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Nancy and Tonya, Together Again

February 5, 1998 GMT

Whether they like it or not, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan will be inextricably linked.

That was cemented four years ago when Harding’s ex-husband conspired to break Kerrigan’s kneecap and Harding pled guilty to covering up the attack.

The two skaters try to put closure on the events surrounding the 1994 Olympics on Fox’s ``Breaking the Ice: The Women of ’94 Revisited″ _ the first time the two have met since the Lillehammer Games. The two-hour special, which mixes skating routines with interviews, airs tonight at 8 p.m. EST.

``I would hope we could go on and live our separate lives,″ Harding said in an excerpt of the interview released by Fox. ``I just ask for forgiveness.″

Fox won’t say whether Kerrigan granted Harding’s request, saying you have to watch to find out.

``That’s the crux of the show,″ said James Brown, who conducted the interview. ``Tune in and make your own judgment.″

The highlight of the show is Brown’s talk with the two skaters. Brown interviewed Harding and Kerrigan separately at their homes before their Dec. 22 meeting in New York.

In that interview, Brown was talking to Kerrigan when Harding walked into the room. Kerrigan averted her eyes as a queasy look came over her. Brown stood up to greet Harding, who then asked Kerrigan how she was. Kerrigan, looking into her lap instead of at her rival, quietly replied ``fine″ and the interview began.

``There was a discernible shift in attitude and emotion on Nancy’s part when Tonya walked into the room,″ Brown said. ``The tension was palpable. You could cut it with a knife.

``The body language changed as Tonya addressed her,″ he said. ``Nancy was doing her utmost to control herself. Her emotions were bubbling up inside her. That was very readable.″

In the four years since Lillehammer, Harding and Kerrigan had not crossed paths until Fox put up the money _ at least $100,000 for each skater _ for the brief reunion.

Interviews with Kerrigan and her family, Harding, Jeff Stone (Harding’s ex-husband, who used to be known as Jeff Gillooly), prosecutor Norman Frink, reporters who covered the event, and the other skaters are spliced throughout the two-hour show, which culminates with the 10-15 minute joint interview.

The timing of the special is no surprise, the first day of February sweeps and one day before the Olympics. Fox looks to double its usual Thursday night audience _ and steal some thunder from CBS, which owns the rights to the Winter Games about to begin in Nagano, Japan.

Fox’s projection may not be outrageous. On their first night of skating at Lillehammer, barely seven weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on Kerrigan, nearly half of American TV sets were tuned into CBS’ coverage _ the third-highest-rated show in history.

The attack sent interest in the already popular sport skyrocketing, as evidenced by the large number of skating exhibitions that now fill American air time.

Kerrigan went on to win the silver medal in Lillehammer; Harding finished eighth. The other skaters from the 1994 Games who participate in Fox’s show include Olympic gold medalists Oksana Baiul, Katarina Witt and Ekaterina Gordeeva. Yuka Sato and Josee Chouinard, who had to skate her long program early when Harding’s lace broke, will also participate.

Harding, still banned from skating for her role in covering up the attack, was forced to do her routine for the show at an outdoor rink in Beaver Creek, Colo., a few miles away from where the other skaters performed.

While Brown says the skating performances are memorable, people will not be tuning in to see what is on the ice, but rather the interplay between Kerrigan and Harding off it.

In a one-on-one interview, Brown confronts Harding with evidence from FBI files, including reports that Gillooly and his co-conspirators briefly considered killing Kerrigan before deciding a whack on the knee would do the job.

Harding is visibly shocked by the question and asks Brown to repeat it. She then denies any knowledge of the plan. She also said she knew nothing of the attack before it happened, despite living with Gillooly at the time.

``I thought Tonya was genuine about her remorse and repentance and her desire to move on,″ Brown said. ``Whether or not she was truthful in refuting the points from the FBI files, I don’t know. She maintains that she didn’t know until three days after the attack.″

While Brown stays away from questions about the FBI files in Kerrigan’s presence, he does bring up the attack during the joint interview, which makes both women nervous.

``I think the interview itself was compelling from what wasn’t said as much as for what was said,″ Brown said. ``The body language was riveting as a look into what they were thinking as opposed to their words, which were couched with niceties.″