Three held over attack on US skater

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The Independent Online
THE BIZARRE attack on the US champion skater Nancy Kerrigan, which has brought scandal to the high-stakes world of international figure skating, has led to the police holding three men, including the bodyguard of her chief American rival, Tonya Harding.

This follows widely circulated reports claiming that last week's assault on Kerrigan was the work of a hitman who was allegedly offered dollars 100,000 (pounds 68,000) to ensure that she was excluded from a place in the US team to next month's Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Kerrigan has been the favourite to win a gold medal. She won a bronze medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics.

She received a badly bruised knee when she was accosted by a man after a practice session for the US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, the qualifying trials for the Olympics. The man struck her on the right leg with a metal baton before fleeing from the rink, after smashing the glass in a security door.

In the event, the plot - if there was one - appears to have failed. Harding won the contest, and was duly selected for the Olympics. The other spot on the team would normally have gone to the second-place finisher, Michelle Kwan, but the US Figure Skating Association chose Kerrigan instead.

Last night two men, Shawn Eric Eckardt, 26, the bodyguard, and Derrick Brian Smith, 29, were being held in custody in Portland, Oregon. They are charged with conspiracy to commit assault.

A third suspect, Shane Stant, 22, for whom police had been searching, gave himself in yesterday. FBI officials said he surrendered to police in Arizona. Mr Stant is Mr Smith's nephew and newspapers have idenitifed him as the man who clubbed Kerrigan. Another arrest is expected, authorities said.

The authorities are unofficially suggesting that Mr Eckardt has confessed that he was asked to arrange the attack by Harding's former husband, Jeff Gillooly. Mr Gillooly divorced his wife after a stormy relationship which produced two restraining orders, but the couple have since reconciled and now live together. He denies the claims.

Officials say no arrest warrant is expected to be issued for Harding, who has dismissed any suggestion of her involvement as ludicrous. 'You guys know me better than that,' she told reporters. 'I had my hopes for a long time of competing against Nancy and proving I'm as good as her and better.' The US Olympic Committee has said her participation in the Olympics was not in question, as there is no evidence of her involvement in the assault.

It is not confirmed that Kerrigan will be able to compete for the Olympic event, where victory is worth tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Her agent, Jerry Solomon, said: 'She's doing great. She's in the pool every day. She's doing hydrotherapy. Her range of motion in her knee is almost back to the full range.'

(Photograph omitted)