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Olympic Skater Sergei Grinkov Dies at 28

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 21, 1995

Sergei Grinkov, 28, the Russian pairs skater who with his wife won two Olympic gold medals and became the most graceful and beloved pair of the past decade, collapsed and died while practicing on the ice yesterday in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Grinkov was skating with Ekaterina Gordeeva, his wife and partner, when he suffered an apparent heart attack and fell to the ice at Olympic Center. Paramedics were called to the rink shortly after 11 a.m., and Grinkov was taken to Adirondack Medical Center in nearby Saranac Lake, where he was pronounced dead at 12:28 p.m., according to his publicist, Linda Do\zoretz.

The apparent cause of death was cardiac arrest, but there was no official diagnosis, Dozoretz said. Over the objections of Gordeeva, an autopsy was planned for this morning, Essex County coroner Robert Huestis Jr. told the Associated Press.

Gordeeva, 24, and Grinkov were practicing in Lake Placid for the "Stars on Ice" tour, a popular figure skating show that crisscrosses the United States from late December through March. Early reports said Grinkov, who was 5 feet 11 and weighed about 180 pounds, was lifting his 90-pound wife over his head when he was stricken. But Lynn Plage, the tour's publicist, said that information was unconfirmed.

The only ailment Grinkov had complained of was a bad back, Plage said. His back had bothered him for several months.

Gordeeva and Grinkov, who grew up and trained in Moscow, burst on to the international skating scene in 1986 when they won the first of their four world championships. The teenagers were known for a tremendous balletic grace, a telling characteristic of the Moscow school of skating. At that time, they had been paired together for four years, since she was 11 and he was 15. Observers marveled at the ease with which Grinkov threw the diminutive, ponytailed Gordeeva through the air -- and the way she softened her treacherous landings, coming to earth with all the force of a feather.

In 1988, they won the first of their two Olympic gold medals at the Calgary Games. After skating professionally for five years, "G&G," as they were known in the United States, returned to the so-called amateur ranks and won the gold medal at the 1994 Olympics in Norway. By then, their ability to perform romantic, mature, breath-taking programs incorporating the most difficult of athletic moves and lifts had made them one of the greatest pairs in the history of their sport.

After the Olympics, they returned to professional skating, where the bulk of their work centered on the "Stars on Ice" tour, where they were to enter their third full season this winter.

In 1989 their partnership on the ice turned into a romance off the ice, and they married in 1991. If it was possible, their skating became better with their off-the-ice relationship.

"Before, we skated, not like machines, but we didn't feel emotions," Gordeeva said in 1994. "Now, we try to feel everything."

They have a daughter, Daria, who is 3. The family moved to the United States and settled in Simsbury, Conn., where neighbors included fellow Olympic gold medalists Oksana Baiul and Viktor Petrenko.

Since settling in the United States, Gordeeva had become proficient in English, but Grinkov had not. So she was the one who conducted their interviews, or bargained with shopkeepers in malls, or ordered meals at restaurants for the both of them, always with him by her side.

The news of Grinkov's death stunned the figure skating community.

"It's not just a loss to Katia {Grinkov's wife}, but to the world," said Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano. "They were arguably the best pairs skaters ever. The world will be deprived of seeing them skate again."

"It's a very sad day," said John Nicks, a venerable U.S. pairs coach. "We're all shocked."

"They were the perfect balance between flawless athletic ability and seamless, graceful, perfect figure skating," said Audrey Weisiger, a coach based in Fairfax. "With G&G,' it almost looked like they weren't doing the same sport as the rest of the competitors. It looked like they were at a different level."

Tour skaters Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt and Paul Wylie, among others, were not immediately available for comment. Plage said last night that they were meeting "alone, just between themselves." The "Stars on Ice" tour is an especially close-knit group of high-profile, well-paid skaters who have competed and traveled together since childhood, in many cases.

Gordeeva and Grinkov had been scheduled to compete in a professional event at USAir Arena Dec. 9.

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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