Host City: Lillehammer, Norway
Venue(s): Olympic Amphitheatre, Hamar
Date Started: February 23, 1994
Date Finished: February 25, 1994
Format: Skaters were ranked on Ordinal Placement, based on judges' points, with final placement for each section determined by Majority Placements. The tiebreaker for the Short Program was the Required Elements score, while the tiebreaker for the Free Skating was the Technical Merit score. Thus, if a skater was ranked first by a majority of the judges, that skater was placed first overall for that section. Ties were broken by a Subsequent Majority rule, i.e., if the skaters were ranked for the same position by the same number of judges, Majority Placement for the next higher position for each skater determined who was ranked higher. Final placement was determined by factored placements. The tiebreakers were then 1) Number of Majority Placements, 2) Total Ordinals of Majority, 3) Total Ordinals. The placement for the the Short Program was factored by 0.5 (33.3%), and the placement for Free Skating was factored by 1.0 (66.7%). The sums of the factored placements were then used to determine final placement, with the Free Skating being the tiebreaker.
Figure skating had always seen its share of controversy, with the judges’ scores often highly criticized and political maneuvers between national federations known to occur frequently. Often, skaters were placed not by how they skated but by their previous reputation, known as protocol judging. But the events surrounding the 1994 ladies’ event raised figure skating to a new low, or high, in the world of controversy.
The 1993 World Champion was the Ukraine’s Oksana Bayul, but the 1991-94 European Champion had been France’s Surya Bonaly, a very athletic black skater, who was often penalized by the judges for her lack of artistic impression. Among the American women, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding had been 1-2 since the retirement of Kristi Yamaguchi after the 1992 Winter Olympics. But Kerrigan usually won, her artistry overcoming the athletic jumping ability of Harding, who was only the second woman ever to land a triple axel (after Midori Ito (JPN)). Harding also did not fit into the world of figure skating. She did not come from a wealthy family, and was definitely from the other side of the tracks. When she did not perform well, her mother yelled at her in front of the other families, loudly calling her a scum and a bitch. Tonya hunted and fished, was an accomplished auto mechanic, played pool, smoked cigarettes, and was completely outside the skating establishment.
Kerrigan was not wealthy either, but came from a background somewhat similar to Carol Heiss. Her family worked several jobs to allow her to compete in the expensive world of figure skating, and they re-mortgaged their home to help pay the travel and coaching expenses. Her small hometown of Stoneham, Massachusetts helped support her and the family by often chipping in for travel expenses. Beautiful, quiet, and classy, Kerrigan started to reap the rewards of the more traditional skating world, and received several commercial endorsements. This enabled her to become quite comfortable financially and erase her family’s economic concerns. Harding was getting none of this. Without Kerrigan’s looks and with Tonya’s background and baggage, no endorsements came her way.
Harding saw one way out. To get endorsements and money, she had to win the gold medal in Lillehammer and to her that meant eliminating Kerrigan as a competitor. Harding was then married to Jeff Gillooly. Gillooly contacted a friend, Shawn Eckardt, asking how a hit could be arranged on Kerrigan, disabling her for the Olympics. Eckardt eventually contacted Derrick Smith, who hired his nephew, Shane Stant, who agreed to attack Kerrigan and injure her leg. Gillooly did not know that Eckardt, Smith, and Stant tape recorded the conversation where the plan was hatched. The hit was supposed to take place on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where Kerrigan trained, but Stant was such an idiot that he could not find the ice rink, although it was known to virtually everybody. The group finally settled on attacking Kerrigan at the US Nationals in Detroit. Shortly before the competition, Kerrigan came off the ice after a training session, when a large man assaulted her with a solid-metal baton, hitting her just above the knee. The assailant was Stant, who escaped by running out of the arena to a getaway car. Kerrigan collapsed, crying out, “Why? Why me?” She could not skate at the Nationals.
Two days later, Tonya Harding won the US Nationals and qualified for the Olympic team. The US had only two spots for the ladies’ event in Lillehammer. The second spot could go to Michelle Kwan, who finished second to Harding. But the US figure skating authorities held the spot open for Kerrigan, if she could show that she could recover in time for the Winter Olympics. Kwan graciously stepped aside and Kerrigan did recover in time to be named to the Winter Olympic team.
Then the hunt started for the perpetrators of the crime. By late December, police had found Shawn Eckardt and the tape recording surfaced. Shane Stant turned himself in just before January 1994. In mid-January Harding was grilled by the FBI for 10½ hours and the next day, Gillooly was arrested. When it was obvious that Harding knew of the plot, and had in fact approved of it, the USOC planned to toss her off the Olympic team. But Harding lawyered up, threatened a huge lawsuit if that was done, and the USOC capitulated.
So in Lillehammer the competition was surrounded by a media frenzy probably not seen before at any Olympic Games. In the United States the publicity around the event led to the highest television ratings in years for any American program. The short program began on 23 February. Almost lost amidst all the furor was the return of Katarina Witt, the 1984-88 gold medalist, now eligible again as professionals were allowed in Olympic figure skating. Witt was the first big name to skate in the short program, and she performed well, after being out of international competition for six years, eventually placing sixth in the short.
Harding came out next among the favorites and US sportswriter Tony Kornheiser of the Washington Post described her appearance, “She had on so much makeup, it looked like she rear-ended a Mary Kay Cadillac. I half expected her to skate over and take my drink order.” Harding’s medal chances were over almost immediately, as she made numerous errors in the short program, and placed only 10th.
The competition would now come down to the three favorites – Kerrigan, Bayul, and Bonaly. They placed 1-2-3 in the short program, in that order, and if any of them could win the free skate, they would win the gold medal. The next day, the soap opera went on in training when Bayul collided with Tanja Szewczenko (GER), while they shared the ice. Bayul’s leg was cut and she needed stitches, but would be able to compete the next night.
In the free skate Harding was an early starter because of her placement in the short program. She barely made it onto the ice in time to avoid disqualification, skated about 45 seconds rather slovenly, then skated over to the judges, starting crying and asked to start again – her bootlace was torn. She was allowed to re-start, would place seventh in the free skate, and eighth overall. This episode was later re-enacted in a famous Seinfeld episode.
Kerrigan skated next, first up among the leaders and produced a nearly flawless performance. The gold medal seemed to be hers. But then Bayul skated a similar performance, and the judges ranked her first, five votes to four, although things could change depending on Bonaly’s performance. Bonaly was the last skater but slipped to fourth place, the bronze medal going to China’s Lu Chen. After Bonaly skated the results were final, and Bayul had the gold medal over Kerrigan by the narrowest of margins. Had any of four judges given Kerrigan 1/10th more, or Bayul 1/10th less, for any score, the gold medal would have gone to Kerrigan.
Bringing some sanity to the proceedings was the final skater, Katarina Witt. Witt had won her first gold medal in Sarajevo, which was now a shattered city, destroyed by the Serbian ethnic cleansing. Witt skated to Where Have All the Flowers Gone? in memory of her adopted city. She placed seventh overall, a lovely reminder of a better time in figure skating.
After the Winter Olympics, Harding pled guilty, copping a plea to conspiring to hinder prosecution of a case. She had to perform 500 hours of community service, and paid a $100,000 fine. She and Jeff Gillooly eventually divorced. She was banned for life by the US Figure Skating Association, and her 1994 US title stripped. Needing to support herself, she later became a professional boxer.
Bayul turned professional and did very well for herself in ice shows, moving to the United States. With her new-found riches came some difficulties with alcohol, including an episode in January 1997 when she was charged with drunken driving in Connecticut, while traveling over 100 miles/hour (160 km/hour). She later claimed that she did not mean to go that fast but had lost control because she was so entranced by a Madonna song she was listening to.
Kerrigan married her agent, Jerry Solomon. She had some controversy after Lillehammer, appearing at Disney World with Mickey Mouse, where she was heard to say, “This is most corny thing I’ve ever done.” She later hosted Saturday Night Live, where she jokingly referred to that incident, saying what she actually said was, “This is most horny thing I’ve ever done.” She skated in a few ice shows, but mainly raised her family in Massachusetts.
It is said that reality is stranger than fiction. This story could not have been made up.
|2||Nancy Kerrigan||24||United States||USA||Silver||2.5||0.5||2.0|
|8||Tonya Harding||23||United States||USA||12.0||5.0||7.0|
|13||Lenka Kulovaná||19||Czech Republic||CZE||19.5||5.5||14.0|
|15||Charlene von Saher||19||Great Britain||GBR||22.5||6.5||16.0|
|21||Lee Lily||24||South Korea||KOR||32.0||12.0||20.0|
|25 r1/2||Zhao Guona||15||China||CHN||12.5||12.5|
|26 r1/2||Susan Anne Humphreys||18||Canada||CAN||13.0||13.0|
|27 r1/2||Irena Zemanová||16||Czech Republic||CZE||13.5||13.5|