Freezing Out Nancy: It's The Usa Way

Posted: March 02, 1994

"Every hero becomes a bore at last." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

It's hard to say just when the Nancy Kerrigan backlash began.

At the moment the world first saw video footage of a frightened young woman sobbing, "Why me?" Kerrigan ascended, in the public imagination, to the place reserved for beautiful victims.

Even before Tonya Harding emerged as the Girl Most Likely to Play the Evil Queen, Kerrigan was already Snow White: dark, graceful, maybe a little naive, kind to short men.

One of those men was Scott Hamilton, who, only a few weeks before he would be commenting on Kerrigan's performance for CBS, was featured in the impromptu television special, "Nancy and Friends," in which Kerrigan got to show off the results of grueling physical therapy and CBS got to prime the pump for its mini-series treatment of the Winter Olympics.

As Kerrigan prepared for her TV special, Harding was being questioned by the FBI. Kerrigan's handlers limited her contact with reporters in the weeks before the Olympics. No one seemed able to handle Harding, who dug herself a deeper hole every time she opened her mouth.

The contest was described, over and over, as a class war, although both skaters come from working-class families. Harding was castigated for saying she saw "dollar signs" in Olympic gold even as Kerrigan continued to cash in on the medal she'd not yet won.

And that's where it all might have started to sour.

Somewhere between the Campbell's Soup and Reebok commercials, certainly by the "I'm going to Disney World" spot, Kerrigan lost her grasp on the nation's sympathy. Penury may not be an Olympic requirement anymore, but it doesn't mean we're yet comfortable with seeing competitors featured in commercials during the Olympic Games.

Oksana Baiul, a 16-year-old from Ukraine, didn't have Kerrigan's agent, Jerry Solomon, on her team. She did have CBS, whose soap-opera treatment of the young skater's life as an orphan won friends for her even before she took the ice for the first time in Lillehammer. And that was even before the on-ice collision and the stitches.

With Harding effectively out of Kerrigan's way, a new heavy was required. It couldn't be Baiul, Wounded Bird, could it? Enter Nancy Kerrigan, Bad Sport.

Whether Baiul outskated Kerrigan, by even a tenth of a point, is a question for the ages. Kerrigan may well have been robbed.

But it wasn't Baiul who placed a microphone near Kerrigan, impatient for the medal ceremony and unaware that its delay was a result of the search for the Ukrainian national anthem. Kerrigan was thus heard saying, "I don't know why they're bothering reapplying (Baiul's) makeup. She's only going to start crying again." (Was Revlon listening?)

It wasn't Baiul, or the judges from the former Eastern bloc, who forced Kerrigan to say afterward: "I was flawless. I didn't have any touchdowns. I didn't make any mistakes. I was clean. She two-footed two jumps. But I was really proud of myself."

And it wasn't Baiul who decided that Kerrigan should skip the closing ceremonies of the Olympics and head off to Disney World.

No, that was all Kerrigan. She's still dark, still graceful, still apparently a little naive (about microphones, at least). But the Evil Queen has gone home to Portland and Kerrigan is standing alone at last, the silver medal around her neck already a little tarnished.

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