Thursday, January 6, 2011

January 6, 1994: When figure skating became interesting

DETROIT - The image is unmistakable. There was Nancy Kerrigan, sitting on the ground, grabbing her leg, screaming "why? why?" It was replayed everywhere, on the national news broadcasts as well as on the sports shows. An American athlete had been attacked just before she was to compete in the National Championships, just as she was ascending to the pinnacle of her sport. It was unthinkable.

At first glance, it seemed like it was a random act of violence, a lone nut acting alone in an attempt to ... do what, exactly? Make a name for himself? Coming nine months after Monica Seles had been stabbed on the tennis court, people started to wonder if a disturbing trend was beginning.

Then the truth started to come out, and it became a drama straight out of a soap opera. The truth started to come out. Kerrigan's attacker was revealed to be Shane Stant, a 22-year-old body builder and martial arts expert. He had struck Kerrigan's leg with a collapsable baton, intending to break it. Stant had been hired by Shawn Eckardt, under the instruction of Jeff Gilloly. Eckardt was the bodyguard for Gilloly's ex-wife, who just so happened to be another American figure skater, Tonya Harding.

Suddenly, what had appeared to be a random act of violence was an intriguing story of conspiracy. How much did Harding know about the attack? She was immediately suspected, as she was certainly the person who would benefit the most from Kerrigan's absence from the National Championships.

In fact, Harding benefited almost immediately from Kerrigan's absence, winning the National Championships that Kerrigan had won the year before. The victory allowed Harding to qualify for that winter's Olympics. However, the plan didn't work out quite as intended. While Kerrigan was unable to compete in the U.S. Championships, the U.S. team allowed her to represent the country at the Olympics anyway.

Fully recovered, Kerrigan skated beautifully, winning a silver medal. Meanwhile, Harding, who by now was widely suspected to have been involved in the plot to hurt Kerrigan, was booed mercilessly at the Olympics, struggling to eighth.

Soon afterward, the full extent of the plot was revealed. It was determined that while Harding may not have specifically ordered the attack, she knew it was coming and did nothing. She was immediately banned from figure skating for life, and her victory in the 1994 U.S. Championships was stricken from the record books.

After a series of guilty pleas, Stant, Eckardt, and Gilloly all served prison time for their involvement in Kerrigan's attack. Harding avoided prison time, but did get sentenced to three years of probation and a $150,000 fine. Her life unraveled, as she turned to sex tapes and celebrity boxing to try to make money. Kerrigan retired after the 1994 Olympics and cashed in on some endorsement offers that came in after the attack.

January 6, 2007: SEATTLE - There are many ways to lose a football game. This one had to be among the most painful. Trailing the Seahawks 21-20 late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys drove down the field to put themselves in position for a simple little 19-yard field goal. The snap, though, went through Tony Romo's hands, and the Cowboys couldn't get a kick off. Romo picked up the ball and tried to scramble for the touchdown but was tackled just short of the goal line.

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