By: B. Zarzur
“The whack heard around the world”. On January 6th, 1994, figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after her practice. Instantly Tonya Harding, Kerrigan's rival on the rink, was blamed. However, the act was pulled by Harding's bodyguard together with her ex-husband. They had come up with a plan to bring Kerrigan down: they hired a hitman to attack the figure skater’s right leg with a 53cm bat. What they weren't expecting was the downfall of Harding's career, which was much worse than what her rivalry with Kerrigan could ever bring.
Who were they?
Tonya Harding was an Olympic figure skater at the time. At a certain point, she was considered the best in the US. However, she never had sponsors and she was constantly told by judges that she was, “too aggressive” and “you don't have the right background". It is evident that Harding grew up with a hard childhood, as her father left her, and she was left alone with her abusive mother. Harding began skating at age three, and LaVona (her mother) immediately saw it as an escape from their economic situation, as Tonya's success would bring a great fortune. Harding would spend hours on end on the rink, suffering physical and psychological abuse from her mother since she was seven years old. Although Harding managed to achieve many successes in her life, such as being the first American woman to land a triple axel, being America's sweetheart wasn’t one.
Nancy Kerrigan is the exact opposite of Harding. She was the darling of figure skating and was America's sweetheart. She was an amazing figure skater and had everything Harding never did. Kerrigan had endorsements up her sleeves and was the face of companies such as Revlon. However, Kerrigan says her life wasn’t perfect, " It wasn't easy. I remember counting quarters and my parents counting money to buy groceries. But I lived in one place with two parents and it was stable... It's not like I was a princess. I happened to have good posture, so I looked the part, I guess.", Kerrigan interviews for sports illustrated.
It goes without a doubt that the two women were rivals on the rink. Leading up to the 1994 winter Olympics in Norway, their rivalry grew stronger than ever. Harding had recently beaten Kerrigan at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
After Kerrigan's practice in Detroit, Michigan, she was struck on her knee, the Olympic skater screamed out “Why me? Why me?” in horror. Thankfully, the attack on Kerrigan left her with no broken bones, but bad bruising. Tonya stated that she was asleep and that she couldn't have done it.
It was then revealed that the ones behind the act were Harding’s ex-husband and her bodyguard. Her husband's lust for success had now brought her career to a halt. Realizing what they had done, they tried bringing reasoning into their actions by saying that the attack was to simply take Kerrigan out of the competition.
Days before the attack, Harding had received an anonymous threat, “I’m thinking, this could be the start of something really crazy”. This note was later passed onto the FBI, where it was discovered that the author of the note knew about the attack, as they had heard about it from some of the Harding's bodyguards. Jeff (Harding's ex-husband) accused Tonya of knowing about the plan, and that “she was in since the beginning”. Harding denied the accusations, but years later, in 2018 she admitted to knowing “something was up” days before the attack.
On January 14th, the USFSA was debating whether Harding should be able to participate in the Olympics. They came to a decision that allowed her to do so, as they had no evidence against her. However, this was not much help as Harding had difficulties on ice and landed 8th. Kerrigan, however, managed to come out on top with a silver medal.
Mid-March was when it all came tumbling down, with evidence and most people against Harding, she eventually pleaded guilty for, "conspiracy to hinder prosecution." She is now banned from the USFSA for life and can no longer compete.
And today, almost 30 years after the attack, it still goes down as one of the most shocking sports scandals in history. People still have strong opinions about what happened, and a movie was made dedicated to the scandal, “I, Tonya.” Although 26 years have passed there is still tension between Harding and Kerrigan and it seems as if their rivalry will never give in.