I recently viewed my videotapes of the 1992 Winter Olympics men’s figure skating competition. What a great event it was, spanning the gamut of high drama, unexpected achievement, and deep disappointment. Anyway, here are my impressions:
Viktor Petrenko finally finished first in a major figure skating competition. He had won the 1988 Olympic bronze and World bronze medal behind Brian Boitano and Brian Orser, and as such, he automatically became the #1 eligible skater in the world when both Brians turned professional. Viktor had been injured prior to the 1989 Worlds, and he finished out of the medals. He had finished second at the 1990 and 1991 Worlds to Kurt Browning. By all appearances, it seemed that he was, again, going to finish second to Browning.
However, Browning came into the Olympics nursing a nagging back injury. He simply wasn’t able to land his jumps – falling on his triple axel/double toe short program combination, falling on the same combination in the long program, and making several other mistakes. Kurt’s long program was painful to watch, as he clearly gave up towards the end and doubled and/or singled his final jumps. For such a great champion to finish sixth, it was heartbreaking. Tracey Wilson interviewed Kurt after the conclusion of the men’s long program, and Kurt was gracious in his defeat. He said, however, “It will be a long time before I think about this evening.”
Petrenko skated a fabulous short program to “Carmen”. He wore a gorgeous costume, reminiscent of Christopher Dean’s troubadour costume from the 1984 Winter Olympics. IMHO, that “Carmen” selection was outstanding – full of drama, bells, and music. Viktor flew through his program and, rightly, won the short program.
The big surprise was Paul Wylie, the 1992 US men’s silver medallist. Those of us who have been longtime figure skating fans well remember Paul’s long-running efforts at the US Nationals, where he always made just enough mistakes to not win the title. Paul’s second-place finish at the 1992 Nationals was a bit controversial, as some felt that Mark Mitchell, who had finished third, should have finished second and won the third spot on the Olympic team.
Paul came into Albertville with something to prove, and he surely did just that. His short program was skated with a lot of speed and assurance, and he nailed his triple axel/double toe combination. To his delight (and surprise), he finished third in the short program.
The men’s long program was, IMHO, one of those situations in which reputation and world ranking, rather than the program skated, won the day. Petrenko started his long program with a tentative triple axel/triple toe combination, and he made mistakes – some small, some large – in a number of his jumps. He nearly fell on his second triple axel attempt, he doubled a planned triple lutz, he singled his planned double axel, and in general, ran out of energy during the later half of his program. His “stamina” issue had been apparent in a number of his free skates during his eligible career. His marks were generous – not a string of 5.9s – but high enough to almost clinch the gold medal for him.
Paul Wylie skated the long program of his life to “Henvy V”. He landed a few of his jumps a little roughly, but his stayed on his feet, skated with fire and energy, and “grabbed” the audience. He skated as though he was inspired, and he wore his heart on his sleeve. The audience cheered loudly for him when he finished. His marks were high, but not as high as Petrenko’s. The Czech judge gave Wylie a 5.4 for technical merit, and the audience booed when that score was announced. IMHO, had Paul Wylie won a medal at the 1991 Worlds, or at least finished in the top five, he might have received higher marks. As it was, Wylie had finished 11th at the 1991 Worlds, and his finishes at his previous Worlds appearances and the 1988 Olympics were not impressive – 10th place or so. In any case, Wylie was ecstatic to win the silver medal. He and his coaches, Evy and Mary Scotvold, embraced each other in joy when the final placements were announced.
Petr Barna of Czechoslovakia won the bronze medal. His long program, skated to “Hamlet”, was, IMHO, pretty wooden and lacking in artistry, but he received high marks from the European judges and finished third. He had come into the Olympics with the goal to win a medal, and he seemed pleased that he accomplished this goal.
US men’s champion Christopher Bowman finished fourth, and Todd Eldredge, who was the reigning men’s World bronze medallist and who had withdrawn from Nationals due to a back injury and who received a berth on the Olympic team, finished tenth.
The medal ceremony was joyous for Paul Wylie. He simply could not stop smiling broadly as the Olympic hymn was played for Viktor Petrenko.
Verne Lundquist recapped the men’s competition by stating, "This evening really belonged to 27-year-old Paul Wylie, a Harvard graduate, who had come into the Olympics as the longest of shots and leaves Albertville with a silver medal.”
I’m sure many of you remember this great competition, too!!