Gordeeva, Ekaterina

views updated Jun 08 2018

Ekaterina Gordeeva


Russian figure skater

Figure skater Ekaterina Gordeeva, who skated with partner Sergei Grinkov, won four World Championships and two Olympic gold medals in pairs skating. Although her career was temporarily halted by Grinkov's tragic death in 1995, she has continued to skate as a solo professional.

An Early Start

Gordeeva was born in 1971 in the Soviet capital of Moscow. Her mother was a teletype operator for the Soviet news agency, Tass, and her father was a dancer for the Alexandrov Song and Dance Ensemble of the Soviet Army. From her father, Gordeeva inherited a talent for graceful movement. She began skating when she was four years old.

In 1982, when Gordeeva was eleven years old, she began skating with Sergei Grinkov, who was four years her senior, at the Central Army Club in Moscow. They developed a close relationship, much like that of a brother and sister; according to E. M. Swift in Sports Illustrated, they skated "lyrically, harmoniously, but without emotional tension."

In 1984, they competed in the junior world championships, coming in fifth; in the year after that, they won a gold medal. In 1986, they won the first of four world championships. They would take the world title again in 1987, 1989, and 1990.

First Olympic Gold

The pair won an Olympic gold medal in 1998, in Calgary. Gordeeva was sixteen, and Grinkov was twenty. In Sports Illustrated, E.M. Swift quoted skating champion and choreographer Sandra Bezic, who said, "He presented her so beautifully, like a cherished little sister. They are everything pairs skating should be."

After winning their fourth world championship, in 1990, the pair quit amateur competition, and joined Tom Collins's Tour of World Champions, planning to skate for four or five years, make some money, and then move on to separate careers. However, their plans changed when they fell in love during the Collins tour. Collins told Leigh Montville in Sports Illustrated, "You could see it happen. It was all very sweet. They were with each other all the time."

Gordeeva told Joanna Powell in Good Housekeeping, "There was something special about us. We never changed partners. I never skated with anyone else. I never touched anyone else, only Sergei. After we became lovers, our skating started to become more sensitive and more beautiful."

The two skaters were married in April of 1991, in Moscow; in 1992 they had a daughter, Daria.

Second Gold Medal

Historically, professional athletes were not allowed to compete in the Olympics, but in 1992, these rules were changed, making Gordeeva and Grinkov eligible to compete in the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. Skating to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, the pair, now married and parents, won another gold medal.

After winning their second Olympic gold medal, Gordeeva and Grinkov moved to Simsbury, Connecticut in 1994, and skated in the Stars on Ice tour.

A Tragic Loss

On November 20, 1995, tragedy struck when the 28-year-old Grinkov died unexpectedly while he and Gordeeva were rehearsing for a Stars on Ice show at a rink in Lake Placid, New York. Gordeeva later wrote in her memoir, My Sergei, "Sergei was gliding on the ice, but he didn't do the crossovers. His hands didn't go around my waist for the lift. He couldn't control himself. He tried to stop, but he kept gliding into the boards. He tried to hold onto the boards. Then he bent hisknees and lay down on the ice very carefully. I kept asking what was happening. But he didn't speak at all."

Grinkov, who had appeared to be completely healthy except for a problem with high blood pressure, had suffered a massive heart attack. After his death, doctors determined that two of the arteries in his heart had been completely blocked. Heart disease ran in his family; his father had died from a heart attack in his fifties.

Gordeeva took Grinkov's body home to Moscow for the funeral and spent three months in Russia. Although she considered giving up skating forever, she realized that she was not trained to do anything else. In addition, she missed the feel and flow of skating, and she decided to return to the ice.

In early 1996, three months after Grinkov's death, she skated again, solo, at a tribute to Grinkov in Hartford, Connecticut. The transition from pairs skating to solo skating was difficult, but Gordeeva told Lopez, "You can't lock yourself inside yourself or you'll die. My mother told me you have to get up now. You have a daughter to live for." When Gordeeva returned as a single skater, observers were impressed by what Powell called her "elegant fusion of raw emotion and gentle, ballerina-style grace." Fellow skater Brian Boitano told Lopez, "People are mesmerized by her."

According to Mark Starr in Newsweek, Gordeeva said after that performance, "I want you to know I skated tonight not alone. I skated with Sergei. That's why it was so good."

However, she also said, "My life of great skating, and skating with him, is over," according to Steve Lopez in Time. "I don't try to go now for Olympics. I take skating for a job."

In 1996, Gordeeva published My Sergei, a tribute to her late husband and partner. By 1998, the book had sold more than one million copies in both hardcover and paperback, testifying both to Gordeeva's popularity and to the public's fascination with the intensely romantic relationship between the two skaters. For Gordeeva, writing the book helped her express her love and her grief, but it also reminded her of his death; she quit her book tour early because she found it too difficult to be constantly reminded of the tragedy. The book was later adapted for television; "My Sergei" aired on CBS in winter of 1998.

Later in 1996, she began skating in the Stars on Ice show, joining other former Olympians for the 57-city tour.

In 1997, Gordeeva moved out of the condominium she had shared with Grinkov and into a five-bedroom house in Simsbury. She told Powell that she felt weighted down by memories in the condo: "I felt I couldn't start anything new while I was there. It reminded me too much of [Grinkov]."

Gordeeva also appeared in "Snowden on Ice" in 1997. The hour-long CBS special featured Gordeeva as a young woman who, with the help of a magical snowman, rediscovers her love for skating. Her daughter Daria also appeared in the special.

In 1998, Gordeeva published A Letter for Daria, a children's book of reminiscences and advice for her daughter.

A New Life

In that same year, Gordeeva met Ilia Kulik, who had won a gold medal in men's figure skating at the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Eventually, they became romantically involved.

Gordeeva and Kulik had a daughter, Elizaveta, born in June of 2001, and Gordeeva cut back her skating in order to spend more time with Elizaveta and Daria. Of Gordeeva's relationship with Kulik, a People reporter noted that Gordeeva's manager, Deb Nast, said, "She's found love again."

On June 10, 2002, Gordeeva and Kulik were married in San Francisco. Gordeeva, who was considering moving from skating into coaching other skaters, said she wanted to stay close to home. "I'm trying to live more for the kids," she told Jason Lynch and Susan Horsburgh in People.


Address: c/o IMG, 22 East 71st Street, New York, NY 10021-4911.


(With E.M. Swift) My Sergei: A Love Story, Warner, 1996.


1971Born May 28 in Moscow, Soviet Union (now Russia)
1975Begins skating at the Central Army Club in Moscow
1982Begins partnership with Sergei Grinkov
1984Competes in junior world championships
1985Competes in junior world championships
1986Wins first of four world championships
1988Competes in Calgary Olympics
1990Quits amateur competition to become professional skater
1991Marries Grinkov
1992Gives birth to daughter Daria
1994Competes in Lillehammer Olympic Games
1994Begins skating for Stars on Ice
1995Grinkov dies from a heart attack
1996Begins solo skating career
1998Meets skater Ilia Kulik, becomes romantically involved
2001Gives birth to daughter, Elizaveta
2002Marries Kulik; considers a career in coaching

Awards and Accomplishments

1985Gold medal, junior world championships
1986-87, 1989-90Gold medal, world championships
1988Gold medal, Calgary Olympics
1994Gold medal, Lillehammer Olympics

A Letter for Daria, Little, Brown, 1998.

Related Biography: Skater Sergei Grinkov

Born in Moscow on February 4, 1967, Sergei Grinkov was the son of Anna and Mikhail Grinkov, both officers in the Soviet Interior Ministry police. When he was five years old, his parents saw an advertisement in the paper saying that the Soviet Union was looking for its next group of Olympic champions, and they brought him to the Central Army skating rink for a free lesson. Grinkov was not an immediate sensation; his performance was uneven. However, he loved skating and preferred physical training to academic studies.

When he was fourteen, his coach, Stanislav Zhuk, suggested that he become a pairs skater. Grinkov was matched with the eleven-year-old Ekaterina Gordeeva, and initially told his coach, according to William Plummer in People, "I could never lift this girl!"

However, in time the two skaters developed a deep rapport, and won their first world title in 1986. In 1988 they won a gold medal at the Calgary Olympics, and won another gold at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994. They had been married in 1991 and had a daughter, Daria, and their new maturity gave depth and passion to their performance. Audiences were mesmerized both by their artistic and technical skill and by the obvious passion and romance between the two.

Their partnership ended tragically when Grinkov died suddenly on November 20, 1995, while training for a Stars on Ice show in Lake Placid, New York. Gordeeva took his body back to Russia, and he was buried in Moscow's Vaganskovskoye Cemetery.



Ehrenpreis, Yael. "Death of a Skater." Science World (February 23, 1996): 7.

"Ekaterina Gordeeva." People (March 15, 1999): 274.

Gordeeva, Ekaterina. "Oh Why Did You Pick Me?" Excerpt from My Sergei: A Love Story, in Newsweek (December 23, 1996): 58.

Kantrowitz, Barbara. "Beyond the Tears." People (March 25, 1996): 78.

Kelleher, Terry. "Dramatic Turns." People (November 24, 1997): 17.

Lodge, Sally. "Skating Star Shines Again as Author." Publishers Weekly (May 4, 1998): 27.

Lopez, Steve. "Life After the Glory." Time (January 26, 1998): 64.

Lynch, Jason, and Susan Horsburgh. "Melting the Ice." People (January 13, 2003): 125.

Montville, Leigh. "Love Story." Sports Illustrated (December 4, 1995): 34.

"My Sergei: A Love Story." Chatelaine (March 1997): 137.

Plummer, William. "Soulmates on Ice." People (December 11, 1995): 124.

Powell, Joanna. "Everything Reminds Me of Sergei." Good Housekeeping (November 1997): 104.

Starr, Mark. "Solo But Not Alone." Newsweek (December 23, 1996): 56.

Swift, E.M. "Gordeeva and Grinkov." Sports Illustrated (February 28, 1994): 48.

Swift, E.M. "A Magical Twosome." Sports Illustrated (February 29, 1988): 36.

Swift, E.M. "She Was Not Alone." Sports Illustrated (December 30, 1996): 74.

"Twice Blessed." People (April 30, 2001): 58.

Sketch by Kelly Winters

Ekaterina Gordeeva

views updated May 18 2018

Ekaterina Gordeeva

From triumph to tragedy and back, Ekaterina Gordeeva (born 1971) is not only a champion ice skater, but also a symbol of grace, strength, and courage.

At age 11, Ekaterina Gordeeva (called Katia by her friends) became one of a pair-a pair of "G's"-Gordeeva and Grinkov. In their 13 years of skating together, Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov were first co-workers, became friends, then fell in love, married, became parents, and won four World championships and two Olympic gold medals. However, in 1995, the magic tragically ended when Grinkov died of a heart attack. At only 24, Gordeeva became a widow, a single mother, and solo skater. As she told Time writer Steve Wulf, "Skating was the only thing that could bring back my confidence because it's the only thing I can do. I'm so happy to have a place to express my feelings." Fans worldwide, including former Olympic champion and commentator Dick Button were also happy again. Button, in Time, described Gordeeva as "a very elegant snowflake, but one that is made of steel."

Gordeeva was born in Moscow, Russia, in 1971. Her father, Alexander Alexeyevich Gordeev, a folk dancer for the Moiseev Dance Company, wanted Gordeeva to become a ballet dancer. Her mother, Elena Levovna, was a teletype operator for the Soviet news agent Tass. Gordeeva's parents both worked hard and traveled so much that Gordeeva and her sister, Maria, often stayed with their grandparents. Gordeeva's grandmother read Grimm's fairytales to Gordeeva, not knowing that's how Gordeeva would later describe her life-like a fairytale. Gordeeva, in My Sergei,also commented that "I was the luckiest girl on earth, wanting for nothing." At four, too young to try out for ballet as her father had wanted, Gordeeva was invited by a trainer at the Central Red Army Skating Club in Moscow for a skating tryout. By the time she turned five years old, Gordeeva was practicing four times a week. In My Sergei, Gordeeva remembered, "I can't miss it. It's my job." However, pushed by her father, Gordeeva did try out for ballet school at age ten, but failed. She continued skating and one year later was paired with Grinkov.

Gordeeva and Grinkov-"G & G:" The Fairytale Begins

In December 1983, after a coaching change and just one year of training, Gordeeva & Grinkov finished sixth in the Junior World Championships. The next year, they won. Gordeeva was 13 and began to see Grinkov as more than just her skating partner. In My Sergei, Gordeeva recalled, "I remember becoming aware that I found him attractive, and that it was nice to be with him." However, they never spent much off-ice time together. In 1985, Gordeeva & Grinkov had to endure another coaching change. However, this new coach was a tyrant. Stanislav Zhuk, head coach at the Central Red Army Skating Club, pushed Gordeeva & Grinkov too hard, overtraining them while he drank every day. In spite of this, in their first senior level skating competition, Gordeeva & Grinkov finished second. A few months later, at the European Championships, they won. They then also won the World Championships. Yet, Gordeeva was not happy. In My Sergei she reviewed their performance, "we just proceeded from element to element without feeling, intent only on not making mistakes." In 1986, after petitioning the Central Red Army Skating Club to remove Zhuk as their coach, Gordeeva & Grinkov found joy once again in their skating with their new coach, Stanislav Leonovich.

In 1987, Gordeeva & Grinkov continued their winning streak by placing first at the Russian Nationals. However, they were disqualified at the European Championships because they refused to reskate their long program after a problem with their music. They quickly rebounded however, successfully defended their world title and then began their first American tour with skating promoter Tom Collins. Finally, much to the happiness of Gordeeva, Gordeeva & Grinkov spent off-ice time together. In My Sergei Gordeeva remembered a trip to Disneyland, "Sergei bought me some ice cream. A couple of times he he hugged me after a ride, or put his arm around me when we were standing in line. He had never done this before, and it made me excited. This was a wonderful day for me."

Gordeeva & Grinkov's first Olympics in 1988 was filled with nerves, homesickness, and sickness-Sergei had the flu. However, the nerves did wear off, Grinkov recovered, and they skated both their short and long programs successfully and won the gold medal. However, Gordeeva being just 16, was left behind when Grinkov, 21, celebrated with his older friends. In My Sergei, Gordeeva stated, "I don't remember Sergei … probably because I was so wrapped up in the competition."

In the fall of 1988, Gordeeva was diagnosed as having a stress fracture in her right foot. Gordeeva was sad that she could not skate. Yet Grinkov came up with an idea. As Gordeeva remembered in My Sergei, "Sergei asked, "So you like to skate? Come on. I'll give you a little ride." Grinkov picked up Gordeeva and carried her in his arms as he skated their program. By now they were both falling in love and on New Year's Eve, they finally kissed. Because of Gordeeva's stress fracture, they did not skate in the European Championships that year. However, they did skate at the World Championships in Paris-they won and everyone, friends, fans, and judges alike, saw how much they were in love.

Husband and Wife

In 1990, Gordeeva turned 18 and while she had to adjust to a new grown-up body, Grinkov had to live with pain in his shoulder. At the European Championships, skating to "Romeo and Juliet, " Gordeeva & Grinkov won another title. They next won the World Championships, but skated weakly, feeling burnt out. Hoping for more off-ice time together, they rejoined the Tom Collins skating tour. However, tragedy struck-Grinkov's father died of a heart attack. A few months later, Grinkov suggested to Gordeeva that they turn professional. They did and by 1991 they had won their first of three World Professional Championships. However, winning skating competitions was not the only joy in their lives. The couple married on April 28, 1991.

After Grinkov's shoulder surgery, they returned to the skating tour and began their new life together on the road. However, that life was about to change. In January of 1992, Gordeeva discovered she was pregnant. The couple continued to skate for four months, then awaited the birth of their daughter. Five months later, on September 11, 1992, Daria was born. In My Sergei, Gordeeva recollected, "Daria weighed five pounds, four ounces, and was in perfect health. The fact that she had no hair drove me crazy. I was such a sad, funny little mom."

Just 19 days after Daria's birth, Gordeeva was back on the ice. By October, after deciding to leave their daughter with Gordeeva's mother in Moscow, Gordeeva & Grinkov began rehearsals for the Stars on Ice skating tour in Lake Placid, New York. Two months later, Gordeeva & Grinkov successfully defended their World Professional Championship title, but they missed Daria's first Christmas.

Gordeeva & Grinkov returned home to Moscow in May 1993. After petitioning the International Skating Union to reinstate their amateur status, they began training for their second Olympics. With their new long program, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, they won the Russian Nationals and the European championships. Gordeeva & Grinkov were ready for the 1994 Olympics. However, at the Olympics, they did not skate perfectly-Grinkov had done a single instead of a double jump-still they won their second gold medal. Yet even with their performance not being perfect, Gordeeva stated in My Sergei that she was happy because, "the first gold medal we had won for the Soviet Union. This one we won for each other."

Life After The Olympics

After the Olympics, Gordeeva & Grinkov returned to the professional ice skating world and toured in the United States. However, this tour was different because they had finally found a home in Simsbury, Connecticut. In December of 1994, Gordeeva & Grinkov won their third and last World Professional Championship. The couple took the spring off when Grinkov hurt his back. As they trained later that summer, Grinkov's back continued to hurt, yet Gordeeva & Grinkov completed a tour with Stars on Ice. They then returned to Lake Placid, New York, to practice a new program-a program Gordeeva would never skate with Grinkov.

On November 20, 1995, Gordeeva & Grinkov began a run-through of their new program, but Grinkov had not put his arms around Gordeeva for their lift. In My Sergei, Gordeeva said she thought it was his back again, but Grinkov shook his head then "bent his knees and lay down on the ice very carefully." At 28, Grinkov died of a heart attack. In My Sergei, a few days later at Grinkov's wake, Gordeeva remembered telling 1984 Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton, "It was too perfect, maybe. It's only fairytales that have happy endings. Everything was too good with me and Sergei for it to end happily."

A New Life: Skating Solo

On February 27, 1996, Gordeeva began her new life as a solo skater in a televised tribute to Grinkov, A Celebration of a Life. Author E.M. Swift in Sports Illustrated described her performance: "Gordeeva exposed her soul with such gentleness and pathos and strength that no one watching could remain unmoved. This was a rarity: sport, art, and tragedy fused into one." In My Sergei, after her performance, Gordeeva remembered speaking to the audience: "I'm so happy I was able to show you my skating. But I also want you to know that I skated today not alone. I skated with Sergei. It's why I was so good. It wasn't me."

The Gordeeva & Grinkov fairytale has ended. However, Gordeeva continued to not only skate in professional competitions and TV specials like Beauty and the Beast and Snowden on Ice, as well as in the Stars on Ice tour, but she also wrote My Sergei, a memoir of her and Grinkov's life together. In February of 1998, CBS televised an adaptation of this memoir with Gordeeva as narrator. This TV movie showed both the on-and off-ice magic of "G & G" and offered one last look at their fairytale. In May, her second book, A Letter for Daria, was published and the Target department store launched its "Katia" fragrance line.

Gordeeva has become a symbol of grace, strength, and courage not only for ice skating fans, but also for her daughter, Daria. In My Sergei, Gordeeva promised Grinkov, "I will always take good care of her. She'll be the happiest girl ever." Gordeeva also believes, as she told Joanna Powell in Good Housekeeping, that Daria "is a gift from God. When Sergei died she was such a help because she needed attention and I had to take care of her. I think she drove me back to a normal life." As Gordeeva continues to live this normal life, she offered this advice in My Sergei to everyone, "Try to find happiness in everyday. At least once, smile to each other everyday. And say just one extra time that you love the person who lives with you. Just say, 'I love you."'

Further Reading

Gordeeva, Ekaterina, with E.M. Swift. My Sergei: A Love Story, Warner Books, Inc., 1996.

Good Housekeeping, November 1997, pp. 104-107.

Newsweek, December 23, 1996, pp. 56-59.

Sports Illustrated, February 28, 1994, p. 48-49; Dec. 30, 1996-Jan. 6, 1997, p. 74.

Time, December 4, 1995, p. 89.