|Tonya Harding in 1993.|
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Tonya Harding Pleads Guilt On Attack Of Nancy Kerrigan
On March 16, 1994 Olympic Figure skater Tonya Harding pleads guilty to a felony attack on Nancy Kerrigan. The attack occurred just before the 1994 Winter Olympic Games.
Kerrigan was an American figure skating champion, a two-time Olympian, and a two-time Skate America Champion.
In 1991 she won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and placed second in the World Championships. She was the second woman, and the first American woman, to complete a triple axel jump in competition. She was also the first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition as well the first ever to complete a triple axel combination with the double toe loop.
Harding became notorious in conjunction with the January 6, 1994 attack on her competitor Nancy Kerrigan. The widely publicized attack took place during a practice session for the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, hired Shane Stant to break Kerrigan's right leg so that she would be unable to skate.
He followed her to Detroit after failing to find her at her training rink in Massachusetts, and struck her on the thigh a few inches above the knee with an asp baton. Her leg was only bruised, not broken, but the injury forced her to withdraw from the national championship. Harding won that event, and they both were selected for the 1994 Olympic team.
After Harding admitted to helping to cover up the attack, the USFSA and United States Olympic Committee initiated proceedings to remove her from the Olympic team, but she retained her place after threatening legal action. She finished eighth in Lillehammer, while Kerrigan, by then fully recovered from the injury, won the silver medal.
The attack on Kerrigan and the news of Harding's alleged involvement led to a media frenzy of saturation news coverage. She appeared on the cover of both Time and Newsweek magazines in January 1994. Reporters and TV news crews attended her practices in Portland and camped out in front of Kerrigan's home. CBS assigned Connie Chung to follow her every move in Lillehammer. Counting 400 members of the press jammed into the practice rink in Norway, Scott Hamilton complained, "The world press was turning the Olympics into just another sensational tabloid event". The tape-delayed broadcast of the short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.
On Feb. 1, 1994, Gillooly accepted a plea bargain 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 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 $160,000 fine. As part of the plea bargain, she was also forced to withdraw from the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships and resign from the USFSA. On June 30, 1994, after conducting its own investigation of the attack, the USFSA 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 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 pro skating boom that ensued in the aftermath of the scandal.
Harding continued to maintain that she was innocent and professed her disgust with the attack, even going so far as to get an angel tattooed on her lower back, allegedly as a symbol of her innocence.
In her 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes, she said that she wanted to call the FBI to reveal what she knew, but refused 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 allegations "utterly ridiculous". Eckhardt, who legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith following his release from jail, died of natural causes at age 40 on Dec. 12, 2007.
After her figure skating career Harding got into boxing and had a record of 3-3. She also dabbled in auto racing and set a land speed record. On August 12, 2009, Harding set a new land speed record for a vintage gas coupe with a speed of 97.177 mph driving a 1931 Ford Model A, named Lickity - Split, on the Bonneville Salt Flats.