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Silver Belle
E.M. Swift
March 07, 1994
Nancy Kerrigan conquered her demons but couldn't overcome a pixie from Ukraine
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March 07, 1994

Silver Belle

Nancy Kerrigan conquered her demons but couldn't overcome a pixie from Ukraine

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The night before the women's figure skating final, Mary Scotvold had a dream. She dreamed that Nancy Kerrigan, whom Mary coaches, with her husband, Evy, doubled her opening triple jump, the flip, in that competition. Then, instead of falling apart, as Kerrigan had done in her nightmarish performance at the 1993 world championships in Prague, Nancy pulled herself together and skated a clean program the rest of the way. Mary woke Evy and related the dream to him.

In the morning, at the 11 o'clock practice session last Friday—the final run-through before the most important night of her life—Kerrigan doubled her triple flip. Then she went down the ice and nailed her triple toe-triple toe combination. Mary elbowed Evy in the ribs. It was just like in the dream, she said.

"Go back to the hotel and have another dream," Evy told her. "We need that triple flip."

Privately, though, he was thinking: I'll take it. Only one mistake, particularly such a small one, and the gold medal will be Nancy's. Oksana Baiul, the 16-year-old Ukrainian ingenue who was in second place behind Kerrigan after the technical program two days earlier, had been struggling with her jumps all season. She had been beaten by France's Surya Bonaly in the European championships in January. Worse, Baiul, who is the world champion, had suffered a terrible collision with Germany's Tanja Szewczenko during Thursday's training session. She had needed three stitches to close the cut on her right leg, just above the boot, and had badly bruised her back. After trying to skate Friday morning, in the very session in which Kerrigan was doubling her triple flip, Baiul had left the ice in tears, unsure whether her injuries would allow her to compete that night. She looked, and felt, miserable.

And what of Bonaly, who was third heading into the free skate? The bounding Bonaly, a four-time European champion yet wildly inconsistent on a world stage (second-, 11th-and fifth-place finishes in the last three world championships, respectively). What were the chances she would get through her long program, which included eight triples, without a major mistake? Slim.

No. If doubling that triple flip were the only error Kerrigan was to make after all she had been through in the last 12 months—the humiliation of Prague; the trauma of Detroit, where she had been savagely assaulted on Jan. 6 at the U.S. nationals; the accelerated rehabilitation of her injured right knee; the media circus around her; the deals, deals, deals being negotiated by her agent, Jerry Solomon—if that were her only mistake, Evy would take it. And Nancy would surely take home the gold.

Don't think for a minute that any of this had been fun for the 24-year-old Kerrigan. For the last eight weeks she had been living in a maddening fishbowl. Ever since she had been attacked in Detroit, television crews had camped at the end of her parents' driveway in Stoneham, Mass., hanging on Nancy's every public movement and word. The phone rang every three minutes, driving everyone crazy—Nancy; her brothers, Michael and Mark; her parents, Brenda and Dan. They were trapped. And they were bored by the inactivity.

As details of the attack unfolded in the newspapers, Nancy read everything being written. She even read the FBI transcripts of agents' interrogations of three of the confessed conspirators in her assault—Jeff Gillooly, Derrick Smith and Shane Stant—as well as their interviews with rival skater Tonya Harding. "Can you imagine what it was like for Nancy to read that there was a plan to injure her and leave her in her hotel room bound with duct tape?" Mary Scotvold asked.

But Kerrigan also found moments of levity in those transcripts, which were as absorbing as a juicy novel. At times when she ran across her own name, she was shocked into the realization that the whole thing had happened to her. Another of the confessed conspirators, Harding's bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt, was a hilariously comic figure. When Kerrigan read about the bumblings of Stant, her assailant, as he was stalking her in Boston—leaving his credit card back in Phoenix, moving his car every 30 minutes while waiting for her to appear at the practice arena—she howled with laughter. Kerrigan would call a family member over and say, "I know this is horrible, and I'm lucky and everything, but listen to this...." then would read aloud the passages revealing the ineptitude. Then, giddy with mirth, the Kerrigans would look out the window at the mob of wailing reporters and wonder, What if they knew what we were doing now?

All this helped Kerrigan recover from the trauma of the assault. Believing that her attackers were idiots, rather than lunatics, made them less horrific. The reporters outside her home, however, were driving her bananas. So, 13 days before the women's competition began, Kerrigan, the Scotvolds and Solomon flew to Lillehammer, a good week earlier than most of her competitors would arrive.

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