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  Harding's Travails Give Olympic Skating Final Spin

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 26, 1994; Page G1

 Tonya Harding shows referee Britta Lindgren and judges her broken lace. She was given a chance to start again. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
HAMAR, Norway, FEB. 25 — Tonya Harding arrived late to the Winter Olympics, never completed a short or long program in practice, ended up a disappointing 10th after the technical program, had a shoe lace snap in tonight's warmup, broke into tears on the ice, never tried her triple Axel and ended up watching Nancy Kerrigan skate from backstage, struggling for breath after vomiting into a trash can.

Despite all that, Harding moved up two places to eighth by the end of the women's figure skating competition at this most unusual of Winter Games. Oksana Baiul of Ukraine took the gold, followed by Kerrigan of the United States and Lu Chen of China.

The unprecedented drama involving Harding began after Hungary's Krisztina Czako, the evening's 13th skater, had finished. Harding was due next, but did not come onto the ice as Czako's marks went up. A television camera focused down the entrance to the rink. No Harding. A volunteer closed the curtains.

Skaters get a two-minute grace period before they are disqualified, so a clock was started. Spectators craned their necks. Photographers stood in wonderment.

Behind the curtains, there was panic for Harding, her coach and U.S. officials. She had cut the lace on her right boot in warmups, and as she tightened the lace, it broke. They got another. It was too small. Harding used it anyway, skipping holes and tightening it the best she could.

With 21 seconds left, Harding stepped onto the ice. She fiddled with the lace, the first indication that might have been what had detained her. Moments later, her music, from "Jurassic Park," started, and she began skating.

Harding's first jump is a triple Lutz. She moved across the ice, set up for the jump, and singled it, landing awkwardly on two feet. She put her hands to her face and began crying. The audience sat in stunned silence.

She skated toward the judges and referee Britta Lindgren, propped her right skate onto the table, and showed Lindgren what the problem was: her lace was broken. Lindgren gave a look and said Harding would have a chance to try again, after the other four skaters in the group had finished. When that decision was announced, there were scattered boos and whistles.

"I knew that if I was going to skate like that it was going to be very risky," Harding said later. "I could break my ankle really easily. As soon as I did the triple Lutz, I went to try it and there was nothing there. There was no support whatsoever. I just knew that I had to stop."

It was a familiar scene. Four months ago, at Skate America in Dallas, Harding ended up with her skate on the judges' table, showing that her blade had come loose. At the 1992 U.S. Olympic trials, Harding complained that her blade had been mounted incorrectly. And, at the 1993 nationals, a hook loosened on her dress, causing her to stop and reattach it.

When Harding came back last night, she skated better. She hit the triple Lutz, turned her triple Axel into a single, nailed a triple flip, had a fairly good landing on a triple loop and finished with a triple Salchow. Her marks were not bad at all: 5.5s, 5.6s and one 5.7 for technical merit, and 5.3 to 5.6 for artistic impression.

"I think I did quite well under all the circumstances because I think I was ready to have a nervous breakdown before I went out the first time," she said.

After the program, Harding couldn't stop coughing as she retreated to a back room.

Doubled over and hacking terribly, she grabbed the sides of a wastebasket and vomited.

A U.S. team doctor brought out a high-flow compressor attached to an inhaler to help her take the asthma medicine in more quickly.

It had been seven weeks since Kerrigan was clubbed at the U.S. Olympic trials in Detroit, an attack that led to a guilty plea for racketeering by Harding's ex-husband, and the arrest of her bodyguard and two others. Harding, who has been linked to the attack on Kerrigan, said that despite all her troubles, coming to the Olympics was worthwhile.

"It's definitely worth it," she said. "I mean it's worth being at the Olympics. If I had it all over to do again, I would definitely try something different, I guess. Maybe not, who knows."

She had said in January she was going to "whip Nancy's butt" at the Olympics. But Kerrigan won the silver in the closest finish in Olympic history, and Harding never challenged for a medal.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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