One miss costs Harding a medal A bad year finally ends with fourth-place Olympic finish

February 22, 1992|By Jere Longman | Jere Longman,Knight-Ridder News Service

ALBERTVILLE, France -- As she skated from the rink at the Olympic Ice Hall, Tonya Harding looked at her coach, Dody Teachman, and said with relief and disappointment, "Oh, well."

Her year has gone that way. She left and reconciled with her husband. She fell out with and made up with her coach. Her troubled life story -- broken home, mother who has been married six times -- was printed in newspapers and magazines from one coast to the other.

Last night, she missed, by one jump, winning a figure-skating medal at the Winter Olympics.

The jump was a triple Axel, which requires 3 1/2 revolutions in the air. Harding became the first American woman to land it at the 1991 U.S. championships. Foot and boot problems have left her struggling with the jump this season. She missed it Wednesday in the short program. And she tumbled badly again last night in the long program.

And she finished fourth.

Her teammate, Kristi Yamaguchi, won the gold. Another teammate, Nancy Kerrigan, took the bronze. Midori Ito of Japan took the silver.

One jump.

And Harding might have given the Americans a sweep.

"I just think, under pressure, she tried too hard," Teachman said.

Everyone felt the pressure last night. Yamaguchi. Ito. Kerrigan. Harding. Everyone.

"It can be a little overwhelming," Teachman said.

Harding, 21, of Portland, Ore., had won a silver medal at the 1991 world championships. But a tendon strain in her foot caused her to miss the triple Axel last month at the U.S. championships. Problems with the boot of her skate persisted in the past few weeks, and she never regained confidence in the jump.

Last night, her chronic asthma problems acted up and her mouth felt dry.

"I was a little nervous," Harding said in a statement last night. "I had nothing to lose, though. I went for it."

Ito followed immediately in the program. She fell on her first triple axel attempt, but landed it later.

"She threw in the second triple axel and I couldn't compete with that," Harding said.

Neither could she compete with the turbulence in her life, missing many practices during the fall as she sought to reconcile with her husband.

"She could have practiced harder," Teachman said. "But I don't want to rub salt in the wounds. She still finished fourth in the Olympics. It's a disappointment, but I would hope she could feel good about this instead of feeling very negative and taking 10 years before she's finally proud."

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