She went to get her messages, tapping out her log-on identification number and her birth date on the Olympic-wide computer system, and found out how much she was hated. One word that U.S. short-track speed skater Cathy Turner saw was "bitch," a phrase she saw was "go to hell," and then she moved on to the really mean stuff. An anonymous writer, presumably Canadian, had used someone else's ID number to send a message of ill will. Had even Tonya Harding been subjected to anything like this? This was not nice.
"The message called me a bunch of names and said that all of Canada hopes that I fail, things like that," Turner said.
A hubbub had erupted around short-track skating, the most off-the-wall Winter Olympics sport. Turner was the villain, painted in the broad strokes of the World Wrestling Federation. She is 5'2", 116 pounds, fresh from a skating career with the Ice Capades, and now she was cast as some Billy the Kid, the meanest gun in town. A menace to short-track society!
The trouble arose last Thursday night after Turner had won the gold medal in the women's 500 meters, adding that to-a bronze she had earned two nights earlier in the women's relay. Along with the gold (500 meters) and silver (relay) she took in the 1992 Games, the two new medals established her as the queen of her sport. Her competition painted her as a ruthless queen, knocking people down and pushing them out of the way to succeed.
"When you let a girl act the way they let her act, it's Mickey Mouse," said Canadian skater Nathalie Lambert, who claimed Turner had knocked her down in a heat. "It turns our sport into Roller Derby. It's better that I didn't look at her after our race, because I would have punched her in the nose."
The silver medalist, Zhang Yanmei of China, was so upset, claiming that Turner had bumped her leg in the final, that she would not shake hands with Turner at the medal ceremony and stalked away after the U.S. national anthem was played, shoving her medal into her pocket and throwing her gift flowers onto the ice.
"It's nothing new, it is an ongoing thing," said the 31-year-old Turner, a resident of Hilton, N.Y. "They say I'm too aggressive. They're not used to someone fighting for the turns the way I do. What it really is, I just popped into their sport and beat them all, and they're pissed."
The controversy cooked quietly for a day as the drama of Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and Oksana Baiul dominated the skating news on Friday, but when that was finished and time came for the women's 1,000-meter race last Saturday night, Turner became the show.
After surviving two heats, she was matched again with Zhang, along with Isabelle Charest of Canada and Kim So Hee of Korea in the semifinals, needing to finish in the top two to qualify for the final. The start of the nine-lap race was tactical, the skaters forming a close line as they went around and around the track. On the eighth lap Turner sprinted, moving up from third place, and cut past Kim and then Zhang to take the lead and skate home, qualifying for the finals. Or did she?
As she relaxed after the semi, an announcement came that she'd been disqualified. The judges had found her guilty of "cross tracking," cutting into another skater's path. She was astounded. She said she had done nothing wrong and had no idea what the judges had seen.