Figure Skating, Nancy Kerrigan, Sports, Tonya Harding

Flashback ’94: Battle on Ice

Remember the early months of 1994?

January — The biggest scandal in sports history to this date unfolds in front of the American public. In the eye of the storm are US Figure Skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. Their names were about to receive international fame far beyond the skating world. Shortly before the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, their competitive struggle turns ugly. Nancy Kerrigan, the public’s favorite, is assaulted with a fatal blow on her thigh which put her much anticipated participation in the Olympics in question. Much of the assault is captured on camera and made available to a worldwide audience. The public’s interest in the assault grows as it turns out that her rival’s ex-husband is behind the attack. What follows, is a real-life drama covered extensively by American media and eagerly broadcast worldwide.

I’m watching some of it on my television in my apartment in Munich while trying to focus on packing and storing my belongings away for a long absence.

March — I arrive in San Francisco with two suitcases and a bicycle. The plan is to stay for one year, do some freelance journalism, and then return to my home and job in Munich, Germany. As I unpack and turn on my American television for the first time, I’m surprised to see the continuation of the Kerrigan/Harding drama and the extent of the coverage by the American media. They are digging up material about the personal lives of the people involved — something that makes me with my German reserve rather uncomfortable.

May — My first article is published by several German newspapers. Its topic is the TV movie Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story, which aired only three months after the actual drama.

At the time, as a recently arrived and young freelance-journalist, I had decided to write about everything that struck me as unusual in the USA. The unprecedented attack on an ice skater just before the Olympics in Lillehammer was just such a phenomenon. America’s fascination with this drama, and its shameless voyeurism, were also noteworthy. I thought it bizarre that such an outrageous event could be exploited for a TV drama so soon after it had happened, with emotions still running high and with those involved trying to come to terms with its consequences. So I wrote about the movie and submitted my article to several newspapers in Germany. Three of the more important ones — Stuttgarter NachrichtenKieler Nachrichten, and Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine— accepted.

I felt proud. German readers, I imagined, were as stunned by America’s voyeurism as was I. But I think their interest in my story was less about the TV drama. These German readers became voyeurs themselves – gawking at Americans gawking at two tragic ice figure skaters.

Tonya&Nancy

My first published newspaper article as a reporter from San Francisco! Published by Stuttgarter Nachrichten.

Twenty-four years have passed since then. My career as a German journalist was short-lived. With the unprecedented dot-com boom of the late 90s and the subsequent arrival of countless German colleagues competing over who would be the first to report about the swift rise of the high-tech phenomenon called Silicon Valley, my unique role as one of only two German journalists in the San Francisco Bay Area was quickly eclipsed. With the advent of the internet, which allowed free access to online resources, the newspaper industry changed dramatically. I saw my chances as a traditional writer and correspondent focusing on American culture and life style stories in this highly competitive market dwindle – together with my income. I transitioned (or rather retreated) to the life of a free-lance translator, an occupation that allowed me to continue my love relationship with language, keep my mind open for new subjects, and to become part of an open-minded and highly interesting community of professionals with different backgrounds from all over the world.

However, as I began to establish myself as a technical translator, and as my financial situation stabilized, I began to suffer from a lack of creativity and a nagging feeling of isolation. If I wasn’t working from home, I would spend long hours commuting to various clients in the dreaded Silicon Valley to work in bleak office spaces, immersed in a culture of computer nerds with very different mindsets. So I began to look for a creative outlet and a social scene that would be more appealing. I found it in dancing.

I worked my way up to competition and performance level, and eventually discovered Argentine tango. This, I discovered, actually involves a whole universe that goes far beyond the dance. As such it triggered my urge to write again. I started my own tango blog to describe some of the fascinating aspects of this world, hoping at the same time to find an audience which would find it equally fascinating.

Now, just as I am to take my next step in my writing career – turning my tango blog into an online tango magazine – I find myself being haunted by my past: the two subjects of my very first story as a German journalist in California appear again in the public spotlight: Tonya and Nancy.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when a few weeks ago I saw the preview of a newly produced big screen movie, I, Tonya. ‘They’ve actually picked up that old ugly story and turned it into a full-length movie!’ I thought to myself. I cringed inwardly. After all these years, I still have an uncomfortable feeling about peeking into people’s personal lives. I guess my German reserve still hasn’t given way to what I call American voyeurism. Even worse, I feel these two tragic figures have become part of my own life. I feel protective of Tonya and Nancy as if they were part of my family. There was a time, twenty-four years ago, when their story followed me from one end of the world to the other. By writing about them their story touched me and became somehow a part of my own story.

Now I see the real Tonya Harding in an interview. She has grown older. Life has left its traces on her face, just as it has on mine. We’re both middle-aged at this point. And despite our different lives we meet again. Strangely, things have come full circle.

 

 

In the meantime, my tango blog can be found here: https://andreastangosite.com/

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Towing memories

The car got picked up today. It was old, and I mean, really old – from the last century – and had all sorts of problems and in the end it wouldn’t even start anymore. It didn’t make sense to keep spending money on repairs. So I suggested to donate it. Good idea. Only problem was that it took almost 2 weeks until it got picked up. We had pushed it out of the garage the other Sunday and down the driveway which is too narrow for a tow truck, so that the towing people could easily pick it up. It sat on the street in front of the house a week and then almost another week,  and I saw it all that time sitting there and waiting for its destiny, feeling melancholic and bit impatient since I wanted it to get out of my sight and my mind. A car is a just a thing. But it’s still full of memories, stories, reminders of the past. I remembered the day when I picked it out from that huge dealer’s lot in Florida and we took it for a test drive, me pushing my husband to sign the contract. We urgently needed transportation in this sad part of the country. There was no other way of getting to work, shopping or anywhere else. Forget about riding a bicycle or taking public transportation, which was how we had gotten everywhere where we lived in Germany, Japan and California. I was being laughed at when I asked the real estate agent in Tampa to find us a house close to work so my husband could take his bicycle. You can’t go anywhere by bicycle!! So we got a car, the newest and fanciest one we had ever owned, a 3 year old Jetta. We are both not car people and not particularly status conscious, so this was a very proud moment for us! The purchase left enough money in the bank for some new furniture and other important items that we needed to start our lives at this new place. Several weeks later, driving to work and everywhere else, discovering the Florida beaches, small islands off the coast, the Everglades, both coasts, including Miami and St Augustine, it became clear that we depended on the car. But it also became clear that this car liked frequent visits to repair shops. It had issues that I had never even hear if before: Fall 2014 011 a broken speedometer (my husband getting speeding tickets when the speedometer clearly read that he had been within the limits), alarms going off, dashboard lights flashing for no apparent reason, blisters starting to cover the finish, supposedly because of the Florida heat (did I mention this was a German car?). We kept hanging on to it, even moving with it to New York State (“Wrong direction!” My husband kept pointing out. “People move from New York to Florida, not vice versa!”). There, in the long cold winters, the Florida sand kept stubbornly hiding between seats and floor mats and no matter how many times I vacuumed, there was always a grain of sand somewhere. Still, we drove around in it, oblivious to the fact that as we grew older, so did the car. We found a new mechanic who promised to fix the electronic issue, then another one who supposedly knew better. The bills kept getting higher and higher. When I finally realized that my husband’s students drove newer and better cars than he did, I urged him to purchase a new vehicle. We downgraded the now “old” one to the transportation of tools and skis and Christmas trees and gave it occasionally to students from China who had just freshly obtained their NY drivers’ license. I suspect that the car took this as an insult and thus started to prefer spending even more time at the mechanic than in its own garage. Eventually it would refuse to move at all. So there we are. 14 years and countless memories later, it just got towed and disappeared down the street.

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Hawk

Fall 2014 004As I walked into town today, a sudden move in the bushes next to the road caught my attention. Before I could grasp what it was, something that sounded like a suppressed scream followed. Then I saw a hawk taking off with what appeared to be a squirrel between his claws. He flew up from the leave-covered ground, slowly gaining altitude, but it didn’t take long before he landed again after less than a hundred yards deeper into the woods. Several craws started their rasping sound, following the big bird, waiting in the top of the trees for their share of the prey. I was startled by that moment. It took me a few seconds to grasp what I had just witnessed. In all my years of spending time in the outdoors, of hiking in remote mountains and deserts, I had never seen anything like this. For a moment, I was torn between bursting into tears, fear, and excitement. But the emotions went by quickly and all that remained was my amazement for having witnessed the hunt of a hawk.

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