LILLEHAMMER, NORWAY -- If I were Tonya Harding, I would not have stopped at $20 million, I'd have sued for 100 million dollars.
I'd take the avenue everyone in the Olympic movement understands -- money -- and sue for the most intimidating number possible to scare the USOC into letting me skate.
Money, money, money.
Money makes the world go round, the world go round.
If I'm Tonya, the music I'm skating to now is: The best things in life are free/But you can keep them for the birds and bees/Just gimme money.
The USOC and its lawyers and the public can talk about sportsmanship all they want. Tonya isn't even listening. She's on an altogether different channel.
Yes, I know she once talked about wanting to win a medal for her country. I still laugh thinking about it -- Tonya Harding getting up in Portland and trying to wrap herself in the flag, like the little waif in "Les Miserables." Give me a break.
Tonya Harding insisting, "I want to win an Olympic gold medal for my country" is right there with "The check's in the mail."
Here's what she wants to win a medal for: Money.
Ice show money, endorsement money, talk show money, TV movie money, book money.
I sit in this frozen town listening to every windbag with a press credential bray on about how nobody will touch Tonya now, nobody will pay a dime to see her, she's through, she's a pariah.
Yes, Nancy Kerrigan is going to get more money. Her movie deal is going to be bigger. Her book deal is going to be bigger. Her ice show deal is going to be bigger. But there are a lot of cities in America, and Kerrigan can't be in all of them on the same night.
There's going to be a market for Tonya Harding in the same way that there is going to be a market for Amy Fisher, when she gets out of jail. That's who Tonya is now: Amy Fisher on skates.
Maybe Tonya can't endorse Campbell's Alphabet Soup; what's she gonna spell out in the spoon, k-n-e-e-c-a-p? Maybe her shelf life won't last long. Maybe her meter is already running. But she has already cleared the largest hurdle: Everybody knows her name; there's a report she received $675,000 for her appearance on "Inside Edition," breaking the record of -- ta-da! -- Joey and Mary Jo Buttafuoco.
Grand fame is hard won and noble, but America pays off on notoriety too. It shouldn't surprise you when Mike Tyson's next fight, the first fight after his rape conviction, is his biggest grosser. I have no trouble imagining The Tonya Harding Bad Girl Revue, with Tonya skating out in a Tina Turner Beyond Thunderdome outfit, wearing black-studded leather and carrying a baton. Watching her this last month, she strikes me as beyond embarrassment.
Look, I'm not arguing for Tonya to skate in the Olympics. She has behaved without honor. At the very least she was a party to a mean crime and coverup after the fact. At worst -- and I suspect most Americans believe the worst about her -- Tonya was an active, eager participant in the plot to cripple Nancy Kerrigan. Either way, Tonya's part smells to high heaven. On the issue of sportsmanship alone, the USOC has the moral right and obligation to boot Tonya's rear into Willamette River.
But Tonya couldn't care less about sportsmanship. She's not suing so she can represent her country in international competition; this isn't "National Velvet." She's suing the USOC to protect her economic growth potential. It's about gold all right -- just not about medals.
That's why she's taking a preemptive strike. If Tonya doesn't skate in the Olympics, she's done. The Olympics is the springboard to the money. Tonya had to get to the Olympics. All her life, she was only waiting for this moment to arrive.
If you believe the worst about Tonya -- that she was in it from the start -- that's why she did what she did. She's a desperate woman in the company of desperate men. They didn't kneecap Kerrigan because they didn't like her. Like Michael Corleone said to brother Sonny: "It's not personal. ... It's strictly business." They took out Kerrigan to make Tonya's road to the Olympics easier. From there, she was on her own.
You ask how this could happen -- how people could so pervert the notions of fair play in sports that they would be willing to cripple a competitor?
TV wizard Don Ohlmeyer, a far smarter man than I, once told me, "The answer to all your questions is: Money."
Before the Olympic people put their handkerchiefs up to their mouths again in horror, let them look in the mirror. They're the ones who sold their Games for porridge. They are the ones who brought in the corporate sponsors and the high-profile NBA and tennis players, and greedily re-admitted former pros such as Katarina Witt and Brian Boitano, and sold every inch of moral high ground. And for what? Ratings. In furious pursuit of: Money. And if they back down and let Tonya skate it will also be because of ratings and money, and that will make them partners, won't it?
Yes, absolutely, Tonya Harding crossed the line.
But let's not wonder how she could walk up so close to it without anybody caring to stop her. There are no virgins here. Tonya Harding is the child of this relentless pursuit of SportsCash.
The days of "Chariots Of Fire" are gone. We no longer have rich guys doing the Olympics as a lark, like the elegant Viscount Linsley, putting aside his champagne glass to take a practice run in the hurdles.
Other than Debi Thomas, you don't see many of today's skating queens struggling with GSATs. They come here with costumes and agents. Every one of them has an agent. Every one of the agents is working on a deal. (And by the way, this includes Nancy Kerrigan.)
I read where most lawyers say Tonya can't win; the USOC has her cold.
But I read where the Menendez brothers couldn't walk, and Lorena Bobbitt couldn't walk, and William Kennedy Smith couldn't walk.
At this time I should point out that Tonya Harding hasn't been charged with a crime yet, and some courts might not look favorably on an organization that wants to strip a person of her rightfully won place on a team when she hasn't been charged with anything.
Maybe Tonya can't win. But she can sue. It's her last shot to get here -- where she's been so desperate to get -- and she'd be a fool not to try it. Tonya has bullied her way this far. Maybe she can bully her way in the front door.