The Victim, The Heroine: The Winner

February 04, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

She is the most famous assault victim in America.

People who've never seen her skate consider her a heroine, a gold-medal contender.

But overshadowing all is one question: Can she really skate and win again?

This is Nancy Kerrigan, on the eve of the Winter Olympics.

Tonight in Boston, Kerrigan appears in a skating exhibition for the first time since being clubbed above her right knee Jan. 6.

She will perform with her friends, including 1992 Olympic men's silver medalist Paul Wylie. She will skate in front of her family and her fans.

The show will be taped, packaged and presented on CBS tomorrow nightin a prime-time special, the first installment of what promises to be the Winter Olympics of Nancy Kerrigan.

From victim to star, Kerrigan has undergone a remarkable public transformation since the attack at the U.S. championships, which allegedly was plotted and perpetrated by those associated with her rival, Tonya Harding.

In a CBS interview that will be included in tomorrow's telecast, Kerrigan says she has kept up with media reports. "It's very hard to ignore it."

Her reaction to the reports? "I always like mysteries, so it's kind of like reading a book -- you can't wait to get to the end," Kerrigan said.

Since lying crumpled on a red carpet in Cobo Arena, yelling, "Why me?" Kerrigan's life has been played out in the tabloids and People magazine.

Her agent has received 50 offers to film her life story. Four books on herlife are being rushed into print in time for the Olympics.

She has carried herself with class and composure through two news conferences televised worldwide on CNN.

Her reaction to the attack remains the same now as it was a day after the clubbing. "I can't imagine why someone would do it," she said.

She is 24, and the core of her life remains as it has for nearly two decades: Kerrigan is a skater.

TV makes her appear taller, but the reality is, she is 5 feet 4 and weighs 115 pounds. Her hair is brown. Her eyes blue. Her smile swift and bright.

"I like to go fast on the ice," she said last fall in one of her last interviews before the U.S. championships. "I like to jump. A long time ago, people thought that Nancy Kerrigan couldn't do any thing but jump. That she had no style. Then they said she was only an artist. But I like to combine the athleticism with the art."

Women's figure skating always has lived with these dueling images.

The skater as athlete.

The skater as showgirl.

It is all part of the making of the Winter Olympic ice queens, a line of succession that stretches from Sonja Henie to Kristi Yamaguchi.

But Kerrigan confounds the stereotypes of a sport that fancies itself aristocratic.

By any measure, she is American working class, the daughter of a welder who took two jobs and two mortgages to finance a career on ice.

Dan Kerrigan always has stayed in the shadows behind his daughter. So has her mother, Brenda. Afflicted with an eye disorder, Brenda can only watch her daughter skate by sitting inches from a television set.

Where others see beauty, Brenda Kerrigan sees only black dots.

"When I was growing up, I had no idea what they sacrificed for me," the daughter said. "My family never took vacations. I'd like ,, to pay the bills off. But my parents are proud people."

Kerrigan's career has been bedeviled by bobbles and stumbles.

She has won one U.S. title, in 1993, two World Championship medals -- a silver in 1992 and a bronze in 1991 -- and the bronze medal at the 1992 Winter Games.

It was in 1993, though, when Kerrigan suffered her most devastating skating defeat. The favorite to win the World Championships in Prague, Czech Republic, she performed poorly in the long program and tumbled to fifth. "I kind of blew it last year," she said.

Actually, the performance was worse, a four-minute exhibition that contained neither grace nor guts.

"All anyone saw on TV was four minutes," she said. "They made it sound like a worse year than I had. What I had was a bad day. I didn't lose everything I had."

But she was devastated.

Kerrigan's coaches, Mary and Evy Scotvold, had trouble just getting her to the dressing room. "She asked me if she could go out and skate again," Mary Scotvold said. "She really thought she could do that."

After Prague, Kerrigan took a week off. She rested. Went to the beach. And then went back on the ice, with renewed pride and purpose.

"How can you end on such a negative note after so many years?" she said, rejecting the idea of quitting.

The Scotvolds reviewed the season. There were too many distractions for Kerrigan. Too many trips to plug products ranging from Reebok to Seiko to Evian. Too many autograph sessions.

And not enough hard practice.

"Now, Nancy is just totally focused," Evy Scotvold said. "It's allbusiness. It has never been as much fun. I don't have to push her. She used to not want to do the run-throughs of the programs. Now, she is doing them all the time. She is building her condition up. Her weight's better. So is her attitude."

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