Gordeeva, Ekaterina (1971—)

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Gordeeva, Ekaterina (1971—)

Russian ice skater who, paired with husband Sergei Grinkov, won four World championships and two Olympic gold medals. Name variations: Yekaterina Gordeyeva. Born in Russia in 1971; eldest of two daughters of Alexander Alexeyevich Gordeev (a dancer for the Moiseev Dance Company) and Elena (Levovna) Gordeeva (a teletype operator for the Soviet news agency Tass); married Sergei Grinkov (her skating partner), in April 1991 (died on November 20, 1995); children: one daughter, Daria.

On the evening of February 5, 1996, at the Hartford (Connecticut) Civic Center, Ekaterina Gordeeva took to the ice for the first time since the death of her beloved husband and skating partner Sergei Grinkov, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack at a routine practice session on November 20, 1995. The occasion was a tribute to the fallen skater, an exhibition performed by his close colleagues and friends. Gordeeva's solo, created by the couple's long-time choreographer Marina Zueva and performed to Mahler's Symphony No. 5, IV Adagietto, was the show's closing number followed only by a finale. The performance was not only Gordeeva's first appearance since her husband's death, but the first time the skater had ever performed in front of an audience without a partner. Waiting to go onto the ice, she was overcome with loneliness. "I thought about the words Sergei used to say to me when we were getting ready to skate," she wrote in her autobiography My Sergei. "We always kissed each other before we skated, we always hugged and touched each other. Now, in the tunnel, waiting to go on the ice, I didn't have anyone to touch or kiss. It was a terrible feeling to be standing there by myself." But as Gordeeva made her way to the ice, the loneliness disappeared, replaced by a surge of confidence. "I never felt so much power in myself, so much energy. I'd start a movement, and someone would finish it for me. I didn't have a thing in my head. It was all in my heart, all in my soul."

Ekaterina Gordeeva (known as Katia) is the eldest of two daughters of Alexander Gordeev, a dancer with the Moiseev Dance Company, and Elena Gordeeva . Since Elena had an important position with the Soviet news agency Tass and worked long hours, Ekaterina and her sister Maria Gordeeva were cared for much of the time by their grandmother. The family spent summers at a shared house north of Moscow. There, Gordeeva spent her days outdoors, playing, or hunting mushrooms and fishing with her grandfather. She remembers her childhood as a happy time, filled with pleasant memories.

Gordeeva's father, who wanted her to become a ballet dancer, was extremely disappointed when Ekaterina failed the entrance tests at the central ballet school in Moscow because she was too short. She redeemed herself somewhat by showing considerable promise on the ice, and she trained rigorously throughout her early years at one of the many sports clubs sponsored by the Central Red Army Club. When she was nine, it was determined that her jumps were too weak for her to compete as a singles skater, so her subsequent training was in preparation for pairs competition.

Gordeeva was 11 when she was teamed with Sergei Grinkov, a tall, gawky 15-year-old who exercised a slightly rebellious streak by shunning the mandatory school uniform for more stylish street wear. Despite the fact that Grinkov towered over Gordeeva, whose head barely reached his armpits, the couple learned to move as one and to execute their difficult lifts, jumps, spins, and tosses seemingly without effort. They won their first Junior World championships just two years after they were paired, an event which also encompassed their first trip to the United States. They would go on to win 13 additional events, including a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary and a second in Lillehammer in 1994, then turn professional.

Between Olympics, the couple had fallen in love. Gordeeva said it was a natural progression, almost inevitable. "First we were skating partners. Then we were friends. Then we were close friends. Then we were lovers. Then husband and wife. Then parents." They were married in Moscow in April 1991, and their daughter Daria was born 18 months later in the United States. The stunning program to Moonlight Sonata that they executed in Lillehammer was actually choreographed to represent the couple's mature relationship. "It expresses what changes love can bring about in people," Gordeeva writes, "how it can made them stronger, make them have more respect for each other. How it can give them the ability to bring a new life into the world." Gordeeva, who remembered little about her first Olympic competition, seemed to have a heightened consciousness during the second try for the gold at Lillehammer. "You cannot describe these four minutes of skating in words, but I was aware of every movement that I was making, conscious of the meaning behind these movements and conscious of what Sergei was doing. It is a clarity that one so seldom finds elsewhere in life, a clarity any athlete can relate to, moments in time that we remember the rest of our lives. I believe it is why we compete."

One year later, on November 20, 1995, the couple were training in Lake Placid, New York, for a tour with Stars on Ice. They arrived at the rink at 10 am to rehearse some changes in their program made the night before. As Sergei was preparing for an expansive lift, he faltered, lost control, and glided into the boards. Gordeeva thought he might be suffering from his recurring back problem, but when she questioned Sergei, he clutched the boards, unable to speak. Then he bent his knees and lay down on the ice. He lived long enough to make it to the hospital but died shortly thereafter. Just 28, he had suffered a massive heart attack, the result of undiagnosed heart disease.

Following a small wake at Lake Placid, Sergei was taken home to Moscow. "Sergei had a Russian soul," writes Gordeeva. "He was only comfortable there." A huge public service was held at the ice rink of Moscow's Central Red Army Club, followed by a hero's burial in Vagankovsky Cemetery. Afterwards, Gordeeva remained in Moscow, living in the small apartment where she and Sergei had begun their married life. "I felt I was slowly losing myself," she writes of the weeks that followed Sergei's death. "I had no purpose in my life, nothing to strive for. My parents were there to take care of Daria, so I didn't have that to worry about. All I was doing was dealing with my feeling and this was killing me." So Gordeeva sent for her skates and started practicing again at the Central Red Army Club rink. When the call came asking her to make an appearance at Sergei's tribute, she was reluctant, but choreographer Marina Zueva insisted that she should not only make an appearance, but skate, and offered to create a program for her.

Gordeeva continues to skate professionally, although without the confidence she had at Sergei's tribute. She does not want her daughter to be a skater, and is seeing to it that Daria spends more time in school than she did, so that she will have more career options. "I think I'll be learning a lot of things from Daria in the future," she writes. "I already am learning from her. Sergei never taught me things. He protected me; he loved me; he took care of me; he comforted me. But it is only with his death that I start to learn about life. Only now has he started to teach me."


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

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts