'Skategate' captures a nation LILLEHAMMER 94'

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

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- It is out of control.

There are four books published, with one on the way.

There are payoffs from "Inside Edition" and "Hard Copy," dueling interviews with Connie Chung and Diane Sawyer, live appearances on Court TV and a movie deal with Disney.

And you thought the Bobbitts were at the cutting edge of tabloid-mania?

"Skategate" is big.

It's Michael Jackson, Joey Buttafuoco and the Menendez brothers wrapped into one.

It has everything, including sex, lies and videotape.

Oh, and there are also FBI transcripts.

Even Las Vegas is taking bets on this baby.

There never has been a sports story like the Kerrigan-Harding affair.

What started as a simple case of felony assault at a national skating championship in Detroit on Jan. 6 has escalated into a national obsession.

The knee-bashing of Nancy Kerrigan -- and the allegation that her rival Tonya Harding somehow was involved in the attack -- has captured a country's imagination.

And don't think for a minute that CBS, the television network of the Winter Games, hasn't taken notice.

"If this story doesn't have sex, then it has got violence," said Rick Gentile, senior vice president of production for CBS Sports. "If it doesn't have violence, it has jealousy. It has a lot of made-for-TV-movie kind of elements. All Los Angeles did was have an earthquake. There was nothing sexy about that."

Kerrigan-Harding is a story with legs.

It outlasted the earthquake, Whitewater and the State of the Union address.

For goodness sakes, Jackson even settled his case out of court.

But not Kerrigan and Harding.

Millions of dollars were at stake in the race for the Olympic gold, worth up to $10 million during the next four years for an American winner.

Already, though, some 10 days before the first woman takes the ice in the Olympic technical program, hundreds of thousands of dollars have exchanged hands.

Harding reportedly received between $300,000 and $675,000 for her recent two-night appearance on "Inside Edition."

If she got the higher figure, she beat the Buttafuoco record.

Previously making the rounds of the tabloid shows were Harding's former husband, Jeff Gillooly, who pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy in the case; her ex-bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt; Shane Stant, accused of being the hit man, and Derrick Smith, accused of driving the getaway car.

Chung and Sawyer have been trading interview scoops. Chung landed Harding and her mother, a six-times-married waitress. Sawyer swooped in to get Kerrigan.

"60 Minutes" showed a student film project focusing on Harding at 15.

Friday, Court TV and CNN broadcast live the hearing of Harding's request for a restraining order against a U.S. Olympic Committee administrative board.

Then there are the movie rights.

Within two days of the attack, Kerrigan's representatives had received 35 movie offers. After the count reached 50, they eventually sold her life story to Disney for a reported $1 million.

The fee includes Kerrigan's appearances in skating shows.

CBS agreed to a smaller Kerrigan package for two prime-time specials.

"I guess we're way beyond Joe DiMaggio," Gentile said.

Clearly, this is a new age of sports journalism.

It's almost frightening to consider what modern journalism would do with another DiMaggio-Marilyn Monroe romance.

One thing is certain: There would be a lot of action in the paperback book division.

Already, three Kerrigan biographies have hit the market, and one Harding book is out.

And two writers from The Oregonian, Harding's hometown newspaper, soon will have a book published on the fallen star.

"This is like Wrestlemania on ice," said Wayne Coffey, co-author of the book, "Dreams of Gold: The Nancy Kerrigan Story."

Coffey and his fellow New York Daily News writer Filip Bondy wrote the 30,000-word book in 4 1/2 days.

St. Martin's Press rushed 200,000 copies into print.

Coffey's brother, Frank, and Joseph Layden countered with a book of their own -- "Thin Ice: The Complete Uncensored Story of Tonya Harding."

"Just when you think the story is petering out, something else happens, and it's back on the front page," Wayne Coffey said.

Consider: the attack and the videotaped aftermath of Kerrigan screaming, "Why me?"

The arrests of the alleged participants. The confessions. The arrest of the ex-husband. The astonishing performance by the ex-husband's attorney, who all but convicted Harding in a news conference.

And the equally astonishing tale of how the story leaked out: a sex-telephone operator, in contact with the father of the bodyguard, notified the Detroit police.

PD And don't forget the FBI transcripts, which detailed that the al

leged plotters briefly considered hiring a sniper to shoot Kerrigan.

"You've got a true crime story," Frank Coffey said. "You've got the gang that couldn't shoot straight and an attack on Snow White. This is about the ugliest thing to happen in sports. Forever."

Believe it or not, it will come to an end. Unlike the other tabloid stories of the 1990s, there is a deadline: the women's gold medal will be awarded Feb. 25.

"This has got everything in it," Gentile said. "That is what we start to look for. That is the sensational stuff that becomes dominant news. If you can have any shred of violence and sex in a story, you're in business."

And so are the oddsmakers.

At the Las Vegas Hilton, Kerrigan is a 4-1 favorite to finish ahead of Harding at the Olympics.

But the bets are only good if both skaters perform. Otherwise, the sports book will issue refunds.

Hilton spokeswoman Kathy Shepard said: "We're getting a lot of action. At first, we were getting the action on Kerrigan. But then it started swinging the other way to Harding. People like the underdog."

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