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  Thousands Watch Harding's Final Portland Workout

By Christine Spolar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 1994; Page D1




 Tonya Harding tumbles while working out at a shopping mall in surburban Portland, Ore. (AP Photo)
PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 14 — Figure skater Tonya Harding sent a swooping, swirling and sometimes wobbly valentine to supporters in Portland today, skating both her short and long Olympic programs before thousands of people who jammed rinkside seats at a suburban shopping mall.

Harding, gasping for breath and at times stopping to puff on an inhalator to ease her asthma, skated for more than an hour as an Olympic sendoff to a hometown crowd that began gathering before 7 a.m.

"Believe in me," Harding said after finishing truncated versions of her routines, both cut short by her breathing problems. "Because I'm going to go over there to win for you and for me. I love you."

Today the crowd believed, throwing flowers and stuffed animals to the tiny, blonde, embattled skater.

"I think she's doing really well," said spectator Tammy Pullen, who has been visiting the rink for weeks to catch Harding's act. "I think she must be okay if she hasn't cracked under all this pressure. If she was guilty, I think she would've broken by now."

Harding is expected to leave Tuesday to participate in the Winter Olympics in Norway, a competition that had been threatened for weeks by revelations of her possible involvement in an assault Jan. 6 on fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan. Kerrigan, who was whacked above the knee by a then-unknown assailant after a practice for the U.S. Olympic trials in Detroit, has recovered and already is in Lillehammer.

Harding's former husband, Jeff Gillooly, pleaded guilty to a charge of racketeering for the attack that investigators said was undertaken by associates of Harding. Harding has denied she knew about the attack in advance.

The skater has not been charged in the attack, but the Multnomah County district attorney's office in Portland continues to investigate.

The FBI office in Portland, which helped in the initial phase of the investigation, sent a "comprehensive report" to the district attorney this weekend about what agents there know about the attack on Kerrigan, a spokesman said. "As far as I know, we haven't been asked to do anything else," spokesman Bart Gori said.

A grand jury has been convened and is expected to issue a report on March 21. Harding also faces a March 9 disciplinary hearing by the U.S. Figure Skating Association, which concluded earlier this month that "reasonable grounds" existed to believe Harding had played a role.

Harding's Olympic spot had been jeopardized by the criminal investigation. She was reassured this weekend after the U.S. Olympic Committee — which had planned to hold an hearing against Harding during the Games — backed off.

On Saturday, after Harding filed a $20 million suit against the national governing board, the USOC agreed to allow Harding to compete in Lillehammer.

Also today, Harding's former fiance, Mike Pliska, testified about her character and her relationship with Gillooly before the grand jury, according to the Associated Press.

Pliska, who was engaged to her for 2 1/2 months in 1991, said he was asked about her character, including whether she was capable of lying.

"I had to give a qualified yes on that one," Pliska said, adding that he didn't believe she could lie about the Kerrigan plot.

KGW-TV here reported that Stephanie Quintero, Harding's best friend, also testified before the grand jury for a second time.

Harding, meanwhile, faced the mobs again this morning. Reports that she would skate at 7:30 a.m. drew about 2,000 people to the rink in the Clackamas Town Center. After watching a half-hour practice of jumps by Harding, the crowd was rewarded by the discordant twangs of the theme music from "Jurassic Park" and a pre-Olympic show.

Harding seemed at ease in the early part of the practice, hugging and teasing younger skaters, but she was grimacing later as she tumbled through some triple jumps during her solo routines.

The audience, some of whom had hung banners that encouraged Harding to "Take Joy in the Journey" and "Go for the Gold," was a forgiving crowd.

"She's doing pretty good," said Jim Jones, a member of the Tonya Harding Fan Club, which handed Harding $1,000, six leotards and a coffee cup as a good luck gift to take to Lillehammer. "She did her triples fine today but she's saving the punch for Lillehammer."

Many in the crowd were longtime supporters, bearing the tell-tale pink badges of the booster club that has been beset with some daunting public relations challenges in the past month.

Others just came for a front row peek at the woman who has made Olympic history — of a dubious sort.

"It's just phenomenal what's happened," said Teri Wilson, who called in sick for work today to see Harding make her final skate.

"That bump on Nancy's knee has really helped [Tonya's] career. I mean I never paid any attention to her before. Now she's famous."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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