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  Skating Officials Okay Kerrigan

By Stephen Buckley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 3, 1994; Page D1

PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 2 — Embattled figure skater Tonya Harding struggled through practice today, rival Nancy Kerrigan passed muster before a special committee and 13-year-old Michelle Kwan was told she would go to Norway to prepare for the Olympics in case a spot on the U.S. team became available.

And, although the life of the grand jury investigating the attack on Kerrigan at the U.S. Olympic trials in January has been extended through March 31, U.S. Figure Skating Association and U.S. Olympic Committee officials apparently are moving toward a decision on Harding's Olympic future.

A five-member USFSA committee investigating Harding's involvement in the alleged plot to attack Kerrigan has been meeting this week to make a recommendation regarding Harding's Olympic team status. The panel's report, which is expected to come by Saturday, could result in Harding's suspension from the team by USFSA President Claire Ferguson. Even if the USFSA decided it had sufficient information to suspend Harding, Harding would have a 30-day window to appeal the suspension to the USOC, or to seek an injunction in U.S. courts that would allow her to remain on the team.

If such a scenario developed, the USFSA would be taking a strong stand against Harding's behavior regarding the Kerrigan assault, without depriving her of her right to due process or the ability to compete. In the end, though, Harding's status would still be decided by the USOC appeal process or, as a last resort, the courts.

Dennis Rawlinson, one of Harding's attorneys, tonight told the NBC news program "Now" that he "was not comfortable at this point threatening legal action" against the USOC. But if the 30-day USOC appeal process comes into play, Rawlinson added, "It's my understanding that that would not affect her participation in the Olympics."

Meanwhile, Jeff Gillooly — Harding's ex-husband and one of four men arrested in the alleged plot — was interviewed for two hours by FBI agents and Multnomah County Sheriff's Department detectives.

Norman Frink, chief deputy district attorney of Multnomah County, said that Gillooly was being interviewed "as part of the ongoing investigation."

Today, one day after her ex-husband publicly implicated her in the alleged plot, Harding resumed practice, albeit briefly.

Harding began practice about 40 minutes later than usual because the battery in her truck had died. A network television crew helped her start the truck.

During her 30-minute practice at the Clackamas Town Center shopping mall outside Portland, Harding, who suffers from asthma, coughed frequently, fell twice and complained for the second straight day that flashbulbs were distracting her. She left without speaking to reporters.

On Tuesday, Gillooly pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering for his role in the assault on Kerrigan, who was struck above the knee with a metal baton on Jan. 6 at Cobo Arena in Detroit.

In return for a two-year sentence in federal prison and a $100,000 fine, Gillooly agreed to plead guilty, and to cooperate with authorities as they continue to interview persons in connection with the attack on Kerrigan.

Asked whether Harding would be asked to appear before the grand jury soon, chief deputy district attorney Frink declined comment.

He said that he was in daily contact with Robert C. Weaver, Harding's attorney, "and I can't comment on anything that might result from those conversations."

Meanwhile, at her practice rink in Dennis, Mass., Kerrigan skated her short and long program for a special panel, which gave her the go-ahead to skate in the Olympics. Kerrigan's spot on the U.S. team was contingent on a successful performance before this committee.

The panel, comprised of judges Chuck Foster, Ron Pfenning and Lucy Brennan, and athletes' representative Kathleen Kelly-Cutone, also examined medical reports and spoke with Kerrigan. The panel then reported its findings to Jim Disbrow, chairman of the USFSA International Committee, which unanimously gave Kerrigan clearance to compete.

"They were thrilled. She's looking strong, she has a very positive attitude," Disbrow told the Associated Press. "I think we all feel she is in some ways more mentally prepared. She's been very focused."

Kerrigan will skate in a charity event Friday night at Northeastern University in Boston, her first public performance since the attack. She declined to answer questions after today's session.

Kerrigan will be joined in Norway by Kwan, a 4-foot-8 eighth grader who won the 1994 world junior championships.

In Colorado Springs, the USFSA announced it will send Kwan, the first alternate, to Norway later this month to train in case she is called upon to skate at the Lillehammer Games.

"In light of developments over the last month, concerning both Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, we felt it would be a sensible move to send Michelle Kwan to Norway," said Ferguson. "Michelle is still a relatively young competitor, and by allowing her to train in Norway we hope she will have a chance to get acclimated and prepared in case she is called upon to compete."

As an alternate, Kwan, who finished second to Harding at the Olympic trials, cannot practice at Olympic venues or live in Olympic housing. The USFSA will make arrangements for housing and a practice rink for Kwan separate from the U.S. team.

"As first alternate to the team, I have to keep training and stay focused in case I'm asked to compete for the United States at the Winter Olympics," Kwan said in a statement. "The only thing that's changed is now I'll get to train in Norway and that will be fun."

Staff writer Johnette Howard contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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