The Tears came at Vagankovsky Cemetery last Saturday. Ekaterina Gordeeva had held herself together for most of this longest day of her life at the end of the longest week of her life—the performer doing her job, making other people feel at ease, no matter how bad she felt inside—but at the end there would be no control. The tears came, and she could not stop them.
Wrapped in the arms of the same Russian Orthodox priest who had married her to Sergei Grinkov only 4½ years ago, she cried and cried, cried for Sergei and cried for herself, cried at the realization that the words "and they lived happily ever after" were only words after all. What was it she had said to Scott Hamilton, the 1984 U.S. Olympic gold medalist and her friend? "Maybe everything was too good, too perfect. That was why it could not last." Maybe so.
On this gray Moscow afternoon, on this day when she was supposed to be half a world away, previewing a tour in Lake Placid, N.Y., skating on a frozen cloud, looking into Sergei's face, feeding off his strength as she always had, she was burying him in this cold Russian ground. The outpouring of grief had been constant since her husband had collapsed and died in Lake Placid on Nov. 20, a 28-year-old victim of coronary artery disease, and it was no different now. A Red Army band played the Russian national anthem. An honor guard fired a salute. The mourners, famous and not so famous, stood close. Viktor Petrenko, the Ukranian gold medalist who had briefly led the funeral procession, still clutched Sergei's picture to his chest.
Could anyone ever have more friends from more disparate places? Could anyone ever have better friends, friends and family who would do absolutely anything to ease Ekaterina Gordeeva's pain? Could anyone ever be more alone?
She cried and looked very small and vulnerable in her black mink coat. She was 5'1" and 90 pounds and 24 years old and a widow. Could anyone know—really know—what had disappeared? If the depth of a sadness must be proportionate to the height of a happiness, then there was not much lower that anyone could go.
"You could see the power that they had between them when they skated," Paul Wylie, the silver medalist from the 1992 Olympics and one of the U.S. visitors at the funeral, said. "Their eyes never left each other during the whole performance. No one else does that in pairs skating. It can be very distracting, looking into someone else's eyes while you're skating, but it never was for them. It was natural.
"You could just see how much they loved each other. You would watch them and just wish you had that sort of relationship with someone. We all wish we could find that kind of feeling, that perfect nuclear life. So few people actually do."
They were partners in the sweetest love affair in all of sport. They were a real-life Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Only better. No credits rolled across the screen at the end of their eye-popping performance. No cameras and lights were broken down and taken to another place. The greatest pair in pairs skating was a total pair, 24 hours a day, every day.
She was the dynamo, the sprite, flying through the air, spinning and twisting, part acrobat and part athlete, part prima ballerina and a whole lot of Tinker Bell. He was the hand in control of this spectacular yo-yo. Ten inches taller, stolid and smooth, he was the quiet foundation to the act. He let her fly. He brought her back. The gasp of the crowd always came when Katya—her nickname—dropped close to the ice, her head only an inch or two away from serious injury. The relaxed sigh was the muted reaction when he did his job, bringing her home safely again.
"They really are what pairs skating ought to be," John Nicks, a prominent U.S. coach, once said in describing Grinkov and Gordeeva at work. "They are the consummate pair. You can't appreciate the capacity of a 180-pound man to move across the ice without a sound until you watch him skate. They are a symphony for the senses. Go to practice one day. Don't watch them; just listen. Not a sound. No matter the ice condition, you hear only the music. They move so freely, their blades don't scratch the ice."