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 (1973–1994)[1]
Dody Teachman (1991–92; present)[2]

Tonya Maxene Price (née Harding; born November 12, 1970)[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6] The criminal investigation and Harding's banning from the sport were the subject of intense media scrutiny, and it has been referred to as one of the biggest scandals in American sports history.[7]

In the early 2000s, Harding competed as a professional boxer, and her life has been the subject of numerous films, books, and academic studies. In 2017, a film adaptation of Harding's life and skating career, I, Tonya, was released 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[6]

Tonya Maxene Harding[8] was born on November 12, 1970, in Portland, Oregon, to LaVona Golden (b. 1940)[9] and Albert Gordon Harding (1933–2009).[10][11] Harding was raised in East Portland,[12] and began skating at age three,[5] training with coach Diane Rawlinson.[1] During her youth, Harding also hunted, drag raced, and learned automotive mechanics from her father.[13] LaVona struggled to support the family while working as a waitress, and hand-sewed Tonya's competition skating costumes as the family could not afford to purchase them.[14]

According to Harding, she was frequently abused by her mother.[15] She stated that by the time she was seven years old, both physical and psychological abuse had become a regular part of her life.[16][17] LaVona admitted to one instance of hitting Tonya at an ice rink.[16] Tonya dropped out of Milwaukie High School[18] during her sophomore year in order to focus on skating; she later earned a General Equivalency Diploma.[19]

Skating career[edit]

Harding trained as a figure skater throughout her youth with coach Diane Rawlinson.[1] 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 winning Skate America in 1989, she was considered a strong contender at the 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but 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. She was a powerful free skater and typically had lower placements in the compulsory figures.[citation needed]

Harding's breakthrough year came in 1991 when she landed her first triple axel at the U.S. Championships[5] and won the title with the event's first 6.0 ever given to a single female skater for technical merit.[15] At the 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.[citation needed]

At the Fall 1991 Skate America, 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 combination with the double toe loop.

Despite these record-breaking performances, she was never able to successfully perform the triple axel in a competition after 1991, and her competitive results began to decline as a result. Harding trained under Dody Teachman for the upcoming 1992 season.[2] She placed third in the U.S. Championships despite twisting her ankle during practice. She finished fourth in the 1992 Winter Olympics, and in the 1992 World Championships, she placed sixth.[20] In the 1993 season, she skated poorly in the U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the World Championship team.[21]

Following legal controversy,[22][23] Harding was permitted to remain a member of the U.S. ice skating team at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.[24][25] 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).[24]

Figure skating record[edit]

Event[26] 1985–86 1986–87 1987–88 1988–89 1989–90 1990–91 1991–92 1992–93 1993–94
Winter Olympics 4th 8th
World Championships[15] 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[27] 1st
U.S. Championships[28][citation needed] 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.[29][4]

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.[30] The assailant was later identified as Shane Stant, who had been contracted to break her right leg.[31] Stant and his uncle, Derrick Smith, were hired for this assault by Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her one-time bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt.[32][33] After failing to find Kerrigan at her training rink in Massachusetts, Stant had taken a 20-hour Greyhound bus trip to Detroit.[34] 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.[35][36] The motive 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.[37] 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.[38][39] 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.[40]

The attack on Kerrigan and news of Harding's alleged involvement[41][42][43][44] led to a media frenzy, with The New York Times later characterizing it as "one of the biggest scandals in American sports history."[7] 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 (1994) over the Presidents' Day weekend.[45][46] The book included excerpts of Harding's FBI interview transcripts given on January 18, 1994.[47] Kerrigan appeared on the cover of both TIME and Newsweek magazines in January 1994. Reporters and TV news crews attended Harding's practices in Portland and camped out in front of Kerrigan's home. CBS assigned Connie Chung to follow her every move in Lillehammer. Four hundred members of the press jammed into the practice rink in Norway.[48] Scott Hamilton complained that "the world press was turning the Olympics into just another sensational tabloid event."[49] The tape-delayed broadcast of the women's short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.[50]

On February 1, 1994, Gillooly accepted a plea offer in exchange for testimony regarding all involved parties in Nancy Kerrigan's attack.[51] Gillooly, Stant, Eckhardt, and getaway car driver Derrick Smith all served time in prison for the attack.[52] Eckhardt was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early in September 1995.[33] He legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith, following his release from jail, and died at age 40 on December 12, 2007.[33]

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

On March 16, 1994, Harding pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution after negotiating a plea bargain at the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland. The admissions of her plea agreement were as follows: Admitting that she knew of the plot to injure Nancy Kerrigan after the fact, settling on a cover-up story with Gillooly and Eckhart on January 10, witnessing Gillooly and Eckhart phone Derrick Smith to establish the cover story on January 10 and January 11, and lying to FBI agents on January 18 with the cover story. but avoided further prosecution and a possible jail sentence by pleading guilty on March 16 to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers.[53] She received three years' probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine.[54] Her plea bargain necessitated her withdrawal from the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships and resignation from the United States Figure Skating Association.[55] The USFSA conducted its own investigation of the attack. 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.[4] The USFSA concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened and displayed "a clear disregard for fairness, good sportsmanship, and ethical behavior".[56] 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.[57]

Shortly before the Nagano 1998 Olympics, the CBS and Fox news divisions re-examined the scandal for two televised special reports.[58][59] Harry Smith hosted the CBS special. He reported that Tonya Harding still held to her statement from a press-conference given on January 27, 1994: "I had no prior knowledge of the planned assault on Nancy Kerrigan".[60][61] 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".[62][63][64][65][66][67][47] 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.[68] Jeff Gillooly (who was granted a name change to Jeff Stone in 1995)[69] said Harding's prison evasion did not anger him, and that he felt his own punishment was just.[70] Stone reflected on Harding's position of "limited involvement" in Kerrigan's attack and speculated that a "guilty conscience" still troubled her.[71] James Brown then mediated a joint interview with both Kerrigan and Harding present. The two former competitors shared sincere desires of 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.[72][73] Harding told Brown she was grateful to personally express remorse to Kerrigan again.[74][75]

In Harding's 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes (written by Lynda D. Prouse from recorded interviews she had with Harding), she stated that she wanted to call the FBI 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.[76] 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"[77] 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.[78][79][80][81][82][83][84][85][86] 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".[87]

Later celebrity[edit]

On February 15, 1994, an explicit 1991 videotape clip of Harding topless was shown on A Current Affair; three photographs from this clip were also published in The Sun (a British tabloid).[88][89][90][91] The New York Post reported that Jeff Gillooly had supplied the videotaped fragment for an undisclosed sum of money.[92] 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.[93] This 35-minute sex tape would also be copied and marketed exclusively by Penthouse.[94][95] Both Gillooly and Harding used the same agent to negotiate equal payment on the Penthouse sale.[96]

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.[97] 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.[98][99]

In 1994, Harding was cast in a low-budget action film, Breakaway.[100] The film was released in 1996.[101] 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.[102]

Harding has also appeared on television, on the game show The Weakest Link: "15 Minutes of Fame Edition" in 2002 along with Kato Kaelin,[103] and in March 2008 became a commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest....[104]

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.[105] 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".[106]

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.[107]

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.[108][109]

Her boxing career was cut short by a physical condition that she attributed to asthma.[110] Her overall record was 3 wins and 3 losses.[111]

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.[112][113]

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.[114] The couple reached the finals of the competition where Harding finished in third place overall, behind Adam Rippon and Josh Norman.

Personal life[edit]

Harding and Jeff Gillooly were married on March 18, 1990, when she was 19 and he was 22.[115][116] On August 28, 1993, they were divorced[117][118] after a tumultuous marriage.[5][119][120][121][122][123][124][125][126][127] However, they had been continuing to see each other since early October 1993 and were sharing a rented chalet[128] together in Beavercreek, Oregon until the evening of January 18, 1994.[129][130][131][132][133][134][135] She married her second husband, Michael Smith, in 1995; the couple divorced in 1996.[136] 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.[137][138] She gave birth to her only child, a son named Gordon, on February 19, 2011.[139]

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.[137] As of 2017, she stated that she worked as a painter and deck builder.[140] She resides in Washington state, north of her hometown of Portland, Oregon.[141]

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]

Harding's life, career, and role in the Kerrigan attack have been widely referenced in popular culture,[7] appearing in television, film, music, as well as a primary campaign speech by former President Barack Obama.[142] 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.[143] 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."[144] A contemporaneous article published in Vogue also noted that Harding had developed a "cult following" in the years since her notoriety.[145]

Representation in other media[edit]

Academic assessment[edit]

Harding's role in women's ice skating culture and Kerrigan's 1994 attack have been the subject of numerous academic essays.[6] In 1995, the book Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle was released, which contained numerous essays analyzing Harding's public image in the context of the sport of figure skating.[165]

In a 2014 essay, academic Sarah Marshall noted the pervasive role of the media in the 1994 Kerrigan attack, 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."[6] Marshall also examines the role of Harding's "tomboy" persona in the context of figure skating.[6]


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Works cited[edit]

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