Tonya Harding

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Tonya Harding
Tonya harding mac club 1994 by andrew parodi.jpeg
Harding at 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.[1]
  • Jeff Gillooly (m. 1990–1993)
  • Michael Smith (m. 1995–1996)
  • Joseph Price (m. 2010)
Height 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Coach Diane Rawlinson, Dody Teachman

Tonya Maxene Price known professionally as Tonya Harding[2][3] (born November 12, 1970)[4][5] is a retired American figure skater. She was the 1991 U.S. champion and 1991 World Championship silver medalist. Harding is also a two-time Olympian and a two-time Skate America Champion.[6] She was the first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition, and the first to complete a triple axel in combination with a double toe loop.

In late 1993, Harding was an Olympian hopeful when she became engulfed in controversy following an attack on skating rival Nancy Kerrigan. After the games ended, she pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution and was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.[7] Harding is the subject of the 2017 movie I, Tonya.

Early life[edit]

Ice Chalet at Portland's Lloyd Center, where Harding began skating at age three[7]

Tonya Harding was born on November 12, 1970 in Portland, Oregon, to LaVona Golden (b. 1940)[8] and Albert Harding (1933–2009).[9] Harding was raised in Portland and began skating at the age of three.[6] As a youth, Harding also hunted, drag raced, and learned automotive mechanics from her father.[10] LaVona struggled to help support the family while she worked as a waitress, and she hand-sewed Tonya's competition skating costumes.[10]

Harding had a troubled childhood. She said that by the time she was seven years old, her mother had mentally and physically abused her.[11][12] LaVona admitted to one instance of hitting Tonya at an ice rink.[11] Tonya dropped out of Milwaukie High School[13] during her sophomore year in order to focus on skating; she later earned a General Equivalency Diploma.[14]

Skating career[edit]

In the mid-1980s, Harding 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.

Harding's breakthrough year came in 1991, when she landed her first triple axel at the U.S. Championships[6] and won 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—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.

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. 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 the 1993 season, she skated poorly in the U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the World Championship team.

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.[15] After a problem 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[16] 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[17] 1st
U.S. Championships[18][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.[19][20]

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 by an assailant later identified as Shane Stant after a practice session at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly (1967–)[21], and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt,[22] 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[23] with a 21-inch (53 cm) ASP telescopic baton.[24] 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.[15] Harding finished eighth in Lillehammer, while Kerrigan, by then recovered from the injury, won the silver medal behind Oksana Baiul from Ukraine.[25]

The attack on Kerrigan and the news of Harding's alleged involvement led to a media frenzy. 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."[26] The tape-delayed broadcast of the women's short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.[27]

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.[28] Eckhardt was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early in September 1995.[22]

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.[29] She received three years' probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $100,000 fine.[30] 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.[31] 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.[20] 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.[26]

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."[12] Eckhardt, who legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith following his release from jail, died at age 40 on December 12, 2007.[22]

Later celebrity[edit]

Harding had a celebrity sex tape: an explicit "Wedding Video" showed her having sex with her then-husband, Jeff Gillooly. Gillooly had sold the tape to a tabloid TV show after being implicated as a conspirator in the Kerrigan attack. Stills from the tape were published by Penthouse in September 1994 and the tape itself[32] was released at about the same time.

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, Eddie Guerrero, and Brian Cox.[33]

A 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.[34][35]

In 1994 Harding was cast in a low-budget action film, Breakaway.[36] The film was released in 1996.[37]

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 while playing video poker.[38]

In March 2008 she became a commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest....[39]

Boxing career[edit]

Tonya Harding
Real name Tonya Maxene Harding
Nickname(s) Bad Girl
Weight(s) Lightweight
Height 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Nationality American
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 6
Wins 3
Wins by KO 0
Losses 3

In 2002 she 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 decision in the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Clifford Etienne bout, amid rumors that she was having financial difficulties and needed to fight in the ring to earn money.[40] 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".[41]

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.[42]

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.[43][44]

Her boxing career was cut short by a physical condition that she attributed to asthma.[45] Her overall record was 3 wins and 3 losses. [46]

Professional record[edit]

3 Wins (3 decisions), 3 Losses (2 knockouts, 1 decision), 0 Draws[47]
Date Opponent Result Type Round, Time Location
2004-06-25 Amy Johnson Loss TKO 3 (4), 1:04 Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
2003-08-02 Melissa Yanas Loss TKO 1 (4), 1:13 Dallas, Texas, U.S.
2003-06-13 Emily Gosa Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Lincoln City, Oregon, U.S.
2003-03-28 Alejandra Lopez Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
2003-03-15 Shannon Birmingham Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S.
2003-02-22 Samantha Browning Loss Decision (split) 4 (4) Los Angeles, California, 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.[48][49]

Personal life[edit]

Harding married Jeff Gillooly in 1990,[6] 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.[50] She married her second husband, Michael Smith, in 1995; the couple divorced in 1996.[51] She married 42-year-old Joseph Price on June 23, 2010, when she was 39 years old and now prefers to go by her married name of Tonya Price.[2][52] She gave birth to her only child, a son named Gordon, on February 19, 2011.[53]

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.[54]

In popular culture[edit]

Harding and her role in the Kerrigan attack have been widely referenced in sitcom episodes, music videos, and a primary campaign speech by former President Barack Obama.[55]

In 2014, Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen created the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding Museum in their Brooklyn, New York apartment.[56]


Tonya Harding portrayed by actress Margot Robbie


  • The 1994 telemovie ‘Tonya and Nancy: The Inside Story’, Tonya is played by Alexandra Powers while Nancy is played by Heather Langenkamp.[60]
  • In 2014, ESPN aired a 30 for 30 documentary on the Kerrigan attack called The Price of Gold.[61]
  • During the 1993 to 1994 Season of In Living Color, sketch actress Alexandra Wentworth played Tonya in a number of sketches. [62]
  • In an episode of the television program Seinfeld called "The Understudy," when Jerry’s girlfriend, a Broadway 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. Additionally, Jerry’s girlfriend was the understudy on the show and only got to perform because the lead actress suffered an injury that everyone claims was caused by a hitman, George.[63][64]
  • 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 physical resemblance.[65]
  • In a 2018 episode of Modern Family, the character Gloria tells of a time in Colombia that she whacked another competitive swimmer in the leg with a skimmer pole. Her son Manny says "You Tonya Harding-ed a girl?". Season 9, episode 11 [66]

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.[73]


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External links[edit]