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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

USOC Backs Down, Allows Harding to Skate

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- The United States Olympic Committee, fearing protracted legal battles and continued distractions that would disrupt the Winter Olympic Games, will allow Tonya Harding to skate in the Olympics.

In return, Harding's attorneys agreed to drop a $20 million lawsuit against the USOC.

The deal -- agreed to in Portland, Oregon, by attorneys for Harding and the USOC -- was announced at 12:30 A.M. in Norway, just hours after the opening ceremonies signaled the start of the XVII Winter Games. It happened so late that a USOC spokesman said Nancy Kerrigan, the victim of the Jan. 6 attack to which Harding has been linked, would not be immediately notified of the decision because she probably was asleep.

Harding and Kerrigan are scheduled to practice together throughout the Games, a situation Kerrigan's coach labeled as "absurd."

Four men -- including Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly -- have been arrested in the alleged plot to injure Kerrigan at the U.S. Olympic trials in Detroit. Gillooly has implicated Harding in the planning of the attack as well; Harding has denied those allegations and has not been charged.

"The ongoing criminal investigation in Oregon as well as the continuing U.S. Figure Skating Association disciplinary review of Tonya Harding and the distraction to our athletes and their preparations have helped to make our efforts for a Games Administrative Board hearing difficult if not impossible," the USOC said in a statement.

"Tonya Harding regrets any inconvenience the Oregon court proceeding has caused to the United States Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee and the other Olympic athletes," a statement released by Harding and her attorneys said.

The agreement, reached by attorneys for both sides in Oregon, ensures that the stage has been set for what may be one of the most anticipated moments in Olympic history -- Harding vs. Kerrigan in women's figure skating. The competition will be Feb. 23 and 25 in Hamar.

Neither woman is seen as the favorite to win the gold medal, although Kerrigan, the 1992 Olympic bronze medalist, often is mentioned as a medal contender. European champion Surya Bonaly of France and world champion Oksana Baiul of Ukraine are the favorites.

It is unclear if the USOC or International Olympic Committee could strip Harding of any medal she won if she later was found guilty of committing a crime in the Kerrigan attack. The IOC said last week it can disqualify athletes and take their medals for violations related to competition.

But there also is a clause in the IOC charter that says action may be taken against any person "who infringes the Olympic Charter."