Tonya Harding

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Tonya Maxene Harding[2] (born November 12, 1970)[3][4] is an American former figure skater who also boxed professionally after her skating career ended. She was the 1991 U.S. champion and 1991 World Championship silver medallist. Harding was also a two-time Olympian and a two-time Skate America Champion.[5] She was the first woman to successfully execute two triple Axels in a single competition, and the first to complete a triple Axel in combination with a double toe loop. In 1994 she was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association after pleading guilty to hindering the prosecution following the attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan.[6] Harding is the subject of the 2017 biographical movie I, Tonya.

Tonya Harding
Tonya harding mac club 1994 crop.jpg
Harding at Portland, Oregon, reception shortly after the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Personal information
Full name Tonya Maxene Harding
Country represented United States
Born November 12, 1970 (age 47)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.[1]
  • Jeff Gillooly (m. 1990–93)
  • Michael Smith (m. 1995–96)
  • Joseph Jens Price (m. 2010)
Height 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Coach Diane Rawlinson, Dody Teachman

Early life

Ice chalet lloyd center portland oregon lec by andrew parodi.jpeg
Ice Chalet at Portland's Lloyd Center, where Harding began skating at age three[6]

Tonya Harding was born on November 12, 1970 in Portland, Oregon, to LaVona Golden (b. 1940) and Alan Harding (1933–2009).[7] Harding was raised in Portland, and began skating at age three.[5] As a youth, Harding also hunted, drag raced, and learned car mechanics from her father.[8] Her mother, who struggled to help support the family while she worked as a waitress, hand-sewed Harding's skating costumes for competitions.[8]

Harding had a troubled childhood, stating that by the time she was seven years old, she was both mentally and physically abused by her mother.[9][10] Her mother has admitted to one instance of hitting Tonya at an ice rink.[9] She stopped attending David Douglas High School in Portland during her sophomore year and later earned a GED.[11]

Skating career

In the mid-1980s, Harding began working her way up the competitive skating ladder. She placed sixth at the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, fifth in 1987 and 1988, and third in 1989. After winning Skate America in 1989, she was considered a strong contender at the 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but she was suffering from the flu and asthma and had a poor free skate. After the original program, she dropped from second place and finished seventh overall. She was a powerful free skater and typically had lower placements in the compulsory figures.

Harding's breakthrough year came in 1991, when she landed her first triple axel at the U.S. Championships[5] and won the title with the event's first 6.0 ever given to a single female skater for technical merit. At the 1991 World Championships, she again completed the triple axel—becoming the first American woman to perform it at an international event—and finished first.

At the Fall 1991 Skate America, Harding 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 the double toe loop.

Despite these record-breaking performances, she was never able to successfully perform the triple axel in a competition after 1991, and her competitive results 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, and in the 1992 World Championships, she placed sixth in a weak field. In the 1993 season, she skated poorly in the U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the World Championship team.

Following legal controversy, Harding was permitted to remain a member of the U.S. ice skating team at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.[12] She was given a re-skate in the long program and finished in eighth place, far behind Oksana Baiul (gold) and Nancy Kerrigan (silver).

Figure skating record

Event[13][14][15] 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
Skate America 2nd 1st 1st 3rd
Skate Canada International 4th
Nations Cup 1st
NHK Trophy 3rd 2nd 4th
U.S. Olympic Festival 2nd
Prize of Moscow News 1st
U.S. Championships 6th 5th 5th 3rd 7th 1st 3rd 4th 1st

^† In June 1994, Claire Ferguson and the U.S. Figure Skating Association voted to strip Harding of her 1994 title. However, the competition results were not changed and the title was left vacant rather than moving all the other competitors up one position.[16][17]

Attack on Nancy Kerrigan and aftermath

Tonya Harding Olympic practice at Clackamas Town Center 1994 3.jpg
Harding's practice sessions at Clackamas Town Center, in preparation for the 1994 Winter Olympics, were attended by thousands of spectators and dozens of reporters and film crews.

On January 6, 1994, Harding's main team competitor Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by an assailant later identified as Shane Stant after a practice session at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt,[18] hired Stant to break Kerrigan's right leg so that she would be unable to compete at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. After failing to find Kerrigan at her training rink in Massachusetts, Stant followed her to Detroit. When she stepped off the ice after a practice session at Cobo Arena and walked behind a nearby curtain into a corridor, Stant struck her knee a few inches above the ankle with an ASP telescopic baton.[19] Her leg was only bruised, not broken, but the injury forced her to withdraw from the national championship. Harding won that event, and she and Kerrigan were both selected for the 1994 Olympic team.[12] Harding finished eighth in Lillehammer, while Kerrigan, by then fully recovered from the injury, won the silver medal behind Oksana Baiul from Ukraine.

The attack on Kerrigan and the news of Harding's alleged involvement led to a media frenzy. Kerrigan appeared on the cover of both TIME and Newsweek magazines in January 1994. Reporters and TV news crews attended Harding's practices in Portland and camped out in front of Kerrigan's home. CBS assigned Connie Chung to follow her every move in Lillehammer. Four hundred 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."[20] The tape-delayed broadcast of the short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.[21]

On February 1, 1994, Gillooly accepted a plea offer in exchange for his testimony against Harding. Gillooly, Stant, Eckhardt, and getaway car driver Derrick Smith all served time in prison for the attack.[22] Eckhardt was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early in September 1995.[18]

Tonya harding returning from norway 1994.jpg
Harding arriving at Portland International Airport after the 1994 Olympics amid a crush of reporters

Harding avoided further prosecution and a possible jail sentence by pleading guilty on March 16 to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers.[23] 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 United States Figure Skating Association.[24] On June 30, 1994, after conducting its own investigation of the attack, the USFSA stripped her of her 1994 U.S. Championships title and banned her for life from participating in USFSA-run events as either a skater or a coach.[17] 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 non-competitive 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 professional skating boom that ensued in the aftermath of the scandal.[20]

In her 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes, Harding states that she wanted to call the FBI to reveal what she knew, but decided not to when Gillooly allegedly threatened her with death following a gunpoint gang rape by him and two other men she did not know. He subsequently changed his name to Jeff Stone and called the allegations "utterly ridiculous."[10] Eckhardt, who legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith following his release from jail, died of natural causes at age 40 on December 12, 2007.[18]

Later celebrity

Tonya Harding 2006 crop.png
Tonya Harding in 2006.

On June 22, 1994, in Portland, Oregon, Harding appeared on an AAA professional wrestling show as the manager for wrestling stable Los Gringos Locos. The night's performance included Art Barr, Eddie Guerrero, and Brian Cox.[25]

A promotional musical event was unsuccessful when Harding and her band, the Golden Blades, were booed off the stage in their only performance, in 1995 in Portland, Oregon.[26][27]

In 1994 Harding was cast in a low-budget action film, Breakaway.[28] The film was released in 1996.[29]

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 while playing video poker.[30]

In March 2008 she became a commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest....[31]

Boxing career

Tonya Harding
Real name Tonya Maxene Harding
Nickname(s) Bad Girl
Weight(s) Lightweight
Height 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Nationality American
Stance Orthodox
Boxing record
Total fights 6
Wins 3
Wins by KO 0
Losses 3

In 2002 she boxed against Paula Jones on the Fox TV network Celebrity Boxing event, 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 fight in the ring to earn money.[32] She did another celebrity boxing match, on The Man Show, and won against co-host Doug Stanhope. Stanhope later claimed on his podcast that the fight was fixed because Tonya Harding refused to "fight a man".[33]

On March 23, 2004, it was reported that she canceled a planned boxing match against Tracy Carlton in Oakland, California, because of an alleged death threat against her.[34]

On June 24, 2004, after reportedly not having boxed for over a year, she was beaten in a match in Edmonton, Alberta, by Amy Johnson. Fans reportedly booed her as she entered the ring and cheered wildly for Johnson as she won in the third round.[35][36]

Her boxing career was quite short, a brevity she attributed to asthma.[37] Her overall record was 3–3–0.[38]

Professional record

3 Wins (3 decisions), 3 Losses (2 knockouts, 1 decision), 0 Draws[39]
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) Los Angeles, California, U.S.

Automobile racing land speed record

On August 12, 2010, Harding set a new land speed record for a vintage gas coupe with a speed of 97.177 mph driving a 1931 Ford Model A, named Lickity-Split, on the Bonneville Salt Flats.[40][41]

Personal life

Harding married Jeff Gillooly in 1990,[5] when she was 19 years old. Their tumultuous marriage ended in divorce in 1993.[42] She married her second husband, Michael Smith, in 1995 and divorced in 1996.[43] She married 42-year-old Joseph Jens Price on June 23, 2010.[44] She gave birth to her only child, a son named Gordon, on February 19, 2011.[45]

In popular culture

Harding and her role in the Kerrigan attack have been widely referenced in sitcom episodes, music videos, and a primary campaign speech by former president Barack Obama.[46]

In 2014, Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen created the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding Museum in their Brooklyn, New York apartment.[47]



  • The 1994 Showtime (TV network) Attack of the 5 Ft. 2 In. Women featured Julie Brown & Khrystyne Haje parodying the incident between Harding & Kerrigan (played respectively), in the segment, "Tonya: The Battle of Wounded Knee." This production included Brown's song, "Queen of the Ice"
  • Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story is a satirical, short docudrama that aired on Comedy Central during the 1994 Olympic Games.
  • A 1995 episode of The Simpsons mentions Harding when Kent Brockman says that among many accusations leveled at Krusty the Clown was one of him marketing videotapes of her wedding night. A 1996 episode, Team Homer, features Moe the Bartender attempting to break Mr. Burn's leg to prevent him from competing in a bowling competition, alluding to the Kerrigan attack. She was also seen in the episode Treehouse of Horror X on a space shuttle carrying other unpopular celebrities headed towards the sun.
  • In 2014, ESPN aired a 30 for 30 documentary on the Kerrigan attack called The Price of Gold.[49]
  • On February 23, 2014, NBC aired a documentary on the Kerrigan scandal called Nancy & Tonya.
  • In an episode of the television program Seinfeld called "The Understudy," when Seinfeld's date, a performer, takes the stage, she has a problem with the laces on her boot and, in an act reminiscent of Harding's bootlace incident, tearfully asks that she be allowed to start over.[50][51]
  • A 1999 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured the movie Soultaker. The star/writer of the movie, Vivian Schilling, was the target of numerous Tonya Harding references in the MST3k episode due to their physical resemblance.[52]
  • In a 2017 episode of Bojack Horseman, the titular character references dating Tonya Harding in the late 1990s, adding that she said "dating (me) was the worst thing she ever did," and that he cannot remember if "she was the good one".

Music and opera

  • Elizabeth Searle collaborated with composer Abigail Al-Doory to create Tonya and Nancy: The Opera, a chamber opera produced in May 2006 by Tufts University and directed by Meron Langsner.[53]
  • The song "Tonya Harding" by the Atlanta band The Coathangers is about Harding and her role in the attack on Kerrigan.
  • She was the subject of "Tonya's Twirls," a song by Loudon Wainwright III, a US folk musician.[54] The song was recorded and issued on Social Studies (1999), with a live recording also issued on So Damn Happy (2003).
  • The 1994 "Weird Al" Yankovic parody song "Headline News" contains lyrics about Harding and her role in the attack on Kerrigan.[55]
  • The 2017 song "Back to the '90s" by Jensen Reed and Ben Giroux contains lyrics mentioning Harding by name and how the singer will never skate again.
  • Rap artist Lil Wayne referenced "Tonya Harding" on the song "Put some Keys on that", from his 2007 mixtape Da Drought 3 (2007).
  • Sufjan Stevens' song "Tonya Harding" was released on December 6, 2017. In an accompanying essay, Stevens wrote that he composed the song "with dignity and grace, to pull back the ridiculous tabloid fodder and take stock of the real story of this strange and magnificent American hero."[56]
  • Kevin Gilbert mentions Tonya Harding in the song "Certified #1 Smash" on his album "The Shaming of the True" released in 2000.


  • The book Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle (1995) included a number of essays analyzing her public image in the context of the sport of figure skating.[57]


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  27. ^ "Tonya Harding Debuts As Singer In Portland Concert For MDA". Seattle Times. The Seattle Times Company. 1995-08-30. Retrieved 2013-04-19. Harding will appear with her band, The Golden Blades, at a concert Sunday to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The band will perform "light pop" music, possibly including a Madonna song, according to Kellie Shipp of KKRZ-FM, the radio station that invited Harding to perform.
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