It’s been twenty years since one of the biggest sports scandals of all time. Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan was kneecapped by a man hired by rival Tonya Harding’s ex husband, Jeff Gillooly, just prior to the US Figure Skating Championships and six weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Harding claimed that she was not in on the attack, however she admitted that she knew of her ex’s plan and had failed to go to authorities ahead of time. Both women went on to compete in Lillehammer, with Harding failing miserably and Kerrigan earning silver. Harding later plead guilty to not notifying officials of the plot. She was put on probation, stripped of her titles and banned from competitive skating and coaching for life.
In a new interview with ESPN films, Harding talks about the events twenty years ago. From the sound bites I’ve seen, Harding sounds like she considers herself a victim, of both her ex husband and the media frenzy surrounding the attack. She may be, which I’ll get to in a moment. Harding also looks less than sober to me, although that could just be due to years of hard living and garish makeup. Here’s more, and there’s a video above:
On how the media pressure affected her
“Trying to train in front of everyone was so much mania,” Harding, now 43, said in an interview with for ESPN Films’ “The Price of Gold.” “Every time I’d jump they would all flash, I would fall on my face and hurt myself a couple of times. It just started becoming really impossible just to even concentrate on anything.”
“I just couldn’t believe what was being said and stuff,” Harding said. “I never met or talked to-didn’t even know the other person involved,” she said.
“You just get hit by everything all at once and you just want to crawl in a closet and say go away and leave me alone because you just don’t know what is going on,” she added.
On how she was singled out by officials
Harding took issue with her former sport where the judges played favorites and “if it’s not their way it’s the highway.”
“There was one year that I had a bright pink color [outfit] that I made myself. It was really pretty. One of the judges came up to me afterwards and said, ‘You know what? If you wear anything like that again at a U.S. Championships, you will never do another one.’ And I told them where to go. I said, ‘Well, you know what, if you can come up with $5,000 for a costume for me then I won’t have to make it, but until then stay out of my face,’”
I would love to see a more apologetic, self-aware Harding, although I understand somewhat why she has this mentality. In her 2008 biography, Harding claimed that after she learned of her ex’s plan to take Kerrigan out of the competition, her ex raped her at gunpoint, along with two other men, to keep her silent. I saw Harding tell this story in an interview, and she looked visibly shaken. Her story was believable to me. She’s still not a sympathetic character, but after I heard her story I saw the scandal in a whole new light.
USA Today has profiles of both women and details of their lives now. Kerrigan lives in Boston with her husband and three children. She has “built a successful life of endorsements, corporate appearances and skating shows.”
Harding’s “wedding night” sex tape with Gillooly was released in 1994. In the early ‘aughts she was a competitive “celebrity” boxer, trading on her infamy. She had a series of run-ins with the law spanning years and involving drunk driving, domestic incidents, and paranoid delusions. She now lives in Oregon with her third husband and their two and a half year-old son. USA Today quotes her as saying “It’s hard times for everybody money-wise until this economy turns around.”