Tonya Harding: The Messed-Up Story of the Pollemic Skater

The scandal ended his figure skating career forever.


It was 1994, and the preparations of the athletes for the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, were beginning with the national competitions that gave them the places to participate in the Olympic Games.

Tonya Harding was an outstanding figure skater who, thanks to her hard work and dedication, had made it to the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships, along with Nancy Kerrigan, who at that time was considered Tonya’s direct rival in all the competitions.

In the face of this rivalry between the two skaters, Harding took the healthy competition that took place in the skating rinks to a new level and, wanting to secure her ticket to the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, led her to commit direct aggression against Nancy Kerrigan to push her out of the national championship and thus crown herself as the winner.

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How Did it Happen?

It was January 6, 1994, when Nancy Kerrigan was hit in the leg with a telescopic baton as she was leaving the practice at Cobo Arena in Detroit. The injury automatically knocked her out of the competition and left her with a serious chance of losing her spot on the Olympic team.

At first, it was thought to have been an isolated aggression, but when investigations began, the situation took an unexpected turn. At that time, it was suspected that Nancy Kerrigan’s assailant had been Shawn Eckhardt, Tonya Harding’s bodyguard, who had been helped by her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly.

While the veracity of the accusations was confirmed, Tonya played the victim, arguing that she knew nothing about the assault, so she succeeded, without Kerrigan on the track and with all eyes on her, Harding was crowned national champion in that tournament and continued her training for the Olympic Games in Lillehammer.

Although Nancy Kerrigan did not participate in the national championships, the scandal about her assault and the possible culprits led the U.S. delegation to select both skaters to participate in the Lillehammer Olympics, where it was a media event to see them both on the track. Speculation about Tonya’s guilt continued to grow; while the two competed for an Olympic medal, investigations in the U.S. continued.

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In the end, Nancy Kerrigan not only recovered from the injuries but also participated in the Olympic Games and ended up on the podium with a silver medal, while Tonya Harding finished in eighth place. When the two skaters returned to the United States, Tonya found that her ex-husband, who had not initially accused her, had changed his testimony, pleaded guilty, and implicated Tonya.

Faced with this unflattering scenario, the figure skater pleaded guilty to conspiracy, which freed her from jail. However, she did not escape several punishments that ended her figure skating career for good. She was sentenced to:

It was thus that a promising career ended because of her envy of Nancy Kerrigan, for after the scandal and the sentence she obtained, Harding became involved in the world of wrestling as a manager, tried her luck as an actress, and participated in the reality show Dancing with the Stars. But nothing was ever the same again; the scandal that happened more than twenty years ago will haunt her until the end of her days. If you want to know more details of the whole story behind this scandal, you can watch the movie I, Tonya starring actress Margot Robbie.

Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva News

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