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  Skater Attacked at Olympic Trials

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 7, 1994; Page A1




 Nancy Kerrigan holds her injured knee after an attack by an unidentified man at the U.S. Olympic trials. (File Photo)
DETROIT, Jan. 6 — U.S. national champion figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, a 1992 Olympic bronze medalist and one of the favorites to win the gold medal at next month's Winter Olympics, was attacked by a man wielding a blunt object after a practice this afternoon at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Kerrigan was hit on the outside of her right knee by the assailant, who ran toward her moments after she left the ice at Cobo Arena downtown, then escaped from the building as Kerrigan fell to the ground.

The suspect, described by a witness as a 6-foot-2 white male, has not been caught, and Kerrigan's status for making the 1994 U.S. Olympic team was very much in doubt.

"I just don't want to lose faith in people," Kerrigan told ABC Sports tonight. "... It was one bad guy and I'm sure there's others because this kind of thing has happened before in other sports. ... Most people are worried about me, wondering what happened. Those are the people that I want to tell I'm okay. It's not the most important thing — skating — so if I can't [skate] I'll have to deal with it. It could have been a lot worse."

Kerrigan, 24, of Stoneham, Mass., has a "serious" bruise on the knee on her landing leg that "may preclude her from participating" in the trials, said Steven Plomaritis, an orthopedic surgeon who was rushed to the scene to treat her. X-rays taken later at nearby Hutzel Hospital were negative, he said, and Kerrigan was walking, unassisted, with a limp in her hotel room.

This is the second time in little more than eight months that a high-profile female athlete has been attacked. On April 30, tennis star Monica Seles was stabbed during a changeover on the court at a tournament in Hamburg. Her assailant, Guenter Parche, who said he stabbed Seles because he is a fan of her rival, Steffi Graf, received a two-year suspended sentence. Seles has not returned to competition.

Kerrigan was scheduled to compete Friday afternoon in the technical program of the women's competition and Saturday night in the free skate finale. Two U.S. women will qualify for the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway next month.

Tonight the swelling in Kerrigan's knee has become worse, said Jerry Solomon of Washington-based ProServ, who is Kerrigan's agent. She will be evaluated Friday morning, when a decision might be made on her ability to compete.

If she does not compete, the rules of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, the sport's national governing body, say that she cannot be a member of the upcoming Olympic team. However, because of the unusual circumstances, and because Kerrigan is considered the nation's best female skater and top medal hope, figure skating officials held several meetings to discuss their options.

Late tonight the USFSA discovered a loophole in its rules. An obscure rule says the organization may consider for the Olympic team skaters who do not compete at the trials. It's uncertain how the USFSA would invoke this rule.

Then there's the matter of Kerrigan's ability to come back from the attack. "She sustained quite a blow, not only emotionally, but also physically," Solomon said. "She is working her way through it."

"I want her to go if she can," said Evy Scotvold, Kerrigan's longtime coach, "but, on the other hand, I do want to protect her from hurting herself. ... He didn't go for the head, so she'll be fine, she'll heal. The questions now are: How much pain is there? Can she stand it? Can she skate?"

The attack occurred at about 2:35 p.m. as Kerrigan exited the ice following a practice session at Cobo Arena, which is located next to Joe Louis Arena, site of the trials.

As she walked behind a blue curtain separating the rink from a hallway leading to the locker rooms, Kerrigan stopped momentarily to talk to a reporter, Dana Scarton of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"Before she could say anything to me, a guy ran by, crouched down, whacked her on the knee and kept on running," said Scarton. "Nancy just dropped and started screaming and sobbing, 'It hurts. It hurts. It hurts so bad. I'm so scared.' "

Within seconds, dozens of officials were rushing toward Kerrigan, Scarton said. Her assailant ran down a hallway and forced his way out of the arena through a plexiglass window, witnesses said. Still wielding his weapon, he ran along a sidewalk crowded with people attending an auto show at adjacent Cobo Hall and escaped, witnesses said.

Although Detroit police have released no information on the attacker's motives, Kathy Stuart, a coach who was at the practice, said she noticed a "suspicious-looking man" in a black jacket and hat videotaping Kerrigan as she skated. When Kerrigan left the ice, Stuart said she thought the man followed her. Police have not identified that man as the assailant.

Stuart said the man she saw was wearing a credential around his neck, allowing him to be at the rink. Certain credentials are not allowed in all areas. Several witnesses said they were never asked to show their credentials because there was no one to show them to. "There was no security," Scotvold said.

The USFSA and the local organizing committee are responsible for security at the trials.

In the last two years, two women figure skaters, East German star Katarina Witt and Tonya Harding, a former U.S. champion, have been the objects of threats. Harding, who is competing here, says she now employs a bodyguard service.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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