Kerrigan looks back — 20 years after Harding drama
February 21, 2014
SOCHI, Russia — 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."
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