Let's Discuss: A Sports Biopic Waiting to Be Made

As the world awaits the Olympics in Sochi, a retrospective glimpse is unavoidable and an unforgettable Winter Olympics quickly emerges to the forefront. The year was 1994 and all eyes were on Lillehammer, Norway. The sport was women’s figure skating and the rivalry was tailor-made for Hollywood drama. You need to look no further than ESPN's dazzling documentary "30 for 30: The Price of Gold" for the evidence.

Tonya Harding, the girl from the wrong side of the tracks was competing against America’s golden girl and advertising machine, Nancy Kerrigan. They were polar opposites, exemplifying practically every difference imaginable. “Rich” vs. poor, multi-million dollar endorsement deals vs. zero, brunette vs. blonde, east coast vs. west coast, supportive family vs. hardscrabble family background, media favorite vs. the underdog and the list goes on.

Their rivalry would be catapulted into infamy when Kerrigan was struck on the right knee by an assailant, seven weeks before the Olympics. It was the whack heard round the world and cameras quickly swarmed the scene, capturing the aftermath as Kerrigan wailed a triple “Why!"

Soon the criminal investigation would result in the arrests of a few individuals, among them, Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s husband at the time. Speculation would then swirl as to whether Harding had been a co-conspirator in the attack. The media would try the case in the court of public opinion. Harding would never be charged for actually planning the assault, though she has carried the shadow of a public conviction for the last, twenty years.

As "The Price of Gold" points out, Harding is the only one who truly knows the answer to whether she planned the crime and yet the media has indelibly fanned the flames of her guilt, relying upon the word of convicted felons, rampant speculation, and no formal prosecution. She would eventually plead guilty to hindering the prosecution, admitting to knowledge of Gillooly's guilt, after the fact.

The U.S. Figure Skating Commission would later conduct their own investigation and find Harding guilty based on evidence that wasn’t substantial enough to warrant a criminal prosecution. She was stripped of her 1994 U.S. Championship title and placed on a lifetime ban from competitive skating. For Harding the writing was on the wall, her career was over.

The Olympic frenzy that had captivated a nation would result in a fizzle at the games. Harding would crumble, after saying her lace had broken, she would be granted a restart, which she skated with no success. Kerrigan would compete and place second to Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul, who would take the gold.

"The Price of Gold" documents a series of on-camera outbursts that would catch a media-adored Kerrigan on the receiving end of disfavor. First, before the medal ceremony, she would be seen lamenting the delay of the medal ceremony after being told Baiul was re-touching her make-up, to which she responded “Oh, come on. She's going to get up there and cry again. What's the difference?"

The second time would be shortly after the Olympics, during the Walt Disney World Parade where she was heard saying “This is dumb. I hate it. This is the corniest thing I have ever done." A public relations issue ensued and Kerrigan would slip out of the public eye, not long after.

All of this said; there is no question there is enough material to fashion a sports biopic. This was a huge moment in sports history and an even bigger one on the scale of female sports. What would a movie about the Harding-Kerrigan rivalry be like?

ESPN’s documentary series “30 for 30” gave potential viewers a glimpse. A nifty and fascinating watch that offered new insight into the events and Harding, who was interviewed for the doc. Her struggle from scrappy underdog to competitive threat and the nebulas question of her complicity in the Kerrigan assault would make for an equally riveting film.

“The Price of Gold” felt like a fair representation of Harding or at least, the fairest one I’ve seen. It put the context of the attack into perspective going into the Olympics and raised serious questions.

No matter a person’s feelings on Harding, she is a fascinating subject for the screen. She’s a person worth exploring in-depth and from several different angles. So who would play them in the movie?

For Harding, the gifted Amy Adams could be just the ticket, the promise of tackling an enigma like Harding would be an interesting challenge for her to take on, a role requiring emotional texturing and a physical transformation.

Another option is British actress Juno Temple. She has proven to have an immense talent for portraying the socially downcast, outsider. A talent to watch, Temple has been awaiting her mainstream breakthrough and this could be it.

As for Kerrigan, “General Hospital” actress Kelly Thiebaud looks strikingly similar to her and she has the acting chops to take on the role.

This sports biopic would feature female athletes in a story, Hollywood wouldn’t warrant fictionalizing in the least. It's a chance to examine a historical moment through the looking glass of a twenty-year lens and make a must-see film, in the process.

[Image by Britt Lawrence]