The Competition Got Serious: Tonya Harding Vs. Nancy Kerrigan

Tonya Harding won her first national skating title in 1991 and became the first American woman to successfully complete a triple axel in a competition. Unfortunately, the promising figure skater made notoriety and ruined her career in the 1994 Winter Olympic trials when she was implicated in the attack on another skater, Nancy Kerrigan. An event like this really shook up the skating world.

The two American figure skaters Tonya Harding (left) and Nancy Kerrigan
The two American figure skaters Tonya Harding (left) and Nancy Kerrigan. Photo By Andreas Altwein / picture alliance via Getty Images

Harding pleaded guilty and was subsequently banned from competing in the United States for the rest of her life. Since then, the former skater has appeared on shows like Rosanne, Larry King Live, The Weakest Link, and Celebrity Boxing. She then made headlines once again in 2017, when Tonya was released, a movie based on her story. You may have seen her compete on Dancing with the Stars that spring.

Fierce Competitors

Leading up to the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly hired a hitman to assault a skating competitor, Nancy Kerrigan. The skater was clubbed in the knee with a police baton, severely bruising her kneecap and preventing the talented young lady from participating in the championships.

Figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie
Figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie perform together during the “Nancy Kerrigan and Friends” charity show at Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena in Boston on Feb. 4, 1994. Photo By Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Harding and Kerrigan had been competitors for years and went up against each other in the 1992 Olympic Games, where Tonya won fourth, and Nancy took home bronze. The purpose of the 1994 attack was to keep Nancy out of the Olympic Games in Norway that year. Despite her injury, the star ended up with the silver medal at the Olympic Games.

Guilty and Charged

Harding pleaded guilty to this cheap attack on her teammate, which is why she was able to avoid jail time. However, the once flourishing skater was stripped of her gold medal from the 1994 U.S. Championships under her plea bargain. She is also never allowed to compete in U.S. ice skating again.

Kristi Yamaguchi (center) wins gold, Tonya Harding (l) receives silver, and bronze goes to Nancy Kerrigan
Kristi Yamaguchi (center) wins gold, Tonya Harding (l) receives silver, and bronze goes to Nancy Kerrigan. Photo by Frank Leonhardt / picture alliance via Getty Images

The media rolled with the headlines and turned the attack into a catfight, with director Nanette Burstein referring to the occurrence as “the evil witch vs. the snow queen” in The Price Of Gold, her 2014 ESPN documentary.

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