Gordeeva takes flight again Ice skating: When the world-champion pairs skater comes to town with the Discover Stars on Ice show, she will once again be part of a pair, three years after losing her husband.

UP FRONT

December 24, 1998|By Diana Sugg | Diana Sugg,SUN STAFF

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.

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