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Harding, Kerrigan: Another Sad Performance

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 1998; Page D1

 Tonya Harding (left) and Nancy Kerrigan meet for the first time since the 1994 Games in Lillehammer. James Brown is the moderator for Fox TV. (AFP)
NAGANO — What in the world was Nancy Kerrigan thinking? Did she and hubby-agent Jerry Solomon run out of diaper dollars and become desperate for a few bucks? Because money is the only semi-logical reason Kerrigan would go on television with Tonya Harding and squirm through yet another dish-fest over their four-year-old war.

For four years now, Kerrigan has complained that she does not want to be remembered as one half of figure skating's most glorified cat fight — in fact, she hates the idea of it being considered a cat fight at all. After all, Kerrigan never did anything to Harding. She just got whacked in the knee as part of a plot organized (if you can call it that) by Harding's ex-husband and two buddies, who acted like such total idiots that they're known in the FBI report as "the three stooges."

Tonya and Nancy. Nancy and Tonya. Their names are linked forever and, until this week, it seemed as though Kerrigan utterly hated the concept. Then — bingo! — she pops up on national television with her good pal on the eve of the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Ostensibly, Kerrigan was there to hear an apology. But did anybody buy Harding's lame statements? She claimed she knew nothing about the attack. She claimed that if she had, she would have tried to stop it. She won't be getting nominated for an Emmy for her performance.

And Kerrigan — well, if she was supposed to come off as forgiving and beneficent — if these two were supposed to hug and cry and make up in a Fox made-for-TV moment — it just didn't work. From all accounts, she barely seemed able to stomach being in the same room with Harding. And Kerrigan certainly didn't believe Harding's claim that she was entirely in the dark about the attack.

"It will always be there," Kerrigan said during the interview. "It will be brought up every time there is an Olympics."

Unfortunately, she's probably right. I bring up this whole sordid thing because now that the Games have begun, a lot of people seem to want to turn lovely Michelle Kwan and tiny Tara Lipinski into our two new teenage ice vixens. Will Kwan be able to duplicate her brilliant performance at nationals in Philadelphia last month? Will Lipinski be able to return to last year's glory, and unseat the woman everyone expects to capture the gold medal?

Most important, though, is this: Will this rivalry produce some marvelously dramatic — and perhaps even slightly nasty — behind-the-scenes Olympic moment?

CBS has planted four robotic cameras backstage at White Ring skating rink, in the places where hand-held cameras are not allowed. In 1994 in Lillehammer, those backstage cameras produced one of the best figure skating moments: Harding's shoelace snapping right before she was expected to skate. It almost felt like poetic justice. We all wanted to see Kerrigan's face when that happened.

So now we wait for the big Kwan-Lipinski moment. Will there be tears? Will somebody get caught grinning, unsympathetically, if her rival falls on a triple flip? Will somebody stomp away in disappointment after the always controversial judges make a questionable call?

I hate to disappoint everybody, but it's not likely to happen. Oh, the figure skating should be highly competitive and, for those who truly appreciate the sport, highly impressive if Kwan can come anywhere near repeating her Philadelphia artistry. But these aren't two pouty, spoiled girls who hate each other, or even see the other as some kind of nemesis. These are two nice young women who happen to be very competitive and very talented. Of course, both want to win. But they're not about to wish a plague on each other's house.

"I don't know about the rivalry," Lipinski said this week, when the very first question at a news conference was about her upcoming duel with Kwan. "I think the only thing we have in common is that we both want to win the gold medal."

Like Kerrigan and Harding, Kwan and Lipinski do provide an entertaining contrast. But it's not the good girl-bad girl scenario that was quick to be applied to Nancy and Tonya. Kwan is older, taller, more mature. She likes classical music. She wears simple costumes. She is elegant, artistic.

Lipinski is a little powerhouse, all of 15 years old. She likes popular music and beaded costumes, and paints up her face to try to look older in front of the judges and, recently, the world.

Kwan handled her shocking loss to Lipinski at the 1997 world championships with grace and dignity, her teary disappointment entirely understandable. Lipinski handled her devastating fall in the short program in Philadelphia last month with tremendous spunk, rallying to climb back into second place after the long program.

Sure, there's a rivalry. Kwan and Lipinski have worked practically their entire lives for this moment, and each wants nothing more than to walk away with the gold medal.

The thing is, they also happen to act like professionals, so classy about their relationship that it is almost annoying. There won't be any bruised kneecaps at White Ring next week. In all likelihood, there won't even be a bruised ego thanks to a competitor's careless or unkind remark.

Judging from what took place on television this past week, maybe Kerrigan and Harding should tune in for the competition. They might learn something. And we're not talking about how to land a perfect triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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