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Baiul Wins Gold; Kerrigan Takes Silver : Olympics: Figure skating events wind up--in more controversy.

February 26, 1994|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HAMAR, Norway — There were as many arguments inside the Olympic Amphitheatre on Friday night about who should have won the Winter Olympic women's figure skating competition as there were sequins, but one thing almost everyone agreed upon was that Ukraine's Oksana Baiul and the United States' Nancy Kerrigan went toe-loop to toe-loop with the immense challenges that faced them and won.

There is, however, only one gold medal, and the fact that it was draped around Baiul's neck thrilled her supporters and angered those of Kerrigan, who accepted her silver medal more graciously than they did.

What could have been more appropriate than for the controversial events of figure skating's longest winter to climax with more controversy?

The nine judges were divided, five awarding first-place scores to Baiul, and four to Kerrigan after their four-minute freestyle programs, which accounted for two-thirds of the final score.

That was the decisive factor, although two judges who favored Kerrigan also ranked Baiul behind China's Chen Lu, who won the bronze medal. France's Surya Bonaly was fourth.

With her triumph, Baiul, 16, became the youngest women's gold medalist since 15-year-old Sonja Henie of Norway in 1928.

Almost forgotten when the night began because she no longer was among the medal contenders after Wednesday night's technical program, the United States' Tonya Harding became the center of unwanted attention again momentarily when she had to leave the ice early in her program with a boot problem. Given a chance to start over later, she finished a respectable eighth.

But for the first time in more than seven weeks, the buzz in the sport was not about Nancy vs. Tonya but Nancy vs. Oksana.

"If you go with one judging panel, you get one result, and if you go with another panel, you get another result," said Christy Ness, who coached the United States' Kristi Yamaguchi to the gold medal in the 1992 Winter Olympics. "I sat there watching, and I couldn't decide."

Others, however, felt certain that Kerrigan should have been given the advantage because she skated almost flawlessly, while Baiul made at least one significant mistake in a program that was less demanding. Kerrigan landed five triple jumps, two in combination, and Baiul landed four, none in combination. Yet, three judges gave the Ukrainian higher scores for technical merit.

"I can't explain it at all," said Paul Wylie, the 1992 Olympic men's silver medalist who formerly trained with Kerrigan.

"Nancy deserved to win without discussion," said Didier Gailhauguet, who formerly coached Bonaly.

"I thought Kerrigan looked stronger and more solid tonight than ever," said Frank Carroll, who coaches at Lake Arrowhead's Ice Castle International Training Center. "She should have won, definitely."

Even the medals ceremony didn't escape the melodrama that has enveloped this sport since Kerrigan was clubbed Jan. 6. It was held up a few minutes because no one could find a recording of Baiul's newly independent nation's anthem. It was Ukraine's first gold medal ever.

Kerrigan, 24, said she did not watch Baiul, who skated immediately after she did. As for her own performance, Kerrigan said she thought immediately afterward that it had earned her a gold medal.

"For me, in my mind and my heart, I did," she said. "I was great."

Just as she was here, Kerrigan was first after the technical program in the 1993 World Championships in Prague. But she had a disastrous freestyle program and finished fifth.

When she returned home to Stoneham, Mass., she began seeing a sports psychologist in an effort to overcome her nerves. That seemed to give her renewed confidence entering this season, but then came the assault on Jan. 6 during the national championships in Detroit that injured her right knee. There was a question for the next three weeks about whether she would even be able to compete here.

"What Nancy did, she should be proud of all her life," said Linda Leaver, who coached 1988 men's champion Brian Boitano. "To put what happened a year ago in Prague out of her mind is almost as difficult as overcoming all the other stuff."

Baiul, meantime, won the world championship at 15 last year and was in second place after Wednesday night's technical program, but, the next afternoon, she was involved in a practice collision with Germany's Tanja Szewczenko.

Cutting herself with her own skate, Baiul sustained a two-inch long, half-inch gash in her right shin that required three stitches. Doctors also treated her for lower back and shoulder pain. After a shaky practice Friday morning, she was still not certain she would compete.

But her training partner, 1992 Olympic men's gold medalist Viktor Petrenko, told her: "Many times, I have skated through pain. Now, you must."

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