Lillehammer thriller: Tonya and Nancy put life in Olympics

January 28, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

The only thing I know for sure about Tonya Harding is that I want her in Lillehammer at the Winter Olympics.

You do, too. Come on, admit it. Don't go self-righteous on me now.

You have to want to see Tonya and Nancy on the ice. Mano a mano. Feet to feet, anyway.

I want flying sequins and triple axels and even tire irons, if they've got 'em in Norway. If not, maybe they can make do with reindeer antlers.

What a concept, huh? Into the foo-foo world of figure skating step two women who plain don't like each other. And if they're not quite ready to rum-m-m-mble, you know they're ready to skate their leotards off.

I want Nancy healthy and Tonya with her back up.

I mean, let's face it, what other reason is there to watch the Winter Olympics? What, you're a big luge fan? Personally, I'd rather watch "Geraldo" than downhill racing. And, tell me, who do you like this year in the biathlon?

Finally, for the first time ever, the Winter Olympics offers up some real drama. This story has to end on the ice or, even better, in the courtroom.

Here's a conclusion for you.

Tonya's on the stand. She's wearing her Team USA jacket, with a gold medal dangling from her neck. (Nancy got the silver.) She and her ex-husband have split. She's now dating Joey Buttafuoco.

Suddenly, the prosecutor turns on the heat: "You did it, didn't you, you dirt-stained waif who never had a chance in the pristine world of ice skating where they think working class means no class at all. You were bitter. You were jealous. You hated Nancy and everyone else who looks like Katharine Hepburn. And so you got somebody to whack her knee."

You know what happens. Tonya cracks.

"Yes, I did it. And I'd do it again. You saw 'On Golden Pond,' didn't you? Can you blame me?"

Oh, there could be a million different endings. But, if you know anything about dramatic pacing, you know the story has to play out first, and for the story to work best, it has to go through Lillehammer.

I love this story. I love the Agatha Christie-like twists and turns. That's the beauty of this one.

I understood that when I heard this mystery writer the other day on National Public Radio explain it. He said this story was what mystery writers call a "cozy," meaning you cozy up to the fire with your book on an icy winter's night and try to figure out who done it.

This is a classic in the genre. You see, there's no blood here, or severed body parts. (Just a bruised knee.) No crazy people. No paranoid delusionals opening fire on commuter trains. No lunatics coming out of the stands to stab a tennis player. No gang warfare. No drive-by shootings.

This is not the world spun madly out of control. This is the world the way we've always known it.

For this once, we go back to the old verities -- greed and ambition. The stuff our civilization was built on. Finally, we've got a crime with motives we can understand. Finally, we've got a crime that Colombo would want to solve.

You have to love this latest twist (or was it a turn?). I promise you, Lt. Columbo would. Tonya called a press conference yesterday to announce that, well, yeah, she did know about the whacking, but not until after the fact.

We're in Nixon territory now. What did she know? When did she know it? And did Tonya ever date Kissinger?

There Tonya was on TV, blinking back tears and saying that we shouldn't hate her just because she has some rough edges. She really was sorry about Nancy. She was innocent. And, gosh oh gee, she just wanted to skate, that's all.

You believed her, didn't you?

She wanted to tell the police, I'm sure. But she must have wanted to protect her ex-husband, the man she loves. Well, he's the man she loves when he isn't beating her and when she isn't seeking a court injunction against him and when she isn't actually divorcing him.

Anyway, the story is that old ex-hubby was ready to give Tonya up to the police in exchange for a reduced sentence.

I love the cops in this one. These guys think they're working on "Day of the Jackal." They're ready to listen to anyone who will turn over Ms. Big, who they must have decided from the beginning was Ms. Harding.

Is she guilty?

Isn't that getting a little ahead of the story? I'm taking this one page at a time. The next chapter: Lillehammer.

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