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Grinkov Had Heart Disease : Figure skating: Autopsy shows he had enlarged heart, high blood pressure before fatal attack.

November 22, 1995|From Associated Press

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — He was the picture of health, "except for this one problem."

For Sergei Grinkov, 28, the one problem was a heart that exploded without warning while he practiced for an ice show with his wife and partner, Ekaterina Gordeeva.

An autopsy showed the two-time Olympic figure skating champion died of a massive heart attack caused by a blocked artery and high blood pressure.

He apparently had another heart attack within 24 hours before he collapsed on Monday, said Dr. Francis Varga, who performed the preliminary autopsy.

He said there was no indication of steroids or any other form of drug or alcohol abuse.

"He was clearly in very good health except for this one problem," Varga said. "The entire front half of his heart muscle and a part of the left side of his heart muscle were deprived of oxygen."

He also noted that "a familial history of coronary artery disease is a factor, and apparently his father did die early of heart disease."

Grinkov's father died four years ago in Moscow.

"We do see young people who are physically fit die and have this disease, and it's probably related to a genetic predisposition," Varga said.

He said Grinkov's heart problem would not have been picked up by a routine examination, only by a stress test.

"If he continued at all on any schedule, it was only a question of time," Varga said. "Unless his condition was discovered and he had a bypass, the probability of survival for him was remote. Many times in young people the first sign of coronary artery disease is sudden death."

The autopsy revealed that Grinkov's left anterior artery, which feeds a major portion of the heart muscle, was virtually closed.

"His heart was enlarged, as athletes' hearts frequently are," Varga said. "But his heart was disproportionately enlarged, more than you would expect for an athlete" because of his history of hypertension.

"Athletes are very tough; they cover things up," Varga said. "Men also don't like to complain about their pain, and that's a problem."

Grinkov and Gordeeva won two Olympic gold medals and four world championships in pairs skating. They were a classic, ballet-trained duo whose romantic style on ice mirrored the love story they shared off it.

Part of the "Stars on Ice" show, they started Monday with a routine practice at the Olympics ice center,

"Everything seemed to be fine," said Laura Nardiello, a former skater and one of a handful of people present when Grinkov collapsed. "They went into their routine a little bit. He lifted her, put her down, and then just stepped back. He seemed to be dizzy.

"Gordeeva asked, 'Are you OK?' He said, 'I just feel a little dizzy.' "

Gordeeva helped her husband sit on the ice, Nardiello said. Then he lay down and lost consciousness. Grinkov died a short while later.

He will be buried in Moscow. No date has been set for the funeral.

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