There was loads ‘o brouhaha around the 20th anniversary of The Wacking. There was, however- surprise, surprise- almost jack doodely around the 25th anniversary of Tonya Harding’s landing of the triple axel at the U.S. Nationals on 16 February 1991.
A milestone that is significant because, in the 25 years since, only one other American woman has managed it and Harding remains the only American woman to have completed it in international competition.
HUGE BIG DEAL, ya’ll, because only five women EVAH have completed it in international competition.
At the time, way back in ’91, Harding’s accomplishment was “historic.”
In part, I gather, because the Soviet Union was still a thing and had ten months of life left in it, and the Americans were especially keen on racking up accomplishments the Soviets had yet to get.
So huzzah, America. Way to win.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Harding’s narrative here was vair, vair bootstraps. And also has some amazing gender business going on.
“… which some men don’t do…”!!! BURN.
I remind you: this is 1991.
The USSR still exists.
Desert Storm is happening.
Which means Wolf Blitzer was just a wee youngin…
and I was learning long division.
was married to someone who was not yet officially running for the presidency.
In the midst of this… AMERICA FOR THE WIN.
Skating-wise, it was America’s year.
At the World Championship the following month, there was some musical chairs on the podium but it was still a U.S. sweep.
And there was much togetherness amid flags…
Though Yamaguchi was clearly the winner…
It was supposed to be the triple axel that initially changed Tonya Harding’s life. In retrospect, we know that that was not to be the case for long, but it was for awhile, as the New York Times noted before the World Championships that March.
At the Worlds, Harding did another triple axle, but it wasn’t enough to put her over Yamaguchi, who skated clean and was lauded as an “artist” whereas Harding was always primarily an athlete. And a bold one at that.
One of my favorite things about Harding is that she continued doing the triple axel. She didn’t always go for it. When she did, she didn’t always land it. But on through to 1994, it remained a part of her program and, when it happened, it was a thing of beauty.
I still remember the awe in Verne Lundquist’s voice when she whipped one out during an Olympic warm-up.
She kept it in when the impulse would have been to cut it. It was too risky, too daring; at a certain point, the odds of her landing it in competition became very slim. But she kept it in.
In retrospect, it’s easy to read this as desperation. I think it was, at the time, sheer guts.