Tonya Harding

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For the Australian softball player, see Tanya Harding.
Tonya Harding
Tonya harding 1994 with supporter at mac club by andrew parodi.jpeg
Harding (right) at Portland, Oregon, reception shortly after the 1994 Winter Olympics
Personal information
Full name Tonya Maxene Harding
Country represented United States
Born (1970-11-12) November 12, 1970 (age 45)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Residence Yacolt, WA, U.S.
Height 5 ft 1 in (155 cm)
Coach Diane Rawlinson, Dody Teachman

Tonya Maxene Harding (born November 12, 1970)[1][2][3][4] is an American former figure skating champion, a two-time Olympian, and a two-time Skate America Champion. In 1991, she won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and placed second in the World Championships. Harding was the second woman, and the first American woman, to complete a triple Axel jump in competition.[5] In 1994, she was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association and pled guilty to hindering the prosecution following the attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan.[6]

Early life[edit]

Ice Chalet at Portland's Lloyd Center, where Harding began skating at age three.[6]

Harding was born in Portland, Oregon, the daughter of LaVona Fay Golden (b. 1940) and her fifth husband, Al Harding (1933–2009). Her father had health problems that sometimes left him unable to work. She claims that her mother physically abused her, a claim her mother admitted to when asked for a response by the Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009.[7][not in citation given] She began skating at age three.[5] She landed her first triple lutz at age 12. Her mother made many of her skating costumes.[citation needed]

Harding stopped attending David Douglas High School in Portland during her sophomore year and later earned a GED, as she was busy with skating competitions, having begun receiving invitations to them while she was still in junior high school.[8]

Skating career[edit]

Harding began working her way up the competitive skating ladder in the mid-1980s, placing sixth at the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, fifth in 1987 and 1988, and third in 1989. She was considered a strong contender at the 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships after having won Skate America 1989, but she had a poor free skate as a result of suffering from the flu and asthma, and dropped from second place after the original program to finish seventh overall. While she was a powerful free skater, she typically had lower placements in the compulsory figures.

Harding's breakthrough year was in 1991, where she landed her first triple axel at the U.S. Championships,[5] winning the title with the event's first 6.0 ever given to a single female skater for technical merit. At the 1991 World Championships, she again completed the triple axel jump (becoming the first American woman to perform it at an international event) but finished second to Kristi Yamaguchi.

In her career, Harding landed four triple axels in competition. All of them were in 1991, where she completed each one she tried: one at the U.S. Championships, another at the World Championships, and two at the Fall 1991 Skate America competition.[citation needed]

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

  1. The first woman to complete a triple axel in the short program;
  2. The first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition;
  3. 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. In 1992, 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 a weak field. In the 1993 season, she skated poorly in the U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the World Championship team.

Figure skating record[edit]

Event[9][10][11] 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 1st
U.S. Championships 6th 5th 5th 3rd 7th 1st 3rd 4th 1st

^† In June 1994, U.S. Figure Skating voted to strip Harding of her 1994 title. (See #January_1994_incident) However, the competition results were not changed and the title was left vacant rather than moving all the other competitors up one position.[12][13]

January 1994 incident[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, Harding's main team competitor Nancy Kerrigan was attacked. The widely publicized attack took place after a practice session at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt,[14] hired Shane Stant to break Kerrigan's right leg so that she would be unable to compete at Lillehammer. After failing to find Kerrigan at her training rink in Massachusetts, Stant followed her to Detroit. When she stepped off the ice after practice at Cobo Arena and walked behind a nearby curtain into a corridor, Stant struck her on the thigh a few inches above the knee with an ASP telescopic baton.[15] Her leg was only bruised, not broken, but the injury forced her to withdraw from the national championship. Harding won that event, and both she and Kerrigan were selected for the 1994 Olympic team.[16] Harding finished eighth in Lillehammer, while Kerrigan, by then fully recovered from the injury, won the silver medal behind Oksana Baiul.

The attack on Kerrigan and the news of Harding's alleged involvement led to a media frenzy of saturation news coverage. 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."[17] The tape-delayed broadcast of the short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.[18]

On February 1, 1994, Gillooly accepted a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony against Harding. Gillooly, Stant, Eckhardt, and getaway car driver Derrick Smith all served time in prison for the attack.[19] Eckhardt was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early in September 1995.[14]

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

Harding avoided further prosecution and a possible jail sentence by pleading guilty on March 16 to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers.[20] She received three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine. As part of the plea bargain, she was also forced to withdraw from the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships and resign from the USFSA.[21] On June 30, 1994, after conducting its own investigation of the attack, the USFSA 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.[13] 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 pro skating boom that ensued in the aftermath of the scandal.[17]

In her 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes, Harding said that she wanted to call the FBI to reveal what she knew, but refused 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 allegations "utterly ridiculous."[7] Eckhardt, who legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith following his release from jail, died of natural causes at age 40 on December 12, 2007.[14]

"Her mother was married six times; she grew up in a trailer home, was called trailer trash, called a white nigger. Abused child, abused wife. Her insides must look like a broken glass. But she keeps smiling and keeps skating." -- Jesse Jackson, as quoted in Newsweek magazine, in January 1994, speaking in defense of Tonya Harding [22]

Later celebrity[edit]

Harding had a celebrity sex tape: an explicit "Wedding Video" showed her having sex with her then-husband, Jeff Gillooly. They had sold it together to Penthouse, for an advance of $200,000 each plus royalties.[23] Penthouse published stills from the tape in September 1994 and the tape itself[24] was released at about the same time.

Harding appeared on an AAA professional wrestling show on June 22, 1994, in Portland, Oregon, as the manager for wrestling stable Los Gringos Locos, which that night included Art Barr, Eddie Guerrero, and Brian Cox.[25]

A one-off promotional musical event was unsuccessful when Harding and her band, the Golden Blades, were booed off the stage in their only performance, in 1995 in Portland, Oregon.[26][27] She had a part in a 1996 crime-film entitled Breakaway, playing the girlfriend of a criminal.[28]

In late 1996, she used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to help revive an 81-year-old woman, Alice Olson, who collapsed at a bar in Portland, Oregon, while playing video poker.[29]

In March 2008, she became a regular commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest...,[30][31][32] later retitled TruTV Presents: World's Dumbest... after ended its partnership with TruTV in the production. She is no longer on the show as of 2013.

Boxing career[edit]

In 2002, she boxed on the Fox TV network Celebrity Boxing event against Paula Jones, winning the fight. On February 22, 2003, she made her official women's professional boxing debut, losing a four-round decision in the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Clifford Etienne bout, amid rumors that she was having financial difficulties and needed to box to earn money. She did another celebrity boxing match, on The Man Show, and won against co-host Doug Stanhope.

She won her third pro bout against Alejandra Lopez at the Creek Nations Gaming Center.

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.

On June 24, 2004, after reportedly not having boxed for over a year, she was beaten in a match in Edmonton, Alberta, by boxer Amy Johnson. Fans reportedly booed her as she entered the ring and cheered wildly for Johnson as she won in the third round. Harding later protested the outcome.

Her boxing career was quite short, a brevity she attributes to asthma.[33] Her overall record was 4–3–0.[34]

Boxing record[edit]

4 Wins (3 decisions, 1 TKO), 3 Losses (2 knockouts, 1 decision), 0 Draws[35]
Date Opponent Result Type Round, Time Location
2003-02-22 Samantha Browning Loss Decision (split) 4 (4) Los Angeles, California, U.S.
2003-03-15 Shannon Birmingham Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S.
2003-03-28 Alejandra Lopez Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
2003-06-13 Emily Gosa Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Lincoln City, Oregon, U.S.
2003-08-02 Melissa Yanas Loss TKO 1 (4), 1:13 Dallas, Texas, U.S.
2004-06-14 Doug Stanhope Win KO 1 (4) The Man Show, U.S.
2004-06-25 Amy Johnson Loss TKO 3 (4), 1:04 Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Automobile racing land speed record[edit]

On August 12, 2009, Harding set a new land speed record for a vintage gas coupe with a speed of 97.177 mph driving a 1931 Ford Model A, named Lickity-Split, on the Bonneville Salt Flats.[36][37]

Personal life[edit]

Harding was born of mother LaVona Fay Golden and father Al Harding. She grew up in Portland with brother, Karl. She married Jeff Gillooly in early 1990,[5] when she was 19 years old. Their tumultuous marriage ended in divorce in 1994.[38] She divorced her second husband, Michael Smith, in 1995[38] and married 42-year-old Joseph Jens Price on June 23, 2010.[39] On February 11, 2011, it was announced that she was pregnant with her first child.[40] She gave birth to a son on February 19, 2011.[41]

In culture[edit]

Harding and her role in the Kerrigan attack have been widely referenced in sitcom episodes, music videos, and even a primary campaign speech by Barack Obama.[42]

In 2014, ESPN aired a 30 for 30 documentary on the Kerrigan attack called The Price of Gold.[43]

On February 23, 2014, NBC aired a documentary on the incident called Nancy & Tonya.

Music and opera[edit]


  • The book Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle (1995) included a number of essays analyzing her public image in the context of the sport of figure skating.[47]
  • Elizabeth Searle's novella, Celebrities In Disgrace, centers on the Harding-Kerrigan affair.[citation needed]


  • Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story was a satirical short which aired on Comedy Central during the 1994 Olympic Games.[48]
  • In an episode of the television program Seinfeld called "The Understudy," when Seinfeld's date, a performer, takes the stage, she has a problem with the laces on her boot and, in an act reminiscent of Harding's bootlace incident, tearfully asks that she be allowed to start over.[49][50]
  • A 1999 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured the movie Soultaker. The star/writer of the movie, Vivian Schilling, was the target of numerous Tonya Harding references in the MST3k episode due to their passing physical resemblance.[51]


  1. ^ Janofsky, Michael (February 7, 1994). "Winter Olympics; Always Tonya: As Cool as Ice But Troubled". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Brownstone, David M.; Franck, Irene (1995). People in the News, 1995. Macmillan Reference USA. p. 155. ISBN 0028970586. 
  3. ^ Donnelly, Paul (2003). Julia Roberts Confidential: The Unauthorised Biography. Virgin. p. 136. ISBN 1852270233. 
  4. ^ Hines, James R. (2011). Historical Dictionary of Figure Skating. Scarecrow Press. p. 108. ISBN 0810868598. 
  5. ^ a b c d none, Michael (March 09 0216). [none pagewanted=print&src=pm "none"] Check |url= value (help). none.  Check date values in: |date= (help) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "nyt910312" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  6. ^ a b The Believer:Remote Control. January 2014. The Believer. Sarah Marshall.
  7. ^ a b Tonya Harding reveals her side of roller-coaster life Today Show May 15, 2008.
  8. ^ Saari, Peggy (1998). Great Misadventures: Bad Ideas That Led to Big Disasters. Thomson Gale. p. 697. ISBN 0787627992. 
  9. ^ Olympic results – finishers, from, accessed August 30, 2006.
  10. ^ Worlds results, from, accessed August 30, 2006.
  11. ^ World Figure Skating Championships 1990–1999 results, accessed August 31, 2006.
  12. ^ Skating magazine, August 1994
  13. ^ a b "U.S. Title Is Taken Back From Harding". The New York Times. Associated Press. July 1, 1994. Retrieved September 28, 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c "Player in attack on Kerrigan dies at 40". Yahoo News. December 15, 2007. Archived from the original on December 18, 2007. 
  15. ^ Anatomy of a Plot, Sports Illustrated, February 14, 1994
  16. ^ Skater Nancy Kerrigan Assaulted|accessdate=April 14, 2009
  17. ^ a b Hamilton, Scott; Lorenzo Benet (1999). Landing It: My life on and off the ice. New York: Kensington Books. ISBN 1-57566-466-6. 
  18. ^ Nielsen Media Research (August 6, 2000). "Top 100 TV Shows of All Time". Retrieved April 9, 2009. 
  19. ^ Kerrigan Attacker and Accomplice Sent to Jail, The New York Times, May 17, 1994
  20. ^ Longman, Jere (January 6, 1994). "Jealousy on Ice". The New York Times. 
  21. ^ A timeline of events in the scandal, Washington Post, accessed July 16, 2006.
  22. ^ Newsweek. January 26, 1994.[1] NOTE: Jesse Jackson made a similar statement of support for Tonya Harding in LA Times: "A lot us have had some Tonya in our lives," said the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "We have known some rejection . . . some misunderstanding. . . . All the stuff we know about esteem-building, she's not had much of that. And yet in spite of that, she keeps smiling on the outside and skating at the highest levels. And her insides must look like shattered glass." [2]
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Tonya and Jeff's Wedding Night". 1994-08-01. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  25. ^ Guerrero, Eddie (2005). Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story. Simon and Schuster. pp. 100–101. ISBN 0743493532. Tonya Harding was actually very quiet, nice and sweet, not at all like the crowbar-swinging ho the press made her out to be. Of course, she had no idea who we were. She was just earning a paycheck, capitalizing on whatever was left of her fifteen minutes of fame. 
  26. ^ "Stage Fright". People Magazine 44 (12) (Time, Inc.). 1995-09-18. Retrieved 2013-04-19. Lennon-McCartney it wasn't. When disgraced Olympic skater Tonya Harding took to the stage in Portland, Ore., earlier this month under her new guise as a pop singer, she showed none of the biker-girl swagger that once so unsettled the skating world. Harding started out singing the words to an original song: "Feel the beat," went the lyrics, "feel the heat." Mostly what she and the other members of the Golden Blades felt was the derision of 10,000 raucous music festival fans, who jeered and tossed soda bottles onto the stage, forcing the Blades to beat a retreat. Harding's agent, Merrill Eichenberger, concedes his client could use a little more practice than the two nights a week she's put in for the past six months. "Singing is like skating," he says. "You can't just lace up a pair of skates and go out there and do a triple axel." 
  27. ^ "Tonya Harding Debuts As Singer In Portland Concert For Mda". Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. 1995-08-30. Retrieved 2013-04-19. Tonya Harding, the Olympic figure skater who fell from grace, is making her debut as a singer. Harding will appear with her band, The Golden Blades, at a concert Sunday to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The band will perform "light pop" music, possibly including a Madonna song, according to Kellie Shipp of KKRZ-FM, the radio station that invited Harding to perform. 
  28. ^ "Breakaway". 1996-12-28. 
  29. ^ "Harding Helps to Save Woman's Life". New York Times (from AP). 1996-10-29. Retrieved 2013-04-19. TONYA HARDING, a villainess in public minds during an Olympic figure skating fiasco with NANCY KERRIGAN in 1994, was being saluted as a hero yesterday, after helping to save a woman's life Sunday night at a bar in suburban Portland, Ore., near her home. Shortly after Harding and her godmother LINDA LEWIS stopped at the Lost and Found Saloon to play video poker, ALICE OLSON, 81, collapsed and stopped breathing. Harding called 911 with her cellular phone and administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. 
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Eggers, Kerry (January 5, 2007). "Ready for 'Life With Tonya'?". Portland Tribune. 
  34. ^ Tonya Harding's professional boxing record,, accessed January 13, 2007.
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ a b Tonya Harding biography at, accessed July 16, 2006.
  39. ^
  40. ^ Sarah Michaud (February 14, 2011). "Tonya Harding is pregnant". People. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  41. ^ Mike Fleeman (February 23, 2011). "Tonya Harding welcomes a son". People. Retrieved February 27, 2011. 
  42. ^ Lester, Paul (March 4, 2009). "Tonya Harding bitter and thankful over Obama's 'kneecap' comment". The Guardian (London). Retrieved May 25, 2010. 
  43. ^ "The Price of Gold". 
  44. ^ "Tonya & Nancy the Rock Opera".  External link in |website= (help)
  45. ^ "Tonya Twirls", accessed July 21, 2007.
  46. ^ Bromley, Tom (2006). We Could Have Been the Wombles: The Weird and Wonderful World of One-Hit Wonders. Penguin. p. 90. ISBN 0141017112. 
  47. ^ Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle. 1995. ISBN 0-415-91150-8. 
  48. ^
  49. ^ David Lavery and Sara Lewis Dunne (2006). Seinfeld, master of its domain. Continuum International Publishing Group. Retrieved 2009-04-09. 
  50. ^
  51. ^

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