Oksana Baiul: Artist

The other material was equally revealing. In People Magazine (June 1997), I read that Oksana's home had the appearance of a 9 room generic hotel, sparsely decorated and lacking personal touches. Oksana's tight schedules and horrific training routines were allowing her little time for a "life." She told one reporter,"I don't know why I bought this house. It's so big for one person. It's lonely." Looking back on the past months, Oksana complained that all she had time to do was "work and work and work..."

All work and no play can make for some impetuous behavior. Gradually, and against the tide of her close circle of friends and her maternal coach, Galina, Oksana Baiul began to explore her own personality. She found a penchant for designer clothes and enjoyed the company of many non-skating friends. Close friend and neighbor, Jodi Fish, was quoted as having aptly explained that Oksana was still young and did not have the benefit of parental guidance. To many, it seemed that she finally had begun to find the happiness that comes from self-discovery and had managed to foster a persona separate from the image of the Ice Queen.

The fast-track of being a celebrity is often burdensome in ways that most of us cannot comprehend. The public only think they know a celebrity. What they often create is an image. It becomes the celebrity's duty (and sometimes burden) to become, at least publicly, this image. Although she had already won the top prize, Oksana was being managed, promoted, packaged and worked continuously. There seemed to be little time for her to reap the rewards of her own success. Artistically, she was not getting an opportunity to fully explore the dynamic, interpretive aspects of figure skating. Something would have to change.

I'm told that when Oksana did "relax", she channel-surfed, watched Melrose Place and had quite a sharp and quick sense of humor. She sounded like fun to be around. To most of her fans, the car wreck was worrisome but refreshing proof that even the very famous are just like the rest of us, with our strengths and mishaps. Nothing like this all too common offense detracted from her abilities on the ice. To others, however, this was not compliant with their demi-goddess.

Figure skating required a devotion and discipline that replaced the typical fun-filled teen years and, despite the emotional setbacks, Oksana used this talent to her advantage. But Oksana had allowed herself to be used by supporters of the skating rink and by local residents who wanted a celebrity to add prestige to their neighborhood. Oksana was, I'm afraid, made to feel that she had disappointed the public with her unthinking behavior. Much was made of her "confession" on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she admitted to having had a few drinks prior to the wreck. Her retort to Oprah was, "I'm a Russian!" Undoubtedly, this unfortunate incident contributed to her decision to make some dramatic changes in her life.

“I don't want people to think of me as the Olympic Champion girl. I want them to remember me
for my artistry.”
A final disappointment came to Oksana on the Ides of March (1997), when she appeared at her first public affair after the car wreck and related publicity. At a charity benefit in Stamford, Connecticut, Oksana had been told that she was to sign autographs and skate around the ice a few times. The promoter of the event had used Oksana's name and appearance to draw support for the charity but had let it be misunderstood that Oksana would give a full performance. Not having prepared for this, Oksana was innocent yet was booed by disappointed fans. She left the ice in tears.

Now living in Massachusetts, Oksana has a new team and a new outlook. She told USA Weekend (November 2, 1997) "I don't want people to think of me as the Olympic Champion girl. I want them to remember me for my artistry. I'd like to someday show my grandkids pictures and say, 'This was your grandmother as a flower, a swan, a butterfly.'" Choreographer Kawahara has enabled Oksana to become more of the artist she was destined to become and the grueling days of "work and work and work..." are gone. Oksana is becoming an artist, channeling her volatile moods and maturity from experience into her routines.

My paranoia over the press kit evaporated. I could see the genius in Wendy's approach. Oksana is in the midst of a rebirth. Like a young master of her art, she is ready to go beyond the technical aspects of skating and to push the envelope with innovative interpretations and her unique style of performing. Emotionally and intellectually this is a time for options and choices. A current biography would be rapidly obsolete.

ViewZone was cheerfully granted an interview with Oksana while she attended the Ice Wars Team Competition in Albany in mid-November.

Oksana's move, despite my suspicion, was not a retreat at all. She left this area to begin the next phase in an artistic career that will likely surpass her gold medal. Oksana still has many warm and enduring friendships in Simsbury. Viktor Petrenko is still here and undoubtedly she will skate again at the skating center where her American adventure all began.

ViewZone: Can you tell us why you moved and to where?

Oksana: I moved to Massachusetts to a little town about forty minutes from Boston to be near my trainer, Eduoard Pliner.

ViewZone: It's hard to imagine all the hard work and effort that you had to put in to your training during your youth - has this been difficult for you?

Oksana: I have a lot of different stages in my life when training has been easy or hard. Now, it seems that I have been training for so long that it has become almost second nature to me.

ViewZone: What do you do when you are just relaxing at home. Do you have favorite music or movies?

Oksana: I like to listen to different kinds of music - it just depends on my mood. I love Madonna, Russian singers... I like the Rolling Stones a lot! At home, I like to watch television - HBO, E!, and of course I love CBS! Some of my favorite movies are The English Patient, Evita... and I love to watch Jim Carrey in anything. I also like to go to the Broadway shows when I am in New York. I loved "Rent," "Chicago" - as a matter of fact, I included a number from "Chicago" in my program. It's "All That Jazz."

ViewZone: There are hundreds of web sites on the internet devoted to you and maintained by fans. Do you ever "surf" the net?

Oksanna: I do "surf" the net with my friend Johnny Lavoy. I think it's so much fun!! But I don't have my own computer at home yet.

ViewZone: I'm curious. Do you have a "special someone" in your life?

Oksana: Not at this time.

ViewZone: You have travelled all over the world and you are originally from a country with much different politics and culture. Where are your favorite places to visit, vacation or to live?

Oksana: I like Los Angeles, and I LOVE New York. I'm wild about Italy. One of my favorite vacation places is Miami, because of the people, the water and the beach - of course - and the architecture on Miami Beach is so wonderful.

ViewZone: Your new book sounds exciting.
Can you tell us what we'll read in it?

Oksana: I'm really proud of this book, THE SECRETS OF SKATING (published by Universe Publishing). It's not really a lot of reading, more a lot of pictures. I show my life from '94 until now, and talk a lot about the differences between amateur and professional sports. And - I must say - it would make a great Christmas present!

ViewZone: Where will you be performing in the next few months?

Oksana: On December 12 and 13, I will be competing in the World Professional Figure Skating Championship in Washington D.C. Then, starting January 13th, I will be touring all over with Champions on Ice - we start in Portland, Maine and wind up in West Palm Beach, Florida on February 11th. Right after that I hope to go to Japan to see the Skating Events at the Winter Olympics. Then back to the States to resume the Champions on Ice tour.

ViewZone: Okay. Is there anything you want ViewZone viewers to know that they might not already know about you?

Oksana: Well... I love to cook! My specialties are Russian Chicken and Napoleon Pastries. I love to do things with my friends - like shopping - more for the fun of the "hunt," than for the actual buying of things.

So what happened to Simsbury's Oksana? I learned that this bright and talented young woman found her own way to overcome the obstacles in her life. She is a survivor.

In retrospect, Oksana has done well in shedding her Cinderella image. She has earned the respect due any master artist and deserves to express herself both on and off the ice. Although her popularity is as strong as ever, she doesn't really need the public's approval anymore. Oksana has found herself. This evolving process of self-discovery and confidence is blossoming into something quite unique and special. Her skating is now more confident and smooth. She has become the artist she was destined to be.

Nietzsche wrote, "If it does not kill me, it will only make me stronger." If Oksana Baiul can turn her adversity into strength - look out world!

Table of Contents | previous page