'Very brief but very natural' meeting leaves U.S. skating team relieved Nancy, Tonya meet LILLEHAMMER 94


HAMAR, Norway -- Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, lead characters in a 6-week-long skating and legal saga, are together again at the Winter Olympics.

Yesterday, they met at the athletes' village.

Today, they meet at a rink, guarded by unarmed soldiers, packed with photographers.

The Winter Olympics may never be the same.

The skaters, who have kept a wary distance since Ms. Kerrigan was clubbed Jan. 6, had a "very brief but very natural" meeting, according to the U.S. Figure Skating Association team leader, Gale Tanger.

"It was great for all of us," Ms. Tanger said. "We feel comfortable now. It was a little hard not knowing exactly" how they would react.

Now, there is another twist.

The security force for the skating events will be quadrupled to 35 police and 115 soldiers in the wake of two veiled telephone threats Olympic officials received in the past week.

"One person said she wanted Harding to win and she would call a person to let her win," said Bjorn Ruud, venue director at the skating arena.

"A man from Santa Barbara [Calif.], he said, 'I would have to stop Tonya Harding and if I do, God will bless me.' "

Mr. Ruud labeled the calls "stupid" but added: "I will breathe again when this is over."

U.S. Figure Skating officials will also be relieved when this competition ends. The tabloids are trampling over the Olympics.

This was the scene yesterday as Ms. Harding landed in Norway and made her way into the Olympic registration center at precisely 1:27 p.m. local time:

There were a camera crew on a snowbank, a photographer perched 20 feet in the air on a ladder, and 100 reporters standing in an icy parking lot, pressed against a temporary barricade, trying to see over the heads of 26 police officers who were each roughly the size of the German bobsled team.

Ms. Harding was driven up to the front door in a dark blue Volvo sedan. Wearing a red, white and blue USA team jacket, she walked out of the car and waved to the reporters.

Those who sped her way through Olympic processing behind closed doors said she asked for a cup of coffee, registered, got her identification, posed for pictures and signed an autograph.

Twenty minutes later, she left, telling reporters: "I feel great. I'm ready. Thanks for coming."

This is not normal in Norway.

"We are living in that white house over there," said Lise Lien, pointing over the crowd. "We were on our way to the speed skating. I saw this. I wanted to take a picture."

But the woman who took the most important picture of all was Hanne Marken, 21, a student from Gjovik, who snapped Ms. Harding's photo ID.

"Not only America has scandals," Ms. Marken said. "Everyone does."

But there has never been a sporting scandal like this one.

Ms. Harding has been implicated by her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, in the attack on Ms. Kerrigan at the United States figure skating championships. Gillooly pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy, and three others were arrested in the assault.

Although she has not been charged in the crime, Ms. Harding, the U.S. champion, faced possible expulsion from the Games before she threatened the U.S. Olympic Committee with a $25 million lawsuit.

The USOC backed down, so Ms. Harding is here.

And consider this: The competition doesn't even begin until Feb. 23.

"Of course, I'll be sitting right there with all you, watching this," USFSA President Claire Ferguson said.

The skaters have been instructed by USFSA officials to act with grace and decorum. They have also been told to maintain their distance from each other during their daily practice sessions.

"It would be totally inappropriate to have any contact or communication with her [Harding]," said Evy Scotvold, Ms. Kerrigan's coach. "There won't be any."

As of early last night, all was quiet in the Olympic athletes' village.

Ms. Kerrigan and Ms. Harding were in separate single rooms on separate floors in Building 205, an old music school.

Megan Kline, a U.S. speed skater staying in the village, said: "It hasn't affected me. We're in a country where our sport is important. There is a story in every sport."

But the dominant story of these Games, so far, is the continuing saga of the American figure skaters.

Even Connie Chung, co-anchor of the CBS Evening News, is here to detail the extraordinary saga.

Ms. Chung accompanied Ms. Harding on the flight from Seattle to Copenhagen and the final leg to Fornebu Airport in Oslo.

"She signed some autographs," Ms. Chung said. "I did a little interview with her at her seat. Not great quotes. You know, 'I'm excited, I'm ready, I'm going to win.' "

Meanwhile, the most anticipated practice in the history of the sport will take place this morning.

And the woman in the middle will be skater Lee Lily Lyoonjung, an Alexandria, Va., resident who trains in Colorado Springs, Colo., and competes for South Korea.

Ms. Lee will share the ice time with the Americans.

"The president of my federation, Mr. Chung, will be there, and he told me, 'I want you to be the peacemaker,' " Ms. Lee said. "I pondered what I would say. I was laying in bed thinking. I know what Nancy has been going through. We talked in the locker room. I hope they can all break the ice. I'm going to get out of that locker room fast."

Ms. Lee said: "When I meet people, I usually smile and hug them."

Asked if she would hug Ms. Harding today, Ms. Lee said: "There will be a hug from Lily."

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