OBITUARY: Sergei Grinkov

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The Olympic pair skating champion Sergei Grinkov was practising on Monday with his wife and partner Ekaterina Gordeeva on an ice rink at Lake Placid, New York. They had just performed a thrown jump when he suffered a heart attack and later died, aged 28.

The Grinkovs were one of the most memorable pairs in the history of the sport, combining to a rare degree the conflicting requirements of artistry and athleticism in skating. They won Olympic gold medals six years apart, and many other titles too.

Sergei Grinkov was born in Moscow, the son of parents who both worked for the city's police force, and he began skating at the age of nine. He originally wanted to compete in singles events, but afterwards said he was so terrible that he had no choice but to try pairs. In 1982, when he was 15, he was teamed with a tiny 10-year-old, Ekaterina Gordeeva. He did not take to her at first, but in the Soviet Union skaters obeyed orders, and she was the partner officialdom had chosen for him.

Success was not long in coming. Coached by Stanislav Leonovich, who had himself won a silver medal at the 1982 World Championships, Grinkov and Gordeeva were world junior champions in 1984, a month after winning the Skate Canada international competition. Runners-up for the European title in 1986, they then became World Champions at their first attempt in Geneva.

Grinkov was by now a tall, strong young man of 19; his partner, not yet 15, measured 4ft 9in and weighed less than 6st. Later she grew much bigger, but in their early years the disparity in size looked incongruous; in Germany they were called the "one-and-a-half pair". There was however a great advantage: Katya could easily be lifted overhead with one hand, or be hurled into the spectacular thrown jumps which help make pair skating so much more dramatic than ice dancing.

They won three more world titles, losing only in 1988 to their compatriots Oleg and Elena Vasilieva. They had mixed fortunes in the European event. In a curious episode in 1987, they were disqualified. Grinkov's boot strap came loose during their performance, and the referee, seeing this as a safety hazard, stopped the music. They continued skating in silence, after which the referee told them they must re-skate at the end of the competition. They refused to do so. They won in 1988 and 1990, but injury prevented them from competing at Birmingham in 1989.

Having won the Olympic gold medal in Calgary in 1988, they decided to retire and turn professional in 1990. They married that year, and their daughter, Daria, was born in summer 1992.

They competed in professional championships, and then - like Christopher Dean and Jayne Torvill - took advantage of the unprecedented decision by the International Olympic Committee to allow professionals to skate in the 1994 Olympic Winter Games at Hamar, near Lillehammer. The Grinkovs again took the gold medal as well as winning a third European title to crown a career which was notable for brilliant lifts, steps, and triple jumps, and supreme artistry in interpreting music as varied as Mozart, Beethoven, "Tico Tico", and honky-tonk. Sergei's strength and Katya's happy personality combined in a partnership rightly described by the leading coach Betty Callaway as "absolutely superb".

Dennis L. Bird

Sergei Grinkov, skater: born Moscow 4 February 1967; partnered by Ekaterina Gordeeva 1982-95; European Champion 1988, 1990, 1994; World Champion 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990; Olympic Gold Medallist 1988, 1994; married 1990 Ekaterina Gordeeva (one daughter); died Saranac Lake, New York 20 November 1995.