Mr. Paul Wylie
Vail, Colorado 81657
How's the skiing? Doing any sit spins in the powder? I hear you're still somewhat miffed at the U.S. Figure Skating Association for excluding you from last week's world championships in Oakland. What can I tell you? Doo-doo happens, even to Olympic silver medalists. Maybe the geniuses at the USFSA who named the three-man singles team last January, before the Albertville Games, were worried for your safety. Fifty-five people have already been murdered in this city in 1992. Pity a few of them weren't figure skating judges.
I know, I know. That's a mean-spirited thing to say, but I'm in that sort of temper after having watched Petri Kokko of Finland ice dance for two minutes with a rip in the seat of his pants. Don't they sell underwear in Helsinki? Yuck.
Anyway, I wanted to fill you in on what you missed. The thrills and the spills (Turfin' U.S.A.!). Why do they hold world championships in an Olympic year anyway? The only skaters who wanted to be here were the ones who had Zambonied in Albertville—the Kurt Brownings, the Tonya Hardings—and were anxious to prove they could skate a program without simultaneously cleaning the ice. Jury's still out on Harding-Gillooly, as she now prefers to be called.
Gold medal gal Kristi Yamaguchi—ain't she a picture—defended the world title she won last year in Munich. No surprise there, since Japan's Midori Ito was back home with some sort of virus. But, man, this was Secretariat at the Belmont. No contest. Yama, who grew up in Fremont, just a half hour away from the Oakland Coliseum, got 5.8's and 5.9's in both her short and long programs, while the best of the rest, Nancy Kerrigan—your old training partner—scored 5.4's and 5.7's. Christy Ness, Yamaguchi's coach, called Kristi's performance "mature" and said that by becoming the first American woman since Peggy Fleming in 1968 to defend her world title, she had "taken that final step." It'll be interesting to see if Yamaguchi stays amateur so she can defend her Olympic title in Lillehammer in 1994. Or if the International Skating Union, which meets in Switzerland, in June, votes to open up the Olympics to professionals, making the point moot.
Kerrigan took the silver despite falling in both the short and long programs. She was helped by some wildly erratic judging. Harding-Gillooly, for instance, who eventually finished sixth, was second in the eyes of one judge, 11th in the eyes of another. France's Laetitia Hubert, who placed fourth, was everywhere from second to ninth. "You understand this——?" Kerrigan's father, Dan, asked after watching his daughter pass Hubert in the standings two hours after both had skated their short programs. Said his wife, Brenda, "This is one time we're not going to complain."
Speaking of Harding-Gillooly, she came to Oakland not only with a new name but also with a new coach, new costume and two new programs. Contrary to rumors, the music for her short program was not Take Me Out to the Ballgame. It was Moon River. You probably heard about the infamous baseball bat episode, in which Tonya, two weeks after returning from her fourth-place finish in Albertville, got into an argument with a woman driver in Clackamas, Ore. Harding-G was brandishing a baseball bat when the sheriff's deputies arrived, which made all the papers. Turned out it was only a Wiffle ball bat, and no charges were filed. But punches were thrown on both sides. When Tonya explained the incident to her latest coach, Diane Rawlinson, she said: "She hit me first. What was I supposed to do?" Rawlinson replied: "Ladies don't hit back."
The humbling publicity generated by the incident apparently has had its effect on Harding-Gillooly. Rawlinson, who is in her third stint as her coach, says she has been a model pupil ever since. Working hard. Feeling good about herself. And, last week, losing graciously. Tonya's vaunted athletic ability deserted her in Oakland. She missed her combination jump in the short program, then landed only two triples in her free skate, crashing spectacularly on her triple Axel. Thus were hopes for a second consecutive U.S. women's sweep at the worlds dashed, enabling 15-year-old Chen Lu to win the bronze, the first figure skating medal ever for China.
As for the men's competition, frankly, I would rather have been skiing. Mark Mitchell, the 23-year-old from Hamden, Conn., who was chosen instead of you, proved deserving by finishing fifth in his first worlds. That showed style. Two-time national champion Todd Eldredge was the guy the USFSA should have dumped down the back bowls of Vail. He put the stamp on a dismal year—injured at U.S. nationals, 10th at Olympics—with a seventh-place finish here. Eldredge seemed simply clueless, waving his arms around like a child imitating a ballet dancer. Hard to believe this was the young talent who won the bronze at the '91 worlds in Munich. Afterward Eldredge blamed his lackluster '92 performances on too much touring. "I didn't have the fire in me I had in '91," he said, a sad pronouncement for a 20-year-old to make in an Olympic year.
As you know by now, Viktor Petrenko of the Commonwealth of Independent States followed his Olympic title with his first world title, beating three-time defending champion Kurt Browning of Canada. It wouldn't have been as close as it was except that four of the infernal judges failed to deduct the required .5 from Browning's short program when, plain as day, he doubled his triple Lutz. The Canadian judge, Jane Garden, gave Browning a sterling 5.9 on the flawed routine, saying she missed his error. Oh. Well. There you are. Could have happened to anyone.
Your old roommate Christopher Bowman ended his amateur career as only he could have, not with a whimper but a dang. Skating last, he seemed to be in line for the bronze medal when, halfway through his long program, Bowman fell along the boards. Unbeknownst to most folks, he bruised a nerve in his left knee. But he continued. The funny thing was...not funny but...well, you know Bowman the Showman. When he started limping around the ice, grimacing in pain, no one knew whether he was faking or not. Heck, he was still landing jumps: a triple Sal-double toe combination; a double Axel. In between it looked like he was going to die. His coach, John Nicks, hollered to Bowman to keep going. His manager, Michael Rosenberg, commented to a companion, "He better be hurt." Some of his dear friends in the press section were audibly chuckling. What melodrama! The guy should be on the stage! This was the little boy who had cried wolf once too often. Only it truly was a gutty performance. And Bowman darn near came through with a medal, although the judges had little choice but to dock him artistically for all the staggering around. So Bowman finished fourth behind Elvis Stojko of Canada, and everyone went home that night feeling a little guiltier than when they had arrived. It was, incidentally, the first time since 1979 that the U.S. men had failed to win a medal.
That means the U.S. can send only two men to next year's worlds. Since you're planning to retire, no skin off your spandex, right? Unless you change your mind, leaving you, Eldredge, Mitchell, et al. to battle it out for only two spots. And if the ISU votes to open up the world and Olympic championships to the pros, you can add Brian Boitano to that list. Oh, well. Wish you'd been here. And Petri Kokko had been there.
The U.S. missed another sweep through no fault of Yamaguchi, who was sublime in defending her title.
Kokko (with Susanna Rahkamo) gave a revealing show.