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  Harding's Camp Hails Decision as One Battle Won

By Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 13, 1994; Page D1




PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 12 — For David Webber, a longtime confidant of Tonya Harding and the father of her closest friend, today's compromise between attorneys for the U.S. Olympic Committee and Harding that will allow the 23-year-old figure skater to participate in the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, is vindication — at least for the time being.

"I'm ecstatic because it would have broken her heart literally if she didn't go," Webber said today. "This has been her lifelong goal that she dedicated 20 out of her 23 years to."

But the 52-year-old taxi driver acknowledged that Harding still has a long fight ahead of her, possibly in the courts and certainly in the realm of public opinion stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan in Detroit.

"This is just the beginning because we have to go through everything else to vindicate her completely," Webber said. "The is one victory; we're not done."

Harding was not available for comment after the decision, but was caught by reporters as she left the suburban Portland apartment where she is staying with Webber's daughter, Stephanie Quintero.

"I finally get to prove to the world I can win a gold medal," Harding told the Associated Press before climbing into her truck and driving away. She shouted "Wednesday" to reporters before leaving, perhaps indicating her departure date for Lillehammer.

The resolution that makes Harding's Olympic eligibility certain was for the most part received positively today in this city that has lived through each chapter and verse of this sensational saga of its hometown hopeful.

There was no shortage of surprises, either.

"It's great," chirped John Gillooly, whose brother Jeff, Harding's former husband, pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering in connection with the assault and told investigators that she was involved in the conspiracy to injure the rival skater. Harding said she did not know about the plot until several days after the assault.

"When all is said and done, I think the Olympic Games are for the greatest athletes to come together and I don't think criminal or political overtones apply," John Gillooly said.

He contended the figure skating flap has been blown out of proportion, saying: "She [Harding] didn't pull out a .44 and blow Kerrigan away. Kerrigan got thumped in the knee and you have to keep that in perspective."

But Jeff Gillooly's attorney, Ronald H. Hoevet, assailed today's agreement and lashed out at the USOC for scrapping the Games Administrative Board hearing that was planned for next week in Oslo. The proceeding could have resulted in Harding's removal from the team.

"I am so disgusted," Hoevet said. "It was clear they [USOC] wanted to avoid their responsibilities and they have. It was clear they didn't have the stomach for the job."

Dorthy Smith, the mother of Derrick Smith, one of the four men arrested in the case, said that by allowing Harding to skate in the Olympics, all the parties involved have turned justice on its ear. She said that Harding, like everyone else who has been linked to the attack, must be held accountable for their actions.

"Personally, I don't think she should be allowed to skate because equal justice is equal justice," Smith said. "This is nothing but lopsided justice."

Following yesterday's marathon negotiations at the Clackamas County courthouse that were mediated by Circuit Court Judge Patrick D. Gilroy, Harding's attorneys gave a terse statement that made it clear they and their client would be seeking refuge from the throngs of cameramen and reporters.

"It's time to put this matter behind all of us and concentrate on skating," the statement said. "Time was on the side of neither party."

In sharply contrasting language, USOC officials condemned the assault in a statement, saying, "We are appalled still by the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, which was not only an attack on an athlete but an attack on the basic ideals of the Olympic movement and sportsmanship. ...

"The attack was designed to cripple her, alter competition and could have ended her career," the statement said. "We remain concerned about the incident."

Elaine Stamm, founder of the Tonya Harding Fan Club, said that despite the enormous publicity the case has received, she is confident Harding will show her mettle and remain focused when she tries to win a gold medal. "She has had a lifetime of overcoming hardships and concentrating on her skating," Stamm said.

Hailing today's agreement, Stamm said, "Praise the Lord. That's what we prayed for."

Staff writer Chris Spolar contributed to this report from Portland.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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