ESPN 30 For 30: The Price of Gold

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ESPN 30 For 30: The Price of Gold
This Catch Up is written by Chelsea Cristene
Year of Release: 2014
Spoilers: If you need a spoiler alert for this documentary, you were either not alive yet or living under a rock in 1994.
Currently Streaming on Netflix? Yes.
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One of my happiest childhood memories is asking my mother to back the cars off of the carport so the neighborhood girls and I could skate on it until dark. We pulled our hair back in tight buns, strapped on some clunky neon rollerblades, and pretended that we were our famous favorites competing for the gold medal: Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski.
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If you were a young girl in the 1990s, you probably remember being very much into figure skating. And if you were, I’m sure that it had a lot to do with the dazzling costumes, the spirited routines, and the refined elegance that so eludes gangly ten year olds. But it probably also had a lot to do with Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan.
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Twenty years later, director Nanette Burstein’s The Price of Gold explores not only the details of the scandal, but the dire poverty and abuse in Tonya Harding’s world that added fuel to an already competitive fire. Tonya’s background, as reporter Ann Schatz explains, is absolutely essential in understanding the attack. (Disclaimer: I don’t find Tonya Harding very likeable, and I don’t think I’m alone here. At 44, she is basically a bratty teenager in an adult’s body, complaining that the judges didn’t like her dress yet telling Nancy to “shut up” about her disappointing silver medal win. She’s brash, inarticulate, and stubbornly committed to proving her innocence. But after watching footage and hearing stories from her childhood, I can certainly see why she doesn’t have both oars in the water.)
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Tonya Harding, as several of the interviewees discuss, grew up in a cluttered rental house in Oregon. Though her mother used what little money the family had to finance Tonya’s interest in ice skating, she often verbally abused and physically beat Tonya. The documentary captures one moment in particular when, over the phone after a performance, Tonya’s mother berates her for “looking terrible” on the ice. Suddenly, it becomes clear that Tonya’s drive is about more than just money – she has something to prove. Like so many children from broken homes, Tonya uses a hobby to temporary escape her pain. The problem is that despite all of her talent and dedication, young Tonya is given a very poor example of how loving relationships work, and later falls in love with the abusive Jeff Gillooly.
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There’s also the issue of Tonya not fitting the proper “ice princess” mold. After Dorothy Hamill graced television screens with her glossy bob and feminine composure in the 1970s, figure skating demanded a certain image. Tonya, all curls and moxie, appealed to girls around the country who identified with her humble beginnings and boyish persona. But Nancy Kerrigan was the class act ‘90s figure skating had been waiting for – composed, polished, and strikingly beautiful. And so right along with Nancy’s popularity rose Tonya’s envy, which came to a head with one whack of a pipe.
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I’m going to sound like Stefan from SNL here, but this documentary has everything. A soap-opera storyline: beloved ice princess nearly taken out by ‘bad girl’ rival and her band of thugs, only to fully recover and win an Olympic medal. A thorough detailing of the investigation for all the criminal justice nerds out there, followed by a disbelieving reaction to just how bad the entire plan was. Memorable clips for those of us who were hopelessly glued to our TVs in 1994: the interview with Ann Schatz that Tonya mostly spent looking fearfully over at her then-husband, Tonya’s oh so obvious body language during her pre-Olympic press conference. And Scott Hamilton! If you find yourself with 78 minutes to spare and are jonesing for some ‘90s nostalgia, The Price of Gold is a great use of your time.
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Unsurprisingly, Nancy Kerrigan declined to contribute to this documentary. Tonya, however, relishes any opportunity to talk about herself, and when the film wraps up with even more of her adamant denial, I can’t say that I expected anything else. Like all the best tragedies, Tonya’s pride leads to her downfall, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy she is finally a household name. Just not in a way she had ever dreamed of.

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