NAGANO, Japan -- She is skating's most controversial star, a mercurial performer who changes her hair color, her clothing style, even her name at a moment's notice. One opponent has slashed her with a skate. Another once smashed her face into a bar.
She is Pasha Grishuk, and, with her partner Yevgeny Platov, she is out for an ice dancing gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
The tempestuous Russians, who train in Marlboro, Mass., are the reigning Olympic champions. They will hit the ice during tomorrow's first phase of the ice dancing competition. And by the time the race for the gold ends Monday, there could actually be blood on the ice.
At last month's European championships, Grishuk and Platov were twice slashed during practice collisions with their Russian teammates, Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov. Both teams put the incidents -- in which skate blades tore through clothing and pierced skin -- down to mere accidents.
But two collisions? In practice?
It's all part of the bitter byplay in a sport in which the athletes wear their emotions on their sequins.
Or in Grishuk's case, her hair. She has appeared in rainbow shades over the years, finally settling on platinum blond. She also paints her fingernails to match her costumes. This year's look seems to have settled on purple.
"Change hair. Change image. No problem," she said. "If you always look the same, you look boring."
Nobody ever accused Grishuk of being dull. Her favorite actress is Sharon Stone. She says Robert DeNiro is "a god." She would like to get in the movies. But for now, she'll settle on dominating figure skating.
Grishuk has built her career on emotion and artistry. As Oksana Grishuk, she and Platov won the 1994 Winter Olympics gold, out-shaking and out-skating the legendary British pair of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean.
They also edged their married Russian rivals, Maia Usova and Aleksandr Zhulin. It was a bitter contest, complicated by a love triangle. Grishuk and Zhulin had an affair after the 1992 Games. On a post-Olympic tour, Usova was able to get her revenge when she walked into Spago's restaurant in Hollywood.
According to David Wallechinsky's "Complete Book of the Winter Olympics," Usova spotted "Grishuk sipping a margarita, came up behind her, grabbed her hair and smashed her head against the counter."
Despite the off-ice intrigue, Grishuk figured that by winning the 1994 gold, she had established her identity as a star. But she discovered that people in skating kept confusing her with another Oksana, the 1994 Olympic women's champion, Oksana Baiul.
What made the confusion even more galling for Grishuk is that she didn't even get along with Baiul, who was involved in a car accident last year under the influence of alcohol.
"I don't want to be confused with Oksana Baiul anymore," Grishuk said before the Champions Series Finals last December in Munich. "Not anymore. The bad Oksana. The criminal Oksana. Everywhere I went, people were looking at me strange. Unfortunately, she is popular in the United States."
So, on Sept. 29, 1997, Grishuk changed her name to Pasha, to suit her passionate personality.
When she skates, Grishuk is as compelling as any performer on ice. Her moves are fluid and her face is flushed with intensity. She can be comical or dramatic.
Platov, her partner of nearly nine years, has dealt with Grishuk's moods, moves and greatness.
"It's like being a husband and a wife," he said. "Sometimes, you fight. Sometimes, you walk away and calm down. I met her a long time ago, and I still remember her as a little girl on the ice. She was so little. So active. Usually, little girls are boring. But that girl. Oh, there was a fire on ice."
Grishuk admits she is aggressive when it comes to skating.
"When we try a new program, Yevgeny would say, 'Oh, darling, let's try it without speed,' " she said. "And I am trying to always go fast. Every year we are becoming more understanding of each other. We are becoming closer as athletes. I'd like to get some of his emotion. He is so classy."
For these Games, the couple will try to win a gold with a free dance called "Memorial."
"Our souls are screaming," Grishuk said. "It's about all the hard things we went through. All the survival. It's a scream of our souls."
But to the top Canadian ice dancing team, Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, the piece looks recycled.
To say these Canadians don't get along with the Russians would be an understatement. At the Champions Series Finals, the couples bickered.
Grishuk said she could do the Canadians' "Riverdance" routine in a heartbeat. One of Grishuk's relatives even got into the fray by lambasting the Canadians for their original-dance piece.
The relative, who was wearing a press pass, claimed the Canadians weren't dancing to rock and roll. The Canadian couple responded that the Beatles are, indeed, rock 'n' roll.
"It seems like every year the Russians pick the same kind of TC music and the same kind of programs," Kraatz said.
"They pick that slow, sad music. It seems like all they have to do different is change the expression on their faces."
But the old songs, and old styles, still seem to work with the judges.
Grishuk and Platov have fallen in several competitions. But each time they have gotten up to extend their winning streak to more than 20.
And they expect to win here.
"Our goal is to win the second gold," Grishuk said. "We keep it in our mind. Every night. Every day. We think of the gold."
Pub Date: 2/12/98