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 Figure skating section

  For Kerrigan, All That Glitters Is Silver

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 1994; Page A1

HAMAR, Norway, Feb. 25 — When she had finished, when the music stopped and the crowd rose to its feet and roared as if it would never stop, Nancy Kerrigan realized she had overcome everything at the Winter Olympics.

Everything, it turns out, but a brilliant figure skater named Oksana Baiul.

Fifty days after being clubbed on the knee, Kerrigan gave the most scintillating performance of her career in the women's figure skating competition at the Olympic Amphitheatre, but missed the gold medal by the closest margin possible: .10 of a point in a 5-4 decision by the judges.

"I knew I was capable of doing just what I did," Kerrigan said later, without the slightest hint of disappointment. "I decided not to play any mind games with myself, to question myself, because I knew I was capable of this. I proved it to myself."

Baiul, the 16-year-old world champion from Ukraine who had been injured in a practice collision Thursday, received a pain-killing injection in her lower back an hour before she skated. Following immediately after Kerrigan, her performance didn't appear to have the same degree of technical difficulty as that of the U.S. skater, but she impressed the nine judges with her artistry to win the first Olympic gold medal ever by a woman from the former Soviet Union.

While Kerrigan may have fulfilled every dream except winning the gold, Tonya Harding participated in one of the most unusual dramas in Olympic figure skating history. The program was divided into four groups of six skaters, and Harding was scheduled to be the second skater in the third group of six. After the skaters warmed up, Krisztina Czako of Hungary led off the segment. But when it was Harding's turn to skate and her name was called, she was nowhere in sight. With just 21 seconds remaining in a two-minute grace period awarded to all the skaters, Harding rushed from behind a curtain off the rink, her asthma inhaler in hand. She raced onto the ice, fiddled with the laces of her skate and then began her program, only to miss her first jump and dissolve into tears.

Still crying, Harding skated over to referee Britta Lindgren, put her right foot on the ledge in front of the judge and, through tears, explained that a lace had broken during her warmup and that she had not had time to fix it properly. Lindgren examined the skate and told Harding she could try again. The rest of the skaters in Harding's group performed, then 20 minutes later, Harding returned, hit four triple jumps (but never tried the triple Axel for which she is famous) and moved up to eighth place after starting in 10th.

Harding, in a plum sequined costume, left the ice for good, and out came the top six skaters, the ones in the fourth group who would duel for the medals. Kerrigan, the 24-year-old from Stoneham, Mass., was the leader after the technical program Wednesday.

Kerrigan was in an ideal position, skating second in this group. She was able to warm up, had to wait for just one skater, China's Lu Chen, the eventual bronze medalist, and then could come out and perform. And that she did. For the second time in as many tries, Kerrigan skated without a hitch, her only mistake being one simple error of omission, when she turned her opening triple flip into a double.

Performing to a Neil Diamond medley in a white satin dress with sheer sleeves and gold sequins, Kerrigan glided down the ice after that double jump and nailed the toughest combination jump of the evening, by any skater, a triple toe loop-triple toe loop combination. She later performed a triple loop, followed by another combination, a triple Salchow-double toe loop. By then, the crowd of 6,000 was applauding every move.

She finished with one more triple — the difficult triple Lutz, which she hit right in front of her coaches, Evy and Mary Scotvold — and a double Axel, before spinning to the end.

At that moment, when she finished and the flowers rained down from the rafters, Kerrigan thought only of one thing: A year earlier, skating in a similar position, she had had a miserable night, hitting only two triples and dropping to fifth place at the world championships in Prague.

And now, there was this. Kerrigan laughed. She clapped her hands hard. And she disappeared into the arms of her coaches, lost in a delirious joy she thought she might never know.

When the judges marks came up, they were good, very good, but not great. For technical merit, they seemed a bit low: three 5.7s and six 5.8s. For artistic impression, they were better, three 5.8s and six 5.9s.

When Kerrigan walked away, she said later she thought she had won the gold medal.

"For me, my mind and my heart, I did," she said. "And my peace of mind. I thought I was great. I had fun."

Baiul came next, skating to a handful of popular Broadway tunes, including those from "My Fair Lady" and "The Sound of Music." Clearly shaken by Thursday's collision with Tanja Szewczenko of Germany, Baiul amazed even herself with a perfect landing on the first triple, the Lutz. But she two-footed the landing of the next triple, a flip, seemingly opening the door slightly for Kerrigan.

But she steadied herself and threw in a perfect triple Salchow.

Nearing the end of her four-minute program, after a triple toe loop, she made a decision that ended up winning her the gold medal. In the final minute, she came back with the triple toe loop, out of nowhere, followed by a double Axel-double toe combination — her only combination jump — in the closing seconds. She was so thrilled she hit them all, she cried.

"I knew it was going to decide the Olympic gold medal," Baiul said later through an interpreter. "So, in the last minute, I put in the triple toe."

For technical merit, Baiul received one 5.5, one 5.6, one 5.7, five 5.8s and a 5.9. Her artistic marks were superb: three 5.8s and six 5.9s.

Baiul had won five judges to Kerrigan's four. After Chen came France's Surya Bonaly, Yuka Sato of Japan, and Germany's Tanja Szewczenko, who collided with Baiul in Thursday's practice. Two-time gold medalist Katarina Witt was seventh.

"You can't be sure of the placement until the end," Kerrigan said, when asked if she knew right away she had fallen to second. "We saw that with the dance {the ice dancing competition}, because it depends on what the other girls get. But I don't think it takes away from what I planned to do or what I did out there."

Kerrigan made a strong argument for the gold. She landed five triple jumps in all, to Baiul's four clean landings. Neither woman made a big mistake. And Kerrigan had been the leader going in, although with the long program counting 67 percent of the final score, any of the top three skaters coming in from the technical program can win the gold by winning the free skate.

"Oksana stands in front of the judges and smiles, and that passes for artistic impression," said Paul Wylie, the 1992 Olympic silver medalist who used to train with Kerrigan. "To me, I wonder about the technical mark. The quality of Nancy's triples was so good, and she did a more difficult combination. The only thing is, Nancy doesn't stand in front of the judges. But, you know, silver ain't bad."

Ironically, Wylie lost in 1992 to Viktor Petrenko, who is married to the daughter of Baiul's coach in Odessa. Baiul, an orphan, lives with her coach, Galina Zmievskaia. She trains on a horrible rink at home, which Zmievskaia is forced to hose down herself because they have no Zamboni.

It was such a pleasing victory for her, overcoming all that she has not had.

The same could be said for Kerrigan, even if the result wasn't all it could have been. It was the first time in her career she had successfully completed both the technical program and the free skate without a major error. With her life now changing, forever, Kerrigan was able to put a very happy ending on a terrifying seven weeks.

"I think I skated great," she said. "I was smiling, I was happy, I was enjoying myself. I had fun. And besides that, I did the elements. I mean, how can I complain?"

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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