That certainly wasn't Mrs. Santa Claus skating at a shopping mall crowded with Christmas shoppers.

It was Tonya Harding, in a short Mrs. Santa suit with fur trim, skating a routine to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" before an estimated 2,000 people who lined the Dorothy Hamill rink at Clackamas Town Center.Harding had to dodge 10 or so other skaters Friday to complete what was billed as her first performance since she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution in the assault on Nancy Kerrigan.

"She can still draw a crowd," said Vince Miller, who took the day off to get a look at the skater.

Harding finished her elegant routine by balancing on one leg as she coasted toward a bank of photographers in a scene reminiscent of the first few months of 1994, when a media frenzy was triggered whenever she practiced.

Afterward, she passed out candy canes to reporters, photographers and fans, wishing them "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays."

As usual, Harding couldn't escape controversy. When her publicist announced the performance earlier this week, the mall and rink were flooded with hundreds of media inquiries.

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That prompted the rink's general manager to criticize her and say that it really wouldn't be a performance because she was simply skating during the "free time" reserved for elite skaters.

Harding's publicist, Cindy Starr, distributed a statement that said Harding originally wanted to perform in a benefit for Loaves and Fishes, an organization that distributes food to the elderly. Harding works for the agency as part of the 500 hours of community service she must do under terms of her criminal plea.

But she said the benefit idea fell through, so Harding received verbal permission from rink officials to skate on Friday. Apparently, there was some miscommunication along the way.

"Tonya sincerely regrets any inconvenience this miscommunication has caused the staff and management of the Clackamas Town Center and Dorothy Hamill Skating Center," the statement said. "The excitement generated by the announcement that Tonya would skate again made a busy and hectic time even worse for them, and we apologize for that."

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