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Film looks back at Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan Olympic scandal

U. S. figure skaters Tonya Harding, left, and

U. S. figure skaters Tonya Harding, left, and Nancy Kerrigan pose during U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Joe Louis arena in Detroit, Mich. (Jan. 9, 1994) Credit: AP

It remains the sixth-highest-rated television show in United States history -- the highest in the past 30 years -- and an indelible memory for most Americans over 30.

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, facing off in the Olympic figure skating competition in Lillehammer, Norway, with nearly half the country determined to watch - even though it all was on tape delay.

Twenty years later, ESPN and NBC are poised to recall the stranger-than-fiction series of events that began with an associate of Harding's ex-husband and bodyguard whacking Kerrigan on the knee before the national championships.

Kerrigan recovered in time for the Olympics in late February, where she finished a close second to Oksana Baiul. Harding came in eighth.

ESPN's look back, "The Price of Gold," premieres Thursday and focuses primarily on Harding, complete with an interview in which she remains as feisty as ever, not to mention bitter and angry. (She pleaded guilty to hindering the investigation after the fact but never has admitted to prior knowledge of the attack.)

"Nancy's a princess," Harding says in the film, discussing how Kerrigan was treated in Norway. "That's how everybody's seen her. She's a princess and I'm a pile of crap."

Later, after an infamous video clip of Kerrigan complaining about a delay in the medal ceremony while she thought Baiul was reapplying her makeup, Harding says: "She was the crybaby who didn't win the gold. I'm sorry, I've never said this before, but just shut up! Nobody wants to hear your whining, OK?

"You got a silver medal at the Olympics and all you can do is pooh-pooh them away? I just don't think it's right."

Let's just say Harding and Kerrigan, now both married with children and in their 40s, are not on friendly terms.

While the ESPN film includes interviews with key figures, including Kerrigan's husband, Jerry Solomon, Kerrigan did not agree to one.

Director Nanette Burstein said that while the film always was intended to focus more on Harding, she hoped "until the last minute" Kerrigan would participate. Instead, she decided to save herself for a long-form feature including both skaters that NBC plans to run in prime time during the Games next month.

"It took years to convince Nancy to say 'yes,' " interviewer Mary Carillo said. "Finally, she relented, and I am very glad she did."

Carillo said she was a "pest" in pursuing Kerrigan, but it surely helped that Kerrigan will work for NBC in Sochi, Russia.

Kerrigan said she trusted the NBC team to get her story right. Was looking back difficult for her?

"I guess at times, but most of it not because time goes on and my life is so different now than it was then, and I like where it is," she said at a pre-Olympic NBC media event Tuesday. "I'm happy, so I guess it wasn't that difficult. Parts of it, when you think back, to think someone wanted to hurt me, that's, well, I don't know. It was bizarre and sad."

Kerrigan was taken aback when asked whether she might be a "distraction" in Sochi because of her association with notorious events long past.

"I hope I'm not a distraction; that would be horrible," she said. "I don't think I will be. It's 20 years later. I hope and assume I'm not because there are too many great athletes out there and they've worked so hard and deserve all the glory and attention now. I'm just there to talk about it."

Six highest-rated shows in American television history, according to Nielsen, by average percentage of homes watching:

M*A*S*H finale, Feb. 28, 1983: 60.2

Dallas ("Who shot J.R.?" episode), Nov. 21, 1980: 53.3

Roots finale, Jan. 30, 1977: 51.1

Super Bowl XVI, Jan. 24, 1982: 49.1

Super Bowl XVII, Jan. 30, 1983: 48.6

Winter Olympics, Feb. 23, 1994: 48.5

New York Sports