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  Kerrigan's Sins? Nothing to Speak Of

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 13, 1994 ; Page D3

Have you heard the latest? Nancy Kerrigan was caught talking into an open microphone again, and this time, she admitted being in Little Rock right before the Winter Olympics, shredding documents. I think she said Oksana Baiul was supposed to have been there to help, but missed the flight because she was putting on her makeup. Or crying.

Mickey Mouse, meanwhile, immediately announced that he was hundreds of miles away at the time, leading a corny parade.

So there we have it. Finally, a plausible reason for all this Kerrigan bashing, which began Jan. 6 and continues unabated to this day. Nancy Kerrigan, Olympic silver medalist and multi-millionaire, has been linked to Whitewater.

Let the feeding frenzy continue.

The other day, Michael "Sequins" Wilbon, first vice president of the Professional Figure Skating Writers of America (PFSWA, pronounced Poof-swa), became the latest in a long line of journalists to pick on Kerrigan for transgressions that amount to, well, nothing.

Proving that the pen is mightier than the retractable police baton, Sequins bashed Nancy for sobbing throughout a touchy-feely interview with Jane Pauley — and then kept right on bashing away. He didn't like the way Kerrigan treated Baiul, he ripped Kerrigan for not going to the upcoming world championships, and he got angry with her for making millions and not immediately hugging the dozens of cameramen who have been standing in her driveway for two months.

In other words, ol' Sequins apparently doesn't like it when an athlete a) hates losing; b) takes a few weeks off; and c) makes money but doesn't like the resulting publicity.

Just picking a name out of thin air, would, say, Michael Jordan live up to Sequins's high standards?

Let's look at the facts. Last month, after a harrowing seven weeks that began with the potentially devastating attack on her right knee, Kerrigan, 24, won the silver medal in Lillehammer. She almost won the gold, losing by the closest margin possible to Baiul, an enchanting, 16-year-old orphan from Ukraine.

In coming back as she did, amid the media circus created by Tonya Harding's quadruple klutzes, Kerrigan gave one of the gutsiest performances in Winter Olympic history.

Then came the medal ceremony. Kerrigan generously accepted her silver medal, graciously hugged Baiul, stood respectfully at attention during the playing of the Ukrainian anthem and even offered her hand to Baiul to help her down from the top of the podium when the ceremony was over.

At these Olympic Games and at others in the past, athletes have misbehaved in various ways during medal ceremonies. They have thrown down their flowers, chatted during anthems, pouted, and even used the U.S. flag to cover the name of a sponsor.

None of that happened the night of Feb. 25.

Later, during a news conference, Kerrigan and her coaches steadfastly refused to criticize the judges or Baiul, despite prodding from reporters. Kerrigan said only how pleased she was to have skated so well.

A day later, Kerrigan said, when asked, that she thought she deserved to win, but that she was happy.

So then comes word that Kerrigan has been caught offstage by an open microphone before the medal ceremony, complaining about having to wait for Baiul to put on makeup, because she'll just cry some more anyway. Kerrigan is further criticized for skipping the Closing Ceremonies and then going to Disney World, where another microphone catches her whining about the parade and/or having to wear her silver medal.

And, just like that, everyone is up in arms about their new ice princess.

While it is true that Kerrigan would have been much better off to keep her mouth closed, none of this is worth the commotion it has caused. For instance, what Kerrigan said before the medal ceremony was not the worst thing to have been said backstage that night. While no one has a transcript of what the skaters said to themselves or their coaches, it's absolutely certain that someone swore, or complained about the judging, or ranted and raved about, oh, say, a skate lace. Kerrigan just had the misfortune of standing too close to a network microphone.

As far as missing the Closing Ceremonies, Kerrigan has company. Only two of the 12 U.S. figure skaters attended. The rest were back home.

Then came her conversation at the Disney parade. What Kerrigan doesn't understand — and who can blame her? — is that the rules have changed completely in her life in two months. In January, she was riding a shuttle bus to practice with the other skaters at the U.S. Olympic trials in Detroit. In March, every word she utters makes the network news.

Kerrigan wishes it could be another way. Had Dorothy Hamill had a microphone in her face in 1976, or Peggy Fleming had one in hers in 1968, or had they been forced to live in the fishbowl Kerrigan has been living in since the Jan. 6 attack, believe me, they too would have been caught saying something they would have regretted. It's human nature. No one could live up to the silly standards the media have placed on Kerrigan.

On the night of the women's free skate at the Olympics, seated next to me was Tony "Kiss and Cry" Kornheiser and Jerry Solomon, Kerrigan's agent, who had ventured into the media section for an hour, at our invitation.

As skaters came and went on the ice, Solomon absorbed dozens of one-liners and politically incorrect comments about his client from a handful of journalists who would never dare to say such things in print.

"I'm going to sit with you guys more often," he said with a laugh.

What if, during that time, Solomon had been wearing a hidden microphone and had been recording everything we said?

He couldn't have been doing that, could he?

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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