This Soldier's no Toy

The pairs event will live as a moment when the world gave its heart to a tiny wisp of a girl named Katya. Not quite 5 ft. and not quite 90 lbs., Ekaterina Gordeeva was not quite like anyone else in the Saddledome. Fragile, with a smile that comes from over the rainbow. Katya has the gift of making her audience happy. Part of her secret may be that glorious smile. She has superb technique based on first-rate ballet training, but she makes even a triple throw look spontaneous. She has the innocence and sheer energy that enable her like earlier East block sweetheart Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci to stay hearts on both sides of the Great Power divide. Oh, yes. She also has a partner-- that handsome chap Grinkov, who tossed Gordeeva so effortlessly around the rink. Twinned by Moscow’s Central Army Sport’s Club six years ago, neither has ever had another partner. Yet they spend little time together off the ice. Grinkov is 21 and his tastes ran to books and ice hockey, while Godeeva likes to collect toys, sew and surprise her teammates with batches of home-made cookies. "We just practice together," says Grinkov. Romantics can take heart that perhaps it just the age difference. Gordeeva is, after all, only 16. With her wide-eyed fawn’s gaze, she is still a giggly high school girl, while Grinkov is a self-assured college man.

On the ice they are one. Skating to the lilting strains of Chopin and Mendelssohn, Gordeeva and Grinkov flowed balletically from one move to the next, perfectly synchronized at every turn. The marks in their long program testified to their near perfection: in two sets of ratings from nine judges for technical and artistic merit the Soviet sensations earned 14 scores of 5.9. It could have caused a furor that they received not a single perfect 6.0. Katya’s smile dimmed when the score-board turned up 5.8s and 5.9s after their short program. But no other pair received a 5.9 in any part of the competition assuring Gordeeva and Grinkov the gold they so richly deserved.

By Jill Smollowe. Copyright © Time, February 29,1988