Simone Grigorescu's story: from Romanian defection to the limelight on ice

February 19, 1991|By Eric Siegel

You can almost see the title of the made-for-TV-movie: "The Simone Grigorescu Story: Soul on Ice."

Or hear the talk show promos: "Today, we'll talk to a beautiful world-class skater whose family defected from Romania years before the overthrow of the Communist despot, Nicolae Ceausescu."

But don't count on either happening: Though Ms. Grigorescu is certainly willing to tell her story, she is not one to sensationalize it.

"I don't think everything you feel should be on 'Geraldo,' " said the 30-year-old skater, who will appear at the Baltimore Arena with the Ice Capades tomorrow through Sunday. "Some things should be left private.

"I don't think my case is so incredibly unique," she added. "It's unique to me. It sounds wonderful and glamorous but it was a nightmare. My parents in particular suffered a great deal from this ordeal."

Ms. Grigorescu's story begins in Bucharest, where she started skating on a pond near her family's apartment, eventually becoming her country's junior champion. She was oblivious to the oppression that led to a revolution in 1989.

"I had a fun-filled childhood," she recalled in a telephone interview. "My parents were both professionals. We lived in a decent apartment. We had furniture, we had food to eat."

But, as she would learn later, her father was chafing under the constraints of the regime. He abandoned his job as a construction engineer because of bureaucratic restrictions and began a career as a musician.

During an engagement in Yugoslavia, he was joined by his wife and daughter. Late one night, they bolted, hitchhiking to Austria, then moving to Germany, never to return.

"I was frightened of what was going to happen to us," remembered Ms. Grigorescu, who was 12 at the time. "My understanding of what was going on was not great, but I knew there was some danger."

After eight months in West Germany, her family came to the United States so she could take advantage of the facilities and coaching. They settled in Brooklyn.

"The U.S. was much harder for us than Germany," Ms. Grigorescu said. "In Germany, the government provided for us a lot more. Financially, we were a lot better off. In the U.S., it was a complete impossibility for my parents to practice their professions."

Her mother, a lawyer, took whatever work she could find; her father, turned down for engineering jobs because he couldn't speak English, worked as a night guard.

"The first couple of years here were a nightmare," she allowed. "My parents made great sacrifices for me to keep skating."

At first, she could only afford to skate once or twice a week. But that was enough to get her noticed by the coaches, who found the necessary financial aid to step up her training.

Ms. Grigorescu, who now lives in Denver, was one of the country's top amateur skaters in 1979 and 1980. She turned professional in 1982; three years later, she won a world professional skating championship. In 1986, she joined the Ice Capades, which this year added the Simpsons to a list of attractions that already included Barbie.

As for her feelings toward her native country, where many of he relatives still live, she said: "Eventually, I'm sure I would like to go back. But it's a funny feeling when all of your ties are severed at age 12. You feel completely removed."

The Ice Capades

When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.; Thursday, 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Where: The Baltimore Arena.

Tickets: $12.50, $10.50 and 7.50.

Call: (301) 481-6000.

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