Baiul's ballet training gives her femininity a more classical look than Trenary ever attained. She skates with an elegant friskiness. The question that Baiul must now answer is how she will handle the pressure of being the Olympic favorite. "Only the young can do that."' says Zmievskaya, dismissing the notion that Baiul's tender years will work against her. "They are brave."
"I think Oksana doesn't really understand what's happened," agrees Petrenko. "Or she's just starting to understand. The hardest thing is to be the star. Everybody looks at Oksana as the champion, and the champion doesn't have the right to make a mistake."
At Skate America in Dallas in October, Baiul's first international competition since winning her world title, she made several mistakes, falling on both a triple flip and a triple Salchow and failing to land a combination jump. She won the competition anyway when her rivals—including France's Surya Bonaly, who took the silver medal at last year's world championships and won last month's European championships while Baiul finished second—fared even more poorly. But instead of brooding about the errors that were made in Dallas, Baiul assessed her performance the Ukrainian way. Better to laugh. She pretended to spit on the floor. "Today...pwahhh!" she said.
It is hard not to pull for such insouciance. Harder still not to have faith that in Lillehammer, when it matters the most, when the sporting world's attention is fully riveted on this gifted child-woman, she will show what miracles she can perform on a proper sheet of ice. "I like when people are watching," Baiul says, genuinely. "What's the reason for figure skating without spectators watching?"
This is her gift back to a benevolent world.