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‘Nancy & Tonya,’ and Loudon Wainwright’s perfect score, 20 years later

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Whether or not it merits commemorating, women’s figure skating’s notorious 1994 headline pairing of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, thanks to the dreadful knee-clubbing attack of Kerrigan perpetrated by Harding’s ex-husband, is the focus of a 20-years-after NBC Sunday night TV documentary Nancy & Tonya.

It follows last month’s ESPN documentary The Price of Gold—a subject Loudon Wainwright III quickly examined with typical brilliance shortly following the incident.

His song “Tonya’s Twirls,” which eventually surfaced on his 1999 album Social Studies (a live version was included in his 2003 album So Damn Happy), began as a sympathetic look at Harding, who unlike all the other girls who “look like princesses, little Barbies to the core,” was “your parents' worst nightmare, the slut who moved next door.”

Invoking Olga Korbut, the young Russian pixie gymnast who captured the world’s hearts with her daring routines at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, to be overshadowed four years later by Nadia Comăneci in Montreal and largely forgotten afterward, Wainwright asked: “Remember Olga Korbut? What happens to these girls, with their triple flips and axels and somersaults and twirls?”

Ice, he noted, “used to be a nice thing when you laced up figure skates,” but had become “a thing to win a medal on for the United States.”

He concluded nostalgically, lamenting how “once there were no lutzes, axels, pirouettes or twirls--just giddy, slipping, sliding, laughing, happy little girls.”

Looking back today, Wainwright observes that “all the nationalism and repressed jingoism indeed still seem in place.”

“And of course after every win or medal count,” he adds, “we're encouraged to buy a car or, at the very least, have a Coke.”

“No surprises there,” notes Wainwright. “But it all seems much more desperate and dangerous now. At Sochi, the Tonyas and the Olgas, the once ‘giddy, slipping, sliding, laughing, happy little girls’ are not just stumbling and falling. Now they are careening and crashing and getting seriously hurt.”

Concludes Wainwright: “I find myself watching the hockey, mostly--I guess I'm used to that carnage. Kerrigan seems to have weathered it all quite well. Harding still breaks my heart.”

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