Fans who watched the medal round for ice skaters at the 1980 Olympics remember Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner of Los Angeles. Indeed, they were hard to forget.

At the competition at Lake Placid, N.Y., Babilonia, then 20, and Gardner, 22, holder of the 1979 world championship pairs title, were expected to wrest the Olympic gold medal from the defending Soviet team, Irina Rodnina and Aleksandr Zaitsev.

But as they warmed up for their final appearance, Gardner knew that his torn groin muscle would make skating -- and lifting his partner -- extremely risky. The injection of xylocaine that deadened the pain also had taken the feeling in his leg. Several times, he tried the first jump, and fell, his leg buckling under him.

Minutes later, Babilonia and Gardner and their coach, John W. Nicks, told the United States representative that they would withdraw from competition. Because of her partner's injury, Tai Babilonia had lost her chance too. In costume and makeup, a deeply disappointed Babilonia left the ice in tears; Gardner managed to keep his composure.

"It wasn't a good night," she says now. In losing their chance for the gold, they felt they also had let the country down.

But in an interview with People magazine in spring 1989, Tai Babilonia said that the two had never spoken of it.

Monday at 9, NBC airs "On Thin Ice: The Tai Babilonia Story," a cautionary tale if ever there was one.

For Babilonia, the cancellation at Lake Placid was only the beginning of a personal downhill slide.

Professionally fused as Tai-and-Randy, the two had been skating together since they were paired at a Culver City, Calif., ice rink in 1969 when she was 9 and he was 11. They were to achieve much success, but the price would be high, literally and figuratively.

The cost of her training was of continual concern to her father, Connie Babilonia Sr., a Los Angeles police detective who at one time worked three jobs to pay for her skating lessons, costumes, skates and travel. Her mother, Cleo, a housewife, was at that time one of the few black "skating moms."

"I had a lot of drive at an early age," she said. "My family were tennis players, for recreation. Athletics has always been in the family. I picked up a tennis racquet once, but that was all. I wanted to skate."

And skate she did, dropping out of school in the middle of seventh grade -- Gardner was in ninth -- to practice and to compete. They completed high school with private tutors.

"If I had to do it over again, I would try to balance it out with going to school," she said. "I put school in the background. It was not normal. At the time, we thought this was the way to do it -- and it worked, I guess ..."

Their talent honed by Nicks, a former skating champion, Babilonia and Gardner became the 1973 National Junior Pairs champions just four years after they met; in 1974, they were the youngest pair ever to represent the United States in the world championships. For five years, 1976 to 1980, they won the U.S. Senior Pairs title. In 1979, their perfect 6.0 was the highest score ever recorded in pair skating at the U.S. National Figure Skating Championship. At the world championship in Vienna, they became the first Americans in 29 years (and only the second U.S. team ever) to capture the title.

The year after their disastrous 1980 Olympics, Babilonia and Gardner skipped the world championships because of his injury. Instead, when he had healed, they signed a three-year contract with the Ice Capades the following April that called for them to skate nine months on the road, with summers off. They appeared in 28 cities in 30 weeks.

Babilonia, lonely and miserable on tour, gained 15 pounds. The following year, depressed and homesick, she began taking diet pills to keep her weight down, then drinking wine to fall asleep. She became involved in a number of dead-end love affairs, including relationships with actor Christopher Knight ("The Brady Bunch") and pairs-skater Peter Carruthers.

In 1986, they switched to another revue, Festival on Ice, and eventually became headliners when Dorothy Hamill left the show. In December 1987, they performed the first-ever Christmas-theme ice skating show in the history of Las Vegas strip hotels, at Caesars Palace; were featured on Crystal Gale's television special, "A Crystal Christmas From Sweden," and performed to Stevie Nicks' version of "Silent Night" on a worldwide telecast from Rockefeller Center.

But increasingly, Tai Babilonia had began to rely on alcohol and amphetamines, adding cognac to her coffee and using mentholated cough drops to cover up her breath. She became so depressed that in January 1988, just before the couple was supposed to open at Harrah's at Lake Tahoe, she threw away her ice skates and considered suicide for the first time. Gardner and their manager persuaded her to make good on the contract at Lake Tahoe, but afterward she quit skating in earnest. In September, she took an overdose of sleeping pills.

She tells the story of her success and downfall and, with Gardner, serves as creative consultant on the TV movie. They also perform some of their own skating routines. They are portrayed by lookalikes Rachael Crawford and Charlie Stratton (in a one-dimensional role that tells the viewer very little about the other half of Tai-and-Randy).

William Daniels is British-born Nicks. Her parents are played by Chuck Shamata and Denise Nicholas, her brother by Michael Edwards.

"The movie is not just a skating movie," she said. "It really shows the behind-the-scenes of the life of a figure skater, which no one really knows. If you go to competitions, you see the beautiful costumes and the finished product. It was not all glitter and glamor, and it was not an easy road for me. And I think it will shock a lot of people. It will show them what goes into competing, what goes on on the road. Shows you the ups and downs. Maybe it will help someone."

Even Babilonia herself, who was on hand for nearly a month in Toronto while her story was taped, was reluctant to watch Crawford, a 20-year-old Canadian actress, reenact certain scenes. She called them "just a little too draining."

Since those days, she's managed to put more balance in her life. She lives with her boyfriend, Sean Franks, whom she described as "calm and sweet," and designs jewelry. And she said she has learned more about herself.

"I think it goes way back into my childhood. My family, we tend to hold our emotions in. That's how they're taught. I have that trait. I was doing it {skating} for everyone except me -- my family, my coach, for Randy. I was last on the list. It got real ugly. That was me holding things in for years and years and years. I wish I'd gotten into therapy earlier. Once I learned I have to skate for me, once I'm happy, everything's fine.

"Right now I think about being a good wife and good mother, one day getting married and taking it from there. I'll see a little kid in a stroller or a mother with a small child and wish ... I think I'm ready for that. I can always teach ice skating."

And she can always tell her story. "The next project for me is a coffee table book of my life in skating," she said. "I wrote a poem, 'Forever Two as One,' and I would like that to be the title."

Babilonia and Gardner don't go on tours any more, she said. "He's getting into choreographing other shows and other skaters, and I think he's found his niche."

She's also decided she won't become an actress, even though she and Gardner portray themselves in the television movie's skating scenes (they are the eldest of three sets of Tai-and-Randys).

"I've done a little acting and I don't think I have it in me," she said. "I have friends who are actresses, and it's not easy. I don't think I'm willing to put in the training."

Although she said she no longer attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, she does have a message for those struggling to recover from drug and alcohol addiction:

"I was ready to let people know what happened to me. This is me showing that if I can do it, you can do it. That's the one thing that I want to get across."