After getting over the fact the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan affair was 20 years ago, those watching “The Price of Gold” – an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary devoted to the story – will probably realize the project, while perfectly respectable, is memorable in only one respect: Seeing Harding today, still smarting, all these years later, over how she was portrayed. The main problem is that this look at the event that propelled Olympic figure skating to stratospheric heights proves such a target-rich environment the producers don’t know where to look first, and as a result turn out only a Bronze-worthy routine.
Kerrigan, notably, chooses not to participate in this retelling of a story that was rife with angles: The class distinctions involving Harding, who came from modest means; her ungainly appearance in a competition where the skaters are “the Barbie dolls of sports,” as sportswriter Tony Kornheiser puts it, judged as much by their looks as their twirls; the tabloid frenzy the story produced; and Harding’s still-not-convincing insistence she only took part in the attack on her gold-medal rival, Kerrigan, by helping cover it up after the fact.
Harding remains defiant, and clearly bitter, despite her protestations to the contrary. And there is also a noteworthy indictment here of the media, which, as a childhood friend of Harding’s notes, found a story “so rich in the blacks and whites, nobody did the gray.”
“Price of Gold” is certainly well timed, what with the Winter Olympics just around the corner, sure to usher in a new crop of would-be ice royalty. There’s also a “Rich Skater, Poor Skater” quality to the outcome, even if the 1994 Games didn’t ultimately quite have a storybook finish.
Nevertheless, director Nanette Burstein’s film, while interesting, leaves as many questions as it answers. And perhaps because the current version of Harding is so scarred, there’s a desire to hear more about what happened after she was banned from the sport she loved – a coda that receives relatively short shrift near the end.
“The media don’t care about anything except themselves and their paychecks,” Harding says. And the barking dogs that hounded Harding were certainly a harbinger of tabloid-sliding to come.
Yet it was Harding’s pursuit of gold – and not just Olympic glory, but the rich endorsement deals that invariably went with it – that ultimately led to her downfall. Still, while “Price of Gold” potentially has a lot to say about the nexus of sports and journalism, it settles for delivering an unfinished portrait of a woman who, to this day, continues to skate on thin ice.