Nancy Kerrigan won two Olympic medals in figure skating, a bronze in 1992, and a silver in 1994. If only that were all to her story. Kerrigan first competed internationally at the 1991 World Championships, where she received a bronze medal. In 1992, she moved up at the US Nationals, winning her first major title, which qualified her for the Olympic team, where she finished behind American gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi. With Yamaguchi turning professional after the 1992 Olympics, Kerrigan appeared poised to move up to the top spot in world figure skating. Her greatest competition in the US seemed to come from Tonya Harding, who had been fourth at the Albertville Olympics.
Harding did not fit well into the figure skating world, coming from a poor family. She hunted and fished, was an accomplished auto mechanic, played pool, smoked cigarettes, and was completely outside the skating establishment. Kerrigan was not from a wealthy family either, but had more community support. Beautiful, quiet, and classy, Kerrigan started to reap the rewards of the more traditional skating world, and received several commercial endorsements, which helped ease her family’s economic concerns. Harding was getting none of this and she saw one way out. To get endorsements and money, she had to win the gold medal in Lillehammer and to her that meant eliminating Kerrigan as a competitor.
Harding was then married to Jeff Gillooly. Gillooly contacted a friend, Shawn Eckardt, asking how a hit could be arranged on Kerrigan, disabling her for the Olympics. Eckardt eventually contacted Derrick Smith, who hired his nephew, Shane Stant, who agreed to attack Kerrigan and injure her leg. The group finally settled on attacking Kerrigan at the US Nationals in Detroit. Shortly before the competition, Kerrigan came off the ice after a training session, when a large man assaulted her with a solid-metal baton, hitting her just above the knee. The assailant was Stant, who escaped by running out of the arena to a getaway car. Kerrigan collapsed, crying out, “Why? Why me?” She could not skate at the Nationals.
Two days later, Tonya Harding won the US Nationals and qualified for the Olympic team. The US had only two spots for the ladies’ event in Lillehammer. The second spot could go to Michelle Kwan, who finished second to Harding. But the US figure skating authorities held the spot open for Kerrigan, if she could show that she could recover in time for the Winter Olympics. Kwan graciously stepped aside and Kerrigan did recover in time to be named to the Winter Olympic team.
Eventually Harding and her mob was caught, and she would be fined and sentenced to community service and she has had a difficult life since that episode. At Lillehammer, a media frenzy surrounded the women’s figure skating because of the “Kardigan Saga.” In Norway, Kerrigan skated beautifully, but lost out by the narrowest of margins to Ukrainian Oksana Bayul, earning a silver medal.
Kerrigan married her agent, Jerry Solomon, whom she had become close to during the controversial episode. She skated professionally a bit, but mostly raised three children with Solomon in their hometown in Massachusetts. Nancy Kerrigan also started The Nancy Kerrigan Foundation for the visually impaired, honoring her mother, who was legally blind, and could barely see well enough to watch her daughter’s elegant skating.
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