But Ito fell on the triple Lutz combination—ignominiously turfed. It brought a mournful gasp from the audience, because Ito is a gracious and popular skater whose talent is not taken lightly in the international skating community. Mary Scotvold said it "broke my heart." Barbara Flowers burst into tears of sympathy.
The mistake put Ito in fourth place after the short program, behind Yamaguchi, Kerrigan and Bonaly. That placement meant Ito, the favorite, could not win the gold if Yamaguchi finished second or better in last Friday's four-minute long program. But Ness was taking nothing for granted, and refused to play it safe by removing the more difficult elements from Yamaguchi's long program—her triple Lutz-triple toe opener and the jump that has been her bane, the triple Salchow. "She's had a lot of firsts in shorts and has had them taken away before," Ness said.
But not recently and certainly not last Friday night. Skating first in the last group of skaters, to the Spanish-styled Malagueña, Yamaguchi calmly nailed her opening triple-triple combination, her ponytail a blur, then assuredly turned the ice into her stage. She landed her jumps so softly it seemed as if she were skating in her slippers. Yamaguchi's program, which was superbly choreographed by Sandra Bezic, had the crowd spellbound until more than halfway through, when she fell—the groan!—on a relatively easy triple loop. Her confidence shaken, Yamaguchi then turned a planned triple Salchow into a double. But she pulled herself together, landed the difficult triple Lutz and finished well.
Her scores—five 5.7s and four 5.8s for technical merit; one 5.8 and eight 5.9s for artistic impression—left the other skaters little chance to overcome her lead, despite the two errors. As it turned out, those marks won her the long program. All of the top six skaters fell, a testament both to the pressure of the Olympics and the difficulty of the elements they were attempting. Kerrigan touched down on a triple-double combination, then singled two of the triple jumps she had planned. But when Bonaly and Harding also faltered, Kerrigan won the bronze.
"This is overwhelming, really," Kerrigan's mother, Brenda, said, after learning the result. Legally blind, Brenda had poignantly been fighting back tears while watching Nancy's performance on a TV monitor set up especially for her by CBS. I "I don't know how this happened," she said of her daughter's bronze. "I had her in fourth. When I hugged her I said, 'I love you, you did great. But, oh, Nancy, I didn't think you did it.' "
Ito, still skating tentatively after another bad practice on the day of the long program, fell on her first attempt at a triple Axel. But more than three minutes into her program, in what may have been the single gutsiest moment of the figure skating competition, she landed her trademark jump on the second try. A triple Axel, at last—the only one converted in four attempts by Ito and Harding combined. That success brought Ito to life, and in the final minute of her performance, the spark of the 1988 Midori Ito reemerged. It won her the silver medal.
But the judges—and there was no U.S. judge among the nine who arbitrated the women's competition—hadn't needed to wait to see the fate of the triple Axelers to make up their minds. They had made it clear the direction they wanted to see skating proceed. They loved Yamaguchi's grace and carriage. They loved her speed, her consistency under pressure, the variety of skills displayed within her program. And, yes, they loved her artistry. God never gave anyone everything, but Yamaguchi, without the triple Axel, is as close to a complete package as women's skating ever has seen.