25 years after Tonya’s triple axel

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 jubilant Tonya Harding acknowledged the crowd as she came out of her successful triple axel on her way to winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Feb. 16, 1991 in Minneapolis. Harding, of Portland, Oregon, became the first American woman to perform a triple axel in competition. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

A jubilant Tonya Harding acknowledged the crowd as she came out of her successful triple axel on her way to winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Feb. 16, 1991 in Minneapolis. Harding, of Portland, Oregon, became the first American woman to perform a triple axel in competition. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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.

A jubilant Tonya Harding acknowledged the crowd as she came out of her successful triple axel on her way to winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Feb. 16, 1991 in Minneapolis. Harding, of Portland, Oregon, became the first American woman to perform a triple axel in competition. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) Tonya Harding fährt am 16. Februar 1991 jubelnd übers Eis. Als erste amerikanische Eiskunstläuferin gelang es ihr einen dreifachen Axel in einem Wettbewerb zu zeigen und gewann damit die US-Meisterschaft.

A jubilant Tonya Harding acknowledged the crowd as she came out of her successful triple axel on her way to winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Feb. 16, 1991 in Minneapolis. Harding, of Portland, Oregon, became the first American woman to perform a triple axel in competition. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

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.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.39.35 AM

The San Bernardino County Sun, 17 February 1991

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.

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 17 February 1991

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 17 February 1991

It’s perhaps no surprise that Harding’s narrative here was vair, vair bootstraps. And also has some amazing gender business going on.

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 17 February 1991

Santa Cruz Sentinel, 17 February 1991

“… which some men don’t do…”!!! BURN.

I remind you: this is 1991.

The USSR still exists.

Desert Storm is happening.

cnn-325x243 hqdefault

Which means Wolf Blitzer was just a wee youngin…

wolf blitzer

and I was learning long division.

She…

Hillary-with-PWA-in-1991-

was married to someone who was not yet officially running for the presidency.

1991, yo.

In the midst of this… AMERICA FOR THE WIN.

TH 2

Skating-wise, it was America’s year.

Tonya Harding of Portland, Ore., raises her trophies after winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Feb. 16, 1991. Harding became the first American woman to successfully complete a triple axel in competition at the event. At left is Kristi Yamaguchi, with third place Nancy Kerrigan at right. (AP Photo/Larry Salzman)

Tonya Harding of Portland, Ore., raises her trophies after winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Feb. 16, 1991. Harding became the first American woman to successfully complete a triple axel in competition at the event. At left is Kristi Yamaguchi, with third place Nancy Kerrigan at right. (AP Photo/Larry Salzman)

At the World Championship the following month, there was some musical chairs on the podium but it was still a U.S. sweep.

world-skating-champs

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 9.02.30 AM

And there was much togetherness amid flags…

tumblr_mde0zizWSs1qm9rypo1_1280

Though Yamaguchi was clearly the winner…

e1017a3d158c14d3cec61ec73b498036

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.

"A Triple Axel With Rippling Effects," NYT, 12 March 1991

“A Triple Axel With Rippling Effects,” NYT, 12 March 1991

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.

"A Triple Axel With Rippling Effects," NYT, 12 March 1991

“A Triple Axel With Rippling Effects,” NYT, 12 March 1991

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.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 8.44.16 AM

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s