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  Olympic Officials Hope Harding Quits

By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 1994; Page D1

U.S. Olympic officials hope that national figure skating champion Tonya Harding, whose bodyguard has been arrested in the attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan, withdraws from the upcoming Winter Games.

If she does not, officials will attempt to persuade her to back out for the good of the team, informed sources said yesterday.

Although Harding has not been charged in the case, NBC News has reported that her bodyguard, Shawn Eric Eckardt, has implicated her in the planning of the attack on Kerrigan, and Harding met with attorneys yesterday in Portland, Ore.

The U.S. Figure Skating Association said in a release today that it would consider removing Harding from the Olympic team if she is found to have been involved in the attack.

Sources said U.S. Olympic officials are concerned that her presence in Lillehammer, Norway, next month could create a "logistical nightmare" for U.S. athletes. They are worried that the anticipated crush of media, both national and international, would hamper security efforts and be a constant nuisance for athletes and officials.

"It would be impossible," said one source. "There could be camera crews on every floor of every hotel. You can't hide someone in a small town like Lillehammer or Hamar [site of Olympic figure skating]."

There was discussion in U.S. Olympic circles yesterday about what might happen if Harding and Kerrigan both represent the United States in Norway. It's believed the U.S. Olympic Committee and the USFSA are looking into placing one or both of them in separate, private housing for the Olympics. But they still would have to spend some time together -- at practices, while traveling, at interviews, at team meals.

Asked at a news conference how she felt about sharing the Olympic stage with Harding, Kerrigan, who continues to rehabilitate her injured right knee, said solemnly, "I have nothing to say about her."

Sources familiar with the Kerrigan situation said that she has not asked that Harding be removed from the team. But Evy Scotvold, Kerrigan's longtime coach, has been quoted as saying he would be concerned if they had to room near one another.

Then there's the matter of the competition. It's purely conjecture at this point, but some believe that because of all the negative publicity concerning Harding, her ex-husband and her bodyguard, Harding might not have much of a chance to win a medal if she does go to the Games.

Margaret Anne Wier, the U.S. judge for the women's Olympic figure skating competition, said in a telephone interview that she is concerned about how her fellow judges would rate Harding. Figure skating judges are known to base their decisions on more than just the way a skater performs on the ice; costume, music, appearance and even off-the-ice lifestyle can be taken into account.

"You really can't speculate, but you would anticipate it would be very negative for Tonya," Wier said. "I don't even know how I would sit there and judge it. I would think the audience might even boo her. ... It's just a horrible thing to happen to our sport."

Wier also wondered aloud about Harding's possible withdrawal from the U.S. team.

"If she withdrew and was very gracious about it, you'd think she'd be a hero," she said.

There's another scenario if Harding competes. Bonnie McLauthlin, a veteran U.S. coach and judge, said it's possible the Olympic judges might bend over backwards to give Harding the benefit of the doubt.

"With the media and the whole world watching the judging, you'd have to put your mark out there," she said. "If it was me judging, I would be doing my darnedest to be accurate."

Kerrigan, meanwhile, might run into a problem of her own. Assuming she is healthy enough to compete, and does well and wins the gold medal, rivals might be able to complain that the victory was tainted because she won on some sort of sympathy vote.

"I'm assuming I can do the program of my life," said Kerrigan, who could begin skating again Monday at her home rink in South Dennis, Mass. "It's up to the judges, not me. I'm just really focusing on the skating."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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