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Saturday, February 26, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Harding's Dream Ends In A Nightmare -- Broken Lace Adds To Skater's Woes

AP

HAMAR, Norway - Tonya Harding sat convulsed in an asthmatic coughing fit and vomiting, her body shaking and her face wan, for more than a half hour after her nightmarish Olympic finale.

Drawing deep drafts on an inhaler attached to a compressor yesterday, she looked up at a television and saw Nancy Kerrigan's exuberant smile during a near-flawless performance that would earn her a silver medal behind Ukraine's Oksana Baiul.

"Oh, God, I can't breathe," Harding gasped between puffs on the inhaler as a team doctor attended her. "God, God, God. I can't breathe."

It had been seven weeks since Kerrigan was clubbed at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, an assault that led to a guilty plea for racketeering by Harding's ex-husband and the arrest of her bodyguard and two others. Harding herself is still under investigation by a grand jury in Portland, Ore.

Now, here was Harding wracked by an asthmatic attack, coming off another bizarre incident on the ice.

"Maybe I'll come back in four years and try again," Harding said weakly.

There was no conviction in her voice. Harding finished eighth, but remains a member of the U.S. team for the World Championships March 22-27 in Japan.

Her night started with one more dramatic moment as everyone stared at two blue curtains, waiting for Harding. Eyes shifted from the curtains, to the clock on the scoreboard, and back to the curtains.

It may have been the longest two minutes in Olympic history.

Behind the curtains, there was panic among Harding, her coach and U.S. officials. Harding had cut the lace on her right boot in her warmup, and as she tightened the lace it broke. They got another lace, but it was too small. Harding used it anyway, skipping three holes on the outside of her boot and two on the inside, trying to tighten it the best she could.

With time running out, she hustled through the curtain and onto the ice with just 6 seconds left.

But her boot was still too loose, and the first jump she attempted, a triple lutz, was a failure. She stopped skating, covered her face and started crying.

Harding then skated over to the referee, lifted her boot with the the loose lace up on top of the board.

The referee gave her another two minutes to fix it, and later allowed her to skate at the end of her group.

On her second try, she quickly failed on the triple axel, managing only a single jump. She cleanly skated through all but one of her other jumps.

"I think I did quite well under all the circumstances, because I think I was ready to have a nervous breakdown before I went out the first time," Harding said.

"At least one of my dreams came true, that I was able to be here," she said.

Harding insists she skates best under pressure, but she couldn't explain why she failed yesterday.

"It all depends on the kind of pressure you put yourself under or other people put you under," she said. "But the Lord works in mysterious ways and everything is done for a reason."

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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