By Marie Vasar, Staff Writer, Los Angeles Daily News
Los Angeles, California, January 17, 2004
It was almost exactly a decade ago that a tiny Ukrainian girl won Olympic
gold and the hearts of the world. She was a motherless teen in a fluffy pink
costume who skated a flawless, lyrical "Swan Lake.'
Since then, Oksana Baiul has toured the world as a competitor and pro
skater, written two autobiographies and been the subject of a
made-for-television CBS movie. She also publicly battled addiction, crashing
her Mercedes into a tree in 1997 while under the influence and eventually
The girl who stepped onto the world stage 10 years ago has grown up. Now 26,
she's been sober since 1998, has founded her own skate wear company and has
found true love. In September, she returned to Ukraine for the first time
since emigrating to America after the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, and
connected with the father she never knew. And now, after several years away
from the ice, she's returned to skating.
Baiul will be featured this weekend as a special guest star in Smucker's
Stars on Ice, along with fellow Olympian Scott Hamilton. And fittingly, the
petite blonde who won judges and a world audience over with her
ballet-infused style revisits the classic work by Tchaikovsky that carried
her to gold. Although this time, says Baiul, her costume is a little less
fur and feathers, a little more grown-up. Much like the woman who wears it.
"When I came to America, I didn't know anything. I didn't speak English. I
had to adjust to a new culture; I just had to learn how to live,' says
Baiul. "Now I'm pretty much in control of the things I do. It really makes
In addition to her "Swan Lake' program, Baiul will skate to Jennifer Lopez's
"Ain't It Funny.' In part, Baiul says she picked such different numbers to
push her versatility and to lift the audience. With the hip-hop number, she
says, "I want people to have fun with me, to stand up on their feet and
When Baiul took the ice before the tour's first show in Lake Placid, N.Y.,
on Nov. 29, 2003, she says she was "crying because of the emotion. To me,
it was something like a dream come true. I felt so happy, those were tears
of joy -- to be back on the ice,' she says. "And those are the best skaters
Baiul knows some fans root for her underdog status. And that's fine, she
says, if she can inspire people on any level.
"I think they feel something special for me -- they can relate to me on all
different levels -- orphan, survivor. I have a lot of names.'
But while she's grateful for the applause she gets before stepping onto the
ice, Baiul says the applause she really wants is the applause after her
performance. "I want them to clap because of my skating,' she says. "It's
the best feeling in the world.'
Two years ago, Baiul quit touring to focus on other projects in her life,
particularly her apparel line. With the help of her fiance, Gene Sunik, a
clothing entrepreneur, they've built a company from the ground up, designing
skating couture that is sold in pro shops and online at www.oksanastyle.com.
But when Baiul took her fiance's family to a Stars on Ice show, his
grandmother commented on how much she wished Baiul was among the cast.
And that moment, says Baiul, "is when I felt the pinch in my heart.'
She spent a year training and getting back in top shape, and now, Baiul
says, she's in the best shape of her life since Lillehammer.
"I'm just enjoying being on the circuit again. I've made peace with a lot of
people,' she says. "Life is treating me well right now.
FOR PERSONAL AND ACADEMIC USE ONLY