Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Jake Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Stanton Daily. Posted by Jake Frost
1994 Figure Skating Controversy â€“ The Whack Heard Around the World
Currently Known For:
1990 - 1991
“I have never been the stereotypical figure skater.” Taking the ice with ease and grace as she became the first American woman to land a triple axel jump during competition, Tonya Harding showed exceptional promise as a figure skater in the late 1980s and 1990s. In fact, she won two Skate American Championship titles and took home a win at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1991 before her world came crashing down in 1994 when she was banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life because of her involvement in the attack against her competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. No longer known for her triple axels and jaw-dropping performances, Harding was linked to “the whack heard round the world” as she lost her career and forever tarnished her reputation.
Long before the 1994 scandal ended her professional career, Harding was born on November 12, 1970 in Portland, Oregon where, at three years old, she was introduced to ice skating. Instantly falling in love with the sport and the confidence it gave her, she spent more and more time at the rink to avoid her mother’s verbal and physical abuse at home. “She became very abusive and was drinking all day long,” Harding later told Oprah Winfrey during an interview. “Beating me, dragging me off the rink, hitting me with a hairbrush… right in front of everyone.”
By the age of 12, Harding could land a triple lutz jump and was more determined than ever to have a future as a figure skater. Throughout the mid 1980s, she set her sights on competing and dropped out of David Douglas High School in her sophomore year to focus on the ice. Weeks later, she finished in sixth place at the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and saw her ranking improve over the next few years with a third-place finish in 1989. Many believed that 1990 would be Harding’s biggest year yet but, after suffering from the flu and asthma, her free skating performance suffered and dropped her from second place to seventh overall.
Fortunately, Harding came back strong in 1991 and finished in first place after landing her first triple axel jump at the U.S. Championships, which earned her the event’s first 6.0 ever given to a single female skater for technical merit. She landed the triple axel once again at the 1991 World Championships and made history as the first American woman to perform the jump at an international event. Unfortunately, the jump wasn’t enough to beat Kristi Yamaguchi and, ultimately, marked the last triple axel jump of Harding’s entire career.
In 1992, Harding twisted her ankle during practice and ranked third at the U.S. Championships before finishing in fourth place at the 1992 Winter Olympics and in sixth place at the 1992 World Championships. Failing to qualify for the 1993 World Championship team, Harding’s future as a figure skater was on the line when scandal erupted after Harding and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, took matters into their own hands and set their sights on hurting Harding’s biggest competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. On January 6, 1994, Gillooly and Harding’s bodyguard—Shawn Eckhardt—allegedly hired Shane Stant to break Kerrigan’s right leg to eliminate her from the competition for the 1994 Winter Olympics.
With the media following Kerrigan’s practice at Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan, news of the attack quickly followed as camera crews captured Kerrigan on the floor holding her leg and crying out, “Why? Why? Why?” Kerrigan’s knee was bruised and forced her out of the national championships, which Harding won. As luck would have it, both Harding and Kerrigan were selected for the 1994 Olympic team with Kerrigan’s knee healing just in time for the competition as she earned a silver medal with Harding finishing in eighth. By then, news of the scandal and Harding’s involvement in the attack were fueled by the media frenzy that eventually cost Harding her career.
Initially denying her involvement before more evidence came forward, Harding later confessed that she knew of the plan and failed to report it. Pleading guilty to avoid jail time, she was sentenced to 500 hours of community service and a $160,000 fine with a lifetime ban from any involvement with competitive skating, which included having her 1994 U.S. Championship title taken away. To say her future was forever changed was an understatement as Harding’s life took an even darker turn in the months following when she and Gillooly sold their wedding sex tape to Penthouse magazine for $200,000.
Harding had no idea what to do with her life and, in 2002, debuted as an AAA professional wrestler before launching her career as a celebrity boxer throwing punches against celebrities like Paula Jones on shows like Celebrity Boxing. Along the way, she’s given numerous paid interviews where she’s taken a stance against her former competitor and the scandal saying, “Nancy’s a princess, you know. That’s how everybody’s seeing her. She’s a princess and I’m a pile of crap.” During ESPN’s Price of Gold documentary in 2014, Harding even said, “[Kerrigan] was the crybaby who didn’t win the gold. I’m sorry, I’ve never said this before but just shut up.”
Today, the 46-year-old Harding continues to plead her innocence in the attack on Kerrigan especially now that she’s a mother after giving birth to her only son, Gordon, in February 2011. In fact, she plans to share her story in the biographical film titled I, Tonya. Until then, Harding says, “[Nancy’s] happy. I’m happy. We live our separate lives… [but], you know what, leave it alone. We were friends a long time ago. We were competitors and then all the crap happened, and—nothing. But she has her life and I have mine.” As for her ice skating, Harding says the ice is still her one place of refuge. “It’s my sanctuary. I feel great when I’m out there. It doesn’t matter what I do—I know that I was the best at one point… It just makes me feel alive.”