Kerrigan's Olympics end with a silver lining

February 26, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- A silver. It was only a silver.

Nancy Kerrigan had the medal around her neck. She put on a smile, put it on as big and broad as she could make it, but she could not hide the disappointment in her eyes.

They were ready to play another country's national anthem. She was on the second step, and above her, on the first, was this 16-year-old girl from Ukraine, Oksana Baiul.

Baiul's eyes teared. And Kerrigan just looked straight ahead.

"For me, in my mind and my heart, I thought I did [win]," she said. "I thought it was great, and I had fun."

She did. Really. On any other night she might have won the gold.

But yesterday, at the Winter Olympics, one of the most preposterous stories in the history of the Games concluded with an old-fashioned east-west judging controversy.

Kerrigan won the crowd but lost the decision, a 5-4 judging split that broke Baiul's way and across the old Cold War lines.

"I can't explain it," said Margaret A. Wier, the U.S. judge from Park City, Utah.

Maybe this is the way it had to end, one last plot twist after seven weeks of melodrama.

Kerrigan, the woman who overcame a knee bashing in Detroit, Jan. 6, had climbed as high and as far as she could, all the way up to the second step of a podium.

Dressed in beige and gold glitter, she skated with guts and grace. She overcame an early error when she turned a triple flip jump into a double.

"That was a big double flip," she said.

She was the only woman among the final six to land a triple combination jump. She was the only woman, too, who held the crowd in her hand, who neatly stepped her way across the ice, playing to every corner of the tiny Olympic Amphitheater Arena.

"I can't have any disappointment," Kerrigan said. "I skated great."

She showed class, lots of class. And once and for all she distanced herself from her American rival, Tonya Harding.

"I hope that will end now," Kerrigan said. "It's kind of wearing on me."

Harding was a vision of angst.

She kept the crowd waiting nearly two minutes, rushing into the rink with an inhaler in her mouth, trying to stave off an asthma attack just seconds before she would have been disqualified. But 22 seconds into her program, she missed a jump and began weeping, the lace in her right skating boot coming undone. She skated up to the judging panel, displayed the boot and received a reprieve and a reskate.

She finished eighth overall.

Chen Lu of China would make the first run to the medal stand, skating with power and precision for the bronze.

Next up was Kerrigan, the leader after Wednesday's technical program.

And then there was Baiul, with three stitches in her right shin, a pain-killing injection in her back and fire in her eye. Injured a day earlier in a practice collision with Germany's Tanja Szewczenko, Baiul turned American show tunes into new skating standards.

She was wonderful. She landed five triple jumps. She threw in a bit of skating magic with a double axel-double toe loop combination in the final seconds. She skated like the reigning world champion she is.

Maybe her program did not have the technical skills to match Kerrigan's. But it was art, pure and simple, and the judges gave her the decision on the bottom marks, the artistic scores.

Baiul was placed first by five judges with ties to the old East Bloc -- Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, China and Germany.

Kerrigan won first-place votes from judges representing Great Britain, Japan, Canada and the United States.

Moreover, two judges, from Great Britain and Canada, placed Chen second ahead of Baiul.

"Kerrigan didn't do her triple flip," Wier said. "Baiul missed things, too. They're both good skaters."

Was it the most difficult competition she had ever judged?

"I think so," Wier said. "I've had some hard ones over the years, but this one was pretty tough."

Later, Paul Wylie, the 1992 Olympic men's silver medalist and long-time friend of Kerrigan's, said, "the triple combination should have put her in the money."

Was the judging split a matter of style or politics?

"Politics," Wylie said.

The finish was neither perfect nor golden for Kerrigan.

But did it really matter?

"I was smiling," she said. "I was happy. I was enjoying myself. How could I complain?"

She had to wait some 15 minutes to get her medal because they ordered out for the Ukraine anthem.

And on the podium she acted with grace. The smile showed one emotion, the eyes another.

"I was really proud of myself," she said. "To watch the American flag raised for the efforts that I've put in for the year was thrilling."

She won a medal. She won a silver.

The only thing missing was gold.

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