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WORLD SPORTS SCENE / RANDY HARVEY : Coach's Remarks Put Kerrigan on Thin Ice

January 13, 1992|RANDY HARVEY

ORLANDO, Fla. — Nancy Kerrigan bristled last week when someone referred to her as the Irish Katarina Witt.

"There's very little Irish in me, just my name," she said.

On the next afternoon, however, the college junior from Stoneham, Mass., arrived at the Orlando Arena during the U.S. figure skating championships wearing a Kelly-green fedora and matching jacket.

"It makes my eyes look green, so I like to wear green," she said, still insisting she is more English and German than Irish.

If she hopes to have any crowd support in next month's Winter Olympics at Albertville, France, where she will be among the medal contenders after finishing second to Kristi Yamaguchi in the U.S. championships Saturday night and third in the world last year, she should spend the next few weeks retracing her genealogy in hopes of finding some French.

Through no fault of her own, Kerrigan figures to be as popular in France as ice in wine.

Kerrigan's coach, Evy Scotvold, did not mince words last week when asked his impression of 18-year-old Surya Bonaly, the French and European champion.

"Unimpressed," he said, adding that he did not believe the former gymnast could finish among the first five at the U.S. championships.

"She's a likable gal. She just doesn't know how to skate. She's a terrific athlete. I think gymnasts are the best athletes in the world, but she needs to learn how to skate."

Scotvold placed the blame on her coach, Didier Gailhaguet, for trying to teach her to run before she can walk. She has tried a quadruple jump on several occasions, although there are still triples that she cannot land.

"He's so concerned about a quad, she's out there missing a whole ton of things," he said.

If Bonaly's fifth-place finish in the recent Lalique Trophee competition at Albertville is an indication, Scotvold said that she will not benefit from skating in front of French crowds in the Olympics.

"She had terrific support at Albertville, but she was really flopping around because she was nervous," he said.

The fact that everything Scotvold said is true made little difference to Gailhaguet. In days gone by, he would have challenged Scotvold to a duel.

Instead, he attacked Kerrigan, who has never, at least publicly, said a harsh word about anyone.

"It is easy to develop pretty skaters, who are nothing more than little Witts," Gailhaguet told the French sports newspaper, L'Equipe. "Kerrigan loses her grip when she is under pressure. Midori Ito, Kristi Yamaguchi and Tonya Harding are better than her. . . . Nancy Kerrigan will not be on the (victory stand), even if she qualifies for the Olympics."

Despite her success in the past two years, Kerrigan, 22, still does not have a high profile among U.S. figure skaters. Perhaps that is because she has not worked as a barmaid or truck driver or taken up drag racing or been linked to drug rumors.

The image that she does have is one she can do without. She might look a little like Witt, and she might even skate like Germany's two-time Olympic champion at times, but Kerrigan would prefer to be known for her own abilities.

On Saturday night at the Orlando Arena, she showed some of the same grit she needs to play pick-up hockey games at her neighborhood rink. Often criticized for skating cautiously, she added a triple jump in combination with a double jump in the final seconds of her freestyle program and landed it cleanly, even though she must have been aware that she already was assured of second place.

She said later that her inspiration comes from her mother, who is legally blind. Only by pressing her face to the television screen can she see her daughter skate.

Trivia question: When is the last time the United States won an Olympic figure skating gold medal in either pairs or dance?

If the U.S. Figure Skating Assn. gave an award for coach of the year, there is little doubt it would go this year to John Nicks of Costa Mesa's Ice Capades Chalet.

All eight skaters he took to the national championships won medals, including golds by Christopher Bowman of Van Nuys in senior men's singles, Michelle Cho of Costa Mesa in novice girls' singles and Nicole Sciarrotta and her brother, Gregory Jr., of Huntington Beach in junior pairs.

Nicks' senior pairs teams, Jenni Meno of Westlake, Ohio, and Scott Wendland of Costa Mesa and Natasha Kuchiki of Canoga Park and Todd Sand of Costa Mesa, finished second and third, respectively.

Nicks' greatest achievement of the week, perhaps of his 31-year coaching career, was his handling of Bowman, who apparently was on his best behavior all week.

But the controversial skater will never live down his reputation for living it up. When unsubstantiated rumors linking him to drugs surfaced, some wise guy changed the sign on the laboratory at the Orlando Arena from "USOC Doping Control" to "Bowman Hotel."

Trivia answer: The United States has never won a gold medal in pairs or dance.

In a recent issue of Blades on Ice magazine, Debi Thomas again criticized her former coach, Alex McGowan, for the disappointing long program that resulted in her third-place finish in the 1988 Winter Olympics.

In the current issue of the magazine, McGowan provided a point-by-point rebuttal in a lengthy letter, closing with this provocative sentence: "I have never revealed to the media, and don't yet intend to, what I feel was the reason Debi gave up in Calgary."

McGowan said at Orlando that he would not elaborate because he is trying to reach an agreement with Thomas that would, at least for public consumption, settle their grievances against each other.

In lieu of that, he said that he might write a tell-all book about the wide world of figure skating not seen on television.

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