It's still hard to beat the drama (and the ratings) of Tonya and Nancy's Olympics

John Cherwa, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

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Another women's figure skating final will be behind us soon, with all the requisite drama that follows the Winter Games' marquee event.

What do you expect from a sport in which the participants don't go to the clubhouse or locker room but to a place called "Kiss and Cry."

No matter how good or how exciting this year's version of the women's competition was, it will never top 1994 and what is still the top-rated Olympics program in history. It was watched by 48.5 million people. This year's short program drew 29.7 million, which was up from the Sochi Games' 21.4 million.

The reason was the you-couldn't-make-it-up backstory that could have been straight out of the pages of Donald E. Westlake. It achieved such acclaim that only first names are necessary: Tonya and Nancy.

The short version is that Nancy Kerrigan was favored to make the U.S. Olympic figure skating team and was the chief rival of Tonya Harding. Kerrigan was kneecapped at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in an attack planned by Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly.

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Both Kerrigan and Harding went to Lillehammer, Norway, and competed against each other. Kerrigan won the silver; Harding did not even come close to medaling.

The spat even created a journalism kerfuffle when New York Newsday photoshopped a cover of Harding and Kerrigan skating in warmups at the Olympics at the same time. It never happened but it sure made for a good cover.

A few months ago, a mockumentary-styled movie, "I, Tonya," hit the screens to great reviews as one of the best sports movies ever, although admittedly that's a pretty low bar. It's even going to win an Oscar, probably: Allison Janney, playing Tonya Harding's mother, is up for best supporting actress. Harding's mother, LaVona Golden, was known to have a pet bird on her shoulder and Janney auditioned three different birds for that part. Wonder how she told the losers? Janney even wore a fake bird on her shoulder at the Golden Globes ceremony. If you hadn't seen the movie, it looked mighty strange.

One thing the movie is a little fuzzy about is if Harding knew of the attack beforehand. She has said she was aware that something was up but has otherwise always professed her innocence. Gillooly, who legally changed his name to Jeff Stone (can't make this stuff up), said she definitely knew about the attack. Gillooly served six months of a two-year prison sentence, and Harding pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder an investigation and was banned from figure skating for life.


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