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Nancy Kerrigan looks back, 20 years after Tonya Harding drama


SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Nancy Kerrigan stood in front of a group of reporters, voice quivering and hands fidgeting as she described her emotions after watching a one-hour retrospective on the figure skating scandal that shook the Olympic earth 20 years ago.

There were only a handful of media members in the room with her Friday as opposed to the hundreds that hounded her in 1994 after rival skater Tonya Harding's ex-husband put together a hit squad to try to keep Kerrigan from skating against Harding in the Lillehammer Olympics. But as she fumbled with her cellphone and tugged at the bottom of her stylish jacket, it was clear that watching the events unfold again in a press conference room in Sochi all these years later brought bubbling back to the surface those same feelings of helplessness and bewilderment.

"It made me think about everything all over again," Kerrigan said after a screening of "Nancy & Tonya," which will air on NBC on Sunday.

"It's surprising how this whole event and being attacked, it's changed not just skating, it changed my life. It changed tabloid journalism, reality television. That whole other aspect that I had no part of. It just moved the world, almost, in a different direction. Whether it's for the better or not, who knows? It just changed everything."

Kerrigan and Harding were two of the brightest stars in American figure skating when they arrived in Detroit for the U.S. championships in 1994, about six weeks ahead of the Lillehammer Games. Kerrigan was knocked out of the competition when an associate of Harding's ex-husband whacked her on the right knee with a baton. It touched off a staggering scandal that pushed figure skating into the mainstream and made the camera-shy Kerrigan the uncomfortable subject of international fascination.

Kerrigan recovered in time to win a silver medal in Lillehammer, while Harding spun out of control.

"It's a little surreal to watch your life and to think, 'That's me,'" Kerrigan, who works for NBC as a skating analyst for the Sochi Games, said after watching the show. "It's almost like a whole other person at this point. I've changed. Well, I haven't changed really much, just moved on. Things in my life are different. I'm basically the same sort of competitive person, but it's just things move on."

As Harding parlayed the incident into a circus sideshow sort of celebrity that included televised boxing matches and guest commentary spots on hokey TV shows, Kerrigan retreated to the cocoon of family life. She almost never spoke publicly about her experience until just recently as the 20th anniversary approached.

During the screening, a dozen or so people sat near the front of the room. But Kerrigan sat near the back, out of sight while she watched the show recap her rise from modest means to skating stardom; the "whack heard 'round the world" that jeopardized her Olympic chances; and Harding talk about a hard-scrabble upbringing while continuing to deny she had any role in the attack on Kerrigan.

"I've apologized so many times," Harding said dismissively in the show. "She is not worth my time anymore."

"When you see someone struggle from the beginning, that's hard and I feel for her," Kerrigan said. "It doesn't excuse poor judgment. I hope now, after all this, for not just my sake but her sake, too. She has a family. Let's move on. You've got to allow people that chance to get on with their lives and try to be better and learn from mistakes."

As much as she expressed a desire to move past it Friday, there were times when it was clear that there is still some lingering pain and resentment for Kerrigan.

When journalist Mary Carillo, who interviewed both Kerrigan and Harding for the piece, was asked about Harding's persistent denial of involvement in the assault, Kerrigan interjected with an exasperated chuckle.

"Wouldn't it be weird to change it now?" Kerrigan said.

One of the toughest parts for Kerrigan was to see how some portrayed her as "an ice princess," a robotic, occasionally snarky competitor who was mocked for her cries of "Why? Why?" when she was struck on the knee and when microphones caught her calling a parade at Walt Disney World "corny."

"I remember how that felt," Kerrigan said. "So watching it, it's upsetting. Why are people like that? I don't understand."

She said she's always been a private person, so when the world turned its camera lens on her in 1994, the harsh light that shined with it was difficult for her to handle. She felt the picture that was painted was unfair and unflattering, a feeling that hasn't faded over time.

"I always wanted to be understood. Who doesn't want to be liked, right?" Kerrigan said, her voice trailing off as she concluded the interview. "That's all. I'm sorry."

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
azell February 21 2014 at 8:57 PM

Certainly, it's a sad story. However, Nancy went on to the ice shows and showed that the incident wouldn't stop her. As to Tonya, it finished her as a competitive skater or, for that matter, as a skater and nothing she tried turned out to be positive for her. And, to think that at one time the skating world thought that Tonya may become the greatest athletic type figure skater.

However, for every negative there is a positive . . . and the positive is that it changed the impression of women's figure skating from being ballet on ice to being a "real" sport . . . so much so that women's finals in national and international competitions became the sport with the highest viewership over all other sports.

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1 reply
hattie54 azell February 21 2014 at 9:21 PM

Tonya could have competed against the men.Paul Wylie said in one interview that Tonya jumped higher than he did.

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elpmlp February 22 2014 at 12:55 AM

Both ladies had their strong and weak points. Nancy went on to win silver at the 1994 Olympics; I believe she won a bronze medal at the 1998 Olympics. Tonya won more U.S. National Championships, although one (title) was stripped. Tonya was the only female skater at the time to have faithfully executed a triple axel skating move.

Hopefully they will all put it behind them.

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2 replies
cullen3132 elpmlp February 22 2014 at 2:09 AM

Kerrigan won bronze in 92 and went pro after the 94 games.

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Susan elpmlp February 22 2014 at 9:32 AM

Nancy had won bronze in '92 at Albertville. Lipinski won in 1998.
Your wording makes it sound as if Harding was the first woman to do a 3 axel, which is *not* the case.
She was the first American woman. Midori Ito, silver medalist at Albertville, was the first woman to do a triple axel (or triple-triple combinations) in competition. Her 3 axel was more reliable than Harding's, who completed the jump successfully (4 times) only in 1991.
Apologies, if I misunderstood what you were getting at.

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plkelly9 February 22 2014 at 2:05 AM


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gina24lt February 21 2014 at 4:05 PM

I think that one look at the two women pictured in the above photos, today, says it all. Time to move on.

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Ralph February 21 2014 at 4:01 PM

In reference to many of these comments, I am surprized and frankly dismayed by all of the negativity towards a young woman who was attacked 20 years ago. I don't care if her tears and emotions were real or exagerated. Nancy was the victim. I believe these comments reflect poorly on the writers. This is coming from someone who gives Tonya Harding the benefit of the doubt. I believe Tonya did not know what her husband and cronies were planning until after the assault occurred. At most, I believe she may not have come forward as soon as she could have (after learning of the plot). Both young ladies were 23 and/or 24 at the time. For all practical purposes, they're entire past, present, and future was skating. At such a young age, both were looking at the end of their fairy tale careers with this brief moment in history.

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1 reply
Ralph Ralph February 21 2014 at 4:04 PM

Meaning, I'm not sure how anyone should have reacted under these circumstances.

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houseosims February 21 2014 at 4:00 PM

Have Your Say.
I felt bad for Nancy when she was attacked because I knew what it was to suffer from a knee that no longer worked right. That someone would try to disable her for life was pure evil. I wanted to hear Tanya say she accepted that what she did was evil and sincerely repents her part in it. I always believed Tanya was a co-conspirator in the crime.

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safewest February 21 2014 at 8:42 PM

Who really cares? 20 years. Give it a rest.

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RJKARMA106@aol February 21 2014 at 8:55 PM

20 yrs! Do either of them want this brought up? Why take away from the current Olympics to rehash this old stuff. There is so much that can be written about the Olympics going on right now. Move on folks. This really is tabloid garbage.

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patrick douglass February 21 2014 at 6:37 PM

I was just thirty then and an Air Force Pilot and I was there in Detroit for the Skate and when it happened I just Cried for Nancy, I also was a Skater and I know the work that goes into the regiment a Skater goes thru.
There is no telling how far up the ladder Nancy could have risen, she had it all, Looks talent and perseverance to Rise all the way to the top and GOLD at a Future Olympics, my wife and I have followed both of their careers as much as possible with a home full of Skaters, all five of our Daughters and grand Kids Skate here in Minnesota(we have a long season) like 6 months and many in-door arenas. We all had popcorn, candy, chips and dip and were all glued to the Flat Screen for the entire Olympic Skating events, the others we pass on. Oh, we all agree that KIM was robbed.

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wllthompson8 February 21 2014 at 5:14 PM

i don,t remember te details but i hope some one was punished for the attact onkerrigan

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1 reply
eaglephoenix2 wllthompson8 February 21 2014 at 5:18 PM

Yes, we had tonya hardings wedding night video pushed on us.....

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1 reply
ono eaglephoenix2 February 21 2014 at 5:21 PM

I seriously hope she didn't reproduce?

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