Ekaterina Gordeeva pulls her station wagon into the nursery
school driveway like any other Simsbury, Conn., mom. She has
always had a doll-like quality about her--small-boned and
porcelain-complexioned--but now an air of brittleness and
unshakable sorrow have been added to the mix. She is 24 years
old and a widow, a treasured ornament dropped upon a hardwood
Katya, as she is known to her friends, has always been stronger
than her 5'1", 90-pound frame suggests. When she reaches the
front of the waiting line of cars, a small blonde girl stands
holding a teacher's hand. The girl is Daria, Gordeeva's
three-year-old daughter. She is towheaded, round-faced, with a
wide, crooked smile you recognize. It is her father's smile, and
the sight of her mom has brought it to light. Gordeeva smiles
back, a spot of color radiating from her translucent cheek.
Mother and daughter greet each other in Russian as Daria, who is
called Dasha, scrambles into her seat in the back. She has had a
bang-up day in school, that much is clear. "You have to smile
for her, however you are feeling," Gordeeva says, glancing back
to catch Dasha's eyes, "because she's always smiling for you."
It has been 11 weeks since that terrible day in Lake Placid,
N.Y., when, in the midst of an ordinary practice, her husband
and skating partner, 28-year-old Sergei Grinkov, collapsed on
the ice from a heart attack. Gordeeva and Grinkov--two-time
Olympic gold medalists, four-time world champions, the most
universally adored pairs skaters of all time--were working on
their new Stars on Ice program, preparing for a 50-city tour.
Their choreographer, Marina Zoueva, who had worked with them
their entire career, had flown down from Ottawa, and just the
three of them were on the ice.
February 12, 1996
They were polishing a section in which Grinkov would throw
Gordeeva, then speed up to lift her after she landed. She felt
his hands slip around her waist, but Grinkov didn't perform the
lift. She thought it must have been his back, which had been
troubling him of late. He stopped skating. "Then he was feeling
dizzy, and he held on to the boards," Gordeeva says. "He lay
down very quietly. Marina stopped the music. I kept asking
what's happening, and he didn't tell me."
Grinkov never spoke again. The emergency medical team arrived
within minutes and tried to revive his heart right there on the
ice, but he had stopped breathing. He was pronounced dead at the
An autopsy later determined that two of the arteries to his
heart had been blocked. The 5'11", 175-pound Grinkov, who had
always been in superb shape, suffered from an undiagnosed
coronary artery disease, a condition he had probably inherited
from his father, who had died at age 56, after his fourth heart
attack. When Katya was told that Sergei had died, Marina, who
had never left her side, suggested she go in and say goodbye.
"He can still hear you," Katya remembers her saying. Sergei was
wearing his skates, and as she spoke to him she unlaced them and
slipped them off.
They had skated together for nearly 14 years, since she was 11
and he was 15--a couple of great-looking kids thrown together by
the old Soviet sports system. They were hardly ever apart. Even
before their marriage, in April 1991, G&G, as they were
affectionately known in the skating community, spent more time
together than either did with his or her parents. In ballet
classes. Traveling. Training. Competing. Eating. "He always,
always took care of me," Gordeeva says. "I don't even know the
feeling of what it's like to see your husband go to a different
town or a different country for business. It only happened one
time. Sergei had a shoulder operation before our wedding. He
went to Princeton, in New Jersey, and I was very, very worried.
This is the only time I met him at the airport, and I brought
with me one rose. After this, we never leave from each other
Until death do us part. And how to tell little Dasha, who looked
so much like Sergei and had been her father's joy? The day
Grinkov died, Gordeeva's parents, who were visiting from Moscow,
were taking care of Dasha in Simsbury, where Gordeeva and
Grinkov had lived since October 1994. They flew to Lake Placid
with G&G's agent, Debbie Nast of IMG. Katya's mother, Elena,
suggested maybe they should tell Dasha that her dad was away
training. But a teacher from Dasha's school told Katya it was
important that she explain to her daughter what happened before
someone else tried. Katya was told not to be afraid to use words
like "dead" or "not coming back." And not to expect Dasha to cry
or even, necessarily, be upset. "After I told her, Dasha asks,
'But how can we see him again?'" Katya recalls. "So I said,
'He'll come to you when he wants to see you. He's like a little
angel now. Also, you can see him in your dreams. But he'll never
There was never any question where the funeral would be. "Sergei
had a Russian soul," Gordeeva says. "He only felt comfortable
there." Before the body was flown to Moscow, Nast arranged for a
wake in Saranac Lake on Nov. 21, the day after Grinkov's death,
so other skaters--and a more close-knit group of athletes than
the fraternity of professional skaters is hard to imagine--could
pay their last respects. Gordeeva went in first. Grinkov looked
as if he were sleeping, as if he were almost ready to smile. She
left a photograph of Dasha with him. "That was a time when I
felt very peaceful," she says now. "It was a chance to show our
good friends that Sergei was still beautiful. In my mind that
will always be the last day I had with Sergei."
After the peacefulness of the wake, the funeral at the Red Army
Club arena in Moscow four days later was a madhouse. Everything
was rushed. Everywhere was crowded. Father Nikolai, the Russian
Orthodox priest who had christened Gordeeva when she was 18 and
married her at 19, performed the service. Father Nikolai used to
talk to Katya and Sergei before competitions, assuring them they
were God's children, win or lose. Now God had taken Sergei back.
When Katya visited the home of Sergei's mother, it was filled
with relatives, some of whom she had never met, many of whom
were hysterical with grief. A few of them were critical of Katya
for burying Sergei in his favorite shirt and slacks instead of a
coat and tie. Grinkov's mother had never seen G&G compete
outside of Moscow, and she had little conception of the fame her
son had achieved. She blamed skating for his death. She didn't
understand that his heart condition had been a time bomb that
had nothing to do with how hard he trained or how well Katya
took care of him. "It was very hard," Katya says, the memory of
the visit bringing her to tears.
For five weeks Gordeeva remained in Moscow. Zoueva had given her
a list of things to do--the ballet, the circus, a gallery, the
symphony--and she carried them out almost robotically. She spent
a few days alone in the one-room apartment where she and Sergei
had started their married life and where they stayed when they
visited in the summer. She felt close to him there. But she
decided it wasn't the best place for Dasha, who stayed instead
in the bustling four-room apartment that Gordeeva's parents
shared with Katya's 20-year-old sister, Maria.
Gordeeva felt lost. "Since I was four years old, every day I
wake up, I put my skates on," she says. "But now, when I wake
every morning, I think, Why do I wake? My parents were there to
take care of Dasha. I didn't have anything to worry about. All I
was doing was dealing with my feelings, and this was killing me."
She was alternately angry, confused, even contrite. "It is
easier for me to believe I didn't deserve this happiness longer,
that it's my mistake, than to think that God was so ungenerous
as to take Sergei," she says. She thought back on all the
programs they had done in their career. Each had had a theme
that corresponded to the point in their lives at which they
found themselves. Springlike happiness was the theme when they
skated in the 1988 Olympics, dressed in powder blue. Performing
in '89, the year they fell in love, Gordeeva played a girl
changing into a woman. In '90 they skated to Tchaikovsky's Romeo
and Juliet. In '94, when they won their second gold, their
program was a celebration of woman as the foundation for all
mankind. At one point, skating to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata,
Grinkov got on his knees before Gordeeva, the young mother of
his child. Always, they seemed to be skating only for each other.
Then in 1995 Gordeeva and Grinkov skated to Verdi's Requiem. And
the last program they ever skated together was Pocahontas. "You
know this story?" Gordeeva asks. "He has to leave on his boat
and he cannot take her with him."
It was as if it were all somehow fated. Then Zoueva called. She
told Gordeeva that the cast of Stars on Ice, including Scott
Hamilton, Paul Wylie, Oksana Baiul and Viktor Petrenko, along
with Brian Boitano and other skaters, was giving a benefit in
Grinkov's honor on Feb. 27 in the Hartford Civic Center. They
wanted Gordeeva to walk out and take a bow. "Katya told me, 'I
want to skate. I have to skate,'" Zoueva recalls. "I said, 'All
right. You must skate for Sergei.'"
Zoueva had always believed that Gordeeva could be a beautiful
singles skater and had told her that when Grinkov was having
problems with his back. She is no great jumper--Gordeeva does
only two triple jumps: the toe loop and the Salchow--but no one
is more graceful or artistic on ice. Gordeeva asked Father
Nikolai if skating would be inappropriate during a period of
mourning. He assured her it wouldn't. More than that, he told
her, she should skate, since she loved it.
Gordeeva had left her skates in the States, so she called
Petrenko, who lives in the same condominium complex in Simsbury,
and he sent them to her. On Dec. 15 she went to the Red Army
Club to practice for the first time since Grinkov's death. "It
helped very much to be again touching the ice that was so dear
to Sergei and me," she says. "I missed his arms around me. It is
so difficult to skate alone, with no one taking care of you on
the ice. But it was good that I saw coaches and young skaters
smiling. Life was going on. This was the first step."
By New Year's, she was actually laughing again. It has always
been a special day to Katya. It was on New Year's 1989 that
Sergei first asked if he could kiss her. This year, her parents
had a small party at their new log home, outside Moscow, built
with funds Sergei and Katya had given them after winning the '94
Olympic title. At the party Katya met some of Maria's friends.
"The new life is coming," she told herself.
Shortly thereafter Katya and Dasha went home. To Simsbury. "This
condominium is the first place Sergei and I lived in that really
felt like our home," she says. Dasha's room was decorated by
Sergei, who surprised them by wallpapering and hanging the
pictures and mirrors. "His father once built a house," she says.
"I thought maybe Sergei would someday build a house for me."
It will be a long time before her memories of him dim. "I feel
sometimes like he's only out of the room, or that I can reach
him on the phone," she says. She wears his wedding ring on a
chain around her neck and has Dasha, who has Sergei's shocking
blue eyes and long eyelashes, as a daily reminder of the man she
still loves. Katya sometimes puts her face right up against
Dasha's, so they stare into each other's eyes, and asks, "Can
you see your father? I can."
Elena is living with her now, helping care for Dasha. Katya is
skating daily, working on a piece Zoueva created in honor of
everyone who has had to pull themselves up after a tragedy. She
cuts a haunting and evocative figure, ghostly and beautiful as
she glides soundlessly to the music of Mahler. Her singles
career should flourish. After the benefit she may skate again
this winter for Stars on Ice. And an endless supply of roles
awaits her in this age of the figure skating boom: in Beauty and
the Beast, Cinderella, Nutcracker on Ice. Financially, she will
The one thing she cannot picture is a return to pairs skating.
"I cannot even think of someone else's arms around me, touching
me," she says. "Since I was 11, I touched only Sergei's hand.
Never anyone else's. This way I can still think of Sergei around
me when I'm skating."
And skate she will. Gordeeva has accepted that much. "Sergei was
a man first and then a skater," she says. "Probably not like me,
who was a skater first. Then a woman. Then a mother. I wish I
was not like this. I leave all my strength, all my power, all my
feelings on the ice. If I'm not happy on the ice, I'm not happy
at home. I will try to change this, to live more for Dasha. I
give too much on the ice. I always did."