I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since Tonya Harding’s idiotic posse teamed up to whack Nancy Kerrigan on the knee at Detroit’s old Cobo Arena as she came off the ice after practicing for the U.S. Figure Skating “nationals.” But my brain was similarly whacked into “distant memory phase” by a story in today’s Detroit Free Press marking that event since, for the first time since it happened, the nationals are back in the Motor City, although they’ve moved to the new Little Caesars Arena.
I remember the event because I covered it for CNN. I actually started the day in Lansing, stuffed in a holding room with several dozen other members of the media, awaiting a court ruling related to suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian. At some point a local TV news reporter got an urgent call from her assignment desk. “Holy shit!,” she yelled to the room, “Nancy Kerrigan’s knee got whacked! Who the fuck is Nancy Kerrigan?”
No one answered at first, and then, sheepishly, I had to come clean and inform her Nancy Kerrigan was one of the top U.S. figure skaters. My fellow reporter was not impressed. Remember, this was 1994 and in a room of hardened journalists not known for their personal filters. “Why do you know that?” she hollered at me. “Are you fuckin’ gay?” See? No filter.
“Um, my wife and I kinda follow figure skating, and if this is true it’s a big fuckin’ deal,” I replied. See? No personal filter and reporters like to use the term “fuckin’” a lot.
Moments later, we all got paged, yes, paged (1994). We called the numbers on our little devices and were all ordered by our various news organizations to scramble back to Detroit (90 minute drive) and follow this breaking story.
There wasn’t much to get at first except a few accounts from people who may have been near the scene of the whacking, and get statements from the Detroit Police Department and the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
The next day we covered a news conference held in an area of the concourse Joe Louis Arena, where the actual competition was being held. Nancy Kerrigan would be saying a few words and taking some questions along with her coach and USFSA officials. Before the newser could begin, we almost had another incident to cover that had the potential to be even more cataclysmic than the assault of a prominent figure skater. A still photographer from one of the wire services pulled over a chair that she could step on to get an unobstructed shot of the speakers. At that moment some lackey from ABC attempted to get her to move saying “I’m from ABC and we own this event and you can’t be there so you have to move.” The poor guy didn’t know who he was dealing with. Well known among the Detroit press corp as a no-nonsense shooter, she casually replied with “I’m not moving. This is an open press event and if you come near me I’ll probably kick your skinny ass. Now..I’m working…you fuckin’ (see?) moron.” He disappeared without a word… ostensibly to change his pants.
The news conference was carried live on CNN and my wife was watching. Kerrigan was wearing a blazer with a unique tweedy-checked pattern. When I got home my wife was not happy. “I was gonna buy that same blazer from the Spiegel catalogue. Now I can’t. Everyone will think I’m copying her.”
I think I stayed on the story for maybe a day or two more and then, as CNN is wont to do, moved me to something else. Besides, we had three local affiliates in Detroit who were obsessed with the story and we could always grab stuff from them. This freed me up to be sent all the way to International Falls, Minnesota to do a story on “the coldest town in America.” Turns out that on that day, Detroit was 10 degrees colder. Fuckin’ CNN.
As the Winter Olympics come to a close I ask you this question..do you speak Olympian?It’s more than Greek to me–it’s like a cross between Mesopotamian and Klingon. When I hear the announcers describe what’s going on I wanna call 911 because I think they’re having apoplexies. What do I mean? ok…you flip on the snowboard half-pipe event. the announcer starts getting cranked up, just ready to scream out things that make no sense at all.. ok..here we go, there goes schleppy callaghan, whoa! just did a quadruple grab his ass backwards opposite front reverse rolling in the shit switch fake back side flip us off 1080 canadian bacon mindy method mulekick! That was awesome but the judges may take some points off for the shaky roast beef rusty trombone. Right. I can’t tell the method from the madness but i can pretty easily figure out some insane person that’s only 4 feet tall wearing baggy clothes just shot themselves into the air then did a bunch of contortions that made it look like the poor kid just got tased. Then, if they’re lucky, they land on their feet and shoot up the other side of the half-pipe and do something even more crazy that will once again set off the announcer who cries…..ohmygod! that’s the first anyone’s done a quintuple kiss your ass goodbye stiffy stuffy pickpocket …while eating a breakfast sandwich! Uh..yeah..whatever. None of the announcer’s gibberish helps me understand what just happened aside from watching a young person do things that, for most people, would prevent them from becoming an old person. With no hope of emulating what I’ve just seen, I attempt a soft sofa dismount, but lose 3 points for a two-footed landing..and spilling beer and chips on the carpet. I settle for a bronze..just beating an in-law who fell on a Frito.
Then there’s figure skating. I’ve been watching it for decades and to this day, I don’t know the difference between a flip, loop, lutz, salchow or axle. It’s all just skinny people lofting themselves above the ice, twirling, smiling, crying, falling in different ways. When I heard Tara and Johnny kvell that some skater landed a triple lutz, all I could think of was what my father would often ask when someone went crazy about something that didn’t impress him. he’d say, “yeah…but is it good or bad for the jews?” Lutz sounds German, so it probably isn’t. In fact, it’s named after Austrian skater Alois Lutz, but Austria’s just next door to Germany so I’m not budging. i suppose in this age of double, triple, quadruple screen viewing I could have webpages open that define all these terms but if my eyes are averted for even a second when i hear the announcer scream, “holy crap..they just landed a 1600pennsylvaniaavenuetrumpiancombover….and i miss it…well that would pretty much send me into a 1280snuffmytorch.