Honolulu Star-Bulletin Local News

Ekaterina Gordeeva and daughter Daria are all smiles at Waikiki Beach.
Photo by Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

Going it alone

Ekatarina Gordeeva, here for an ice show, lost her husband and skating partner last year

By Tim Ryan

She looked only at him when they skated. She thought only of him when they skated. She felt only him when they skated. And then Ekatarina Gordeeva's lifelong partner and 28-year-old husband collapsed during a practice last year and died of a massive heart attack.

The diminutive Gordeeva had a gut-filled rush that, suddenly, she was alone, a 24-year-old widow with a 3-year-old daughter. Her future in skating - if any at all - would be as a single, something she had never done, never planned to do and never wanted to do.

"When I skated with Sergei, we always skated only for each other. It was so much easier for me because he was always there. I didn't feel that I was skating in front of anyone because I only saw him. Now when I skate, I must make eye contact with the people and this is really, really different for me. Sometimes I feel totally lost out there without Sergei."

Gordeeva is in Honolulu for the "Ice Spectacular" featuring Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, Paul Wylie, Brian Orser and others for three performances at Blaisdell Arena.

It will be Gordeeva's second U.S. appearance since her husband's death in November at Lake Placid. The only other time she's taken to the ice was in February in Hartford, Conn., a solo performance in a tribute to her husband.

Gordeeva and her late husband,
Sergei Grinkov, on the ice at the
European Figure Skating
Championships in 1994.

That's also when her career as a single skater, albeit as an entertainer, not a competitor, began. Since then, she has toured with "Stars on Ice" in Canada for 10 performances, and is scheduled to perform in Japan.

Katya - her nickname - and Sergei were a special couple who skated together almost 15 years. Their every move seemed perfect, their unison uncanny.

Observers said they made no sound when they skated, and there is no greater compliment you can pay a skater.

"At first I was lost on the ice without him. So alone. I was used to all the time holding onto someone, leaning on someone . . . all the time feeling him so close. Now all the time I must feel my feet under myself because there is no one there to hold me."

Gordeeva, clad in demin shorts and a T-shirt, is talking in a beachfront Waikiki hotel suite. Her daughter Daria, called "Dasha," runs around the room smiling through several missing teeth.

When Gordeeva took her husband's body back to their native Moscow to bury him, she left her skates in the United States, not sure if she wanted to skate again.

"I wasn't thinking about skating at all, but then you are looking for comfort in your heart and I realized I feel comfort only on the ice. I realize this more every day.

"I worried so much that my skating will not be that beautiful without Sergei and that I will never bring people joy like we did together. I thought going back on the ice would be a selfish thing to do without him. But I need my skating. It's treatment for me."

She still wears her modest gold wedding band on her left hand; Sergei's ring hangs on a chain around her neck. "I cannot be without it."

But skating alone wasn't easy for Gordeeva.

"In the beginning I might forget for a moment that he wasn't there to catch me or guide me or prevent me from falling. It was very, very difficult . . . to come back. But every time I think I may have to take a break from skating and I have nothing I can make great, that's when I force myself to skate. It made me feel great, like I'm putting on my own shoes now."

Ekaterina Gordeeva talks about her late husband.
"At first I was lost on the ice without him. So alone," she says.
"I was used to all the time holding onto someone,
leaning on someone..."

Photo by Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin

Daria has helped her face the pain. "She is the only one who kept us busy and alive. She doesn't give you much time (to grieve) or be with your own thoughts."

The little girl has asked about her father's absence.

"I have explained that we will never be able to see him anymore. The only thing that makes her angry is that I now skate alone and I tell her it's my job. She is starting to understand."

One of Gordeeva's biggest fears was being "invisible" on the ice. "The first time I skated with ("Stars on Ice") I felt so insignificant. I am such a little skater and I thought no one would see me. I was so used to having big Sergei."

She also was surprised how difficult it was to do a complete program "without leaning. My muscles were very sore because the routine was so different from what I had been doing."

After the Canada tour, she felt she had made a major step as a single skater. "I realize now that I still can show something to people."

The attention brought on by the news media has been "a little bit of a burden," she said. "Some people try to look in me to see how I am feeling and . . . that's a little bad. I don't need that anymore. I'm OK."

In her first ever Hawaii performance, Gordeeva will be doing two routines, including Tchaikovsky's "The Russian Dance." She said, "It was always my favorite dance since I saw a ballerina in a beautiful dress perform to it when I was a young girl. Sergei and I never did."

Gordeeva makes no promises about her skating future. "I would like to try all different things in skating, different music, dances and choreography. But I cannot make big plans right now. I really live day by day and am just happy that I am here in Hawaii and am going to perform two routines in the show for the first time and my favorite Russian dance."

Will she ever skate with another partner? "I realize that I have to skate . . . and if I do it will not be as competitive athletes or amateur skaters but maybe for some show."

Suddenly Daria bounds over to the table reaching for some guava juice. Gordeeva reaches over and hugs the squirming child. Would she like more children? "Oh, yes," she says, "of course, I would love to have more children."

On ice

What: Ice Spectacular with Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, and more
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday
Where: Blaisdell Arena
Tickets: $22.50 and $29, with a $2 discount for senior citizens and children ages 12 and under
Call: 545-4000 to charge tickets by phone

The Related Story:

See an interview with Scott Hamilton
in today's [Features] section

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June 6, 1996
© Copyright 1996 Honolulu Star-Bulletin