Harding leads after first day

January 08, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

DETROIT -- And the show went on.

Tonya Harding laced up her gold-edged skates, put on her sequins and raced to the lead during yesterday's women's technical program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Tonight, she'll go for her second American title and her second Olympic berth during the free-skating program, worth 66.7 percent of the overall score.

But she can't be conservative.

With injured Nancy Kerrigan likely to be awarded one of the two American berths at the Olympics, Harding will have to finish first to assure herself a a place in Lillehammer, Norway.

And even that is no sure thing.

She will have to stare down two of the sport's young stars, 16-year-old Nicole Bobek, who is second, and 14-year-old Michelle Kwan, third.

Also in the running is Elaine Zayak, 28, the former professional and one-time world champion, who is fourth.

"I felt great about my performance," Harding said. "I had a lot of confidence and speed. Everything just flowed together."

The performance was all the more remarkable because of the circumstances. All of figure skating was shaken Thursday, when an unidentified male attacked Kerrigan and knocked her from the competition.

"I felt really, really bad for Nancy," Harding said.

But Harding, the subject of an alleged death threat two months ago, said she had to remain focused.

"I had to skate," she said. "And skate well."

She did, using her blend of speed and jumping, plus an added bit of elegance.

Harding also had to grow quickly accustomed to a new role. Against Kerrigan, she would have been an underdog. Now she is a favorite.

"I have the lead, but I need to go out and do a clean program," she said.

The competition leaves her little room for error.

There is Bobek, a vivacious blond who wears multiple earrings BTC and favors heavy metal music. On the ice, she is a pure entertainer, combining all the right moves with an unshakable smile.

"I was nervous at the beginning," Bobek said. "I kept saying to myself that 'this is it.' I did my combination jump and felt relaxed. But I knew it wasn't over yet."

There is Kwan, 4 feet 9, 77 pounds, a gymnast on skates whose perky style needs a -- of maturity. But she is the future of women's figure skating.

"She has come so far so fast," said her coach, Frank Carroll. "We're just tickled where she is, now."

And finally, there is Zayak, skating after a near-10-year layoff. She may no longer be the speedy athlete who dazzled judges in the 1980s, but she is able to hold an audience and hold her nerves on a triple jump.

"I'm just so happy to be fourth because these are the best skaters in the country," she said. "I really wanted this for myself. I wanted to show everyone that I could come back and show that I can be better than I was years ago."

If Kerrigan is given one of the Olympic berths, none of the top skaters or their coaches will complain.

They'll accept whatever decision is made by the judges.

"Nancy has paid her dues, and if they choose her, they would have the strongest team," said Kathy Casey, who coaches Bobek.

Harding said she will take no chances.

She is skating to win, period.

"I plan on doing the best I can, and that's where I'm focusing on," she said. "Everyone is trying to focus on what they need to do. All you can do is skate the best you can."

Last night, they handed out the Olympic berths in ice dancing to hometown favorites Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow.

Sexy and sizzling, they performed to the Mambo Kings and easily outclassed a depleted field to win their second U.S. title.

Defending U.S. champions Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur were forced to withdraw because of Roca's broken arm. The dance team was ineligible to compete in the Olympics because Sur, a Russian, was unable to expedite his U.S. citizenship.

Gaining the ice dance alternate spot at the Olympics were Susan Wynne and Russ Witherby, who finished second.

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