January 08, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Why me? why now?” Nancy Kerrigan sobbed in front of onlookers after an assailant smashed her right leg with a metal rod Jan. 6, 1994. Kerrigan, then 24, had been practicing at a Detroit arena for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where she was a favorite. But once she was sidelined by bruises, top honors went to rival Tonya Harding, 23.

Within two weeks, four Harding cronies, including ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, had been arrested. (Gillooly and Shawn Eckardt eventually pleaded guilty to racketeering; Shane Stant and Derrick Smith, to conspiracy to commit second-degree assault.) The team had been so inept, though, that even Kerrigan later howled at its antics — like when clubman Stant had to interrupt stalking his prey every 30 minutes to move a parked car.

Facing possible exclusion from the games, Harding sued and was allowed to compete alongside a recovered Kerrigan. In the media frenzy before the Olympics, the skaters became pop-culture celebs. On Feb. 23, their televised Lillehammer duel drew more than 45 million U.S. households. (It’s the sixth-highest-rated telecast ever.) They were also immortalized in quickie books and a TV movie.

After the games, Harding pleaded guilty to the felony of ”hindering prosecution” and was sentenced to three years’ probation. The U.S. Figure Skating Association eventually took away her national title and banned her from skating.

She faced Kerrigan again in early ’98, when Fox aired an interview for which each was reportedly paid more than $100,000. But anyone hoping for revelations was disappointed. Harding stuck to the story that she had no advance knowledge of the attack, and all Kerrigan would say was ”I am glad you moved on, and I hope that you can find happiness.”

While skating jobs for Harding remain scarce, Kerrigan is currently starring as Sandy in a touring production called Grease on Ice.

Time Capsule
Jan. 6, 1994
At the movies, Mrs. Doubtfire is No. 1 at theaters. Robin Williams’ flick would earn $423 million worldwide. He’d return to ”family” comedy with ’96’s The Birdcage. In music, Mariah Carey’s ”Hero” tops the singles charts, earning her a Grammy nod for Best Female Pop Vocal. In ’97, Carey would split with her husband, Sony Music honcho Tommy Mottola, but continue to record for his company. In bookstores, Robert James Waller’s Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend and The Bridges of Madison County are best-sellers. Clint Eastwood would direct and star in the ’95 movie version of Bridges. And in the news, Dr. Jack Kevorkian is ordered to stand trial for his 20th assisted suicide; he’d be acquitted in ’96. In ’98 he would plead not guilty to first-degree murder charges for a videotaped death aired on 60 Minutes.

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