#Unearthed: Champions Again!

When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. This month's edition comes to you from the August 1987 issue of "Soviet Life" magazine. Anatoli Shelukhin's article "Gordeeva and Grinkov - Champions Again!" offers a wonderful snapshot of the legendary Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov just prior to the 1988 season, when they won their first of two Olympic gold medals.


I saw pair skaters Ekaterina (Katya for short) Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov for the first time four years ago at a routine workout at a skating rink on Leningrad Prospekt in Moscow. Stars Alexander Fadeyev, Yelena Vodorezova, Veronika Pershina and Marat Akbarov - in effect, half of the USSR's national team - were on the ice. Off to the side, a tall, slender youth and a petite young girl worked on their jumps. While I watched the twosome, the girl fell several times, landing on her knees. After she fell, she'd lie on the ice for a couple of minutes. Regaining her composure, she'd stand up and try again.

"Katya, aren't you discouraged with figure skating yet? You've had so many falls and bruises," I asked Katya when the workout was over.

"The coaches still believe in us. They say everything will be okay in a couple of years. We're hoping for the same too," the cheerful, blue-eyed skater told me.

The coaches were on the mark. Two years later Gordeeva and Grinkov won the junior world championships in pairs. That was in December 1984, and only three weeks later the couple took part in their first national championship. Though Katya was only 13 and her partner was 17 at that time, they never faltered. The pair performed complex elements with unusual ease, placing sixth in the competition. In 1985 a team of trainers, including celebrated coaches Stanislav Zhuk and Stanislav Leonovich and choreographer Marina Zueva, joined forces to help the gifted pair.

"We were all geared up to win the Moscow News International Competition in December 1985," Sergei recalled. "We wanted to present a challenge to Olympic champions Yelena Valova and Oleg Vasilyev and to national titleholders Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov. Also, we knew that participating in the European Championships in Copenhagen was at stake." The competition proved to be dramatic. The two-minute program presented by Gordeeva and Grinkov was warmly received by the audience, and the judges' scores of 5.5 and 5.6 held out the promise of victory. But national champions Selezneva and Makarov gave a flawless free program, while Gordeeva and Grinkov's was marred by three falls during jumps. The young pair slid from first place to fourth. After the contest Katya cried and Sergei consoled her. "Disappointed as we were, we didn't lose hope," Katya said later. "Our coaches advised us to redo our free program as quickly as possible to achieve stability, lightness and speed. We spent a week reworking our program, and in January 1986 we took a silver at the USSR Championships in Leningrad."

The following March the Gordeeva-Grinkov pair won the world title in Geneva, Switzerland.
How did she get started in skating? "I was four years old when my mother took me to a skating rink," she said. "And since then I've been going in for the sport. Sergei and I have had several trainers, but we owe our greatest success to choreographer Marina Zueva. She was a member of the USSR national team for many years, skating in pairs with Andrei Vitman. Her intuition is amazing."

Under Zueva's guidance, Katya and Sergei have reached a new level of skill: When they perform, they are not simply executing elements, they are conducting a dialogue on the ice. American TV commentator and former Olympic ice skating champion Peggy Fleming noted that the Soviet pair is one of the most “dancing" duets to have appeared in the past two decades. Each of their motions is extraordinarily light and natural.

Who's the boss of the duet? "Katya," smiles Sergei. "She's a born figure skater. She's SO calm and collected, and she's got exquisite taste." And what does Katya think of her partner? "He has a good sense of humour and loves to laugh, so he's easy to be around."

The 1987 European Championships in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, proved disappointing. Though their presentation was superb, they received no marks after Sergei's foot strap broke, and a referee ordered that the performance be stopped. Sergei and Katya took this very hard, but it didn't break their spirit for the world championships in Cincinnati, Ohio, and they emerged victorious.

The skating pair later toured the United States and Canada. What were their impressions? "We trained in Oxford, a small university town not far from Cincinnati, for a week before the world championships, and every day 1,500 people came to watch us. They brought us letters, drawings and flowers." Katya said. "It was an incredible experience, one we'll never forget."

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating": https://skateguard1.blogspot.com/p/buy-book.html.