Baiul Wins Gold; Kerrigan Takes Silver : Olympics: Figure skating events wind up--in more controversy.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There were as many arguments inside the Olympic Amphitheatre on Friday night about who should have won the Winter Olympic women's figure skating competition as there were sequins, but one thing almost everyone agreed upon was that Ukraine's Oksana Baiul and the United States' Nancy Kerrigan went toe-loop to toe-loop with the immense challenges that faced them and won.

There is, however, only one gold medal, and the fact that it was draped around Baiul's neck thrilled her supporters and angered those of Kerrigan, who accepted her silver medal more graciously than they did.

What could have been more appropriate than for the controversial events of figure skating's longest winter to climax with more controversy?

The nine judges were divided, five awarding first-place scores to Baiul, and four to Kerrigan after their four-minute freestyle programs, which accounted for two-thirds of the final score.

That was the decisive factor, although two judges who favored Kerrigan also ranked Baiul behind China's Chen Lu, who won the bronze medal. France's Surya Bonaly was fourth.

With her triumph, Baiul, 16, became the youngest women's gold medalist since 15-year-old Sonja Henie of Norway in 1928.

Almost forgotten when the night began because she no longer was among the medal contenders after Wednesday night's technical program, the United States' Tonya Harding became the center of unwanted attention again momentarily when she had to leave the ice early in her program with a boot problem. Given a chance to start over later, she finished a respectable eighth.

But for the first time in more than seven weeks, the buzz in the sport was not about Nancy vs. Tonya but Nancy vs. Oksana.

"If you go with one judging panel, you get one result, and if you go with another panel, you get another result," said Christy Ness, who coached the United States' Kristi Yamaguchi to the gold medal in the 1992 Winter Olympics. "I sat there watching, and I couldn't decide."

Others, however, felt certain that Kerrigan should have been given the advantage because she skated almost flawlessly, while Baiul made at least one significant mistake in a program that was less demanding. Kerrigan landed five triple jumps, two in combination, and Baiul landed four, none in combination. Yet, three judges gave the Ukrainian higher scores for technical merit.

"I can't explain it at all," said Paul Wylie, the 1992 Olympic men's silver medalist who formerly trained with Kerrigan.

"Nancy deserved to win without discussion," said Didier Gailhauguet, who formerly coached Bonaly.

"I thought Kerrigan looked stronger and more solid tonight than ever," said Frank Carroll, who coaches at Lake Arrowhead's Ice Castle International Training Center. "She should have won, definitely."

Even the medals ceremony didn't escape the melodrama that has enveloped this sport since Kerrigan was clubbed Jan. 6. It was held up a few minutes because no one could find a recording of Baiul's newly independent nation's anthem. It was Ukraine's first gold medal ever.

Kerrigan, 24, said she did not watch Baiul, who skated immediately after she did. As for her own performance, Kerrigan said she thought immediately afterward that it had earned her a gold medal.

"For me, in my mind and my heart, I did," she said. "I was great."

Just as she was here, Kerrigan was first after the technical program in the 1993 World Championships in Prague. But she had a disastrous freestyle program and finished fifth.

When she returned home to Stoneham, Mass., she began seeing a sports psychologist in an effort to overcome her nerves. That seemed to give her renewed confidence entering this season, but then came the assault on Jan. 6 during the national championships in Detroit that injured her right knee. There was a question for the next three weeks about whether she would even be able to compete here.

"What Nancy did, she should be proud of all her life," said Linda Leaver, who coached 1988 men's champion Brian Boitano. "To put what happened a year ago in Prague out of her mind is almost as difficult as overcoming all the other stuff."

Baiul, meantime, won the world championship at 15 last year and was in second place after Wednesday night's technical program, but, the next afternoon, she was involved in a practice collision with Germany's Tanja Szewczenko.

Cutting herself with her own skate, Baiul sustained a two-inch long, half-inch gash in her right shin that required three stitches. Doctors also treated her for lower back and shoulder pain. After a shaky practice Friday morning, she was still not certain she would compete.

But her training partner, 1992 Olympic men's gold medalist Viktor Petrenko, told her: "Many times, I have skated through pain. Now, you must."

Kerrigan, performing to a medley of Neil Diamond songs, was the second in the last group of six competitors to skate, and she seemed tentative at first, turning a planned triple jump into a double. Although she was superb afterward, that might have cost her.

"She left an excuse for the judges to mark her down," Carroll said.

Baiul, the next skater on the ice, performed a lively routine set to Broadway show tunes. She double-footed her second triple jump and then left out the most complicated elements in the middle of her program. But just as it seemed she would have to settle for second place or lower, she inserted a triple jump and a double-axel, double toe-loop combination in the last 10 seconds of her program.

It was an astonishing move, for a world-class figure skater who has rehearsed her program hundreds of times to make such monumental changes under pressure.

"I remembered time was running out, and with it time for the gold medal," she said.

Baiul's father left home when she was 2, and her mother died of ovarian cancer when she was 13. She slept on a cot in her training rink until her coach left for Canada. Her current coach, Galina Zmievskaya, took her on a short time later and turned her into a world champion two years later.

"All the troubles I have had have made me strong," Baiul said Friday night.

Asked by reporters if there was anything she wanted now that she has a gold medal, she said, "a Snickers."

* JUDGING IN SPOTLIGHT: Some questioned skating judges for giving Nancy Kerrigan only a silver medal, but Tonya Harding appreciated the decision to allow her to restart. C1, C9

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