The story of Tonya Harding including triumphs, tragedies and ice-cold karma


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Tonya Harding’s legendary tale captures her rise to fame and abrupt fall from grace. 

Known for being the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition, she is considered one of the most controversial ice skaters in American history, according to her biography on olympics.com.

Harding’s notoriety is established in the scandal involving Nancy Kerrigan, her primary rival during the 1994 Winter Olympics. A conspiracy aimed at eliminating Kerrigan from the competition spiraled out of control. Plotted by her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and accomplice Shawn Eckardt, assailant Shane Stant struck Kerrigan with a metal baton above the knee to knock her out of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

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Post-scandal, Harding landed on thin ice with the public and the skating world, leading to a forced resignation from the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA) as part of her plea agreement for her role in the Kerrigan attack.

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Figure skater Tonya Harding of the United States competes in a figure skating competition circa 1992. (Focus on Sport)

Who is Tonya Harding?

Harding’s life is often viewed through the lens of two distinct eras: before the Jan. 6, 1994 incident and after the notorious assault on Kerrigan. Harding found her passion for ice skating at the young age of 3, showing undeniable talent that led to coaching by Diane Rawlinson, a former “Ice Capades” star, at her mother LaVona Golden’s insistence.

She won her first competition at the age of 5 and completed her first triple jump at 8, according to the Olympics website. She quickly made her mark with the triple axel, her signature move.

Harding’s competitive trajectory was on the rise. In 1986, she placed sixth in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, according to Encyclopedia.com. In 1989, she came in third place, according to the Olympics website. In 1990, she won the Skate America competition.

tonya harding margot robbie

(The incident, as well as Tonya Harding’s life, was dramatized in the 2017 film, “I, Tonya,” starring Margotr Robbie, right.)

The crowning achievement came for Harding’s career when she successfully landed the triple axel for the first time in a competition at the 1991 U.S. Championships. 

She repeated the move at Skate America, establishing two world records, according to her ABC.com bio for “Dancing with the Stars” — a reality TV show both she and Kerrigan would be featured on post-1994. 

Tonya and Nancy avoid

Tonya Harding, left, and Nancy Kerrigan were competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team at the time of the 1994 attack on Kerrigan. (VINCENT AMALVY/AFP via Getty Images)

Harding’s victory in the 1994 U.S. Championships would qualify her for a spot on the Olympic team, only for the USFSA to revoke her title amid the Kerrigan scandal.

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Physical abuse had been a significant part of her life, from an early age by her mother to domestic abuse by her husband.

The 1994 Olympics and the incident with Nancy Kerrigan

As figure skaters prepared for the 1994 Winter Olympics, an unprecedented attack left Kerrigan injured above the knee by a police-style baton. This occurred just as camera crews concluded filming her practice session.

Why me daily news

After the 1994 attack, a widely broadcast video of Nancy Kerrigan showed her crying and asking, “Why?” Some outlets reported her saying, “Why me?” (NY Daily News via Getty Images)

“There was a camera guy that was right behind her so I had to go behind the camera guy,” the attacker later told “Inside Edition.” “I probably was a foot-and-a-half behind him. I knew once he put his camera down and walked away it would shut off.” 

Immediately after the attacker smashed through glass doors and left in a getaway car, camera crews began filming again as Kerrigan cried, “Why? Why? Why?” Some sources claim she says, “Why? Why me!?” such as the New York Daily Mail. 

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Aftermath of the attack on Kerrigan

Due to the injury, Kerrigan did not compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Despite an inability to participate, she was named to the 1994 U.S. Olympic team by the USFSA.

Although Harding was not the one who physically attacked Kerrigan, she was quickly implicated as a suspect in the attack against her figure-skating rival. Once details began to emerge and confessions were made, Harding was put in the spotlight for involvement in the attack, quickly gaining notoriety before the Olympics.

“I knew that this would be with me for the rest of my life.” 

— Tonya Harding told the New York Times.

After interviews, the FBI discovered that Gillooly and Eckhardt had initiated the attack. The assailant, Stant, was assisted by his uncle, Derrick Smith, who served as an accomplice.

1994 olympics harding

Tonya Harding finished in eighth place at the 1994 Olympics. She later received a lifetime ban from the U.S. Figure Skating Association following a guilty plea of hindering prosecution of the attackers. (David Madison/Getty Images)

At first, Harding denied involvement in the attack but later pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder the prosecution. This offense means that she was privy to details of the crime but did not alert authorities. 

The outcome of the 1994 Winter Olympics

Harding was permitted to compete in the 1994 Winter Olympics, despite being stripped of her 1994 U.S. Championship title. She was given a re-skate by the judges after an unfortunate incident with her shoelace, an essential element of figure-skating success. Following her second attempt, she finished in eighth place, according to the Oregonian’s 1994 article “1994 Winter Olympics: Tonya Harding finishes 8th in women’s figure skating.” 

Harding shoelace

In the 1994 Olympics, judges granted Tonya Harding a restart skate, also giving her time to fix her skate. Her performance was affected by the incident, and she finished eighth place in the ladies’ single competition. (Clive Brunskill/ALLSPORT)

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Kerrigan finished in second place, securing a silver medal, symbolizing her resilience.

Life after skating for Tonya Harding

Once Harding was restricted from competing in figure skating, she picked herself up and began a career in boxing. During her boxing career from 2003 to 2004, she had three wins and three losses, according to the Olympics website.

The incident involving the figure skaters was documented in ESPN’s “The Price of Gold” in 2014 and the 2017 film “I, Tonya.” The film focused on the early life of Harding and the abuse she suffered as the ice skater pursued her dreams, manifesting the emotional toll that her mother’s child-rearing strategies had on her. “I, Tonya” was written by Steven Rogers and starred Margot Robbie as Tonya and Allison Janney as LaVona, her mother. 

Harding dancing with the stars

Tonya Harding was a contestant on the 26th season of “Dancing with the Stars,” a special athletes’ edition. The season aired in 2018. (Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Harding divorced Gillooly in 1993 and married Michael Smith in 1995, a marriage that lasted until 1996, according to biography.com. She currently lives in Washington with her third husband, Joseph Jens Price. They have one son, Gordon. The ending credits of “I, Tonya” state that she wants the world to know she is a good mother.

Stant served his prison sentence and underwent a significant personal transformation. He shared his story about his conversion to Christianity during his incarceration with news outlets like Bleacher Report and expressed to “Inside Edition” a sense of gratitude for the prison time that catalyzed this life change.

“I hope that {Kerrigan} understands that I was sorry for what I did and that I’m a different person.”

— Shane Stant tells Inside Edition.

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Jeff Gillooly

Jeff Gillooly, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, pictured here, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt, hired Shane Stant to carry out the attack on Nancy Kerrigan. (CHRIS WILKINS/AFP via Getty Images)

After Gillooly’s release from prison in 1995, he changed his name to Jeff Stone, according to Good Housekeeping and other accounts. He is now a car salesman and lives in Oregon with his current wife, according to an interview with Deadspin. He also has two kids with his ex-wife, who committed suicide in 2005 after a battle with drug addiction.



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