Harding to skate in Games LILLEHAMMER '94

February 13, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- Tonya Harding is going to the Winter Olympics, after all.

And Nancy Kerrigan will be here to skate against her.

Last night, attorneys for the embattled U.S. figure skating champion and the U.S. Olympic Committee cut a deal that enables Ms. Harding to compete for the gold.

Ms. Harding dropped a $25 million suit and a request for a restraining order against the USOC.

In return, the organization agreed to cancel Friday's administrative board hearing that could have led to Ms. Harding's expulsion from the Games.

The agreement was reached in circuit court in Clackamas

County, Oregon, and was announced 6 1/2 hours after the conclusion of the Opening Ceremonies of the 17th Winter Games.

"Because of the resolution of the court proceedings in Oregon, Tonya Harding will continue to be a member of the Olympic Team, and she will compete in the ladies' event in figure skating beginning on February 23," USOC executive director Harvey Schiller said in a statement.

Through her attorneys, Ms. Harding said she "simply wants to skate in the Olympics and be treated fairly."

"She appreciates the United States Olympic Committee working with her to resolve this matter," the statement continued.

Ms. Harding has been under a cloud since the Jan. 6 clubbing of Ms. Kerrigan at the U.S. Championships in Detroit.

Ms. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy in the attack. He also implicated the skater in the plot.

Three others, including Ms. Harding's former bodyguard, were arrested in the assault.

Ms. Harding has not been charged.

The USOC had been moving toward banishing Ms. Harding from the Games but was apparently blocked by the court challenge in Oregon.

Did the USOC blink under threat of a suit?

"I think terminology of the USOC backing down would be inaccurate," spokesman Mike Moran said.

Mr. Moran, asked how much the agreement was based on "doing the right thing" and how much on legal expediency, responded: "It was very much a combination of the right thing to do, plus the time left and the distractions to the athletes."

Attorneys for both sides began meeting early yesterday afternoon in Oregon to resolve the dispute. The deal was hammered out past midnight this morning local time in Norway.

"This case involved difficult legal issues and well warranted concerns on both sides," Circuit Judge Patrick D. Gilroy wrote in announcing the agreement.

"The USOC has the right and obligation to oversee and discipline certain conduct of its Olympic athletes," he said. "Tonya Harding has the right to a fair and impartial hearing regarding claimed ethical violations and the right to prepare adequately for same. Time is on the side of neither party."

The judge, who declined to issue a ruling after Friday's hearing, added the "Court did intend to retain continuing jurisdiction of this controversy," including considering a possible injunction against the USOC hearing board.

"Tonya Harding will skate in the 1994 Olympics," the judge wrote.

Ms. Harding still faces a disciplinary hearing from the U.S. Figure Skating Association, which ruled last month that she may have been involved in the attack.

But because of a 30-day waiting period, the hearing will have to be held after the Games.

The court agreement, however, triggers an unprecedented meeting on ice between Ms. Kerrigan and Ms. Harding.

"I don't know how I will feel when I see her," Ms. Kerrigan said earlier yesterday during a packed news conference.

"Anyway, it's personal between the two of us," she said.

Ms. Harding is expected to arrive in Norway either Wednesday or Thursday, according to Mr. Moran. She is also expected to stay in the Olympic athletes' village in Hamar.

Ms. Harding and Ms. Kerrigan are scheduled to train together on the Olympic ice, but Mr. Moran said "we're attempting to resolve that."

He said that Ms. Harding could possibly train in Oslo, where team alternate Michelle Kwan had been practicing.

For Miss Harding, where she trained didn't seem to matter last night.

"I finally get to prove to the world I can win a gold medal," Ms. Harding told the Associated Press as she climbed into her truck and drove away from her suburban Portland apartment.

Ms. Kwan, 13, was expected to remain in Norway for several days, but will not skate in the Games.

It remained unclear last night what action could be taken in the event Ms. Harding won an Olympic medal -- but was later convicted for a crime in the attack.

"The International Olympic Committee rule is they can take away a medal only if you are disqualified from the Games themselves," Mr. Moran said.

He added that the USOC wanted to resolve the issue so that it would no longer be a distraction to the other American athletes in Norway.

"Our athletes have been very diplomatic about this," he said. "But there have been distractions. They do watch television."

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