It began with a fourth-place finish in China, Japan, a result that, except in the mind of Tonya Harding, could not have been less extraordinary. Competing for something called the NHK Trophy, Harding fell on her combination jump in the technical program, a disastrous error, which eventuated in her being beaten by three of the best skaters in the world, Surya Bonaly of France, Yuka Sato of Japan and Lu Chen of China.
Harding thought she had skated well, certainly well enough to finish higher than fourth. When Harding returned home to Portland, in mid-December, her live-in ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, lent a sympathetic ear. Because Tonya wasn't the darling and cover girl of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, because she wasn't Nancy Kerrigan, she would never be given a fair shake by the judges and the press. He knew it, and she knew it. And fourth-place finishes by the hardscrabble Harding were not going to provide them the ticket to fame and fortune they both so desperately sought.