February 25, 1994
It was an event overshadowed by the scandal involving Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, but 16-year-old Oksana Baiul emerged to become figure skating champion at Lillehammer 1994 for Ukraine’s first Olympic gold.
Baiul endured a tough upbringing. Her father disappeared from her life when she was just two years old and she was raised by her French teacher mother Marina and her grandparents.
All three adults, though, died in the space of just three years, her mother the most recent to perish – of ovarian cancer in 1991 – leaving her effectively as an orphan.
For a time, she was housed in a dormitory by the state and then was taken in by her coach Galina Zmievksaya, who guided her to her first Olympic Winter Games three years later. In Zmievksaya’s view, it was a minor miracle that her athlete came off the ice with the gold.
“You have no idea how this girl prepared to be Olympic champion,” she said at the time. “We had no Zamboni [ice resurfacer] in the rink. I hosed down the ice myself. No Olympic champion ever had such bad conditions to prepare in.”
Olympic Gold pic.twitter.com/yeQh8SZtpH
— OKSANA BAIUL®-FARINA (@OksanaBaiul) 25 September 2014
Baiul had taken up ice skating at the age of four. Her initial passion was for ballet but her grandmother persuaded her of the merits of skating as “ballet on ice”.
She performed her short programme to Swan Lake to put her in second place behind Kerrigan.
Baiul returned to the ice for a free skate to a showtune medley but the judges’ opinion was split between favouring the Ukrainian and her American rival, performing to a Neil Diamond medley.
But the teenager narrowly sealed a historic win on the ice, all the more impressive as she had to undergo two painkilling injections in her back and shoulder prior to the free skate.
After the Games, she moved to settled in Connecticut, and she still lives in the United States.