Tonya Harding had a hard life. She was abandoned by her father, abused by her mother and beaten by her husband, but she fought back and made figure skating history.
At the age of 20, she became the first American woman to land an incredibly difficult triple Axel in competition, at the 1991 National Championships — and only the second woman in history to do so, after Midori Ito in Calgary in 1988.
Once she knew she landed the triple, “It was like, ‘BAM.’ I was like, ‘Yes,’” she said, throwing her hands up in the air in victory.
She won the women’s singles title that day with a near perfect performance. But after the triple Axel that historic day in Oakland, California, Tonya’s life changed forever.
“Everything about life after that point became confusing,” she said. “You don’t know who to trust, who to believe.”
In January 1994, Tonya’s manager and ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and bodyguard Shawn Eckardt cooked up a scheme to injure Tonya’s skating rival Nancy Kerrigan. A guy named Shane Stant was hired to strike Kerrigan in the legs with a baton and disable her from competing in the February 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.
The attack was carried out as Kerrigan walked down a corridor in Cobo Arena in Detroit, where she had been practicing.
But the injury Kerrigan suffered didn’t achieve the desired result for Gillooly. Kerrigan got back in shape in time to win a second-place silver medal in the Lillehammer competition. Tonya finished eighth.
After the Olympics, Tonya was convicted of ‘conspiracy to hinder prosecution’ in the Kerrigan attack and banned from professional skating for life. Gillooly and Eckhardt were sentenced to jail terms of less than a year for racketeering, and Stant and his uncle Derrick Smith who drove the getaway car got lesser sentences for second-degree assault.
Down on her luck and with $160,000 in fines and court expenses to pay, Tonya went from being a two-time Olympian and Skate America Champion to female boxer.
The 2017 movie ‘I, Tonya,’ which is currently doing the rounds on TV, tells her life story, with Margo Robbie brilliant as Tonya.