Ekaterina Gordeeva, the waif who delighted Canadians at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, is now 39, a mother of two and fascinated by her next task: skating with hockey players on the second season on the CBC-TV hit show Battle of the Blades.
It won't be easy in some ways for the two-time Olympic figure skating champion from Russia whose love story with partner Sergei Grinkov enchanted North Americans, even more so after his death from a heart attack at 28. That was 15 years ago.
Now married to 2002 Olympic men's champion, Ilia Kulik of Russia, Gordeeva lives in California and admits it will be difficult for her to leave their nine-year-old daughter, Lisa, for the two-month commitment to the Battle of the Blades.
Her other daughter, Daria, (Sergei's child), is 18, has left the nest, and is applying to get into college for perhaps a fashion career next year. She stopped skating when she was 13 or 14, at about the time she entered high school. Kulik has been teaching Lisa to skate.
After chief judge and show director Sandra Bezic called Gordeeva and offered her a job on this season's show, Gordeeva admitted she had to give it some thought before she committed. She skates in just five to 10 shows a year.
"I didn't want to be far away from home for so long," Gordeeva said by phone from Los Angeles on Tuesday. She skated in a similar show in Russia two years ago, called Ice Age, but there, she was skating with an actor who had never skated before at all, and Lisa was with her.
Battle of the Blades must be easier, she thought, and besides, if she yearned for home, it wouldn't be as far to fly from Toronto as it would from Moscow.
After a four-day boot camp (which wasn't part of the Russian Ice Age show), Gordeeva has been paired with fellow Russian and hockey player, Valeri Bure, the younger brother of NHL star Pavel Bure, who played for a series of NHL teams, and won Olympic silver and bronze while playing for Russia in 1998 and 2002. It's decidedly ironic.
Bure and Gordeeva attended the same school and the same Red Army Club in Moscow. Gordeeva was in the same class as Pavel.
"[Valeri]is four or five years younger than me," Gordeeva said. "He remembers me in school. I remember him, too. I saw them together. I knew him, not very well, but … after that, I lost track of him after all these years."
She said "it's very cool" to be associated with him again.
They have lots to talk about. Bure retired in 2004 and now has a boutique winery with his actress wife, Candace Cameron, in the Napa Valley. "He has a great family," Gordeeva said. "I met them. Valeri is a very nice person, very down to earth, very family oriented. It's very cool to talk to him."
As for the premise of the show, Gordeeva finds it amusing that big strong hockey players are matched with figure skaters. "Usually you think hockey players don't even look at figure skaters," she said. "And here they are face to face with each other and they have to deal with each other."
But they are all adults and athletes who travel a lot and perform on ice. "We have a lot of things in common," she said.
When Gordeeva skates these days, she skates solo, although she's been known to skate pairs with her husband, Ilia. But she is world renowned as a pairs skater, and has no fear when somebody hoists her into a lift - even if they don't have as much experience as her famous partner did.
"I feel comfortable with it," she said. "And that's why I decided to give it a try."
She has already watched coaches teach the hockey players to doff their hockey skates for figure skates, with dangerous toe picks, and then in a couple of days, after some off-ice lessons, give it a go on ice with their partners.
Producers of the show promise more high-risk routines this year. And tiny Gordeeva is up for it.
On Sept. 26, CBC will air a show that details the boot camp experience. The following week the competition starts, with the finale on Nov. 22.