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Tonya Harding Online

2000 by H.B. Koplowitz


"The money had been depleted over a short and worthless span of self-indulgence. And with the money seemed to go the last vestiges of his self-esteem..."

The year was about 1973, the place was Portland, Oregon, and I was a long-haired college dropout, crashing in a boarding house attic. "So," as I wrote in a semi-autobiographical short story penned at the time, "he'd go hang out at the ice skating rink at the mall ... But spores of capri pants and death-masked faces somnolently paraded past the expanse of his eyeballs."

"The mall" of my purple prose was in reality the Lloyd Center in Portland. I was recently reminded of that skating rink when the Mike Tyson of figure skating, Tonya Harding, made the news again by hub-capping her beau in an apparent drunken brawl. As anyone knows who can remember past Monica Lewinsky, Harding, 29, is the former Olympic skater who was forever banned from amateur competition following the 1994 Winter games, for her involvement in a failed attempt to keep skating rival Nancy Kerrigan out of the Olympics by, well, knee-capping her.

Getting back to the Lloyd Center in 1973, there was one skater in that "somnolent parade" who stood out because of her uncanny skating ability. A willful sprite, maybe 3 years old, with plain blond hair and a skating outfit that betrayed which side of town she was from, her most memorable move was a spin. With a twitch of her tiny ankles, her wiry body would twirl in a tight perfect spiral. After a dizzying number of rotations, her limbs would slowly unfurl like a blossoming flower. Then she would look up at her hands, which would be circling above her head, and her fingers would flutter in an otherworldly reverie, an artistic flourish that even I could tell was mature far beyond her tender years.

That memory came back to me with a jolt in 1994, when in the midst of the Nancy Kerrigan knee-whacking scandal, Harding did a TV interview with Connie Chung, during which she revealed she'd first begun skating when she was 2 years old, at the Lloyd Center. At the time I rather cynically argued that Harding should be allowed to compete in the Olympics because even though figure skating is not supposed to be a contact sport, the assault on Kerrigan was not unlike low blows, high sticking, bean balls, roughing the passer and intentional fouls in other sports that get players suspended, fined and in other ways penalized, but seldom banned for life. And even before the International Olympic Committee got mired in a bribery scandal, I questioned whether "the Olympics of drug cheats, nationalistic judges, tit for tat boycotts, the Munich massacre and Avery Brundage, (are) so noble and pure that Tonya Harding's sins, whatever they may be, are such as to disqualify her from participating?"

Harding did get to skate in the Olympics -- after a broken shoelace and re-skate she came in eighth, while Kerrigan came in second. She ended her marriage to Jeff Gillooly, who sold their lurid wedding night video to "Penthouse." She sang in a band, badly, appeared in a bad movie and even tried professional wrestling. After completing her parole in 1997, she seemed to be righting herself. Last October she began skating in professional competition, had a boyfriend and was even back at the Lloyd Center, teaching children to skate. But then she threw a hub cab...

Harding's virtual life is as checkered as her real one. Scores of Web sites have stills from her infamous wedding night video, along with fake Harding porn photos. And after more than a year in limbo, on March 7 her official Web site, www.tonyaharding.com, became "The Unofficial Tonya Harding Website." More on tonyaharding.com in a moment.

The oldest Tonya fan site is Dave House's "Tonya Harding dot org," which has a spicy selection of sound and video clips, including Nancy Kerrigan singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Harding's "Golden Blades" singing debut, her appearances on "Geraldo" and "Maury Povich" and photos from her screen debut in "The Breakaway."

A newer fan site, "Blades of Gold," members.tripod.com/tmhfan, purports to have messages from Harding herself. "Tonya woud like everyone to know she is ok," states a Feb. 28 posting after the hub cap incident. "She is very sad and hurt by what has happened."

"Oregon Online," the online extension of the Portland "Oregonian" newspaper, maintains a special section on Tonya's exploits. So does the online news service "APBnews.com," which specializes in celebrity run-ins with the criminal justice system.

The "Portland Ice Skating Society," based in New Zealand, publishes "The Portlandian," the self-proclaimed "Internet's premier source of Tonya news." The site is not merely pro-Harding but anti-Olympics and the skating establishment, maintaining an "Olympic Hall Of Shame," a "handy guide to IOC skullduggery."

Last year the Society looked into what it called the "murky past" of the Portland-area man who runs tonyaharding.com, alleging that he also operates a string of porno Web sites, some that pander real and fake dirty pictures of Tonya Harding.

And it would appear the webmaster at tonyaharding.com is preparing fans for just such an eventuality: "The Web site is not necessarily here to promote Tonya Harding herself," he notes. "She seems to do that pretty well herself, that is, with hubcaps, batons, boyfriends, trucks, etc. We're just here to allow you to read and write about it all ... And yes, we do plan on offering the 'wedding night video images' here, soon."

Oh well. All I know is that back in 1973, when that child at the Lloyd Center would end her wondrous spin, she'd flash this gleeful smile, knowing she was the best damn skater on the ice. And in that moment of precocious self-awareness, there also seemed to be something more; a liberating joy, not just of being the best, but of just being, a oneness with the ice and the physics of her motion. Whether or not that was Tonya Harding I saw skating as a tyke, I've never quite been able to view her as just another Joey Buttafuco.
 

copyright 2000 by H.B. Koplowitz, all rights reserved.

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