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  Kerrigan's Knee Steady in Flawless Exhibition

By Laura Blumenfeld
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 1994; Page D1

 Nancy Kerrigan skates in public for the first time since an assailant whacked her above the right knee and nearly shattered her chances to go to Lillehammer. (Charles Krupa/AP)
BOSTON, Feb. 4 — The knee works. The knee bent and lifted up behind her from the first graceful push and never wobbled once.

Nancy Kerrigan showcased her Olympic routine tonight, skating in public for the first time since an assailant whacked her above the right knee and nearly shattered her chances to go to Lillehammer. Kerrigan patted the air like Miss America, sparkled a smile and sailed across the rink, with gusts of applause behind her.

"I'm pretty strong," Kerrigan said, after the show. She said there was still scar tissue and "a funny bump" on her knee, which is getting smaller every day.

During Kerrigan's Olympic short program she skated conservatively — solid on her jumps, tentative on the spins. But to the fans packing the 4,500-seat Matthews Arena on the Northeastern University campus, the performance was worthy of a gold medal.

"She's so beautiful, so elegant, so Hepburn," said Nancy Smith, 28, who drove from Washington D.C., flapping a purple handmade sign, "NANCY — SEIZE THE DAY."

The charity skating extravaganza featuring past and present Olympians will air Saturday in a one-hour prime-time special on CBS called "Nancy Kerrigan and Friends."

Kerrigan had practiced privately in the Boston area and had performed her Olympic routines for U.S. figure skating officials on Wednesday, but this was the first time the public had seen her skate since the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Olympic trials in Detroit.

"She was perfect. She was very aggressive. She was very nervous and she dealt with it," said her coach, Evy Scotvold. "I had a hard time seeing it. I had a little dew in my eye."

The audience was thick with little girls, clasping bunches of pink carnations for their Snow White on blades. Karoline Krane, an 11-year-old visiting from Norway, waved a sign written in Norweigan: "Good Luck in Lillehammer." Melissa Haury, 11, said, "Nancy's my idol." And Tonya Harding? "Tonya's my idol too. I like anyone who can skate well."

Paul Wylie, a 1992 silver medalist and a close friend of Kerrigan's, skated a duet with her to "Last Night of the World." Before the song began, Kerrigan's shoulders trembled with laughter and perhaps from nerves. She knelt, picked up a piece of loose ice and sent it skittering across the rink. Nothing was going to trip her tonight. The audience never stopped clapping for her — even when she took a spill during the final bows.

Kerrigan closed the show boldly, gliding to "With One Look," her sunflower yellow skirt fluttering. After her encore, "Walk on By," she told the audience: "It's been a really tough month for me and I'm ready to go. Can't wait to get there." She said she is scheduled to leave for Norway on Wednesday.

Among the other performers at the event were 1984 gold medalist Scott Hamilton; former Olympian Todd Eldredge; Nicole Bobek and Elaine Zayak, who finished third and fourth at the U.S. Olympic trials; and Michael Weiss from Fairfax, Va., the 1994 world junior champion.

"What do you think?" the master of ceremonies boomed at the end of the show. "Is Nancy ready?" The spectators stood up and thundered. For many, her clean performance was a relief.

"I'm so excited I can't stand it," said Dottie Larkin, the manager at Tony Kent Arena, where Kerrigan trains. "I've seen her skate all week, and she's very, very determined."

Also pulling for Kerrigan was her mother, Brenda, who is legally blind and watched the show on a special television monitor. During intermission, kids buzzed around Nancy's father, Daniel, a welder, begging him for autographs.

"Because of her knee, there isn't anyone in America who doesn't know Nancy," said Janet Bruno, a fan who lives near Kerrigan. Since the attack, Kerrigan has received at least 35 made-for-TV movie offers.

She began skating when she was 6, playing hockey with her brothers. But her style has emphasized artistry over athletic talent. "I think women's skating should be pretty and graceful," Kerrigan said at the 1992 Olympics. "It's always been a glamour sport and I think it should stay that way."

She lived up to that image tonight, sweeping across the ice in a black-velvet banded, white spandex outfit designed for her by Madison Avenue couturier Vera Wang. Her wrists glittered with crystal and silver beading. Her spins and spirals were a celebration of grace. She beamed at the crowd with a face that could launch a thousand ad campaigns.

At the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, Kerrigan took the bronze medal. Harding finished fourth. This year, Harding won the trials, again gaining a spot on the Olympic team. Kerrigan was named to the team anyway, provided she was able to compete. On Wednesday, a special figure skating panel pronounced her physically fit to compete.

The Winter Olympics begin in Lillehammer, Norway, on Feb. 12. Four women figure skaters are on the roster: Harding, Kerrigan and alternates Michelle Kwan and Bobek. Changes can be made until Feb. 21, two days before the women's skating event begins.

Asked if Harding should be allowed to skate, Kerrigan said, "I don't have an opinion." Her supporters do, though. Feelings for Harding were best summed up by Kerrigan fan Nancy Leotta: "Nail her to the wall."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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