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  Injured Kerrigan Withdraws From Olympic Trials

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 1994; Page B1

 Nancy Kerrigan failed to persuade doctors that she could skate in the technical program, leaving her to describe the disappointment at a news conference instead.
(AP File Photo)
DETROIT, Jan. 7 — Nancy Kerrigan, the current national figure skating champion who was attacked by an unknown assailant at the U.S. Olympic trials Thursday, was forced to withdraw from the competition this afternoon after doctors said her bruised and swollen right knee could not withstand the pressure of skating and jumping.

But Kerrigan, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist who is considered one of the favorites to win the gold medal at the 1994 Winter Games next month in Lillehammer, Norway, still is likely to be placed on the Olympic team based on an obscure rule that allows the U.S. Figure Skating Association to put someone who does not compete at the trials onto the Olympic team.

Kerrigan said she awoke this morning in her downtown hotel room hoping she could compete this afternoon in the technical program of the women's competition. But doctors checked her knee and found she was unable to bend it. They asked her to hop up and down, and she could not do it satisfactorily.

"The decision not to skate was made by the medical staff based on pain, lack of motion and lack of strength in the knee," said Mahlon Bradley, a USFSA orthopedic surgeon. "She is unable to do what she needs to do to compete."

"I tried to convince them," said Kerrigan, her voice cracking several times during an afternoon news conference. "I asked if I could hop one more time to show them I could do it. ... I'm okay, but I'm pretty upset and angry that somebody would do this. I really want to skate, but the doctors say I can't."

Kerrigan, who was walking unassisted with just the slightest hint of a limp, was hit once just above her right knee by a man wielding what she called "a long, black stick" after a Thursday practice at Cobo Arena. The man, whom police described as white on Thursday, black this morning and white again by this evening, has not been caught.

Detroit police are reviewing network videotape of the practice session to check for the presence of the suspect and are investigating leads that include fan mail sent to both Kerrigan and U.S. figure skater Tonya Harding, said Deputy Chief Benny Napoleon. Two gushing fan letters from a man in nearby Ontario, Canada, to Kerrigan also are being investigated.

When Guenter Parche stabbed Monica Seles April 30 in Hamburg, he said he did it to help Steffi Graf regain the No. 1 ranking in women's tennis. Police are investigating the possibility that a fan of Harding's — or another skater — might have attacked Kerrigan for a similar reason.

Also today, a figure skating coach said he was confronted by a man "acting weird" and carrying a small still camera moments before Kerrigan was struck.

Frank Carroll, coach of 13-year-old Michelle Kwan, said the man asked him who the skater was with him, and he said it was Kwan.

"Then he asked, pointing toward Nancy, 'Is that Nancy Kerrigan?' " Carroll said.

He told the man it was indeed Kerrigan.

"The next thing I heard was screaming," Carroll said, adding he did not see the man follow Kerrigan, nor did he see the attack.

"The man was sweating, acting strangely, moving the camera fast and jittery, taking pictures," Carroll said. "He just looked out of place."

Carroll said he had not been questioned by Detroit police.

Despite the nature of the attack, and the fact that her assailant is still at large, Kerrigan did not leave Detroit for her home near Boston. She said she planned to watch the competition that is going on without her and begin physical therapy to rehabilitate her knee as quickly as possible.

The women's figure skating competition at the Olympic Games is Feb. 23 and 25. The United States must commit to the two women skaters by Feb. 11. After that, no alternate may substitute for an injured skater.

Will Kerrigan be on that team? The 45-member USFSA international committee will vote Saturday night after the women's free skate finale at Joe Louis Arena on whether to place Kerrigan on the Olympic team because of the rule brought to attention late Thursday night by USFSA officials.

The rule simply states that the organization may consider placing on the Olympic team skaters who do not compete at the championships. The United States can send two women's skaters to the Olympics; it's now believed they will send Kerrigan, if she's healthy, and the winner of the women's competition here. Harding, a former national champion and 1992 Olympian, was in first place after the technical program (worth 33 percent of the final score).

The woman who finishes second at the trials would become the first alternate and would replace Kerrigan by Feb. 11 if she is not healthy enough to skate at the Olympics.

Sentiment was running heavily in Kerrigan's favor today, even among her fiercest rivals.

Carol Heiss Jenkins, who coaches two women's skaters and also is a member of the international committee, said she will vote to give a spot to Kerrigan, even if one of her two skaters, Lisa Ervin or Tonia Kwiatkowski, is knocked off the team because of it.

"This circumstance is so unusual," Jenkins said. "It has to be a humane thing."

Kathy Casey, coach of Nicole Bobek, who is in second place and would be the one bumped off the team if the positions stay the same, also said Kerrigan deserved to go to the Olympics.

"I think we would accept it graciously," Casey said. "Nancy's certainly paid her dues. ... If they chose to do it, we would probably have our strongest team."

"Nancy is the top-ranked skater in the country and she's beaten four of her top five international competitors the last few months," said Evy Scotvold, Kerrigan's longtime coach. "She's probably ranked number one in the world if there was such a ranking.

"If she can heal in time for the Olympic Games, we can't let a vicious criminal assault take someone off the Olympic team. We can't let the man get by with this. If she can go, she has to go. Otherwise, we're honoring his attack."

Scotvold said he "would do everything" in his power to get Kerrigan on the team if she were left off it. He said that would include legal action if necessary.

"This is not an athletic injury," he said. "This was a criminal attack."

Kerrigan, 24, who is the most visible U.S. Winter Olympic athlete, with endorsement deals for Reebok, Seiko, Evian and Campbell Soups, does not know when she will return to the ice to practice.

Kerrigan will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test Monday in Boston once the swelling in her knee goes down.

"We hope she could be ready by the Olympics," Scotvold said. "The question is: Can she start skating in the next week or two? Or will it be four weeks from now? We've only got so much time."

Kerrigan also must begin to recover emotionally from the attack, said her coaches and family.

"She's going to be a very frightened woman for some time," Scotvold said.

"Right now, I'm a little paranoid," Kerrigan said. "But it has nothing to do with my skating. When I'm on the ice, skating is what I'll be thinking about. ... It's hard to say how long I'll be looking over my shoulder to see who's behind me. But I feel if my leg is strong enough, I'll be strong enough."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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