They were little more than children when they won their first gold medal six years ago in Calgary, a pair of great-looking kids thrown together by the Soviet sports system. "I was 16, and everything was too easy for me," angel-eyed Ekaterina Gordeeva said last week after capturing her second gold medal with skating partner Sergei Grinkov, her husband of three years. "The last Olympics was another life. Now I try to remember each face, each person. I try to take in everything."
The couple's second gold was won not for a Soviet system but for themselves. Or, more accurately, each won for the other and for their 17-month-old daughter, Daria, who was back in Moscow. If Gordeeva and Grinkov skated like brother and sister in 1988—lyrically, harmoniously, but without emotional tension—in 1994 they skated as husband and wife. "He puts his hand up, and hers is there," says Elaine DeMore, who was the U.S. judge in the pairs competition. "They were skating as one. But it's the inner connection between them that shines."
After winning their fourth world championship in 1990, Gordeeva and Grinkov, having tired of the intense training and monotonous repetitions of amateur skating, turned professional. They married in 1991, and four weeks after Daria's birth the following year, Gordeeva was back on the ice training. When it was announced in June 1992 that professionals would be permitted to compete in Lillehammer, Gordeeva and Grinkov leaped at the chance to participate in the Games, not because they had to, but because they chose to. "We wanted to show people how we have changed," says Gordeeva in her self-taught English. "Now I'm so happy to skate with Sergei, who I'm so in love with. When I don't feel well, when I'm nervous, I focus on him. Our choreographer, Marina Zueva, tells me, 'Forget about everyone. Skate for Sergei.' "
It was the 27-year-old Grinkov who was nervous as the pair took the ice on the night of Feb. 15 for the free-skating routine that would determine who would win what was roundly praised as the finest pairs skating competition ever held. Gordeeva and Grinkov's good friends and countrymen Natalia Mishkutienok and Artur Dmitriev, the gold medalists in 1992 in Albertville, had just given the performance of their lives—a stirring 4½-minute program that lifted the spectators out of their seats. Then the hall quieted. "Everyone was waiting for us to do something very special," Gordeeva recalls. "We felt this, too." To the gentle, haunting strains of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, Gordeeva and Grinkov began their suspension of time and space.
Several things are remarkable about the way these two skate. Grinkov, at 178 pounds, spirits himself across the ice without a sound. At 5'11", he is 10 inches taller than the 90-pound Gordeeva, yet their strides match exactly. They jump the same height off the ice. They spin at the same rate in the air.
In stark contrast to the powerful, intricate lifts of Mishkutienok and Dmitriev, Grinkov holds Gordeeva aloft and sets her down as if she were a small bird. "All their overhead moves are done at smooth, quiet speed," says DeMore. "It's so peaceful. You don't worry."
DeMore and the judging panel were so enamored of the elegant pair that they seemed to barely notice Grinkov's two glitches during the performance—singling a double Salchow and hobbling the landing on a double flip. But so quickly did Grinkov recover that even Gordeeva was unsure if he had erred until, while hugging him afterward, she asked. "He didn't answer at first, because he doesn't want to tell me bad things," she said. "Sergei, when he's jumping, is not thinking about his jumps. He is looking to see if I am landing my jumps."
Still, eight of the nine judges put Gordeeva and Grinkov ahead of Mishkutienok and Dmitriev. The search for the perfect program will carry them to the worlds next month in Chiba, Japan. "We want to skate when we're not as nervous as here, so everyone can see our best." Gordeeva says, her smile bright with joy. "We love our music. We love our costumes. We love to skate with each other."