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On This Date in Sports February 26, 1994: Oksana Steals the Show

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

All eyes are one Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding one last time as they compete in the free skate at the Lillehammer Olympics. However, it is Oksana Baiul of Ukraine that steals the show, winning the Gold Medal as Kerrigan settles for Silver, in one of the closest completion in Olympic history. Tony Harding meanwhile finished eighth after asking for a restart when her shoelace breaks.

It was the story of the winter, the strange and bizarre drama that unfolded between American Figure Skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. The drama began when Kerrigan was attacked while practicing at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January. A short time later the attackers were linked to Tonya Harding who won the competition in her rival’s absence. Both skaters would earn a trip to the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, despite public opinion being against Tonya Harding who tried to eliminate and injure Nancy Kerrigan, who was one of the top skaters in the world.

Nancy Kerrigan had performed a near flawless routine in the short program to sit atop of the leaderboard. Tonya Harding meanwhile struggled and was tenth overall and nearly out of medal contention. In second place after the short program was Oksana Baiul for Ukraine, while Surya Bonaly of France was third and Chen Lu of China was fourth.

The day before the climatic long program, Oksana Baiul was injured in a collision with Tanja Szewczenko of Germany. Baiul tweaked her back and needed stitches to fix a cut on her leg during a practice skate. The night got off to a strange start when Tonya Harding stopped and went over to the judges in tears, asking for a restart after the laces on her skates broke. The judges gave her the restart and she gave a fine performance but could do no better than finishing eighth.

Nancy Kerrigan was next and skated a fine performance, good enough to win on most nights but had a few points deducted for missing the mark on one of her jumps, while Chen Lu surpassed Surya Bonaly to get into position for a medal, as Oksana Baiul was the final skater needing the performance for the ages to surpass Kerrigan. Just to make it on the ice, Baiul needed to take a painkiller injection in her back, due to her collision the day before. Baiul could not have done better, finishing just ahead of Nancy Kerrigan to win the Gold Medal, while Lu captured the Bronze Medal.

At just 16 years and 101 days old, Oksana Baiul had become the youngest skater to win a Gold Medal in Figure Skating in Olympic history. She was also the first Gold Medal winner in the history of the newly independent Ukraine, which had previously been a part of the Soviet Union the history.

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Prior to the medal ceremony, the ugly side of Nancy Kerrigan began to be exposed as she complained about Oksana Baiul needing time to compose herself while Olympic Officials searched to find the National Anthem for Ukraine before being able to receive her Gold Medal. Kerrigan’s comments aired and helped explain some of the hostility that she had gotten from Harding and other American skaters. Kerrigan would her public image further when she was caught whining to Mickey Mouse, during a parade in her honor at Disney World.