Two nights late last month in Cincinnati, Olympic skating champ Oksana Baiul put on an exhibition—but not the kind designed to win fans and influence judges. In the wee hours of April 28 and 29 at the elegant Omni hotel, Baiul, 20, "was falling down drunk in the lobby," says a skating insider. By the time her costars on the Campbell's Soups skating tour took the ice on the 29th, Baiul was on her way to a New York-area alcoholism treatment center. "It had gotten out of hand with Oksana," says ESPN commentator Judy Blumberg. "People close to her had been concerned."
In fact, Baiul had been on thin ice since becoming the Cinderella of Lillehammer in 1994. "It was like putting a kid in a candy shop," says one skating coach of the Ukrainian orphan's sudden exposure to gold-medal fame and fortune. Though Baiul professed to have gotten a wake-up call in January 1997, when she crashed her Mercedes outside Hartford, Conn., for the past year it has been as obvious as her botched double axels that her problems were far from over. Declaring her independence from longtime mentor Galina Zmievskaya, Baiul relocated from Simsbury, Conn., to Hudson, Mass. But she chafed under the discipline of her new coach, Edouard Pliner, kept on drinking, and never managed to adapt on the ice to the growth spurt that left her several inches taller and some 20 pounds heavier than the waif who won the gold medal.
"Hopefully, Oksana will take the time that's needed to change her life," says friend Tai Babilonia, 38, a former Olympian who battled an alcohol problem herself. "She can have it all—it's simply up to her."
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