"The Stadium," a Radio Russia program 12/2008

Katia's conversation with Irina Rodnina on "The Stadium" program by Radio Russia - December 2008. Unfortunately, conversation misses a few seconds at the start. Download the .mp3 file (8Mb, 23:17min).

Irina: In the Soviet Union, fans had a tough time as well.
Katia: There was a transitional period when we have lost contact with each other.

Irina: Katia, what did you feel about the birth of your first daughter? You were so young. I remember seeing you, it was so weird – here is this little girl skating, and then you were as cute as a bunny and already pregnant.
Katia: Well, it just happened. Sergei and I got married in 1990, I think.

Irina: It was 1991, 28th of April.
Katia: Yes, it was 1991. We’ve just started our professional career, we had invitations. We were invited to the 60-city American tour. We were so happy about our new and interesting work. In the middle of the tour, I discovered my pregnancy. We were thinking what to do about it because we really liked the tour. We’ve decided that everything is going to be OK; we will just change a few elements and make programs easier. So I skated almost till the 4-th month of my pregnancy. And I trusted that Serezha will do everything carefully. He was so happy. Like all future fathers, he was extra caring and careful. So I didn’t worry.

Irina: I remember that in 1992 almost right after the birth you came to the Professional Championship. It was so amazing. You looked just as you looked before the pregnancy. I asked Serezha who the daughter looks like. He was amazed with my question and answered:"Of course, she looks like me!" And I feeling a bit awkward asked if maybe she has Katia’s features as well. He was so absolutely sure that the baby looked like him, that it is his baby.
So how did you decide to return to the amateur sport? So many athletes tried to return then.
Katia: Little by little we started skating again. After Dasha’s birth, Stars on Ice took us back. We were reaching our peak. Many friends told us that we have reached our top condition to be able to try to go to Olympics again. All was said for fun and jokes. Scott Hamilton complimented us on our skating. And then we’ve heard about Brian Boitano’s letter to his federation wishing to return. We’ve heard about Torvill – Dean as well. At that time we worked with Marina Zueva, she advised us to return as well. We went to Piseev and talked to him about it, he was very happy. He said:"Yes, of course, you’ll have to be training with the national team though, i.e. go through the Russian Nationals. We will take care of all the necessary obligations to present you as part of the national team." So we personally did not write any letters, the federation helped us, because they too supported our decision.

Irina: Well, then many skaters came back. Petrenko, Katarina. Not just you. Torvill - Dean. Everybody was anticipating, it was intriguing especially since it was an Olympic year. A previous year, not too many skaters performed.
Katia: We were lucky that at that time the Olympic year was changed to 1994. In 1992, during the Albertville Olympics, I was pregnant. I remember watching it on TV and felt nostalgic. I thought how great it is. I first thought about returning at that time. I thought maybe I will be skating at Olympics once again someday.

Irina: It seems to me, you left too early, didn’t skate enough. I cannot say this about other pairs, in particular about myself, we have skated enough. But you skated for a very short time.
Katia: Maybe that is why I’m still skating.

Irina: When people ask me if I would like to skate again, I tell them that I have had enough. And when they ask me if I dream of figure skating... No, I don’t dream of anything. Nevertheless, you still wanted to skate?
Katia: Yes, indeed.

Irina: Did you want to skate or be a part of this Olympic world again?
Katia: Yes, to be a part of this world and to skate, because we didn’t show all we could, and wanted that adrenaline rush.

Irina: So the professional sport didn’t satisfy you the same way.
Katia: Absolutely. You have an adrenaline rush in professional sports but it is at a different scale. Right now, for example, I get enough and then... Olympic Games cannot compare to anything. I’ve watched the opening and closing ceremonies...

Irina: Katia, so you won the second Olympic gold, what did you feel at that moment?
Katia: I remember very well that I was much more conscientious at the second Olympics. We understood everything what was happening. If before, the coach walked us through, now we were together doing it for ourselves. We knew that Dasha was watching us on TV. I even felt her watching us when we skated. I had that sensation. I liked it. Lillehammer was very beautiful.

Irina: Well, it was awfully cold.
Katia: There was a lot of snow, very beautiful winter. I remember Calgary had thawed all the time, it was warm. Certainly, these Olympic Games were for each other. It was very important to us that it was our own decision, not because the federation asked us to skate for the team. It was our decision to go and take this step. And it was not easy for us. We had prepared. By the way, Vladimir Viktorovich Zakharov helped us as well as Marina Zueva. And being husband and wife, we helped each other when it was hard. Therefore, these Olympics were different; it was more life-like, than sports, as in 1988. Then we were just two athletes coming to Olympics, and here we were a couple. I remember, each moment of the program.

Irina: No matter how hard I tried, I could not recollect, I can be mistaken, Serezha ever making mistakes. He was so reliable not only as a partner, but also purely technically and physically.
Katia: Through all the years, technically never.

Irina: So you skated and were responsible only for yourself. You did not worry what Serezha is doing behind or next to you. You had a 100% guarantee.
Katia: He was always 100%. I used to miss jumps or throw jumps. And when he made a little mistake in 1994, I’ve noticed that he was worried. During those Olympic Games he worried more than ever I saw him worrying before.

Irina:Yes, everybody was worried. I remember the practice before the short program, we were in the same group. Mishkutenok and Dmitriev fell from a lift, and it was a terrible fall; you’ve made a mistake during double axels, my pair fell on double axels as well, Canadians too had some kind of a problem. I only realized that Shishkova and Naumov, a pair of Ludmila Velikova who was nearby, were not there. I asked Luda: "Where are they?" And she said: "They’ve already left". They’ve skated quietly and clean. There was only four hours left till the start and everybody kept falling. And all of us coaches tried to keep a straight face. It was obvious everybody was worried - both Artur, and Serezha, and Canadians who understood that it was their last chance, and my Czechs who too understood they could be on the podium. There was a madly nervous vibe in the air before the short program.
Katyusha, tell me, has Dashenka’s birth made your training easier or more difficult. And in general, while you were training, who took care of Dasha?
Katia: My mom, of course, took all responsibility for Dasha at once.

Irina: Well it seems to me, that any mom would take responsibility if her daughter gave birth at 18.
Katia: Not 18, I was 21.

Irina: 21, yes?
Katia: 21.

Irina: Oh yes.
Katia: At 19 we were married, and at 21...

Irina: Well it seemed to me that you were still a child.
Katia: My mom became a young grandmother so to speak. She liked it, she saw, how much we love figure skating. She used to tell me:"You cannot miss your practice. Everything is going to be ok." We lived in Moscow and she helped us all the time. If we had to leave, mom went with us and she took care of Dasha. So Dasha was always with us but mom always helped. We never had baby sitters; my mom has sacrificed her work and in a way her personal life. So my mom loves Dasha so much and my dad did.

Irina: Well in general, was it helpful to have a child?
Katia: Yes, I think it is very important for a woman; especially since we really wanted to have her. Serezha was so glad, such a happy father. So I think she helped us a lot. I felt myself a fulfilled woman. I think you know what I mean.

Irina: If I didn’t give birth to Sashka, I would not see my third Olympics. And if I would who knows what quality my skating could be. Because this break strangely enough on the one hand was physically difficult, and on the other hand psychologically...
Katia: It gives you such an emotional strength.

Irina: Everything that happens on the ice transitions to a whole another level.
Katia: It’s like an eye opener. It feels like you become stronger and more self-assured.

Irina: Before, something unpleasant happening during a practice was a tragedy. And now, if it didn’t turn out as you wanted it, not a big deal, you come home and there is your child. All the worries are not as important. Katyushenka, I do not know if it is ok to ask about the tragic moments of your life. If it is too hurtful for you we won’t talk about it.
Katia: Well, only if not for long.

Irina: Of course, all of us remember what happened to Serezha, all of us were sad. I’ve heard about it from many people, Marina Zueva who witnessed it, Irina Rements, our friend from New York, who arranged a requiem service... What was it for you?
Katia: First of all, it was an emotional and physical shock for me. Nobody had expected it. For the first 2, 3, 4 months, it was a horrible nightmare. I could not even comprehend what happened. I know that his back was hurting a lot for 6 months before. And I mean a lot, i.e. we had acupuncture, treated his back all the ways imaginable. And it did not help, fatigue only accumulated more and more. For example, a program which he used to skate with no problems, we could not finish. We thought that it was because of his back, that it was just difficult to do. Nobody thought of checking out his heart or any other organ because he only complained about his back, that the pain could be felt in his foot. There were hints for us, but we didn’t see them or didn’t interpret them right. I needed some time to realize all that had happened. Dasha, of course didn’t understand right away what had happened, she was only 3 years old; even though I explained everything to her. I talked to psychologists; they’ve told me that I should explain it all as it was. That it would be easier for her, that I should not lie and tell that daddy left somewhere and is going to come back.

Irina: Katia, seems to me like all the figure skating community got pulled together. I remember how everybody tried to help you get back to the ice to move on; supported you at competitions and shows.
Katia: In two months, my agents came up with an idea of a show in Sergei’s memory.

Irina: Yes, it was broadcasted all over.
Katia: And it was a very good idea. They did not expect me to skate. Then Marina Zueva asked me why don’t I perform, why not make a number for Sergei. We worked with her and created a program. It was a very good show; it was called "A Celebration of a Life" because Sergei loved life very much. He was a very lively life-loving person. It turns out that figure skating slowly but surely brought me back.

Irina: Katia, then there was a book, then there was a film, then you started skating again. And here is a new marriage, one more child, and it’s a girl again. Why didn’t you come back to Russia?
Katia: Well, Serezha and I have been invited to such a pleasant place. A skating rink was opened under our name. We settled down there. There were friends nearby, Victor Petrenko, Oksana Baiul, Shishkova and Naumov. I had work all the time. I didn’t have a desire to move back to Russia right away. I came to Moscow very often. But I had a lot of work in the United States, figure skating was very popular there.

Irina: So, it was just a question of work, nothing else?
Katia: Yes, because I didn’t know how I can realize myself here. The end of the 90-s was a very jobless time for figure skaters here. There were no shows. The only opportunity here was to become a coach, but the ice rinks were not as good as they are now. And on the other side you have a job opportunity and show invitations. It was so interesting to me and I started skating by myself better and better. And after that I had Lizka.

Irina: Well, how do you feel to be a mother of two children? When I called you on the phone and said:"Hi, Katyushenka, this is Ira Rodnina." And someone answered:"This is not Katia." I understood that it was Dashenka. You both have very similar voices. So how do you feel being a mom?
Katia: Now I feel that they are my life. Of course I skate and enjoy doing it, but it is my hobby, a very dear hobby. I consider skating time my personal time, I devote time for myself. And my main duty is my little girls and family, of course. I want to make their life comfortable, want them to grow up smart.

Irina: I saw Ilia coaching Dasha, when you lived in California. Do you see a professional figure skating career for them? Or they just skate for fun, if it turns out to be something, then well, if not – as well.
Katia: Dasha used to skate for a while and we thought it’s all fine whatever it turns out to be. Dashka is a very talented child, she has always been artistic, but she had problems with jumps and a little bit with her personality. She doesn’t have an athlete’s personality she does not have a will to be first at competitions. She liked to perform, but she does not have that tough personality needed for sports. She didn’t have the urge to be the best.

Irina: And did you have the urge?
Katia: Probably, I think I did. I always wanted to do better than anyone else, to repeat more times than anyone else, and to stand out. But she does not have that, maybe she would be better in team sports. Now she does not skate any more. She is 16. She studies.

Irina: What kind of plans does she have for the future?
Katia: She studies, does not have any major plan yet. The main thing now is school, she studies a lot, it’s very difficult, she will probably go to a good college in America, I hope. I don’t think there is a chance for her to come to Russia. I think she’ll finish school there.

Irina: Katyusha, your mom took care of Dasha most of the time. So is Dasha more a Russian or an American child? I ask because I have a similar situation.
Katia: It’s hard for me to say because I see her all the time. But she loves Russia very much, she likes to come here. She often asks me if she could live in Moscow. I tell her let’s finish school first and then you’ll decide where to live in Russia or America. She has friends here because we come every summer here. She doesn’t have any accent when she speaks Russian. Naturally, there is a problem with writing, she writes at 3rd or 4th grade level, makes mistakes.

Irina: Well it is a different thing. Katia, are girls good friends with each other.
Katia: Yes, yes, yes. Now, they are more and more like friends. When Liza was little, she bothered Dashka, would not let her study. Now she has to study herself, she understands that she has to go to school and Dasha has to go to school too. Dasha likes her very much, treats her as a younger sister, because they have an eight, almost nine year age difference.

Irina:That’s it for today. Katyushenka, I thank you for coming. I remind to our listeners that today our guest was a two-time Olympic Champion in pair skating, four-time World Champion, two-time European Champion – Ekaterina Gordeeva. Your host was Irina Rodnina. Good-bye.

Radio Russia - "The Stadium" program - Moscow, December 2008.
Special thanks to Anna for the audio file and to Melian for the info about the program.