From the archives | 1994

Inside the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan practice faceoff

HAMAR, Norway -- Come with me now as I take you step by step from wake-up to that hair-raising moment when Nancy and Tonya step on the ice simultaneously for the first time since The Big Whack.

6:50 a.m. Alarm goes off. Gotta hurry. Only 6 1/2 hours till the American practice begins.

8:00 a.m. Almost miss the bus. What would I do? I’d have to wait 55 minutes for another one and now we’re down to just 5 1/2 hours till “Dueling Blades” commences.


10:00 a.m. Arrive at Hamar Olympic Ampitheatre. Countdown now T minus-3:25. Discover at least 20 people -- almost all Americans -- have already staked out viewing positions at the cozy practice rink where Skategate will resume. The Ampitheatre doors have opened at 6 a.m., and some say they have been here since then.

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This can sometimes be a very weird business.

10:10 a.m. First rumor delivered, gist of which is that Nancy is said to be ‘’fed up” with the media glare and will not be attending this practice session.

10:45 a.m. Two Germans and a Chinese girl take the ice. At least now there’s something to look at.

10:50 a.m. Not much happening. Open up my international edition of USA Today to study weather map. Countdown at T minus-2:35. Plenty of time to memorize all world temperatures and convert same from Fahrenheit to Celsius.


11:05 a.m. Chinese medal hopeful Lu Chen starts whirling about the ice. Americans never look up.

11:15 a.m. Countdown at T minus-2:10 and press areas starting to fill up. Up till now, it’s been “Hello, how ya doin’?” and smiles all around, but I’m thinking that the feeling of media goodwill will soon be evaporating.

11:30 a.m. Asked politely in words and gestures by a Chinese gentleman if I could put down my newspaper because it is blocking his colleague’s camera lens. I realize the photographer standing at my immediate left is shooting Lu Chen’s entire long program.

Lu skates elegantly and cleanly, and when she is done, so, too, are my new Chinese friends. The photographer breaks down his equipment and leaves. Lu Chen is done, and so are they. Nancy and Tonya Who?

There are 400, maybe 500 press people here, and these two are the only ones who have come specifically to see someone other than Nancy and Tonya.


“You know how we always say, ‘Well, there’s a billion Chinese who don’t give a damn’?” inquires US journalist Tom Callahan. “I always thought that was just an expression.”

11:40 a.m. Reading Celtics-Magic box score in my USA Today. Notice Shaq had 24 rebounds, 14 offensive. Thinking perhaps somebody might try to put a little body on him once in a while. T minus-1:45.

11:45 a.m. Who is standing down near the ice but Eddie Einhorn, the No. 2 ownership type of both the White Sox and the Bulls.

“What are you doing here?” he yells. “Why aren’t you in Sarasota? Every sports reporter in America is either here or in Sarasota at the other circus.”

11:50 a.m. Thumbing through the London Times. There is a Page 1 story headlined “RIVAL SKATERS TO BREAK THE ICE,” but that’s not even the good part.

Page 3 has color photos of Nancy (in full glide) and Tonya (a Big Hair head shot). The story is headlined “COLD FACTS ON THE ICE MAIDENS” and it’s a pair of cheeky bios, is what it is.

A Tonya sample:

Best off-ice performance: Television programme in which she wept, explaining, “I want somebody to love me for me.”

A Nancy sample:

Best off-ice performance: Before 1,000 reporters and photographers in Lillehammer, when she bit her lip and said she felt “wonderful.”

Noon. Asked by Japanese photographer (he has taken the Chinese spot) to move newspaper since it is blocking lens as he tries to shoot man with microphone delivering a stand-up spiel way over to our right. I try to back up, but I can’t move because another Japanese is crouched behind me doing God knows what.

12:40 p.m. Two skaters from Somewhere and Somewhere Else are whirling and spinning and jumping and, I suppose, axeling their little hearts out while 400-500 media types, now standing three deep on two levels, pay absolutely zero attention. Somebody is skating to “Get Me To The Church On Time,” an arrangement and orchestration that sounds suspiciously like Lerner and Loewe meet Leroy Anderson, if you get my drift.

Countdown: T minus-45.

1:00 p.m. In the Great Boston/Reebok vs. Portland/Nike off-ice battle, the scoreboard reads four writers and one photographer present from Boston and two writers and one photographer present from Portland.

1:18 p.m. US Olympic Committee executive director Harvey Schiller spotted. So what if Tommy Moe is winning another medal up on the slopes? This is obviously the prestige venue. Why should the United States’ head guy go to a real live event if he can participate in a good tabloid non-story like this one?

1:20 p.m. Nancy, clad in white (they say it’s the same outfit she wore six weeks ago yesterday, the day of the Big Whack), arrives from the right. So much for the “fed up” rumor of hours ago.

1:22 p.m. Where’s Tonya? Starting to remind me of the tension just prior to a heavyweight title fight.

1:34 p.m. Nine minutes late, Tonya and her entourage emerge from the left. She kisses a woman and steps onto the ice.

“Who was that woman she kissed?” asks one writer.

“It’s either her mother or Mrs. Letterman,” says another.

Tonya is wearing a blue USOC sweatshirt over black tights. She looks ready for touch football. Nancy looks like she’s going to meet the queen.

After five minutes or so, Tonya removes sweatshirt to reveal a flowery one- piece outfit that looks as if it came from the remainders table at the Almy’s going-out-of-business sale. (I swear on the Bible, the Koran and the Torah I’d say that even if Tonya came from Woburn.)

The two go through their skating paces and not once does either acknowledge the other’s existence. Both spend a great deal of time chatting with their respective coaches, or, in Tonya’s case, her mentor du jour. When Nancy skates her program, Tonya stands with her back to the rink. When Tonya skates her program, Nancy stands with her back to the rink. Each occasionally skates idly into a corner in the middle of the other’s program. Tonya, the asthmatic, coughs repeatedly and goes heavy on the throat spray, or the Primatene, or something.

There is one moment when the two come within a couple of feet of each other, and this is the moment all the photographers are waiting for. Despite repeated warnings that flashes are forbidden, the rink becomes one giant flashbulb.

2:00 p.m. Nancy leaves. Security rivals Arafat’s at the United Nations.

2:07 p.m. Tonya skates up to a beautiful skater clad in white and hugs her. No, Nancy has not returned for a rapprochement. Tonya is hugging South Korean Lily Lee.

2:10 p.m. Tonya leaves. Photographers ask for a wave and she gives them one. Just one.

The Sixth Game of the ‘75 Series or the Beanpot final it ain’t. But I must say I’ve never been to a more exciting batting practice. If you’ll pardon the expression.