05/09/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
She is a Czarina of Ice, a whirling phantom, a woman-child defying gravity when spun into the air by her husband and gold medal ice-skating partner, Sergei Grinkov. Despite her special talents, no one expected Ekaterina Gordeeva to be beautiful. Growing up in Moscow, little Katya, the daughter of a computer-specialist mother and a dancer father, was regarded as plain. She began skating with Sergei when he was 15 and she was 10, but even her future husband didn't pay her much mind until six years later. "Katya has become so beautiful," he confided to his sister one day.
The pairing has been fruitful. Sergei, now 27, and Katya, 22, won Olympic gold in Calgary in 1988, turned pro in 1990, wed the next year and had a daughter, Darya. In Lillehammer the couple won another gold with their fast and fluid performance, where Katya again reigned, as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED once observed, as "the most enchanting champion in skating."
In addition to a little apartment awarded them by the Soviet government, the couple have a home in Tampa. She loves the ocean but when in Russia avoids Moscow tap water ("the worst thing for the skin!"). She barely wears makeup outside of performances. In fact, she believes Russian women overdo it, glopping on iridescent eye shadow. "We didn't have western fashion magazines to give us advice," says Katya, who, with Sergei, is on the Campbell's Soups skating tour of U.S. cities through mid-July. Her own needs are minimal: Chapstick, a hairbrush and, she adds, I think every Russian? woman needs her fur!" Even ice princesses need to keep warm.