After a Long Wait, a Short Program of Melodrama -2/24/94


Personal Assistant
After a Long Wait, a Short Program of Melodrama

By Tony Kornheiser
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 1994; Page D1

HAMAR, Norway — Now for Part One of Tonya and Nancy's Excellent Winter Adventure in Norway, the short-answer program, consisting of these required elements.
Would Tonya's dress stay on?

Was Nancy's knee okay?

Would Tonya be booed?

If there were any Dukies in the arena, would they throw handcuffs onto the ice instead of flowers?

The answers are: yes, yes, no, of course.

And now for the essay question:

Whaddya mean Tonya's out of it already?

She's 10th! She thought she was playing on New Year's Day, but she's going to the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl. What are you supposed to do if you have tickets for Friday night, trade them for short track? I mean, come on, 10th? A Canadian skater who fell is ahead of her. So is a German skater named Tanja. (Could the judges have confused Tanja with Tonya?) What a revolting development this is. Jeff Gillooly would have to kneecap half the field to get Tonya into medal contention.

Meanwhile, Nancy is first!

She was dead solid perfect. And this means something, because Kerrigan was under extraordinary pressure — probably surpassing Harding's — and Kerrigan has been known to fall in important competitions. Considering the circumstances, it was the performance of Kerrigan's career.

So what are we to make of this? The Unshakable Tonya Harding gets as tight as one of those luge suits, and The Quite Flappable Nancy Kerrigan skates as smooth as a gin martini. How many millions of Americans are thinking that justice triumphed? One's first, and the other's 10th.

Yes, there are eight skaters in between, and at least three of them — Surya Bonaly, Katarina Witt and Oksana Baiul, who wore a very odd plumage dress with a fishnet-and-feathers hat that made her look like an ostrich; I've heard of having bad hair days, but Baiul had a bad hat day — are more passionate and every bit as enthralling as Kerrigan. But this isn't about them. They aren't the column today.

Nancy and Tonya. This is what we came for, isn't it?

Snow White vs. Bonnie Parker.

The Sound Of Music vs. Basic Instinct.

Oh, yeah, maybe the good and evil thing isn't exactly true, considering the fact that Tonya hasn't even been charged with anything, let alone convicted — but it sure does play.

Nancy and Tonya have overshadowed everything else at these Winter Olympics, and it's just as well they've come on late in the program, so the rest of the supporting players can clear the stage as we refill the mud tank for our main wrestling event.

They are the most famous athletes in the world now — quickie paperback books on each of them have flooded shelves worldwide in the last week — and the shock of it is how much smaller and younger they are in real life. Nancy looks thin enough to blow away in a stiff wind. Tonya is tough and compact. But honestly, aren't we all sick of her tacky sleeveless practice clothes and her underarms, already?

They have said virtually nothing since they arrived. Though what could Kerrigan say to top her anguished, "Why me?" And what could Harding say to change your mind once you heard her disingenuous declaration, "I just want to win a gold medal for my country"?

Since arriving in Norway last week whatever small talk Tonya has made has contained the word "wonderful." She must have hired Pollyanna as her spin doctor. Norway, where she's skating now, is "wonderful." Japan, where she skated two months ago, is "wonderful." The food here, the accommodations, the entire U.S. Olympic team and every competitor from every country, the reception she received, and even the camaraderie among her fellow figure skaters is "wonderful." No one believes a word she says.

And the other one keeps her mouth shut under the advice of her agent, who realizes that with a smile like that, there's no need for Kerrigan to open up her mouth and let any air out.

Tonya skated eighth Wednesday night, more than two hours before Nancy, who admitted she watched Tonya on TV. (When Nancy was asked what she thought of Tonya's performance, Nancy merely giggled and said, "I don't know.") The sacred moment Tonya had waited for and struggled for and campaigned for and even sued for came at 7:47 p.m., as she skated onto Olympic ice — and into a warmer reception than she'd have gotten in, say, Boston.

Tonya came out in a red sleeveless dance hall dress and Mary Decker's makeup. She had on so much makeup, it looked like she rear-ended a Mary Kay Cadillac. I half expected her to skate over and take my drink order. After momentarily holding her hands together in prayer, she skated off to the most ironic musical choice in the competition, "Much Ado About Nothing."

The rinkheads around me said she looked very tight, and, indeed, on Tonya's first jump — the triple Lutz-double toe combination — she landed flat, on both feet, and then took too much time in between jumps. She skated the rest of the program cleanly, but somewhat raggedy. The consensus was that Tonya gave a AAA performance in a major league camp. (I'll tell you this: Tonya wasn't as good as Katarina Witt, who got hosed by the judges. I don't care if Witt's program wasn't difficult, she's got as much star quality on the ice as Wayne Gretzky. Talk about being beloved by the fans. They threw more flowers at Witt than at Don Corleone's funeral. This is a real growth industry; I'm thinking of quitting this column, and opening up a blomster near a skating hall. My one complaint was that Witt skated in a Robin Hood outfit; I didn't come 3,750 miles to see Katarina Witt in pants.)

Last week Tonya spoke passionately about how she hoped she would be judged fairly on the ice — as if she feared there might be some prejudice against her for what had happened off the ice. But this performance let the judges off the hook. Tonya got the marks she deserved. Sitting in the kiss- and-cry area at the edge of the rink, sandwiched between her coaches, who both wore enormous fur coats, Tonya watched her scores flash without betraying any anger. But shortly afterward she refused to talk to CBS, and on her way to the dressing room she was coughing so loud you could hear it in that mall in Portland. She said, "I'm happy with my performance," but, of course, no one believed her.

Nancy skated out in a white cocktail dress with sheer black long sleeves, an icily elegant portrait of sophistication. From the moment she hit the ice the crowd was so loudly supportive, she must have felt she was back skating at her home rink at Northeastern University. It was as if the crowd felt a duty to show Kerrigan they knew she had been a victim, and they were behind her all the way. Kerrigan skated flawlessly, and brought down the house. She set a Hamar Olympic Amphitheatre record for flowers tossed onto the ice. They needed a forklift to collect them.

High above the stands, wearing a white sweat shirt and watching through the glass window of a private box, was Tonya. When Nancy finished, the roar of the applause soared up to where Tonya was sitting, and slowly at first, then more enthusiastically, Tonya Harding began to clap.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company