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Kerrigan, Nancy

Nancy Kerrigan

1969-

American figure skater

Nancy Kerrigan was born on October 13, 1969 in Stoneham, Massachusetts, where she was raised along with her two older brothers by her parents, Dan and Brenda Kerrigan. When she was one year old, her mother was struck by a rare illness that left her almost completely blind. Kerrigan began skating when she was six years old, taking group lessons at a nearby ice rink. The instructor quickly assessed Kerrigan's exceptional talent and suggested to her parents that they consider private lessons for her.

Early Years on Ice

To afford the expensive private skating lessons, Kerrigan's father, a welder at a local food plant, took on an extra job as a maintenance man in the evening. Due to his wife's physical limitations, he also managed many of the household and family affairs. Eventually he would take out substantial loans to keep his daughter's skating career afloat. Never pressured by her parents to skate, Kerrigan enjoyed the support of a large extended family that lived nearby and also helped with lessons and transportation.

Kerrigan's day started at four o'clock in the morning, roused out of bed by her mother who would always eat breakfast with her. Her father drove her to her five o'clock early morning lessons, often staying to drive the Zamboni to prepare the ice. Kerrigan, who was drawn to the more athletic skating performances of the male skaters she watched on television, thrived on the physical dimensions of skating. After her instructors taught her how to skate without leaning over like her hockey-playing brothers, Kerrigan focused on speed and strength in her routines.

Kerrigan entered her first competition when she was eight years old. Because of her constant training schedule during her youth, she missed out on many social activities and found it difficult to develop close friendships simply because she spent so much time on the ice. Yet Kerrigan loved to skate, and her determination and commitment soon began to pay off. She landed her first triple-triple (two consecutive triple toe loops) in practice when she was 14 years old, successfully completing the jump for the first time in competition the following year. Having mastered the difficult combination not attempted by other women skaters at the time, Kerrigan began to realize that she could become an exceptional skater.

Winning Ways

In 1985 Kerrigan finished second at the Eastern Junior Regionals, and in 1987 she placed fourth at the National Junior Championships. After graduating from Stoneham High School, she enrolled at nearby Emmanuel College, from which she received an associate's degree. In 1988 19-year-old Kerrigan won the National Collegiate Championships, as well as three other competitions. In the same year she finished twelfth in her first appearance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. In 1989 she took first place in the New England and the Eastern Regionals, and finished fifth at the U.S. Championships. Winning a bronze medal at the 1989 U.S. Olympic Festival, Kerrigan returned to take the gold in 1990.

Continuing her ascent up the rankings, Kerrigan finished fourth, third, and second at the U.S. Championships in 1990, 1991, and 1992, respectively. Her second-place finish in 1992 earned her a place on the U.S. Olympic team, along with winner Kristi Yamaguchi and third-place winner Tonya Harding . The 1992 Olympics, held in Albertville, France, was billed as a showdown between Yamaguchi and Japan's Midori Ito. Nonetheless, Kerrigan made her presence known by finishing the short program in second, behind Yamaguchi. Both Yamaguchi and Kerrigan made mistakes in their long programs, but Yamaguchi held on to win the gold medal, with Ito second, and Kerrigan taking the bronze medal.

When Yamaguchi announced that she was turning professional, Kerrigan became the top-ranked skater in the nation and proved her standing by winning the U.S. Championships in 1993. Attracting national attention, she was named by People magazine as one of the fifty most beautiful celebrities, and she was beginning to garner endorsement contracts that would finally make her skating pay off financially. However, feeling the pressure of her standing and her new role as a media darling, Kerrigan began to falter. In 1993 at the World Championships in Prague, Kerrigan, favored to win, was in first place after the short program, but she fell apart in the long program. Missing her first jump, she lost concentration and turned two triple jumps into unimpressive singles. She finished ninth in the long program and fifth overall. It was a devastating loss for Kerrigan, who sobbed in defeat after the competition.

Attacked

Determined to return to form, Kerrigan recommitted herself to long, arduous practices. She was soon back in form, winning two major competitions before the end of the year (the Piruetten in Norway and the AT&T Pro Am in the United States). Stepping onto the ice at the U.S. Championships, Kerrigan was overwhelmingly favored to defend her title. Her closest competition was Harding, who skated a very physically challenging routine but lacked Kerrigan's artistic elegance and routinely finished behind her more polished opponent.

What played out at the 1994 U.S. Championships, held in Detroit, Michigan, was one of the most bizarre sporting dramas of all time. Two days prior to the competition, Kerrigan was leaving the practice arena, Cobo Hall, around 2:30 p.m. She walked behind a blue curtain that separated the rink from a hallway leading to the locker rooms. When she stopped to talk briefly to a reporter, a man ran by, crouched down, hit Kerrigan on the knee with a lead pipe, and kept running. Kerrigan fell to the floor in pain and was quickly taken to the hospital. Although she had no broken bones, the damage to her knee cap and quadriceps tendon was severe enough to cause her to withdraw from the U.S. Championships.

Chronology

1969 Born in Massachusetts
1974 Begins skating
1994 Attacked during practice for the national championships, planned by Tonya Harding's former husband; turns pro after Olympics
1995 Marries her agent, Jerry Soloman
1996 Gives birth to son, Matthew
1998 Appears on Fox television show with Harding

In the ensuing investigation, police linked the crime to Harding's former husband, Jeff Gillooly, who had hired two buddies to carry out the attack, supposedly to remove Harding's main competition. (All three served time in jail.) As it turned out, Harding won the championship and was named to the Olympic team. Because Kerrigan did not skate in the nationals, she did not qualify for the Olympics, but the U.S. Figure Skating Association, acknowledging that Kerrigan was the country's best shot at bringing home a gold medal, named her to the team anyway. Kerrigan had six weeks between the championships and the Olympics to rehabilitate her injured knee.

The events surrounding Kerrigan's attack played out in the media headlines for months. Harding denied any direct involvement, and the police could not link her to the crime. As a result she was allowed to remain on the Olympic team, much to the dismay of Kerrigan and her supporters. However, distracted by the overwhelming media attention in the aftermath of the attack, she performed well below her best and was never a challenge to Kerrigan's medal hopes. Later Harding admitted that she learned of the attack shortly after it occurred. She was subsequently banned from the 1994 World Championships and charged with hindering an investigation, for which she received three years of probation.

Silver Medalist

Kerrigan's main competition at the 1994 Olympics was 17-year-old Oksana Baiul from the Ukraine, who had won the 1993 World Championships. Kerrigan, who was continuously surrounded by multiple security guards during the Olympics, won the short program, and although she made a small mistake near the beginning of her free skate, she completed a near-perfect routine. Baiul also made a minor mistake but also otherwise skated flawlessly. In the end, four judges voted for Kerrigan and five voted for Baiul. Kerrigan took the silver medal, missing the gold by a mere one-tenth of a percentage point.

Following the Olympics Kerrigan turned professional and became one of the most successfully marketed athletes ever. Despite never winning an Olympic gold, she was incredibly popular for her gritty determination to return to the ice alongside Harding to take the silver. Kerrigan turned that popularity into millions in endorsements and ice show appearances. She competed for her last medal at the 2000 Goodwill Games, where she took the bronze.

On September 9, 1995, Kerrigan married her agent, Jerry Soloman. She continued to skate, including tours with "Champions on Ice," "Grease on Ice," "Footloose on Ice," and "Halloween on Ice." She recorded a song, "The Distance," which she used during her routine at Brian Boitano 's Skating Spectacular in January 2003. In the same year she published an instructional book entitled Artistry on Ice. She has also hosted several skating events, including an international competition produced by Lifetime television in 2002. In December 1996 Kerrigan gave birth to a son, Matthew. When he was an infant, he traveled often with his mother, but Kerrigan expects as he ages that she will cut back on her travels to stay home. Kerrigan and Solomon live close to Kerrigan's family in Massachusetts.

In spite of her many attempts to move past the saga of her attack, she is still questioned about it often. In 1998 she agreed to appear for an interview on the Fox network with Harding. The segment was, in itself, bizarre as the two had their first encounter since the Olympics. Kerrigan, who remains convinced that Harding had prior knowledge of the attack, did not receive an apology from Harding. Nonetheless, she has done her best to move on. "Sometimes I think, 'Why do I always have to be linked to something like that?'" she told The Boston Globe. "It all seems so bizarre, weird. I don't think about it much, really, until some totally bizarre incident happens and it's in the news all the time and I think, 'I was part of something like that?' It doesn't even seem real to me."

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: c/o ProServe, 1101 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1800, Arlington, Virginia 22209. Online: http://www.nancyfans.com.

SELECTED WRITINGS BY KERRIGAN:

(With Steve Woodward) Nancy Kerrigan: In My Own Words. New York: Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1996.

Awards and Accomplishments

1988 Gold medalist, National Collegiate Championships
1989 Gold medalist, New England Senior and Eastern Senior; bronze medalist, World University Games and U.S. Olympic Festival
1990 Gold medalist, U.S. Olympic Festival
1991 Bronze medalist, U.S. Championships, World Championships
1992 Silver medalist, U.S. Championships and World Championships; bronze medalist, Olympics
1993 Gold medalist, U.S. Championships
1994 Silver medalist, Olympics
2000 Bronze medalist, Goodwill Games

(With Mary Spencer) Artistry on Ice: Figure Skating Skills and Style. Champagne, IL: Human Kinetics, 2003.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

Edelson, Paula. A to Z of American Women in Sports. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2002.

Great Women in Sports. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1996.

Newsmakers 1994, Issue 4. Detroit: Gale Research, 1994.

St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. 5 vols. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.

Sports Stars. Series 1-4. Detroit: UXL, 1994-98.

Periodicals

Brennan, Christine. "Skater Attacked at Olympic Trials." The Washington Post, (January 7, 1994): A1.

Dupont, Kevin Paul. "Fame and Shame." The Boston Globe, (January 28, 1998): F1.

"Figure Skater Nancy Kerrigan Glides into Song on New CD." The Associated Press, (October 14, 1999).

"Ice Follies." Entertainment Weekly, (January 8, 1999): 76.

Knisley, Michael. "In This Sport, Everything Figures." The Sporting News, (March 7, 1994): 13-15.

Lane, Randall. "Nancy's Gold." Forbes, (March 28, 1994): 20.

"Melting the Ice." People Weekly, (January 13, 2003): 125+.

"Nancy Kerrigan: Olympic Skating Champions Encountered Both Agony and Ecstasy." People Weekly, (March 15, 1999): 274.

Olympic Medallist Nancy Kerrigan Hosts Lifetime's Coverage of the 2002 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in November and December." PR Newswire, (October 30, 2002).

Rosellini, Lynn. "Fighting the Ghosts Within: Nancy Kerrigan's Handlers Wager that Keeping the Olympian in a Cocoon Will Help her Cope." U.S. News and World Report, (February 14, 1994): 51-52.

Other

"Nancy Kerrigan." The Official Nancy Kerrigan Fan Site. http://www.nancyfans.com (January 30, 2003).

Sketch by Kari Bethel

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