Movie Review: 30 for 30: The Price of Gold

The 30 for 30 film The Price of Gold hit Netflix this week so that meant a late night viewing was necessary. The film covered the most incredible sports story of my generation – the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding drama that got played out in 1992 during the US Olympic Team Trials and subsequent Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

In case you missed it and don’t know how to use Google – here is the quick version. A bad guy breaks thru security somehow and hits Nancy Kerrigan with a lead pipe in the knee at the US team trials. We have the classic footage of her screaming ‘why?’ A few days later, they find the guy who happens to be Tonya Harding’s bodyguard. Who happens to get his instructions from another guy named Jeff who happens to be married to Tonya who happens to deny everything. Which happens to be a lie but to what extent, we will never have proof.

The film does a great job of laying the events all the way thru the Olympics. Most of this is told from the perspective of Tonya in a sit down interview.

At first, this is incredibly awkward film making. Then it moves to the bizarre, flys past absurd and camps on pathetic. By the end of the film, Tonya comes across as a self-absorbed, create your own reality ‘victim’ that you just shake your head at. Nothing is ever her fault, she’s shocked at how Nancy treated her and the harsh punishment of the US Figure Skating Association. Never mind that all of those things were reactions to what she did in the first place.

The film does a great job of following through all the fallout of the drama. The most obvious fallout – Nancy Kerrigan getting silver to Oksana Biul’s gold. Every skater interviewed was shocked at that result. Across the board it was recognized that Nancy skated better and had a more technical program. How did she lose?

All interviewed for the film were united in their answer – the US made a spectacle of the sport and the Olympics with the whole Harding/Kerrigan drama and the international community wanted nothing to do with it. No woman US skater was going to win a gold medal in Lillehammer. Was never going to happen.

Nancy is absent from the film. She wanted no part of the drama and I can’t say that I blame her. Her husband and coach speak and they add a bit of insight as to the competitor Nancy was. She chose to wore the same outfit she was attacked in during the shared practice time with Tonya at the Olympics. A not-so-subtle shot at Tonya that basically said – you have no idea how tenacious I am under this smile.

The film doesn’t resolve much of anything in terms of the initial storyline. Tonya still denies having anything to do with the attack. She claims she learned of the details after the fact and failed to report it, lying about that to both the media and the police.

A claim that still sounds impossible to believe today as it did 22 years ago. In order for that to be true, Tonya would have had to be both incredibly naive and stupid – of which she has repeatedly proven she is neither. The way she masterfully handled the media and the US Figure Skating team to even get to the Olympics, the whole ‘my lace is broken on my skate’ with the judges – she is anything but naive.

The film is worthy of a watch. There a couple of angles that I would have love to gotten – an international perspective, perhaps from some judges or other athletes. I think the film has way to much from Tonya. She is not easy to listen to and all the background on her life didn’t make her come across as a sympathetic figure. It had the opposite effect on me. Perhaps that was the filmmaker’s angle all along – just let her talk and let her be her own worst enemy.

In that case – it worked.

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2 thoughts on “Movie Review: 30 for 30: The Price of Gold

  1. Though the film ultimately comes to confirm the popular belief that Harding was aware of, and likely complicit in, the attack on Kerrigan’s knee that nearly derailed the skater’s Olympic hopes, it also draws a subtler picture. “Price” is a film in which Harding’s hardscrabble background and abusive husband — not to mention the draconian lifetime ban she eventually received from the U.S. skating federation — create sympathy for the fallen athlete.”It was easy for a lot of people back then to paint it all as the evil witch versus Snow White, so much so that some even believe it was Tonya who wielded a baton and personally hit Nancy in the knee,” Burstein said in an interview Wednesday. “But the reality was much more complicated.”Burstein said her own feelings deepened and changed as she made the film, particularly with regard to Harding. “I sort of went up and down with it — I mean, it’s clear she’s not being forthright when she said she didn’t know about the attack — but I definitely think she had a raw deal in life.”That life, as well as a colorful personality, are evident in long interviews with Harding, who though now in her early 40s, hasn’t exactly softened her edges. She can come off as defiant, not only in maintaining her before-the-fact innocence (she pleaded guilty only to hindering prosecution for not coming forth with post-attack knowledge) but also in lashing out at a media and skating establishment she believes favored the camera-ready Kerrigan over her.At the same time, Harding’s difficult back story (her mother and her ex-husband, that shadowy Jeff Gillooly, appear to have been abusive) offer some mitigating context. And the rush-to-judgment and skating banishment, even in the absence of a conviction, at least bolster some of her railroading claims.

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    1. While the lifetime ban seems harsh, the flip side of it was her presence at the Olympics was a world wide embarrassment to USA and sport. She would not go quietly into the night. Threatening to sue US Figure Skating obviously won her the battle to go to Olympics.

      But it arguably cost the USA a gold medal. Perhaps it cost her a career post-Olympics. I wonder if she had passed on Olympics and let the dust settle, would she have avoided the lifetime ban.

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