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Harding vs. Kerrigan: Big stuff in little arena


The TV Repairman:

For more than a week we've known it as Northern Lights Hall, an arena CBS announcer Verne Lundquist affectionately describes as "looking like a hot tub."

It's way too small, containing few more than 6,000 seats, which gives indication of just where figure skating stands on the likability list of Laplanders.

But what have they got against money? A conservative estimate is they could have accommodated thousands upon thousands of people for the short (technical) program of the ladies tonight (CBS, 8 p.m.). And that's only counting the media.

Armageddon Jr., that's what the venue should be labeled, the place where good and evil have it out in a mighty battle. Friday night's final, the long program, is Armageddon Sr.

Never in the history of the Games has a head-to-head meeting taken on such hype and import, and that takes in some pretty big matchups, including Carl Lewis vs. Ben Johnson, John Thomas vs. Valery Brumel and Jesse Owens vs. the Third Reich.

What's comical about the situation is the combatants: between them, tiny Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan don't add up to the weight of a linebacker in the Super Bowl. But size and muscle isn't what it's all about, at least until it's time to go for the post-Olympic endorsement deals, etc.

In case you've been out of the solar system, be advised that during the past seven weeks or so, Nancy and Tonya have been a bigger story than a couple of guys vying for the presidency. Yes, the run for the White House is huge, but that's mostly national. Skategate went international almost immediately.

It's too late now, but office pools should have been started up days ago to ascertain how the network is going to cover this biggie.

For instance, in order to keep folks glued to their sets all the way to the local news tonight, will CBS tease us with Katarina Witt and a few others in the 8 o'clock hour, then double back with Tonya at about 10 and Nancy at 10:50?

Or, through the magic of post-production, will the ladies be skating back-to-back at around 10:30 even though they're miles apart in the skating order?

For added excitement, the organizing committee could always assign those awful judges who robbed Torvill and Dean of the ice dance title to the competition. Consider the suspense and excitement.

Any way it's dealt to us, the show will be a winner. Especially with Bonnie Blair a good bet for a medal in the 1,000-meter speed skating and Alberto Tomba set to crash down gates in the giant slalom before heading out for some pasta.

The setup piece for tonight's action was up to the network's high standards last night, an interview with Kerrigan and a nice, humanizing feature on Witt hitting the spot. Tonya turned down an interview request, so Connie Chung showed up to psychoanalyze the woman she's been chasing around the globe for two weeks.

* For a while now we've heard how crazy the Norwegians are about the 4 x 10K cross country ski race, and now we know why. The network gave it 32 minutes coverage, and it was well worth the effort, the pictures and Al Trautwig's words capturing things perfectly. Italy won the nearly 25-mile race against host and heavy favorite Norway by about two feet. The instant the Italian hit the finish line, you could hear a snowflake drop.

* It's all well and good for the cable and network announcers covering the hockey tournament to rhapsodize about Team USA's chances for success, but they overstep their bounds when they suggest the medal stand is a virtual certainty.

The fact is, the team had stretches of excellent play during the five-game opening round, but it never really achieved consistency. So, suddenly, with the opposition getting better and more serious, the United States is going to stage two or three solid performances from wire-to-wire?

Today's foe, Finland, not only went 5-0 during the preliminaries, it outscored the opposition, 25-4.

TNT will have that baby live beginning at 2 p.m. (our time). Tonight, CBS will send along a short report as it figures to be otherwise occupied.

* The more we see of the fanatical fans of Norway and their tireless flag-waving, the more one wonders what it's like viewing the Games on Norwegian television. Think there may be some jingoism in the air?

* TNT finally came with its feature on Olympic and movie star of the '30s and '40s Sonja Henie, and, similar to previous pieces, the late Norwegian princess certainly wasn't the beneficiary of a puff piece.

Nasty and mean and unable to hide her vulgarity were a few of the ways she was described by business associates and friends (?). It was also suggested Sonja had this thing going with a house painter named Schicklegrubber.

The punch line, though, came when it was reported a film of Henie's life is in the planning stage and the producer wants Tonya Harding to play the lead role because of the "similarities in personalities" of the women.

This, of course, leaves it open for Jeff Gillooly to play the part of Hitler if and when he alights from the slammer. He already has the mustache in place, after all.

* Maybe it's a case of being too sensitive (snicker), but I hate it when an announcer says something like, "The hopes of America are riding with so-and-so." That's bull.

Many have no problem keeping the Olympics and its ideals above nationalism. And, besides, once you develop a liking for say, Torvill and Dean, you're supposed to put that aside just because they're Brits?

Also, once you've seen Johann Olav Koss skate and heard his story and watched Katja Seizinger come barreling down a hill, you don't want to see their clear superiority rewarded because they don't hail from Busted Beak, Idaho?

* You have to wonder how many of the women competing in downhill actually go along with the demand by some that they get the opportunity to ski over the same difficult course the men do.

It figures that they don't want to be embarrassed by being handed a patty-cake course. But, at the same time, the increased speed (about 15 mph), 150-foot jumps and wicked turns necessitate huge increases in strength, power and endurance they may not be capable of immediately.

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