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  Deal Puts Harding in Olympics as Games Begin

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 1994; Page A1




LILLEHAMMER, Norway, Feb. 13 (Sunday) — The United States Olympic Committee, fearing protracted legal battles and continued distractions that would disrupt the Winter Olympics, will allow Tonya Harding to skate in the Games.

In return, Harding's attorneys agreed to drop a $20 million lawsuit against the USOC.

The deal — agreed to in Portland, Ore., by attorneys for Harding and the USOC — was announced at 12:30 a.m. in Norway, just hours after the Opening Ceremonies signaled the start of the XVII Winter Games. It happened so late that a USOC spokesman said Nancy Kerrigan, the victim of the Jan. 6 attack to which Harding has been linked, would not be immediately notified of the decision because she probably was asleep.

Harding and Kerrigan are scheduled to practice together throughout the Games, a situation Kerrigan's coach labeled as "absurd."

Four men — including Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly — have been arrested in the alleged plot to injure Kerrigan at the U.S. Olympic trials in Detroit. Gillooly has implicated Harding in the planning of the attack as well; Harding has denied those allegations and has not been charged.

"I finally get to prove to the world I can win a gold medal," Harding told the Associated Press as she climbed into her truck and drove away from her suburban Portland apartment.

"The ongoing criminal investigation in Oregon as well as the continuing U.S. Figure Skating Association disciplinary review of Tonya Harding and the distraction to our athletes and their preparations have helped to make our efforts for a Games Administrative Board hearing difficult if not impossible," the USOC said in a statement.

"Tonya Harding regrets any inconvenience the Oregon court proceeding has caused to the United States Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee and the other Olympic athletes," a statement released by Harding and her attorneys said. "Tonya simply wants to skate in the Olympics and be treated fairly."

The agreement, reached by attorneys for both sides in Clackamas County Circuit Court in Oregon, ensures that the stage has been set for what may be one of the more anticipated moments in Olympic history — Harding versus Kerrigan in women's figure skating. The competition will be Feb. 23 and Feb. 25 in Hamar.

Neither skater is seen as the favorite to win the gold medal, although Kerrigan, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist, is mentioned as a medal contender. European champion Surya Bonaly of France and world champion Oksana Baiul of the Ukraine are the favorites.

It is uncertain if the USOC or International Olympic Committee could strip Harding of any medal she won if she later was found guilty of committing a crime in the Kerrigan attack. The IOC said last week that it can disqualify athletes and take their medals for violations related to competition, such as Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson's failed drug test in 1988.

But there also is a clause in the IOC charter that says action may be taken against any person "who infringes the Olympic Charter."

Asked about any possible USOC action after the fact, spokesman Mike Moran said, "I'm not aware of any discussion taking place in that realm."

The resolution ends the USOC's attempt to hold a Games Administrative Board hearing in Oslo to consider Harding's Olympic eligibility. The hearing had been scheduled for Tuesday, then pushed back to Friday.

Harding's attorneys argued Friday in Circuit Court that the board hearing would deny their client due process. After hearing arguments in open court and in chambers, Judge Patrick D. Gilroy urged both sides to reach an agreement, saying he was "genuinely concerned" with the effect the controversy would have on the Games.

A source involved in Saturday's meetings said that Gilroy put attorneys for both sides in different rooms at the circuit courthouse for nearly eight hours.

The source said Gilroy proposed a scenario in which Harding would be allowed to skate in return for an agreement to drop the suit. Gilroy shuttled between each room, the source said, until an agreement was reached at 6:30 p.m. EST (12:30 a.m. Sunday in Lillehammer).

"The U.S. Olympic Committee is happy with [the agreement] because they can get on with the Games without this sensational mess to worry about," the source said.

One source said the USOC was becoming "overwhelmed" by the magnitude of the legal battles it faced.

"It's becoming too big," the source said.

USOC Executive Director Harvey Schiller said the other day that the USOC would have to review its constitution, established by the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, to update it. The settlement likely will hasten that process because, in effect, the USOC allowed the threat of a lawsuit to force it to abandon an athlete's disciplinary hearing.

And yet the USOC statement still said: "We are appalled still by the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, which was not only an attack on the athlete, but an assault on the basic ideals of the Olympic movement and sportsmanship. The attack was designed to cripple her, alter the competition, and could have ended her career. We remain deeply concerned about this incident."

Another problem faced by the USOC was the fact the U.S. Figure Skating Association already was in the process of calling a disciplinary hearing against Harding. She has 30 days to respond to the disciplinary action, which was announced Feb. 5. A source said that it was unclear how exactly to proceed with one hearing while another was ongoing.

The USFSA can remove her as a member of the organization, which would preclude her from competing in next month's world championships and all future competitions. Again, it's uncertain if any USFSA action could in any way become retroactive to the Olympics via the IOC charter.

Attorneys for Harding filed a $20 million suit against the USOC on Wednesday, saying the planned board meeting would deny her due process. On Thursday, attorneys filed a motion for a temporary restraining order to block the hearing.

Harding, who has admitted she knew about the attack on Kerrigan well before she reported it to authorities, is scheduled to arrive in Norway on Wednesday.

Michelle Kwan, the 13-year-old alternate who was practicing in Oslo in case she was needed, will be informed of the resolution but will be invited to remain, Moran said.

Norman Frink, deputy chief district attorney of Oregon's Multnomah County, said Saturday's decision would not affect the ongoing investigation into the plot.

Staff writers Jeanne McManus and Johnette Howard in Lillehammer and Serge F. Kovaleski in Portland contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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