A Tragic Loss
On November 20, 1995, tragedy struck when the 28-year-old Grinkov died unexpectedly while he and Gordeeva were rehearsing for a Stars on Ice show at a rink in Lake Placid, New York. Gordeeva later wrote in her memoir, My Sergei, "Sergei was gliding on the ice, but he didn't do the crossovers. His hands didn't go around my waist for the lift…. He couldn't control himself. He tried to stop, but he kept gliding into the boards. He tried to hold onto the boards…. Then he bent hisknees and lay down on the ice very carefully. I kept asking what was happening…. But he didn't speak at all."
Grinkov, who had appeared to be completely healthy except for a problem with high blood pressure, had suffered a massive heart attack. After his death, doctors determined that two of the arteries in his heart had been completely blocked. Heart disease ran in his family; his father had died from a heart attack in his fifties.
Gordeeva took Grinkov's body home to Moscow for the funeral and spent three months in Russia. Although she considered giving up skating forever, she realized that she was not trained to do anything else. In addition, she missed the feel and flow of skating, and she decided to return to the ice.
In early 1996, three months after Grinkov's death, she skated again, solo, at a tribute to Grinkov in Hartford, Connecticut. The transition from pairs skating to solo skating was difficult, but Gordeeva told Lopez, "You can't lock yourself inside yourself or you'll die. My mother told me you have to get up now. You have a daughter to live for." When Gordeeva returned as a single skater, observers were impressed by what Powell called her "elegant fusion of raw emotion and gentle, ballerina-style grace." Fellow skater Brian Boitano told Lopez, "People are mesmerized by her."
According to Mark Starr in Newsweek, Gordeeva said after that performance, "I want you to know I skated tonight not alone. I skated with Sergei. That's why it was so good."
However, she also said, "My life of great skating, and skating with him, is over," according to Steve Lopez in Time. "I don't try to go now for Olympics. I take skating for a job."
In 1996, Gordeeva published My Sergei, a tribute to her late husband and partner. By 1998, the book had sold more than one million copies in both hardcover and paperback, testifying both to Gordeeva's popularity and to the public's fascination with the intensely romantic relationship between the two skaters. For Gordeeva, writing the book helped her express her love and her grief, but it also reminded her of his death; she quit her book tour early because she found it too difficult to be constantly reminded of the tragedy. The book was later adapted for television; "My Sergei" aired on CBS in winter of 1998.
Later in 1996, she began skating in the Stars on Ice show, joining other former Olympians for the 57-city tour.
In 1997, Gordeeva moved out of the condominium she had shared with Grinkov and into a five-bedroom house in Simsbury. She told Powell that she felt weighted down by memories in the condo: "I felt I couldn't start anything new while I was there. It reminded me too much of [Grinkov]."
Gordeeva also appeared in "Snowden on Ice" in 1997. The hour-long CBS special featured Gordeeva as a young woman who, with the help of a magical snowman, rediscovers her love for skating. Her daughter Daria also appeared in the special.
In 1998, Gordeeva published A Letter for Daria, a children's book of reminiscences and advice for her daughter.