Oksana Baiul

*** Happy Birthday Oksana Baiul ***

She is a retired Ukrainian figure skater. She is the 1993 World champion and the 1994 Olympic champion in ladies’ singles. Baiul is the first and so far the only skater to win gold at the Winter Olympics representing Ukraine. Also she is the first Olympic champion of independent Ukraine at all.

At the 1994 Winter Olympics, Baiul was second to Nancy Kerrigan in the short program of Ladies’ singles. During a practice session before the long program, Baiul collided with Germany’s Tanja Szewczenko, sustaining a wrenched lower back and a small cut on her right shin from her left skate blade that required three stitches. She received two Olympic-approved pain-killing injections of anesthetics in her lower back and shoulder, which enabled her to compete in the free skate. Baiul placed first and won the Olympic gold medal ahead of Kerrigan and Chen Lu. Immediately after completing the long program, Baiul fell into hysteric tears in front of TV cameras. She was announced as the winner after Surya Bonaly and Katarina Witt completed their respective programs. In addition to her Olympic title, she was also named Merited Master of Sports in 1994.

Despite their status as Olympic champions, Baiul and Petrenko faced the same difficulties back home in Odessa as their fellow Ukrainians, living in a financially strapped country where even meat was a luxury and utility outages were a common occurrence. Conditions at their rink in Odessa had deteriorated severely due to the lack of financial support from the government for figure skating since the breakup of the Soviet Union. They had no working ice resurfacer, so coaches and skaters often had to resurface the ice by hand. The conditions influenced her decision to turn professional after the 1994 Winter Olympics, even though she was only 16 years old at the time. Zmievskaya negotiated a very profitable contract for her to tour the United States following the Olympics, an opportunity Baiul could only take advantage of as a professional. In May 1994, as a 16-year-old, Baiul signed an agreement with the talent agency William Morris Endeavor.

Following the Olympics, Baiul was plagued by physical ailments that affected her skating ability. She required arthroscopic knee surgery in the summer of 1994, after which she was advised by her doctor not to return to the ice for two months. Due to the million-dollar touring contract, Baiul ignored doctor’s recommendations and resumed skating in two weeks and returned to performing in six. This move, along with changes in her maturing body, drastically hindered her jumping ability.

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