- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

On the evening of Jan. 6, 1994, the tall, black-haired figure skater was leaving Detroit's Cobo Hall after practice when a man loomed out of the dark and clubbed her above the right knee with a metal baton. As she collapsed in pain and shock, Nancy Kerrigan screamed, "Why? Why? Why?"
Thus began the sordid saga of Kerrigan and skating rival Tonya Harding that turned their normally beautiful and genteel sport into a sordid soap opera.
The answer to Kerrigan's agonized question was that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had paid assailant Shane Stant to put her out of commission for the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, the following month.
At first, the plot seemed successful. With Kerrigan sidelined, Harding professing her innocence in the attack won the U.S. trials and was selected for the Olympic team. But minutes after the trials ended, the U.S. Figure Skating Association cited an obscure rule that allowed it to select skaters who had not participated in the trials and also named Kerrigan to the team.
Then things got worse for Harding, a short blonde who had a history of associating with dubious characters and doing dubious things. (Example: After her sudden notoriety, she and Gillooly released a home video of their wedding night; stills from the tape were published in Penthouse magazine. Zowie!)
Harding's claims of innocence vanished when her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, and Gillooly were arrested and charged with the attack. Harding changed her story and said she had known of the attack but had not organized it.
Faced with expulsion from the Olympic team, Harding filed a $20 million lawsuit against the U.S. Olympic Committee to block such a move. The USOC then relented, making Harding and Kerrigan teammates in Lillehammer.
The women's competition began Feb. 23, with the third-largest TV audience ever for a sports event looking on. After all, soaps have always been big on the tube.
Harding skated onto the ice wearing a bright red rhinestone outfit and matching lipstick and performed a mediocre routine to music titled, ironically, "Much Ado About Nothing." The judges placed her 10th among 27 contestants.
Two hours later, Kerrigan, quickly and fortunately recovered from the attack, appeared in a white outfit with black sleeves another bit of irony. She placed first.
In the second program, the free skate, Harding improved her standing to eighth place. Yet there was one moment when it appeared that she might break down emotionally. After an aborted jump, she tearfully asked the judges for permission to repair a broken bootlace. It was granted, but her routine to the theme from "Jurassic Park" was unimpressive.
The athletic Kerrigan dubbed the "Ice Princess" for her regal manner handled her free skating routine flawlessly. When she finished, the crowd went wild.
But there was no gold medal for Kerrigan (and none at all for Harding). The judges rated her performance even with that of Oksana Baiul, a teen-ager from Ukraine, and the deciding vote went to Jan Hoffman, an Olympic silver medalist from East Germany four years earlier. He voted the gold to Baiul by one-tenth of a point.
Kerrigan's status as a sympathetic figure did not last long. She returned home to a flock of endorsements. During a public appearance at Disney World, she reportedly said, "This is so corny." What insult Uncle Walt and Mickey Mouse? Suddenly, Kerrigan was being ignored by a fickle public that was tired of hearing about her and Harding anyway.
Harding's return was even unhappier. She pleaded guilty to conspiring with her ex-husband and bodyguard to impede investigation of the attack, was fined $160,000 and was placed on probation for three years. Worse, the U.S. Figure Skating Association barred her from competition for life. Gillooly was sentenced to prison for two years, Eckhardt and Stant for 18 months each.
Kerrigan married her agent, Jeff Solomon, had a baby and eventually retired from competition. Harding's life continued to be a series of ups and mostly downs. In February 1997, she appeared at a minor league hockey game in Reno, Nev., her first public appearance since the Olympics. When she finished skating her routine, two metal batons came flying out of the stands onto the ice.
About the same time, Harding told police in Portland, Ore., that she had been abducted by a bushy-haired stranger. Perhaps her reputation preceded her because the police did not believe her story.
In February 2000, Harding pleaded not guilty to charges that she had bashed her live-in boyfriend in the nose with a hubcap and bloodied his face with her fists. She was released without bail and ordered to stay away from alcohol and weapons.
Nowadays both women have been mostly forgotten in and out of skating. From this distance, it remains impossible to ascertain any positive aspect to the Kerrigan-Harding affair unless you're interested in discovering just how low athletic competition can sink and how intrigued we can be by sheer asininity in the name of athletics.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide