After all of her fight, Tonya's night couldn't get past 10

February 24, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

HAMAR, Norway -- The nine figure skaters ahead of Tonya Harding in the standings had better watch their knees at practice today.

The judges in the Olympic women's skating competition better have their lawyers hired and ready to file those countersuits.

The Queen of Clackamas Mall is not a happy alleged conspirator today.

Someone is going to pay.

Tonya's short program was good for 10th place last night at the Olympic Amphitheater, "Inside Edition" has learned.

After all the trouble she went through to get here, she had a bad night. Nancy Kerrigan skated a near-flawless program and finished in first place. Tonya? She wasn't even the high Tonya on the tote board. Germany's Tonia Szewczeno finished five places ahead of her -- and with a training regimen that didn't include a single polygraph test!

Our Tonya got more pub, at least.

She skated onto the ice with her hands folded in prayer, dressed in a sparkling, sleeveless red costume straight out of a "Gunsmoke" bar scene. The crowd -- possibly numb from having had to pass through metal detectors to get inside and enjoy their Olympic experience -- shouted sweet morsels of encouragement. It was the high point of Tonya's night.

After withholding information from the police, suing for $25 million to fulfill her Olympic dream and apparently rediscovering religion shortly after being shown on national TV taking off her top, she reached her first big Olympic jump some 45 seconds into her short program. And it clubbed her. If you catch the drift.

Seeing as it was the emotional high water of one of the most-watched sports events in history, to "The Giants win the pennant!" and "Havlicek stole the ball!" and "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!" we can add this newcomer to the American Sports Phrase Hall of Fame: "She double-footed the triple-Lutz portion of the triple-Lutz double-toe combination!"

From there Tonya went on to miss the landing on a double flip and move sloppily through a step sequence. So someone said.

At the finish, the crowd cheered, a man held up a banner saying, "Frank Loves You, Tonya," and a dozen or so fans tossed flower bouquets onto the ice, apparently thinking she had excelled. (Perhaps they had eaten one too many recycleable plates.)

And then the judging panel of five men and four women, to paraphrase a favorite Tonya-ism, kicked her rear.

Her marks for artistry, supposedly her weakness, were high enough for medal contention. But her technical marks were low enough to make Dick Button hiccup. The Polish and Ukranian judges went all the way down to 4.8.

Her overall total was so low that by the end of the night she was below a Canadian skater who went splat, a Chinese skater who caromed off a TV camera and a Japanese skater who pulled out of every tough jump.

After the 27th and final skater had finished, America's favorite/reviled, spunky/scheming, survivor/hardballer was ranked between the immortal Anna Rechnio of Poland and Lenka Kulovana of the Czech Republic.

Among all of the skaters who have ever accomplished anything in any competition other than junior roller derby, she was dead last.

Imagine, all of that trouble just to finish ahead of Bulgaria, Finland and Korea.

Tonya was tough to the end of course. "When I have a gold medal around my neck, that's when I'll feel like I achieved what I came here for," she told a U.S. press official. Feel free to use your own punch line.

Of course, as they say in skating, it's never over until the last loop is toed. There is still practice today and the long program tomorrow. Plenty of time for Tonya's lawyers to cook up something. Almost enough time for Jeff Gillooly to get on a plane, get over here and start working the phones.

Absent that, however, Tonya is cooked.

Give Nancy credit. She held up her end of the skate-off. She skated superbly. She smiled that smile.

But her foil crumpled.

Just like every edition of the real Super Bowl, this one was a dud.

It's too bad. Imagine the heat tomorrow night if Tonya had skated well. ("You can throw out the record books when these two girls get together. And you can throw the book at one of them!")

There will still be Kerrigan fighting her long-program demon and going for a gold medal. But no Bette Davis Jr. fighting her, too.

Well, at least now we know what to do. The next time this happens (a skater's ex-husband hires a goon to whack his wife's rival, the plot falls apart, the country goes blotto and the ex-wife skates in the Olympics only because she hires a good lawyer), let's pay no attention.

Let's just wait for the TV docudrama to come out. She's bound to do better in that.

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