She, Tonya

Tonya Harding returning from Norway in 1994

Tonya Harding returning from Norway in 1994

On the eve of the ladies’ figure skating free skate, my thoughts turn not to Evgenia Medvedeva – who may lose the gold to her younger spitfire of a rival, Alina Zagitova – or Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond, who wowed her way into bronze medal position with a sassy skate to Edith Piaf; or even to why the Japanese women did so much better than the Americans, who haven’t won a medal in this event since Sasha Cohen in 2006. No, today my thoughts turn to Tonya Harding.

Scene from "I, Tonya"

Scene from "I, Tonya"

Of course, they do. Her knee-whacking rivalry with Nancy Kerrigan, complete with a broken skate lace, made this night in 1994 at the Lillehammer Games appointment TV.

Harding has had quite a year, with the release of the buzzed about, Oscar-contending “I, Tonya”; her own film festival in Portland, Oregon (March 8); the recent revival of “Tonya and Nancy:  The Opera”; a soul-searching profile in The New York Times; and a starring role in a Times’ piece on female anger. 

I’m not going to re-litigate Harding’s role in the assault on Kerrigan by her now ex-husband and a crony of his. Maybe she knew. Maybe she knew without knowing.

If she wasn’t guilty, she certainly has acted the part in a tale of sexuality masquerading as a story about class. Kerrigan came from a working-class family, too. But she had the support of a loving family, along with the Katharine Hepburn bone structure and the Vera Wang costumes – the feminine artistry, as it were. Whereas Harding had the masculine athleticism, not what we want for our “ladies'” figure skaters, right?

Of course, Kerrigan proved a brittle ice princess, yielding the gold to the soon-to-be-troubled Oksana Baiul, then pronouncing her de rigueur post-Olympic trip to Disney World "corny."

There are no winners in this story, only fascinating, unanswered questions, which is why my thoughts turn to Harding every time this night rolls around. Why do people of great ability and opportunity feel the need to cheat? And why do women hitch their wagons to men's stars instead of tending their own?

The door was open. All Harding had to do was walk through. Perhaps her family background doomed her, as “I, Tonya” suggests. Or perhaps the risk-taking and resentment that propelled her into the limelight also signaled her self-destruction.