Nancy Kerrigan (b. 1969 in Massachusetts) began skating at age 2 and was competing by age 9. After years of national and world competitions, she won the bronze medal at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France.
In January 1994, she was competing in the US Olympic figure skating trials in Detroit’s Cobo Arena. Her chief competition was Tonya Harding, and in many ways they were opposites, yin and yang if you’re in that sort of mood. Kerrigan was a well-dressed, poised New Englander, while Harding was more at home with wrestling, cheap bars, and pickup trucks – white trash if you’re feeling unkind.
On January 6, a man named Shane Stant used a metal baton to deliver a blow to Kerrigan’s knee and escaped by smashing through a Plexiglas window. It was eventually discovered that he was part of a plot, including Harding’s bodyguard Shawn Eckardt and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, to remove Kerrigan from the competition.
Serious swelling in her knee prevented Kerrigan from further skating in the US trials, and with Kerrigan out of the way, Harding easily placed first and was on her way to the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Kerrigan had been the best hope for a US gold medal, and officials at the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA) worried that she’d be unable to compete without completing the trials. However, they quickly discovered a loophole in the rules, and voted to bump the second place finisher, then 13 year old Michelle Kwan, in favor of Kerrigan.
Kerrigan’s knee healed in time for her to compete, but the Olympics were overshadowed by the frenzy of news coverage about the attack, the ongoing investigation, the arrests of the conspirators, and the Kerrigan/Harding rivalry. Kerrigan immediately gained the sympathy of Americans, and they cheered her on to her silver medal victory in Norway. 16 year old Ukrainian skater Oksana Baiul edged out Kerrigan by a mere tenth of a point to win the gold. This was a controversial decision in some quarters because Kerrigan’s performance was more technically proficient, but the judges thought her skating was mechanical and gave Baiul higher marks in artistic flair.
Kerrigan’s image as America’s Sweetheart was quickly tarnished by a couple of public relations missteps on her part during and after the Olympics. Shortly before the medal ceremony, she was caught on camera commenting about Baiul: "Oh, come on. So she's going to get out here and cry again. What's the difference?" And then on a Disney parade float with Mickey Mouse, she was caught on tape again saying "This is so corny. This is so dumb. I hate it. This is the most corny thing I've ever done." This wasn’t much, but the public is fickle, and figure skaters are supposed to be annoyingly happy, not catty.
And there was a bland Saturday Night Live performance, but I suppose she could be forgiven for that.
She married her agent, Jerry Solomon, in 1995 and she had a son, Matthew, in 1996. She’s out of the public eye now enjoying her millions, and both Kerrigan and Harding have been eclipsed by younger skaters like Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski.