Russian pairs a match to behold

February 16, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR,NORWAY — HAMAR, Norway -- She looks like a porcelain doll. He looks like a linebacker.

She smiles, he frowns. She floats in the air, he carries her across the ice.

Together, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov are temptress and tempted, wife and husband.

From Russia with love they have transformed pairs figure skating from mere sport to ballet on ice.

And last night, in the most difficult competition of their career, they emerged with the pairs gold medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics.

"It was a hard gold medal," Gordeeva said. "Very hard."

The reason it was so hard is that another Russian pair, 1992 gold medalists Natalia Mishkutienok and Artur Dmitriev, pushed them to the brink as they pushed the outer limits of the sport with a modern dance to Rachmaninoff.

They won the silver, but very easily could have taken the gold.

A good old-fashioned judging controversy broke out during the four-minute, 30-second free-skating final. The international panel of nine judges may have favored Gordeeva and Grinkov, 8 to 1, but the crowd clearly was behind Mishkutienok and Dmitriev.

"I didn't think Gordeeva and Grinkov had a wonderful night," said U.S. skating coach John Nicks. "I prefer them, though. The other two are more interesting. But the Gordeeva and Grinkov style is LTC the style of the judges and the International Skating Union."

In the end, Gordeeva and Grinkov, Olympic champions in 1988 when they were just teen-age friends, won on style, pure and simple. They won because Gordeeva is enchanting and Grinkov is strong and together. With Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" providing the score, they skated a tale of passion and power, and ultimately, of love.

"They are the most incredible pair there has ever been," said American skater Karen Courtland. "If you were able to use your ears, you would hear nothing. Not a toe pick. Not a skate blade. When they were doing their line work, I couldn't hear a thing, and I said, 'Oh, my God.' "

So what if Grinkov bobbled a double flip jump, and pulled out of a double Salchow? Those were mere technical flaws.

"They had me hypnotized for two minutes," said Courtland's partner, Todd Reynolds. "The level of skating here will never be seen again."

All along, Gordeeva and Grinkov were after something purer. They were trying to reclaim their greatness from Calgary in 1988.

"We were very young in Calgary and everything was much easier," said Gordeeva, now 22 and a mother.

Skating for Mishkutienok and Dmitriev was easier, too, when they won their gold in Albertville, France, two years ago. But they are bold enough to change with the times.

They wore costumes of silver wings and flesh cutouts. They performed with a fire and a style rarely seen in skating.

"They skate with controlled abandon," said Peter Carruthers, who won the pairs silver with his sister Kitty at the 1984 Olympics.

The controlled abandon is matched by their technical precision. When the pair uncorked side-by-side triple toe loops, the crowd of 6,000 inside the cozy skating hall roared.

But the judges went for the classic over the modern.

"We are very happy with a silver medal, as this is a valuable medal," said the pairs' coach, Tamara Moskvina. "But gold is better."

Canadians Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler earned their second straight Olympic bronze.

But Eisler said it was as good as gold since he and his partner had remained amateurs, while the other medal-winning teams came into the Olympics off the ice-show circuit.

"If the pros weren't here, we'd be Olympic champions," Eisler said.

The Americans had no such illusions. National champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand finished fifth, Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen were ninth, and Courtland and Reynolds were 14th."

But in pairs, even after the dissolution of the Soviet empire, the Russians remain on top.

Gordeeva and Grinkov now will skate back on to the pro circuit, and on toward retirement. They have a family to raise. They have a condo in Tampa, Fla., that they have used for only two nights.

But they have those gold medals, too.

"We have a lot of feelings inside," Gordeeva said. "We're happy we did what we did."

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