Tonya Harding has the flu.
Pale, beefy and swaddled in Everlast sweat gear, she shuffles into her fight manager's makeshift office in a hotel here beside the Columbia River and explains the particulars.
"It's coming out both ends," she tells Paul Brown, her manager and current father-substitute.
Brown, who has worked with heavyweights Riddick Bowe and Michael Spinks, is sympathetic, but firm. Harding has a fight next month in Edmonton, Alberta, with a nursing student. To qualify as a 118-pound bantamweight, she has to drop 10 pounds. Her record since she went pro last year is a wobbly 3-2 (with two broken noses), and she hasn't had a boxing payday since August. She can't afford to miss weight.
Flu or no flu, today there will be jogging, push-ups and glove work. Harding, 33, will have a light lunch -- a small salad and water with lemon and Sweet'N Low. While working out, she will excuse herself to vomit and then ask her manager for a breath mint.
So it goes, 101/2 years down the road from infamy.
Nancy Kerrigan's right knee was whacked by an assailant on Jan. 6, 1994, at the U.S. Olympic figure skating trials. Harding, Kerrigan's archrival on the ice, instantly became an international dark star, the Bruno Hauptmann of women's figure skating. She negotiated a plea bargain and was sentenced to three years' probation for hindering the prosecution of those, including her ex-husband, who had planned and executed the assault.
But she denied then -- and denies now -- knowing anything about the whacking until after it was over, when she says she failed to alert police in a timely way. It's a denial that her ex-husband and her former bodyguard, who both pleaded guilty in the assault and served prison terms, have said is a lie. As did the U.S. Figure Skating Association, which stripped Harding of her 1994 national title and banned her for life from the one thing at which she had always excelled. She's still the only woman to have landed a triple axel (31/2 turns) in a national championship.
Across the river in Portland, Ore., Harding started skating at age 3 and it was her anchor in a chaotic childhood, during which her alcoholic mother beat her in public and her family moved 13 times before she was in fifth grade. She dropped out of high school to train for national and international competition. Without skating, Harding has stumbled again and again.
She remarried and got divorced in 99 days. "Because he beat me," she says. She spent three days in jail for hitting a boyfriend with a hubcap and then bloodying his nose. "He said his motorcycle was more important than me, which I thought was mean and cruel," she explains. She was arrested for drunk driving, sent to alcohol treatment and sentenced, among other things, to pull weeds in a cemetery and take anger management courses. She was evicted for not paying rent.
She is alienated from her mother, whom she describes as "a pathological liar who can't be trusted." She says her father "sold me out" to the tabloids. Her siblings, she says, "all turned out to be crap."
Then, there's the Tonya Harding Web site, which has a fantasy board on which men post pornographic descriptions of what they would like to do with the bad girl of figure skating. Harding says she has nothing to do with the official-looking site, that it is run by leeches sucking on her fame and that she doesn't have enough money to hire a lawyer to stop it.
Perhaps the most telling measure of the scale of Harding's ignominy is the damage she appears to have done to the popularity of her own first name.
In the 1970s, the decade of her birth, Tonya was the 52nd most popular name in the United States. In 1993, the year before the attack on Kerrigan, Tonya was ranked 570th. Three years later, it had dropped to 922nd, and since 1998, it has disappeared altogether from a list of 1,000 popular names.
When asked about this, Harding seems determined not to understand the question: "You say Tonya Harding and you go anywhere in the world and they will know who I am."
Since she started punching people professionally, Harding and her manager say there is a New Tonya: a wised-up woman who does not drink, smoke or mess around with men who deserve to be bonked with a hubcap. This Tonya lives alone in a house (rented under an assumed name) in the rural hills of southwest Washington. She hunts, in season, for elk and deer with a bow and arrow. She does not want the public to know what kind of four-wheel-drive rig she drives, having had her tires slashed in the past.
"I always wanted someone to love me for me, not for who I was," she says. "That was so naive. Nowadays, I could care less about anybody but me. I am not about to care for someone else. It sounds cruel and selfish, but I've been there and done that."
The new Tonya emerged two years ago from the tawdry commercial exploitation of the old. On Fox's "Celebrity Boxing," Harding beat up Paula Jones, famous for suing Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. Like Harding, Jones had been called "trailer trash."
"It was a street-fighting freak show," says Brown, Harding's current manager.
But the ratings were good -- and so was the money, at least compared with what Harding had been making giving skating lessons at a mall in Portland. So she went pro in February of last year.
To learn how to box, she found Brown, a longtime promoter based in Portland. Besides working at training camps for Bowe and Spinks, he is a former amateur boxer who helped organize Olympic training camps in Oregon. Brown, 44, is also a mortician.
"Being a mortician, I know how to be able to deal intimately with human beings," he says. "With Tonya, the whole thing is to keep her balanced. If you rock the boat, then you can lose her."
He hopes to fuse Tonya's off-the-charts notoriety and her innate athletic ability with real skills as a boxer so she can build herself a future.
"My job is to make sure Tonya has a couple million in the bank, and her health and welfare are secured," Brown says.
Even though she earns more than most female boxers, that still may take a while. Brown says she earns between $10,000 and $15,000 per fight.
Her boxing skills have sharpened from workouts in the ring and her upper body has become powerful from time in the weight room. With a jacket on she looks chubby, but when she takes it off, she looks intimidating, with linebacker shoulders and stevedore arms on a 5-foot-1 frame. Brown and Harding agree that she is about halfway home in learning the skills she needs to have a successful boxing career.
Still, Harding doesn't particularly like the sport. She would rather skate.
"In skating, you land on your butt," she says. "In boxing you get punched in the face. I don't like being hit in the face."
She is resentful of the money that professional skaters now earn.
"All the skaters nowadays are making hundreds of thousands because of me and Nancy," she said. "Skating was never a big deal before us. But me, I didn't make anything. I lost everything."
She knows all about the life that Nancy Kerrigan, 34, has in Connecticut: Kerrigan is married to her agent, raising a 7-year-old son, involved in charities, skating specials, singing and television appearances.
Does Tonya envy Nancy?
"No, why would I?" she says coldly.
What Harding wants is to make tons of money boxing and then retire to live alone with her Persian cat, Smalls.
"It would be having enough money to go hunting and fishing and go to the big four-wheel-drive mud bogs," she says. "And every once in a while put on a really pretty dress and go to dinner at a place like Applebee's or something."