Friday, December 4, 2009

The Man I Love

Figure skating has always been a passion of mine.....not me actually skating, though I enjoy it, but following the sport and being a fan-girl.

The other day on the fabulous online station Cladrite Radio  (btw, if you like old music, you must check out this station!), I heard Gershwin's "The Man I Love" come across the speakers and had an instant lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  Why?

Let me tell you a love story about my favorite skaters of all time, Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov.....

Moscow, Russia, 1983.  Two young skaters who were struggling as single skaters were paired up by the coaches to see if they'd have better success as a pairs team.  Ekaterina, "Katia" for short, was just 10, and Sergei was 14.  They were put through the rigorous training paces of the Soviet sports regime, but the hard work and sacrifices began paying off, and the team started collecting titles and medals under their young belts as the years passed.

Calgary, 1988.  Katia and Sergei, known affectionately as "G&G", won their first Olympic gold medal.  Katia also began developing a schoolgirl crush on her handsome older partner....and Sergei began to realize that this waif of a girl who he'd always looked at as a little sister was starting to become a woman.  As their relationship off the ice evolves, so does their skating, revealing a newfound passion and maturity.

1991.  The couple marries, and leaves amateur skating to turn professional.  They settle in Connecticut and join up with Stars On Ice, a prestigious skating tour founded by Scott Hamilton.

1992.  Katia and Sergei have a daughter, Daria.

Lillehamer, 1994.  Due to a change in the rules, professional skaters are allowed the opportunity to return to the amateur level and compete in the 1994 Olympics....Katia and Sergei take that opportunity and run with it, resulting in their second gold medal.

G&G are now considered to be at the peak of their game, elite legends among the skating world.  They have a style that even today is unmatched....they were perfection personified in their posture, speed, balance, and grace.  They had a quiet subtlety that stood out among other pairs who were only capable of doing flashy tricks with no substance.  Not only their passion for skating shown through in every performance, but also their love for each other....they made love to each other on the ice, much like it was said of Fred and Ginger's dancing....ethereal, timeless.

The Man I Love, spring, 1995

Lake Placid, NY, November 20, 1995.  Katia and Sergei are at a rink practicing one of their new programs for the new season of Stars On Ice, when Sergei collapsed on the ice.  Katia skated over to him, screaming for someone to call for help.  Sergei was rushed to the hospital, skates still on his feet; he was pronounced dead a little over an hour later.  He'd had a massive heart attack, due to undiagnosed heart disease.  He was 28.

Katia was only 24, and now suddenly a single mother; not only had she lost the love of her life, but her livelihood as well.  During those first awful months following his death, she didn't think she was going to survive, but knew she had to be strong for Daria.  Her good friend Scott Hamilton shipped her skates to her in Moscow from her home in America; she would later write in Sergei's memoir that forcing herself to get up in the morning for nine o'clock ice time would be the only thing that kept her tethered to reality in those early dark days, even though it seemed as if her career was over.

Three months after his death, the skating community wanted to do a tribute to Sergei, for the dual purpose of celebrating his life, but to also establish a fund for Katia and Daria.  The event would be televised, and those skaters who knew the couple best would perform.  And then, an amazing thing happened....they received word that Katia not only would be present for the tribute, but that she wanted to participate in it.  She wanted to skate.

She worked with their longtime choreographer, Marina Zueva, to construct a program that told the story of their life together, his loss, and Katia's rebirth.  Skated to the Adagietto of Mahler's 5th Symphony, it is a testimonial to Katia's strength.

Sergei Grinkov:  A Celebration of a Life, spring, 1996
Katia Gordeeva....the black skirt of her costume respresents deep mourning; fading into the bodice as white, representing life, light, and love

Katia went on with life, caring for Daria with the help of her parents who moved from Moscow to the U.S.  She reinvinted herself as a singles skater, with great success.  She found love again, marrying fellow skater Ilia Kulik (1998 Olympic gold meal champion in men's figure skating) in 2001.  Later that same year they had a daughter, Liza.

I still follow Katia's career, and even had the privilege of being just a couple of feet away from her when we saw Stars On Ice perform in Denver in 2007 and our first experience of having on ice of the most thrilling experiences of my life! 

That's Katia sitting in the seat, during a number that required interaction with the audience....and that's Husband's arm in the foreground, hehe....oh, if only she had sat by us instead!

I can't hear songs like The Man I Love, Mahler's 5th, or indeed any piece of music G&G used without instantly tearing up.  But as much as I still love Katia and am happy that she's been able to find happiness again, G&G will always hold a special place in my heart. 


  1. Such a tragic story, i'm glad to hear it has a happy ending. It must be hard to be reminded of Sergei's death every time she steps onto the ice. The skating looks beautiful, it's so graceful and effortless; what a lovely post x

  2. What a truly moving story. So, so sad....they were both so young!

    You did a great job of conveying their story, though....

  3. I don't remember hearing any of this before. I have never seen such grace.

  4. Stefanie: Every pair skater I see today I can't help but compare to them, and still no one even comes close to having that same magic. It's hard to believe so much time has gone by now; Daria is 17! She skated for awhile but lost interest; her younger sister Liza, 8, however is already immeshed in the sport with no signs of stopping...

    Kathryn: Thank you....It was unbelieveably sad when it happened! Katia went on to write a book detailing their life and it truly was like a fairy tale.

    Packrat: If you like reading biographies, see if your library has My Sergei, the book Katia wrote detailing their life...even if you aren't into skating it's an excellent read.

  5. Just found your blog, what an amazing post! Very sad but inspiring. Happy Saturday.
    Marie @ Lemondrop ViNtAge
    Charmed giveaway!

  6. I remember this tragic story well and had tears perched on the edge of eyelids by the time I'd gotten even just half way through your immensely touching post. I'm so happy for her that despite such incredible hardship, she has been able to remain resilient and to find (a new) love of her life again. I wish her and her family only the best in the future!

    Big hugs to you sweet dear, and many thanks for your wonderful comments and visits, I appreciate each of them so much!
    ♥ Jessica

  7. Maggie: yes indeed!

    Lemondrop: thank you...yes, I'm very inspired by her!

    Jessica: to this day I can't watch certain performances of theirs without blubbering like a baby! I'm so sentimental.

    You always have such sweet comments - thank you! :)

  8. I'm afraid you lost me at Figure skating - which is not great two words into your blog. I'll try again later and see if I can get through a whole sentence.

    P.S .in response to the Snowman Balls comment on Kathryn’s page. I suspect you are correct, it’s just I don’t hang around those type of shops enough to get familiar with their stock line

  9. What a touching story... When I read that he died, I felt just like I did when I thought Robin Hood almost died before he could marry Marion. I'm glad she found love again. Thanks for sharing this :)

    See you around the Lounge, fellow ginger ;)

  10. That brought on a little cryfest. I adore her and remember watching them skate in the olympics. Nice post.

  11. BlackLog: hahaha, typical male response. ;) I do understand though, I'd probably respond the same way if I came across a blog about Football or

    Laura: It's a story that pulls on the heartstrings, that's for sure!

    Re: the Lounge, I lurk more than I post; I think after being a member for 2 years I still only have around 50 posts under my belt...but I'm there everyday! :)

    Mid Century Madam: It's nice to see someone who actually knew who they were! :) Thanks for stopping by!

  12. Awe, what a bittersweet story :( but happy to hear she was able to find love again... thank you for posting such touching story darling :) and thank you for your sweet comments on my post! Hope you're having a relaxing Sunday doll!

  13. G&G were so cute and beautiful the greatest couple on and off the ice I want them to skate forever and being more happier than ever and proud to be russian, I wanted to have more beautiful babies and also want a man that looks me in the eyes like Sergei did with Katia


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