Paired together somewhat reluctantly as children in Moscow under the old-line Soviet Union sports machine when she was 10 and he was 14, they grew up, fell in love, married and found freedom, all in public view. World champions when she was 14, Olympic champions when she was 16, they first performed as if they were brother and sister. They were a different sort of mismatched pair, able to use his strength and her tininess to create dramatic movements that had never been seen. They merged the artistic and the athletic.
"They proved that this kind of couple not only can work, but that this is the best way to do it," Stanislav Zhuk, one of Sergei's first skating coaches, said. "At the beginning, everyone laughed. They showed them all."
Surprisingly they retired from amateur competition after winning their fourth world championship, in 1990. They rejoined Tom Collins's Tour of World Champions, a troupe of amateur and professional stars, figuring they could skate for four or five years as professionals, make some money, then move on to separate, comfortable lives. But things happened. Plans changed.
First, they fell in love. Sergei, who had been dating other people, suddenly noticed in 1989 that the little girl who had been holding his hand all these years had become a woman. The little girl, who had noticed Sergei for a long time, was more than ready for this change. They became as close off the ice as they were on the ice. They married in 1991. They had a daughter, Daria, a year and a half later.
"I think it was on my tour when they first fell for each other," Collins said. "You could see it happen. It was all very sweet. They were with each other all the time. At first she was like this little rag doll that he threw around in the air, but she sure grew up. She became a beautiful young woman."
A change in skating rules for the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer, making professionals eligible to compete, brought a second chance for the couple to win a gold medal. When they heard about the change there was little debate about whether to return. The children who won the gold medal in Calgary wanted to see what it would be like to win a gold as adults, as parents, in Lillehammer.
"Because I was so young before, I did not realize everything," Gordeeva said. "This time...I have a husband and I know my daughter watches me on TV. All this makes me more nervous, but more excited."
The result was all they hoped it could be. Of all the former champions returning from the pros, they were the only ones to repeat as gold medalists. Their routine to Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata was quiet magic, Grinkov measuring his strides to match Gordeeva's shorter bursts. If he faltered slightly twice—singling a double Salchow and bobbling the landing on a double flip—the mistakes were more than overcome by the rest of the program. Eight of the nine judges put Grinkov and Gordeeva ahead of countrymen Natalia Mishkutienok and Artur Dmitriev, gold medalists two years earlier in Albertville.
The pair returned to the ice shows and found a new home in the U.S., in Simsbury, Conn. They already had bought a home in Tampa, but when plans were announced for an international ice training center in Simsbury, and Petrenko and gold medal winner Oksana Baiul and other skaters and coaches from the former Soviet Union started moving to town, this seemed to be a chance to combine the many pieces of a happy life. Gordeeva's mother arrived to take care of Daria while the pair went on tour. Everyone was together.
"You'd see G & G everywhere around town," Jay Sloves, a publicist for the ice center, said. "They were always at the rink. In fact, they had just filmed a spot for a Christmas program to run on a local television channel. It's set for December 3. There is this set of French doors, and G & G come skating through.... I don't know what's going to happen with that now."