"My problem always has been the figures," she says. "They're like the school figures that figure skaters used to have to perform. They always are held on the first day of the three days of competition, and I always have been trailing at the end. This time, though, I came out with the lead. I hit my figures as well as I ever have. I couldn't believe it."
The good news shortly was followed by bad news. The controversy had begun. Frechette's score in the figures was in doubt. A judge from Brazil had given her an 8.7, an inordinately low score for a contender, then tried to change it. The judge's appeal was denied. The press, sniffing the scent of injustice, reacted. Especially the Canadian press. How could Frechette, in the midst of tragedy, be dealt this second blow? All manner of stories appeared. Some of them said that because of a computer failure, the Brazilian judge hadn't had the chance to report a proper score. Others hypothesized that a better score would have put Frechette solidly in the lead. Others talked about undue American influence in the sport's judging. Frechette became the injured party. Kristen became the unworthy benefactor. She hadn't done a thing, but she was in the middle of the buzz. She has her own opinion about what happened.
"The computer wasn't broken," she says. "It was checked. Here's what I think happened. The figures are a long, boring process. There are 50 women coming through, all performing the same movements. This is a subjective sport, and in subjective sports, reputation means a lot. It shouldn't be that way, but it is. My guess is that the Brazilian judge simply lost track of who was performing. She watched the figures and gave the score she thought appropriate. She had two chances to change the score before it was final. She didn't change it. Then the scores came up on the board, and she learned that she was judging Sylvie, and the score was supposed to be higher, and she tried to change it. It's not a rare occurrence. I've had it happen to me."
The debate continued for the final two days of competition. After the figures Frechette was in fourth, .251 of a point behind Kristen. Where would Frechette have been in the standings if the Brazilian judge had been able to change her score? How much higher would the judge's score have been? How would the attitudes of the competitors be changed if the role of leader and follower were reversed? All that is known for sure is what happened. On the final night, Kristen swam her routine, stayed vertical, finished to applause and went to the dressing room. Frechette followed. The final score gave the gold medal to Kristen Babb-Sprague, U.S.A., by .131 of a point over Frechette.
Kristen's joy was tempered by the press conference after the medal ceremony, a press conference that sometimes resembled an inquisition. Hadn't she worked a lifetime for this moment? Hadn't she gone through all of the back pain and then the stress of recovery? Didn't she deserve the gold? She never thought that she didn't, no matter what anybody said.
"What bothered me most was that the press made this an issue of character," she says. "There were so many stories that were flat-out wrong. There wasn't anything wrong with my character. I didn't do anything wrong. There was so much controversy that I didn't even look at the video of the competition for two months. Then, finally, back home, all alone, I watched the video. This is what I saw—I watched the video, and I deserve that medal. I can honestly say that I won it. No one gave me anything."
Ed couldn't watch the performance live on television. He was in Detroit, and the hotel did not have the pay-per-view triple-cast. He couldn't find a television with triplecast anywhere. The final routine took place at dawn in the U.S. He did not learn about Kristen's gold medal until he heard it a few hours later on TV. He let out a shout at the news. A Toronto radio station called him for an interview. Ed was asked about Frechette and the Brazilian judge and all the rest. He did not know about any of it. He became testy when the interviewer persisted.
"The guy asked how I felt the people in Canada would react," Ed said. "I told him I didn't care what anybody thinks. This was my wife. I knew how hard she had worked. I was proud of her."
Kristen flew from the Olympics to Toronto to join her husband. She arrived in time to watch a game at the SkyDome. Ed was booed when he was announced as the next hitter. A sign in the outfield read SPRAGUE: TAKE THE BABE AND LEAVE. He took the babe and left. They traveled with the Blue Jays on a 14-day road trip through the Midwest. That was Ed and Kristen's reunion.
Kristen then returned home for a string of public appearances and obligations as a gold medal winner. She did not see Ed again until the American League playoffs. The Jays went to Oakland to meet the A's in the third game. Kristen waited at the airport at 3 a.m. with Norm. Oh, Norm. He had spent the Olympics at the home of his breeder but now was part of the household again. He also was as big as a house, up to 150 pounds. Ed hadn't seen him since February. Kristen had sent pictures and videotapes, but they couldn't capture the size of the dog.