She hadn't been attacked with a baton by a paid hit man, but she had been bloodied when a fellow skater collided with her during a practice session. Baiul recovered, and skated an extraordinary routine that elevated her over Kerrigan.
Baiul won the gold, Kerrigan took silver and Harding finished eighth. And the world media finally wrote about the skating story we should have been following the whole time.
Kerrigan might have gone home disappointed, but many Americans did not. Despite Sports Illustrated saying "all seven million Austrians and half the cows in Switzerland ski faster than the entire U.S. ski team," Tommy Moe won the downhill while Picabo Street took silver en route to a very successful career. Blair won two speedskating gold medals to become the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian with six.
The most inspiring American story, however, was the one written over 10 years by the man who finally won his first medal after four Olympics.
Jansen competed at the 1984 Olympics, but he reached America's radar in the 1988 Calgary Games. His sister, Jane, was dying of leukemia, and he called her before one of his Calgary races, expressing his love, saying a final goodbye and dedicating his race to her.
He slipped and fell down in that race. He fell again in his next event. He didn't medal in 1992, either. He slipped and lost his first race in Lillehammer. Jansen had skated in eight Olympic races overall and didn't reach the podium in any of them.
Jansen was one of the world's greatest skaters, and he proved it every World Cup season. But Americans only cared about what he did at the Olympics and thus considered him a failure. What did that feel like? Did the Olympics turn into an ordeal?
"It's a good question, it's a fair question," Jansen says. "I wasn't bitter about it by any means, but that was pretty much the way it was. It almost still is. It's not a sport that Americans follow in non-Olympic years. I was aware of it. That's partly the way it was, but it was something I had accepted."
And then came the 1,000 in Lillehammer. This time, Jansen did not fall, he did not slip. He won, and set a world record.
With the arena lights dimmed, Jansen skated a celebratory lap as a spotlight followed him around the ice. He held a victory bouquet in one arm and his infant daughter, Jane, in the other. His daughter had an American flag stamped on her cheek, and at one point Jansen kissed it.
"It was one of the most special moments in my life," Jansen says of his victory. "I still relive it often, often speak about it. I think the fact that it's 20 years later shows it was more than just a speedskating race. There was more to it than that.
"The reactions I get from people when I speak is great. Not only were they proud, but they also learned a lot from my story, from my perseverance. It's pretty amazing that it still has that lasting effect 20 years later."
Safety concerns and worries over possible terrorist attacks are part of every Olympics now. But what happened after the 1984 Sarajevo Games was far worse than any horrors that worrisome visitors imagine for Sochi.