Tonya Harding is a celebrated figure skater, a two-time Olympian, and a two-time Skate America Champion. Not only did she place first in the U.S Figure Skating Championships, but she went on to place second in the World Championships. Despite a stunning career (including the first ever triple axel jump completed by an American figure skater), she is perhaps most remembered from assault on fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan, an assault conducted by Harding’s then husband Jeff Gillooly.
Harding was born in Portland Oregon on November 12, 1970. The daughter of LeVona Fay Golden and Al Harding, Tonya had a tumultuous upbringing. Her half-brother was killed in a hit-and-run, her father often couldn’t provide for the family, and her mother allegedly abused Harding. Tonya rose above these difficulties, gradually working her way up the competitive skating ladder throughout the late 80s. Success came in 1991, when Tonya landed the first triple axel at the U.S Championships. This performance earned her the first 6.0 in the event’s history as well as a large following. This fame was only bolstered by her second place performance in the World Championships, which she lost to Kristi Yamaguchi. Tonya went on to accomplsh a great deal in 1991: She was the first woman to complete a triple axel in the short program, the first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition, and the first ever to complete a triple axel combination with the double toe loop.
Harding would never match the success of 1991, and her fame began to decline from 1992 on. This fame became infamy when, at the 1994 U.S Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Harding’s 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. Fortunately, her leg was not broken by the attack, but the injury she sustained prevented her from competing in the national championship. What followed from the attack was a frenzy of media coverage, with journalists from all over the world swarming Tanya Harding’s skate sessions. She, along with her husband, eventually pleaded guilty. Her reputation was never the same.