Prior to the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, a man attacked gold medal favorite Nancy Kerrigan in an attempt to injure her right leg. The video of the aftermath became infamous, as did the woman who the world believed was involved: Kerrigan’s rival on the ice, Tonya Harding.
Tonya Harding was the hottest up-and-comer in figure skating when she clinched gold at the 1991 U.S. Championships by becoming the first American woman ever to successfully land a triple axel in competition. To this day, Harding is one of just a handful of women to do so, including current Olympian Mirai Nagasu.
Just a few months later, Harding (silver), Kristi Yamaguchi (gold), and Nancy Kerrigan (bronze) made up the only national team ever to sweep the ladies’ podium at a World Championships. Yamaguchi would go on to win the gold at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, where Kerrigan won bronze and Harding finished just off the podium in 4th.
After a down year in 1993, Harding bounced back to find herself a contender for the U.S. title. However the competition was thrown into chaos when Kerrigan was attacked after a practice session. Pictured here are Dr. Steven Plomaritis (left), who diagnosed Kerrigan with a severely bruised knee, looking on as Kerrigan’s manager Jerry Soloman explains the bizarre attack at a press conference.
With disturbing footage of her screaming and clutching her leg in the aftermath of the attack already circulating, Kerrigan held a news conference the next day at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, where she described what happened and announced her withdrawal from the competition.
It didn’t take long before Shawn Eric Eckardt (left), Harding’s sometimes bodyguard, and fellow defendent Derrick Smith were arrested for the attack. They’re pictured here with attorney Robert Goffredi at their arraignment on charges of conspiracy to commit assault.
Although Harding had won her second U.S. National title without any competition from the injured Kerrigan, suspicions that she was involved in the attack on Kerrigan overshadowed her victory. Within a week, her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had been fingered as the mastermind of the attack by Eckardt and Smith.
Harding adamantly denied that she had anything to do with the attack in the weeks that followed, but shocked the world when she admitted in a late-January press conference that she’d failed to tell authorities what she knew, though she still denied any involvement. She also made her case for remaining on the Lillehammer Olympic team with Kerrigan.
Kerrigan and Harding stayed on the team together and both were as congenial as possible publicly, but they avoided each other competely during a warmup skate at the Olympics in a scene that would become iconic.
After barely getting onto the ice on time, Harding attempted just one jump before tearfully skating over to the judges in the middle of her free skate to show them that the lace on her right boot was broken. She was allowed to fix it and returned to perform at the end of the group, but her skate was underwhelming.
Harding’s lackluster performance stood in stark contrast to Kerrigan’s nearly perfect one. She had all but clinched the gold before 16-year-old Oksana Baiul took the ice to make it one of the tightest and most contested finals ever.
Kerrigan was edged out by Baiul, who won the gold. Kerrigan earned the silver, and Lu Chen of China won bronze. Harding finished way off the podium at 8th, and it would be her final international competition. In June 1994, the United States Figure Skating Association stripped her of her 1994 U.S. Championships title and banned her for life.
After falling from grace, Harding spent most of the next two decades failing to maintain a public persona outside of skating. She returned to the spotlight with the release of the film “I, Tonya,” in which she is played by Margot Robbie. The movie is an awards darling ,and Harding was front an center at the Golden Globes.