The 1992 bronze medalist, 1994 silver medalist and 2004 U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame inductee joins the NBC team at the current Games in Sochi, Russia, as a commentator beginning Wednesday, Feb. 12. Also, in a new documentary to run during the coverage, she and then-rival Tonya Harding will be interviewed about what Kerrigan simply calls “the attack” … when she was struck on the right knee with a baton just before the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Now a married mother of three, Kerrigan also will appear on other programming under the NBC Universal banner — including NBC’s “Today,” the syndicated “Access Hollywood” and shows on E! Entertainment Television – through the remainder of the XXII Winter Games. In an interview for this article, she spoke about her literal and figurative return to the Olympic arena.
Zap2it: You worked for “Entertainment Tonight” at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and you’ve done some other television work. How does it feel to get back to it now?
Nancy Kerrigan: It feels fine. When people hear “analyst,” they think it’s color commentary, but it’s not in my case. I’m not doing play-by-play. They already have people in those spots … which is great for me, actually.
I feel like it makes it more fun. I get to do other things and not just be at the rink all the time — which I do like, because I obviously like skating. At the same time, it’s nice to be able to see other parts of the Games and be part of the whole environment.
Zap2it: The different shows you’ll be working for have different approaches to how they cover the Olympics. Do you have a feel for that?
Nancy Kerrigan: Absolutely. “Entertainment Tonight” was concerned with the American athletes more than others, just because of who watches “Entertainment Tonight.” It was more about who was in the audience, not so much who won, whereas “Today” will be talking about whatever the current events are. With something like this, those can change from day to day.
Zap2it: How much prep work have you done before going to Sochi?
Nancy Kerrigan: Thankfully, since I can’t be there for everything, they have researchers to remind me of things that have happened in years past. This one girl is like, “I think so-and-so wore this costume back in 1989.” And I’m like, “How can you remember that?”
Fortunately, they’ve hired these people who are consumed by what they’re doing and who remember it all, which is great. I know what the skaters are doing and how they’re doing it and why they miss things, a lot of the technical side. To remember who wore what is interesting to the audience, but I don’t remember that.
Zap2it: What do you think about being back in the environment of the Winter Olympics?
Nancy Kerrigan: I won’t have that sense of, “I’ve gotta get to my practice!” or different kinds of stress levels. I’ll still be working and having a schedule, but it’s different, because people talk about “the show” – when something is airing, things like that.
At first when I was on this side of it, I’d say, “You guys know this is a competition, right? This isn’t a show to these people.” It’s just different wording. They know it’s a competition, but to them, it’s also a television show.
Zap2it: What’s your sense of who’s on the U.S. female figure skating team?
Nancy Kerrigan: There are three slots, and the reigning two-time national champion (Ashley Wagner) placed fourth in the U.S. National Championships. They did place her to the Olympic team, though; apparently in the bylaws, the National Championships aren’t called the Olympic trials, where the top three [automatically would] go. It’s one of many criteria, but that typically doesn’t change unless there’s been a very different circumstance … which happened with me.
Michelle Kwan didn’t get to compete [at the 1994 Winter Olympics], and because of being attacked, I had to prove to the judges that I was capable of going and healed enough to represent our country well enough. I can’t even imagine being in Mirai Nagasu‘s place, to have sort of this great comeback and have the audience on their feet, then to place third and not be going to the Olympics. It’s just a horrible thing for her.
Zap2it: What are your thoughts on the security in Sochi?
Nancy Kerrigan: I’m hoping that they’re buttoning up the security even more. I’ve heard on the news that on that last leg of the trip, from Moscow to Sochi, you’re not able to have any liquids at all – and I really need hand cream when I travel, especially after spending all these years at ice rinks. It is something you always need to pay attention to, though.
I’ve tried to be aware of my surroundings since I was very young, and way more after being attacked. You have to be vigilant for your safety and the safety of the people around you, so it’s a concern, for sure. We had a bombing here in Boston last year, so things can happen anywhere.
Zap2it: You’ve been through a lot in your life, but you’ve seemed to handle it matter-of-factly and keep moving forward. What do you attribute that to?
Nancy Kerrigan: I come from a good background, with strong parents. At 30 years old, my mom had to deal with going blind; I can’t imagine how hard that had to have been for her, and for my father. And my brothers. The oldest can remember saying to her, “How come you don’t read to me anymore?”
Then, my dad was the baby of nine children, but he just had this way where so many people relied on him for so many things. They just taught us that you take one thing at a time. You’ve gotta keep going and keep laughing and move on. What choice do you have? I’m lucky they taught me that, because it makes life easier and happier as you go through it, I think.