Kerrigan's bronze worth wait 'Girl next door' falls, then endures agonizing 30 minutes

February 22, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

ALBERTVILLE, France -- They were just off the ice, watching the television set, and they didn't know. Not yet, anyway.

Brenda Kerrigan had her face six inches from the monitor. But then, she always does. Her retinas are damaged. She sees only black spots where others see beauty.

Daniel Kerrigan was looking at the scoreboard. And underneath the stands, in the kiss and cry area, their daughter, Nancy, was pacing, trying to figure out the score, trying to comprehend who would win the bronze, and who would finish fourth last night.

"My brother Doug was the first to hear, the first to see," Brenda Kerrigan said. "He had tears in his eyes. My brother Doug doesn't lie. He said 'Nancy got the bronze.' And then, we were all crying."

That's how it played out in a corner of an arena. Nancy Kerrigan of the United States won the bronze medal in the ladies' figure skating finale at the Winter Olympics, and her family was huddled together, hugging and kissing and celebrating.

It was one of these wonderful scenes that cut through a night filled with tension. While Kristi Yamaguchi of the United States took the gold and Midori Ito of Japan claimed the silver, the drama all along was in who would win the bronze.

Kerrigan, 22, of Stoneham, Mass., seized the moment. She wasn't perfect, but then no one was. She even fell. But it didn't matter. Her elegance in the free-skate final carried her along, carried her all the way to the medals podium.

It has been a difficult and remarkable week for the skater, who has learned to calm her nerves. She tried to be loose in practice. She received encouragement from her training partner, men's silver medalist Paul Wylie. He sent her a note and told her to relax. He gave her a tape of Miss Saigon. Even gave her crayons to doodle with.

"Nancy is the girl next door," Wylie said. "She is not exactly a raging feminist. She likes the idea of a traditional family life, probably because of her family's example. But she lives to push the jumping envelope of the women to equal that of the men. Now, she is an artist. She does everything well."

She was second in Wednesday night's original program. She went back to the apartment she shares in the athlete's village with Yamaguchi. They talked of everything, except the skating.

"It's great rooming with Kristi," Kerrigan said. "We had requested each other. We knew it would be a great situation. It's really a lot of fun. Once we're off the ice, we don't think about what we do on the ice."

The friends woke up yesterday and competed for gold.

"We're here for the same reason," Yamaguchi said. "But we helped each other out. We tried to enjoy the village, we tried to enjoy everything that was going on."

But this night was not about pleasure, it was about working to overcome enormous pressure. Kerrigan came into the free skate with a chance to win. But she fell, and then had to wait an excruciating 30 minutes before learning if she would get a medal.

On this night, though, all the contenders except Yamaguchi would drop to the ice. Ito, who was fourth in the original program, plopped on a triple Axel, but stood back up and put together a tough, courageous performance to get the silver.

"It was impossible to get the gold," Ito said. "The problem with all of my jumps was timing."

Tonya Harding of the United States, sixth after the original program, moved up to fourth place despite falling on a triple Axel. When Surya Bonaly of France tumbled to fifth, the bronze belonged to Kerrigan.

"I'm excited," she said. "I can't believe it."

Kerrigan emerged for the medal ceremony, smiling and waving. After receiving the bronze, after the National Anthem, after hugging her Olympic roommate, Yamaguchi, she headed for the corner of the arena with flowers in her hand.

She gave the bouquet to her father and hugged her mother and cried.

"I said, 'I love you, and you did great," Brenda Kerrigan said. "I was surprised. Nancy said, 'I'm happy with the bronze. I wish I didn't single that last jump.' But everything ended up the way it was supposed to. I feel good. For once, the judges agree with me."

A bronze medal never looked so good.

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