By Ann Liguori
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As many sports fans have caught the Olympic spirit, I’ve been asked about my favorite Olympic moments, having covered six Olympic Games through the years.
Here are my top three. The first one is quite inspirational, from alpine legend Hermann Maier. The second one was the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding situation, which was only memorable because of the attention focused on it at the time. And the third one involved somewhat of a typical response from none other than Bode Miller.
It was 1998 in Nagano. I was doing play-by-play of the men’s downhill and Hermann Maier — the tough Austrian skier nicknamed “The Hermanator” — suffered the most horrid looking crash on the slopes I’ve ever seen.
He went wide on a turn, flew way up in the air and landed straight down on his head and shoulder and bounced down the mountain. Loud and dismayed voices describing the crash could be heard throughout the broadcast tower until Maier came to a stop in knee-deep powder after crashing through two nettings on the side of the mountain.
Silence overcame the broadcast area as Maier lay motionless. Who could have survived this devastating crash? Two minutes later, after what seemed like an eternity, Maier got up and walked away. He didn’t appear to be limping or injured. All of us in the broadcast area were overjoyed, still in disbelief that he walked away, unscathed from such a horrible looking crash.
That evening, he even showed up at a press conference. A reporter asked him to describe the crash. Maier, in his thick Austrian accent, joked, “I flew 30 feet in the air. It was a good flight but it was not as good as Lufthansa.”
I was amazed that he was actually in good enough shape and in good enough spirits to laugh about it!
Maier went on to win two gold medals at those games, one in the Super G and another in the Giant Slalom, and he became one of the most legendary alpine skiers in the history of the sport.
The second moment is difficult to forget because of how bizarre it was, and the amount of attention it received. Even now, 20 years later, people still talk about the Kerrigan-Harding “saga,” and “where are they now” stories have been airing on various channels. A few weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee in an attack initiated by Harding’s ex-husband.
I was a reporter for CBS Radio Network there, and was designated the one radio reporter (among a restrictive number of media allowed in the small area) to be stationed in the “kiss and cry” zone to interview the skaters after their performances.
It was the biggest sports story on the planet at the time. TV ratings were higher than ever. The scandal prompted a record number of viewers to tune in to see how Kerrigan, coming back from the injury, would perform and react to Harding, who had qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team by winning the National Championships. It was amazing that Harding was allowed to skate, but the U.S. Olympic Committee scheduled a hearing to discuss whether they would remove Harding from the team, and Harding sued to block the meeting.
In Lillehammer during the figure-skating competition, when it was Harding’s turn to skate she did not go on the ice. Something had gone wrong, but nobody at the time knew what it was.
I saw her run to the ladies room. I was thinking that she was succumbing to all the pressure and wouldn’t skate. Perhaps she may be doing something drastic?! It turns out the shoelace on her skate had broken and she was trying to fix it. She had two minutes before being disqualified. She finally went out on the ice and then skated up to the judges and asked for more time so she could fix her lace, which they gave her.
Kerrigan ended up with the silver medal. Oksana Baiul won the gold.
In the “kiss and cry” zone, I had my big opportunity to interview these two skaters. They walk by the reporters pretty quickly before moving on.
Kerrigan could hardly speak as she cried into my microphone. Harding, with asthma, wheezed into the mic. That’s how this story ends — about as disappointing as the scandal itself!
And finally, I was doing play-by-play on the men’s and women’s alpine for WestwoodOne at the Torino Games in 2006. Miller was the biggest story at those games, coming off his controversial interview with “60 Minutes“ at the time, in which he admitted that it’s “not easy to ski when you’re wasted.”
Bode wasn’t doing many interviews up at the alpine venue. He was spending a lot of time in the nightclubs. The day he got disqualified from the combined event, after missing a gate, he quickly sped off on his skies. I caught up to him and asked him how disappointed he was getting disqualified, to which he replied, “All it means is I don’t have to travel an hour-and-a-half to Torino for the medal ceremony.”
The alpine venue for the Torino Games was up in a beautiful part of the world called Sestriere. It certainly is the kind of spot that is difficult to leave. But I’m sure Miller would have inconvenienced himself had he won a medal!
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