Biography of Olympic Figure Skater Oksana Baiul
Oksana Bauil (born Oksana Serhiyivna Baiul, November 16, 1977) is an Olympic figure skater from Ukraine. Bauil was the first athlete from Ukraine to win Olympic gold in any sport, but her post-career personal troubles put her in the headlines for different reasons.
Oksana was born in Dnepropetrovsk, a military-industrial city, in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (then part of the Soviet Union). Her parents, Sergei and Marina, divorced when she was only two years old, and Sergei disappeared shortly after, whether of his own choice or due to disapproval from the town after the divorce. Oksana was raised by her mother and her maternal grandparents.
At the age of three, Oksana began figure skating lessons, as well as ballet. Ultimately, she preferred skating, and by the age of five, she was training with Stanislav Koritek, a well-respected coach in Ukraine. Her family paid for all her expenses, even as they mounted. However, she suffered several losses close together: her grandparents died in 1987 and 1988, and then, in 1991, her mother Marina died suddenly and unexpectedly from what turned out to be ovarian cancer. Oksana was only thirteen.
Coaching Changes and Olympic Success
Even after the deaths of all her closest family members, more loss was still to come for Oksana. Her coach Koritek moved to Canada in 1992 to coach there, since there was little to no support for figure skating in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. With Oksana’s promising career left dangling, the Ukrainian figure skating federation connected her with another coach, Galina Zmievskaya. Zmievskaya agreed not only to coach Oksana, but to allow her to live with her family in Odessa.
Oksana’s skating progressed rapidly under Zmievskaya’s tutelage. In 1993, she took home the silver medal at the European Championships, finishing behind French skater Surya Bonaly. At the World Championships that same year, she suffered an accident during practice that displaced disks in her back and neck and damaged the blades of her skates. She skated through the injury and equipment damage to win the world title at the age of fifteen.
The 1993-1994 season would prove to be the peak of Oksana’s career. She again won silver at Europeans (behind Bonaly, again) and was sent to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, to represent Ukraine. After the short program portion of the competition, she was ranked second behind American Nancy Kerrigan. However, like at the previous World Championships, Oksana suffered an accident during practice before the free skate portion: a collision with German skater Tanja Szewcaenko resulted in a back injury and a cut on her leg requiring stitches. Nevertheless, she skated a strong free skate to overtake Kerrigan for Olympic gold. At the age of 16, she was the second-youngest Olympic skating champion in history at the time.
Despite her Olympic win, Oksana returned to a financially-struggling life in Ukraine. Even the conditions at the ice rink where she and fellow Ukrainian Olympian Viktor Petrenko practiced had been neglected due to lack of funds. Although she could have continued her amateur competitive career, the conditions and lack of support drove Oksana to turn professional instead. She and Zmievskaya negotiated her contract to tour in the United States.
Although it was a more lucrative decision, the touring affected her health in several ways. Despite having knee surgery after the Olympics, she returned to the ice quickly in order to practice for touring shows, which permanently affected her ability to execute difficult jumps in particular. She also developed a drinking habit while on tour, which would haunt her for years, get her dropped from the Champions on Ice tour in 1997, and result in several scandalous headlines.
In the mid-1990s, figure skating specials were commonplace on American television, and Oksana starred in two: The Nutcracker On Ice and The Wizard of Oz on Ice, both for CBS. the network also produced a 1994 television movie, A Promise Kept, about her life. After her drinking got her booted from the top-tier touring circuit, she continued to make appearances in skating shows, non-skating television programs, and charity shows.
In November 2011, Oksana and her manager, Carlo Farina, found evidence of mismanagement of funds by her agency, William Morris. She successfully recovered $9.5 million. This was not the only lawsuit she engaged in. She also sued NBC for unauthorized use of her image, and accused Zmievskaya, Petrenko, and their manager Joseph Lemire of fraud and of falsely attempting to represent her in Ukrainian court proceedings.
Oksana has mostly retired from public life. She married her manager Farina in 2015, changing her name to Oksana Baiul-Farina, and moving to Las Vegas. Unlike many other skaters of her era, she has not rejoined the skating world as a coach or commentator, instead leaving behind a single moment where she was the undisputed best in the world.
- Baiul, Oksana. Oksana: My Own Story. Random House, 1997.
- “Oksana Baiul.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 12 Nov. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Oksana-Baiul