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'94 WINTER OLYMPICS / LILLEHAMMER : Baiul Wins on a Split Decision : Now Kerrigan Should Be Asking, 'Why Me?'

MIKE DOWNEY

February 26, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

HAMAR, Norway — First she got mugged, now she has been robbed.

Life, fate and figure skating took one last unfair twist for Nancy Kerrigan. She was sparkling. She was spectacular. She was virtual perfection. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, she was the best one out there. Yet from the necklace she was modeling here Friday night dangled a silver charm, when the jewelry damn well should have been golden. And she skated away from these Winter Olympics wearing the stiffest of upper lips, still a good sport, still with a winning smile, still Nancy with the laughing face.

Second best?

No way, Norway.

No justice in this frontier this day. Second place was one place too low for America's skater. Kerrigan was in first place and her performance was anything but second-rate. Consider this no reflection whatsoever on the mastery and maturity shown by tiny Oksana Baiul, the Ukrainian in the furry pink bunny suit, the kid with the sweet tooth for Snickers bars and just about the sweetest 16-year-old you ever did see. Baiul skated her heart out, and in as much pain as Kerrigan was in last month. But she's the one who should have been second. Sorry.

Instead, they're singin' in Ukraine, just singin' in Ukraine, what a glorious feeling, they're happy again. And about all Americans can do is roll out a red carpet and stand waiting for Kerrigan to return home, so, first chance they get, they can say to her face pretty much what she said on her own behalf at the Hamar Olympic Amphitheatre at the anticlimax of this wild adventure:

"I thought I was great."

Dear Nancy:

You aren't the only one.

Judge Noriko Shirota of Japan scored it Kerrigan first, Baiul second. Judge Margaret Wier of the United States scored it Kerrigan first, Baiul second. Judge Wendy Utley of Great Britain scored it Kerrigan first, Baiul \o7 third\f7 . Judge Audrey Williams of Canada scored it Kerrigan first, Baiul \o7 third\f7 . And just for the record, Judge Jan Hoffman of Germany--1980 silver medalist himself at Lake Placid--had the two skaters tied on his scorecard, an artistic edge being the tiebreaker in a point system Albert Einstein could not have cogently explained.

Anyone else?

Yes, me, volunteered Josee Chouinard, who skated for Canada and placed ninth, right behind Katarina Witt and Tonya Harding. While saying she was glad not to be a judge, Chouinard lined up on Kerrigan's side, saying: "Technically, for sure, Nancy deserved it. . . . She did more difficult things, I know that. In my mind, Nancy won."

Far more adamant was Paul Wylie, men's silver medalist in 1992 and admittedly biased as Kerrigan's longtime friend. Wylie said: "Give me a break! It seems obvious to me Nancy was the winner. To me, it was cut and dried."

As it was to Christopher Howarth, expert skating analyst for EuroSport television, who concluded his broadcast with: "For me, I would definitely have had Kerrigan on the top. I would still have given her the gold."

Yes, sir.

Majority rules, though. Which is, if nothing else, democratic. And in a split decision, judges Jarmila Portova of the Czech Republic, Jiasheng Yang of China, Jan Olesinski of Poland and Alfred Korytek of Ukraine--who was as true to his country's skater as an American judge was to hers--cast their lots with the German judge to give the gold medal to Baiul. Which only goes to prove that life is not always a cabaret, old chum, even if that was the snappy show tune to which the Ukrainian skated.

With a wistful, what-else-can-I-do expression on her face, Kerrigan said, "Hey, I was smiling, I was happy, I was enjoying myself and I did all my elements. How can I complain?"

No need.

Permit us to do it for her.

It could be Baiul got a sympathy vote, not unlike an Oscar winner who has recently been through a harrowing ordeal. But that would be absurd logic indeed, considering that every skater in this competition feared that it was Kerrigan herself with whom judges' sympathies would lie. And it could even be our own xenophobia rearing its own ugly head, foreigner-bashing on behalf of America's sweetheart, subconsciously or otherwise.

Let us reiterate, then, that Baiul was quite wonderful. Damaged in a two-skater smashup the previous day, she took painkillers, she wept with anguish, she competed, she wept again with delight, she clutched a stuffed animal and she practically swooned at discovering she had won. Sixteen years young and at 99 pounds now heavyweight skating champion of the world, Oksana was asked what she wanted and all she could think of was something even sweeter.

"Sneekers."

"Sneakers?"

"No. \o7 Sneekers\f7 ," clarified her interpreter, Viktor Syzomenko. "Sneekers. The candy bar."

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