Frozen in time
By Chris McKendry
Page 2 columnist

She made a sport a billion-dollar spectacle.

She turned ice princesses into bankable personalities.

In this case, crime did pay ... for everyone except Tonya Harding.

Forget the French judge. Next to the original, Marie-Reine Le Gougne was a weak follow-up. Harding, the trailer park pixie, is no more vicious than Dr. Evil, and she's just as funny. She's horrible, yet harmless. And she piques both my interest and my sympathy.

With her hair-sprayed big bangs and Wet n' Wild lipstick, Harding is frozen in time. She's waiting for 1994 to call and offer a second chance at life.

It's Jan. 6, 1994, 2:35 p.m. in Detroit. Harding's then-husband Jeff Gillooly along with friends Derrick Smith, Shawn Eckardt and Shane Stant pull off the stunt. They club Harding's rival, Nancy Kerrigan, on the knee at the Olympic Trials.

Fifty days later, Kerrigan gives the skate of her life at the Lillehammer Olympic Games. She settles for a silver medal. Harding, meanwhile, is a mess. She cries on the ice, insists a skate lace is broken, gets a re-skate. And finishes eighth.

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  • Finally, on June 30 that year, Harding is banned from the United States Figure Skating Association for life, after admitting guilt in a plea bargain.

    More crushing, she was black-balled by all other skaters, who refused to skate in any show that hired her. The only person chasing Harding was Connie Chung, who wanted a FREE interview.

    The product of an unhappy childhood and marriage, Harding was as bad off as ever. She was broke and alone.

    Harding's one heinous act became the classic good vs. evil story. It was simple and easy to digest. Everyone ate it up.

    But I have always found it to be more complex than that. I wonder when Harding quit trying. When did she reach the breaking point?

    She was the girl from the other side of the tracks in a sport that favored the privileged. It was a tough position. Watching the "artistry" of Jill Trenary, which kept her from a national title, could not have been easy. Skating didn't want her "type." When did she come to that conclusion?

    Americans love underdogs, except in figure skating. That audience wants picture-perfect.

    And Harding is as far from picture-perfect as can be. She is boxing now to make a living.

    Following breast implants and arrests for assault and drunk driving, Harding has become a laughingstock.

    By laughing at her, we can ignore the sad fact that she's Everyman at his or her worst. And most desperate.

    SportsCenter anchor Chris McKendry is a regular columnist for Page 2.



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