A lone spotlight lit the blue surface. The crowd rose, the applause built and lasted a half-minute, even as she skated. And the tears flowed.

Everywhere, there was support for Ekaterina Gordeeva. Everywhere except right next to her, where he stood for nearly 14 years, where he should be standing still.

Sergei Grinkov's arms were not there to lift her. His smile was not there to comfort her. It seemed so odd to see Gordeeva skating alone to Mahler's Fifth Symphony tonight, her first public performance since her husband and pairs partner died of a heart attack in November.

Odd, yet beautiful. Even regal, the way the couple skated when they won two Olympic gold medals. This was Katya's private tribute to Sergei, and she was allowing thousands of strangers at Hartford Civic Center to watch.

"The message for all people to see that number," she said, "is I think everyone has their terrible time in their life when you have to find the strength and go through the difficult times. And I want everyone to know that life is so beautiful and that people have to give love to the person they love and continue living."

Gordeeva was magnificent. Wearing a white and bluish-gray dress, she began her performance with her hand out, as if a partner were holding it. Suddenly, she stopped, covering her face, the horrible truth so clear. Then, hands out, searching for her lost Sergei, she raced around the ice. She stopped, seemingly grabbed by the pain of loss.

And she was moving again, searching once more and feeling the agony once more.

Katya dropped to her knees, leaned over and kissed the ice, as if kissing a grave and saying goodbye. She looked up, her arms extended to the heavens, seeking an answer for the unanswerable. And she grieved more as Mahler's music built momentum.

Then she was skating again, no longer searching, but fully understanding. She was jumping, spinning, even at one point smiling. She was carrying on, as Sergei would have wanted, insisted. She was celebrating the life of her husband, just as all the great skaters gathered were doing.

As the piece concluded, Gordeeva's eyes awash in tears -- whose weren't? -- she skated to the end of the arena and took her 3-year-old daughter Daria in her arms. For a short time, she held her, then put her down and hugged Ana Grinkov, Sergei's mother.

As she left, mouthing thank you to the audience, Gordeeva hugged Marina Zoueva, the choreographer and coach who convinced her they could put together a fitting tribute to Sergei.

Did they ever.