Kerrigan has a shaky landing

January 08, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

DETROIT -- There was a wedge of security guards in front of her and a pack of minicams behind her, and Nancy Kerrigan kept walking, out of Joe Louis Arena, out of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

She was hurt. And upset. But mostly, a day after an unidentified male assailant bashed her right knee with one swing of a metal bar, she was in a state of disbelief.

"It's hard to say how long I'll look over my shoulder and see who is behind me," Kerrigan said yesterday.

Kerrigan's attacker remained at large and her dream of skating in the 1994 Winter Olympics remained on hold. But Kerrigan still could go to the Winter Olympics.

If she regains her health.

And if the U.S. Figure Skating Association's 40-member international competition committee uses its broad powers tonight to hand her one of the two American Olympic berths in women's skating.

"We can't let a vicious criminal decide he can take someone off the Olympic team," said Kerrigan's coach, Evy Scotvold. "We can't let the man get by with this. If she can go she has to go. Otherwise, we're honoring his attack."

Claire Ferguson, head of the USFSA, said her organization will not abandon its star skater.

"Certainly, there is a rule which would allow the freedom for that committee to pick a member of the Olympic team," she said.

For Kerrigan, it was a day of physical exams and tears after a fitful night of sleep, of "twitching," because, she said, "I didn't know what I was dreaming."

Kerrigan's swollen right knee was drained and blood was detected by a local orthopedist, Dr. Robert Teitge.

A bad sign. Worse still, during a series of hopping exercises she displayed a lack of motion and strength in the knee.

"She is unable to do what she needs to do to compete," said Dr. Mahlon Bradley, an orthopedic surgeon for the USFSA.

Kerrigan, 24, of Stoneham, Mass., the reigning American champion and Olympic bronze medalist, was forced to withdraw. She will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test Monday in Boston to determine the overall damage to her knee. The damage to her psyche was more difficult to determine.

The withdrawal left her emotionally devastated. "I just kept crying," she said. "It was hard when they told me I couldn't skate."

Her parents, Brenda and Daniel, were outraged by the attack. "I jTC can't believe one human being would deliberately hurt her," Brenda Kerrigan said, her eyes welling with tears.

"Nancy is heartbroken," said Daniel Kerrigan, who only a day earlier had carried his wounded daughter into a locker room.

Kerrigan emotionally recounted Thursday's incident, which occurred seconds after she finished a practice, telling of the man who was "running behind me," and "just whacked me with this long black stick."

"It was really hard," she said. "I didn't see his face. I'd certainly like them to catch him so he couldn't do it to someone else again," she added.

She also disclosed that within the past two years she received two unusual letters from a fan in Ontario.

"He was very complimentary about my figure," she said. "It was kind of strange. I didn't write back. The next year, he said he was disappointed I didn't write back. He exaggerated my body."

Detroit police and the FBI were investigating leads in Canada, Texas and Oregon -- home state of Kerrigan's top rival, Tonya Harding. Theydetained one man late Thursday night but released him yesterday.

Police also were preparing a sketch of the assailant, after talking to witnesses and studying videotapes from ABC News and tapes taken by individuals who attended Kerrigan's practice session Thursday.

It was a lot of police leg work for a felony assault. "This is not just a person hit on the knee," said Benny Napoleon, Detroit's deputy police chief. "It's like the difference of my old horse breaking his leg, and Ruffian breaking her leg."

Fortunately for Kerrigan, her knee was not broken. With rest, and luck, doctors said, she should recover in time to skate in the Olympics.

"We have the hope that she will be ready, she will heal and she will be whole again," Scotvold said. "But if she is not ready she will not go to the Olympics."

The USFSA will reveal its team after tonight's women's free-skating final.

The likely scenario is that the organization will take the winner, plus reserve one spot for Kerrigan. She has won two straight competitions, including one on the Olympic ice in Hamar, Norway. She has beaten every top skater in the world, except reigning world champion Oksana Baiul of Ukraine.

Kerrigan still would have to pass a skating inspection before USFSA judges sometime within the next month to gain an Olympic spot.

Even Kerrigan's skating rivals said yesterday they would step aside to give her a spot.

"I would accept it. Nancy has been here much longer than me," said Nicole Bobek, second after yesterday's technical program.

Kerrigan said she is prepared to go to Lillehammer. "If my leg is strong enough to perform then I'm strong enough to perform," she said.

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