Olympic Stories

Nancy Kerrigan Mettle for the Medal

Nancy Kerrigan  Mettle for the Medal

Fresh off of a bronze medal in the '92 Olympics and a '93 USA National Championship, Nancy Kerrigan, like many other figure skaters, was hard at work preparing for the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer. Unlike her competition, however, Nancy ended up suffering a brutal attack after a training event, which came dangerously close to ending her career.

What would follow ultimately became more important than the hysteria of the attack. Kerrigan, barely an adult at the time, fought back from injury to deliver the best performance of her career on the world's biggest stage. Now, if that's not a winning Olympic story, you'd be hard-pressed to find one.

Nancy Kerrigan

Born October 13, 1969 in Woburn, Massachusetts, Nancy Ann Kerrigan is a former American figure skater with an impressive resume to boast over a relatively brief career. During the early 1990s, Kerrigan, along with other fantastic American skaters like Tonya Harding and Kristi Yamaguchi, were quickly becoming world standard role models for all young athletes. Nearly as popular as any US gymnastics team, Kerrigan and company gave the nation new hope in the Olympic arena.

Kerrigan would win a bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Games, followed quickly by a national championship. En route to the '94 Games, Kerrigan was hands-down the favorite in the world, expected to easily best the American competition and, hopefully, seize the opportunity to defeat the Ukraine and Japanese figure skaters. Things don't always go as planned, however, and Kerrigan would find out that figure skating is something you cannot take for granted.

The Whack Heard 'Round the World

On a national level, figure skating was more popular than ever  throughout America entering 1994. Nancy Kerrigan was America's sweetheart, and sponsors and camera crews followed her around wheresoever she should venture. On January 6, 1994, at a routine practice in Detroit for the US Figure Skating Championships, America got to know Nancy Kerrigan for a different reason. Practicing for a competition to see who would represent America in Lillehammer, an assailant armed with a police baton, Shane Stant, viciously clubbed Kerrigan in the right knee in a brief yet brutal attack aimed at crippling her physically and ruining her chances of making it to the Olympics.

The cameras caught Kerrigan as she writhed around in pain, screaming “Why” and crying aloud. The world was fixed on the story, not comprehending why such a thing would happen to a regular, salt-of-the-earth American athlete. Later it came out that Stant, the assailant, was hired by Jeff Gillooly, rival Tonya Harding's ex-husband, to knock Kerrigan out of contention. This story, known as “The Whack Heard 'Round the World,” was dominating the landscape for weeks.

Despite the best laid plans of the criminal conspirators, however, Kerrigan quickly recovered from her injury and started practicing again. Feeling that Kerrigan deserved to represent the United States in the Olympic Games, the competitors decided to give her one of the two spots for Lillehammer, which, at this point, was only a few weeks away.

Only a mere seven weeks after the attack, Nancy Kerrigan skated in Lillehammer and put on two of the best performances of her career. Nancy won the short program and entered the free skate in the lead. Putting on a flawless performance, the ultimate ruling would go down as one of the most controversial in Olympic history. Kerrigan ultimately lost to Ukraine skater Oksana Baiul, after a 5-4 decision in which a German judge, Jan Hoffmann, was accused of showing anti-American bias.

To make matters worse, Chen Lu, the bronze medalist, and Kerrigan, the silver winner, had to wait for over 20 minutes for the officials to find a copy of the Ukraine national anthem. Frustrated, Kerrigan was caught making rude comments about Baiul and ultimately left before attending the closing ceremonies.

Kerrigan suffered a blitz attack on January 6 that continued for weeks heading into the Olympic Games. She was constantly hounded by media, her every move followed, and yet she still put on a performance many feel was far superior to any other Olympic figure skater that year. Although she wears a silver as a result, the common consensus is that Kerrigan is the true gold medal winner for 1994.

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