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USA's famed Tonya-Nancy icy rivalry skates into opera

New York Theatre Festival to feature stage show on one of the most famous sports rivalries, between ice skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, that dominated global headlines in the 1990s

New York: It was the knee whack that obsessed millions and turned figure skating into an international tabloid frenzy. A good twenty years later, it’s coming to the New York stage decked in sequins.

Nancy Kerrigan performs during an exhibition event at the Izod Center in New Iersey on December 11, 2013
Nancy Kerrigan performs during an exhibition event at the Izod Center in New Iersey on December 11, 2013

‘Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera,’ tells of the blood, sweat and tears behind the fierce rivalry between elegant figure skating princess Nancy Kerrigan and hard-edged Tonya Harding. Kerrigan was queen of the ice: the brunette beauty dressed in Vera Wang, a mistress of million-dollar endorsements, who personified classy elegance in an image-obsessed sport.

Harding was the gutsy, brash-talking athlete, who overcame poverty and an abusive, alcoholic mother to become the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition. When Kerrigan was whacked on the knee in an attack ordered by Harding’s ex-husband before the 1994 US Championships, the celebrity-gossip world exploded.

There had been nothing like it in the sport. “Dark yet perky, is to me the feel of this show,” says American novelist Elizabeth Searle, who wrote the libretto about the two women. “There is all this glittery, sparkly fun... but underneath are all these dark currents and this brutal act, and that to me is a very interesting combination in the opera,” added Searle.

The show billed as ‘dark comedy done with heart’ makes its New York debut tomorrow as part of the city’s annual Musical Theatre Festival, a spring board for eclectic new, off-Broadway productions.

The harding-kerrigan story...
Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the knee by an assailant after a practice session in Detroit before the US championships in 1994.

Doctors ruled her out of the competition, which Tonya Harding won, before both women were picked to represent USA for the Winter Olympics six weeks later.

It later emerged that Harding’s abusive ex-husband Jeff Gillooly had ordered the hit on Kerrigan. At the Winter Olympics, Nancy won silver, while Tonya broke her boot lace and finished eighth.

February 25, 1994: USA’s Tonya Harding is in tears after her right boot lace broke during her figure skating event at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. This was the first time Harding and compatriot Nancy Kerrigan were competing after Kerrigan was attacked in a conspiracy hatched by Harding’s ex-husband. The judges allowed Harding to reskate but she only managed eighth place overall while Kerrigan won the silver medal. Pics/AFP

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