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  Attorney Denies Harding Involved; Kerrigan Skates

By William Hamilton and Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 17, 1994; Page C1




Tonya Harding's attorney yesterday denied any involvement by Harding in the assault on rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan and said his client was "shocked and angry that anyone close to her" was responsible for the attack.

Harding's coach, Diane Rawlinson — whose husband, Dennis, is Harding's attorney — said the U.S. national champion will resume practicing today and expects to remain on the U.S. Olympic team.

Kerrigan herself skated yesterday for the first time since suffering a severely bruised right knee in the Jan. 6 attack at Detroit's Cobo Arena. Kerrigan took the ice at 2 o'clock in the morning at a rink near her Stoneham, Mass., home as her family and her doctor looked on.

"My knee was a little stiff and it took some time to get loosened up," Kerrigan said in a statement. "But it felt good to be on the ice again."

Diane Rawlinson said that Harding, who hasn't skated since winning the U.S. Olympic trials last Saturday night in Detroit, deserves her spot on the Olympic squad.

"Tonya's innocent," she said. "She won the nationals. She trained hard to be on the national team and she deserves to go."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Olympic Committee met yesterday but failed to reach a decision on Harding's future as an Olympian. USOC President LeRoy Walker instead issued a strongly worded statement supporting Kerrigan and the issues of "sportsmanship and fair play."

"It troubles us to learn of the alleged scenario in which Nancy Kerrigan was assaulted in an effort to end her Olympic dream," Walker said in the release, issued at the organization's previously scheduled executive committee meeting in Durham, N.C.

"We are also troubled by the prospect of disruption of our team's preparation in Norway for its competitions, its training and its ability to focus on what it is trying to accomplish in the harsh glare of worldwide media and our own supporting American public and families," Walker said.

The one-page release alluded once to Harding's ability to compete at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, saying the USOC wants to field the best teams possible and "to guarantee the rights of our athletes to compete."

As the Rawlinsons spoke to reporters outside their Portland, Ore., home, Harding was scheduled to meet at an undisclosed location with prosecutors from the Multnomah County (Ore.) district attorney's office. Dennis Rawlinson refused to answer any questions about Harding's case, but his wife said Harding is "cooperating" with the prosecutors and has been advised by them and her own attorneys "to focus on the legal aspects of this" and not to speak publicly at this time.

But deputy district attorney Norm Frink said late yesterday that his office had not talked with either Harding or her former husband, Jeff Gillooly. "We're anxious to talk to both of them," he said. "I know of no plans to do so."

Describing herself as the person who best knows Harding, Diane Rawlinson said the figure skating star was shocked to learn about the attack on Kerrigan and the disclosure last week that her bodyguard, Shawn Eric Eckardt, was allegedly involved. But Rawlinson was more equivocal when asked about the role of Gillooly.

"I like to believe that Jeff is innocent," she said. "I don't know Jeff as well as I know Tonya."

"Tonya totally believes that Jeff is innocent," Rawlinson said later. "If she discovers that there's anything different from that, she will distance herself from Jeff."

Rawlinson described Harding as being just as confused about how the attack occurred as anybody else. "She wants to get to the bottom of this," she said.

Rawlinson said Harding has written Kerrigan a letter in the last few days describing her shock at the attack and her anger that it involved anyone around her. Rawlinson described them as "great competitors" who are "very friendly" off the ice.

"Tonya felt so robbed from not having the opportunity to compete with Nancy at nationals. It was such a shallow victory for her, it was almost no victory."

Rawlinson laughed when she referred to Eckardt, the self-proclaimed terrorist expert who allegedly hired two men — Derrick Smith and Shane Stant — to carry out the Jan. 6 attack on Kerrigan in downtown Detroit's Cobo Arena. All three men have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit assault in the second degree. Stant also faces federal charges for being a fugitive.

Mark McKnight, Eckardt's attorney, acknowledged his client's involvement in the plot and has said Eckardt feels remorse over the attack.

Rawlinson said she has not met Eckardt and first heard his name when Harding mentioned that she and Gillooly were going "to fix him up with a friend of theirs."

"I can't imagine that she really hired Eckardt," Rawlinson said, describing him as a friend of Gillooly's since grade school.

But Eckardt was hired to be a bodyguard in November after Harding was forced to cancel an appearance at a local rink after supposedly receiving a death threat. Stant has allegedly told the FBI that the threat was staged by Harding and Gillooly — a charge that Rawlinson yesterday denied.

"Tonya was terrified by the death threat," she said. "When this [the attack] happened to Nancy, she was terrified for Nancy because she had just gone through something she felt very similar."

As reported in Saturday's editions, sources told The Washington Post that U.S. Olympic officials hope Harding withdraws from the team. Otherwise, the sources said, they fear a "logistical nightmare" involving security and privacy for U.S. athletes at the figure skating event in Hamar, Norway.

If she does not back out, several scenarios are possible.

One idea, according to an Olympic source, would be to encourage Harding to use either Oslo or Copenhagen as a base during the Olympics, from which she could travel to Hamar for the women's figure skating competition Feb. 23 and 25.

This would not be a particularly unusual suggestion. At the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, Harding trained in Portland until the last few days, arriving in Albertville two days before she was to compete. She finished fourth, and her disappointing performance was blamed, in part, on jet lag caused by her late arrival.

She said at the Olympic trials in Detroit that she wanted to travel to the 1994 Games with the team about two weeks before she competes, but that plan could change in the wake of the developments of the past week.

Another possibility being explored by Olympic officials is to find separate housing outside the Olympic village for Harding. This too would not be unprecedented. At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, the men's basketball Dream Team stayed at a posh hotel, not in the village.

Hamilton reported from Portland and Brennan from Washington.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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