth; and daughter Irina, 50, of Moscow. A celebration of Nikolai Anikin’s life is planned for Dec. 6 at Snowflake ski center.