The media had played up the Olympics with the story of two American singles skaters, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. These two both were outstanding, world-renowned skaters, but the story of their trip to the Games was much more exciting than their duel on the ice.
These games marked the first time professional figure skaters were allowed to return to the amateur level and compete again in the Olympic Games. As a result of the ISU's decision, many gold medalists from the '84, '88, and '92 games returned including Russia's premier pairs Gordeeva and Grinkov and Mishkutinok and Dmitriev; Ukraine's men's singles star Viktor Petrenko; USA's renowned Brian Boitano; Germany's ice queen Katarina Witt; and Great Britain's legends of dance, Torvill and Dean. But as you will see, few even medaled and only one of these professionals recaptured the gold.
1994 US Olympic Team--Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen, Karen Courtland and Jason Reynolds, Scott Davis, Brian Boitano, Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, Nancy Kerrigan, and Tonya Harding.
This competition was arguably the best ever, and was truly a high-level contest. Competing in these games were three spectacular pairs, all World Champions and past Olympic medalists. The pairs competition saw the return of two exceptional professional Russian teams, Gordeeva and Grinkov ('88 Olympic Champions) and Mishkutinok and Dmitriev ('92 Olympic Champions). Their return to amateur competition proved to be a real challenge to the '93 World Champions, Brasseur and Eisler of Canada ('92 Olympic Bronze Medalists). After all, they were competing against the gold medalists from the last two Olympic Games.
In practice the morning the day of the technical program, one of the many injuries of these games took place. During a run-through of their short program, Artur Dmitriev dropped his partner, Natalia Mishkutinok, while doing a lift, which is one of the eight required elements of the pairs short program. They were visibly shaken, and for good reason because there were only a few hours until the actual competition. However, Natalia and Artur's perseverance showed that night--the lift went off without a hitch. They were in second place after the short program.
The night of the technical program was emotional one for all of the pairs. The team who dominated the world of pairs after M&D retired was Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler. The pressure was on to do well--they were the reigning World Champions and had beaten M&D at the 1990 Worlds. But they, like Mishkutinok and Dmitriev, had an obstacle to overcome. Isabelle had a cracked rib, which made elements like lifts and jumps both painful and difficult. B&E skated impressively and wound up third after the technical program.
The pair in first place after the short program were the '88 Olympic Champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and her husband, Sergei Grinkov. They skated a nearly perfect Spanish-inspired technical program that showcased their speed and pairs ability. Capturing first place was expected of them--but Mishkutinok and Dmitriev, who were the defending Olympic Champions, weren't far behind in second. The American pair of Jenni Meno and Todd Sand skated into sixth place, but the newly engaged pair who fell in love in Albertville was shooting for a top five finish.
The long program two nights later showcased each pairs' own individual style. Gordeeva and Grinkov are known for their perfection and beauty on ice, Mishkutinok and Dmitriev for their acrobatic moves and passion, and Brasseur and Eisler for their great lifts and twists.
Mishkutinok and Dmitiev's free skating performance was dubbed by many as a "dark tragedy" on ice. It was pure power, including side-by-side triple toe loops and double axels. Her incredible flexibility, his dramatic style, and their creativity together was both breathtaking and passionate. Despite the fact they had the one of the most technically difficult programs in the entire free skate, Mishkutinok and Dmitriev ended up taking the silver home to St. Petersburg with them. In any other Olympics they would have easily won their second gold, but these weren't just any Olympics--G&G were back.
Brasseur and Eisler also skated exquisitely, including in their program several difficult throws and a dangerous triple lateral twist lift. Isabelle's hand touched the ice on one of the throws, but overall, this performance surpassed their performance at the '92 Games. But it still wasn't enough for them to win a gold medal, considering their competition for the gold medal were two past Olympic Champions. They settled again for the bronze medal, disappointed at their placing but happy with their showing.
The husband and wife team of Gordeeva and Grinkov were the only returning professionals to win a second Olympic gold. In the long program, they showcased their impeccable split triple twist and the unsurpassed lifting strength. Many noticed they also had a new element in their skating--that husband and wife togetherness, coupled with a newfound sense of elegance. Their performance did have a few flaws--a bobble on the landing of a double flip and a singled double salchow, both by Sergei, but their presence on the ice overpowered any small mistake made.
There was a shocking moment the night of the free skate when the German National Champions took the ice. Mandy Woetzel and Ingo Steuer were skating to the chilling music of Basic Instinct, but what happened in their long program was even more terrifying. During a spiral move in the middle of the program, Mandy caught her toepick on the ice and fell to the ice, face-first. The spill literally knocked the wind out of her, and partner Ingo Steuer had to carry her off of the ice. Mandy required several stitches in her chin and the pair had to withdraw from the competition.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum, US National Champions Meno and Sand skated a beautiful and perfect free program. They also reached their goal of a top five finish, finishing fifth. The US pair of Ina and Dungjen skated a clean free program, complete with side-by-side triple jumps, pulling up from fourteenth to ninth place. The other US of Courtland and Reynolds didn't fare as well, finishing out of the top ten.
Because the returning professionals did so well in the first figure skating competition of the Games (pairs), many people thought this would be the trend for all of the professionals competing in Norway. As you will see, things turned out differently than expected.
Results: The Top Five
1. Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, Russia
2. Natalia Mishkutinok and Artur Dmitriev, Russia
3. Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler, Canada
4. Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov, Russia
5. Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, USA
This section of the competition promised to be--and was--unpredictable and exciting. There were three world-reknowned champions competing against each other for the first time since the '88 Olympics. All were shooting for the gold medal. Kurt Browning, now a four-time World Champion, was aiming for that elusive Olympic medal that had escaped him two years before. Brian Boitano, two-time World Champion and the '88 Olympic Champion, was hoping to recapture gold six years after his first. Viktor Petrenko, the '92 Olympic and World Champion, like Boitano, returned to the Olympics to go for the gold again. All were expected, at the very least, to medal.
The deciding factor in this competition was the technical program. But these three men all had problems delivering in this portion of the competition. It was indeed a bizarre night.
Brian Boitano was the triumphant winner in Calgary's "Battle of the Brians" in 1988. He won the Olympic gold medal after a close competition with his chief rival, Canada's Brian Orser--the Olympic silver medalist from Sarajevo in '84 and '87 World Champion. Six years later in Lillehammer, at the age of 30, he decided to compete in the Olympics again. Despite the fact he had lost the National Championship one month earlier to Scott Davis, many believed Boitano could recapture the gold. Six years after his Olympic title, he was skating first of everyone in another Olympics, in a half-empty arena. Suprisingly, he fell on his triple axel combination, a combination he had never missed in any competition. He was in eighth place after the technical program, a disappointment to his country and the world.
Viktor Petrenko was the Olympic Bronze medalist at the Calgary Games in '88, but he is best known for his Olympic Gold medal in '92. He had dreams of a repeat of his gold medal performance going into the short program, but he failed also. He stepped out of his triple axel and came out of a triple lutz early. He was in ninth place after the technical program. Ironically, the same technical program that put him in first place in Albertville failed him miserably in Lillehammer.
Kurt Browning, known for being the first man to land a quadruple jump in international competition, had never won an Olympic medal. He was favored to win the gold in Albertville in '92 after being the World Champion three consecutive times. Hampered by a back injury, he performed poorly in both the short and long programs. He ended up in sixth place at those Olympics and finished second at the '92 Worlds. In Lillehammer he had a different attitude--and a fourth World Championship under his belt. He was last to skate among all of the men in the technical program in '94, and he saw the opportuntiy ahead of him. He started out well, landing a flawless triple axel-double toe combination flawlessly--it looked like it was finally his time to shine. Unfortunately, he let his mind get ahead of his body , falling on a triple flip and popping his double axel. He continued his trend of winning World titles and failing at the Olympics. He ended up in twelfth place after the technical program. He said later of this placement--"Twelfth! I haven't been twelfth since novice!" Kurt said it best in the kiss and cry after the his performance: "I guess the Olympics just aren't my thing."
The failure of Brian, Victor, and Kurt was a shock to skating fans and enthusiasts around the globe. The night had great potential to be a great showdown, but Brian Boitano put it best--"We all failed."
The fallen champions allowed Russia's Alexei Urmanov ('93 World Bronze Medalist), a long-legged, lyrical skater to clinch the lead after the short program. Elvis Stojko ('92 World Bronze Medalist, '93 World Silver Medalist), a technically strong skater, followed him in second place. France's Philippe Candeloro was in third place while American National Champion Scott Davis skated into fourth.
Urmanov was in the lead going into the free skate, but Stojko was in striking distance. Elvis performed his long program to music from Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, and in this program he showed off his background in the martial arts. Stojko had an unprecedented quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination planned in his free skate. However, he had to substitued his triple axel-triple toe combination in that spot because he had popped one earlier. Despite the fact he omitted the quad combo, Elvis showed immense power and control. The performance was more than enough to impose on Alexei's lead. Despite Elvis skated a perfect program, the conservative panel of judges didn't feel he had enough artistic ability. The Russian judge gave him an artistic mark of 5.5, and a win appeared impossible.
A star was born the evening of the long program. France's Philippe Candeloro didn't even imagine he would win an Olympic medal in these games, but he earned the bronze with a crowd-pleasing rendition of The Godfather. He did have a few problems with a triple axel, and the performance wasn't perfect, but what it did for his image was amazing. Philippe is now known as the playboy of the skating world.
Alexei Urmanov skated adequately in the long program, but he botched the landing on a triple flip, then added an unplanned triple toe loop to make up for it. His performance was deemed good enough for the gold medal, despite the fact he did not skate clean like Elvis did. Still, many experts wonder if Urmanov's Olympic gold was merely a fluke in a bizarre men's competition.
America's Scott Davis didn't fare well in the free skate, falling on his triple axel and out of medal contention. Little did he know this was the beginning of the end of his career.
In a satisfying turnaround, the former champions made proved themselves in the long program. Brian Boitano skated to a sixth place finish, while Viktor Petrenko jumped up to fourth--both skated like true champions and never gave up. Kurt Browning also turned in a stellar free performance and wound up fifth overall, ironically up only one place from the '92 Olympics.
The "Old Guard" didn't even medal in the men's competition. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing--a new era in men's figure skating was ushered in, giving us some exciting new stars to watch for in the figure skating world. Gone was the past, the future had arrived.
Results: The Top Six
1. Alexei Urmanov, Russia
2. Elvis Stojko, Canada
3. Philippe Candeloro, France
4. Viktor Petrenko, Ukraine
5. Kurt Browning, Canada
6. Brian Boitano, USA
Like in the pairs competition, the Russians looked like they would dominate. Torvill and Dean were surprisingly third after the compulsories and had to win the original dance to have a chance at gold. They skated a rhumba that showed all of the world their passion and apparent skill, not lost over their ten-year absence from amateur competition. They won the original dance, beating out their chief Russian rivals, Usova and Zhulin ('93 World Champions, '92 Olympic Bronze Medalists) and Grishuk and Platov ('93 World Silver Medalists). Torvill and Dean were in the lead, but the competition was so close whoever won the free dance two nights later would win the gold.
Maia Usova and her husband Alexandr "Sasha" Zhulin skated their free dance before Torvill and Dean and their bitter rivals Grishuk and Platov. The dance was at the same time elegant and entertaining, but was a departure from their previous free dances, which were usually dramatic and passionate. Their free dance still scored well with the judges, and the pair was in first place after their skate.
Torvill and Dean skated out with a free dance they had changed dramatically after the European Championships to increase their chance of winning the gold. Their music was "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and the couple assumed the roles of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It was a technically difficult and impressive dance, which included several intricate dance lifts and Jayne lifting Chris off the ice! The dance ended dramatically, as do most of Torvill and Dean's dances, with Jayne jumping over Chris's head. The dance pleased the crowd and their fans, but the judges gave them marks ranging from 5.6 to 6.0 and second place ordinals, while the crowd booed and whistled at the marks. Speculation is that the judges deemed the final lift and other lifts in the program illegal and deducted points for that. The legends who made revolutionized ice dancing were judged worthy of the bronze medal, sparking a heated debate that continues to this day.
This was the cue for Oksana Grishuk and her partner, Evgeny Platov to step in and take the gold. Their 50's rock n' roll free dance was fast and exuberant, pure energy. But many experts thought the couple stayed separated too long, as long as 11 seconds--it's illegal in ice dancing for a couple to be separated more than 5 seconds. Torvill and Dean had been punished for infringing on the rules, but apparently those rules didn't apply to these Russian ice dancers. Nevertheless, the team was successful and captured the gold, beating out Usova and Zhulin by the vote of one judge.
American ice dancers Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow continued the US's poor showing in this sport, finishing fifteenth and falling in their free dance. The couple had to overcome a terrible loss prior to the games. Elizabeth's father was murdered by her brother weeks before the games, and this was probably the reason for the pairs' flawed performance.
So, yet again, a new era was ushered in. But this time it didn't seem fair or just. The debate rages on today: who should have won?
Results: The Top Five
1. Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov, Russia
2. Maia Usova and Alexandr Zhulin, Russia
3. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, Great Britain
4. Susanna Rahkomo and Petri Kokko, Finland
5. Sophie Moniotte and Pascal Lavanchy, France
Media coverage of this story was heavy and never-ending. In fact, the night of the ladies technical program was one of the most watched shows in TV history. Tonya Harding, famous for her triple axel, fell out of medal contention early. Prior to the games she bragged she would "kick Nancy's butt", but apparently this wouldn't be the case. She took an extra step in her combination jump, putting her in tenth place after the short program.
Showing great determination and strength, Nancy Kerrigan took on the world, skated flawlessly, and won the technical program. Sixteen-year-old Oksana Baiul, the reigning World Champion, was in second place after the short program due to a slight two-foot landing on her triple lutz combination. Despite her error, Oksana posed a serious threat to Nancy's lead. Surya Bonaly (four-time European Champion, '93 World Silver Medalist), a terrific jumper with a unique style, was in third place after the short program. Germany's two-time Olympic gold medalist and skating star, Katarina Witt, was in sixth place after six years' absence from amateur competition.
In a bizarre twist of fate, Oksana Baiul was injured in practice the next morning. While Baiul was building up speed for a triple lutz, Tanja Schewchenko of Germany started to do the very same thing on the opposite end of the rink. They collided, and Oksana received a deep cut on her leg and a very sore back. Her coaches and friends were concerned she wouldn't be able to compete the next day. But Baiul seemed to be ready when the time came for the free skate, after receiving painkilling shots in her sore shoulder and three stitches in her leg.
Tonya Harding wasn't ready the night of the long program. She broke a lace on her skate right before her free skate and got to the ice almost too late. She was almost disqualified for not appearing on the ice within the two minutes allotted. She did make it, but the replacement lace on her skate was too short. She was apparently shaken when she started her long program to highlights from "Jurassic Park." Harding missed her opening jump, a triple lutz. She stopped skating and went crying to the referee, asking for a re-skate. It was granted and her performance moved her up to eighth place. After all of that media hype, she did worse in these Olympics than she did in Albertville, where she finished fourth.
The real showdown for the gold was between Nancy Kerrigan and Oksana Baiul. Baiul was the only amateur ladies' skater in the entire world Kerrigan had never beat. Could she do it that night? Nancy was in the lead going into the long program. Nancy skated first, completing a graceful and impressive program that included a difficult triple-triple combination and her trademark spiral. She completed five clean triples, but she doubled her opening jump, a triple flip. Despite the lack of triples, it was strong technically with two difficult jump combinations. Kerrigan's scores ranged from 5.7 to 5.9 and she received first place ordinals from all of the judges. Had she really done it? Nancy certainly won the hearts of the crowd, there was a shower of flowers for her after her performance. Experts and fans alike thought she had won the gold, no question.
Then it was Oksana's turn. She seemed even more determined and focused on winning after her injury. Her inner toughness showed when she had to wait for all of Nancy Kerrigan's flowers to be cleared from the rink. The way she skated that night captured the hearts of many, including the judges'. She two- footed a triple flip (ironically, the jump that Nancy had doubled), but also had an unplanned (two-footed) triple toe loop that capped off her performance. Baiul's only combination jump was a double axel-double toe loop while Kerrigan performed a difficult triple toe-triple toe and a triple salchow-double toe. Baiul also landed five triples, so the judges had a hard time deciding. But this is also important to remember that Oksana only landed three clean triples and a shaky double-double combination. Nancy's performance was superior technically, but many judges felt Oksana had better presence on the ice. Unfortunately for Nancy, the tie was broken by the marks for artistic impression. Oksana won the gold by .1 of point, making this the closest ladies' Olympic competition ever. Oksana Baiul had won the gold at the age of sixteen, at her first Olympics.
In third place after the technical program, Surya Bonaly had many uncharacteristic falls in her free program, which landed her in fourth place overall. Fourth place after a slight mistake in the technical program, China's Chen Lu ('92 and '93 World Bronze Medalist) added an Olympic Bronze Medal to the list of her many accomplishments. Katarina Witt skated an emotional tribute to the people of Sarajevo in her long program, to the music of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" She landed three triples, even squeaking out a difficult triple loop. The two-time Olympic Champion and skating superstar of the eighties finished seventh.
The skating had ended for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway--and in a fitting way--with the most controversial and exciting competition of the games. The Nancy/Oksana debate rages to this day, but only one skater won that night. But was it the correct decision?
Results: The Top Eight
1. Oksana Baiul, Ukraine
2. Nancy Kerrigan, USA
3. Chen Lu, China
4. Surya Bonaly, France
5. Yuka Sato, Japan
6. Tanja Schewchenko, Germany
7. Katarina Witt, Germany
8. Tonya Harding, USA
It was undoubtedly the best pairs competition ever, but the pairs team of Brasseur and Eisler clearly deserved more than the bronze medal. But if any pair deserved the gold it was Mishkutinok and Dmitriev. Their program was complete in every way: passionate, expressive, perfect, and difficult. Some say the top two pairs should have split the gold and I agree.
In the men's competition, Elvis Stojko was cheated out of the gold by a panel of stuffy, conservative judges who don't know real talent when they see it.
Well, my reaction to the ice dance portion of these Games was probably pretty obvious. Politically centered judges decided one of the best teams in ice dance history wasn't worthy of another gold. But the millions who saw them dance that night wouldn't agree with them. And the audience matters more to Torvill and Dean.
Nancy Kerrigan was also robbed in these Games when German judge Jan Hoffman picked Oksana Baiul over her for the gold medal. Hoffman, a former skater, was the men's silver medalist in the 1980 Olympics. Ironically, he lost the gold due to lower marks for artistic impression.
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