Standing on the awards podium for the medal ceremonies in the World Figure Skating Championships, Nancy Kerrigan was aware she and the two U.S. women next to her had swept their way into the sport's history.
"This has never happened before," bronze medalist Kerrigan told gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi.By finishing 1-2-3 in Saturday's freestyle long program, Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding and Kerrigan made the United States the first country in the 73-year history of women's competition at the World Championships to win all the medals. They topped the United States' 1-3-4 finish of a year ago, which had been the best showing ever by one nation.
Midori Ito of Japan, bruised by crashes in both the warmup and performance of Friday's short program, struggled through her long program and finished fourth. Surya Bonaly of France was fifth.
Remarkably, Harding and Kerrigan won medals in their World Championship debuts. Just as remarkably, the defending world champion was another U.S. skater, Jill Trenary, who has been sidelined all season by ankle injuries.
"And we left home other skaters who could have finished in the top five," said Franklin Nelson, president of the U.S. Figure Skating Association. No country is allowed more than three entries per event in the World Championships.
The possibility of a U.S. sweep still seemed so remote it caught the International Skating Union unprepared. Someone was dispatched posthaste to the nearby velodrome to find the third American flag that was raised in the Olympic Hall as "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before a sellout crowd.
"This is wonderful," Trenary said via telephone from Colorado Springs. "It means our national championships next year are going to be like the Olympics."
Yamaguchi, reduced to tears when Harding upset her for the title at this year's nationals, came back with a 4-minute performance that got higher scores than Harding's for both technical merit and artistic impression. Yamaguchi beat Harding on eight of the nine judges' cards and also received the first perfect 6.0 of her career, from Italian judge Franco Benini.
"There was such a buildup for me going into nationals," Yamaguchi said. "I knew I didn't skate my best there (She fell on a triple salchow jump.) but I skated fairly well. That's why I was disappointed."
This was the second world singles title for Yamaguchi, who never has won a national singles title. She won the 1988 world junior title after finishing second in the junior nationals and this title after finishing second in the open nationals for the third straight year.
This was the first year in her competitive career she has skated only singles. Because of time pressures and physical demands on her 5-foot, 90-pound body, Yamaguchi gave up pairs skating, in which she and Rudy Galindo had won the 1989-90 national titles.
Yamaguchi, 19, who grew up in Fremont, Calif. and now trains at the same club as men's world champion Kurt Browning in Edmonton, made only one minor flaw in her program to music from Saint-Saens' opera, "Samson and Delilah." She reduced a a planned triple salchow jump to a single but still wound up completing the most triple jumps, six, of anyone in the top five.
"There was no point in the program when I felt, `This is really good, you have it,"' Yamaguchi said. "After the mistake on the triple salchow, I knew had to fight for it."
None of the title contenders could avoid mistakes. Harding and Yamaguchi were the only two of the top five who did not fall.
"I'm really happy to be second," said Harding, 20, of Portland, Ore. "I didn't deserve to win because I made two major mistakes."
Harding, who made history last month by becoming the first U.S. woman to land a triple Axel jump, did that jump again with no problem here. Her problems began a few seconds later, when a planned combination of triple jumps became a single and a double.
"I rushed into it," Harding said.
Kerrigan, 21, of Woburn, Mass., the sport's most elegant skater, botched one jump but offset it by trying a more difficult jump combination than what she had planned. A minute after upgrading a double-triple combination to a strong triple-triple, she fell on an attempted triple salchow.
"I'm overwhelmed," said Kerrigan, who moved up from fifth in the short program. "With Midori in the competition, I didn't think I'd be up here (on the awards stand). I guess I deserve it, so I'm really happy."