JOHN GAPS III/Associated Press
Tonya Harding was once a serious athlete
Tonya Harding is best known for her connection to the brutal attack on Nancy Kerrigan in January of 1994. It’s unfortunate, but true.
Even before then, however, Harding was a well-known quantity. A reigning national champion and a medal favorite heading into the 1994 Olympic Games, Harding was once a central figure in the American sports world.
From a talent perspective, she was incredibly promising. Harding’s list of accomplishments include her becoming the first woman to complete a triple axel in a short program as well as the first ever to complete a triple axel combination with the double toe loop.
I’m not sure exactly what any of that means, other than that Harding was for a short time really, really talented.
Of course, as everyone knows well by now, that all quickly changed.
On January 6, 1994, Nancy Kerrigan—Harding’s primary American competitor and biggest rival at the time—was brutally assaulted by a man named Shane Stant. Within hours, speculation connecting Harding to the attack ignited like wildfire, inspiring fellow figure skater Scott Hamilton to suggest “the world press was turning the Olympics into just another sensational tabloid event.”
As a result of the surrounding media frenzy and probably much more, Harding would go on to tank at the ’94 Games, finishing just eighth overall.
Through later legal proceedings, it was determined that Stant was hired by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, to carry out the gruesome assault on Kerrigan. Though Harding’s involvement in the plot was never legally determined, the once-elite figure skater pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of the attackers.
For her crime, Harding was stripped of her 1994 U.S. Title, forced to withdraw from the 1994 World Championships and resign from the USFSA.
Though she finished out the year and skated in a couple more marque events, by 1995 Harding was out of skating and the American mind for good (unless you followed her brief boxing career, and I sure hope you didn’t).