A native of Portland, Oregon, Harding was raised primarily by her mother, who enrolled her in ice skating lessons beginning at age four. Harding would spend much of her early life training, eventually dropping out of high school to devote her time to the sport. After climbing the ranks in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships between 1986 and 1989, Harding won the 1989 Skate America competition. She was the 1991 and 1994 U.S. champion before being stripped of her 1994 title, and 1991 World silver medalist. In 1991, she earned distinction as being the first American woman to successfully land a triple axel in competition, and only the second woman to ever do so in history (behind Midori Ito). She is also a two-time Olympian and a two-time Skate America Champion.
In January 1994, Harding became embroiled in controversy when her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, orchestrated an attack on fellow US Olympian Nancy Kerrigan. After the 1994 Games had ended, Harding ultimately pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution and was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association as a result. The criminal investigation and Harding's banning from the sport were the subject of intense media scrutiny, and it has been referred to as one of the biggest scandals in American sports history.
In the late 1990s, Harding became a professional boxer, and her life has been the subject of numerous films, books, and academic studies. In 2017, an Oscar-winning biographical motion picture, I, Tonya, was released.
Harding at a Portland, Oregon, reception shortly after the 1994 Winter Olympics
|Full name||Tonya Maxene Price|
|Country represented||United States|
|Born||Tonya Maxene Harding
November 12, 1970
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
|Height||5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)|
|Coach||Diane Rawlinson (1973–1994)
Dody Teachman (1991–92)
Tonya Maxene Harding was born on November 12, 1970, in Portland, Oregon, to LaVona Golden (b. 1940) and Albert Gordon Harding (1933–2009). Harding was raised in East Portland, and began skating at age three, training with coach Diane Rawlinson. During her youth, Harding also hunted, drag raced, and learned automotive mechanics from her father. LaVona struggled to support the family while working as a waitress, and hand-sewed Tonya's competition skating costumes as the family could not afford to purchase them.
According to Harding, she was frequently abused by her mother. She stated that by the time she was seven years old, both physical and psychological abuse had become a regular part of her life. LaVona admitted to one instance of hitting Tonya at an ice rink. Tonya dropped out of Milwaukie High School during her sophomore year in order to focus on skating; she later earned a General Equivalency Diploma.
Harding trained as a figure skater throughout her youth with coach Diane Rawlinson. In the mid-1980s, she 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 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. Harding would finish second behind Kristi Yamaguchi, and in front of Nancy Kerrigan, marking the first time one country swept the ladies medal podium at the World Figure Skating Championships.
At the Fall 1991 Skate America, Harding recorded three more firsts:
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. Harding trained under Dody Teachman for the upcoming 1992 season, 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 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. After an issue with her laces, she was given a re-skate in the long program and finished in eighth place, far behind Oksana Baiul (gold) and Nancy Kerrigan (silver).
|Skate Canada International||4th|
|U.S. Olympic Festival||2nd|
|Prize of Moscow News||1st|
^† In June 1994, Claire Ferguson, the President of 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.
On January 6, 1994, Harding's main team competitor Nancy Kerrigan was attacked after a practice session at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit by an assailant, later identified as Shane Stant. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her self-appointed bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, 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 leg about 1 inch (3 cm) above the knee with a 21-inch (53 cm) ASP telescopic baton. 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. Harding finished eighth in Lillehammer, while Kerrigan, by then 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, with The New York Times later characterizing it as "one of the biggest scandals in American sports history." 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." The tape-delayed broadcast of the women's short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.
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. Eckhardt was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early in September 1995.
Harding was charged in Multnomah County, Oregon, but 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 $100,000 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. The USFSA conducted its own investigation of the attack. On June 30, 1994, the association 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. 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 boom in professional skating that ensued in the aftermath of the scandal.
In her 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes, Harding stated 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 accusations of gang rape "utterly ridiculous." Eckhardt, who legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith following his release from jail, died at age 40 on December 12, 2007.
An explicit video showing Harding having sex with her then-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was sold by Gillooly to a tabloid TV show after he was 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.
On June 22, 1994, in Portland, Oregon, Harding appeared on an AAA professional wrestling show as the manager for wrestling staple Los Gringos Locos. The night's performance included Art Barr and Eddie Guerrero. A promotional musical event was unsuccessful when Harding and her band, the Golden Blades, were booed off the stage at their only performance, in 1995 in Portland, Oregon.
In 1994, Harding was cast in a low-budget action film, Breakaway. The film was released in 1996. On October 29, 1996, Harding received media attention after using 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.
Harding has also appeared on television, on the game show The Weakest Link: "15 Minutes of Fame Edition" in 2002 along with Kato Kaelin, and in March 2008 became a commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest....
|Real name||Tonya Maxene Harding|
|Height||5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)|
|Wins by KO||0|
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. 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".
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 when she won in the third round.
|3 Wins (3 decisions), 3 Losses (2 knockouts, 1 decision), 0 Draws|
|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.|
On August 12, 2010, Harding set a new land speed record for a vintage gas coupe with a speed of 97.177 mph (156.391 km/h; 43.442 m/s) driving a 1931 Ford Model A, named Lickity-Split, on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Harding married Jeff Gillooly in 1990, when she was 19 years old. Their tumultuous marriage ended in divorce in 1993, but they continued seeing each other heading into the 1994 Winter Olympics. She married her second husband, Michael Smith, in 1995; the couple divorced in 1996. She married 42-year-old Joseph Price on June 23, 2010, whom she met at a local restaurant called Timbers, when she was 39 years old and took his surname. She gave birth to her only child, a son named Gordon, on February 19, 2011.
Since leaving skating and boxing, Harding has worked as a welder, a painter at a metal fabrication company, and a hardware sales clerk at Sears. As of 2017, she stated that she worked as a painter and deck builder. She resides in Washington state, north of her hometown of Portland, Oregon.
On an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on February 26, 2018, Harding stated that she is still active in skating and practices three times a week. In a segment during the show, she performed several jumps and spins.
Harding's life, career, and role in the Kerrigan attack have been widely referenced in popular culture, appearing in television, film, music, as well as a primary campaign speech by former President Barack Obama. In 2014, Matt Harkins and Viviana Olen created the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding Museum in their Brooklyn, New York, apartment, dedicated to collecting and archiving memorabilia related to Harding and the incident. Harkins and Olen stated in a 2017 interview that they had been captivated by Harding's life for years, citing it as "the most American story ever told." A contemporaneous article published in Vogue also noted that Harding had developed a "cult following" in the years since her notoriety.
Harding's role in women's ice skating culture and Kerrigan's 1994 attack have been the subject of numerous academic essays. In 1995, the book Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle was released, which contained numerous essays analyzing Harding's public image in the context of the sport of figure skating.
In a 2014 essay, academic Sarah Marshall noted the pervasive role of the media in the 1994 Kerrigan attack, particularly the manner in which Harding's life outside the realm of skating became publicly scrutinized: "Somehow, in the scandal’s aftermath, the form of the Tonya-bash was able to alchemize even the most chilling details of Tonya’s life into tabloid gold." Marshall also examines the role of Harding's "tomboy" persona in the context of figure skating.