It was a telling contrast. On Monday morning, in cold, blustery Stoneham, Mass., in a rink on a side street called Nancy Kerrigan Way, Nancy Kerrigan herself took the ice before a pool of reporters. A handful of local television crews and radio reporters waited in the snow for a look at the beautiful star. Kerrigan's agent, ProServ's Jerry Solomon, was relaxed and upbeat, having spent a portion of the weekend poring over 35 faxed offers for film rights to the story of Kerrigan's life. She skated easily, gracefully, with obvious pleasure, performing her trademark spiral but, on doctor's orders, no jumps. She even smiled after falling hard while doing some routine footwork, stabbing her toe pick in the ice.
The Olympics? Yes, it was apparent to all who were there: This young lady would be ready for the Olympics. And the world would be ready to cheer her.
Some 3,000 miles away in Portland, Ore., in the wee hours of Monday, the very dead of night, embattled Tonya Harding had slipped into the Ice Capades Chalet at the Clackamas Town Center for the first time since returning from Detroit with her second national figure skating title. No fans had awaited her. Had she been dressed all in black, the image would have been complete. Isolated, rightly or wrongly, by the stunning events of the past 11 days, Harding for the next two hours attempted to establish some order in her troubled life through skating, just as she had done for most of her 23 years.
A shocked but riveted nation had but one question as details of the savage assault on Kerrigan emerged last week—an attack that was committed at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit on Jan. 6 and was designed to break Kerrigan's kneecap: Was Harding, who won the women's title, a conspirator in the crime?
Law enforcement officials and prosecutors still weren't saying as SI went to press on Monday night. They had arrested three people in the case, a motley trio, all of whom had Portland ties and one of whom was Harding's bodyguard, 26-year-old Shawn Eric Eckardt. According to numerous reports, the 311-pound Eckardt, a lifelong friend of Jeff Gillooly, Harding's former husband, has fingered both Harding and Gillooly as being involved in the planning and cover-up of the crime.
The two others who had been arrested and, like Eckardt, charged with second-degree conspiracy to commit assault against Kerrigan are former residents of Portland, where Harding and Gillooly live. The accused hit man is Shane Stant, 22, a convicted felon and bounty hunter from Chandler, Ariz. His 29-year-old uncle, Derrick Smith of Phoenix, a former janitor and a paramilitary enthusiast, allegedly drove the getaway car.
Stant, according to a report in last Saturday's Boston Globe, told investigators that Harding was involved in the conspiracy "way back." When Norman Frink, chief deputy district attorney of Multnomah County (Ore.), where the case may be prosecuted, was asked repeatedly whether Harding was a suspect, his denials began sounding less and less convincing. "Absolutely not" evolved into "the investigation is continuing, and we can neither confirm nor deny that." Asked for a more definitive answer on whether Harding and Gillooly would be charged, Frink replied, "You can draw your own conclusions."
Over the weekend the U.S. Olympic Committee appeared to be doing just that. At a previously scheduled meeting of the USOC's executive committee in Durham, N.C., Harding's case was discussed at length. Afterward, officials strongly hinted that Harding would be removed from the Olympic team whether or not she faces criminal charges. On Saturday the USOC president, Dr. LeRoy Walker, cited the overwhelming public response against Harding, and then went on, "We have to make a decision without the consideration of whether or not her rights have been abridged."
The horrible specter of an athlete—or someone close to that athlete—purposely harming a competitor violates everything the Olympic movement stands for: sportsmanship, brotherhood and fair play. "We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard [than the courts]," says Harvey Schiller, executive director of the USOC. Schiller says the USOC checked with the International Skating Union regarding eligibility and substitutions for the Winter Games. The USOC was told that a team must be named by Jan. 31, but that substitutions may be made "up to the day before the competition," which in the case of women's figure skating is Feb. 22.
The U.S. Figure Skating Association nominates the Olympic team to the USOC, which makes the final selection. The USFSA rule book says the association may exclude an athlete from the team whose "acts, statements or conduct [are] considered detrimental to the welfare of figure skating." If left off the team, Harding could apply for arbitration or sue. The USOC is prepared for that possibility. "We're willing to bite the bullet," says Walker. "We're not going to hedge on this simply because we might be sued."