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  Coach Says Harding Asked to Skip Ceremonies

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 1994; Page D1

LILLEHAMMER, Norway, Feb. 18 — Tonya Harding's coach said today that U.S. Olympic figure skating team leader Gale Tanger asked Harding not to arrive at the Olympics until after last weekend's Opening Ceremonies so she wouldn't take the spotlight away from other athletes.

Tanger later denied the charge through a spokeswoman, saying no such conversation took place.

"If she wanted to be there, she could have been there," said U.S. Figure Skating Association spokeswoman Kristin Matta.

The confusion over who said what about the timing of Harding's Olympic arrival was the only apparent slip by the Harding camp at a carefully orchestrated news conference at the Main Press Center this afternoon.

The news conference appeared to attract as large an audience as Nancy Kerrigan's meeting with the media last week, which drew an estimated 900 people and has been called the largest news conference in Olympic history.

Harding has been linked to the Jan. 6 attack on Kerrigan, in which the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist suffered a severely bruised right knee. Harding has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged in the case.

Throughout the 40-minute session, Harding swatted away an unyielding series of questions that ranged from her role in the Kerrigan attack to her preparation for next week's competition to her appearing topless in a video that recently has been made public.

"I am very upset and I am ashamed and embarrassed," Harding said about the video in the only answer she gave to the dozen tough questions that were thrown her way. "But if everyone put themselves in my position, how would you feel?"

Otherwise, Harding remained mum on the various issues swirling around her, often looking for help from Coach Diane Rawlinson on her left and Matta on her right. She asked for questions to be repeated or clarified several times, and often laughed nervously after giving very short, vague answers.

"We're here to talk about skating," Rawlinson admonished reporters, who often chuckled at the skater's and coach's evasive replies.

Harding barely spoke of Kerrigan. She described Wednesday's encounter with her rival as "brief, very positive, kind of a private thing."

Pushed to give her feelings on Kerrigan, Harding said, "I have a great deal of respect for Nancy."

Harding was asked about her preparation for the women's figure skating competition Wednesday and Friday, which thus far has not been going well.

In today's afternoon session on the training rink in Hamar, Harding stomped to the locker room in a huff after missing three of the four triple jumps she tried in her free skate program. (None were the difficult triple Axel.) She left the ice 23 minutes after arriving, with more than 20 minutes remaining in the practice session. As she stormed off, her free skate music still was playing on the public address system.

"I wasn't skating as good as I like to," Harding said. "I like to be perfect. I wasn't, so we decided I was done."

Harding appeared to injure her right ankle on a fall Thursday afternoon, but she said today it "is not that big of a deal."

"It's been there for a few months," she said of the injury.

As for her practice performances, Harding said she isn't concerned.

"When it's time, I will be ready to medal," she said. "I don't have to be ready this minute."

Despite her refusal to answer controversial questions, Harding did indicate her understanding of the seriousness of the charges surrounding her.

"I'm really lucky to be here," she said, referring to the legal battles that eventually resulted in her being placed on the team. "I never gave up hope. I just prayed to God that He would let me be here."

She also vigorously denied that she is making money off the attack. She has signed an agreement with "Inside Edition" but said she has not yet received any money from the television show.

"I'm not profiting off a horrible situation," she said. "I haven't gotten any money yet, and the money I will get will go to my attorneys and my coaches."

She also said she is considering a donation to the Special Olympics.

While Harding said she is holding up well now, when the competition is over, she said she knows exactly what she will do.

"When everything's done, then I think I can sit down and cry," she said.

But that momentary emotional flash was overwhelmed by Harding's tough resolve.

Asked if she believes she can win the competition, which she has not been predicted to do, Harding said, "If I go out and do my best performance, I will win."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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