Tonya Harding

Tonya Harding Biography

(1970–)
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Tonya Harding is an American figure skater who ruined her future in the sport when she was implicated in the attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 Winter Olympic trials.

Who Is Tonya Harding?

In 1991, Tonya Harding won her first national skating title and became the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition. 

In 1994, she earned notoriety when ex-husband Jeff Gillooly hired a hitman to assault skater Nancy Kerrigan at the Olympic trials. Harding pleaded guilty to hindering the investigation into Kerrigan's attack, and was subsequently banned from competing in the U.S. for life. 

Since then, Harding has made guest appearances on shows like Rosanne, Larry King Live, The Weakest Link and Celebrity Boxing. Harding returned to the public eye with the big screen release of I, Tonya in late 2017, and competed on Dancing with the Stars the following spring.

Early Life

Figure skater and boxer Tonya Maxine Harding was born in Portland, Oregon, on November 12, 1970. The daughter of LaVona and Al Harding, she began skating at the age of 3. Harding dropped out of high school during her sophomore year to pursue ice skating. She would later earn her GED.

Harding won her first national title in 1991, also becoming the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition.

Tonya Harding at the Olympics

Harding took the silver medal at the world championships and placed fourth at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France. She made history the previous year when she became the first woman to land a triple axel jump in competition at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Jeff Gillooly and Tonya Harding

Harding was married to her first husband, Gillooly, a conveyor belt operator, from 1990 until 1993. He often served as Harding's manager, and she accused him of abuse, filing for divorce twice.

In January 1994, Harding earned notoriety when Gillooly hired a hitman to assault fellow U.S. figure skater Kerrigan at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Gillooly later pleaded guilty to helping Harding plan the Kerrigan attack. He served time in prison and changed his name to Jeff Stone upon his release in 1995 and took a job as a used car salesman.

 

Celebrity Bookings: Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding was booked in 1994 for her part in the infamous attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan.

Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding was booked in 1994 for her part in the infamous attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan. 

Tonya Harding's Attack on Nancy Kerrigan

In a practice leading up to the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Harding’s ex-husband Gillooly hired a hitman to assault competitor Kerrigan. The hitman clubbed Kerrigan in the knee with a police baton, seriously bruising her kneecap and quadriceps tendon and preventing her from participating in the championships.

Harding and Kerrigan had competed against each other for years, including in the 1992 Olympic Games, when Kerrigan took home bronze and Harding took home fourth. The goal of the 1994 attack was to keep Kerrigan from participating in that year’s Olympic Games in Norway. Despite her knee injury, Kerrigan went on to win the silver medal at the 1994 Olympic Games.

Harding pleaded guilty to hindering the investigation into Kerrigan's attack, which allowed her to avoid jail time. Under the plea bargain, Harding was stripped of her gold from the 1994 U.S. Championships. She was also banned from competing in the U.S. for life.

The media jumped on the attack as a catfight, with director Nanette Burstein calling the incident “the evil witch vs. the snow queen” in her 2014 ESPN documentary The Price Of Gold.

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Tonya Harding Fact Card

Career After Ice Skating

Harding has sought the spotlight in other ways since the end of her ice skating career in 1994, including several television guest appearances on shows such as Rosanne, Larry King Live and The Weakest Link. She has also participated in televised celebrity boxing matches, garnering fame for her winning bout against Paula Jones on the popular FOX show Celebrity Boxing in 2002.

Harding made her official debut as a professional boxer — a career she would hold only briefly — in February 2003, losing the undercard match of the Mike Tyson-Clifford Etienne bout in a four-round decision. In 2008 she was a commentator on the popular truTV program The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest.

Tonya Harding’s Husbands and Son

Harding has been married three times. She and her first husband, Gillooly, were married from 1990 until 1993. She and her second husband, Michael Smith, were married from 1995 to 1996. In June 2010, Harding married third husband Joseph Jens Price.

Harding became a mother on February 27, 2011, when she gave birth to Gordon, her first and only son with Joseph Price.

I, Tonya: Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding

A black comedy about Harding's life, I, Tonya, was released in December 2017. Starring Margot Robbie as Harding, the movie explores the skater's troubled childhood, professional ascent into the sport and the fallout after the Kerrigan attack.

The following month brought the two-hour ABC special, Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story, in which Harding discussed her troubled relationship with her mother, her reaction to seeing her life dramatized on the big screen and the incident that propelled her to infamy.

In trailers for the special, Harding admitted that she "knew that something was up" in regards to a planned attack, but insisted that she was a pawn in the scheme. "I am always the bad person and I never understood that," she said.

Tonya Harding pumps her fists as she finishes her gold medal winning program at the women's championship January 8, 1994

Tonya Harding pumps her fists as she finishes her gold medal-winning program at the women's championship January 8, 1994.

'Dancing with the Stars'

In April 2018, Harding was named to the cast of Dancing with the Stars: Athletes, alongside 2018 U.S. figure skating Olympian Adam Rippon and retired sports greats like basketballer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The decision was said to be a controversial one, though, as a Harding friend told People, "Tonya gets ratings. God knows, she gets ratings."

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