Tonya Hits Hard

Tonya Harding with her new face

Growing up I loved figure skating and use to watch it all the time. So, I knew all the big names, Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Tara Lipinski. I could not get enough of this sport. In 1994, I was only five years old, so I was too young to understand or care about the feud between Kerrigan and Harding. Actually, I think it was a one-sided feud of Harding’s part. I’m going to tell you all about it anyway. I saw Tonya Harding on a documentary recently and I think she got work done on her face, she looks completely different. Ok, maybe not completely different but she does look different. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for doing what makes you feel good about yourself. I just thought I would squeeze that in here for your entertainment. 

Tonya Maxine Harding was born on November 12, 1970 in Portland, Oregan to LaVona Golden and Albert Harding. Harding started figure skating when she was just three years old and trained under coach, Diane Rawlinson. Tonya also hunted, drag raced, and learned auto mechanics from her Dad throughout her youth. LaVona worked as a waitress and struggled to support the whole family but she was determined to help Tonya follow her dreams and would hand sew her dressing for compitions when they could not afford to buy them. Go ahead LaVona, you do that damn thing Mama! Harding Attended Milwaukie High School but dropped out her sophomore year in order to focus on her figure skating career. It never made sense to me that the legal age to drop out of school is sixteen years old. WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT LIFE AT SIXTEEN OTHER THAN THE FACT THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO GO TO SCHOOL!? 

As a teenager Harding started to claim that her Mom started to abuse her mentally and physically starting at the age of seven years old. None of these claims have ever been verified and LaVona did admit to one instance where she hit Tonya while at an ice-skating rink while she was growing up. Obviously, I don’t know either of them personally but given Tonya’s history and erratic behavior I’m going to believe her Mom on this one. In January 2018, Harding’s childhood friend and filmmaker, Sandra Luckow, spoke in defense of Harding’s mother because she felt that the 2017 film “I, Tonya” stretched some truths about LaVona’s character. Well, there ya go. Luckow also went to say that even though LaVona could get harsh with her daughter she funded and was very grateful for Tonya’s skating lessons. 

By the mid 1980’sTonya began to work her way up the competitive figure skating ladder. She placed sixth at the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, fifth in 1987 and 1988, and third in 1989. She was a strong contender for the 1990 U.S Figure Skating Championships. However, Tonya was suffering from the flu and had a terrible free skate portion of the competition. Harding dropped from her second place standing in the competition and took home seventh overall. Tonya Harding got her big break on February 16, 1991 when she became the first female figure skater to successfully complete a “triple axel” in a competition (1991 U.S Figure Skating Championships). I think the triple axel is when they jump in the air and spin around three times or some shit. Anyway, she was the first ever female to execute that jump.  

At the World Figure Skating Championships in 1991 Harding again executed a triple axel. However, I guess the jump had lost its luster because 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. After this performance Harding was never able to successfully complete a triple axel in a competition again. She did okay in 1992 and 1994 but we can just skip over those years which brings us to 1994. Yes 1994, the year Tonya Harding truly became a house hold name…for all the wrong reasons.  

On January 6, 1994 just one day before the U.S Figure Skating Championship first ladies’ singles competition, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked in a corridor after a practice session at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan. A news camera crew who just happened to be there filming a segment about the upcoming competition caught the immediate aftermath of the attack on tape and it was broadcast on televisions throughout the world. Just days later on January 14, 1994 Shane Stant walked into an FBI office and turned himself in. Stant admitted to being the assailant but claimed that he was contracted to break her right leg. Stant claimed that himself and his uncle Derek Smith were hired to carry out the assault by Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly (whom she was married to from 1990-1993) and her one-time body guard Shawn Eckardt.

After failing to locate Kerrigan in Massachusetts, Stint took a 20-hour bus ride to Detroit. I mean the dude was dedicated, got to give him credit for that. Nancy Kerrigan was walking behind a curtain after leaving the ice rink when Shane Stant rushed her from behind and using both hands swung a twenty-one-inch (fifty-three centimeter) pipe telescopic baton (I’m assuming this is some sort of pipe, I just googled it and it actually one of those batons police use) at her right leg, hitting her right above the knee. Spoiler alert! It didn’t break her leg. Stant’s intention was to harm her enough that she would have to drop out of the National competition. As I stated in my spoiler alert her leg was not broken but the bone was severely bruised. You guys ever bruise a bone? That shit hurts like a mother f*****!

 

Kerrigan was forced to withdrawal from the Championships forgoing the chance to win a repeat title. On January 8, 1994 Tonya Harding took home won the Ladies’ U.S title. Which isn’t really a surprise since she managed to knock out her only tough competition. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan would both go on to be selected for the 1994 U.S Olympic team. That’s all folks, Kerrigan got knocked out of the competition and Tonya Harding took home the title so it all worked out for her. SIKE! On January 18th, Harding submitted to questioning by the District Attorney and FBI. Of course, being called in after Stant dropped her name during his confession. Her lawyer was present and Harding was interviewed for over ten hours. The transcript of the interview was released to the media on February 1, 1994 and “The Seattle Times” noted that Harding changed her story drastically the longer the interview went on. In the transcripts finally paragraph Harding states; “I hope everyone understands. I’m telling on someone I really care about. I know now Jeff is involved. I’m sorry.” Jeff Gillooly had surrendered to the FBI before the transcript was released to public on January 19, 1994. So, Harding tried to push all of the blame on Gillooly. 

On January 20th Diane Sawyer talked to Tonya Harding on “Primetime” and Harding insisted she did nothing wrong and was not involved in attack on Nancy Kerrigan. On January 27th news broke that Gillooly had been talking to police and implicated Harding in the planning of the attack. That same day Tonya Harding’s close friend and roommate at the time, Stephanie Quintero, spoke to reporters on Harding’s behalf; stating that Tonya was very shocked and hurt by Jeff’s actions and claims. At 11:00 in the morning Harding spoke to reporters directly telling them that she was very sorry Nancy had been attacked and she had nothing but respect for her fellow figure skater. She further went to say she had nothing to do with the attack and was completely unaware about the plotting of the assualt. She took responsibility for not reporting her knowledge about the attack after it occurred once she returned home from Nationals. But that not reporting information was not a crime in itself.  

This story received massive amounts of media coverage and reporters would regularly camp outside of Kerrigan’s house hoping to snatch a statement from her. The story was covered in “Sports Illustrated” and “Time” magazine, both articles mentioned heavy speculation of Harding’s involvement in the plot. Of course, people will speculate and be suspicious, you had TWO separate people implicate her when they confessed. This speculation caused such a media frenzy since both women would be teammates during the upcoming Olympic games, which would be held February of that year.  

On February 1, 1994 Gillooly’s attorneys struck up a plea deal in exchange for testimony regarding all involved parties in the attack. In July he was sentenced to two years after pleading guilty to racketeering, he also publicly apologized to Nancy Kerrigan. Shawn Eckardt also pleaded guilty to racketeering, Shane Stant and Derrick Smith (who drove the getaway car) pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit second degree assault. I was not able to find what any of those men were sentenced to. After the attack Eckardt went on to change his name to Brian Shawn Griffith, he died at the age of 40 in 2007. After his release from prison Gillooly changed his name to Jeff Stone and found a job as a used car salesman. He is now married with two kids. 

Not much is known about what happened to Shane Stant other than he is now married and has children. Derrick Smith also keeps a low profile and all that is known about him is that he now resides in Montana. On February 10, 1994 (hey that was my fifth birthday) Tonya Harding sat down for an interview with Connie Chung, when asked about Gillooly Harding said: “I never did anything to hurt Jeff. If I ever did anything, it was to stick up for him and protect him.” On February 15th Chung and Harding flew on the same airplane to Norway for the winter Olympics. Chung would later admit that is if wasn’t for the scandal she never would have planned a trip to Norway. On February 17, 1994 Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan shared the ice for a practice session in the Hamar Olympic Ampitheater, approximately 400 members from different media outlets were there to document the women’s time together. 

Famous male figure skater Scott Hamilton once said he believed the Olympics ended up being overshadowed by this scandalous event. Not blaming the women but the media. Scott Hamilton uses to land one footed back flips on the ice, I remember I was so amazed by that, I don’t think anybody has done it since. Although, I could be wrong. It was noticed that Kerrigan wore the same outfit at that practice with Harding that she was wearing on the day of the attack. When asked about the outfit Kerrigan admitted that the choice was deliberating, stating: “Humor is good, it’s empowering.” On February 25th Tonya Harding placed eighth overall, Nancy Kerrigan who had recovered fully from her injury placed second, and another female skating sensation of the time Oksana Baiul placed first. Dang, Tonya went through all that trouble to knock Kerrigan out of the competition and didn’t even medal.  

Tonya was scheduled to have a disciplinary hearing following the close of the Olympic games but was granted a requested halt until June by judge Owen Panner. Meanwhile Portland authorities told the media that their criminal investigation would conclude by March 23 with any indictments and grand jury reports would be made at that time. Harding beat everybody to the punch and plead guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution on March 16, 1994.

Her lawyer, Rober Weaver, negotiated a plea deal ensuring no other prosecutions would be made against Tonya. Part of her plea was admitting that she knew of the assault plot after the fact.  She admitted that on January 10th and 11th she witnessed phones calls being made to Smith (from Gillooly and Eckardt) regarding the attack and that she lied to police during her interview on January 18th. Tonya Harding was sentenced to three years of probation, a $100,000 fine, and 500 hours of community service. She also agreed to reimburse Multnomah County $10,000 in legal expenses and undergo a psychiatric evaluation. She also volunteered to give $50,000 to the Special Olympics Oregon charity.  

Her lawyer, Rober Weaver, negotiated a plea deal ensuring no other prosecutions would be made against Tonya. Part of her plea was admitting that she knew of the assault plot after the fact.  She admitted that on January 10th and 11th she witnessed phones calls being made to Smith (from Gillooly and Eckardt) regarding the attack and that she lied to police during her interview on January 18th. Tonya Harding was sentenced to three years of probation, a $100,000 fine, and 500 hours of community service. She also agreed to reimburse Multnomah County $10,000 in legal expenses and undergo a psychiatric evaluation. She also volunteered to give $50,000 to the Special Olympics Oregon charity. Her plea deal with the Internation Olympic Committee she resigned from the U.S Figure Skating Association, which of course forced her withdrawal from the U.S Championships. 

Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, donated approximately $25,000 toward Harding’s legal fees. Around that same time, she made approximately $600,000.00 from a deal she made with “Inside Edition”.  Weaver said they would have prevailed if they faced a trial but the plea deal with enough for Tonya since she avoided jail time. So, there you have it, this is truly how it ends and the world can move on to move important things now……SIKKKKEEE! 

Shortly before the 1998 Winter Olympics, CBS and Fox re-televised the scandal for two special reports. Tonya Harding still insisted she was innocent and knew nothing about the planned attack before it happened. Jeff Gillooly (now Jeff Stone) told the media he is surprised Harding is not troubled by her guilty conscious yet but that he wishes nothing but the best for her. In 2014, Nancy Kerrigan sat down with Bob Costas (I think this was pre wonky eyeball he got from using tap water on his face) and stated that: “Whatever apology Tonya has given, I accept it. It’s time for all us – I’ve always wished Tonya well – she has her own family; I have my family. It’s time to make that our focus and move on with our lives.” 

Thank you, Nancy, for squashing this shit once and for all! That is the real end of this story but Tonya has had many other scandals tied to her as well. You can easily find them by doing a google search. I think one time her sex and a topless pic got leaked. I think she might have beat her husband’s ass as well. Yeah, she is certified crazy. Happy googling! 

Sources:

“What happened to Shawn Eckardt? – bustle.com

“Skater Nancy Kerrigan attacked!” – HISTORY

“Nancy Kerrigan” – New York Times

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