Former ice skater, Nancy Kerrigan, is at the Vancouver Olympics, as a reporter for Entertainment Tonight.
(In 1994 she was competing in the Detroit figure skating finals -- out of the blue, someone appeared and bashed her knee with a stick. It didn't take long for people to suspect it had something to do with her competitor, Tonya Harding.)
One look at Nancy Kerrigan and I'm remembering her lovely, neat arabesque -- not high but perfectly placed -- her graceful, not very exciting, but always perfectly controlled double lutz, double toe loop -- her gliding along in her white, virginal-looking costume.
I'm remembering Tonya Harding -- her flashy outfits, her rather hefty figure -- always practicing her triple axels. She was the first woman ever to do a triple axel in the short program, the first to perform two triple axels in a single competition, the first ever to do a triple axel combination, with double toe loop.
Why did Tonya get her boyfriend to hire a pal to hurt Nancy's knee? Was it pillow talk, her whispering "I'm better than Nancy, if only I could get Nancy to quit?" Was it a feeling that everything wonderful happened to girls like Nancy, not to girls from the wrong side of the tracks? Or was it desperate, overwhelming ambition?
The details of Kerrigan's career before the shocking event are foggy. Not the event -- Nancy Kerrigan sobbing, rubbing her knee, moaning -- "Why, oh Why ?"
The media kept replaying that "why oh why" moment, while we were pulling for the girl, praying for her, aware of her pain as she tackled physical therapy. Golly, wow! There she was -- brave Nancy in her skates, practicing her short program. She performed it two times in a row in order to defeat her fears, and then, brave, wonderful Nancy performed it in the recap of the Detroit contest.
All this, while Tonya was investigated, then penalized, then barred from skating by the American Figuring Skating Association and the Olympic committee, who sent Nancy Kerrigan to the Olympics, instead of the second-place winner (much better skater), Michelle Kwan.
The name, the fame Nancy got, got her 9.5. million dollars from Disney, if she left the Olympics before the awards ceremony (she won the silver), and came home that night, to be in the Disney parade the next day.
In America on parade day, a camera microphone caught Kerrigan saying "this is dumb ... this is corny." There was talk about her being bitchy grumpy.
Nevertheless, Kerrigan's agent got her more money, higher-profile endorsements than Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi. (Kerrigan fit the "all-American" image, and Yamaguchi is of Japanese ancestry.)
Nancy K won many things as the years passed. She's had a big career, performing starring roles in ice shows, small parts in movies, money from endorsements, and a graceful retirement -- marriage to her agent, and two beautiful children.
What happened to Tonya Harding? When she admitted that she helped her boyfriend cover up the attack, proceedings to remove her from the 1994 Olympic team were initiated. Later, avoiding a jail sentence, Harding pleaded guilty, and received three years probation, $160,000 fine, and 500 hours of community service.
It was the beginning of slide, as if she were a snow-boarding, "butt-boarding." speeding down a long hill.
As the newlywed Tonya, her husband and the pal he paid to whack Nancy's knee, were further investigated, Tonya's calls to the police gained her page-two headlines. I thought (most people thought) "It serves her right" when we read about intruders, then robbers, dire threats, and a shocking gang rape.
(It occurred to me that Tonya was inventing these attacks to get attention, and I felt just a little sorry for her -- mastering a triple axel took years of practice, nerve, and skill, and now she was banned for life from participating in figure skating as a skater or coach.)
Her pornographic "Wedding Video" (clips of her and her husband making love), got plenty of attention, especially when stills from it were published in Penthouse Magazine. Her sequined outfit, her chubby appearance on a pro-wrestling show was booed; her one-night-stand in Portland with her band (the Golden Blades), got her booed off the stage. It was pathetic, and sort of amusing, typical Tonya Harding "bad taste."
There were mentions, here and there-- she was being stalked by someone driving a white Lincoln Town Car, she played a criminal in a film, "Breakaway." She was abducted at knife-point outside her home by a bushy-haired man who stole her truck.
These incidents, and her calls to the police, seemed to happen frequently -- I wondered if she was inventing them?
While Harding attempted a comeback as a professional speed skater, a fight with a new boyfriend got her booked on fourth-degree domestic violence assault charges, plus three days in jail, and that ended her return to skating.
During Harding's boxing career, she was cited for drunk driving, and canceled a boxing match, claiming she was getting death threats. Then, after not boxing for a year she fought again, lost the fight and retired from boxing, telling reporters it was because of her asthma.
After a 911 call about two masked men assaulting her, she was cited for being under the influence, then at 5 a.m. the next morning, a "personal friend" called the police and said, "Tonya's freaking out, she's seeing animals!"
I skimmed the article -- it sounded like she'd hit bottom, but she'd hit bottom too many time before.
Meanwhile, the Kerrigan-Harding affair was the central subject in Elizabeth Searle's novella, "Celebrities In Disgrace," which was adapted into a chamber opera, produced at Tufts and American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Later it was turned into a Rock Opera, that premiered on the West Coast in 2008. Tonya Harding attended the premiere.
(So, she wasn't freaking out anymore -- she was alive and kicking.)
She was the subject of "Tonya's Twirls", a song, a lament for lost innocence. Her autobiography, "The Tonya Tapes" was published in 2008. Her role in the Kerrigan attack has been widely referenced in sitcom episodes, music videos, and even in a speech by Barack Obama (according to Wikipedia).
Well, one of her dreams came true -- Tonya Harding is a NAME -- she's had more than 15 minutes of fame.
Why do I re-tell this story? Because it's an American tale that should be told or taught in schools, to kids who imitate what they see and read about, and dream the dreams of fame at any price.
Campaigning in Iowa, Barack Obama told a crowd, "Folks said there's no way Obama has a chance unless he goes and kneecaps the person ahead of us -- does a Tonya Harding," Obama joked. "We decided that's not the kind of campaign we wanted to run," he said.
So strip -- take off all your clothes, kids? Stalk celebrities? Threaten suicide, murder, act crazy, do something outrageous-- do anything to be somebody?
Tonya Harding conquered three axels. Wow! That's power, talent, a winning, stick-to-it energy -- it could have gained her other things, gained her much more than what she has now.