Injured champ Harding falls to third Yamaguchi in first heading into final

January 11, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Tonya Harding was knocked down, but she wasn't knocked out of contention at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last night.

The defending ladies' champion, bothered by a strained tendon in her landing foot, missed her signature triple axel jump, and tumbled into third place in the original program.

But it was only a minor setback for Harding, who can retain her title by winning today's free skate final, worth 67 percent of the overall score.

Besides, Harding's goal at these championships was simply to finish in the top three and land a spot at next month's Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France.

Harding's stumble opened the way for reigning world champion Kristi Yamaguchi to take the early lead. Yamaguchi, 20, of Fremont, Calif., performed to the Blue Danube Waltz to win the original program and earn a standing ovation from the Orlando Arena crowd.

Nancy Kerrigan, 22, of Stoneham, Mass., was second, accomplishing the difficult task of skating early and successfully in the championship draw.

"I just put up the mark," Kerrigan said.

It's unlikely that any other skater can break into the top three at these nationals. Yamaguchi, Harding and Kerrigan swept the medals at last year's World Championships in Munich. They represent the three hurdles that 1989 World Champion Midori Ito of Japan must clear at the Olympics.

Still, there are perils lurking on the road to Albertville.

Harding sustained an injury to a tendon in her right foot during a morning warm-up yesterday.

"I got my blade caught inside the wall," said Harding, 21, of Portland, Ore. "It threw me around."

Harding consulted with a physician who told her to "max-out on Nuprin." Then, she went back to her hotel room and rested.

"I would never withdraw," she said.

Harding also would not take the triple Axel, a 3 1/2 -revolution jump, out of her program. She looked like a champion, dressed in white lace and skating on gold blades, and she performed like one, too. Despite the pain, and the fall, she completed the show.

"I just couldn't hold the jump," she said. "My foot just buckled."

Yamaguchi had an easier time performing. Dressed in a teal outfit, she appeared to float, not skate, landing her jump combination with the wave of a fist, and a smile.

"I'm glad I had a good start in the competition," she said. "I felt it [the performance] was a little shaky. My combination jump could have been stronger."

But Yamaguchi, a three-time U.S. runner-up, was strong enough to lead.

"I've gone to three World Championships without the [U.S.] title," she said.

But every little bit of gold could help at the Olympics.

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