Baiul Soars Above the Fray

HAMAR, Norway -- The tears flowed freely for Oksana Baiul, orphan and Olympic champion. Thankfully, they were tears of happiness, relief and triumph.


Baiul cried at the outpouring of support from the crowd. She cried at her own achievement. And she cried when the Ukraine anthem was played.


"It was an emotional buildup through the whole day," Baiul said on Saturday after edging out Nancy Kerrigan for the gold medal, giving the former Soviet Union a sweep of the Olympic championships, "and my tears were part of the relief that it was over with."


Baiul, whose mother died in 1991 -- she never knew her father -- and who now lives with coach Galina Zmievskaya, was so overcome by emotion she didn't realize the medals ceremony was delayed. Organizers had no copy of the Ukraine anthem and a team official went back to his hotel for one.


"She was crying," Zmievskaya said. "She didn't know. The girls were trying to do her makeup 10 times at least."


Some of the tears were caused by physical pain. A sore back and a three stitches in her shin from in a collision during training Thursday placed in doubt her ability to skate her long program.


"I remembered the three stitches and that I might not have been able to skate and that was a tragedy to me," the world champion, 16, said. "It was an emotional buildup. The crying was a relief."


The silver was a relief for Kerrigan, whose Olympic future was in serious doubt seven weeks ago. The clubbing attack that bruised her knee at the U.S. championships -- and the unbelievable twists and turns that the saga took in the tabloid press -- made anything and everything she did front-page news.


Included in that, of course, was her showdown with teammate Tonya Harding, who is being investigated in the assault. Harding's ex-husband implicated her when he admitted planning the attack. But while Kerrigan soared to second, Harding fizzled, finishing a well-beaten eighth, never in medals contention.


How could Kerrigan, who won a bronze medal in 1992, stay so focused?


"I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I had fun out there and that's why I skate," she said. "I knew I was capable of doing just what I did and so it was pretty easy. I decided not to play mind games with myself and not to question myself, because I knew I was capable of this.


"What I've been going through is a circus. It's ridiculous," Kerrigan added. "I didn't really enjoy it. I didn't ask for any of this. I didn't ask the media to come in hordes to my practices."


She planned to watch Harding skate Friday night until her teammate ripped a bootlace during warmups. Harding stopped, crying, 45 seconds into her program and somehow convinced the referee to give her a restart. Harding finally returned to the ice half an hour later.


"I wasn't able to watch it," Kerrigan said. "I was going to, but she had a problem and skated later -- bending lots of rules, I guess."


Kerrigan, who is already in Florida doing promotions with Disney World, briefly talked to Harding before the Olympics and not since.


"There really isn't a relationship. I did go and say hello to her," she said. "I said, 'It's been a tough month, hasn't it?' And then I had to get ready for the team pictures. That's it. It wasn't much."


The skating was. Chen Lu of China led off the final group with a superb performance that would lift her to the bronze -- her nation's first medal in Olympic figure skating.


Then came Kerrigan, who hit everything except her opening jump, a triple flip she cut into a double. Her marks ranged from 5.7 to 5.9 and she was ahead with every judge.


On came Baiul, whose snappy routine to Broadway show tunes featured wonderful choreography and complex spins. But she did only one double-double combination, which she ad-libbed at the end of the program; Kerrigan did a triple toe loop-triple toe loop and a triple salchow-double toe loop.


"As I was skating, time was running out of my program," she said. "And so was the gold medal."


Now she has plenty of time to enjoy her gold medal -- with no tears.