Harding-Kerrigan 20 Years Later: Remembering the Stunning, Life-Changing Attack

Matt Crossman@@MattCrossmanSpecial to Bleacher ReportDecember 19, 2013

Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

The Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan affair began with unchecked ambition, unbridled greed and a whack to the knee. It ended with four men in jail, a broken shoelace and a highly publicized mouthing-off, at Disney World. In between, there was a media frenzy reserved for only the most outrageous circuses.

The story involved violence, sports, hapless criminals and petty jealousy. To say nothing of lying, cheating, hit men, grandstanding lawyers and pure comedy gold.

But to understand why it captivated this country 20 years ago, you have to start with a rivalry between two skaters with different looks, styles and personalities. Kerrigan had grace. Harding had athleticism. Kerrigan had elegance. Harding had aggression. Their rivalry was also cast as Kerrigan's wealth against Harding's poverty, but that wasn't true. Kerrigan came from a blue-collar background, and her father worked two jobs to support her career.

In 1994, Kerrigan and Harding were leading contenders for the two positions on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team. Kerrigan already had a bronze medal from the 1992 Olympics. Harding was the only American woman to land a triple axel in a competition. But that had come in 1991, and heading into the 1994 U.S. Nationals, she cast herself as an underdog and saw Kerrigan as the favorite.

Harding wanted a gold medal and openly coveted the money that would follow it. To hear Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and law enforcement officials tell it, Harding was willing to go to extraordinary lengths to get both.

The Hit Man Speaks

"This is Shane Stant," the voice on the other end of the phone says, and suddenly I'm talking to the man who committed one of the most notorious crimes in American sports history.

Shane Stant appears for his arraignment on Jan. 19, 1994 in Portland, Ore.
Shane Stant appears for his arraignment on Jan. 19, 1994 in Portland, Ore.John Vincent/Associated Press

Twenty years ago, Stant whacked Kerrigan on the knee for $6,500 and unleashed a media firestorm and sports controversy that drew worldwide attention. His name appeared on the front page of every newspaper in the country for weeks, and then—poof—Shane Stant vanished.

Stant says he hasn't given an interview in at least a dozen years, and at first, he did not want to talk to me. But it turned out he had a story to tell, about how his life has turned around in the years since the attack.

His story of redemption is just one of many subplots in the unforgettable Kerrigan-Harding tale, a story with more twists and turns than the best Olympic figure-skating performance.

It all started when Stant's phone rang a day or two before Christmas 1993. His uncle, Derrick Smith, called to ask if Stant, then 22, would hurt somebody for money. Pressed for specifics, Smith asked if Stant would "take down a skater,'' according to Stant's FBI confession.

Stant asked for more details. A man named Shawn Eckardt called and said it would involve slicing the skater's Achilles tendon. Stant said no. He wouldn't cut anybody. They settled on injuring the person enough so she could not skate.

On the day after Christmas, Stant climbed into Smith's black Porsche 944, and the uncle and his nephew drove 22 hours from Arizona to Portland, Ore. The next day, Smith and Stant met with Eckardt at his parents' home, a split-level building made of sand-colored brick that sits roughly three-quarters of the way up Mount Scott in suburban Portland.

Tonya Harding performed in the U.S. Nationals in Detroit the day after the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.
Tonya Harding performed in the U.S. Nationals in Detroit the day after the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.Duane Burieson/Associated Press

Gillooly showed up a little while after Stant and Smith arrived. Eckardt pressed "record" on a tape recorder he had hidden under a paper towel. He and Smith figured they could use the recording against Gillooly if Gillooly turned on them or refused to pay.

The four men—Gillooly, Eckardt, Smith and Stant—discussed the best way to attack Kerrigan. Stant and Gillooly told the FBI that Eckardt suggested killing Kerrigan, but nobody else wanted to go that far. Gillooly said damaging Kerrigan's right leg was the best plan, because that is her landing leg, and if she couldn't land, she couldn't skate.

They planned to hurt her before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which was scheduled for Jan. 7 in Detroit. If Kerrigan missed the competition, that would all but guarantee Harding's place on the Olympic team. The men decided the attack should take place in Massachusetts, where Kerrigan practiced.

After the meeting broke up, Gillooly went to the home he and Harding shared near Portland. He later told the FBI that he and Harding discussed the need for more information about Tony Kent Arena, where Kerrigan practiced. He said Harding called to get Kerrigan's practice times and the address for the arena.

The next day, armed with a photo and bio of Kerrigan, Stant flew to Dallas, where he had a four-hour layover, and then to Logan International Airport in Boston, where he checked into the Hilton under his own name.

Stant (left) and Derrick Smith signed papers in court in Portland on Jan. 21, 1994.
Stant (left) and Derrick Smith signed papers in court in Portland on Jan. 21, 1994.Jack Smith/Associated Press/Associated Press

He tried to rent a car but couldn't because he had grabbed his girlfriend's credit card rather than his own. He called her and asked her to mail the card that had his name on it. He received it on Dec. 30, 1993, made his way to the Dollar Rent-A-Car, rented a Chevy Cavalier and drove about 80 miles to Cape Cod, unaware that at almost exactly the same time Kerrigan was driving away from there, on her way to Boston.

Over the next several days, Stant staked out Tony Kent Arena, moving his car every 30 minutes, he told the FBI, so as not to arouse suspicion. On Jan. 4, he called the arena and said he had a daughter who wanted to meet Kerrigan. The woman who answered the phone told him Kerrigan had gone to Detroit to skate in the Nationals.

Stant drove back to the Boston airport to drop off the rental car. He jumped on a bus for Detroit. The next day, he picked up his uncle at the airport. They went to Joe Louis Arena—the location of the upcoming skating tournament—and spent 45 minutes figuring out the best place to attack Kerrigan as she practiced at the adjacent Cobo Arena.

The next day, Jan. 6, Stant woke up to a frigid Detroit morning, and he went out bundled up against the cold. He wore, according to his FBI confession, a dark-brown dress shirt, a black leather jacket, brown hiking boots and black leather gloves. He put a collapsible baton in his pants.

Smith and Stant arrived at Cobo and sat at opposite ends of the arena but in sight of each other. Soon, Stant gave the signal that the attack was imminent—he stood up and sat back down.

Smith left to get the getaway car.

Stant followed an ABC-TV cameraman, who was following Kerrigan as she left the ice. Stant brushed through a curtain. He walked to the right of Kerrigan and swung at her, with two hands on the baton. He connected about an inch above her right knee and later said he knew he had not done much damage because the sound had not been of a bone breaking.

He ran toward the exit door he had scoped out the day before. It had been unlocked then. Now, it was chained shut. With nowhere to go and a shocked and soon-to-be enraged crowd behind him, he barreled into the plexiglass on the bottom half of the door. Stant blasted through it and found himself outside in the snow.

He heard someone yell, "Somebody stop him," but soon he was running free. He threw the baton under a car. He found Smith. They drove away.

He left behind a sobbing Kerrigan. Her father arrived, too late to protect her, but he carried her away. She cried, "Why? Why?" over and over.

By the time her cries stopped echoing across Cobo Arena, the case had started to unravel.

Bragging About the Crime

Gene Saunders and Eckardt had an unlikely friendship. Saunders was a 24-year-old pastor. Eckardt was a 26-year-old who, well, let's let Randall Sullivan of Rolling Stone handle this:

Eckardt boasted constantly about 'asset protection' and 'hostage retrieval' assignments overseas, telling you every time you saw him that he just got back from Kenya or had to leave the next day for New Zealand, yet he drove a 1976 Mercury and kept the corporate headquarters of World Bodyguard Services in a spare bedroom at his parents' home.

Still, Saunders tells me that he liked Eckardt. He thought he was funny and smart, and that if he had a positive mentor in his life, he could've been successful. During their brief friendship, Saunders tried to be that mentor for him. Saunders says he thinks Eckardt probably pulled straight A's in school (media reports at the time suggested otherwise) and that he was an active participant in class discussions at Pioneer Pacific College, a trade school near Portland, where the two of them met.

A handcuffed Shawn Eckardt heads to court on Jan. 14, 1994.
A handcuffed Shawn Eckardt heads to court on Jan. 14, 1994.Don Ryan/Associated Press

In the days before the attack, Eckardt told Saunders about it, played the tape he had made of the meeting at his parents' house and even showed him a list of other targets in the ice-skating world. But Saunders couldn't understand much of what was said on the tape because the quality was so poor, and Eckardt was known for making stuff up, so Saunders didn't think much of it.

Saunders saw Eckardt soon after the attack. "He comes walking in and says, 'We did it, we did it'—super excited," Saunders said.

Saunders immediately started trying to talk Eckardt into turning himself in. But Eckardt saw opportunity. He wanted to use the attack as a way to boost World Bodyguard Services. He planned to be with Harding at the airport in Portland when she returned from Detroit, where she skated in and won the national championship the day after Kerrigan was attacked. There would be a lot of press there, and he would be identified as her bodyguard, and he figured other skaters would want bodyguards, too, in the wake of the attack.

There's depraved entrepreneurial genius here: Eckardt tried to create a market for bodyguards for female skaters by plotting the attack of one. And one of the enticements he used to persuade Smith and Stant to hit Kerrigan was the promise of hiring them for the bodyguard jobs they would help create.

Saunders says Eckardt tried to talk him into going to the airport for the press conference as well, so that Eckardt could introduce him to Harding. Saunders said he couldn't go because he was busy. But he didn't say why he was busy; the truth was Saunders planned to meet with the FBI to tell them everything Eckardt had said.

Saunders says that he spoke with the FBI on Jan. 10 about what Eckardt had told him. He told them a similar story to what some TV stations and police in Detroit had already heard in an anonymous letter, the writer of which had heard about the attack because Eckardt's father had bragged about it.

Saunders says as the FBI interview wound down, FBI investigators asked him for a physical description of Eckardt. He asked if they had a TV. They turned it on. The news was on, and there was Eckardt, with Harding at the airport. That's him, Saunders said.

Eckardt's friend Gene Saunders had reason to fear for his life as the criminals' plan unraveled after the attack.
Eckardt's friend Gene Saunders had reason to fear for his life as the criminals' plan unraveled after the attack.Ross William Hamilton/Special to Bleacher Report

The next day, Jan. 11, Saunders met with the FBI at his future mother-in-law's house, a location chosen because law enforcement believed Saunders' home was being watched. There were already media reports about Saunders' knowledge of the case. He says an undercover cop told him a hit had been ordered on his life. He says someone tried to run him off the road. The FBI wanted Saunders to wear a wire and meet Eckardt at a local restaurant called Carrow's.

Saunders arrived first and ordered a soft drink. An FBI agent pointed out all the undercover agents in the room. "He said, 'We are watching his car. Whatever you do, do not get into that car with him,'" Saunders said. "I said, 'OK.' He walked over again and said, 'We just observed him loading a weapon and putting it in the car. Do not get in the car. We cannot protect you if you get in that car.' OK. I'm trying to play it cool, but what do I know? First thing Shawn does when he walks into the restaurant is say, 'Let's go for a ride.'"

Saunders refused to go. He again told Eckardt he should turn himself in. Eckardt refused. Eventually, the meeting broke up. Saunders says he was shaking so bad when he left that he accidentally ran a red light with the FBI following him. "It was like, that's good. I'm glad they're not into traffic enforcement," he says.

On Jan. 12, the FBI picked up Eckardt for questioning, and he confessed to the entire plot.

The Circus Around the Case

If the case unraveled immediately, the media devoured it even faster than that. Tom Constant was the managing director of the Detroit Sports Commission. The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships was its first event. He watched Kerrigan practice at Cobo Arena, then left for the 10-minute trek back to his office. As Constant walked, Stant attacked Kerrigan, plowed through the plexiglass door, ditched the wand and jumped into the getaway car.

The tumultuous relationship of Jeff Gillooly and Tonya Harding (shown in 1991) was a big part of the soap opera surrounding the case.
The tumultuous relationship of Jeff Gillooly and Tonya Harding (shown in 1991) was a big part of the soap opera surrounding the case.Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

When Constant arrived at his office, he knew none of that. A producer for WJR 760 AM, Detroit's most prominent station, called and put him live on the air to discuss the attack that had happened scant minutes before.

"This was my baptism by fire for crisis communications," says Constant, who 20 years later serves as a PR consultant for the Cobo Center. "It was surreal. I got on live, and I said, 'I know nothing. I'm learning about it as I listen to the radio.'"

The media focus flipped from Detroit to Portland, and reporters from around the world converged there. The story carried with it the stench of failure, the allure of hope and the promise of always, always, always more to come. New and ridiculous details emerged seemingly every day, from Stant's bungling in Massachusetts to preposterous stories Eckardt made up about himself to the marriage of Harding and Gillooly dissolving as they turned on each other in FBI interrogations.

With no Twitter to feed and no blogs to update, reporters spent all day, you know, reporting. Or standing around waiting to report. Or staking out lawyers' offices shouting questions at the back of men's heads. "I'd go out to go to Starbucks and I'd have this crowd of about 25 or 30 people that would follow me," says Norman Frink, one of the Multnomah County district attorneys who prosecuted the case in Oregon.

Norman Frink , a district attorney, was hounded by two dozen reporters when he went out for coffee.
Norman Frink , a district attorney, was hounded by two dozen reporters when he went out for coffee.Ross William Hamilton/Special to Bleacher Report

Everybody who ever knew any of the people involved in the story was interviewed, or so it seemed. The media crush was so omnipresent that when Bob Weaver (Harding's attorney) and Ron Hoevet (Gillooly's attorney) wanted to meet with their clients (before they broke up), the only place they could do so without drawing a crowd of reporters was at Weaver's house.

Weaver said calls from reporters were so incessant that his wife and kids devised a system that would signal to him that the call was from them. He can't recall the precise system, but it was something like they would call, let it ring twice, hang up and call back 30 seconds later.

Ron Hoevet, one of Gillooly's attorneys, was greeted one morning at 5 a.m. by a reporter at his doorstep.
Ron Hoevet, one of Gillooly's attorneys, was greeted one morning at 5 a.m. by a reporter at his doorstep.Ross William Hamilton/Special to Bleacher Report

One evening, a reporter from a newspaper in Weaver's home state of Ohio apparently cracked that code by accident. Weaver answered the phone, and the two of them talked about Coshocton, Ohio, the small town where Weaver grew up. The reporter said he had one more question, one his editor wanted him to ask, and according to Weaver, it went something like this: Is it true that you were hired to be Tonya Harding's lawyer because you're from Coshocton, which is full of trailer trash, and that allows you to relate to Tonya, because she is trailer trash?

One day, Hoevet walked outside to grab his newspaper. An Associated Press reporter, apparently fed up that Hoevet hadn't returned his calls, was standing there, waiting, hoping to ask him questions. Which would have been fine except it was 5 a.m. and Hoevet was wearing boxers.

The Skaters After the Attack

After the attack, Kerrigan returned home to Massachusetts, where reporters camped outside of her house. Trapped inside, waiting for her leg to heal, she devoured the coverage of her attack just like everybody else in the country.

When Kerrigan read about the bumblings of Stant, her assailant, as he was stalking her in Boston—leaving his credit card back in Phoenix, moving his car every 30 minutes while waiting for her to appear at the practice arena—she howled with laughter. Kerrigan would call a family member over and say, 'I know this is horrible, and I'm lucky and everything, but listen to this …' then would read aloud the passages revealing the ineptitude. Then, giddy with mirth, the Kerrigans would look out the window at the mob of wailing reporters and wonder, What if they knew what we were doing now?

Kerrigan spoke at a Detroit news conference the day after the attack.
Kerrigan spoke at a Detroit news conference the day after the attack.LENNOX MCLENDON/Associated Press

Harding didn't have as much to laugh about. Gillooly and Eckardt soon implicated her as an accomplice in the case. She has always denied being a part of the planning of the attack and knowing about it beforehand. On Jan. 27, she admitted she learned about her husband's and his friends' roles afterward, and didn't immediately come forward with what she knew. "Despite my mistakes and my rough edges, I have done nothing to violate the standards of excellence in sportsmanship that are expected in an Olympic athlete," she said in a prepared statement.

Harding and Gillooly's on-again, off-again marriage—they were divorced but living together—broke up permanently in the middle of the investigation as they turned on each other. Frink says the FBI told Gillooly that Harding had implicated him. When the FBI told him that, he turned on her. The FBI investigators then told Harding they had read Gillooly what she had said, and she seemed shocked at what is a standard investigative tactic. She blurted out, "You read it to him? That's not fair!"

The Evidence in the Dumpster

As annoying as the reporters were to the people involved in the case, Frink says media coverage proved crucial in turning the case against Harding.

On Super Bowl Sunday—Jan. 30, 1994, a 30-13 Cowboys win over the Bills—Kathy Peterson went to work at a restaurant called the Dockside Saloon that she owned then and still owns today with her husband. It sits a few hundred yards from the Willamette River, a short drive from downtown Portland. The restaurant was closed on Sundays, and she was there to clean up.

Kathy Peterson stands outside the Dockside Cafe in Portland, where 20 years ago she found incriminating evidence of the Kerrigan plot in a dumpster.
Kathy Peterson stands outside the Dockside Cafe in Portland, where 20 years ago she found incriminating evidence of the Kerrigan plot in a dumpster.Ross William Hamilton/Special to Bleacher Report

At about 1 p.m., she took trash out to the dumpster. She saw trash bags there that weren't hers, bags someone else had thrown in. This happens a lot, and it annoys her to no end. She pays the garbage company to pick up her trash and doesn't want to pay for somebody else's, too. Whenever someone dumped trash in her Dumpster, she opened it up, found out whose it was and returned it to them.

On this day, she opened up one of the dozen or so bags in there and found Jeff Gillooly's name and address, a check from the United States Figure Skating Association and doodles and notes on an envelope.

She recognized the names immediately.

She got out a phone book, looked up "FBI" and called and left a message.

That afternoon, she went to a Super Bowl party. As the Cowboys pounded the Bills, she said, "Guess whose trash I have in my trunk." Everyone laughed at her crazy story. Somebody there had a brother who was a TV reporter. That TV reporter interviewed her the next morning. He climbed into the dumpster for his report.

When he was done interviewing her, he apologized for what he knew would happen next.

In the next few weeks, Peterson did 63 interviews. TV reporters showed up unannounced and asked for her time, even as she waited on customers. So long as they bought lunch, she didn't mind so much. "I kept holding out for David Letterman, but he never called," she says.

Investigators later determined that the doodling was Harding's handwriting, notes from the conversations she and Gillooly had as they planned the attack and called Massachusetts to find out where Kerrigan skated. She had written down "Tunee Can Arena," which was believed to be her attempt to write "Tony Kent Arena," the location of Kerrigan's practices. She had recorded the arena's phone number, too.

"If you hadn't had the type of media publication of all this stuff, everywhere, so everybody read about it, this woman, when she went through her trash to find out who was dumping stuff in her dumpster, she never would have known in a million years what this was and the potential significance of it," Frink says.

That physical evidence proved crucial because it corroborated Gillooly's statements that Harding was involved in the planning of the attack. Without it, all law enforcement had were statements from co-conspirators—which would be problematic even in the best of circumstances, even worse in this particular case. Frink, the D.A., used the evidence as leverage when he worked out a plea deal with Harding.

On the Olympic Stage

By early February 1994, virtually everything about the assault was known, not only to law enforcement but also to reporters and the public who devoured the stories. Stant, Smith, Gillooly and Eckardt had confessed and were in various stages of negotiations with the prosecutors. The focus of attention switched from the crime to the aftermath.

White-hot controversy raged over whether Harding should be allowed to skate in the Olympics. She "earned" the position on the team when she won the national championship in Detroit. Though Kerrigan didn't skate in that tournament because of her knee injury, she was given the second spot on the Olympic team.

Days before the skating competition began at the 1994 Olympics, a scrum of media listened in for the USOC's decision on whether or not Harding would be allowed to compete.
Days before the skating competition began at the 1994 Olympics, a scrum of media listened in for the USOC's decision on whether or not Harding would be allowed to compete.John Gichigi/Getty Images

The U.S. Olympic Committee scheduled a hearing to discuss whether Harding should be removed from the team. When Harding sued to block the meeting, the USOC backed down and agreed to let her skate in the Olympics.

As Stant, Smith, Gillooly and Eckardt moved through the legal system, the story they helped create moved to Lillehammer, Norway, for the Olympics. The media cast the women's figure skating competition as Harding versus Kerrigan. Experts in the sport knew that wasn't really justified. Harding lacked Kerrigan's grace even when she was at her best. In the midst of the scandal, she was out of shape (by figure-skating standards) and had barely trained. She had no chance to beat Kerrigan. But that hardly mattered. The narrative society craved was Harding versus Kerrigan, so it became Harding versus Kerrigan.

CBS broadcaster Verne Lundquist arrived at the practice rink long before the skaters hit the ice. He had a front-row seat, both for the practice and the media horde watching it. "These are some of the great journalists, writers and sportswriters in the world," he says. "There they were, standing lockstep with each other, waiting to see what would happen when the two of them skated onto the ice in the practice session."

One of those writers was Abby Haight. She covered Harding before and after the assault for The Oregonian. "There was a balcony that goes around the rink, partway on each side, and that's where the media was," Haight says. "It was jammed. We were standing there for three hours before the practice."

When practice started, Kerrigan and Harding ignored each other (as seen in the classic photo that leads off this article). Lilly Lee, who lived in the United States but skated for South Korea, spoke with each separately as an attempt at peacemaking.

Later that afternoon, the skaters practiced in the Olympic Arena. On the ice, Lundquist counted six CBS news crews—cameraman, reporter, sound man—doing features about women's ice skating. "I looked over at Nancy Kerrigan's coaches," Lundquist says. "They were sitting in the stands before the girls came out on the ice. I bet there were 400 journalists around them."

The competition was spread over two nights—Wednesday and Friday. The anticipation before Wednesday's skate was unlike anything in U.S. Olympic history, before or since. The first night of the women's figure skating competition became the third-most-watched sporting event in U.S. history at the time.

Kerrigan skated herself into medal contention.

Harding skated herself out of it.

On Friday, when it was Harding's turn to skate, the ice sat empty. "We're sitting there waiting," Haight says. "And she doesn't come out, and she doesn't come out. The whole arena goes from being this anticipatory feeling to getting kind of quiet, then that kind of feeling you get when a football player stays down too long. People are sort of talking, but there's almost like a rumble."

As weird as that was in person, it was even weirder on TV.

Before the "wardrobe malfunction," there was the shoelace malfunction, as the Olympics came to a standstill while Harding pleaded for help from the judges.
Before the "wardrobe malfunction," there was the shoelace malfunction, as the Olympics came to a standstill while Harding pleaded for help from the judges.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Harding's Broken Lace

Weeks before the Olympics, CBS TV staff members toured the rink. When they came to the hallway outside the women's dressing room, David Winner, who produced Olympic figure skating for CBS in 1992, 1994 and 1998, asked for and received permission to place a remote camera there. It clung to the wall thanks to "a healthy amount of duct tape," he says.

By Thursday, the Olympics were nearly over, and the camera had not been used. A CBS crew member noticed it pointed at the floor. He climbed a ladder and adjusted it so it aimed straight ahead, capturing the hallway like a security camera.

As Haight and the crowd wondered where Harding was, so did Lundquist in the broadcasting booth. (The event was broadcast on tape delay, but CBS treated it like it was live.) In the control booth, Winner looked at one of the monitors. He saw Harding, sitting in a chair in the hallway outside the women's locker room. People scurried around her as she tried to fix a broken shoelace.

"Guys in the truck are getting ready," Lundquist says. "All of a sudden, David Winner says, 'You won't believe what's happening backstage. I don't know where this is going to end, but we're going to start taping right…now. Go.' That's when we saw the scramble backstage."

The forgotten camera captured unforgettable images. Hunched over, Harding fiddled with the laces on one of her skates. She had two minutes to get to the ice or she'd be disqualified, or so it seemed. Nobody knew what would happen if she didn't make it out on time. This was unprecedented. Harding fixed the lace as best as she could and ran out onto the ice.

She exhaled.

She skated around.

She started her routine.

She stopped.

She cried.

She skated over to the judges.

She hoisted her right foot up onto the ledge of the wall, pointed at the broken lace and asked for time to fix it. The judges allowed her to fix her skate and moved her from early in the program to later. When Harding finally skated, she performed well, moving from 10th place to eighth.

Then came the real showdown, when Nancy Kerrigan and Oksana Baiul skated for gold.

In the end, Kerrigan, Oksana Baiul and Lu Chen reached the medal stand in Lillehammer.
In the end, Kerrigan, Oksana Baiul and Lu Chen reached the medal stand in Lillehammer.Mike Powell/Getty Images

The Real Competition

Kerrigan and Baiul entered the final evening of the women's figure skating competition ranked first and second. Kerrigan carried with her an incredible story of overcoming a physical attack. Baiul's tragic life as an orphan was inspirational, too.

Kerrigan skated first. And nearly flawlessly. Winner says her performance would have won the gold medal in almost any other year of the Olympics, men or women. Lundquist says Kerrigan gave the best short and long skates of her career. But Baiul also skated an incredible routine.

The judges split down the middle, with four judges favoring Kerrigan and four favoring Baiul. The ninth judge turned it for Baiul, by a tenth of a point, the closest margin possible.

Kerrigan landed one jump on two feet instead of one, Baiul added a difficult jump near the end of her routine, and those two seemingly minor details appeared to be the difference when Baiul won the gold. Twenty years later, debate remains over who skated better.

Haight sees the breaking of Harding's shoelace as the symbolic breaking of the interest in the case. She compared the story's momentum to a bullet fired into water. It goes really fast at first...then it slows and stops.

After the Olympics, public interest in the case petered out. Gillooly and Eckardt pleaded guilty to racketeering. Harding pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution. Stant and Smith pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit second-degree assault. Everybody except Harding went to jail.

Tonya Harding's post-Olympics life has include a boxing stint. Here she takes a right from Samantha Browning in 2003.
Tonya Harding's post-Olympics life has include a boxing stint. Here she takes a right from Samantha Browning in 2003.Al Bello/Getty Images

The Aftermath

Last December, Frink (the D.A.), Weaver (Harding's attorney), Hoevet (Gillooly's attorney) and a few other lawyers involved in the case had a reunion at the Dockside Saloon. They had a few beers, traded stories and laughed with owner Kathy Peterson about the unbelievable cast of characters who had flashed across their lives for a few months and then disappeared.

As funny as some of it was, there's also a heavy sadness underneath. Lives were ruined. "There was a remarkable personal crisis at the center of this," Weaver says.

That's true for everybody in the story.

After getting out of prison, Eckardt changed his name to Brian Griffith. He died in 2007 at 40 of natural causes. Gillooly changed his name, too, to Jeff Stone. Several men named Jeff Stone, and even one who played a character by that name on The Donna Reed Show, objected. They collectively thought he would sully their good names. Stone is married and lives in the Portland area. Smith, always the quietest of the bunch, lives in Montana.

Harding has never been far from the news. She tried boxing and singing, and attempted a comeback as a professional skater. She made news for crashing her car, throwing a hubcap at her boyfriend and for serving 10 days in jail on a probation violation. She is married with a young son and makes regular appearances on a TV show called World's Dumbest Criminals.

Her agent told me that Harding only does interviews for which she is paid. But reporter Peter Hossli said she made an exception to that rule in 2009, agreeing to speak with him without pay. In that interview, she said of Kerrigan:

She's happy. I'm happy. We live our separate lives. People continually say, 'Oh, well, maybe she'll want to do this with you,' or 'She'll want to do that for you. I know it'll be big ratings,' and everything. It's like, 'You know what? Leave it alone.' We were friends a long time ago. We were competitors, and then all the crap happened, and—nothing. But she has her life, and I have mine.

Even Kerrigan did not escape the controversy unscathed. By March 4, 1994, less than two weeks after she won the silver medal, the media ran stories with headlines like this from The Washington Post: "The Souring Of America's Sweetheart: Nancy Kerrigan Off the Ice Doesn't Seem Half as Nice."

She attended a parade at Disney World, at which she sat next to Mickey Mouse and was caught on camera saying, "This is so corny. This is so dumb. I hate it. This is the most corny thing I've ever done."

She retired from competition after the Olympics and has since skated in professional shows and worked as a commentator on TV. She also has had many corporate endorsement deals. Unfortunately, she declined an interview request, but his past summer, she told Malcolm Folley of the Daily Mail, "I'm just a mom now."

She is married with three children and lives in Massachusetts. Her husband, Jerry Solomon, told Folley, "There is a lingering frustration for us both about the whole episode. Nancy is an athlete who went to two Olympics and earned two medals, a very rare accomplishment in skating. Instead of being remembered for that, she is remembered for this bizarre incident."

Kerrigan appeared at the Sochi Games in February.
Kerrigan appeared at the Sochi Games in February.David Goldman/Associated Press

The whacking of Nancy Kerrigan continues to shape Shane Stant's life, too. In prison, he took a long look at himself and didn't like what he saw—hurt, bitterness and anger. "The big thing for me is I became a Christian. It sounds really cliche-ish. But it really changed me," he says. "I had an opportunity when I was in prison to sit there and go, 'Man, what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family and your children? What kind of man do you want to be?'"

In his words, the Shane Stant who went to prison was "a thug," "a criminal," and "the idiot who hit Nancy Kerrigan.''

Since then, Stant has devoted his life to transforming himself into a new person.

Accounts of Stant's personal rehabilitation can be read in letters of recommendation he filed with a court in Oregon when he tried to have his conviction in the Kerrigan assault expunged. The letters—from his mom, his sister, a former Navy SEAL/Army chaplain and a lawyer who is a former military prosecutor—glow with praise for how Stant has turned his life around.

"I am convinced beyond any doubt that he has accepted responsibility for his actions in the fullest sense, and has become, in a manner of speaking, a 'new man,'" wrote Roger Ivey, the former military prosecutor.

He has not apologized to Kerrigan for hitting her, in part because it's not wise for an assailant to contact his victim. He doesn't believe it would matter much to Kerrigan if he apologized. He says if he thought it would do her good, he would pursue it.

"People say they're sorry all the time," Stant says. "To me, what really says that you're sorry is a change of life. I am sorry for hurting her. The best way for me to say that I'm sorry is that I'm not the same person."