For three years, Ekaterina Gordeeva has faced the ice alone, spinning and jumping with the best. Now, she's going to try flying again. In an ice-skating show touring the country, Gordeeva is lifted high in the air by a male skater, Denis Petrov. After a few moments, Gordeeva twists elegantly downward and lands lightly on the ice.
It's the first time since her husband and longtime partner, Sergei Grinkov, suddenly died that Gordeeva has done one of these dangerous, full-extension lifts. Her colleagues and fans wondered when the moment might come, if ever. And when it first happened, in Lake Placid about a month ago, the significance was lost on no one.
"It's quite breathtaking to see her that high in the air again. She's truly happy when she's flying through the air," said Sandra Bezic, director of the Discover Stars on Ice show, which comes to the Baltimore Arena on Tuesday. It also features Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi and reigning Olympic gold medalists Ilia Kulik and Tara Lipinski.
Gordeeva had asked Bezic to be paired for one routine. "We were just truly waiting for that call," Bezic said. "We would have never asked her to do it until she was emotionally ready."
Gordeeva, known as Katia, still skates solo, and entering her third year on the pro circuit, the 27-year-old Moscow native has held her own among the world's top women skaters. Among her memorable routines are a soft, romantic skate to Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love With You" and a refreshing, coquettish version of "Giselle."
"I don't think she realizes it, but she does have something special," said Bezic, a longtime choreographer to skating's elite. "She has such a sense of flight on the ice, and speed. It's like she skims the surface. No one skates like Katia. No one has that quality, that lightness, that airiness."
Gordeeva has also made progress outside the rink.
Her wholesome image and working-mom profile landed her a lucrative, multi-year contract with Target last year, and her line of perfume, "Katia," and its bath products have sold so well that the company is launching another scent, "Katia Sport," next spring. When she's made store appearances, lines of fans have circled the building waiting to see her.
She's also penned a follow-up to her best seller, "My Sergei." Written to her 6-year-old daughter, "A Letter to Daria" is a children's book full of the wisdom of Gordeeva's mother and grandmother.
Gordeeva has decided not to compete this year, pointing to younger skaters and their jumping ability. She also has a back injury. But she is on the 62-city tour, and she continues to forge a career separate from the man who was the love of her life, the professional partner with whom she captured Olympic gold medals in 1988 and 1994.
It's meant that instead of Grinkov throwing her into a jump, she must pay more attention. She had to learn to jump up and out.
"I still have difficulties with my jumps, because it's something that you miss from the very beginning. You have to learn from the very beginning," Gordeeva said. She's been working particularly hard on the double axel and the triple toe loop. She has also had to learn spins she never did before.
But the heart of her burden isn't in individual moves: It's simply in going solo.
"The major thing for me was to physically be on the ice alone," she said last week. "This is something I still don't feel very comfortable with."
It also emphasizes the loss in so many other areas of her life.
"It's not just losing a partner and not just going from pairs to single," Bezic said. "It's losing everything that you stood for in your life: your husband, the father of your child, losing your identity as an Olympic pair champion."
With Sergei, it had all been perfected. From the time she was paired with him at age 11, Gordeeva spent 15 years growing and learning with him. Over the years, they fell in love, and as their love deepened, so did their skating. Besides picking up two gold medals, for several years, they captured first place in most of the competitions they entered.
"G & G," as they were called, were the standard against which all others were judged. Every spin, every lift, every move of a finger, impeccable, in sync.
The songs they skated to mapped the story of their lives: from "Romeo and Juliet," "Still Loving You" and Moonlight Sonata, to "Crazy for You" and "The Man I Love."
In November 1995, it ended abruptly when Gordeeva and Grinkov were practicing in Lake Placid, N.Y. During one of the high waves of orchestra music, Grinkov, 28, didn't put his hands around Gordeeva's waist for the lift. He was bent over slightly. Out of control, he glided into the boards.
Within moments, a choreographer was doing CPR on Grinkov, and Gordeeva was crying, running to the other rink, trying to remember the English word for help. Later, in the hospital, a doctor told her Grinkov died of a heart attack. When she saw him afterward, Gordeeva kissed and hugged and whispered to him, then unlaced his skating boots.
From those terrible moments, skating brought her back. She once described it this way: "Skating was the only thing that could bring back my confidence, because it's the only thing I can do I can't draw, I can't write, I can't paint."
And no one will soon forget her return one year after Grinkov's death, at a show celebrating his life, in the same rink where he had died. Top skaters stood close by as she skated alone for the first time since she was a girl, telling the story of her heartbreak and rekindled hope to the wrenching rhythms of composer Gustav Mahler.
Gordeeva has adopted Simsbury, Conn., as her hometown in the United States, and the place has become quite protective of her, sending flowers and gifts after Grinkov's death and later installing a permanent plaque at the skating rink in his honor.
"People are very proud of her," said Mary Glassman, mayor of Simsbury, an affluent town an hour from Hartford. "She went through a very difficult time and still trained. She's very quietly made friendships with residents."
Her daughter, Daria, is now in first grade. Gordeeva's parents live with them and watch her while Gordeeva is on tour. The child is at home on the ice, but her mother said it will be up to her if she wants to pursue skating someday as a career.
"I'm not expecting anything from her," Gordeeva said. "She likes to skate now, and I'm giving her this opportunity."
Mother and daughter did appear together last year in a Christmas television special sponsored by Target. The story line was similar to Gordeeva's life. It was about a young single mother who returns to her hometown with her little girl. The mother hadn't skated since she left, and she is disillusioned with life.
But one night, while Gordeeva is out on the ice alone, a snowman comes to life. He begins to skate and dance with Gordeeva. As the story goes, she finds the magic again.
Fans will see that magical quality in Tuesday's show. Besides skating with Petrov and two other Russians in a quartet number, Gordeeva skates alone to a song composed by Sting, "Fragile."
She sways along with the music, working the ice with intricate steps, her brown hair and yellow flowered dress blowing in the wind she creates. Around her, the music is singing, "How fragile we are, how fragile we are," but as she lands a triple jump, and the crowd roars, Katia Gordeeva seems anything but.
What: Discover Stars on Ice show
Who: Some of the world's top figure skaters, including Ekaterina Gordeeva, Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Ilia Kulik, Tara Lipinski and Jenni Meno and Todd Sand
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Baltimore Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.
Tickets: $32, $45 and $55
Call: Baltimore Arena box office at 410-347-2010 or TicketMaster at 410-481-SEAT
Pub Date: 12/24/98