Both Bonaly and Baiul had been terrific, show-stopping, but Kerrigan bested them on this night. She skated a virtually perfect technical program, and afterward, with dozens of American flags waving and Kerrigan beaming proudly at center ice, with Harding halfheartedly applauding from an enclosed box high above the ice, one had the feeling that at least one demon had been exorcised. The attack in Detroit was behind her. Later, at the draw for the long program, Harding unexpectedly gave a congratulatory hug to Kerrigan. "I thought, What are you doing?" Kerrigan, taken aback, recalled. "It gave me the creeps."
Later that night at a party at the Victoria Hotel with some 35 relatives and friends, Kerrigan was relaxed but restrained, very much aware that there was still unfinished business at hand. Upon her arrival she circled the room greeting all the guests, the perfect hostess. She did the same when it was time to leave. "Good luck tomorrow," a gentleman said.
"Thank you," she said. "I just practice tomorrow, but thanks." In Prague, after all, she had also led the field after the short program before her horrific ninth-place finish in the free skate, and Prague was the one demon in her life left to slay. "Prague was the biggest motivator of all this year," said Evy Scotvold. "More than Detroit. She knows now what can happen if you're not ready to be the leader."
Kerrigan, still trying to enjoy her final Olympics, took in a short-track speed skating event the next night. "I almost cried there," she says. "I saw Isabelle Brasseur, the Canadian pairs skater, who's a good friend, and her boyfriend, Jean-Luc Brassard, who won a gold medal in the moguls. I wanted to go down and say hello, to congratulate them, but security wouldn't let me. All I could do was wave. I was seated at the top of the stadium, behind glass. You couldn't hear the crowd. I touched the glass and thought, I really am in a fishbowl."
In a funny way, though, that fishbowl may have prepared her for the pressure of skating in the Olympics. The short program had been the third-most-watched sports event in U.S. television history, but to Kerrigan, it was just one more night on display. The long program? That was the final step. Then it would all be over.
Harding's woes were far from over, however. She broke a lace during the warmup and couldn't find a suitable replacement. She came within 24 seconds of being disqualified after taking one minute, 36 seconds to make it to the ice following her introduction as the next skater. Her team of handlers had, amazingly enough, failed to bring an extra pair of laces long enough for Harding's boots.
When Harding popped out of her opening jump, a triple Lutz, she burst into tears and skated over to the referee, Britta Lindgren of Sweden, and showed her the lace problem. Lindgren generously offered Harding a reskate (she could have had Harding pick up her program where she had stopped). This was nothing new for Harding. At the U.S. nationals in '93 she asked for a reskate after her dress came undone. At Skate America last fall she stopped at midprogram when her skate blade came loose. Given a second chance in Lillehammer, Harding had the lace replaced, skated her program and pulled herself up to eighth place.
Kerrigan? She skated just like in the dream. She doubled that opening triple flip, raising the specter of Prague, where the doubles turned to singles and worse. But from that point on she was nearly flawless: strong and fast and angular and increasingly animated as it became clear to her and everyone else that this was the best long program she had ever skated in competition. That the hard work had paid off. That this beauty had more than a small measure of grit and fight and moxie in her. "You won't believe the dream I had last night," Mary Scotvold told her as they hugged after Nancy came off the ice. And when the scores flashed on the board, revealing six 5.9's for artistic impression, it seemed certain to Kerrigan's supporters that she would win.
She didn't, of course. Another lovely scrapper, Baiul, whose entire young life has been a story of overcoming obstacles (SI, Feb. 7), was given two IOC-approved painkilling injections an hour before she skated, then performed as if she had just awakened from the best night's sleep of her life. She landed her jumps with more sureness than she had shown since last year's world championships and beguiled both judges and crowd with that magic that cannot be taught. "She is a perfect skater," said no less an authority than two-time Olympic gold medalist Katarina Witt, who finished seventh on this night.
Baiul, too, had one error, two-footing the landing on her triple flip, but only three of the judges deducted for the flaw. When the marks came in, the enchanting Baiul had won the night from Kerrigan, five judges to four—the split curiously coming along old party lines. Judges from Canada, Great Britain, Japan and the U.S. went for Kerrigan. Judges from China, the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine and the former East Germany preferred Baiul. After a poor showing by Bonaly, the gold went to Baiul, the silver to Kerrigan, the bronze to China's Chen Lu.