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  Kerrigan Off the Ice Doesn't Seem Half as Nice

By Kim Masters
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 1994; Page C1




You were expecting maybe Snow White?

Just as she shows up at the Magic Kingdom, Nancy Kerrigan — she of the cat's eyes and Chiclet teeth — is getting a little nervy. Already there was that unfortunate display of temper at the Olympic medal ceremony ("Oh, come on. So she's going to get out here and cry again. What's the difference?" Nancy griped under the false impression that she was waiting for gold medalist Oksana Baiul to get her makeup done. In fact, a search was underway for the Ukrainian national anthem. How unfair, Nancy. Who do you think Oksana is — Sharon Pratt Kelly?)

And not just the snappish comment. America and the world saw something quite like a pout — or maybe a sneer — on Kerrigan's comely face.

Then there was the Disney parade. Nancy, you were supposed to reign, not rain. Sitting beside Mickey, she was heard to remark, "This is so corny. This is so dumb. I hate it. This is the most corny thing I've ever done."

Okay, so she told the truth. Is that so wrong? Maybe not. But after that, people started noticing things. Like why didn't she stick around for the closing ceremonies in Lillehammer? Was it nice to point out flaws in Baiul's performance — while describing herself as "flawless" — and to question the scoring? And what about that $13,000 designer outfit she wore in the finals? The big question began to form on the public's lips.

Is Nancy a bitch?

Suddenly people were acting as if they'd expected the Madonna and just got Madonna. As Tonya finally faded for a few merciful minutes, Nancy stood out in high relief. Overnight, she risked becoming the Shannen Doherty of the skating world.

While Kerrigan's sponsors at Reebok and Revlon didn't respond to inquiries about their new star's image, others with a financial stake have hastened to say that Nancy is nice. A little stressed, maybe, but nice.

"I think she's overwhelmed," says Steve Tisch, who's producing the authorized television version of Kerrigan's story. "I don't think Nancy, under the circumstances, had the time or ability to be schooled in dealing with celebrity because it came on so fast. ... Add to those the factors of stress and exhaustion and jet lag and cameras and microphones being thrust into her face. This was to be expected. Nancy needs time away from everything with a lens on it."

Greg Albrecht, a spokesman for Walt Disney World, says Kerrigan was "great" to work with despite her misunderstood, out-of-context quotes at the parade. (The official spin is that she was complaining about wearing her medal, which she had been taught from childhood to regard as an unsporting display.) Despite Albrecht's endorsement, some at the Disney studios in Los Angeles have expressed a little concern about the $2 million alliance with the skater. One executive says some insiders are worried that Kerrigan could be "a nightmare" and have mused that the company might have been better off with noncontroversial and unfailingly nice speed skater Bonnie Blair. Even before the Disney parade, that executive says, Kerrigan's reaction at the medal ceremony in Norway was "a little too clear."

"She's exhausted," protests Jerry Solomon, head of ProServ, the sports-marketing firm that represents Kerrigan. "We're talking about a 24-year-old young woman who's been through hell over the last eight weeks. ... I think she handled the whole situation unbelievably well right up until the other day."

Solomon adds that the Disney incident has been blown out of proportion. "If she had turned to Mickey Mouse and said, 'Hey, you're a jerk,' that would be one thing," he says.

As for the medal ceremony, Solomon points out that figure skating is an athletic event. "She was disappointed when she didn't win," he says. "People sometimes say things in the heat of competition. In figure skating, people tend to see the nice outfits and say this isn't the NBA. But from a competitive standpoint, it is." No one would be surprised to see athletes in the Buffalo Bills locker room venting a little spleen after the big event, he adds. (Of course, the Buffalo Bills hadn't just been vanquished by a skinny 16-year-old Ukrainian orphan who was standing there with tears streaming down her cheeks.)

Maybe a better explanation for Nancy's pique comes from Mike Dowling, a sports reporter with WCVB in Boston and a longtime Kerrigan follower. He says Nancy is "a nice kid"; he heard she became grumpy during the wait for the awards ceremony because her skates hurt.

Another sportswriter who has covered Kerrigan shares Dowling's general appraisal. Having just turned in the best performance of her career, Kerrigan was naturally disappointed to miss the gold by the narrowest of margins. "Is she the nicest person I've ever met? No. Can she be snippy? Yes. But she's well liked by people in the business," that reporter says.

Some sports reporters criticize Solomon for allowing Kerrigan to carom from a stressful competition to the Disney parade. "There wasn't one slip-up from Nancy's camp until this," one writer says. "I give them an A-plus for seven weeks of crisis management. I mean, the Clinton administration could learn from this. ... But I would ask Jerry — 'Didn't you anticipate that maybe she needed help? Are you at fault?' "

Jerry says he isn't. "I don't feel any need to be defensive about it," he says. "The response that I'm getting from people is that we've done a great job from the beginning up until today in handling this." But he admits that the Disney parade happened a little faster than he thought it would. "Frankly, I thought the parade was going to be on Monday. You wouldn't believe how excited all the people are down there who see her and they wanted to have the parade right away. Maybe we reacted too quickly."

Mike Barnicle, a columnist from Kerrigan's hometown Boston Globe, observes that the Nancy backlash was predictable. "It's who we are in the media," he says. "Now the thing is over so we've got to kill her. That's us, not her." Having generously put the blame on the press, however, he offers another explanation for Kerrigan's gaffes — which is that Nancy is not going to win any medals if Mensa holds an Olympics.

"Did you see her on TV?" Barnicle demands about the Disney debacle. "She was having a debate with Mickey Mouse! Nancy, wake up! ... Very few people around here had really heard of Nancy Kerrigan until she got hit on the knee. She was a semi-celebrity who, if she couldn't skate, probably would have been saying, 'That's $11.50, please. Pull up to the window for your burgers and fries.' "

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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