Feb 13, 2014

Triple Axels and Double Toe Loops in February

DAN PATRICK:  We have seen so much drama already today.  What do you two expect for later tonight?

JOHNNY WEIR:  More and more and more drama! This is figure skating, folks!


One of the best films that I have seen so far this year is The Price of Gold, a 30 for 30 ESPN documentary about the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan controversy.  

Ms Kerrigan declined to be interviewed for the film, but is well-represented by her coaches, some friends, and her husband.  

Ms Harding, on the other hand, gives what appears to be a very lengthy interview, which, I dare say, makes this documentary seem as if it was told from her side of the story.  Fine by me because that makes this an even more scintillating and thrilling tale.  The three stooges, who actually carried out the 'hit', had nothing to do with this film, either.  

The Price of Gold does a masterful job of setting up the differences between Harding and Kerrigan as skaters, and as people.  Of course, whatever the media or filmmakers try to sell you can be a bit oversimplified.  For instance, Ms Kerrigan was certainly not rich by any means.  But she was from a much more stable home environment than Ms Harding was, to say the least.  

It is also true that Harding was the more 'athletic' of the two skaters.  Ms Harding was the first woman to ever land a triple axel jump in a competition, and lived for those big flashy jumps over a more composed elegant graceful style as favored by most women skaters (and judges).  Still, to say that Kerrigan was not an athletic skater would be wrong.  Just as, obviously, Harding had more than enough 'grace' to win numerous competitions, and earn a fourth place finish at the 1992 Winter Olympics.  

Kerrigan was able to book time at an ice rink in her part of the world, while Harding did most of her training at an ice rink in a shopping mall outside of Portland.  Harding, who had almost no money whatsoever, and an abusive mother, would sometimes make her own costumes.  Kerrigan never had that problem.  Harding would often fight her coaches, insisting to wear her hair a certain way or blue nail polish or whathaveyou.  And, Harding sometimes could pick incredibly inappropriate music for her programs.  Kerrigan, on the other hand, did appear more elegant.  She often wore her hair up.  Her costumes were very tasteful, mostly from a palette of whites and blacks and Vera Wang designed her Olympic costumes. Harding, meanwhile, liked turquoise and hot pink! Harding drove a truck, knew how to fix cars, and loved driving fast.  After the 1992 Olympics when Kerrigan won the bronze medal and Harding finished just off the podium, endorsers lined up in droves for Kerrigan.  Harding was offered nothing.

I am sure there is a wealth of feminist scholarship about Kerrigan and Harding.  And, I am ready to dive right in to it, and read whatever is available.  And, I will be honest.  Even though I concede that The Price of Gold is far from a truly objective documentary (and bravo for that -- truly objective documentaries are an enormous bore), I have to confess that I am much more sympathetic to Tonya Harding than I am to Nancy Kerrigan.

Wow.  Why? Well, call me a sucker, but I do not believe that Harding knew about the attack before it happened.  Also, remember that the only thing the DA even got on Harding was a deal for hindering prosecution.  Naturally, Harding and her lawyer knew a jury trial would not go well for her at that time.  But that the DA would be willing to deal for such a wimpy charge (Harding received three years probation and a hefty fine) indicates to me just how little the DA had on her.  The Wife does not agree with me, but I believe that Harding's husband, Jeff Gillooly, cooked the whole thing up with his two moronic friends because he saw his wife as the ultimate meal ticket.  If Kerrigan was pushed out of the way, and Harding ended up on the podium in '94, Gillooly would become very wealthy very fast.  Yes,  Harding was guilty of hindering prosecution.  Because I believe that that was the first time she heard anything from her husband about a plot.  She had to get her story straight then.

Plus, I just have a soft spot in my heart for the hot pink dresses and the blue nail polish.  (There is a fabulous moment in the film where we see a look of absolute disgust from Harding, trying on a black dressy costume.  "But, it's pretty," her coaches say.) I feel for her that she had such a terrible childhood; that she moved from an abusive parent to an abusive husband at such a young age.  I adore the exhilarated, joyful, and supremely satisfied look on Harding's face when she landed that first ladies triple axel.   All of Harding's triple axels are amazing to behold.  I like that Harding practiced in a mall.  I like her truck.  I like that she appreciated that she could be perceived as having 'rough edges'.  

(And, Kerrigan's crumby behavior after winning a silver medal at the '94 Olympics really rubs me the wrong way.  Kerrigan and her folks feel she was jobbed, and took away from Oksana Baiul's moment.  That was not classy, at all.)

Do not get me wrong.  Tonya Harding is a hot mess, and probably not a very nice person, at all.  I hope she has finally truly gotten her life in order and is alright.

If this played out again, this kind of rivalry between two athletes, without the attack, I would certainly root for the one from the trailer park.  I guess that is just who I am.

All my love, 

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