(ATR) The most scandalous saga in figure skating – known simply as “Tonya and Nancy”– barely registers with the Team USA participant in ladies' singles at the Youth Olympic Games.
Vanna Giang performs at the Hamar Olympic Amphitheater. (ATR)
After Vanna Giang performed at the Hamar Olympic Amphitheater, she was asked if she knew about Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, who skated in the same arena at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Games. Interest in the rival U.S. skaters was so high 22 years ago that television ratings hit record numbers and the sport skyrocketed in popularity.
“No. Not exactly,” Giang, 16, told Around the Rings
. “I need to work on my skating history.”
So, she’d never heard about the skater whacked in the leg by people associated with another skater? “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah,” she said.
They skated here. “Oh.”
But her coach, Dianne de Leeuw-Chapman, the 1976 Olympic silver medalist from the Netherlands, remembers it well. “It was like a crazy soap opera,” she told ATR
. “Back then there wasn’t reality TV like there is now, but it was like the best reality TV there ever had been.”
De Leeuw-Chapman said she has shown Giang videotapes of the notorious event even if she couldn’t immediately identify the names.
Nancy Kerrigan was still able to perform at the Lillehammer '94 Games. (Getty)
“You’ve got to realize these kids were born in 1999 and 2000,” de Leeuw-Chapman said. “So for them, it’s like history class.”
As most everyone over age 30 knows, associates of Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly, tried to eliminate the competition by attacking Kerrigan with a metal baton after practice at the 1994 U.S. nationals.
Harding won the title while Kerrigan received an injury waiver onto the Olympic team. Even when the plot was exposed by one of the hapless hit men, Harding rebuffed attempts to throw her off the team by threatening to sue. Kerrigan proved her fitness to compete as 13-year-old Michelle Kwan waited in the wings.
In Hamar, even practice sessions were packed with spectators and media as Tonya and Nancy studiously avoided each other on the ice.
After the short program, the fourth-most watched program in U.S. television history, Kerrigan was in first place; Harding in 10th.
“We were literally glued to the radio because we didn’t have live TV to see what was going to happen,” de Leeuw said. “And I can so clearly remember Tonya Harding putting her foot up on the wall and crying.”
Tonya Harding shows the judges her laces were broken at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympics. (Getty)
That was after a lace problem on one of Harding’s boots forced her to stop her long program within a minute. With her gold-bladed boot propped on the ledge in front of the judges, she pleaded for a do-over – and got it.
But it wasn’t enough. Harding finished eighth. Kerrigan missed out on the ultimate triumph of good over evil. She was awarded the silver after Oksana Baiul of Ukraine dazzled the judges to capture the gold.
While the episode was painful for Kerrigan – who is forever linked with Harding in skating lore -- it was a boon for her sport.
“It was phenomenal for skating after that,” de Leeuw-Chapman said. “I don’t think there was ever a boost like that because everyone tuned in. Everyone wanted to see it. Back when I competed in 1972 and 1976, it was nothing like that media circus that came about.”
After the Olympic Games, Harding was fined $100,000, put on probation for three years and did 500 hours of community service for her role in the Kerrigan cover-up. Banned from figure skating for life, she briefly tried boxing. Kerrigan appeared in some made-for-television shows like “Ice Wars” while competitions were shown in prime time in the U.S. But the hype and interest eventually faded.
“I think they over-saturated initially with skating and now there’s a lot of reality TV,” de Leeuw-Chapman said. “Figure skating is not anywhere near as popular, unfortunately. There’s not as many (ice) shows for the kids to go into; a lot of times it’s just shown on cable TV, which is hard for them. They don’t know the stars.”
Coach Dianne de Leeuw-Chapman and Giang (ATR)
New stars could come out of these Youth Olympic Games. “The ladies’ event is stupendous,” de Leeuw-Chapman said. “It has the top juniors in the world right now.”
Polina Tsurskaya of Russia won the gold medal, pulling herself up from fourth in the short program. Her teammate, Maria Sotskova, had an even greater jump, going from eighth to second. Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan won the bronze.
Giang was eighth after finishing 10th in the short program.
De Leeuw-Chapman was only 15 when she competed in her first Olympic Games in 1972. She wishes she’d had a Youth Olympic Games to prepare her for the main event.
“That would be amazing to have had this kind of experience going into the Olympics back then,” de Leeuw-Chapman said, noting the sparse television coverage then. “You didn’t really realize what you were getting into until you were there.”
She finished 16th in 1972. As the 1975 world champion, she went into the 1976 Innsbruck Games expected to duel Dorothy Hamill, who wound up winning the gold.
South Korean skaters seemed to have the most support. (ATR)
Actually, de Leeuw-Chapman and Hamill could have been U.S. rivals like Tonya and Nancy, but Leeuw-Chapman, who was born and raised in the U.S., skated for the Netherlands because of her parents’ Dutch heritage.
“It was the highest pressure thing that you could ever imagine,” de Leeuw-Chapman said. “I was in my dressing room, tearing out the speakers because I didn’t want to hear the scores.”
The Youth Olympic Games were a much more relaxed event for her pupil. The arena was not even half full, although the audience was supportive.
“It felt really nice,” said Giang, who was sixth in the 2016 U.S. Junior Championships. “Just the crowd, the spirit and being able to represent the U.S. was amazing. (My performance) wasn’t good, but I wouldn’t redo it or go back in time to change it because it taught me a lot about everything.
“I just learned that you have to persist in your goal. You should never give up and keep going.”
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Written by Karen Rosen in Lillehammer.
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