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Tonya: “Believe in Me.″

February 14, 1994

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ A crowd of more than 2,000 watched Tonya Harding’s last public practice today before she heads to Norway and cheered as she pledged to ″go over there and ... win for you and for me.″

The figure skater, wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ″Don’t dream it, be it,″ came onto the ice at a suburban shopping mall to loud cheers and applause.

″There’s a real excitement here today. It’s almost as if it’s a new beginning,″ said Elaine Stamm, president of Harding’s fan club. The club presented the skater with a $1,000 check, six leotards and a coffee cup.

Harding, bothered by asthma, gave a somewhat erratic performance. She worked on both her long and short programs, then skated around, waved to the crowd and picked up a stuffed animal and flowers that were thrown on the ice by fans.

Later she took the microphone.

″I want to thank you for all your support. It means the world to me. Believe in me because I’m going to go over there and I’m going to win for you and for me. I love you,″ she told the crowd.

Harding, who leaves for the Winter Olympics on Tuesday, attended services at the First Church of Nazarene on Sunday with the family of a friend.

At the end of the service, Harding joined the congregation at the altar, praying to God to ″forgive me my life of sin and come into my life,″ according to Gary Henecke, pastor of the evangelical church,

Henecke said he then took Harding aside and told her he would be praying for her at the Olympics. Harding told him the dates she would be skating, Feb. 23 and 25, and asked him to pray for her on those days.

As she left, Henecke had some parting words for Harding: ″Now you are not only skating for America, but are skating for Christ.″

Henecke, whose sermon was ’How Bringing Christ Into Your Life Can Provide a New Beginning,″ said it was the first time he had seen Harding in the church.

On Saturday night, she celebrated the final decision to allow her to skate in the Olympics by playing pool at a restaurant and bar after watching the opening ceremonies on television.

Under a deal reached with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the USOC canceled a disciplinary hearing that could have gotten her thrown off the U.S. team, and Harding dropped her $25 million lawsuit challenging the organization’s right to judge her.

Her coach, Diane Rawlinson, told The Oregonian that Harding is ″skating better than ever. Her jumps are big and fast.″

Harding could have plenty of trouble waiting for her when she comes back from Norway.

She is under criminal investigation in Oregon over the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. The deadline for the grand jury’s report is March 21.

And a U.S. Figure Skating Association committee, citing evidence Harding was involved in the plot, has ordered Harding to appear at a hearing that could get her banished from major competitions.

Update hourly