Lose the Skating Sequins, Avoid the Prison Sripes - 3/17/94


Personal Assistant
Lose the Skating Sequins, Avoid the Prison Stripes

By Tony Kornheiser
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 17, 1994; Page B1

Tonya Harding finally dropped the other skate.
This time it wasn't her lace that was broken.

This time it was her word.

With the quick stroke of a pen Harding lost all claim to innocence in the plot to cripple Nancy Kerrigan.

She stood in the Portland, Ore., courtroom, wearing a somber outfit and expression, her blond hair flowing loosely over her shoulders, her makeup demure — not nearly as cheesey as the nights she skated in Lillehammer — and listened as Judge Donald Londer told her that by signing this paper she would admit the truth that she'd conspired to hinder the prosecution, she would give up all chance to defend herself in this matter, she was saying she was guilty.

"Do you understand all this?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," she said.

And at 7:55 Eastern Standard Time, Tonya Maxene Harding, formerly a sales clerk at Sears and currently the United States Ladies Figure Skating champion, picked up a pen in her right hand, and signed.

"Have you anything to say?" Londer asked.

"I'd just like to say that I'm really sorry I interfered," Harding said.

A mild verb, "interfered." Much softer than "obstruct" or "hindered." Interfered, you know, a slight mistake — like bumping someone in the checkout line.

Nothing in the record to corroborate her ex-husband's charges about knowing of the planning of the hit, about participating in the plot, about covering it up.

"I'm really sorry I interfered."

For this, Tonya Harding, who hit the jackpot for more than $600,000 for cuddling up to the cameras of "Inside Edition," will pay a total of $160,000 in penalties (including $50,000 to a Special Olympics fund, which in Lillehammer she said she was going to do anyway), and perform 500 hours of community service — which will probably be giving skating exhibitions, where we'll no doubt once again see her tacky sleeveless outfits.

No jail.

No prosecution in Detroit.

If I get popped, I want her lawyer.

Yes, Harding had to resign from the U.S. Figure Skating Association, and she can't compete in the world championships in Japan next week. So what?

She competed in the big one, the Olympics.

She threatened to sue, and they let her in, remember?

Even after Tonya admitted, a couple of weeks before the Olympics, that she knew the people close to her had whacked Kerrigan, and she hadn't come forward to help the investigation — not much different than this felony of hindering the investigation — her lawyer was able to bluff the USOC into letting her skate. (And over there, with that boot lace gambit, she was able to bamboozle the judges into giving her a mulligan!)

She's off the hook now. Done. Over. See ya in church, pal.

On the other hand, the fat oaf bodyguard and the scatterbrained hit man and the slimeball mastermind, Gillooly, who yesterday showed up with his hair tinted red — maybe he hired Dennis Rodman as his fashion consultant — they're all still looking at jail time.

For those of you keeping score: They rolled over on her. The prosecutors wanted her. She was the big catch, the big name, the big fish. If I had a dollar for every time I heard an indictment of Tonya Harding was imminent, I'd be able to buy "Inside Edition."

And now she, to coin a phrase ... she skates.

I'd say that's a pretty big win.

So Tonya can't go to Japan to skate in the world championships. She can still go and take that $2 million offer to become a pro wrestler.

Yes, Tonya is an admitted felon, and in disgrace.

Is she any more disgraced than she was last week? I've been back from Lillehammer for more than two weeks, and in that time I haven't had any conversations about the Olympics where Tonya's name didn't come up. In every one people casually dismissed her as stone-cold guilty. They recalled the brazen way she lifted her leg onto the judges' table to show her broken boot lace, and hooted: Could you believe that? So this will surprise nobody.

As for the effect on Tonya's career — what career?

Getting a medal in the world championships (a distinct possibility with Kerrigan and Baiul not competing) wouldn't have changed anything. America sees Tonya as a villain. The reason the anger toward her seems to have cooled is because each day brings new video of how grumpy Nancy Kerrigan is.

If anyone out there was going to build an ice show around Tonya Harding, it would have been on the theory that notoriety will sell tickets. This would only encourage them.

She has an offer on the table to become a pro wrestler in Japan. "Tonya was made to be a pro wrestler," the moneyman said. That ought to be enough to make her jump into bed and pull the covers over her head.

It shouldn't surprise any of you if in a few months Tonya's lawyer doesn't file a petition to get her reinstated as a skater, and produce a video where Tonya (keeps her clothing on and) says, "It's always been my dream to go to Nagano and win a gold medal for my country."

But for now the show is over.

After almost three months of nonstop soap opera about Harding and Kerrigan, headlines from Detroit to Boston to Portland to Norway, "Inside Edition" and "Saturday Night Live," Connie Chung, Diane Sawyer, Jane Pauley and Ted Koppel, closer coverage than Whitewater, furrowed brows and anxious sighs and taking sides ... this ending seems so anticlimactic.

A plea bargain in a courtroom in Oregon.

And a ride on a float in Orlando.

Send in the clowns. There ought to be clowns.