Who is Tonya Harding?
Tonya Harding is a retired American figure skater, who won the ‘US Championship’ in 1991 and 1994. She gained prominence as a skater in 1989, when she won the ‘Skate America’ competition. After a controversy in 1994, Tonya was forced to quit figure skating, and turned her attention towards boxing. Tonya became a professional boxer in 2003. Her popularity increased when she started appearing in films and TV shows, which made her an international celebrity. What made her a national celebrity though was the 1994 incident when Tonya’s main competitor Nancy Kerrigan was mysteriously attacked just before the ‘National Championship.’ Tonya used her notoriety and fame to her advantage so much so, that she rewrote the history of women's ice skating culture. Her life story and achievements became a part of many academic assessments and in 2017 a biopic titled ‘I, Tonya’ was released.
Childhood & Early Life
Tonya Harding was born on November 12, 1970, in Portland, Oregon. She was raised by her mother, LaVona Golden, in East Portland. Tonya started skating at the age of three and by the time she was four, her mother took her to Diane Rawlinson, who trained her in figure skating.
Tonya was born into a poor family and had to wear her mother’s hand-sewed dress for her competitions. She had a troubled childhood as she was often subjected to physical and psychological abuse by her mother.
During her early teens, Tonya started spending time with her father Albert Gordon Harding, from whom she learnt about various automobiles. She also started hunting and participated in several drag races throughout her teenage years.
Tonya, who was enrolled at ‘Milwaukie High School,’ dropped out of her school in order to concentrate solely on her figure skating career. She later completed ‘General Equivalency Diploma’ and then devoted her time to skating.
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Tonya continued her training with Diane Rawlinson and began participating in several figure skating competitions all over the U.S. In 1986, she took part in the ‘U.S. Figure Skating Championships’ and managed to finish sixth. She then competed for the championship for three consecutive years.
She gained prominence as a figure skater when she won ‘Skate America’ in 1989. Tonya’s big breakthrough came in the year 1991 when she won the U.S. Championship quite convincingly after landing her first triple axel. In the ‘World Championships,’ which was held in the same year, she once again landed a triple axel, becoming the first American woman and only the second woman in the history of figure skating to do so.
She went on to master the triple axel jump as she achieved various feats by executing the jump on three different occasions during the 1991 ‘Skate America.’ After becoming the first woman to land a triple axel in a short program, she also became the first woman to land two successful triple axels during the course of a single competition. She then became the first woman to land a triple axel with double toe loop.
Tonya then had a poor run and was never able to successfully land the famous triple axel jump after 1991. During the 1992 ‘U.S. Championship,’ she twisted her ankle during a practice session and was hence unable to win the competition. Her subsequent performances in ‘Winter Olympics’ and various other championships were rather poor, which resulted in her name being removed from the ‘World Championship’ team.
She returned to her winning ways in 1994 when she managed to win the ‘U.S. Figure Skating Championships,’ which was held in Detroit. Though her victory earned her a place in the 1994 Olympic team, people could sense that there was something amiss about her victory. Just before the ‘National Championship,’ Tonya’s main competitor Nancy Kerrigan was mysteriously attacked, which helped her in winning the competition.
As it turned out, the attack on Nancy Kerrigan was planned by Tonya’s bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt and her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. They had hired an assailant named Shane Stant, who was told to attack Nancy Kerrigan so that she wouldn't be able to perform at the 1994 ‘Winter Olympics.’
Nancy’s leg was hit hard with an expandable baton when she was returning from a practice session in Detroit. Though the plan was to break her right leg, the attack only left a bad bruise on her leg. But it was severe enough to force her to withdraw from the ‘U.S. Figure Skating Championships.’
When the media started reporting about Nancy’s brutal attack, Tonya’s popularity surged and she became extremely infamous throughout the United States. TV reporters swarmed into Lillehammer, Norway, where Tonya was practicing for the ‘Winter Olympics.’ She participated in the competition amid paparazzi and finished eighth. Nancy, who had recovered by then, won the silver medal.
In the same year, Shane Stant, Jeff Gillooly, and Shawn Eckhardt were put behind bars. Jeff Gillooly pleaded guilty and accepted to submit testimony against Tonya. Tonya Harding pleaded guilty in March and was put under probation for three years. She was also ordered to cough up a fine of $100,000 and to indulge in community service for 500 hours.
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The incident left an indelible mark on Tonya’s figure skating career as she was also ordered to back out from the ‘World Figure Skating Championships’ and forced to resign from the ‘United States Figure Skating Association’ (USFSA). On June 30, 1994, the ‘USFSA’ conducted its own investigation and decided to strip Tonya of her ‘U.S. Championship,’ which she had won in 1994. The ‘USFSA’ also banned her from participating in any USFSA-related events.
In September 1994, ‘Penthouse’ magazine published stills from a sex tape, which featured Tonya and her then-husband Jeff Gillooly. The tape, which was sold by Jeff to a television show, became extremely popular, and increased Tonya's popularity. After being mired in several controversies, Tonya Harding decided to build a career in boxing.
Career in Boxing
Tonya made her professional boxing debut in 2003. After losing her debut match, she wasn’t seen in any other professional boxing event for a year. In 2004, Tonya was pitted against Amy Johnson and was beaten by Amy. Tonya’s boxing career came to an end rather quickly, owing to her health condition. By the end of her boxing career, Tonya had three wins and three losses.
Other Major Works
In 1996, Tonya was seen in an action film titled ‘Breakaway.’ In 2002, she appeared in the famous television game show ‘Weakest Link.’ In 2008, she worked as a commentator for the show ‘truTV Presents: World's Dumbest.’
In 2008, Tonya released her autobiography titled ‘The Tonya Tapes.’ In the book, she has stated that she was threatened by Jeff Gillooly, who asked her not to call the FBI when she wanted to confess about the attack on Nancy.
Tonya was signed by the producers of the popular TV show ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ She was signed for the 26th season, which is titled as ‘Dancing With the Stars: Athletes.’ In 2018, she appeared in ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show.’
Tonya entered the wed-lock with Jeff Gillooly in 1990, but divorced him three years later. In 1995, she married Michael Smith, but this marriage too, ended after a year. She then married Joseph Price in 2010, after meeting him at a restaurant. Tonya and Joseph were blessed with a son on February 19, 2011.
After retiring from boxing, Tonya has worked as a painter, welder, clerk, and deck builder. She practices skating thrice a week and is still efficient at performing jumps and spins. She currently resides in Washington.
Tonya’s achievements and notoriety have made her a popular personality in pop culture. Her story has been mentioned in several shows across various media. Tonya’s role in skating culture has been the subject of various academic studies and essays.