A Vote for a Skater

If Sports Illustrated needs any help choosing its annual Sportsman (or woman) of the Year, we've got a suggestion. No, it's not Michael Johnson. It's not even Michael Jordan. It's ice skater Ekaterina Gordeeva.

Ms. Gordeeva recently made her solo competition debut at the Northwestern Mutual Life World Team Championships in Milwaukee. Her performance didn't go as well as she might have hoped, but that didn't seem to matter to the audience. They rose to their feet - twice - in support of a woman who defines the word "champion" both on the ice and off.

In 1986 Gordeeva and her skating partner, Sergei Grinkov, won the first of four world championships for the Soviet Union. Between 1988, when they won the Olympic gold medal in Calgary, and 1994, when they won Olympic gold again, they married and became parents. Last November, Mr. Grinkov died while practicing with Gordeeva for a "Stars on Ice" tour.

The Stars on Ice troupe paid tribute to Grinkov in February, when Gordeeva made her first, emotional solo appearance. This month, she competed on the Russian team, and emotions still ran high. Her coach put it this way: "Ice so cold. Rink so big. And little woman so alone on the ice."

As American Kristi Yamaguchi pointed out, pair skating and solo skating are two very different disciplines. In one, you have someone else to lean on. In the other, you don't.

Gordeeva seemed ready to take this next step, however. She said, "This is what I know how to do and this is what helps me heal."

Our vote is in.

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