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  Kerrigan Will Turn Silver Into Gold

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 1, 1994; Page E7




LILLEHAMMER, Norway — Nancy and Tonya. Tonya and Nancy.

It's over now.

From now on, it's Nancy and Mickey ... and Tonya and the lawyers.

Nancy Kerrigan dumped Tonya Harding once and for all Friday at about 9:40 p.m., Norway time. That was when Kerrigan glided onto the ice in shimmering gold to begin practicing for what would be the finest performance of her life, while Harding, after having had that little problem with her shoelace, slipped out the back door and vomited.

Harding's been a tough one for Kerrigan to shake. For seven weeks, it went like this for Kerrigan: open the paper, she's there; turn on the news, she's there. She's everywhere, and wherever she is, you're there too. Was this any way for an athlete to try to focus on the most important competition of her career?

People put them together, even though they've barely spoken.

Question from a reporter at the Olympics: "What's the relationship between the two of you now?"

Kerrigan: "There isn't a relationship."

Except for the one that was forced upon her.

Kerrigan was the victim of a Jan. 6 knee-bashing by members of the Harding camp. After the attack, Kerrigan began the painstaking process of getting back what she had before she was hit.

Hers was a flawless recovery, medically and strategically. Never once did the Kerrigan camp make a mistake. Kerrigan herself said all the right things at all the right times.

(Okay, so there was that little comment picked up by a CBS microphone about Oksana Baiul wasting time working on her makeup, because she was just going to cry some more anyway. What's the big deal? Didn't Kerrigan just sign with Revlon? Isn't she supposed to be talking about cosmetics on the air?)

Kerrigan and her people pushed all the right buttons. She was neither sequestered nor pampered. The day after the attack, she was giving a news conference, sounding more determined than ever, and she was back on the ice in 10 days, sneaking in little jumps when her doctor wasn't looking.

So then Kerrigan comes to the Olympics. She thinks, as do most U.S. officials and athletes, that Harding is not going to be allowed to join her. And then, after midnight on the first day of the Games, a deal is struck. Harding's on the team. When it's announced, Kerrigan is asleep. No one bothers to wake her.

After all this, the shared practice sessions, the media feeding frenzy, Kerrigan goes onto the ice at the Hamar Olympic Amphitheatre and, for the first time in her life, doesn't make a mistake. She's so good, Harding gets lost in the shuffle, a sad footnote to one of the finest women's Olympic figure skating competitions in history.

But as superb as Kerrigan was, she didn't win. She lost the gold medal to Ukraine's Baiul by the narrowest possible margin, one-tenth of a point on a tiebreaker. Four judges gave their first-place votes to Kerrigan, four others gave theirs to Baiul. The ninth judge, Germany's Jan Hoffman, the 1980 men's silver medalist, split his right down the middle.

Hoffman gave Kerrigan a 5.8 for technical merit and a 5.8 for artistic impression. He gave Baiul a 5.7 for technical merit and a 5.9 for artistic impression. The scores are even: 11.6 for Kerrigan, 11.6 for Baiul.

What breaks the tie? In Wednesday's technical program, it was the first mark, the technical one. In Friday's free skate, it was the second, the artistic mark. So, Baiul's 5.9 beat Kerrigan's 5.8 on Hoffman's card, and that decided the gold medal.

But this wasn't just some kind of lucky break for Baiul. Hoffman planned it that way. He rewarded Kerrigan for her technical merit and Baiul for her artistry. He made a statement in his marks, that the two were equally brilliant that night. But a judge can't tie skaters; he or she must rank them. And Hoffman knew that by giving Baiul the higher mark in artistic impression, she would beat Kerrigan on his card. It's a strategy that is above reproach.

Three judges who went for Baiul weren't quite as logical. Judges 3, 4 and 5 — from the Czech Republic, Ukraine and China — all ranked Baiul ahead technically, and tied the skaters artistically, with 5.9s. Look at the technical merit marks: Judge 3 gave Kerrigan a 5.8 and Baiul a 5.9; Judge 4, Kerrigan 5.7, Baiul 5.8; Judge 5, Kerrigan 5.7, Baiul 5.8.

This is judging the old-fashioned way; i.e., inflating scores so your girl wins. Baiul may have been better than Kerrigan artistically, but she did not beat her technically. Kerrigan hit five perfect triples; Baiul landed four. Kerrigan completed a triple-triple combination jump; Baiul did a double-double. Some experts liked Baiul's spins better than Kerrigan's, but that still shouldn't have cost Kerrigan the technical edge.

"That's the way it's been since I was very young, so I'm kind of used to it," Kerrigan said. "And it's happened more than once that things don't always go the way that most people think they should have. That's what I have to deal with, and it doesn't matter because I felt that I skated great. It doesn't matter what everybody else thinks."

Of all the bad things that the attack brought Kerrigan, there were some good things too.

One, the money. She was going to do very well before Jan. 6. Now, she's doing even better.

Two, the fame. Your average silver medalist doesn't host "Saturday Night Live," as Kerrigan will March 12.

Three, the opportunity to show the world what she could do. Had there been no attack, Kerrigan's performance would have played to a much smaller, more distracted television audience. It would have been just another silver medal by an American figure skater: Linda Fratianne, Rosalynn Sumners, Nancy Kerrigan, ho-hum.

Instead, everybody watched.

It looked like a gold-medal performance. And in a couple of months, with all those commercials kicking in, and with perceptions being what they are, that's exactly what it will become.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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