Harding's odd melodrama closes with bizarre twist LILLEHAMMER '94

February 26, 1994|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Writer

HAMAR, Norway -- This was not the Winter Olympics of Tonya Harding's dreams.

She didn't win the gold. She didn't break the top five.

She almost didn't even show up on time for the free skate.

Last night, she skated once with a broken lace and cried. She skated again and muscled her way through a program to "Jurassic Park," earning polite applause, tepid marks and an eighth-place finish.

"It's definitely worth it," she told a pool reporter later. "I mean, it's worth being at the Olympics. If I had it all over to do again, I would definitely try something different, I guess. Maybe not. Who knows?"

Harding's performance was weird. But on second glance, maybe it wasn't.

She has become the queen of the tabloids, shown topless in The Sun of London, providing interviews for $600,000 cash with "Inside Edition," storming out of interviews with Connie Chung.

That was just the warm-up.

Harding turned the free skate into mystery night at the Olympics.

For nearly two minutes, she was missing.

Her name was called. The ice was empty. The crowd stirring.

Suddenly, she came bolting through a blue curtain, tossing away an inhaler, a blur of burgundy and gold and silver rhinestones on the run.

The music from "Jurassic Park" started. She began to skate. But something was wrong.

She pulled out of her first jump and began to cry, skating aimlessly around the ice, finally coming over to the judges table, lifting her right leg to show that her bootlaces were undone.

"My lace broke," she said. "I cut it on the warm-up, and then it broke as soon as I got off. Then, we had another lace and it was too small. I tried to go out with it and skate anyway."

It was a disaster. The judges ordered her to fix the lace in two minutes or face disqualification.

"I knew that if I was going to skate like that it was going to be very risky," Harding said later. Her eyes were still red-rimmed from the tears and her face pale from vomiting and incessant coughing due to asthma.

"We couldn't do anything," she said. "Then, finally, in the middle of us trying to fix the lace, they announced I could skate at the end [of her group]. And we were very, very relieved because we weren't having good luck with the laces."

When it was announced Harding was given the reskate, the crowd booed. After all, this wasn't the first time Harding was the victim of equipment failure.

The strap of one of her outfits once snapped at the 1993 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Phoenix. Last October she had a loose blade at the Skate America competition.

Even with the reskate, there would be no reprieve for Harding among the judges.

She missed her triple axel. She didn't land one triple combination. She was sluggish.

But she got her wish: She skated at the Games.

"I think I did quite well under all the circumstances because I think I was ready to have a nervous breakdown before I went out the first time," she said. "It felt really good. I feel really lucky that I'm able to be here at the Olympic Games to represent my country."

As she left the ice, Harding waved to the crowd. Asked what she was thinking at the point, she said, "That I was really happy and at least one of my dreams came true, that I was able to be here. And if I don't win a medal, that's OK."

Harding used the threat of a legal suit against the U.S. Olympic Committee to keep her place in the Games. But when she returns to Portland, Ore., she will again face the investigation into the Jan. 6 clubbing of her rival, Nancy Kerrigan.

Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly has implicated her in the attack. Three other men, including her former bodyguard, have been arrested.

She declined to talk about the criminal investigation, or her legal difficulties.

Harding did, however, salute Kerrigan.

"I'm really glad Nancy skated great," she said. "I hope she did it not only for herself but for the country and our team."

Harding couldn't stop coughing as she retreated to a room for an interview behind the "Kiss and Cry" area.

"Oh, God, I can't breathe," Harding gasped between puffs on an inhaler.

Was this Harding's final appearance in a major skating competition?

"It's not all over," she said. "I'm not done with skating, by any means."

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