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FIGURE SKATING : Harding Leads After Technical Program

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Tonya Harding skated Friday night to music from “Much Ado About Nothing,” which has been the story of her career since the 1992 Winter Olympics.

But she promised figure skating followers this week at Skate America that they would see the old Tonya Harding, the one who finished first in the national championships and second in the world in 1991 and placed fourth in last year’s Olympics, and so far she has delivered.

Before a crowd estimated at 5,700, she skated a technical program that she called the best of her career, giving her the lead over reigning world champion Oksana Bayul of Ukraine and three-time European champion Surya Bonaly of France entering tonight’s decisive freestyle program.

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“I felt there were a lot of people out there who thought I was a has-been because I haven’t done anything winning-wise in a couple of years,” said Harding, who finished fourth in this year’s nationals.

Asked if she were among those she needed to convince, she said: “Definitely.”

Bayul, the 16-year-old favorite, was splendid artistically but, as the only contender who did not perform a triple jump, she was found lacking technically by the seven judges. Michelle Kwan of Torrance skated a clean program and was sixth, not bad considering she is only 13 and competing for the first time internationally at the senior level.

As expected, Russians Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov, third in the world this year, won the pairs competition, adding first-place marks in Friday night’s free skate to the ones they earned for Wednesday’s technical program. Second and third, respectively, were the U.S. teams of Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen and Karen Courtland and Todd Reynolds.

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