Tonya Harding

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Tonya Price
Tonya harding mac club 1994 by andrew parodi.jpeg
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)[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 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, an Oscar-winning biographical motion picture, I, Tonya, was released. 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 after twisting her ankle in practice. She finished fourth in the 1992 Winter Olympics, and in the 1992 World Championships, she placed sixth. In the 1993 season, she skated poorly in the U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the World Championship team.[20]

Following legal controversy, Harding was permitted to remain a member of the U.S. ice skating team at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.[21] 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).[21]

Figure skating record[edit]

Event[22] 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[23] 1st
U.S. Championships[24][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.[25][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), Harding's main team competitor Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after a practice session at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit by an assailant who was later identified as Shane Stant.[26] Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her self-appointed bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt,[27] hired Stant to break Kerrigan's right leg so that she would be unable to compete at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. After failing to find Kerrigan at her training rink in Massachusetts, Stant followed her to Detroit. When she stepped off the ice after a practice session at Cobo Arena and walked behind a nearby curtain into a corridor, Stant struck her leg about 1 inch (3 cm) above the knee[28] with a 21-inch (53 cm) ASP telescopic baton.[29] Her leg was only bruised, not broken, but the injury forced her to withdraw from the national championship. Harding won that event, and she and Kerrigan were both selected for the 1994 Olympic team.[30] Harding finished eighth in Lillehammer, while Kerrigan, by then recovered from the injury, won the silver medal behind Oksana Baiul from Ukraine.[31]

The attack on Kerrigan and the news of Harding's alleged involvement led to a media frenzy, with The New York Times later characterizing it as "one of the biggest scandals in American sports history."[7] 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. Scott Hamilton complained that "the world press was turning the Olympics into just another sensational tabloid event."[32] The tape-delayed broadcast of the women's short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.[33]

On February 1, 1994, Gillooly accepted a plea offer in exchange for his testimony against Harding. Gillooly, Stant, Eckhardt, and getaway car driver Derrick Smith all served time in prison for the attack.[34] Eckhardt was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early in September 1995.[27]

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

Harding was charged in Multnomah County, Oregon, but avoided further prosecution and a possible jail sentence by pleading guilty on March 16 to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers.[35] She received three years' probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine.[36] As part of the plea bargain, she was also forced to withdraw from the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships and resign from the United States Figure Skating Association.[37] 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". 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.[38]

In her 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes, Harding 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. He subsequently changed his name to Jeff Stone and called the accusations of gang rape "utterly ridiculous."[17] In 2013, Deadspin sought Jeff Stone for an interview and he again defended himself from the 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.[39][40][8][41] Stone admitted that his past stupidity was part of Harding's 1994 ruin and maintained that he still considers 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".[42] Eckhardt, who legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith following his release from jail, died at age 40 on December 12, 2007.[27]

Later celebrity[edit]

An explicit video showing Harding having sex with her then-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was sold by Gillooly to a tabloid TV show after he was implicated as a conspirator in the Kerrigan attack. Stills from the tape were published by Penthouse in September 1994 and the tape itself[43] was released at about the same time. Both Gillooly and Harding were paid for the Penthouse sale.[44]

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.[45] 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.[46][47]

In 1994, Harding was cast in a low-budget action film, Breakaway.[48] The film was released in 1996.[49] 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.[50]

Harding has also appeared on television, on the game show The Weakest Link: "15 Minutes of Fame Edition" in 2002 along with Kato Kaelin,[51] and in March 2008 became a commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest....[52]

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.[53] 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".[54]

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.[55]

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.[56][57]

Her boxing career was cut short by a physical condition that she attributed to asthma.[58] Her overall record was 3 wins and 3 losses.[59]

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.[60][61]

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.[62] 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 married Jeff Gillooly in 1990,[5] when she was 19 years old. Their tumultuous marriage ended in divorce in 1993, but they continued seeing each other heading into the 1994 Winter Olympics.[63] She married her second husband, Michael Smith, in 1995; the couple divorced in 1996.[64] 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.[65][66] She gave birth to her only child, a son named Gordon, on February 19, 2011.[67]

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.[65] As of 2017, she stated that she worked as a painter and deck builder.[68] She resides in Washington state, north of her hometown of Portland, Oregon.[69]

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.[70] 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.[71] 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."[72] A contemporaneous article published in Vogue also noted that Harding had developed a "cult following" in the years since her notoriety.[73]

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.[87]

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]

External links[edit]