Silver Belle

March 07, 1994
March 07, 1994

Table of Contents
March 7, 1994

Horse Racing
Figure Skating
Speed Skating
  • By William Oscar Johnson

    With five medals, Nordic specialist Manuela Di Centa of Italy outshone all others at the Games

Dorothy Hamill
Pro Basketball
Dick Vitale
College Basketball
Point After

Silver Belle

Nancy Kerrigan conquered her demons but couldn't overcome a pixie from Ukraine

The night before the women's figure skating final, Mary Scotvold had a dream. She dreamed that Nancy Kerrigan, whom Mary coaches, with her husband, Evy, doubled her opening triple jump, the flip, in that competition. Then, instead of falling apart, as Kerrigan had done in her nightmarish performance at the 1993 world championships in Prague, Nancy pulled herself together and skated a clean program the rest of the way. Mary woke Evy and related the dream to him.

This is an article from the March 7, 1994 issue Original Layout

In the morning, at the 11 o'clock practice session last Friday—the final run-through before the most important night of her life—Kerrigan doubled her triple flip. Then she went down the ice and nailed her triple toe-triple toe combination. Mary elbowed Evy in the ribs. It was just like in the dream, she said.

"Go back to the hotel and have another dream," Evy told her. "We need that triple flip."

Privately, though, he was thinking: I'll take it. Only one mistake, particularly such a small one, and the gold medal will be Nancy's. Oksana Baiul, the 16-year-old Ukrainian ingenue who was in second place behind Kerrigan after the technical program two days earlier, had been struggling with her jumps all season. She had been beaten by France's Surya Bonaly in the European championships in January. Worse, Baiul, who is the world champion, had suffered a terrible collision with Germany's Tanja Szewczenko during Thursday's training session. She had needed three stitches to close the cut on her right leg, just above the boot, and had badly bruised her back. After trying to skate Friday morning, in the very session in which Kerrigan was doubling her triple flip, Baiul had left the ice in tears, unsure whether her injuries would allow her to compete that night. She looked, and felt, miserable.

And what of Bonaly, who was third heading into the free skate? The bounding Bonaly, a four-time European champion yet wildly inconsistent on a world stage (second-, 11th-and fifth-place finishes in the last three world championships, respectively). What were the chances she would get through her long program, which included eight triples, without a major mistake? Slim.

No. If doubling that triple flip were the only error Kerrigan was to make after all she had been through in the last 12 months—the humiliation of Prague; the trauma of Detroit, where she had been savagely assaulted on Jan. 6 at the U.S. nationals; the accelerated rehabilitation of her injured right knee; the media circus around her; the deals, deals, deals being negotiated by her agent, Jerry Solomon—if that were her only mistake, Evy would take it. And Nancy would surely take home the gold.

Don't think for a minute that any of this had been fun for the 24-year-old Kerrigan. For the last eight weeks she had been living in a maddening fishbowl. Ever since she had been attacked in Detroit, television crews had camped at the end of her parents' driveway in Stoneham, Mass., hanging on Nancy's every public movement and word. The phone rang every three minutes, driving everyone crazy—Nancy; her brothers, Michael and Mark; her parents, Brenda and Dan. They were trapped. And they were bored by the inactivity.

As details of the attack unfolded in the newspapers, Nancy read everything being written. She even read the FBI transcripts of agents' interrogations of three of the confessed conspirators in her assault—Jeff Gillooly, Derrick Smith and Shane Stant—as well as their interviews with rival skater Tonya Harding. "Can you imagine what it was like for Nancy to read that there was a plan to injure her and leave her in her hotel room bound with duct tape?" Mary Scotvold asked.

But Kerrigan also found moments of levity in those transcripts, which were as absorbing as a juicy novel. At times when she ran across her own name, she was shocked into the realization that the whole thing had happened to her. Another of the confessed conspirators, Harding's bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt, was a hilariously comic figure. When Kerrigan read about the bumblings of Stant, her assailant, as he was stalking her in Boston—leaving his credit card back in Phoenix, moving his car every 30 minutes while waiting for her to appear at the practice arena—she howled with laughter. Kerrigan would call a family member over and say, "I know this is horrible, and I'm lucky and everything, but listen to this...." then would read aloud the passages revealing the ineptitude. Then, giddy with mirth, the Kerrigans would look out the window at the mob of wailing reporters and wonder, What if they knew what we were doing now?

All this helped Kerrigan recover from the trauma of the assault. Believing that her attackers were idiots, rather than lunatics, made them less horrific. The reporters outside her home, however, were driving her bananas. So, 13 days before the women's competition began, Kerrigan, the Scotvolds and Solomon flew to Lillehammer, a good week earlier than most of her competitors would arrive.

Conditions there were almost as bad. Kerrigan's room in the Olympic Village in Hamar was tiny, almost cell-like. Solomon had forbidden her to go anywhere without a security guard; she felt like a prisoner in the Olympic Village. At the Albertville Games in '92, where she won the bronze medal, she had roomed with fellow American skater Kristi Yamaguchi, a good friend and the eventual gold medalist, which gave the gregarious Kerrigan someone to hang out with, to eat meals with. But in Hamar she found herself uncomfortable in the Village cafeteria, where she was ogled by curious competitors. "Everyone would be looking at me like I was some sort of freak," she said.

When the news came on Feb. 12 that the U.S. Olympic Committee, under the threat of a $25 million lawsuit, was dropping its disciplinary hearing and allowing Harding to compete in the Games, the entire Kerrigan camp went into a seething funk. Brenda and Dan, still in Stoneham, were livid. Evy went on a one-night bender. As for Nancy, Evy had never seen her so angry. She was swearing a blue streak, and Evy had seldom, if ever, heard her cuss. The FBI had been keeping the family informed of the criminal investigation, and the Kerrigans had been led to believe that Harding might be arrested any day. In his testimony to the FBI, Gillooly, Harding's ex-husband, had implicated Harding in the planning of the attack. But she had denied being involved, no charges had been brought against her, and now Harding was going to be Kerrigan's teammate. To add potential injury to insult, the International Skating Union had ruled that Harding and Kerrigan would have to practice together. All of Kerrigan's worst nightmares were being realized.

But by the time Harding arrived in Lillehammer on Feb. 16, Kerrigan had gotten the anger out of her system. There would be no hugging between the two women, as Harding had disingenuously proposed—"She's never hugged Nancy before, why should she start now?" Mary Scotvold said—but Kerrigan did say a few civil words to Harding before their first practice together. "Tough month for both of us, eh?" Kerrigan said.

Harding, surprised, replied, "Yeah."

"Well," said Kerrigan, "I've got to get ready now."

Kerrigan seemed determined to prove she was just as tough as the hardscrabble Harding. She could easily have moved out of her cubicle in the Olympic Village and taken up residence at Heramb Farm, the handsome 19th-century manor 20 minutes north of Hamar where her parents were staying with Nancy's former sponsor, Lisa Webster. But Kerrigan didn't want it to look as if she were going out of her way to avoid contact with Harding. She did her best to enjoy the Olympics, braving the crowds to take in two U.S. hockey games and to watch U.S. speed skaters Dan Jansen and Bonnie Blair each win a gold medal. She dined out nearly every night with Solomon at the festive, buffet-styled Sea Side fish restaurant. "I'd never heard someone order dinner before they asked for a reservation," said Kerrigan. "Jerry would walk in and say, 'We'd like the chicken, the vegetables, some potatoes, some wine and a sundae. O.K.? And, oh, do you have a table?' I could never do something like that."

But the restaurant was happy to have her, and the sundae was delivered with an embarrassing sparkler on top. "Next time hold the fireworks," she told the waiter. One night she was serenaded at the restaurant by the Dutch speed skating team. "Nancy, Nancy, Nancy...were the words," she said. "They were led by some guy with a whistle."

Harding, by contrast, was spending her evenings with family and close friends in the house rented by her new best buddies, the folks at Inside Edition, the tabloid TV show. Allergic to the seafood that's ubiquitous on Norwegian menus, she ate at the house every night. About the only times she was seen in public were at her practices, which were abysmal. She never ran through even half of her program, either short or long. She was at her worst when her music was playing. In those rare moments when she did successfully complete a triple jump, her coach, Diane Rawlinson, a Stepford-wife grin plastered on her face, and her choreographer, Erika Bakacas, would applaud mindlessly, as if Harding were six years old.

So it came as little surprise on Wednesday night when Harding, wearing a red sequined elephant-trainer outfit that she had grown out of 10 pounds ago, stumbled through her triple Lutz-double toe combination in the technical program, effectively removing her from medal contention 30 seconds into her program. "She looked slow and tired and out of shape," said Jill Trenary, a former U.S. and world champion. Did that surprise Trenary? "Not after seeing her skate all week. She hasn't seemed happy or confident." Harding ended the night in 10th place.

Kerrigan, who was the 26th of 27 skaters to perform, felt a strange calm before her short program. It was different from anything she had experienced before. "I felt a little too calm," she said. "I had to tell myself, All right, this is it. This is the Olympics." She did some sprints before lacing on her skates to get the adrenaline flowing, but when she took to the ice, her face still betrayed nothing but peace. "She was so deliberate, with every gesture, every jump," Mary Scotvold said later.

Both Bonaly and Baiul had been terrific, show-stopping, but Kerrigan bested them on this night. She skated a virtually perfect technical program, and afterward, with dozens of American flags waving and Kerrigan beaming proudly at center ice, with Harding halfheartedly applauding from an enclosed box high above the ice, one had the feeling that at least one demon had been exorcised. The attack in Detroit was behind her. Later, at the draw for the long program, Harding unexpectedly gave a congratulatory hug to Kerrigan. "I thought, What are you doing?" Kerrigan, taken aback, recalled. "It gave me the creeps."

Later that night at a party at the Victoria Hotel with some 35 relatives and friends, Kerrigan was relaxed but restrained, very much aware that there was still unfinished business at hand. Upon her arrival she circled the room greeting all the guests, the perfect hostess. She did the same when it was time to leave. "Good luck tomorrow," a gentleman said.

"Thank you," she said. "I just practice tomorrow, but thanks." In Prague, after all, she had also led the field after the short program before her horrific ninth-place finish in the free skate, and Prague was the one demon in her life left to slay. "Prague was the biggest motivator of all this year," said Evy Scotvold. "More than Detroit. She knows now what can happen if you're not ready to be the leader."

Kerrigan, still trying to enjoy her final Olympics, took in a short-track speed skating event the next night. "I almost cried there," she says. "I saw Isabelle Brasseur, the Canadian pairs skater, who's a good friend, and her boyfriend, Jean-Luc Brassard, who won a gold medal in the moguls. I wanted to go down and say hello, to congratulate them, but security wouldn't let me. All I could do was wave. I was seated at the top of the stadium, behind glass. You couldn't hear the crowd. I touched the glass and thought, I really am in a fishbowl."

In a funny way, though, that fishbowl may have prepared her for the pressure of skating in the Olympics. The short program had been the third-most-watched sports event in U.S. television history, but to Kerrigan, it was just one more night on display. The long program? That was the final step. Then it would all be over.

Harding's woes were far from over, however. She broke a lace during the warmup and couldn't find a suitable replacement. She came within 24 seconds of being disqualified after taking one minute, 36 seconds to make it to the ice following her introduction as the next skater. Her team of handlers had, amazingly enough, failed to bring an extra pair of laces long enough for Harding's boots.

When Harding popped out of her opening jump, a triple Lutz, she burst into tears and skated over to the referee, Britta Lindgren of Sweden, and showed her the lace problem. Lindgren generously offered Harding a reskate (she could have had Harding pick up her program where she had stopped). This was nothing new for Harding. At the U.S. nationals in '93 she asked for a reskate after her dress came undone. At Skate America last fall she stopped at midprogram when her skate blade came loose. Given a second chance in Lillehammer, Harding had the lace replaced, skated her program and pulled herself up to eighth place.

Kerrigan? She skated just like in the dream. She doubled that opening triple flip, raising the specter of Prague, where the doubles turned to singles and worse. But from that point on she was nearly flawless: strong and fast and angular and increasingly animated as it became clear to her and everyone else that this was the best long program she had ever skated in competition. That the hard work had paid off. That this beauty had more than a small measure of grit and fight and moxie in her. "You won't believe the dream I had last night," Mary Scotvold told her as they hugged after Nancy came off the ice. And when the scores flashed on the board, revealing six 5.9's for artistic impression, it seemed certain to Kerrigan's supporters that she would win.

She didn't, of course. Another lovely scrapper, Baiul, whose entire young life has been a story of overcoming obstacles (SI, Feb. 7), was given two IOC-approved painkilling injections an hour before she skated, then performed as if she had just awakened from the best night's sleep of her life. She landed her jumps with more sureness than she had shown since last year's world championships and beguiled both judges and crowd with that magic that cannot be taught. "She is a perfect skater," said no less an authority than two-time Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt, who finished seventh on this night.

Baiul, too, had one error, two-footing the landing on her triple flip, but only three of the judges deducted for the flaw. When the marks came in, the enchanting Baiul had won the night from Kerrigan, five judges to four—the split curiously coming along old party lines. Judges from Canada, Great Britain, Japan and the U.S. went for Kerrigan. Judges from China, the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine and the former East Germany preferred Baiul. After a poor showing by Bonaly, the gold went to Baiul, the silver to Kerrigan, the bronze to China's Chen Lu.

Bitterly disappointed, members of the Kerrigan camp were subdued at the party at the Victoria afterward. They truly believed she had won, that the technical marks for Baiul had been too high. Nancy hadn't come so far, worked so hard, put up with so much, to win silver. The inner peace of knowing she had been great when the stakes had been highest, well, that wasn't quite enough for this night. "Did you watch the whole thing?" Brenda Kerrigan asked an acquaintance. "What did you think?"

"Her performance was golden," he said.

"I need to hear it," Brenda said. "I need to hear everyone say it."

Twenty-four hours later, on Saturday night, hours before the Kerrigan entourage would catch a flight home to the U.S., Brenda had already adopted a new perspective. "It's not right, what the judges did, but they did us a favor," she said. "Two people have told me this today. The first time it went in one ear and out the other. The second time, I started to think about it. It makes sense. The silver medal will give Nancy back her normal life quicker. They did us a favor. Nancy, you know, never liked being special."

No, but like silver, it becomes her.

ILLUSTRATIONTWO PHOTOSHEINZ KLUETMEIERKerrigan (opposite) looked good as gold, but Baiul's free-skate program left her sobbing for joy with coach Galina Zmievskaya.TWO PHOTOSBILL FRAKESA surprisingly serene Kerrigan soared to a lead in the technical program, but Baiul kept close.PHOTOTOM TREICKAfter Harding tearfully pleaded her case, a frantic Team Tonya worked to replace her broken lace.PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER[See caption above.]PHOTOBILL EPPRIDGEBaiul dazzled (opposite), then joined Chen and Kerrigan, who was aglitter, but not with gold.PHOTOMANNY MILLAN[See caption above.]PHOTOBILL FRAKES(KERRIGAN)[See caption above.]