FIGURE SKATER EKATERINA GORDEEVA CHAMPIONS PROPER DIET FOR ATHLETES
By Gail Ciampa, Providence Journal Food Editor
How one grows up to be an Olympic athlete is a fascinating topic, if for no other reason than there are so few who rise to that level. It requires not just talent and determination but proper training, and whatever costs are associated with that, and maybe even a bit of good fortune.
Is part of that training a proper diet to fuel the athlete's body?
That was the topic of the day when two-time Olympic Pairs Gold Medalist and figure skater Ekaterina Gordeeva came to Providence recently to promote the Stars on Ice "Dancing for Joy" tour, which stops at the Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 14.
Over lunch at Centro restaurant at the Omni Providence Hotel, the lovely and engaging Katia, as she likes to be called, expressed her passion for the importance of a balanced diet for all young athletes.
Such was not the case when she trained as a young teen back in the former Soviet Union. She was born in Moscow, the daughter of Elena, who worked as a teletype operator for the news agency TASS, and Alexander, a dancer with a famous folk dancing troupe. At the age of 4, she was chosen to skate for the Central Red Army Club, based on her talent.
"When I was 12 or 13, they put me into pairs skating," she said. "And told me, 'You have to be watching your figure.' "
"When I look back, I see it was too much. It was harsh," she said.
Coaches ruled, and what they said was law. And the same law applied to all. They didn't take into account that all bodies are different, she said. Some skaters had more muscle but were still in good shape. But the coaches wanted all to have lithe figures.
Gordeeva said she was checked often to see that she stayed within a certain number of kilograms, so she remained very thin. This was in spite of the fact that she'd never had a weight problem.
"You have to fit in this dress and be skinny. But at the same time you have to be athletic, too."
"Even as a child I would not eat all day so I could have an ice cream at night," she said.
Ice cream is still one of her favorite foods.
"I think it's a big mistake to have a restrictive diet," she said, adding that it only makes you have a hunger for what you don't have. She favors eating smartly with four to six small-portion meals a day and no late-night eating.
"You can eat dessert, but maybe have it at lunch," she said.
"It's all about portion control. She is not a fan of nonfat foods because you can trick yourself into a bigger portion.
"The body also needs fat to develop," she added.
In addition to performing for Stars on Ice, Gordeeva, 43, teaches skating in Orange County, Calif., where she lives and works with her husband, Ilia Kulik. They opened their own in rink in Lake Forest. There she is educating the parents of young skaters to ensure that their children eat before coming to the ice for a day of skating.
"Some mothers think they are not supposed to let their children have carbohydrates or big breakfasts," she said. "But they should be having sandwiches, pasta and muffins to see what they like, what works for them."
" Empty stomachs can make skaters tire more easily and not feel well. It's the quickest way to have a young person opt out of athletics, she said.
"Girls, especially, give up on sports," she said.
"The earlier you are educated on food and how to eat, the better," she said. "By the time you are 16, patterns are set."
Her own daughter Elizaveta is now 13 and has a lot of skating talent, she said. She may choose to follow her mother and become a competitive skater.
Fortunately for her daughter and other young skaters, Gordeeva sees things changing in the sport.
"It used to be you have to be skinny. But now we know you need enough fuel to feel good," she said. "You have to be happy and be in a good mood."
Gordeeva said she loves to cook, and her specialties include scallops and lamb. She likes to marinate either lamb or pork and then put it right on the fire to cook. She likes to prepare shrimp with avocado, cilantro and tomatoes.
Growing up in Moscow, she didn't have many varieties of food. Sometimes her family would eat sausages, like American hot dogs, for weeks at a time. But her mother was a wonderful cook and tried to mix up dinner with pasta and white sauces.
Moscow remains her favorite city in the world.
It was during competitions to foreign lands that she began to get a taste of many foods, ones she still loves today.
"When I was 13, we went to Japan for a competition and they had banquets with ice cream and desserts," she recalled.
Gordeeva also has a 22-year old daughter, Daria, born to her with first husband, the late Sergei Grinkov. Together Gordeeva and Grinkov were the 1988 and 1994 Olympic pairs champions, as well as four-time world champions. After they moved to Simsbury, Conn., and a new training center, he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1995 while rehearsing a number with their choreographer. He was 28.
She credits her second husband, Kulik, with teaching her about nutrition. Her gold medals hang at their ice rink in California.