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A Loving Tribute To A Fallen Skater

February 28, 1996

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ It was magical. It was mesmerizing. Most of all, it was everything it was meant to be.

``A Celebration of a Life″ was exactly that: A rousing, heartfelt tribute to a fallen comrade.

``I’m so happy this evening is happening,″ said Ekaterina Gordeeva after a nonpareil cast put on an unmatchable show Tuesday night in memory of her late husband, Sergei Grinkov. ``And I am so sad it is all over. I want to start it over again.″

Gordeeva is starting over again, of course. Grinkov died of a heart attack while the couple that won two Olympic titles and the admiration of the figure skating world was practicing last November. Her performance at the Hartford Civic Center with the Stars On Ice tour was her first since his death.

It was the highlight of a wonderful night.

``I want you to know I skated today not alone. I skated with Sergei,″ she said. ``That is why I skated so good.″

Wearing a white and bluish-gray dress, she began her program, to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, 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.

Gordeeva 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 some 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, would have insisted.

She was celebrating the life of her husband, just as all the great skaters gathered to honor Grinkov were doing.

``I don’t think any of us can fathom the amount of strength and courage it took for Katya to come out tonight and perform, and to share her soul with all of us,″ Scott Hamilton said.

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.

Finally, she headed off as the warm standing ovation reached a crescendo. 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.

Fitting it was. Each of the great skaters performed like the champions they are, from Hamilton to Kristi Yamaguchi to Kurt Browning to Paul Wylie to Katarina Witt, all regular cast members of the tour. And they were matched by the special guests _ Brian Boitano, Oksana Baiul, Viktor Petrenko, Yuka Sato, Alexander Fadeev, and Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko.

``I want to thank all of you,″ Gordeeva said. ``If I start to thank everyone, we will not be able to finish for the whole day.″

The grand finish, the finale to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, saw her return to the ice.

Each cast member wore white. With every skater standing on the ice and paired off, she made her entrance, wearing a traditional Russian costume with headpiece. Skating through the couples _ who were posed in positions that started G&G’s different routines through the years _ she joined with Hamilton for a moment.

Suddenly, she was off again in a rousing display of her athletic abilities and her strength. She jumped, she spun, she celebrated her sport.

The other skaters applauded Gordeeva when she finished, then circled her and exchanged hugs. Hamilton brought Daria to her mother.

``Thank you, thanks a lot,″ she shouted to the crowd. ``Thank God, thanks everyone, thanks so many people, thanks United States. Thanks so very much.″

And thank you.

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