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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baiul Attempts Skating Comeback

WASHINGTON -- Oksana Baiul had decided to quit skating forever.

For two months after the automobile accident that nearly took her life, the 1994 Olympic champion would sit alone in her big house in Connecticut and watch television until 5 a.m. She felt depressed and sorry for herself, even as she told friends what a great life it was.

"It was really tough," Baiul said. "I was sitting at home, and I was saying, 'Oh my God. One time, one time, could change your life.'"

Then, one Sunday night last spring, she decided on a lark to call Sara Kawahara, a choreographer she had worked with only once -- on a television special two years earlier. Baiul began by saying things were fine. By the end of the conversation, she was crying.

"I don't like skating, and I want to cry," Baiul remembers saying. "I was really sad."

By the time they hung up the phone, Baiul and Kawahara had become a team. The next morning, Baiul was on a plane to California. The day after, they were on the ice working on a program for an exhibition tour. "Can you imagine?" said Baiul, her green eyes growing ever bigger, as if they were trying to hold all the things that have happened in her 20 incredible years. "She helped me so much. She was the person who put my mind and my body together again."

Now Baiul is planning her first major competition since she drove her Mercedes off a Connecticut road and into a cluster of trees at about 160 kilometers per hour in January. She makes her return this weekend at the World Professional Figure Skating Championships at the new MCI Center in Washington.

"And right now, I just love doing it," Baiul said. "I was lying in my head to myself that I wasn't going to skate anymore. But inside in my heart, I knew what I had to do."

Kawahara is choreographing two routines for this weekend's event. While she downplays her role in heading off Baiul's retirement plans, Kawahara admits it's been hard work.

"It seemed like a rash decision for someone so young," Kawahara said. "I felt so fortunate that she felt she could give me a call and track me down. It was funny, I had been thinking about her. It was just one of those kismet things.

"She's really much stronger than when I first got her. She hadn't skated for three months, so she had really lost all her jumps. She had no body tone. She was out of shape. For someone who skates every day of her life, when you take four months off, it's critical."

Compared to the tiny Ukrainian teenager who nipped Nancy Kerrigan for the gold medal at Lillehammer nearly four years ago, the 1997 version of Oksana Baiul is barely recognizable. She has grown 15 centimeters, gained about 5 kilograms, cut her blonde hair short and taken a crash course in maturity.

"I really didn't understand what happened with me at that time," Baiul said of her Olympic triumph. It all happened too fast, too soon. She had become the newest rags-to-riches, fairy tale story, cashing in on lucrative endorsement and touring contracts before buying a $500,000 house in Simsbury, Connecticut, where a handful of other Ukrainian figure skaters also lived.

She said hangers-on in the skating community would befriend her because of her generous nature and her wealth. She had no adult guidance -- she never knew her father, and her mother died of cancer in 1991 -- and over the last couple of years was becoming bored with the sport that brought her fame.

Although the accident nearly forced her off the ice for good, Baiul now says it may have been the best thing that could have happened to her. She has since sold her Connecticut home and moved into a townhouse near Boston with Russian ice dancer Maia Usova.

"Before, I was so depressed. Now I can probably say I appreciate my life."