15 Years After The Infamous Attack, Tonya Harding Had Some Astonishing Words For Nancy Kerrigan

The footage of Nancy Kerrigan screaming in agony shocked a nation. On January 6, 1994, the champion skater was attacked in a corridor inside the Cobo Arena in Detroit after completing a practice session for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Lying on the floor, crying with pain, she clutched her injured leg. “Why?!” she sobbed. “Why?!”

The attacker – who immediately fled the scene – was an unknown white man dressed in a leather jacket. Using a bludgeon that Kerrigan described as “some hard, hard black stick,” he had assaulted her just moments after she left the ice. He struck her on her right thigh just above the kneecap. The man had clearly intended to debilitate her.

Police investigators soon traced the attack to one of Kerrigan’s rival competitors: Tonya Harding. Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, had in fact hired a guy called Shane Stant to injure Kerrigan and – all too literally – knock her out of the championship. The incident cast a dark shadow on figure skating. And as a cautionary tale about professional sporting jealousy, it remains highly relevant today.

Over the years, the media has tended to portray Kerrigan as a hero and Harding as a villain. “She’s a princess. I’m a piece of crap,” Harding said in a 2014 ESPN documentary entitled The Price of Gold. But this is lazy characterization; the rival skaters are far more complex than that.

For one thing, Harding had a rough childhood. According to Tonya, her mother, LaVona Harding, was an angry drunk who heaped physical and psychological abuse on her. Growing up, Tonya lived in numerous different homes, a trailer park among them. Meanwhile, her mother took on serial husbands – seven in total.