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 Figure skating section

  Harding, Kerrigan Practice Together Under Scrutiny

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 18, 1994; Page C1

 Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding practiced together for the first time in more than a year, spending 65 minutes together on the ice. There were no collisions, no close calls and no words exchanged. (Reuters Photo)
HAMAR, Norway, Feb. 17 — It was a scene worthy of a title fight. The coaches entered first, taking their positions at rinkside. Celebrities, officials, hangers-on and more than 700 members of the media crowded the stands. The protagonists — in this case, figure skaters — arrived in separate cars and dressed in separate locker rooms.

Nancy Kerrigan came out first, clad in the same white lace dress she was wearing when she was clubbed on the knee in Detroit on Jan. 6. Hundreds of cameras whirred at the sight of her. When Tonya Harding arrived, eight minutes late, Kerrigan gave her a special welcome: a triple Lutz-double toe combination that she expertly landed near Harding, who appeared not to notice.

Kerrigan and Harding spent 65 minutes together on the ice today at the 1994 Winter Olympics. There were no collisions, no close calls and no words exchanged as the two U.S. figure skaters practiced together for the first time in more than a year.

Among those at rinkside were USOC Executive Director Harvey Schiller and U.S. Figure Skating Association President Claire Ferguson, Chicago White Sox co-owner Eddie Einhorn — who left Michael Jordan's side to attend — and a who's who of Olympic figure skating, including Scott Hamilton, Midori Ito, Paul Wylie, Scott Davis and Jill Trenary.

Kerrigan looked more comfortable and assured than Harding, who was spending her first full day in Norway after arriving on a long flight from Portland, Ore., Wednesday. Harding has been linked to the attack on Kerrigan, but has denied any wrongdoing.

Security at the practice was nearly quadrupled — from 40 to 150 personnel — in the wake of two vague death threats from the United States, one for each of the main players in the Olympics' biggest soap opera.

Bjorn Ruud, who manages the Olympic Amphitheatre where the skating competition is held, said the first caller was a woman at an unknown location who "wanted very much for Tonya Harding to win and said she knew how to do it." The second caller, a man who said he was in Santa Barbara, Calif., claimed he had to "stop Tonya Harding so she can't take part in the competition, and if I do that, God will bless me forever."

Harding almost stopped herself at the end of this afternoon's second practice session. She fell hard while attempting a triple Axel and slid into the boards that surround the rink. She got up, rested for a few minutes and then spent several minutes favoring her right ankle and leg. She made three more attempts at the triple Axel and failed at all three before the session ended.

Later, she was seen by reporters limping badly as she walked out of the arena.

"I have a sore right ankle and it's been sore for awhile," Harding told USFSA spokeswoman Kristin Matta. "The Axel is the jump that hurts it the most."

Harding told Matta that she had not injured herself in the fall.

Harding, a smoker who suffers from asthma, also had trouble breathing, especially in her first practice session. She spent several minutes leaning against the boards, coughing and using an inhaler. But by the later session, she was not forced to stop as often.

Harding had attempted five triple Axels in her first session and hit two of them late, after Kerrigan had left the ice.

Kerrigan shared a locker room with Lily Lee, who skates for South Korea but grew up in Alexandria, Va. Harding was with Bulgaria's Zvetelina Abrasheva — who also showed up for her first practice — in the other locker room.

Kerrigan smiled throughout the session, her first with a new pair of skate blades, even laughing aloud on the ice when she and Harding made a close pass by each other.

After skating for a few minutes, and sliding by Kerrigan once, Harding stopped, sat down on the ice in front of her coach and tried to catch her breath for five minutes. Soon, it was time for her to skate her long program, for which she clearly wasn't ready.

In addition to stopping twice, she also skipped the triple Axel that appears in the long program.

When Harding skated, Kerrigan stayed close to her coaches, Evy and Mary Scotvold, near the boards, which is not usual procedure for a skating practice. Harding also hugged the boards when Kerrigan went through her program, clearly trying to stay out of the way.

Otherwise, they practiced normally, never acknowledging each other, but always looking out of the corner of their eyes for someone who might be in their path. They had four relatively close passes in all, none dangerously tight.

"Everything went great," said Mahlon Bradley, one of the U.S. figure skating team leaders. "There were no problems. It was set up so they would do their work, and they did it."

Kerrigan left the rink with a big smile on her face; Harding gave a "thumbs-up" sign to the assembled media.

Two hours after leaving the ice at the training rink, they appeared again on the main rink for their second practice session. Harding was late again, but by only three minutes. At one point early in the session, Kerrigan was leaning against the boards, chatting with the Scotvolds. Harding breezed by, giving the trio a quick glance.

They were practicing their technical (short) programs in the second session, and Kerrigan was especially sharp, nailing everything. She fell once later on while practicing triple jumps, just as she had in the earlier session.

Harding, on the other hand, missed her triple Lutz — turning it into a single — when she tried her technical program. Harding immediately stopped skating and went to her coach, Diane Rawlinson, to talk. She began again, and moments later, broke it off again.

When it was over, U.S. officials breathed a sigh of relief. So too did Lee, 24, who attended Edison High School before moving from the Washington area in 1983 to pursue her skating career.

"It wasn't as tense as I thought it would be," Lee said.

Kerrigan was pleased with how the day went.

"She felt like she was skating really well," Matta said after speaking with Kerrigan. "She was thinking she had a great day."

Kerrigan was even happier about a telegram she received from Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, wishing her well.

"It was cool," Kerrigan told Matta.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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