Tonya Harding

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Tonya Price
Tonya harding mac club 1994 crop.jpg
Harding at a Portland, Oregon reception shortly after the 1994 Winter Olympics
Personal information
Full name Tonya Maxene Price
Country represented United States
Born Tonya Maxene Harding
(1970-11-12) November 12, 1970 (age 47)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
  • Jeff Gillooly
    (m. 1990; div. 1993)
  • Michael Smith
    (m. 1995; div. 1996)
  • Joseph Price
    (m. 2010)
Height 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Coach Diane Rawlinson (1973–1989; 1992-1994)
Dody Teachman (1989–92; present)[1][2]

Tonya Maxene Price (née Harding; born November 12, 1970) is a retired American figure skater.

A native of Portland, Oregon, Harding was raised primarily by her mother, who enrolled her in ice skating lessons beginning at age four. Harding would spend much of her early life training, eventually dropping out of high school to devote her time to the sport. After climbing the ranks in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships between 1986 and 1989, Harding won the 1989 Skate America competition. She was the 1991 and 1994 U.S. champion before being stripped of her 1994 title, and 1991 World silver medalist. In 1991, she earned distinction as being the first American woman to successfully land a triple Axel in competition, and the second woman to do so in history (behind Midori Ito). She is also a two-time Olympian and a two-time Skate America Champion.

In January 1994, Harding became embroiled in controversy when her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, orchestrated an attack on fellow US Olympian Nancy Kerrigan. After the 1994 Lillehammer Games had ended, Harding ultimately pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution and was banned for life on June 30, 1994 from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

In the early 2000s, Harding competed as a professional boxer, and her life has been the subject of numerous films, documentaries, books, and academic studies. In 2014, two documentary television films about Harding's life and skating career (Nancy & Tonya and The Price of Gold) were aired within two months of each other — inspiring Steven Rogers to write the darkly comedic biographical film I, Tonya (2017), starring Margot Robbie as Harding. In 2018, she was a contestant on season 26 of Dancing with the Stars, finishing in third place.

Early life[edit]

Ice Chalet at Portland's Lloyd Center, where Harding began skating at age three

Tonya Maxene Harding was born on November 12, 1970, in Portland, Oregon, to LaVona Golden and Albert Gordon Harding (1933–2009).[3] She was raised in East Portland, and began skating at age three, training with coach Diane Rawlinson.[4][5] During her youth, Harding also hunted, drag raced, and learned automotive mechanics from her father. LaVona struggled to support the family while working as a waitress, and hand-sewed her daughter's skating costumes as they could not afford to purchase them. Harding's parents divorced after 19 years of marriage in 1987.[6][7] She later dropped out of Milwaukie High School during her sophomore year in order to focus on skating, and earned a General Equivalency Diploma.[8]

According to Harding, she was frequently abused by her mother. She stated that by the time she was seven years old, both physical and psychological abuse had become a regular part of her life. LaVona admitted to one instance of hitting Tonya at an ice rink.[9] In January 2018, Harding's childhood friend and filmmaker, Sandra Luckow, spoke in defence of Harding's mother because she felt that 2017 film I, Tonya stretched some truths about LaVona's character. Luckow said that although Harding's mother could be "egregious" towards Tonya, LaVona actually funded and appreciated Tonya's skating lessons – and had "a huge amount of humanity".[10][11][6]

In Harding's 2008 authorized biography, The Tonya Tapes (written by Lynda D. Prouse from recorded interviews she had with Harding), she revealed she was the victim of an acquaintance rape in 1991[12][13] and that her half-brother, Chris Davison, molested her on several occasions when she was a child. In 1986, Harding called called 911 after Davison had been sexually harassing and terrorizing her.[14][15] He was arrested and spent a short time in prison. Harding claimed that her parents were in denial about Davison's behavior and told her not to press charges against him.[16] Davison was killed in a 1989 unsolved hit-and-run accident.[17][15] On May 3, 1994, during an interview with Rolonda Watts, Harding said that Chris Davison was the lone person in her life unworthy of forgiveness and "the only person I've ever hated".[18][19]

Skating career[edit]

Harding trained as a figure skater throughout her youth with coach Diane Rawlinson. In the mid-1980s, she began working her way up the competitive skating ladder. She placed sixth at the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, fifth in 1987 and 1988, and third in 1989. After competing in the February 1989 Nationals Championship, Harding began training with Dody Teachman as her coach.[2][20] Tonya Harding then won the October 1989 Skate America competition,[21] and was considered a strong contender at the February 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. However, she was suffering from the flu and asthma and had a poor free skate. After the original program, she dropped from second place and finished seventh overall.[22] Harding was a powerful free skater and typically had lower placements in the compulsory figures.[23][24]

Harding's breakthrough year came in 1991 when she landed her first triple Axel in competition on February 17, at the U.S. Championships.[5] She won the 1991 U.S. Ladies' Singles title with the event's first 6.0 technical merit score since Janet Lynn's 1973 performance at the Nationals Championship.[23] At the March 1991 World Championships, she again completed the triple Axel — becoming the first American woman to perform it at an international event. Harding would finish second behind Kristi Yamaguchi, and in front of Nancy Kerrigan, marking the first time one country swept the ladies medal podium at the World Figure Skating Championships.[25]

At the September 1991 Skate America competition, Harding recorded three more firsts:

  • The first woman to complete a triple axel in the short program
  • The first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition
  • The first ever to complete a triple axel in combination (with the double toe loop)

Despite these record-breaking performances, after 1991, Harding was never able to successfully complete the triple Axel in competition again; her competitive results began to decline as a result. She and Teachman had briefly parted ways in April 1991, but had reunited in June;[15] Harding was still training under Dody Teachman for the upcoming 1992 season. She placed third in the January 1992 U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite twisting her ankle during practice, and finished fourth in the February 1992 Winter Olympics. On March 1, 1992, Harding gave Teachman a summary dismissal and returned to Diane Rawlinson to be coached by her.[2][26] On March 29, 1992, Harding placed sixth in the 1992 World Championships, although she had a better placement at the November 1992 Skate Canada International event finishing fourth.[27][28] In the 1993 season, she skated poorly in the U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the World Championship team.[29]

In 1994, Harding won the U.S. Championships, but was later stripped of her title because of her involvement in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. Kerrigan was unable to participate in the U.S. Championships due to her injury. Despite the legal controversy,[30][31] Harding was permitted to remain a member of the U.S. ice skating team at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. After an issue with her laces, she was given a re-skate in the long program and finished in eighth place, far behind Oksana Baiul (gold) and Nancy Kerrigan (silver).

Figure skating record[edit]

Event[32] 1985–86 1986–87 1987–88 1988–89 1989–90 1990–91 1991–92 1992–93 1993–94
Winter Olympics 4th 8th
World Championships 2nd 6th
Skate America 2nd 1st 1st 3rd
Skate Canada International 4th
Nations Cup 1st
NHK Trophy 3rd 2nd 4th
U.S. Olympic Festival 2nd
Prize of Moscow News[33] 1st
U.S. Championships[34][35][36] 6th 5th 5th 3rd 7th 1st 3rd 4th 1st

^† In June 1994, Claire Ferguson, the President of the U.S. Figure Skating Association, voted to strip Harding of her 1994 title. However, the competition results were not changed and the title was left vacant rather than moving all the other competitors up one position.[37][38]

Attack on Nancy Kerrigan and aftermath[edit]

Harding's practice sessions at Clackamas Town Center, in preparation for the 1994 Winter Olympics, were attended by thousands of spectators and dozens of reporters and film crews

On January 6, 1994 (1994-01-06), one day before the first Ladies' Singles competition for the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after a practice session at the Cobo Arena in Detroit.[39] The assailant was later identified as Shane Stant, who had been contracted to break her right leg.[40] Stant and his uncle, Derrick Smith, were hired for this assault by Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her one-time bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt.[41][42] After failing to find Kerrigan at her training rink in Massachusetts, Stant had taken a 20-hour Greyhound bus trip to Detroit.[43] Nancy Kerrigan was walking behind a curtain to a corridor when Stant rushed behind her. Using both hands, he then swung a 21-inch ASP telescopic baton at her right leg, striking her above the knee. The intent was preventing her from competing in both the National Championships (Kerrigan was the defending 1993 U.S. Ladies' Champion) and the Lillehammer 1994 Olympics. Kerrigan's leg was not broken but severely bruised, forcing her to withdraw from the Detroit National Championships and forgo competing to retain the U.S. Ladies' title.[44] On January 8, Harding won the National Championships' U.S. Ladies' Singles title; she and Kerrigan were then both selected for the 1994 Olympic team. On February 25, Harding finished eighth in Lillehammer; Nancy Kerrigan, having recovered from her injury, won the Olympic silver medal behind Oksana Baiul from Ukraine.[45]

On January 11, 1994, Harding gave a televised interview to Ann Schatz at the KOIN-TV station in Portland, Oregon. She claimed that she knew nothing about a plot to disable Nancy Kerrigan. Schatz asked Harding if she had considered whether someone she knew could have planned to attack Nancy. Harding answered "I have thought about it. I have definitely thought about it. No one controls my life but me...if there’s something in there that I don’t like, I’m going to change it."[46][47][48] Harding had also confirmed that she had spoken with FBI agents while she had been in Detroit (until January 10) and again in Portland: "I've talked to the FBI, I've given them all the information I have."[49] On January 13, Shawn Eckardt and Derrick Smith were arrested – Shane Stant surrendered himself to an FBI office the next day, less than an hour after a warrant was issued for his arrest.[50][51]

On January 14, 1994, the USFSA made a statement regarding whether Eckardt's arrest affected Harding's place on the 1994 U.S. Olympic team: "We are not in the speculation business, and we will deal only with the facts. Speculation where it involves the careers of young athletes is pointless."[52] Harding and Gillooly's attorneys also released a press statement: "Tonya and Jeff have cooperated with law enforcement officials and are in daily contact through their lawyers with the District Attorney’s office."[53] On January 15, Harding's lawyer, Robert C. Weaver Jr., again confirmed she was cooperating with the district attorney's office regarding the criminal investigation of Nancy Kerrigan's attack.[54] Later that day, Harding and Gillooly talked civilly with reporters, but declined to comment about the criminal investigation.[55][56] On January 16, 1994, Harding's attorney read a prepared statement on her behalf at a news conference denying "all accusations...that she was involved in any way with the Kerrigan assault".[57] Harding later left her home that day "around midnight" to practice figure skating with her coaches, speaking pleasantly with reporters, and performing a triple Axel.[58][59]

On January 18, 1994, Harding voluntarily submitted to questioning by the FBI and district attorney, with her two attorneys present, conducted in Portland FBI offices.[60] Her interview began at 1pm, lasting more than 10 hours.[61] Nine hours into Harding's interview, her lawyer issued a statement announcing her separation from Jeff Gillooly after their four months of reconciliation: "I continue to believe that Jeff is innocent of any wrongdoing. I wish him nothing but the best, but I believe during this crucial time of preparation for the Olympics that I must concentrate attention on my training."[62] Her full FBI transcript was released to the press on February 1, 1994. The Seattle Times reported that Harding's transcript read that she had "changed her story well into a long interview...After hours of denying any involvement in trying to cover up the plot, an FBI agent finally 'told Harding that he knew she had lied to him, that he would tell her exactly how she had lied to him'."[63][64] In the final passage of Harding's January 18 FBI interview report, her statement read "I just want to say I'm sorry. I hope everyone understands. I'm telling on someone I really care about. I know now [Jeff] is involved. I'm sorry."[65][66] On January 19, 1994, Jeff Gillooly surrendered to the FBI shortly after a warrant for his arrest was issued.[67] On January 20, 1994, Diane Sawyer asked Harding on Primetime Live about the ongoing investigation of Nancy Kerrigan's attack. Harding said that she had done nothing wrong.[68][69]

On January 27, 1994, it was reported that Jeff Gillooly had been speaking to investigators, for the first time, about the plot to injure Nancy Kerrigan since January 26; possibly implicating Harding as having allegedly assisted with the plot. Her lawyer again stated Harding was not part of a plot to threaten Kerrigan. Harding's close friend, with whom she was living at the time, spoke to reporters on Harding's behalf. Harding's friend said "[Tonya] was shocked, very hurt" at reports that Gillooly may be implicating her in the crime: "[Tonya] was believing in [Jeff], what he was saying."[70][71][72] Harding later held an 11am press-conference at the Portland Multnomah Athletic Club, with her attorneys present, to read a prepared statement. She said she was sorry Nancy Kerrigan was attacked, that she respected Nancy, but claimed not to know in advance of the plot to disable her. Harding then publicly took responsibility "for failing to report things [about the planned assault on Nancy Kerrigan] when I returned home from Nationals [on January 10]". She addressed her level of culpability, stating "[My] lawyers tell me that my failure to immediately report this information is not a crime". Indeed, excluding certain conditions, many jurisdictions including Oregon state certify that the act of concealing criminal knowledge alone is not a crime.[73] After admitting this, Harding said "It will be difficult to forgive myself...I have also let myself down".[74][75]

Nancy Kerrigan's attack had received a lot of publicity. The story featured on the covers of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, and TIME in January 1994.[76] News media crews had camped outside of Kerrigan's home, awaiting her news conference on January 14, the first since her attack.[77][78][79] After the arrests of Harding's bodyguard, live-in ex-husband, and her January 27 press-conference, there was now much speculation about Harding's own alleged involvement in the plot to disable Kerrigan.[80][81][82][83][84][85][86] As Nancy Kerrigan and Harding would be competing together again in the February Hamar Olympic Games, speculation soon reached a media frenzy; The New York Times later declared it "one of the biggest scandals in American sports history."[87][88] Abby Haight and J.E. Vader, journalists for The Oregonian, wrote a biography of Harding called Fire on Ice: The Exclusive Inside Story of Tonya Harding over the Presidents' Day weekend.[89] The book included excerpts of Harding's January 18 FBI interview transcripts.[64] Reporters and TV news crews began to regularly attend Harding's practices in Portland; and unwelcomely recorded footage of her on February 7, running barefoot to stop a tow truck from hauling her illegally parked pickup.[90] Connie Chung negotiated to fly on the same airplane with Harding to Oslo, leaving on February 15, 1994.[91] Chung was the first network correspondent to interview Harding in Lillehammer, Norway; she later admitted that she would not have travelled to Norway were it not for the Harding-scandal story.[92]

The media frenzy continued on February 17, 1994, when Nancy Kerrigan and Harding shared the ice at a practice session at the Hamar Olympic Amphitheatre. Approximately four hundred members of the press jammed into the amphitheatre to document this practice session.[93] Scott Hamilton complained that "the world press was turning the Olympics into just another sensational tabloid event."[94] It was noted that Nancy Kerrigan chose to wear the same skating costume at the practice session that she was wearing on January 6 – the day she was attacked and forced to withdraw from the Nationals Championship.[95][96] Kerrigan later confirmed that her choice of dress that day was indeed deliberate, speaking about her decision and feelings at the time, "Humour is good, it's empowering. I'm here...I'm back, I'm ready."[97][98] The tape-delayed broadcast of the February 23 Ladies' Olympic technical program remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.[99][100][101]

On February 1, 1994, Jeff Gillooly's attorney negotiated a plea bargain in exchange for testimony regarding all involved parties in Nancy Kerrigan's attack.[102] Gillooly and Eckardt pleaded guilty to racketeering, Stant and Derrick Smith (who drove Stant in the getaway car and funneled money as an intermediary) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit second-degree assault — all served time in prison.[103][104] Jeff Gillooly was sentenced on July 13, 1994 after publicly apologizing to Nancy Kerrigan – even though, he said, "any apology coming from me rings hollow".[105] Presiding Judge Donald H. Londer said in sentencing Gillooly "I shudder to think how more serious [Kerrigan's] injury might have been".[106] Eckardt was sentenced to 18 months in prison, but was released four months early in September 1995. He legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith, following his release from jail, and died at age 40 on December 12, 2007.[107]

Harding arriving at Portland International Airport amid a crush of reporters after the 1994 Olympics

On February 6, 1994, a five-member panel of the United States Figure Skating Association in Colorado Springs, Colorado stated that reasonable grounds existed to believe Harding had violated the sport's code of ethics. Harding's admission of failure to report information about an assault on a fellow competitor, supported by her FBI interview transcripts, resulted in her being formally charged with "[making] false statements about her knowledge concerning [Nancy Kerrigan's attack]". The USFSA panel also recommended that Harding face a disciplinary hearing, which would be separate from any action by the United States Olympic Committee. Claire Ferguson, president of the USFSA, decided not to suspend Harding's membership before any hearing took place. If Harding had been suspended, she likely still would have competed at the Lillehammer 1994 Olympics after filing an injunction on the USFSA and asserting her rights under the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.[108] Evidence examined by the panel included the testimonies of Stant and Smith, Harding and Gillooly's telephone records, and notes found in a Portland saloon trash receptacle on January 30, 1994.[109] Although Harding had not been criminally charged, the panel unanimously ruled that she had "committed an act, made a statement or engaged in conduct detrimental to the welfare of figure skating and/or failed to exemplify the highest standards of fairness, ethical behaviour and genuine good sportsmanship in her relations with others". One of the panel members, Sharon Watson, spoke about the decision: "We gave [Tonya] a fair shake...We had to be very sure...Looking at all the evidence, it was fairly clear to all of us". Harding was given 30 days to respond.[110] On March 10, 1994, Judge Owen Panner granted Harding a requested temporary restraining order to halt the 30-day deadline and delay her disciplinary hearing until June 27.[111] The U.S. Figure Skating Association did not appeal Judge Panner's ruling.[112] Meanwhile, Portland authorities stated that the criminal investigation into Nancy Kerrigan's attack would conclude by March 21 with any indictments and a grand jury report to be made at that time.[113][114]

On March 16, 1994, at a 20-minute hearing in the Portland Multnomah County Courthouse, Harding pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution as a Class C felony offense.[115] She and her lead attorney, Robert C. Weaver Jr., negotiated a plea bargain which ensured that she would not be prosecuted further in any jurisdiction.[116] Judge Donald H. Londer conducted the hearing with routine questioning to make certain that Harding understood her plea agreement. Londer told Harding he wanted to be sure that she was entering her plea "knowingly and voluntarily": "Do you know what you're doing?", Londer asked. Harding replied, "Yes, I do", before signing the guilty plea.[117][118] The admissions of her plea agreement were knowing of the plot to injure Nancy Kerrigan after the fact, settling on a cover-up story with Gillooly and Eckardt on January 10, witnessing Gillooly and Eckardt call Derrick Smith from payphones establishing the story on January 10 and January 11, and lying to FBI agents on January 18 with the cover story.[117][119][82] According to the January 19 affidavit of Multnomah County Sheriff's Deputy James McNelly, law enforcement investigators had been following and videotaping Eckardt, Gillooly, and Harding since January 10, 1994.[120][102] Therefore, it was known that those calls to Smith were made from payphones.[121] Harding avoided a possible jail sentence since Oregon sentencing guidelines carried a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine for hindering prosecution.[122][118]

The penalties of Harding's plea agreement included a probation placement of three years, a $100,000 fine, and 500 hours of community service. She also agreed to reimburse Multnomah County $10,000 in legal expenses, undergo a psychiatric examination, and volunteered to contribute a $50,000 fund to the Special Olympics accredited SOOR (Special Olympics Oregon) charity.[117][123][124] Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, would donate $25,000 toward Harding's legal fees.[125] She had also made between $300,000 to $600,000 from an exclusive interview deal with Inside Edition.[115][126] Another condition of Harding's agreement was resigning from the United States Figure Skating Association, necessitating her withdrawal from the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships. Harding had been scheduled to leave for that competition (Worlds) on March 17, 1994.[123] Norman W. Frink, chief deputy district attorney for Multnomah County, stated that "If [Tonya] hadn't been willing to plead to a felony offense, we would have proceeded with an indictment on all possible charges".[117] Frink also spoke of how Harding's lawsuits against the U.S. Olympic Committee and the USFSA factored into her plea bargain: "[Tonya] fought very hard in civil court to obtain the privilege to skate...part of the punishment was taking away that privilege". Robert C. Weaver Jr., Harding's lawyer, said that the plea agreement was satisfactory to her, partly because she avoided prison. Regarding trial concerns, Weaver stated "if there was to be a pretrial resolution, it had to be before any charges were brought [to Tonya]".[114] He also said that "we would have prevailed at trial".[127]

On the day of Harding's plea agreement, Jerry Lace, executive director of U.S. Figure Skating Association expressed frustration with whether both her plea and resignation meant that the USFSA's own disciplinary proceedings for Harding were now irrelevant. Lace said that matters of USFSA membership and competition eligibility "should be our bailiwick". He stated that "Tonya's attorneys did what was best for her...we don't know if Tonya is innocent or guilty...we still don't know if there was some involvement that affected the national championship".[128] On March 18, 1994, Claire Ferguson decided to proceed with Harding's disciplinary hearing in late June, despite Harding's resignation. Ferguson chose not to accept Harding's resignation, instead suspending her membership, so that the disciplinary matter could be properly resolved. The USFSA's nine-member executive committee convened to discuss the association's position should Harding seek reinstatement and whether they might strip Harding of her 1994 National Championship title. Neither issue was decided at that time. Ferguson also confirmed that any figure skater could apply for reinstatement twice a year, but that Harding would not be presently considered.[129]

On March 21, 1994, a Portland, Oregon grand jury issued an indictment stating there was evidence Harding participated in the plot to attack Nancy Kerrigan. The grand jury reached their conclusion after more than two months of investigation following witness testimonies from Diane Rawlinson, Erika Bakacs (Harding's choreographer), Eckardt's college instructor and classmates, and Vera Marano (a freelance figure skating writer in Philadelphia).[130][117][131][102] According to the indictment, there was evidence that Harding fraudulently used skating monies provided by the USFSA to finance the assault. It also read that Harding, Gillooly, Eckardt, Smith, and Stant agreed "to unlawfully, intentionally and knowingly cause physical injury to Nancy Kerrigan by means of a dangerous weapon". Grand jury foreman, David Holt, said of Harding "there was a great deal of evidence pointing toward the fact that she was involved from the beginning or very close to the beginning". Virtually all the information available to the grand jury was made public. Harding was not charged in the indictment due to terms of the plea agreement she made on March 16, 1994. Her attorneys stated that they viewed this indictment against her as an accusation.[111][132]

The USFSA conducted its own investigation of the attack. On June 29, 1994, a USFSA five-member disciplinary panel gathered in Colorado Springs, Colorado to consider disciplinary action against Harding for her alleged role in Kerrigan's attack, meeting for nine hours over two days.[133] On June 30, 1994, the association stripped her of her 1994 U.S. Championships title and banned her for life from participating in USFSA-run events as either a skater or a coach. The USFSA concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened and that her actions displayed "a clear disregard for fairness, good sportsmanship, and ethical behaviour".[134] William Hybl, the former president of the U.S. Olympic Committee who chaired the panel, stated that "By a preponderance of the evidence, the panel did conclude that she had prior knowledge and was involved prior to the incident. I think it's a cumulative effect of a lot of evidence. This is based on civil standards, not criminal standards. I will tell you that various records – bank records, phone records – and the way they came together to establish a case really were very important to this panel. We want there to be no doubt." The panel's decision was based on Harding's March 16 plea agreement, FBI reports, and other court documents. Harding chose neither to attend nor participate in the two-day hearing, instead remaining in Portland, Oregon. Her attorney, Robert C. Weaver Jr., said, on Harding's behalf, that the decision disappointed her but was not a surprise. He also stated that "It's been [Tonya's] decision up to this point not to contest these proceedings, but she's made no final decision on the appeal. Tonya Harding is going on with her life."[38][135] Although the USFSA has no control over non-competitive professional skating events, she was also persona non grata on the pro circuit because few skaters and promoters would work with her. Consequently, she failed to benefit from the boom in professional skating that ensued in the aftermath of the scandal.[136]

Shortly before the Nagano 1998 Olympics, the CBS and Fox news divisions re-examined the scandal for two televised special reports.[137][138] Harry Smith hosted the CBS special. He reported that Tonya Harding still held to her statement from her press-conference given on January 27, 1994: "I had no prior knowledge of the planned assault on Nancy Kerrigan".[139] Smith then interviewed Kerrigan, asking how she responded to that statement. Nancy Kerrigan referred to transcripts she had read from Harding's FBI interview on January 18, 1994. After reading through the interrogation of that day, she concluded that "[Tonya] knew more than she admits".[140][61][62][131][141][142][64] The Fox special report was called Breaking the Ice: The Women of '94 Revisited, hosted by James Brown with interviews from Harding, Gillooly, and Kerrigan.[143] Jeff Gillooly (who was granted a name change to Jeff Stone in 1995)[144] said Harding's prison evasion did not anger him, and that he felt his own punishment was just. Stone reflected on Harding's position of "limited involvement" in Kerrigan's attack and speculated that a "guilty conscience" still troubled her.[145] James Brown then mediated a joint interview with both Kerrigan and Harding present. The two former competitors shared sincere desires for happy families and general well-wishes toward one other; but confessed to Brown that the issue of sufficient apologies and forgiveness was unresolved. Nancy Kerrigan told Brown that she hoped Harding could learn from past mistakes and make a good, stable life for herself.[146][147] Harding told Brown she was grateful to personally express remorse to Kerrigan again.[148][149]

In Harding's 2008 biography, The Tonya Tapes (transcribed by Lynda D. Prouse from recorded interviews), she stated that she wanted to call the FBI in 1994 to reveal what she knew, but decided not to when Gillooly allegedly threatened her with death following a gunpoint gang rape by him and two other men she did not know. Jeff (Gillooly) Stone responded with surprise that groundless claims against him could be published and specifically contended her gang rape accusation to be "utterly ridiculous".[150] In 2013, Deadspin sought Jeff Stone for an interview and he again defended himself from the gunpoint gang rape allegation. Yet he expressed regret that Harding is often "remembered for what I talked her into doing", meaning allegedly plotting to injure Nancy Kerrigan.[151][141][63][81][152][153][65][117][154] Stone admitted that his past stupidity was part of Harding's 1994 ruin and maintained that he still considered her a great figure skater. He also said that "I've had it easy, compared to poor Tonya...she tends to be the butt of the joke. It's kind of sad to me".[155]

In 2014, Nancy Kerrigan addressed the scandal during a brief interview with sportscaster Bob Costas: "Whatever apology Tonya has given, I accept it. It's time for all us – I've always wished [Tonya] well – she has her own family, I have my family. It's time to make that our focus and move on with our lives".[156][157]

Later celebrity[edit]

On February 15, 1994, an explicit 1991 videotape clip of Harding topless was shown on A Current Affair; three still frames from this clip were also published in The Sun (a British tabloid newspaper).[158][159] The New York Post reported that Jeff Gillooly had supplied the videotaped fragment for an undisclosed sum of money.[160] On July 26, 1994, Penthouse magazine announced that its September issue would feature different stills of Harding and Gillooly having sex from the same extended videotape.[161] This 35-minute sex tape would also be copied and marketed exclusively by Penthouse.[162] Both Gillooly and Harding used the same agent to negotiate equal payment on the Penthouse sale.[163]

Harding in 2006

On June 22, 1994, in Portland, Oregon, Harding appeared on an AAA professional wrestling show as the manager for wrestling stable Los Gringos Locos. The night's performance included Art Barr and Eddie Guerrero.[164] A promotional musical event was unsuccessful when Harding and her band, the Golden Blades, were booed off the stage at their only performance, in 1995 in Portland, Oregon.[165][166]

In 1994, Harding was cast in a low-budget action film, Breakaway.[167] The film was released in 1996.[168] On October 29, 1996, Harding received media attention after using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to help revive an 81-year-old woman, Alice Olson, who collapsed at a bar in Portland while playing video poker.[169]

Harding has also appeared on television, on the game show The Weakest Link: "15 Minutes of Fame Edition" in 2002 along with Kato Kaelin,[170] and in March 2008 became a commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest....[171]

Boxing career[edit]

Tonya Harding
Nickname(s) Bad Girl
Height 5 ft 1 in (155 cm)
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 6
Wins 3
Wins by KO 0
Losses 3

In 2002, Harding boxed against Paula Jones on the Fox TV network Celebrity Boxing event, winning the fight. On February 22, 2003, she made her official women's professional boxing debut, losing a four-round split decision against Samantha Browning on the undercard of Mike Tyson vs. Clifford Etienne. Harding's boxing career came about amid rumors that she was having financial difficulties and needed to fight in the ring to earn money.[172] She did another celebrity boxing match, on The Man Show, and won against co-host Doug Stanhope. Stanhope later claimed on his podcast that the fight was fixed because Tonya Harding refused to "fight a man".[173]

On March 23, 2004, it was reported that she canceled a planned boxing match against Tracy Carlton in Oakland, California, because of an alleged death threat against her.[174]

On June 24, 2004, after reportedly not having boxed for over a year, she was beaten in a match in Edmonton, Alberta, by Amy Johnson. Fans reportedly booed her as she entered the ring and cheered wildly for Johnson when she won in the third round.[175][176]

Her boxing career was cut short by a physical condition that she attributed to asthma.[177] Her overall record was 3 wins and 3 losses.

Professional boxing record[edit]

Professional record summary
6 fights 3 wins 3 losses
By knockout 0 2
By decision 3 1
No. Result Record Opponent Type Round, time Date Location
6 Loss 3–3 Amy Johnson TKO 3 (4), 1:04 Jun 25, 2004 Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
5 Loss 3–2 Melissa Yanas TKO 1 (4), 1:13 Aug 2, 2003 Silver City Cabaret, Dallas, Texas, U.S.
4 Win 3–1 Emily Gosa UD 4 Jun 13, 2003 Chinook Winds Casino, Lincoln City, Oregon, U.S.
3 Win 2–1 Alejandra Lopez UD 4 Mar 28, 2003 Creek Nation Gaming Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
2 Win 1–1 Shannon Birmingham UD 4 Mar 15, 2003 Grand Casino, Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S.
1 Loss 0–1 Samantha Browning SD 4 Feb 22, 2003 The Pyramid, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.

Automobile racing land speed record[edit]

On August 12, 2010, Harding set a new land speed record for a vintage gas coupe with a speed of 97.177 mph (156.391 km/h; 43.442 m/s) driving a 1931 Ford Model A, named Lickity-Split, on the Bonneville Salt Flats.[178][179]

Dancing with the Stars[edit]

In April 2018, Harding was announced as one of the celebrities who will compete on season 26 of Dancing with the Stars. She was partnered with professional dancer Sasha Farber.[180] The couple reached the finals of the competition where Harding finished in third place overall, behind Adam Rippon and Josh Norman.

Personal life[edit]

In September 1986, Harding began a relationship with 17-year-old Jeff Gillooly; they moved into a starter home together in 1988 when he worked in distribution at the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.[181][182] They married on March 18, 1990, when she was 19 and he was 22.[65] In January 1992, Harding told Terry Richard (a journalist for The Oregonian) "Jeff always put food on the table and a roof over my head. He paid for my skating for a couple of years. If it hadn't been for him during that time, I wouldn't have been skating."[183] On August 28, 1993, they were divorced[65][184] after a tumultuous marriage.[5][15][185][186][187][188][189][190][191][192][17] During the autumn of 1993, it was reported that Gillooly was working part-time managing Harding's career and taking real estate classes.[193][194][195] Harding and Gillooly had been continuing to see each other since early October 1993 and were sharing a rented chalet[196] together in Beavercreek, Oregon until the evening of January 18, 1994.[197][198][199][200][67][201]

She married her second husband, Michael Smith, in 1995; the couple divorced in 1996.[202] She married and took the surname of 42-year-old Joseph Price, whom she met at a local restaurant called Timbers, on June 23, 2010 when she was 39 years old.[203] She gave birth to her only child, a son named Gordon, on February 19, 2011.[204]

Since leaving skating and boxing, Harding has worked as a welder, a painter at a metal fabrication company, and a hardware sales clerk at Sears.[205] As of 2017, she stated that she worked as a painter and deck builder.[206] She resides in Washington state, north of her hometown of Portland, Oregon.[207]

On an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on February 26, 2018, Harding stated that she is still active in skating and practices three times a week. In a segment during the show, she performed several jumps and spins.

Cultural significance[edit]

Although Harding still receives criticism,[208][209][210][211][212] her life, career, and role in the Kerrigan attack have been widely referenced in popular culture; appearing in television, film, music, as well as a primary campaign speech by former President Barack Obama.[213] In 2014, Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen created the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding Museum in their Brooklyn, New York, apartment, dedicated to collecting and archiving memorabilia related to Harding and the incident.[214] Harkins and Olen stated in a 2017 interview that they had been captivated by Harding's life for years, citing it as "the most American story ever told."[215] A contemporaneous article published in Vogue also noted that Harding had developed a "cult following" in the years since her notoriety.[216]

Representation in other media[edit]

  • Sharp Edges (1986), filmmaker Sandra Luckow's senior-thesis project documentary for her Film studies major at Yale University. Luckow was Harding's childhood friend, and the documentary followed Harding and her coaches to Uniondale, New York as she competed in the February 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The film featured interviews with Harding, her mother, and her coaches discussing her career in figure skating. Harding is a bold teenager, very assured of her skill on the ice. Her mother, LaVona, expresses discouragement with the "politics" of the sport, acts as a stern critic towards her daughter, yet is also confident in Tonya's abilities. Diane Rawlinson laments that although LaVona loves Tonya, LaVona is not providing enough positive reinforcement.[217]
  • Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story (1994), a Comedy Central five-minute short film parody summarizing the scandal, estimated to have aired on February 24 or February 25, 1994.[218] Tina Yothers portrayed Harding as perpetually misunderstood, but universally admired for her "spunk".[219]
  • Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story (1994), an NBC television film based on public domain material, premiered on April 30, 1994; directed by Larry Shaw and written by previous Edgar Award winner Phil Penningroth.[220] Alexandra Powers portrayed Harding and Heather Langenkamp portrayed Nancy Kerrigan. It featured a postmodern breaking of the fourth wall by having Dennis Boutsikaris play the film's screenwriter, addressing the audience over the course of the story. One of the last lines in the film was "We imprisoned [Tonya and Nancy] in images we use to sell newspapers, soup, and TV movies. They're victims of those that the media serve".[221]
  • National Lampoon's Attack of the 5′2′′ Women (1994),[222] a Showtime television film, was released on August 21, 1994; directed by the U.S. Writers Guild Award-winning comedian Julie Brown. Brown spoofed Harding by portraying her in the first segment of the film called Tonya: The Battle of Wounded Knee, which Brown also wrote. Julie Brown's original song for the segment, "Queen of the Ice", was nominated for a CableACE Award.[223][224]
  • Harding was also portrayed by the comedic actress Alexandra Wentworth on In Living Color sketches in 1994.[225]
  • Harding was referred to in the Seinfeld episode "The Understudy": When Jerry's girlfriend, a Broadway performer, takes the stage, she has a problem with the laces on her boot (as Harding encountered in the 1994 Olympics). Jerry's girlfriend got to perform only because the lead actress had an injury said to be caused by hitman, George. Originally aired on May 18, 1995.[226][227]
  • Harding and her role in Kerrigan's attack are referred to in several songs, including: "Headline News" by "Weird Al" Yankovic;[228] "Queen of the Ice" by Julie Brown;[229] "Breakin' Knees Is Hard to Do" by Capitol Steps;[230] "5 Fingas of Death" by Diamond D; "Aunt Dot" by Lil' Kim; "Put Some Keys On That" by Lil Wayne;[231] "Stay Frosty Royal Milk Tea" by Fall Out Boy;[232] "Tonya's Twirls" by Loudon Wainwright III;[233] "Tonya Harding" by Sufjan Stevens;[234] and "Tonya" by Brockhampton (band) [235]
  • Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera (2006), novelist and playwrite Elizabeth Searle collaborated with composer Abigail Al-Doory in May 2006 to create a chamber opera produced by Tufts University and directed by Meron Langsner. Described as a dark comedy, it premiered in Portland, Oregon in 2008.[236] It was produced also in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. Searle said she was inspired to do the project because she believed that elements of the 1994 scandal reflected "life in America"[237] She also said she hoped the show would convey public sympathy towards Nancy Kerrigan, Jeff Gillooly, and Tony Harding.[238][239]
  • The Price of Gold (2014) documentary directed by Nanette Burstein, part of ESPN's 30 for 30 series, originally aired on January 16, 2014. The documentary explored some specifics of the criminal investigation involving Nancy Kerrigan's attack. Kerrigan herself could not be interviewed for The Price of Gold because of her contractual obligation to NBC's Nancy & Tonya (2014) documentary. Burstein has stated that she intended her documentary to be "predominantly about Tonya".[240] After the film was completed, Burstein said that she thought Harding was jealous of Kerrigan[241] and that "[Tonya] was an unreliable interview subject. A lot of things she said had to be left out because I didn't think they were truthful".[242]
  • Nancy & Tonya (2014), an NBC documentary narrated by Olympics correspondent Mary Carillo (former tennis professional - 1977 French Open Grand Slam Mixed Doubles winner), originally aired on February 23, 2014. It included interviews, brief biographies of Nancy Kerrigan & Tonya Harding, and close observations of their lives and careers before 1994.[243][244]
  • Tonya Harding: The Musical (2014), is a comedy-musical written by Jesse Esparza, with songs by Manny Hagopian, performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles.[88]
  • T. (2017) a play written by Dan Aibel, premiered in Chicago on May 25, 2017 at the American Theater Company. Harding was portrayed by Leah Raidt. Theatre critic Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune gave the play a less than favourable review.[245]
  • I, Tonya (2017): a biographical, black comedy film directed by Craig Gillespie with Australian actress Margot Robbie portraying Harding, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2017.[246][247] It was theatrically released on December 8 to generally favourable reviews, although it played in no more than 1,450 theatres in the United States and Canada.[248] Screenwriter Steven Rogers was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay BAFTA Award; he said he neither knew nor cared about Harding's alleged part in Nancy Kerrigan's attack, that the film was really about "things we tell ourselves in order with we change the narrative, and then want that to be the narrative".[249][250] Gillespie was nominated for a Best Director AACTA International Award; he said he believed Harding was guilty, but debated to what degree. Gillespie also said "In a very honest way, we presented [Tonya]...all throughout the script she's completely unapologetic, and we're not trying to pull those heartstrings...just showing you why she is the way she is".[251] Robbie (who also produced the film) was nominated for a Golden Globe (Comedy or Musical) and an Academy Award for Best Actress. Robbie believed that "[Tonya] was always seeking validation...whether it was from her mum, her husband, the media, the public...whoever it was. It's tragic that she didn't get it."[252] Allison Janney played Harding's mother, LaVona, and won the Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe and Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for the role. Regarding Harding's alleged role in Kerrigan's attack, Janney said "I know [Tonya was] complicit, but...I have a lot more empathy for her than I did."[253] Janney also said "I think LaVona was actually a very smart woman, very articulate...She was not messing around and didn't want [Tonya] distracted...She wanted [Tonya] to know that it was going to be hard work, and knowing her daughter needed to be told she couldn't do it in order to do it was LaVona's way of saying, 'I was there to inspire her'."[254]

Academic assessment[edit]

Because Harding admitted to obstructing the judicial process involving Nancy Kerrigan's assault, her name is often first associated with the 1994 scandal. However, numerous academic essays have theorized additional reasons, particularly considering her nationality and past figure skating membership, for Harding's perceived social stigmatization.[255]

In 1995, the book Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle was published, containing numerous essays analyzing Harding's public image in the context of the figure skating sport.[256] For example, Abigail Feder-Kane wrote that there existed "overdetermined femininity in Ladies' Figure Skating...femininity and athleticism are mutually exclusive concepts in American culture".[257] Sam Stoloff believed that, during the scandal, the media placed a greater emphasis on Harding's class rather than her gender (femininity). He noted how she was subjected to a "litany of vaguely pejorative or mocking expressions" associated with "low class" cultural attributes, sometimes due to Harding's personal interests and hobbies. Stoloff theorized that Harding represented an American social class that required interpretation ("the class Other") as he referenced the anthropological tone of Susan Orlean's 1994 essay "Figures in a Mall", written for The New Yorker.[258][196]

In academic Sarah Marshall's 2014 essay entitled "Remote Control: Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, and the Spectacles of Female Power and Pain", she noted the pervasive role of the media in the 1994 scandal, particularly the manner in which Harding's life outside the realm of skating became publicly scrutinized: "Somehow, in the scandal's aftermath, the form of the Tonya-bash was able to alchemize even the most chilling details of Tonya's life into tabloid gold." Marshall also examines the role of Harding's "tomboy" persona in the context of figure skating. She theorized that Harding was rejected by the figure skating ethos because she did not conform – as Marshall believes many figure skaters including Nancy Kerrigan did – to appearing as "beautiful without being sexual, strong without being intimidating, and vulnerable without being weak."[255]

In Tyler Chase Knowles' 2016 honours thesis entitled "Taking Out the Trash: Middle Class Anxieties and The White Trash Menace", he extrapolated on a quotation made by Emma Gray in her 2014 article "What We Missed About The Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding Scandal 20 Years Ago" for HuffPost. The quotation explores how Gray believed Harding was labelled "the skating world's perfect villain" due to her appearance, broken home, and impoverished background.[259] Knowles theorized that there also existed the socio-cultural personified "Defender" who also chose to reject Harding. He defined the "Defender" as a person or persons who sympathize(s) with the working poor, a group which includes the white underclass. The "Defender" would blame the plight of the poor on societal and economic factors, yet the "Defender" would continue to reinforce conventional values such as distinguishing the class border. Knowles argued that Harding did not belong in the "Defender's" approved category of "poor white" because she did not – in the opinion of the "Defender" – make enough effort, given her figure skating membership, to assimilate towards elite culture. The "Defender" wanted Tonya Harding to use her USFSA membership for social mobility, caring little whether she could prove herself to be among the best Olympic competitors.[260]


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Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]

  1. ^ "Rolling Stone Issue 686/687". Wolfgang's (Vault). Item #:RS686-687-MZ. Retrieved July 18, 2018.