Kerrigan's mom yearns to see her crowd pleaser THE ALBERTVILLE GAMES

February 21, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

ALBERTVILLE, France -- She will sit in front of the television set that is positioned at the edge of the rink. She will listen to the music. She will listen to the crowd.

Others will watch her daughter, the skater, and they will see this "Irish Katarina Witt," a charming, graceful performer whose elegance is matched only by her ability to jump with the lightness of a dancer.

But Brenda Kerrigan must sit by this television set, must have her face pressed near the screen, and even then, all she will see are black dots, fuzzy images of a skater spinning and jumping.

"Sometimes I get emotional when everyone is clapping," she said. "I'd like to see that, too. I say to myself, 'This isn't fair.' "

Tonight, though, Kerrigan's daughter will try to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics.

This is the ladies' singles championship, the most glamorous event of the Games. A world will be connected by images of skaters jumping and soaring.

When the performing ends, Nancy Kerrigan may emerge with a medal, perhaps a gold.

This is a story about a family that has endured hardship in a sport of glitter. Nancy is now 22, a maturing skater on the brink of stardom. But her mother has never really seen her perform.

"My mother's strength has given me so much inspiration," Nancy said. "What I do is nothing compared to dealing with something like she has to do."

Three years before her daughter was born, Brenda Kerrigan developed viral infections in her eyes. Multiple neuritis, the doctors told her.

"It's the nerves behind the retina," Brenda said. "They're gone. Broke."

Still, she can see these black dots and she can hear the crowds. She attends the skating competitions with her husband, Daniel, a welder from Stoneham, Mass. They are both 52, and they have supported their daughter's career, pumping in money even when the cost of lessons and outfits soared.

Now, it suddenly seems all worthwhile.

"I only have one girl," she said. "I told her she had to do girl things. Look where it brought us. Can you believe it? I don't think I can."

In the last two years, Nancy has developed into this heavenly skater. Once, she was just another gawky kid whose body didn't fit her expectations.

"I was such a spaz," she said.

But she grew up. She was third in last year's National Championships, and third in the Worlds in Munich. She kept getting better and better, moving up to No. 2 in America last month, and then coming out Wednesday night during the Olympic original program, and skating the performance of her career.

She stared at the ceiling and saw all these flags.

"When I got out there, all I was trying to think was that this ice was like mine," she said. "When I looked at the Olympic flag, I said, 'I have to do it, I have to do it now.' "

She was clean and safe, all right. But she also displayed this veneer of toughness, refusing to buckle under the glare of lights.

"Nancy is a kind of quiet, mild-mannered young lady," said her coach, Evy Scotvold. "She has big fires burning in her. She is a very competitive girl. You never know for sure how she is going to react. You have to try to read it. But she is pretty easy to bring down to earth. When Kerrigan is laughing, she is good."

Laughing, she may skate away with gold. The insiders kept saying that the struggle for gold would come down to a confrontation between Midori Ito of Japan and Kristi Yamaguchi. But after Ito fell, and American Tonya Harding tumbled, and Frenchwoman Surya Bonaly soared, there are three performers left standing with a clear path to the gold.

Yamaguchi. Kerrigan. Bonaly.

The Americans are roommates here. They are friends.

"We knew it would be a comfortable situation," Kerrigan said. "It's nice to have someone to share your emotions with."

Yamaguchi, the reigning world champion, is expected to win. She has the jumps and the artistic embellishments that delight the judges. But Kerrigan, the skater who has always been in the background, has the most to gain. She will try to make this extraordinary leap to stardom.

"When I was younger, I never watched skating," she said. "I thought it was boring. Why would I want to skate all day and then watch?"

But tonight, she will skate, and there, by the edge of the rink, will be her mother, in front of a television set, looking at the black dots, listening to the music and the crowd.

Others call her daughter beautiful. And when she looks at the screen, looks at the dots, Brenda Kerrigan agrees.

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