Ice Network

Skaters reflect on sport's most infamous event

Attack on Nancy Kerrigan shook competitors at 1994 U.S. Championships
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The Tonya and Nancy saga captivated the nation, as evidenced by this shot of the media swarm at the USOC's press conference announcing that Harding would be allowed to compete at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games. -Getty Images

It was a cold, snowy day at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, which didn't seem particularly unusual. It often snowed during nationals. With the Olympic Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, on the horizon, stakes were high. Based on the results of the previous year's world championships, U.S. Olympic figure skating berths were slim -- two men, one ice dance team, three pairs and two ladies.

The hot topic early in the week was the presence of 1988 Olympic gold medalist Brian Boitano, who had taken advantage of the reinstatement provision that allowed professionals to return to Olympic competition.

The media held its own skating competition at a local rink, and if memory serves, the person who won didn't actually skate in his program.

On Jan. 6, an event antithetical to the relatively pristine image of figure skating took place. Exiting the ice from a practice session at Cobo Center, a small arena adjacent to Joe Louis Arena, defending U.S. ladies champion Nancy Kerrigan was viciously attacked by an assailant who struck her across the knee of her landing leg with a long, hard object and then fled the scene.

Icenetwork contacted several people who were present at those championships and asked them to share their memories of the bizarre event and the mood in the days that followed.

"Todd Reynolds and I just finished skating our short program, and when we left the kiss and cry to proceed backstage, it was utter chaos -- frantic people running in all directions. The energy was so unnerving backstage that one immediately knew that something terrible must have happened. The media frenzy started pretty much immediately when Nancy was clubbed because the footage was quickly aired that showed her crying. The media and the public's fire was lit at that moment and roared through the Olympic Games." - pairs skater Karen Courtland Kelly

"I had the first practice that day and had already left Cobo arena. Nancy's practice was the one right after the one I was on. I went back to my room and had taken a little nap. When I woke up, I turned on the TV and could not believe what had happened. After that incident, the security became crazy. We had to show our credentials at every door, and they wanted us to wear the big credentials on the ice while we were practicing. Once we were on the ice, we all took them off because it was impossible to skate wearing credentials. I think everyone was a little on edge since we had no idea if another attack could happen. They had a lot of security surrounding Nancy as well, and the media frenzy was unbelievable." - ladies competitor Tonia Kwiatkowski

"All of a sudden, our whole world changed. Whispers of the attack started flying around the hotel, and then reality hit. Craziest thing for me was after I went home to my dad's in Aspen for a break, the phone rang and the caller asked for Jere Michael. It was the National Enquirer." - 1994 junior men's champion Jere Michael

"Donny [Adair] and I had just come from a junior dance practice and were down at the other end of the hallway when this happened. I have never been ushered away so quickly in my life. It was so loud, so much commotion, so many people. We did not know until later what actually happened. It was very scary." - coach Kelley Morris-Adair

"No practice was the same after Nancy was hurt. Everyone was looking over their shoulders. My mom would not leave me or my skates alone for a minute." - ladies competitor Jennifer Verili Sabovcik

"I was working with Harlick in their trade show booth. We had an appointment with Nancy for a fitting the next day. We never saw her after the whack." - blade sharpener Michael Cunningham

"At the host hotel, we were subjected to being escorted onto the elevators. We couldn't use the elevators on our own. It was like something you see in the movies. They checked your ID. There were enormous lines waiting for the elevators because they checked everyone. Competitors were being ushered in and out by police and security personnel. It was scary to see the looks on their faces not knowing what was happening." - costume designer Del Arbour

"When Charles [Robel] (an announcer) and I went to sit down at Joe Louis [after the attack], we could see the word spreading around the arena. It was like when people do the wave: One person would turn their head and tell the next one, and it zipped around the arena like people doing the wave." - ice dance competitor Mark Fitzgerald

"I was in the arena when word got around there was an attack. My first instinct was to go find Michael [Weiss] and be sure he was safe, so Brian Wright and I ran around looking for Mike and Matt Kessinger to tell them to be careful. Kids found, all OK. I ran into Brian Boitano and Scott Davis, and we talked about how terrible this was. I said, 'Who would do such a terrible thing?' Both guys, without hesitation, said, 'It had to be Tonya.' I scolded them for saying such a thing." - Audrey Weisiger, former coach of Michael Weiss

"The day before the attack, I was having breakfast with my mother, and Tonya joined us in a very nervous conversation. We chalked it up to pressure of the event. She was saying how she wished her husband did not come. I was going through my own drama, as I tore a groin muscle and was agonizing if I should compete. After an official practice, I sat in the stands with my family and coaches and made the decision to withdraw. As that happened, we heard a scream and saw Nancy get attacked. We were told to leave immediately. My sister, who is a physical therapist, was asked to stay and help evaluate the situation. It was so scary, as I thought we all were in danger." - men's competitor Michael Chack