Nanette Burstein’s recent ESPN Films documentary on the 1994 Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding saga, The Price of Gold, opens with iconic footage of Kerrigan writhing in agony after a masked man hit her knee with a police baton. “Why? Why? Why?,” Kerrigan moans as trainers frantically attend to her. Her bawls display a swell of marketable melodrama that CBS rode to record ratings in its Olympic coverage. The footage acquired even more allure days later, when it was discovered that Harding’s husband Jeff Gillooly orchestrated the plot. ESPN Films markets its documentaries by appealing to the new light they shed on sport’s past. The Price of Gold, however, reaffirms Harding’s longstanding image as Kerrigan’s unpolished foil. The production, driven by interviews with Harding, depicts her as embittered and petulant. She resentfully huffs that Kerrigan was treated as “a princess” while she was derided as “a pile of crap.” At another point, Burstein edits interview footage to catch Harding lying, a maneuver that forces us to question whether any of her comments included up to that point are credible. The only sympathy that comes across is the possibility—one that Burstein skillfully, if not exploitatively, dangles—that the disgraced Olympian may be, and perhaps always was, a little crazy.
While it shares little new information, The Price of Gold provides ESPN with a greater stake in the Olympics, which NBC owns the rights to televise. Aside from Russia’s lamentable intolerance, there are few controversial or provocative storylines surrounding the event. Though it happened 20 years ago, the Kerrigan-Harding scandal remains an alluring frame of reference through which women’s Olympic figure skating is mythologized, represented, and read. While neither ESPN nor its corporate sibling ABC will be televising figure skating this year, they take measures to own one of the sport’s most bizarre moments, and to ensure it still seems as strange as it did in ’94. Like most myths, Harding’s image derives its enduring power in large part from its stability. ESPN reinforces this myth en route to selling it back to us two decades after its genesis.