I was in Boston over the weekend to bring our daughter back to college, and noticed tour busses driving down the city’s snow-covered streets with posters advertising the US Figure Skating Championships, happening now at the Fleet Center.
Vicki Doudera here. Those same championships were marked twenty years ago today with one of the most bizarre crimes in sports history – the attack on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, orchestrated by the ex-husband of one of her teammates, Tonya Harding.
Many of you reading this post remember what happened on January 6, 1994. Nancy Kerrigan was walking off the ice in a Detroit arena when a large man used a metal baton to club her leg just above the knee. In the days that followed, a conspiracy unfolded, with figure skater Harding denying any involvement. Two months after the incident, Kerrigan’s injury had healed enough for her to compete in the Lillehammer Olympics. She won a silver medal, but the crime was far from solved.
Eventually the parties involved were brought to justice, including Harding, who pleaded guilty to a felony of hindering the prosecution. She paid $160,000 in fines and performed more than 400 hour of community service. Harding was also stripped of the national title she earned in 1994 and booted out of figure skating for life.
Twenty years later, what still puzzles me is not so much the crime itself, but the media’s portrayal of these two young women. Although both came from decidedly working-class backgrounds, we came to view Harding as “white trash,” while Kerrigan, a Massachusetts tomboy who played pond hockey with her brothers, was painted as a privileged ice queen.
Perhaps because creating characters is my job, I wonder why the media – and ultimately, all of us who followed the story – chose to cast these two women in such opposing roles, when in fact they had more in common than not. Was it because one crossed over from competitive to greedy? Or because it made for a better story? Nancy Kerrigan was later criticized for speaking her mind, when she had every right to be furious over what happened. Did her outspokenness contradict what the media had carefully constructed? The image of Nancy as a cool, composed performer, instead of a feisty young athlete?
How much of what we believe to be true about people is, in fact, true? Must characters in conflict always be opposites? Or are there some instances when two people with very similar wants and desires collide?
These questions swirl in my head as I begin my next novel, but they haunt me as well when I remember this strange time and crime. When you recall the Nancy/Tonya saga, what stays with you?