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By Chris Middlebrook, 08/06/19, 2:00PM CDT


Grigory Granaturov was an omnipresent figure in the bandy world during my initial decade as a bandy player. He was President of the International Bandy Federation from 1971 to 1978 and again from 1983 to 1991. This was so even though the sport he excelled at in his youth was volleyball, winning several Soviet Championships in the 1940s for CSKA Moscow. Born in 1921 and raised in the bona fide Soviet culture he seemed to me to be the archetypal Soviet bureaucrat. Everything was formality, procedure and protocol. As a USA player, team captain and for a couple years player/coach Grigory always greeted me and acknowledged me over the years. Even so I seldom glimpsed the humanity behind his administrative shell. I did in the mid 1980s see Grigory accidentally knock himself out when he hit his forehead on the wooden beam over the entrance to the VIP booth at the Ljusdal bandy Arena. I suppose some would label this as an indication that he was human. Normally I would have found such misfortune comedic and hilarious but not with Grigory. Not with such a dignified man.

When Grigory retired as IBF President in 1991 he was 70 and I was 33. I did not think I would ever see him again and after many years was not even sure he was alive. He joined the long list of people from my past that were gone forever, grade school teachers, old people who lived in my neighborhood when I was young, my grandparents. 

In 2008 I was 50 years old and coaching the US team in the World Championships in Moscow. Russia and Moscow had changed dramatically since the 1980s and early 1990s. Moscow was much more modern and on the surface at least much more wealthy. Both Russian society and the Russian people were also more open. There was little of the contained and the controlled demeanor so prominent during the Soviet era. We even stayed at a Five star hotel in the center of Moscow. All of the 2008 games were played in the indoor bandy arena at Olympic Stadium, a giant sports complex originally built for the 1980 Summer Olympics. The 1989 Bandy World Championships had been held at the Olympic Stadium, the first ever held indoors. The 2008 championship match was held on February 3. The entire US team was at the game. Midway through the first half I was returning from the bathroom to my seat when form behind me someone called out my name. I turned and immediately recognized the man who had been Grigory Granaturov's interpreter during his tenure as IBF President. His name was Valeri.


"It is good to see you"

"Yes, it has been a very long time"

"Has life been good to you?"

"Look at how much older we have both gotten"


I then asked Valeri if Grigory was still alive.


"Yes, he is. he is in poor health but he is here at the game"

"Would you like to meet him"?

"He would be very happy to see you"


"Yes, I very much would like to see him"


Grigori was sitting in the Very VIP section at Olympic Stadium. Even in the new Russia the VIP section was off limits to the common crowd. Thick, no necked, security stood at all entrances. Valeri vouched for me and up the steps we walked. I recognized Grigory sitting about 10 rows up. He was now 87. He had become a very old man. He recognized me about three rows away. A gigantic smile lit up both his large face and his eyes. I bowed my head in respect to him. Grigory required assistance in rising to his feet but then enveloped me in a still powerful Russian bear hug, kissed both my cheeks then looked me in the eyes while he held me by the shoulders. He said "It is so very good to see you again my old and dear friend". The joy that he was radiating completely engulfed me. We talked for several minutes but what was said was not what mattered. For Grigory I was a living reminder of his world before he fell onto the slope of old age and began the plummet downward. I was overwhelmed that I was seeing the Grigory Granaturov no longer restrained by the shackles of Soviet bureaucracy and IBF presidency. His humanity was beautiful to see.

I don't know if it would be called an epiphany or by the more secular term revelation but it hit me. When someone gets very old their health and physical appearance may fall apart and the world they lived their life in may be gone but they still remember what they once were. It is still who they are inside , even if covered by the passing of the years. It is a tremendous blessing to meet someone from the past who can bring to the surface the younger self that they once were, even if only for a short time. I hope that if I live into old age that I should be so fortunate.

Because of poor health the 2008 Championship game was the last bandy game Grigory Granaturov ever attended. He died in 2013 at the age of 92.