Oksana Baiul (born November 16, 1977) is a Ukrainian former competitive figure skater. She is the 1993 World champion and the 1994 Olympic champion in ladies’ singles.
Baiul is the first skater to win gold at the Winter Olympics representing Ukraine. She is also the first Olympic champion of independent Ukraine in any sport.
Baiul was born on November 16, 1977 in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, an industrial city famous for manufacturing Soviet missiles. Her parents divorced when she was two years old. One day when she was two, her father disappeared. No one is certain whether Sergei Baiul deserted his family or was pressured to leave town when he and his wife divorced. She was raised by her mother, Marina—a French teacher—and her maternal grandparents.
Baiul first stepped onto the ice at the age of four thanks to her grandfather, who bought her a pair of skates and urged her to exercise in order to lose weight. He also believed that she could be a future prima ballerina and that skating was a fine training ground for dance. Baiul pursued ballet, but ultimately chose ice skating. As she trained, her mother shouldered Baiul’s training expenses, paying for lessons, costumes, and equipment. By the age of five, Baiul studied with Stanislav Korytek, one of the finest Ukrainian coaches.
Her grandfather died in 1987, her grandmother in 1988, and in 1991 her mother, who had previously been very healthy, died suddenly of ovarian cancer. Her father, Sergei, appeared at her mother’s funeral but Oksana wanted nothing to do with him. By the time of the death of her mother, her grandparents had also died, leaving Baiul orphaned. Korytek housed Baiul briefly, but within weeks of Bauil’s mother’s death, he left, too. He left while Baiul performed in a skating competition, fleeing to Canada for a promising job at the Toronto Skating, Curling, and Cricket Club.
Before Korytek left Oksana, he called Galina Zmievskaya, who had coached 1992 Olympic gold medalist Victor Petrenko—also soon to be Galina’s son-in-law—and implored her to take in the young skater. Zmievskaya welcomed Baiul into her circle of elite skaters, and provided her shelter in her family’s cramped, grim, three-room apartment in Odessa. Under Zmievskaya’s training, Baiul quickly rose to greatness.
After moving to Odessa in mid-1992, she lived mainly in a dormitory with her expenses covered by the state. In 1993, she lived a month with coach Galina Zmievskaya between the European and World Championships. After the 1994 Winter Olympics, Baiul moved to Simsbury, Connecticut, which is the location of the International Skating Center of Connecticut. In the late 1990s, she lived in Richmond, Virginia for several years before moving to Cliffside Park, New Jersey. After residing for 14 years in Cliffside Park, Baiul moved to Pennsylvania in March 2012, settling in Upper Makefield Township, Bucks County.
In January 1997, Baiul was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol after crashing her car into a tree in Bloomfield, Connecticut. The charges were dropped after she met the terms of probation and completed an alcohol education program. Her drinking continued, however, and in May 1997 she entered an alcohol rehabilitation program for two and a half months. In a 2004 interview, Baiul said she had been sober for six years, saying “This is more important than Olympic gold.”
Baiul was raised as a Russian Orthodox Christian. As a child, she heard rumors that her grandmother was Jewish. In 2003, she phoned her old rink in Dnipropetrovsk to ask for assistance in locating her father—assuming it was a joke, they hung up twice but eventually Baiul managed to convince them of her identity and the rink manager helped her reunite with her father in September 2003. Her father confirmed that the rumor was true—her Romanian maternal grandmother was Jewish. Baiul considers herself Jewish due to matrilineality in Judaism. In 2005, Baiul said, “Being Jewish, that feels good. It feels natural, like a second skin”. She is of Russian descent through her maternal grandfather. Her father died in 2006.
As a child, Baiul was interested in ballet but was not considered thin enough so her grandmother took her to skating lessons, saying it was ballet on skates. Her grandfather was also supportive of her skating which she began at age three in Dnipropetrovsk. She was coached by Stanislav Koritek until he was offered a coaching job in Toronto, Canada in March 1992 – he accepted due to problems in Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In August 1992, his father, Alfred – the vice-president of the Ukrainian skating federation – called Galina Zmievskaya, working in Odessa, to take on Baiul as a student. Her other coach in Odessa was Valentin Nikolayev. She represented FSC “Ukraine” (Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk).
Baiul took the silver medal at the 1993 European Championships in Helsinki, finishing second to Surya Bonaly of France. Prior to the 1993 World Championships in Prague, Baiul crashed into the boards and displaced disks in her back and neck. At the event, she stopped practising and consulted a Czech doctor. Baiul competed in skates with crooked blades because it was too late to try a new pair. Ranked second in the short program and first in the free skate, she finished ahead of Bonaly and became world champion at age 15.
In 1994, Baiul repeated as the silver medalist at the European Championships in Copenhagen, again finishing second to Bonaly. At the 1994 Winter Olympics, Baiul was second to Nancy Kerrigan in the short program of Ladies’ singles. During a practise session before the long program, Baiul collided with Germany’s Tanja Szewczenko, sustaining a wrenched lower back and a small cut on her right shin from her left skate blade that required three stitches. She received two Olympic-approved pain-killing injections of anesthetics in her lower back and shoulder, which enabled her to compete in the free skate. Baiul won the Olympic gold medal ahead of Kerrigan and Chen Lu. Immediately after completing the long program, Baiul fell into hysteric tears in front of TV cameras. She was announced as the winner after Surya Bonaly and Katarina Witt completed their respective programs. In addition to her Olympic title, she was also named Merited Master of Sports in 1994.
Despite their status as Olympic champions, Baiul and Petrenko faced the same difficulties back home in Odessa as their fellow Ukrainians, living in a financially strapped country where even meat was a luxury and utility outages were a common occurrence. Conditions at their rink in Odessa had deteriorated severely due to the lack of financial support from the government for figure skating since the breakup of the Soviet Union. They had no working ice resurfacer, so coaches and skaters often had to resurface the ice by hand. The conditions influenced her decision to turn professional after the 1994 Winter Olympics, even though she was only 16 years old at the time. Zmievskaya negotiated a very profitable contract for her to tour the United States following the Olympics, an opportunity Baiul could only take advantage of as a professional. In May 1994, as a 16-year-old, Baiul signed an agreement with the talent agency William Morris Endeavor.
Baiul later claimed it was this tour where her later drinking problems took roots, saying: “Except myself, nearly all the figure skaters on the bus were grown-ups, and it was full of alcohol. Most of the skaters were Russians and Americans, and they all drank. That’s when I tried it. I was very young, with no-one to teach me the right. I thought it was the norm, cause as a teenager you don’t want to break away from the majority”.
Following the Olympics, Baiul was plagued by physical ailments that affected her skating ability. She required arthroscopic knee surgery in the summer of 1994, after which she was advised by her doctor not to return to the ice for two months. Due to the million-dollar touring contract, Baiul ignored the doctor’s recommendations and resumed skating in two weeks and returned to performing in six. This move, along with changes in her body, drastically hindered her jumping ability.
|1983-91||Trained with Stanislav Korytek|
|1991||Lived and trained in Odessa, Ukraine with Galina Zmievskaya||Shortly after her mother’s death|
|1991||12th place, Soviet Championship|
|1993||Runner-up, European Championship|
|1993||Women’s figure skating gold medalist, World Championship in Prague|
|1994||Gold medalist, Olympics|
|1994||Performed in U.S. Outdoor Skating Challenge||For the CBS television network|
|1994||A Promise Kept, a television movie based on Baiul’s life||For the CBS television network|
|1994||Had knee surgery||September|
|1994||Toured with the Tom Collins World Champions Tour|
|1994||Featured on the Barbara Walters Special||One of the Ten Most Fascinating Personalities of 1994|
Life after retirement from competition
In 1994, Baiul moved to the United States after she and Petrenko were invited to train at Simsbury, Connecticut’s newly built International Skating Center, with Zmievskaya asking to lead the coaching staff. In May 1997, Baiul was dropped from the Champions on Ice tour due to concerns about her drinking. She decided to part ways with Zmievskaya the same year. Baiul later completed a rehab program and in August 1998 she began training under Natalia Linichuk at the University of Delaware’s skating center. Baiul has continued to skate professionally from time to time, including an engagement with the touring show “Broadway on Ice.”
In December 2006, Baiul skated at the Red Square ice rink in Moscow alongside champions from Russia, China, France and other countries. In February 2007, she collaborated with renowned ballet dancer Saule Rachmedova to bring together Ice Theatre of New York and couture fashion for the debut of innovative fashion designer Levi Okunov’s “Winter Collection.” The following month, Baiul appeared on MTV’s Total Request Live. She was there to promote the new ice skating film Blades of Glory (2007), starring Will Ferrell. She was name-checked in the film itself when the character Charles “Chazz” Michael Michaels, played by Will Ferrell, talks through his tattoos with Jon Heder’s character. Michaels describes Baiul as his ‘blonde Ukrainian she-devil’.
Baiul had a role in the skating stage musical, Cold as Ice. The story surrounds six skaters from Canada, Russia, and the United States preparing for their national championships and the Olympics while dealing with demanding coaches, stage mothers, stage coaches, and other trials. The story itself was conceived and written by former skater Frank D’Agostino. A full stage version of Cold As Ice was produced and presented by the Gateway Playhouse in May 2007.
On March 8, 2009, and again on March 14, 2010, Baiul made guest appearances at the Kate Wollman Skating Rink at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the skating center’s annual show. She also took part in meet-and-greet sessions with skating students after each performance.
On Saturday, March 27, 2010, Baiul skated at the One Step Closer HIV AIDS figure skating exhibition. Directed and produced by Tim David, the benefit was for the AIDS Resource Foundation for Children. She performed her signature Swan Lake program and was part of the meet-and-greet after the show.
Baiul is mentioned in the Family Guy episode, “Wasted Talent” (season 2, episode 20), during brewmaster Pawtucket Pat’s song about his brewery as a reference to her DUI.
Baiul has her own line of clothing and jewelry. In November 2005, Baiul appeared on the Bravo television program Celebrity Poker Showdown. She was also part of the celebrity panel of judges (along with Steve Garvey and Jonny Moseley) on the ABC show Master of Champions, which aired briefly in 2006.
Baiul supports the Tikva Children’s Home Charity, which works to aid the Jewish children of Odessa, Ukraine. In addition, Baiul supports and is a member of the International Museum of Women, a cultural and educational institution with the mission to celebrate the lives of women around the world. Baiul also funded a program to donate sled dogs to underprivileged Inuit children.
In November 2011, her manager and future husband, Carlo Farina, discovered accounting and collection discrepancies at William Morris Endeavor. After collecting $9.5 million from the company, Baiul filed a lawsuit in November 2012 in Los Angeles for an additional $1 million in compensatory damages and more in punitive damages. She sued NBCUniversal in February 2013 for their alleged illicit promotional use of her likeness. Having withdrawn the November case, she filed a broader lawsuit in New York in October 2013.
In January 2015, she publicly accused her former coach Galina Zmievskaya, Viktor Petrenko and their manager Joseph Lemire of fraud, claiming they ‘have been stealing money’ from her for more than a decade. She also accused Lemire of fraudulent attempts to represent her in multiple court proceedings in Ukraine against the state, concerning various assets.
As of January 2015, Baiul is married to her manager Carlo Farina and prefers to title herself as ‘Oksana Baiul-Farina’. They reside in Las Vegas.