2/12/14: Nancy Kerrigan and the Cape Cod Olympic Games
I was terrified of stinging insects. That much I knew from the autumn of 1993, when I retreated to my grandmother’s in-law apartment following an afternoon spent swatting wiffle balls all over the yard. A mob of angry hornets emerged from their papery home beneath the deck and enveloped my head, buzzing and flitting and injecting their stingers into my scalp. I sobbed and hyperventilated while Nan calmly mixed a healing paste in a bowl, soaked a facecloth in the elixir and applied it to the welts.
Less than a year later, my friends and I would have to overcome the most gigantic beehive we’d ever seen if we wanted the autograph of the biggest sports star in the world.
I was 11 years old in the summer of 1994. Michael Jordan was playing minor league baseball. Major League Baseball was on strike. We didn’t have the Internet. And Olympic silver medalist Nancy Kerrigan rented a house on my street in Dennis, MA. That’s right — the figure skater was the story of the year.
Kerrigan first appeared on the Olympic stage at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France. Fellow American Kristi Yamaguchi and Midori Ito of Japan took gold and silver, respectively, leaving Kerrigan with a respectable third place finish for the bronze. By 1993, Yamaguchi went pro; Kerrigan finished first at the U.S. Championships in Phoenix, and things were falling into place for the Stoneham, MA native.
The restructuring of the Winter Olympic Games to occur opposite the Summer Games gave Kerrigan another opportunity to medal a year later in Lillehammer, Norway. Many predicted gold. But American teammate Tonya Harding, the 1991 U.S. Champion and a fourth place finisher in Albertville, had other ideas.
What followed was “The Whack Heard Round The World.”
You know the story: Harding’s husband and two other goofballs (bodyguard and hitman) conspired to put Kerrigan out of action, Clue-style, clubbing her on the knee with a lead pipe following a practice session in Detroit. Cameras captured a tortured Kerrigan sobbing as doctors rushed to her side; the frames were replayed again and again on the nightly news. The following week, a tearful Kerrigan was depicted on an unflattering Newsweek cover. The idea of a champion skater ordering a hit on a fellow champion skater (and teammate) weeks before the Olympics fascinated pre-OJ America.
It could’ve happened in Dennis. Kerrigan trained with coaches Evy and Mary Scotvold at Tony Kent Arena off Route 134. Evidence revealed the thugs had been trailing Kerrigan through the mid-Cape town of 14,000 in January of 1994.
As Kerrigan recovered from the attack and resiliently worked her way back to Olympic form at Tony Kent, a media horde swarmed the rink like hornets would an unsuspecting middle schooler. Veteran Cape scribe Rob Duca, in a 2004 reflection on the event, wrote, “It would be a vast understatement to call the scene surreal.”
Following the media frenzy and Kerrigan’s near-flawless effort in Lillehammer, she returned to the Cape once more — to our neighborhood on the north side. Only this time, the press was off the scent. The announcement came courtesy of my grandfather, the type of guy who knows everything that’s going on in the neighborhood. One neighbor said she’d seen Kerrigan at the Dennis Public Market. My cousin Amy heard she’d been out jogging.
So my next door neighbors and I did what anyone in our position would have: we stalked the Olympic silver medalist. We canvassed the modest barn board Cape, obscured by a cluster of cedars, waiting hours for someone to either emerge or return from a day at the beach. We didn’t want an interview for our newspaper, The Robbins Circle Evening News (circulation: 14) — we just wanted an autograph.
It was my friend Catherine (who rubber stamped many of our adventures despite me being the oldest — I’ll blame her for this idea) who recently reminded me why we weren’t successful in our efforts. The cedars housed a humongous beehive. As the boredom and thick haze of the Cape Cod afternoon piled on, the constant threat of the hive’s hundreds of menacing residents finally sent us home empty handed. By the following week, our chances of meeting an Olympic hero had evaporated.
It’s not like I had anything good for her to sign, anyway. The “Why Me?” Newsweek cover was probably something she wanted to put behind her. Same with the throng of reporters who’d tracked her every move that year. That’s probably why she came to Robbins Circle. She just didn’t bank on a bunch of weird kids showing up and hiding in the bushes.
This post was originally published to The Fox Hole on WordPress, February 12, 2014.