Guard accuses skater of plot to cripple rival

THE unfolding scandal of how one of America's top Olympic skating hopes, Nancy Kerrigan, was attacked 10 days ago during a qualifying competition in Detroit threatened to take another dramatic turn yesterday when it was reported that police were investigating her arch rival, Tonya Harding.

Police have arrested three suspects, including Miss Harding's bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt, 26. He and two other men are accused of conspiring to commit the attack on 6 January when a man approached Miss Kerrigan at the Detroit event and struck her across the knee with an iron bar.

Speculation has swirled in recent days that Miss Harding, who has something of a 'bad girl' reputation in her home town of Portland, Oregon, would be arrested. NBC news reported that, according to police sources, Mr Eckardt had accused her of being involved in the assault's 'planning and cover-up' after initially alleging that her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, with whom she is reconciled, was behind the attack.

The Washington Post reported that whether or not Miss Harding is formally implicated, US Olympic officials hope she will withdraw from next month's Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. They fear a 'logistical nightmare' if both women take part.

Miss Harding, 23, who comes from a poor background and has had two previous run-ins with the Oregon authorities, won the Detroit competition and qualified for the Olympic figure skating team. Miss Kerrigan, who suffered muscle and tissue injuries but no bone breakages, was forced to withdraw in Detroit, but has been given a place at Lillehammer.

Miss Kerrigan's injuries have prevented her from training since the attack, but she hopes to be back on the ice this week and fully fit in time for the Games. She would not be drawn into comment on the possible involvement of her rival. 'I can't understand why something like this would occur . . . because I can't think that viciously,' she said.

Mr Eckardt has reportedly admitted his complicity in the attack to police. His lawyer, Mark McKnight, said: 'It's a rather monstrous thing to be involved with - the serious injury of a pretty young woman with a promising career. He is certainly taking reponsibility for his role in this.'

Mr Eckardt and the two others already detained, Shane Stant, 22, a martial arts specialist alleged to have carried out the attack, and his uncle by marriage, Derrick Smith, 29, can expect up to 10 years in prison if found guilty on the charges of conspiracy to assault.

(Photographs omitted)