Tonya Maxene Harding (born November 12, 1970) is an American figure skating champion. In 1991 she won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and placed second in the World Championships. She was the first and second American woman to complete a triple axel jump in competition.
She became notorious after her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, conspired with Shawn Eckhardt and Shane Stant to attack her skating competitor Nancy Kerrigan at a practice session, during the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
She was born in Portland, Oregon, the daughter of LaVona and Al Harding. She had a half-brother, Chris Davison (deceased). Her father had health problems that sometimes made him unable to work. She claims that her mother physically abused her, a claim her mother denies. She began skating at an early age. She landed her first triple lutz at age 12. Her mother made many of her skating costumes.
She stopped attending high school during her sophomore year, and later earned a GED; she had started receiving invitations to international skating competitions while she was still in junior high school.
She married Jeff Gillooly in 1990, when she was 19 years old. Their tumultuous marriage ended in divorce in 1993, when she was 22. She divorced husband Michael Smith in 1995. (http://www.tonyaharding.com/biography.htm). She married 42-year-old Joseph Jens Price on June 23, 2010.
On February 11, 2011, it was announced that she is pregnant with her first child, a boy.
She began to work her way up the competitive skating ladder in the mid-1980s, placing sixth at the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, fifth in 1987 and 1988, and third in 1989. She was considered a strong contender at the 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships after having won Skate America 1989, but she had a poor free skate as a result of suffering from the flu and asthma, and dropped from second place after the original program to finish seventh overall. She was a powerful jumper and spinner, but she performed the compulsory figures less well.
1991 was her breakthrough year. She landed her first triple axel in competition at the U.S. Championships, winning the title with the event's first 6.0 ever given to a female single skater for technical merit. She competed well at the World Championships, but finished second to Kristi Yamaguchi. She again completed the triple axel during her long program at the World Championships, becoming the first American woman to do so. In her career, she landed four triple axels in competition, all of them in 1991 where she completed every one she tried—one at the U.S. Championships, one at the World Championships, and two at the fall 1991 Skate America competition. At the latter competition she recorded three more firsts:
The first woman to complete a triple axel in the short program
The first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition
The first ever to complete a triple axel combination (with double toe loop)
She never successfully performed the triple axel in competition after 1991, and her career began to decline as a result.
In 1992, she placed third in the U.S. Championships after twisting her ankle in practice. She finished fourth in the 1992 Winter Olympics. In the 1992 World Championships, she placed sixth in a weak field. The following season, she skated poorly in the 1993 U.S. Championships, and failed to qualify for the World Championship team.
Series of incidents
The latter part of her competitive career was marked by a series of accidents and incidents, causing television commentators to observe that no competition was complete without her having a crisis. Some included:
Skating magazine reported that at Skate America in 1991, she was stranded in heavy traffic just before her event was scheduled to begin, and had to hitch a ride with people who drove her backwards through traffic to the arena.
In the short program at the 1993 U.S. Championships, she had to ask permission from the referee to restart her program after the back of her dress came unhooked as she began to skate.
At 1993 Skate America, she stopped midway through her free skate and complained to the referee that her skate blade had become loose. She was allowed to resume her program after her blades were checked by a skate technician.
Also at Skate America in the fall of 1993, she claimed to be suffering from an ovarian cyst that was on the verge of bursting, seriously endangering her health.
In late 1993, she was scheduled to compete in a regional qualifying competition for the U.S. Championships. However, before the event, its organizers received an anonymous assassination threat against her, which led the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) to tell her to stay away, excluding her from having to qualify.
The medal ceremony at the 1994 U.S. Championships had to be delayed because she could not be found backstage after the competition.
At the Hamar Olympic Amphitheatre during the 1994 Winter Olympics, she almost failed to appear on the ice when her name was called for the free skating because she was scrambling to replace a broken skate lace. The replacement turned out to be too short to fully lace up the skate, and after missing the opening jump in her program she again had to ask the referee for permission to find a new lace.
In addition to the incidents listed above, following her 1991 success, she went through a series of coaching changes (at one point she was even attempting to coach herself), and she arrived so late for the competition at the 1992 Olympic Games that her performance was affected by jet lag. In spite of the publicity she received about being handicapped by asthma, she also periodically smoked.
The Kerrigan attack
|International media attending Tonya Harding's practice sessions in |
preparation for the 1994 Olympics at Clackamas Town Center.
She became notorious in conjunction with the January 6, 1994 attack on her competitor Nancy Kerrigan. The widely publicized attack took place during a practice session for the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt, hired Shane Stant to break Kerrigan's right leg so that she would be unable to skate. He followed her to Detroit after failing to find her at her training rink in Massachusetts, and struck her on the thigh a few inches above the knee with a collapsible police baton. Her leg only got bruised, not broken, but the injury forced her to withdraw from the national championship. Harding won that event, and they both were selected for the 1994 Olympic team. After Harding admitted to helping to cover up the attack, the USFSA and United States Olympic Committee initiated proceedings to remove her from the Olympic team, but she retained her place after threatening legal action. She finished eighth in Lillehammer, while Kerrigan, by then fully recovered from the injury, finished second.
The attack on Kerrigan and the news of Harding's alleged involvement led to a media frenzy of saturation news coverage. She appeared on the cover of both Time and Newsweek magazines in January 1994. Reporters and TV news crews attended her practices in Portland and camped out in front of Kerrigan's home. CBS assigned Connie Chung to follow her every move in Lillehammer. Counting 400 members of the press jammed into the practice rink in Norway, Scott Hamilton complained that "the world press was turning the Olympics into just another sensational tabloid event". The tape-delayed broadcast of the short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.
On February 1, 1994, Gillooly accepted a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony against her. Gillooly, Stant, Eckardt, and getaway car driver Derrick Smith all served time in prison for the attack.
She avoided further prosecution and a possible jail sentence by pleading guilty on March 16 to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers. She received three years probation, 500 hours of community service and a $160,000 fine. As part of the plea bargain, she was also forced to withdraw from the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships and resign from the USFSA. On June 30, 1994, after conducting its own investigation of the attack, the USFSA stripped her of her 1994 title and banned her for life from participating in USFSA-run events as either a skater or a coach. The USFSA concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened and displayed "a clear disregard for fairness, good sportsmanship and ethical behavior". Although the USFSA has no control over professional skating events, she was also persona non grata on the pro circuit because few skaters and promoters would work with her. Consequently, she failed to benefit from the pro skating boom that ensued in the aftermath of the scandal.
She maintained her innocence of and disgust at the attack, and got a tattoo of an angel on her back, allegedly as a symbol of her innocence. In her 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes, she said that she wanted to call the FBI to reveal what she knew, but refused when Gillooly allegedly threatened her with death following a gunpoint gang rape by him and two other men she did not know. He, who subsequently changed his name to Jeff Stone, called the allegations "utterly ridiculous".
She entered the world of the celebrity sex tape with the appearance of a pornographic "Wedding Video" that showed her having sex with her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. He sold the tape to a tabloid show after having been implicated as a conspirator in the Kerrigan attack. Stills from the tape were published by Penthouse in September 1994, and the tape itself was released at about the same time. She tried to distance herself from it.
She appeared on a USA Pro Wrestling show in 1994 as the manager for wrestler Art Barr.
A one-off promotional musical event was not successful when she and her band, the Golden Blades, were booed off the stage in their only performance, in 1995 in Portland, Oregon.
She had a part in a 1996 crime-film entitled Breakaway, playing the girlfriend of a criminal.
In late 1996, she used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to help revive an 81-year-old woman, Alice Olson, who collapsed at a bar in Portland, Oregon while playing video poker. (Olson died at age 90 in 2005.)
In March 2008, she became a regular commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest.... Most of the cast pokes fun at her for not being funny. Her driving world record video was shown in one of the segments.
She had a number of run-ins with the law following her involvement with the Kerrigan attack. Some of the incidents that have been reported in the press include the following:
On May 25, 1995, it was reported that she claimed she was being stalked by someone driving a white Lincoln Town Car, resulting in a car chase involving her, her ex-husband Gillooly, and the police.
On February 12, 1997, she claimed that she was abducted at knife-point outside her home by a bushy-haired man who forced her to drive to a rural area, where she rammed her truck into a tree and escaped by running into the woods. Police found no evidence of an abduction. This alleged incident happened on the opening weekend of the 1997 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
On October 16, 1997, she reported that her truck had been stolen from a shopping mall parking lot.
On January 6, 2000, she was in the news again after she lost control of her truck on an icy road and landed in a ditch. Her then boyfriend, Darren Silver, allegedly made threats against a press photographer.
On February 24, 2000, she was ordered by a Clark County judge to stay away from alcohol and her former boyfriend, Darren Silver, after being booked on fourth-degree Domestic Violence assault charges for punching and throwing a hubcap at him at their Camas, Washington residence. She was also sentenced to 3 days in jail and 10 days of community service on a work crew. Shortly before this, she had been attempting to make a comeback as a professional skater, but the hubcap incident effectively ended her return to skating.
On April 20, 2002, she was involved in another accident with her truck. She was cited for drunk driving and a violation of her probation agreement from her 2000 conviction.
On October 23, 2005, she, apparently again under the influence of alcohol, was involved in a fight at her home in Vancouver, Washington with Christopher Nolan, a man she described as her boyfriend. Initially, she made a 911 call claiming to have been assaulted in her home by two masked men. For his part, Nolan claimed that she attacked him after having too much to drink. In the end, he was charged with assault and ordered to stay away from her and to avoid alcohol.
On March 11, 2007, the Clark County sheriff's office responded to two calls related to her. The first call was from her, at 5 a.m. She told the officer who responded that she had observed five armed intruders trying to steal her vehicle and hide rifles on her property. The responding officer's report described her as "agitated" and her story as "very implausible", and recorded her frustration that others could not see the people she saw. He could find no evidence to back up her claims. The second call, four hours later, at 9 a.m., was from a friend who had agreed to let her visit. Her host told police that although she was not violent, she was "tweaking out, seeing animals", and she was worried about her children's safety. She requested police return her to her home. Police reported that the officer who returned her home inspected her house, to reassure her, and advised her to seek medical help. Linda Lewis, her long time agent, attributed her behavior to a bad interaction of legitimate prescription drugs.
In 2002, she boxed on the Fox TV network Celebrity Boxing event against Paula Jones, winning the fight. On February 22, 2003, she made her official women's professional boxing debut, losing a four round decision in the undercard of the Mike Tyson-Clifford Etienne bout, amid rumors that she was having financial difficulties and needed to box to earn money.
She won her third pro bout against Alejandra Lopez at the Creek Nations Gaming Center.
On March 23, 2004, it was reported that she cancelled a planned boxing match against Tracy Carlton in Oakland, California because of an alleged death threat against her
On June 24, 2004, after reportedly not having boxed for over a year, she was beaten in a match in Edmonton, Alberta by boxer Amy Johnson. Fans reportedly booed her as she entered the ring, and cheered wildly for Johnson as she won in the third round. Harding later protested the outcome.
Her boxing career was quite short, a brevity she attributes to asthma.Her overall record was 3–3–0.
3 Wins (3 decisions), 3 Losses (2 knockouts, 1 decision), 0 Draws
Date Opponent Result Type Round, Time Location
2004-06-25 Amy Johnson Loss TKO 3 (4), 1:04 Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
2003-08-02 Melissa Yanas Loss TKO 1 (4), 1:13 Dallas, Texas, U.S.
2003-06-13 Emily Gosa Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Lincoln City, Oregon, U.S.
2003-03-28 Alejandra Lopez Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
2003-03-15 Shannon Birmingham Win Decision (unanimous) 4 (4) Gulfport, Mississippi, U.S.
2003-02-22 Samantha Browning Loss Decision (split) 4 (4) Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
In popular culture
The book Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle (ISBN 0-415-91150-8), published in 1995, included a number of essays analyzing her public image in the context of the sport of figure skating.
Elizabeth Searle's novella, Celebrities In Disgrace, centers on the Harding-Kerrigan affair. The novel was adapted by Searle and composer Abigail Al-Doory to Tonya And Nancy: The Opera, a chamber opera produced in May 2006 by Tufts University and performed at the American Repertory Theater's Zero Arrow Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under the direction of Meron Langsner. A documentary on the making of the opera and the media frenzy it caused is currently in post-production at Charles River Media Group. The film, titled A Good Whack, is directed by Don Schechter. As of 2005, the novel on which the opera was based is also being adapted into a short film. Searle later created Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera, which premiered on the West Coast in 2008 and which Harding herself attended.
She was the subject of "Tonya's Twirls", a song by Loudon Wainwright III, a US folk musician. The song draws humor from her lifestyle, but it ultimately resolves as a lament for lost innocence. The song was recorded and issued on Social Studies (1999), with a live recording also issued on So Damn Happy (2003).
In the 1994 satire movie Attack of the 5 Ft. 2 In. Women, Julie Brown played the role of Tonya Hardly (Tonya Harding).
In the feature film, The Breakup, starring Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston, Vaughn's character compares Aniston's to Tonya Harding, after her character's brother "attacks" his.
In addition, she and her role in the Kerrigan attack have been widely referenced in sitcom episodes, music videos, and even a primary campaign speech by Barack Obama.
Figure skating results
Event 1985–86 1986–87 1987–88 1988–89 1989–90 1990–91 1991–92 1992–93 1993–94
Winter Olympics 4th 8th
World Championships 2nd 6th
U.S. Championships 6th 5th 5th 3rd 7th 1st 3rd 4th 1st
Skate America 2nd 1st 1st 3rd
Skate Canada International 4th
Nations Cup 1st
NHK Trophy 3rd 2nd 4th
U.S. Olympic Festival 1st
Prize of Moscow News 1st