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  Extra! Extra! Skater Hit in the Knee

By Thomas Boswell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 1994; Page D1

On Thursday, the world learned that not only had the Hubble Space Telescope been repaired but its capabilities now far exceed any expectations. In one day, scientists elevated their wildest hopes for discoveries that might be possible in their lifetimes. Within a few years, we might be able to prove the existence of black holes, discover the first planet around another star and even measure the size and evolution of the universe.

Measure the size of the universe.

However, the lead story in newspapers and on TV shows all around America was about a bruise above the knee of a figure skater. Or, more precisely, about the arrest of the men who might be implicated in the hit-and-run attack with a metal baton that caused that bruised quadriceps muscle.

Give us in the media credit. We know a really big story when we see one. The Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding saga might offer us insights into the human condition as profound as the Lorena Bobbitt case or the Amy Fisher story, although, for tabloid mileage, it probably can't match the Michael Jackson or Woody Allen child molestation allegations. Yes, it's a proud day for journalists.

At the turn of the century, Henry Adams's mood turned bleak when he contemplated the future. Behind him, he saw thousands of years of slowly evolving and expanding civilization — art, science, music and literature. In front of him, he saw the inevitable offspring of democracy and popular culture. He didn't know their names, but he imagined Geraldo, Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern pretty accurately. In his writings, Adams predicted that society's lowest common denominator would win by a knockout during the 20th century. Adams added that he was extremely glad that he'd be dead by then.

Adams didn't live to see the day. But we have.

Depraved mediaman that I am, I can't wait to wake up in the morning so I can find out the latest twist in Who Kneecapped Nancy. But then Frogman Henry singing "Ain't Got No Home" has been on my car tapedeck for weeks.

So far, three are in custody. They were allegedly part of a plot to injure Kerrigan and increase Harding's chances for one of two spots on the U.S. Olympic team. The Oregonian newspaper, citing unidentified law enforcement sources, reported that Shawn Eric Eckardt — he's the big, handsome one — had confessed to arranging the attack at the request of Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. The plot allegedly involved Gillooly, Eckardt, Derrick Smith and Shane Stant, a Phoenix man who allegedly clubbed Kerrigan for $100,000, according to The Oregonian. The last three are in custody, but there's no warrant for Gillooly's arrest.

But as far as I can tell, all of America, except the 17 people who still read Henry Adams, is holding its breath to find out if this incredible tale could possibly be true:

Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Girl divorces boy. Boy reconciles with girl. Boy thinks girl may win Olympic gold medal. Boy figures that's worth millions. Boy asks 350-pound bodyguard about proper Olympic figure skating strategy. Boy decides it's probably pretty hard to skate with a broken kneecap. Boy commissions a hit man, and a getaway driver, to hospitalize his girl's archrival. Boy is so incredibly stupid, everybody gets caught.

"But, honey, I did it all for you." (And a cut of your endorsements.)

Finally, a nice old-fashioned love story.

So far, there's no indication that Gillooly is involved. Except for the Portland minister who has gone on national TV saying that he's heard a tape recording in which Gillooly and Eckardt discuss what to do to Kerrigan — kill her or just maim her. Another gentleman has also said on TV that he was asked by Eckardt if he would kill somebody for $65,000. He says he answered, "No." So Eckardt then asked if he'd do a kneecap for $65,000.

Miss Manners says that, in this situation, the correct answer is, "No, but thanks for thinking of me."

As for whether Harding knew about such an assault, everybody ought to give her the benefit of the doubt. Use common sense. Can you imagine Tonya's reaction if Jeff told her he was planning to have Kerrigan's leg broken?

"You're going to do what? We'd be the first suspects. Have you been taking the Ed Rollins Career-Management Home Study Course?"

Here's a woman who's in the top three or four in figure skating in the world. Even if she doesn't win the gold medal in the Olympics next month, she's still got a lucrative future in ice shows. Is a woman who can land a 3 1/2-revolution triple Axel going to risk everything on some lunatic criminal plot? Of course, Tonya's mother did have seven husbands, so perhaps infallible judgment doesn't run in the family.

Fortunately, we can be sure that, in our tabloid age, this story will have a semi-happy ending. Kerrigan may, or may not, win the Olympic gold medal. But, if she can straighten her leg by then, I like her chances. Would you want to be the judge who gave her a low score? At the least, if it's any consolation, Kerrigan is now as famous and beloved as if she had won the Olympics.

As for Harding, unless her fingerprints are actually found on the truncheon, she'll get the full exoneration. By the time her consciousness is raised, she'll be prime made-for-TV-movie material: Tonya The Victim: Her Side of The Story. Horrible childhood. Rotten husband. Blighted career. Guilt by association. Actually, I feel sorry for her already.

There may even be hope for The Bodyguard. Pretty soon, he may have lots of time on his hands to do sit-ups and read Henry Adams.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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