LILLEHAMMER / ’94 WINTER OLYMPICS : They Get Together, but Stay Apart
“Holy cow!” exclaimed Lee Lilly Lyoonjung, an American figure skater competing for South Korea, when she saw how many people had come to watch Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding share the ice. There were more spectators than had attended South Korea’s national championships--and this was a practice.
Kerrigan skated to Lee’s side and said, “I’m sorry.”
Circling one another warily and without acknowledgment, Kerrigan and Harding skated together Thursday for the first time since becoming victim and implicated villain, respectively, in America’s bizarre Skategate scandal. Usual security measures were quadrupled, one official said, as the two U.S. Olympic teammates rehearsed simultaneously for next week’s competition here, which is attracting extraordinary interest worldwide.
Neither skater directly addressed a massive media turnout, but Harding did schedule a one-hour news conference for today at 7 a.m. Pacific time.
Every detail of the athletes’ day drew uncommon attention, from the bouquet of roses sent to Harding by an anonymous admirer in Washington, D.C., to a good-luck telegram delivered to Kerrigan that came from quarterback Troy Aikman of the Dallas Cowboys.
“It was cool,” Kerrigan said.
She and Harding were joined by two rivals, Lee and Bulgaria’s Zvetelina Abrasheva, during a half-hour workout at a training rink, followed by a separate session on the ice of the Hamar Olympic Amphitheatre, 45 miles from Lillehammer, where the women’s finals will be held Feb. 25. Because Kerrigan was assaulted Jan. 6 at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Detroit, this marked her first actual appearance on the ice with Harding in more than a year.
Lee, the self-appointed “peacemaker” among the skaters, embraced Harding after the early practice.
She had said beforehand, “I don’t know if (Tonya is) going to get a Nancy hug, but she’s going to get one from me.”
Tonya received no Nancy hug. Although they reportedly had exchanged greetings the night before, Harding and Kerrigan had no visible contact at either practice Thursday, dressing in separate quarters and ignoring one another while limbering up and executing their routines. Nervous laughter filled the hall at one point when the two skaters narrowly missed one another, in what would have been a crash heard ‘round the world.
Anticipating a stampede from hundreds of reporters and photographers as well as curiosity-seekers inside their tiny training rink, officials from the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee (LOOC) reinforced a balcony railing, having become concerned several days ago when First Daughter Chelsea Clinton leaned across it while attending a Kerrigan workout. A spokesman for LOOC, Ove Lunde, also said security was quadrupled for the occasion, particularly after death threats against Harding and Kerrigan.
Norwegian skating officials said more people attended this practice than had attended certain European championship events.
Among those in attendance were skaters Scott Davis of the United States and Elvis Stojko of Canada, even though each had to perform in the men’s singles competition later in the evening; U.S. Olympic Committee President Harvey Schiller, rarely one to attend such a practice, and figure skating TV consultant Eddie Einhorn, who also is co-owner of the Chicago White Sox. Einhorn compared interest in Thursday’s activity here to that in Michael Jordan’s participation in Florida spring training with the White Sox.
“The only place in the world to be today is here or in Sarasota,” Einhorn said, even though no actual sporting event was being held in either place.
Kerrigan and Harding ran through their freestyle routines in a voluntary practice that began at 1:30 p.m. here, then worked on their technical performances in a 4 o’clock session. Kerrigan, skittish and several pounds thinner than she was in Detroit, broke some tension when she and Lee, sharing a dressing room, discovered that their all-white, lace-bodiced outfits were nearly identical. Kerrigan’s costume was strikingly similar to the one she was wearing when a baton-wielding assailant changed her life with a single swing.
She stepped onto the ice, coincidentally, to the background music of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.”
Harding, having practiced in Oregon until now, cut quite a contrasting figure in a florid leotard and black tights. She skipped the six-minute warm-up period altogether, then emerged from her dressing room holding hands with Haik Gharibians, a U.S. Olympic team physiotherapist. Her right ankle giving her pain, Harding nevertheless skated skillfully to music from the film “Jurassic Park” and attempted several triple axels, landing two of them perfectly.
Coughing from her asthma, Harding said to her coach during a break: “I need a new body. I need a younger body.”
Her 23-year-old one appeared on front pages internationally Thursday, in various poses from a videotape filmed by her former husband, Jeff Gillooly, that he sold to American television.
Harding added to her coach: “No, this one has done all right for me.”
Leaving the rink, Harding thumbs-upped the media.
She and Kerrigan were back at practice shortly thereafter, without incident, frequently gliding within a few feet of one another but avoiding one another’s gazes at all times.
U.S. figure skating spokeswoman Kristin Matta said afterward: “It was stressful, but both of them handled it well. Better than we did.”