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  The Harding Deal

Washington Post
Tuesday, February 15, 1994; Page A16

That's some compromise the U.S. Olympic Committee worked out with Tonya Harding and her lawyers. Ms. Harding gets exactly what she wanted — to skate in the winter games — and the Olympic Committee gets out of a $20 million lawsuit intended to bully it into doing just what it did. The only thing compromised was whatever might be left of the Olympic ideal that supposedly inspires these games.

Ms. Harding's former husband says she was in on a plot that he and others cooked up to injure rival figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. Ms. Harding denies it, but does admit to having known about the plan after it was carried out and not going to the authorities until things started to unravel. The U.S. Olympic Committee was moving toward a disciplinary proceeding to determine whether Ms. Harding could stay on the team when it was hit with her preemptive lawsuit and quickly agreed to let her skate in Norway.

There was no need to have punished Ms. Harding for something that hasn't been proved in court. What she has confessed to doing was sufficient to merit punishment. As columnist Michael Wilbon succinctly put it on The Post's Sports page, "Harding's a liar; kick her off the U.S. Olympic team." In fact, young people are kicked off teams every day — for missing a bed check, drinking, fighting, failing to make practices or flunking calculus. Coaches are fired, and entire university athletic programs are put on probation on the strength of nothing more than a hearing and a ruling by an athletic body such as the NCAA.

Of course, nobody likes a snitch. But let us consider the nature of the crime Ms. Harding has acknowledged helping cover up. Sports Illustrated magazine, which carries an extensive account of what has been alleged about the planning and execution of the attack, has also done us the service of having an artist try to imagine the scene. His drawing shows the attacker gripping his club two-handed, like a baseball bat (he was seeking to cripple, remember) and crouched over slightly, as if about to tee off on a hanging curve, rather than the kneecap of the terrified young woman shrinking back against that corridor wall. It's quite enough to make you forget about the Tonya jokes for a while.

Nancy Kerrigan will now be thrown together with Ms. Harding (not to mention a great mob of news people) in the Olympic Village. The two skaters will even be on the ice for practice at the same time unless the schedule is changed — which, considering the performance so far by all the many governors involved, it probably won't be. Following the attack, the U.S. Figure Skating Association chose to defer action on Ms. Harding's disclosure of what she had known, passing the buck to the Olympic Committee. The committee cited pending proceedings by the skating association as one reason for not acting. "I can't believe she's actually coming," said a U.S. Olympic official after the Harding deal was done. "I can't believe everyone ended up doing nothing." Neither can we.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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