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No matter how dramatic Sochi's figure staking proves to be, there's no way it can live up to the sensational events of the ladies' competition twenty years ago. In the lead up to the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, an unbelievable story erupted involving the USA's top two skaters, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding. While everyone over the age of 25 probably remembers the scandal, ESPN's 30 for 30: The Price of Gold is a compelling and well-crafted documentary that not only offers a detailed look at the events with never before seen footage and new interviews but also crafts a fascinating narrative around Harding's still questionable involvement with the attack. A must see for the anniversary.
Audiences will probably be inundated with retrospectives since this Olympics marks the twentieth anniversary of the the incident, however, the real characters and story are far too complex for some brief NBC segment. The Harding scandal is simply too big to fit it into a segue from the mixed biathlon to the ladies figure skating. ESPN's 30 for 30 (or ESPN Films Presents) series, however, has an impeccable track record of producing quality sports documentaries (Brett Morgan's June 17th, 1994 and Hoop Dreams director Steve James' No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson are two of many that I highly recommend) that consistently show how there's always more to a story than you think. And this one's a doozy.
Academy Award nominated director Nanette Burstein (On the Ropes, co-directed by the aforementioned Morgan) recognized that the bizarre, soap opera like events were worth revisiting not only because of the opportune timing but, more importantly, to revisit a fascinating moment American history. And one worth exploring to the fullest extent. Or at least as full as she could tell it given the co-operation of some and the lack of it from others.
The main reason why The Price of Gold is so compelling is its 'lead character' as the too-forward Harding couldn't be happier to be interviewed while Kerrigan opted out of participating, instead letting her agent turned husband tell her side of the story. While Kerrigan's addition would have certainly been welcome, the documentary doesn't suffer from her absence because it's not really about the victim. The film dives deep into Harding's past and struggles trying to make it as a poor, tomboy in a sport geared for rich princesses.
I don't really want to say more because, well, the documentary leaves no stone unturned and the more information you've forgotten, the better experience you may have. Of course, we all recall Kerrigan's 'why, why, why" soundbite but do you remember who won the gold? Don't look, just watch. Directed by Nanette Burstein, ESPN's 30 for 30: The Price of Gold is currently available to stream on Netflix. The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics' Ladies Figure Skating starts Wednesday, February 19 at 4:00 a.m. ET with the Short Program followed by the Free Skate the next morning (Thursday, February 20 also at 4:00 a.m. ET), determines who is gold, silver and bronze.
BONUS - 30 for 30 Shorts: Judging Jewell
ESPN has also released another new Olympic related 30 for 30, this one about Richard Jewell, the security guard at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games who saved hundreds of lives only to quickly become the FBI's primary suspect for the Centennial Olympic Park bombing. The story is currently being made into a feature film starring Jonah Hill and Leonardo DiCaprio called The Ballad of Richard Jewell and The New York Times also produced a 'Retro Report' detailing the events called The Wrong Man: The Richard Jewell Story. It's not nearly as good as 30 for 30 Shorts: Judging Jewell, directed by Slamdance Best Documentary Feature winner Adam Hootnick. Take a look...