Release: Thursday, January 16, 2014
Why? Why? Why. . . .wasn’t there more security in the building at the time of the incident?
In this relatively high-profile documentary, we are entreated to an inside look into the lives of two gifted female figure skaters — Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan — and how their worlds would ultimately intersect in dramatic fashion prior to the 1994 Olympic Winter Games, which took place in Lillehammer, Norway.
Academy Award-nominated director Nanette Burstein, whose filmography includes feature films such as Going the Distance, The Kid Stays in the Picture and a documentary spoof on The Breakfast Club called American Teen, takes on the responsibility of revealing the truth of what happened behind the curtains — literally — following Nancy Kerrigan’s practice skate session the evening of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Kerrigan, having barely left the ice, was assaulted by an unidentified man and clubbed across her right knee with a police baton, rendering her unable to skate for the competition and quite possibly for the upcoming Olympics.
ESPN’s latest 30-for-30 couldn’t have had better timing, what with the Sochi Games a mere three weeks away. Burstein’s work here is all the more impacting thanks to the (okay. . .yes, intentional) scheduling of its airing. Centering around an exclusive interview with Tonya Harding with a variety of other interviewees both current and past, The Price of Gold buries its head into the controversy and tries to establish who was responsible for the attack. It has other goals as well, such as verifying whether or not this could have been an attempt by Harding’s camp to improve her odds of winning the gold medal, and showing how this singular event came to be the catalyst for a resurgence in the event’s popularity.
The two skaters both came from humble beginnings — Harding much more so, as she was born into a poorer family that could barely afford her to go to the skating sessions she attended as a child. Her mother, an abusive alcoholic, never truly supported her daughter’s passion. Kerrigan, on the other hand, while certainly not from wealth, grew up in a slightly more privileged family and as the documentary expands, we get to appreciate the
subtle differences in the two athletes. (Naysayers be damned, this is an athletic sport.) But Harding found it much more difficult to rise to the top in her sport as her reputation for being the skater from the wrong side of the tracks never really helped her image.
As Tony Kornheiser (a personal favorite sports analyst of yours truly) points out, figure skaters are the dainty, precious commodities corporate America is interested in seeing achieve Gold medal status, if only because they represent the red, white and blue. Nevermind the fact that these are extremely young girls pushing their bodies (and minds) to their absolute limits. With the Olympics being the largest stage imaginable for any competitor, the slightest sense of anything out of the ordinary occurring in the weeks and/or months leading up to the event potentially can spell disaster. No one could have seen anything like this coming, though.
Like most (if not all) 30-for-30 documentaries, there’s no special, winning formula to the proceedings. Its structure is quite linear. Tracing the developmental stages of these girls’ careers and their relative trajectories heading into the Games, the focus is primarily on Harding, seeing as though Kerrigan declined to be interviewed. Frequent cuts back to the chat with the 43-year-old reveal her reactions now to the events being described and depicted in archived footage in the meantime. One cannot help but feel that some part of her perhaps deserved what was coming. One does not get the strongest sense that this was an innocent skater terrorized by a media storm; yet one cannot dismiss the sense of sorrow they feel towards a woman caught in constantly abusive environments.
Her first marriage to Jeff Gillooly continued the pattern of physical abuse and emotional fragility — hardly the picture of a world-class figure skater. This image she carried with her became such a burden that when the incident occurred, her name was instantly linked to it. But, as it turned out, the national opinion wasn’t so prejudicial.
The Price of Gold is jam-packed with fascinating footage. Burstein has done quite a job assembling a story that nitpicks through what can only be considered one of the most controversial and bizarre occurrences in Olympic history. . .in sports history. Quite likely, there will never be a Games quite like the 1994 Winter Olympics again. However, she is lacking one critical piece of the puzzle — an up-to-date conversation with the other side: Nancy Kerrigan. Though it would be harsh to consider it a misstep considering Kerrigan’s understandable resistance to being thrust back into the spotlight and talking about her own blemished history — and the documentary can’t be considered biased because of this — the end product does suffer a little bit as a result.
Imagine the juxtaposition of these would-be conflicting interviews. The depth of perspective. We get a little taste of that from the footage taken back in the early to mid-90’s, but there is so much more to speculate about how these two people have grown and changed since. There are interviews from the Kerrigan camp (her current husband gets some camera time) but it’s just not the same. We have to believe Burstein tried her best to get her involved, but at the end of the day, The Price of Gold falls just short of gold and lands on the second-highest podium position because of one simple trip up.
Such is the nature of competitive skating, too. Now here’s a photo gallery of what figure skating looks like to those who don’t partake in it:
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Recommendation: For anyone interested in learning more about the backstory, The Price of Gold is quite valuable. It’s surprisingly digestible and enticing (particularly for sports fans who don’t necessarily buy into figure skating as a “legitimate” sport), with the interviews with Harding and others being at the top of the list of reasons you should see into this.
Running Time: 60 mins.
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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com