Once America's darling, Nancy Kerrigan hit with tragedy again
Nancy Kerrigan was famously clubbed in knee prior to 1994 Olympics
Kerrigan recovered and won silver, but many thought she deserved the gold
Kerrigan back in spotlight when her father died after fight with brother
The Winter Olympics start this week and I'll give you an autographed photo of Dick Button if you can name more than one American female figure skater.
This wasn't always the case. Back in 1994 women's figure skating was the biggest story in the sports world and all because of Americans Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.
It was the year the Winter Games went all Jerry Springer.
Tonya and Nancy didn't like one another. Tonya's people clubbed Nancy in the kneecap before the Olympics, triggering months of litigation, drama and tabloid trauma. It was global news when Olympic teammates Kerrigan and Harding shared ice for a practice skate before the Lillehammer Olympics. When the competition finally unfolded, Americans watched in record numbers -- right up there with the final M*A*S*H and the Dallas episode "Who Shot JR?''
In crunch time, Tonya broke a lace on her skates, cried, and asked for a do-over.
Kerrigan skated almost flawlessly and it looked like a classic story of good triumphing over evil until Ukranian teen Oksana Baiul snatched the gold from our Nancy.
With the silver medal around her neck and a sour look on her face, Kerrigan fell hard in the hours and days after she was aced out of the gold. She appeared petulant and heartless, complaining about Baiul's crying on the medal stand. Then she dissed Mickey Mouse in a cheesy parade.
Never one to seek attention, Kerrigan wanted to get out of the spotlight and for the most part, she succeeded. While Harding morphed into an American cartoon (sex tape, Penthouse pose, boxing career, etc.) living the life of every Country-Western song ever written, Kerrigan retired to the suburbs north of Boston and started a family (three children) with her husband/agent, Jerry Soloman. She had a cameo in Will Ferrell's Blades of Glory, did some fundraising, and occasionally appeared in a skating show, but most of her duties out of the house involved parent-teacher meetings and trips to the pediatrician.
Kerrigan's retreat from the spotlight was tragically interrupted two weeks ago when her father died hours after a struggle with Nancy's brother Mark at her parent's home. Plagued with a history of mental illness and substance abuse, Mark Kerrigan was arrested and charged assault and battery. No stranger to jail time, he recently did a couple of years for assaulting his ex-wife. He was in jail when his father was buried and is scheduled to appear in court again on Feb. 24. He may face additional charges pending results of his father's autopsy.
Had this happened to any other family in Stoneham, Mass., it would have received limited coverage. It would have been one-and-out on the local news cycle. The family would have been able to grieve privately. But this was Nancy Kerrigan's dad and Nancy Kerrigan's brother, so those TV trucks beat a path to the base of her parents' driveway, just as they did after the knee-clubbing in 1994. We saw video of Nancy walking her mother to the car. At the funeral, photographers snapped photos of Nancy crying.
Nancy's dad was always part of her story. A welder and a father of three, he was the one to got up at 5 in the morning to take his little girl to the rink every day. The local rink owner ultimately turned the keys over to Dan Kerrigan and he learned to operate the Zamboni to get the ice ready for his daughter. He was 70 when he died, a grandfather of eight.
In the summer of 2009, Nancy Kerrigan was honored at the Boston Garden alongside the likes of Sam Jones, Ken Hodge, Troy Brown and Curt Schilling.
"In New England we have so many amazing athletes,'' she said that night. "But a lot of them are male athletes so I think it's great for girls and younger boys as well that they can appreciate that girls are successful athletes as well.''
Kerrigan's oldest child is almost a teenager, old enough to know what happened when Mom was a skater. I asked her how she talked to her kids about the celebrated mugging.
"I'm glad to say I don't know how someone could come to hurting someone else to better themselves,'' she said. "That's what sport is, competition, and if someone is better than you then they're better than you. Tonya Harding beat me in the past, so it's not like she was never better than me. She had a shot at it, but it didn't look good for her that year. I was really skating well. But to get to the point of hurting someone else, I hope my kids don't understand that ever.''
"She (Harding) never directly spoke to me. It's weird for sure. We were roommates and toured together. It's ridiculous. What a waste of talent. People say, 'she had it hard,' well sure, she did, but she had people that were helping her, too. So it's all on which path you choose.
"It's the choice that people make. Unfortunately I think once you make one choice, sometimes you get wrapped up in things.
"I've never really enjoyed the spotlight, but I'm getting a little older and your perspective changes a little bit.''
That was before the unspeakable family tragedy and its accompanying headlines. And once again, she had no control over any of it.
More than most athletes of her time, Nancy Kerrigan is one who knows that being famous is sometimes not so great.
Dan Shaughnessy is a columnist for The Boston Globe. Read more of his columns here.