Nancy Kerrigan can skate circles around questions before speaking honestly. Her direct answers come after initial hesitation, the verbal equivalent of a hockey goalie deflecting shots.
After all, since she was whacked on the knee Jan. 6, difficult subjects and public relations disasters have formed a figure eight around Kerrigan.
Olympic judges who slighted her.
Kerrigan’s perceived rudeness while waiting to receive a silver medal in Lillehammer.
Trying to live up to the title “America’s Sweetheart.”
Ridiculing a paid appearance with Mickey Mouse.
And on the morning of a recent interview, the day her 15-city “Christmas on Ice” tour begins, Newsweek repeats a rumor blared in the National Enquirer: that she’s been involved romantically with her married, middle-aged agent.
“I have a popular name. I have a known face,” she sighs. “So they make things up.”
Kerrigan, 25, sounds frazzled and frustrated. (In fact, a week later, Sports Illustrated confirmed the tabloid’s story.)
Her stellar Olympic performance has been melted away by a pre- and post-competition media hail storm. Asked if she watches tapes of her superb skating at the Olympics, she hems and haws before saying she hasn’t.
“I don’t have time. When would I do it?” Kerrigan says, then adds sheepishly: “I’d rather watch a movie or something.”
The scoring by Olympic judges – who awarded the gold medal to Oksana Baiul over Kerrigan by a hair – doesn’t irk her.
“I wish everybody else wouldn’t think about it sometimes. It’s over with.”
Kerrigan, though, is annoyed that Olympic viewers saw her as an ungracious loser toward Baiul during the delays before they received their medals.
“We’re athletes and even though we’re portrayed as `ice princesses,’ we’re very competitive,” Kerrigan says. “If we go through years of training and we get a little disappointed, we should be allowed to show this emotion instead of sitting there with a smile.”
She continues: “In other sports, they get into fights and throw their equipment — but we’re supposed to smile! It’s hard. We’re in a glamorous sport and things are always supposed to look nice and pretty. But we’re athletes and competitors. To act the way they want isn’t always easy.”
Shortly after the Olympics, a microphone captured Kerrigan’s snide remark about wearing her Olympic medal while riding a float with Mickey Mouse during a parade at Disney World.
Kerrigan also had a tearful, televised interview with Jane Pauley, and she accepted no blame for the media’s apparent backlash against her. Later, her stint as guest host on “Saturday Night Live” was awkward. She says now she has no plans for any more acting.
Given her Olympic acclaim, however, Kerrigan has been oddly absent in recent months from commercial endorsements.
Still, she recently participated in a kids’ workout video for Reebok, focusing on the lower body in her portion of the tape. (She says being in shape helped her avoid breaking her leg in the January attack.)
Next year, Mattel plans to present a Nancy Kerrigan doll.
And there’s “Christmas on Ice,” which features Kerrigan and 15 other skaters as well as singer Aaron Neville.
“It’s always fun on the ice,” Kerrigan says. “I’m comfortable out there. It’s good for me to be out on the ice because it’s what I know.”
Harding, meanwhile, has never apologized to her.
“I’m not surprised,” Kerrigan says. “I mean, I’ve never expected anything. Of course, I never expected to get hurt.”
She also never wanted the mantle of “America’s Sweetheart” before the
Olympics. “That’s the job of the press to make things very exciting,” Kerrigan says.
She laughs for the first time in the interview before adding: “And then they take it away afterwards.”