Deep in your heart you know you're pulling for Harding

February 20, 1994|By MIKE LITTWIN

Is it just me, or is anyone else out there in Olympic-land secretly rooting for Tonya Harding?

I won't tell if you won't.

It isn't that there's anything much to like about Tonya. She isn't warm. She isn't fuzzy. She isn't admirable. She's Roseanne on skates. And, yeah, she was probably involved up to her sequins in the Nancy Kerrigan whacking.

The only thing to like about Tonya is what she represents: the anti-Olympic-spirit movement.

You see, there is no real Olympic spirit. The Olympic spirit is a made-for-TV production that we fall for every time it hits the airwaves.

The Olympic movement is supposed to be all about peace among nations and good sportsmanship and, of course, the amateur ideal.

When actually it's about selling Diet Coke and indulging in phony-baloney, flag-waving patriotism.

Nobody really believes in the amateur-ideal stuff anymore. To begin with, there are as many nuclear physicists on the American team as there are pure amateurs. That's a good thing. The counts and princes who reinvented the Olympics in the late 19th century restricted participation to amateurs in order to keep the riffraff out. You could look it up.

Now, everybody gets paid. Including Tommy Moe, who got a little extra in his paycheck from the U.S. Olympic committee for bringing home the gold.

I always find it funny when somebody like Moe -- most Americans didn't know him from Larry or Curly a week ago -- becomes a national hero because he skis down a hill fast.

That's OK, though.

It's the nature of sports to produce heroes. We don't have to know anything about them. We can idealize them.

It's safe.

It's not like giving your heart to some mendacious politician. Michael Jordan is never going to vote to raise your taxes.

Moe has a good story. He was a troubled kid who went with his dad to Alaska and found, well, skiing. And he works hard. And he stopped smoking dope, I guess. And, well, you know the rest.

Look, if you can't like a ski bum, who can you like? Tommy Moe is as likable as Tonya Harding isn't.

Tonya was a troubled kid. She doesn't go to Alaska. She goes to a skating rink. She fights with her mom, usually characterized as "the mom from hell." She hangs out with tough people. She drives a truck. She doesn't wear a seat belt. She has asthma and she smokes. She marries badly. She shows up at the last Olympics only three days before she's supposed to skate, but, hey, it's only the Olympics.

She thinks life is exactly like they show it on the tabloids. For her, maybe it is.

Did you see her last week on "A Current Affair"? Mom was on the show, playing a guitar and singing a song she had written for Tonya. Sample lyric: "A little girl was born to us that day. I never guessed the price I'd have to pay." Let's just say she wasn't exactly Tom Waits.

It got worse from there. We then moved to the home video portion of the broadcast, in which Tonya is shown dancing topless at a party. Ex-hubby and current-felon Jeff Gillooly are the apparent sources of the tape.

With a mom and husband like that, you don't have to wonder what happened to Harding.

You don't have to wonder, either, what she's doing in Lillehammer. She's there because she filed a $25 million lawsuit, and the U.S. Olympic Committee caved in. There's a principle for you. It has nothing to do with presumption of innocence, either.

It's just money, or fear of losing it.

Tell me where the Olympic ideal figures in. I know sportsmanship doesn't get a call. The race is to the swift. Or to the participant with the best lawyers, anyway.

Besides, who minds that she's there, other than, say, poor Nancy Kerrigan, whose emotional state was routinely described as "fragile" long before anybody slammed her knee?

So much better for the ratings. When Harding and Kerrigan hit the ice, we're looking at Super Bowl-type numbers. I'm going to tune in just to see if anyone will boo. (Prediction: Norwegians are too polite, or too darn cold, to boo. The Americans there, however, will overcome the cold.)

If there is any justice, Kerrigan would win. She probably won't. Harding definitely won't. But wouldn't you like to see her up there on the stand, just so the Olympic officials would have to explain how in the wide, wide world of sports she got there?

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