"I hate chocolate bars"
There has been enough in the life of 26-yeard old Oksana Baiul to last three lifetimes. Five years ago, brilliant victories in amateur sport and golden mountains in America turned to a terrible car accident and mandatory alcoholism rehabilitation for the Dnepropetrovsk orphan and the Olympic champion in ladies skating at the Lillehammer games. However, the suffering (it's enough to remember one sentence Oksana told the "Noviy Izvesija" correspondent around that time, "If you only knew, little ones, what it's like - not to drink") helped her shed the "bad girl" image. On her recent trip to Moscow, the former World Figure Skating Champion, the now mature Baiul delighted with her charming smile, her sincerity, and her good mood.
Can we say that the times when you'd start your meetings with the press with the greeting, "All right, idiots, what will we talk about today?" are firmly in the past?
Oh yah. You see, I am generally a fairly open person, but back then I was like an open card for people. They could do anything they wanted with me. Then it started, she's this, she's that... The only way to fight the press is to stay away from it. Instead, I'd say mean things to them - you tell me mean things, and I'll answer with the same! Of course, this didn't lead to anything good. By nature, I am a very daring, very goals-oriented person, but I'm not bad. At least I don't think so. I'll always lend a hand both to the one in trouble and the one out of it. Yes, I won the Olympics, I was brought to America, I live here, I received great financial opportunities... But I'm not the only person who's ever won Olympics! Instead, I was blown into something... I honestly did not understand anything. I was a naive child, who, while living in Dnepropetrovsk, dreamed of two "Snickers" bars, and now received them by the boxes. Later on, the company even offered to sign a contract, and then I'd get as many bars as I'd want. Ultimately, the boundaries that dictate our lives got blurred. I think that's why I lost it. As for the American press - they got what they deserved, making me into a super star and forgetting that inside I was still me.
Meaning an orphaned girl with a difficult life?
Exactly. I started fighting with my coach, then with everyone else. You see, I am genetically pre-disposed to alcoholism. I found out about it two years ago, when I went to Ukraine for the first time in all those years. I found out after I met my father. I now understand that my story is indeed extraordinary. I went straight to the top! Perhaps, if I had to stand in a line a bit, it would have turned out differently.
A medal, especially an Olympic one, is created from a multitude of pars. The judges, the surrounding, the situation... Had I not collided with the German Tanya Shchevchenko at the last practice, nobody knows who'd have one the Games. Up until then, all the press was incessant about the poor Karrigan, who had her poor little leg broken. Then, suddenly, the press moved on to me - poor, desperate, orphaned... Indeed, that was something to talk about. So much so since I honestly did not know if I would take the ice until the last moment. When I finally went there, the crowd erupted. The most interesting thing is that two weeks prior to the Olympics, I wasn't as ready as I could be. The jumps weren't bad, but transitions were lagging, and the judges were already watching the practices. But on the decisive day, I, with an injured leg, did indeed have a strong skate. I don't think anyone expected it. They couldn't find the Ukrainian anthem, Samaranch left, the flag ended up hanging upside down... You know, I think the American producers would have moved me to the USA no matter what. They'd make money off of it. Can you imagine what a girl with my life is like for them? So they took me to heart. They adopted me, they loved me. Then it all started - the fall, the crazy stuff, the accidents, alcohol, men, parties. Just your normal show-life. If it happened now, I could have perhaps controlled it to a point. At 20, it did end in the rehab.
Who initiated you meeting with your father, from whom you inherited the alcoholism?
I did. I tried American channels to find him, but it too a long time. I then called my old rink in Dnepropetrovsk, and told the director, "My mom and dad sat together at a school desk, I bet they lived close to each other". Basically, it took then twenty minutes to find my father. They gave me his number, but I was too scared to call. Zhenka, my common law husband (he is a son of Ukrainian immigrants) made the call, and we went home a week later. When we met, the grandmother came out with bread and salt, the father is there, and I just became hysterical. Dad, grandma, we were all crying. Then, when we went inside, my father pulled out a scrapbook about me. He left us when I was two, and his life didn't work out. He doesn't really have a family. His brother doesn't have children, so out of those two Baiuls I am the only one who can preserve the last name.
When you came back from the rehab, were you a different person?
Yes. Since then, I don't touch alcohol. I also look very different. I used to be all puffed up, with bags under my eyes. Afterwards, I again looked fine. When were driving to the clinic, I asked my psychologist, to whom I am very grateful, "Frank, do you think I'll die there?" He answered, "If you don't go, you'll die". Indeed, I was once close to suicide. For the first ten days in the clinic I just slept. After this hibernation, I started going to the sessions to understand - how can I cure myself? I realized that the only way was to give up the glass. They haven't come up with any pills for it. So my brain was washed thoroughly. I think you can see the result. Then, there came a time when even the doctors said, "you are ready to go out into the world". Yet I was afraid - how would I understand reality? I came out after three and a half months. Luckily, a coach was nearby who helped me out, who didn't think of her own gain, but simply wanted to me return to ice. That was Natalia Linichuk. That was when I went to Moscow for three days, and trained with her at night in "Sokolniki". I spent a season with her, and then found out that my old childhood coach Valentine Nikolaev has moved from Odessa to America, so I went to him.
By the way, he says that he only agreed to work with you once he saw that you are indeed ready for a fresh start. He said that Baiul cannot return for the sake of returning. She needs to triumph.
Absolutely. Though, when he looked at me, Valusha honestly said, "Oksana, I don't know how to it". Then he gave me one and a half months to loose weight and tone up. I found someone who could help me do it - Barbara, a three-time World triathlon champion. I'd call Nikolaev daily to update him. He was satisfied to see that I was working through the pain. I handled the terrible training, I cried, but I understood that I wouldn't move forward without it. When I came to Valentine again, I was already, according to him, thin and tight.
What about the "Snickers" bars?
I've hard so many, I now hate them.
Is it difficult when champagne is flowing that the social events?
It was hard at first. Then I got used to it. I order water or juice, and walk around with the goblet.
You know, Oksana, after talking to you I get the impression that you aren't really bitter. Is that so?
Absolutely. Life didn't cheat me; anyone could only wish to be cheated the way I was. No, I now think that I have a great life. I try to value everything I have, and it helps me move forward. I understand when I have to step back to be able to take a leap later. I am happy just on the merits of working again. I could have retired in Bahamas, but I hope to have a long career. I now longer do all the shows I'm offered, I choose the ones that allow me to not just make money, but to show what I can do. In the show skating, one is loved not for the jumps, but for one's uniqueness.
I've heard that you really wanted to meet Viktor Yuschenko when he visited in the USA?
And to stand by him. I sent him a congratulatory letter after the elections. After all, I'm the only Ukrainian Winter Olympics medallist. Yuschenko's visit is an opportunity to prod Ukrainian figure skating. I already have some connections, such as being a board member of my native Dnepropetrovsk school "Meteor". When my career on the ice is over, I doubt I'll want to work for ISU. They wouldn't even let me near it, actually, I'd constantly tell them the truth! That's why I want to build my life in a way to be close to figure skating, and to help my compatriots however I can.
Thank you for the translation. I've always loved Oksana Baiul.
(a little Boomtown Rats there,hee-hee).Thanks for a de-babelfished interview.I'm glad she had straightened her life out,as I am a big fan of hers.
Nice interview. Thanks for the translation, Ptichka.
Thank you, Ptichka.
I love Oksana! Her comments are right on.
I'm sure the other staters from 94 feel the same way.Up until then, all the press was incessant about the poor Karrigan, who had her poor little leg broken.
I know it will never happen, but I think Oksana would be a great commentator. She is not afraid to speak out about issues affecting the sport. Of course, that did not work out so well for Dick Button this year in Moscow...When my career on the ice is over, I doubt I'll want to work for ISU. They wouldn't even let me near it, actually, I'd constantly tell them the truth! .
Oksana as a commentator? Would she be able to find enough ways to steal the spot light and put it on herself? Didn't you see the silly sequence where she ate caviar with Paul and Kimmie? Oksana has many lovely qualities, but standing back and letting others have some attention isn't one of them.
Agree, Linny. You can see that when she speaks of how all the publicity was focused on Kerrigan. Then Oksana had the collision and suddenly all the focus was on her, so she was able to pull all the stops out. It makes you wonder if Kerrigan would have won in '94 if there had been no collision.....
I agree that Oksana would not make a good commentator. I was, though, impressed with her honesty regarding her Olympic performance; she didn't say that she was just the better skater and that's that, but that she was somehow able to pull off a really good skate.
The remark about Kerrigan sounded exactly like what a spoiled little girl would say. I'm afraid Baiul has no maturity and I would hate to hear her opinionated rants as a commentator.
And yes, she didn't mention the two footed jumps throughout the LP.
Thanks for translation. Interesting interview.
Her comments about her winning OGM was interesting, though.
At the time I thought her won was right. But now after watching two more Olympics lady's comp, I felt she was lucky with that judge panel at 1994. Had it been the judge panel of 1998 and 2002 Kerrigan would've won.
Thanks for the translation! I'm a big fan of Oksana's
I lol'd at her not liking Snickers anymore!
Oksana's a mixed bag, and she is certainly fortunate to be okay these days considering her background, and for that I'm grateful.
One one level she really irritates me because she has a loud, abrasive personality. But on another level, I adore her, because she's so entertaining and she knows how to make fun of herself and how to make the crowd laugh. I think it was at Ice Wars where she said something like, "Everyone else is really good skater. Me? I'm just a drama queen." The crowd roared. Not even Katarina Witt can do that.