Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Harding Takes Early Lead in Skating Championships

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Harding Takes Early Lead in Skating Championships

Article excerpt

Overshadowed by the absence of champion Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya Harding led after Friday's technical program in a subdued women's competition in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Kerrigan's withdrawal after being attacked by an unknown assailant left a noticeable void in the contest.

Harding, the 1991 U.S. champion from Portland, Ore., performed a clean, athletic program that placed her first with all nine judges.

Nicole Bobek of Chicago was second and Michelle Kwan of Torrance, Calif., third after the technical program, worth one-third of the total score. Former world champion Elaine Zayak finished a surprising fourth in her return to the amateur ranks.

The free skate will be held tonight, determining the two spots on the U.S. Olympic team. Although Kerrigan couldn't skate because of her severely bruised knee, skating officials said earlier Friday that she could still be placed on the team as a special selection.

That would mean bumping the second-place finisher. The team is to be announced after tonight's award ceremony.

"I would accept it," Bobek said. "Nancy's been in it much longer and if the (officials) think she deserves to go, that's their choice."

Bobek's coach, Kathy Casey, said, "I think we'd accept it graciously. Nancy certainly has paid her dues. She's had good internationals and has skated well. If they chose to do that, I think we'd have our strongest team."

Harding, 23, finished a disappointing fourth in last year's championships. Looking fitter and steadier, Harding drew technical merit scores - ranging from 5.7 to 5.9 on a 6.0-point scale. A b "I had a lot of speed, a lot of confidence and everything just flowed right together," she said.

Skating before Harding, Bobek was nearly flawless performing to lively Russian folk music.

Because Harding has competed in two world championships, she appeared to have the edge over Bobek, 16, and Kwan, 13, going into the long program in the absence of Kerrigan.

"I was the underdog," Harding said. "No one expected me to do anything this year. I feel I have the experience. In my mind, I have a little bit of an edge."

Zayak, the 1982 world champion, was skating in her first national championships since 1984 and considered her comeback a personal triumph. …

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