Tonya Harding
The Attack On Nancy Kerrigan.

When figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee before the National Championships, all eyes were on her rival, Tonya Harding. What exactly was Tonya's role in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan?

Cover image for Celebrity True Crime Podcast Broken Limelight Episode #43 Tonya Harding & The Attack on Nancy Kerrigan.  Image shows Tonya Harding in red costume and Nancy Harding crying after being attacked.

Show Notes:

*This is not an exact transcript, but rather an outline of my notes.

Notes– Don’t watch “Dead Asleep” on Hulu

Shout out to TCO- they covered “The Price of Gold”

Tonya Harding was an American figure skater who allegedly participated in a plot to attack another figure skater she was competing against, Nancy Kerrigan. An assailant had been hired to break Nancy’s knee before the competition, forcing her to sit out while Tonya continued competing. But it didn’t take long before all eyes were on Tonya.

A lot of this episode comes from interviews with the people involved. There’s a lot of he-said/she-said and covering of their own asses so keep in mind when I say “according to so and so”, I’m not saying it’s true or untrue– just that this is how the “he-said/she-said” went. When something can be verified, I try to tell you that and tell you how or by who was it verified.

Tonya Harding was born in Portland, OR. She was mostly raised solely by her mother, LaVona. Tonya was Lavona’s 5th child from her 4th husband. She grew up pretty poor. She said she moved 13 times in 5 years.

She began skating at age three, training with coach Diane Rawlinson. Her mom worked multiple jobs to support them and to be able to afford skating lessons. LaVona says that at just 3 years old Tonya was able to mimic the moves of other people and just picked up skating naturally.

During her childhood, she also hunted, drag raced and learned auto mechanics from her father. LaVona struggled to support the family while working as a waitress and hand-sewed her daughter's skating costumes to save money.

Her parents divorced after 19 years of marriage in 1987, when she was 16 years old.

Tonya describes her mom as.. “Not a good one.”

According to Harding, she was both mentally and physically abused by her mother, LaVona Golden, beginning at age 6 or 7. "She became very abusive [and was] drinking all day long," Harding said. "Beating me, dragging me off the rink, hitting me with a hairbrush … right in front of everyone." And she’s been saying this about her mother since she was a teenager. And it was often for not landing her jumps correctly or something about her performance.

“There were so many times when my mother would be upset with me because I didn't skate good and drag me off the ice by my hair, take me to the bathroom, and beat my butt until it was black and blue,” Harding wrote.

Tonya also says that LaVona used to drink constantly, putting brandy in her coffee even before getting behind the wheel.

LaVona has a whole other side to the story.

She stressed that she tried to do the best she could as a mother and worked three jobs to pay for Tonya's training. She admitted to hitting her once at a competition while she was trying to do Tonya's hair and Tonya wouldn't sit still as they were calling for her on the ice.

I found something interesting when watching interviews with LaVona. Whenever she’s asked about whether or not she abused or hit Tonya, she like shakes her head but she immediately starts saying “I worked day and night to get her everything she ever wanted”, as if that means she didn’t also hit her.

Her longtime coach, Diane Schatz-Rawlinson, explained Tonya's situation rather bluntly in the 1986 documentary film "Sharp Edges." "Skating, for Tonya, is her ticket out of the gutter," she said. "[She lives] in a terrible rental house, no supervision at all, she has no direction, there's not much to do."

Sports reporter Ann Schatz explained the extent of Harding's poverty in the ESPN documentary "30 for 30: The Price of Gold." "[Tonya] skated a lot of times without food in her stomach. She skated not really [knowing] if that next lesson was going to come or not because she didn't know if she could pay for it."

When Tonya was 15, she made a documentary as like a thesis project for school and it documented her first national competitions before anybody knew who she was.

You kind of get a glimpse of how Tonya talks to herself, its as if she doesn’t think much of herself and just like nothing she does is good enough for herself.

It’s clear that she got this from listening to her mother.

This is a clip from the documentary. Again, Tonya’s 15 and she’s on the phone with her mom here (but you just hear Tonya’s side).

-phone call-

Lavona believed that her daughter needed negative reinforcement to succeed in her sport. "If there's no [one saying], 'You can't do it,' she won't do it," Golden said in "Sharp Edges," adding that her daughter would "be nothing" without the challenge.

Harding's friend Sandra Luckow, who filmed "Sharp Edges" as a thesis project for Yale University, told ABC News in 2018, "I saw [LaVona] hitting Tonya with a hairbrush. It was very upsetting to me. I never saw anything more than that." But Harding alleged, "I don't think that there was more than one day a week, sometimes, that I didn't get beat." Luckow claimed that she wanted to "go to child protective services," but was told that if she did it would "ruin [Tonya's] skating career" if "Tonya was taken away from her parents."

Harding also alleged that her mother once threw a steak knife at her from 10 feet away and it hit her arm. Harding called her mother "crazy." Golden denied the steak knife claim. "There just was never anything good enough for her," said Harding. "She said I would never amount to anything, that I was fat, that I was ugly."

LaVona would end up remarrying and Tonya ended up with a 26 year old step-brother named Chris who would move in with them. When Tonya was 15, she was getting ready for her first date when Chris forced himself on her. She burned him with a curling iron and ran to hide in an upstairs bathroom, and then he broke the door down. He continued to chase after her but luckily she was able to hit him over the head with a hockey stick and call the police. Davidson was arrested and jailed, but Harding's mother downplayed the incident as a figment of Harding's "vivid imagination."

He actually died in 1988 in an unsolved hit and run accident.

Her first date was with Jeff Gillooly. Gillooly *Family Guy reference*. LaVona tagged along on the date. Tonya met Jeff at the skating rink when he was watching her practice (for some reason, why was he there to begin with?) Tonya was 15 and he was 17. She was self-conscious and insecure. She wasn’t considered the prettiest and she wasn’t very girly, and I imagine it was hard to not be able to afford the best costumes. Jeff was the first guy to tell her she was pretty and she fell for him. Eventually, he started beating her too.

And treating her like shit, telling her she was fat, ugly, good for nothing, the same things her mother would tell her.

Harding said that because of her experiences with her mother, she became conditioned to believe that someone could hit her and love her simultaneously..

The former Olympian described one of her first memories of Gillooly hitting her forABC News. She said he told her 7-11 nachos "would make [her] fat" and then smacked them out of her hand and allegedly hit her across the face. "I mean I've known that I'm 'stupid, b**ch, ugly, fat, never amount to anything' for my whole entire life," Harding said of how alleged perpetual abuse affected her. "Why do people not think that I would want to fight that, be better than that?"

In Lynda Prouse's biography, "The Tonya Tapes," Harding claims Gillooly slammed her hand in a car door when she was trying to flee their home during a fight. He also allegedly accidentally fired a gun at her during an argument in a parking lot, causing a piece of concrete to hit Harding in the face.

But when she started winning and the idea of money came back, Jeff, like LaVona, would become like Tonya’s manager.

“Jeff always put food on the table and a roof over my head. He paid for my skating for a couple of years. If it hadn't been for him during that time, I wouldn't have been skating."

Tonya would move in with Jeff in 1988 and they got married in 1990. By 1993 they would separate, she would file a restraining order, they would divorce, and then they’d get back together.

Harding was an extremely talented skater, and she began to place at significant competitions at a young age. In 1986, she placed sixth at the United States Figure Skating Championships. In 1987 and 1988, she placed fifth. Then, in 1989, she placed third. She won Skate America in 1989.

In 1991, Harding landed her first triple axel at the U.S. Championships.

She then won the October 1989 Skate America competition, and was considered a strong contender at the February 1990 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. However, she was experiencing the flu and asthma and had a poor free skate. After the original program, she dropped from second place and finished seventh overall.

PS if you're listening to the podcast, I never realized that I say the word "championships" with an accent until this recording.

Harding's breakthrough year came in 1991 when, at the U.S. Championships, she completed her first triple Axel in competition on February 16 – the first American woman to execute the jump.[15] She landed seven triple jumps in the long program including the triple Axel.[16] She won the 1991 U.S. Ladies' Singles title with the event's first 6.0 technical merit score since Janet Lynn's 1973 performance at the U.S. Championships.[17] She won the long program when seven of the nine judges gave her first place, and won the competition.[18] She scored eight 5.9s and one 6.0 for technical merit and six 5.9s, one 5.8 and two 5.7s for composition and style.[18]

At the March 1991 World Championships, an international event, she again completed the triple Axel. Harding would finish second behind Kristi Yamaguchi and in front of Nancy Kerrigan, marking the first time one country swept the ladies medal podium at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonia Kwiatkowski on the podium at the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota

At the September 1991 Skate America competition, Harding became the first woman to complete a triple Axel in the 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.

Also, judges at times gave her lower scores because her gruff personality contradicted the conventional "presentation" they were looking for. Her skating was powerful and athletic instead of graceful and balletic. And she also liked to wear bright nail polish and skate to rock music like ZZ Top.

The unfair treatment by the judges made Tonya an even more rebellious skater. "Ice skating, I think, it's a very snob sport. It's a very snob sport," said Harding's former choreographer, Vicki Mills-O'Donnell, during ESPN Films 30 for 30: The Price of Gold documentary, "and she did not fit the image at all, not even close." Harding grew up a tomboy, going hunting and fishing with her dad, and chopping firewood.

Tonya separated from Jeff, got a restraining order, then they got back together.

Tonya got kind of lazy and didn’t practice as much. She started making a lot of excuses. She also started smoking a lot, and it didn’t help that she had asthma.

1992 Olympics she didn’t land the triple axle. Blames it on her skate. Came in 4th, right behind Nancy Kerrigan.

Nancy had everything Tonya didn’t— she was talented and a very hard worker but she also had the looks the judges wanted to see, and she grew up money and a loving family.

In 1994, Jeff wanted to achieve Tonya’s success in the 1994 United States Figure Skating Championships and the forthcoming Winter Olympics, so he and his buddy, Shawn Eckardt came up with this brilliant plan to have someone attack Nancy Kerrigan so that she couldn’t skate. So Shawn brought 2 guys into the plan, named Derrick Smith and Shane Stant.

Just so you know, Derrick Smith and Shane Stant, and also Shawn Eckhardt, are a bunch of buffoons.

Smith and Stant left the most ridiculous papertrail and left all the clues pointing to them.

On January 6, 1994, one day before the U.S. Figure Skating Championship first Ladies' Singles competition, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked in a corridor after a practice session by Shane Stant.

Kerrigan had just finished a practice session and Stant was waiting in the wings. Just seconds later, he struck.

There was a camera guy that was right behind her so he waited for him to put his camera down knowing when he walked away it would shut off.

Stant says that was his cue to hit Kerrigan. He swung a 21-inch (53 cm) ASP telescopic baton at her right leg, striking above her knee, and kept walking. She collapsed and started wailing “why, why”

There was panic in the arena and a frantic search for the suspect.

Shane tried to run but he came to a locked door. It was like a glass push-door, so he bashed the glass with his head (instead of using the baton) and bailed.

Tonya says that she was just waking up from a nap when she got a phone call letting her know of the news. She claims to have been shocked by the news.

In fact, she said it made her nervous because, according to her, nobody was caught so how could she be sure that she wasn’t going to be next?

So Nancy wasn’t able to compete and Tonya did indeed win the national championship. She went home to Portland as a national champion and her whole town celebrated her.

A newscrew reached her for comment about how she felt about being a champion, and she made this comment, like “thanks but I don’t have the crown yet and I’m gonna go out there and kick Nancy’s butt.'' Everyone was like WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT. but shes like “calm down i was just talking about skating.

Tonya Harding AND Nancy Kerrigan both ended up being invited to compete in the olympics.

In the weeks between the attack and the olympics, the police started questioning everyone about the attack.

In The Tonya Tapes, Harding says her mom showed up at an ice rink where she was skating shortly before the 1994 Olympics and tried to record her with a microphone hidden in her coat. “They [the press] gave her a mic and turned it on and walked down into the rink to try and get me to say stuff,” Harding said, adding that she admonished her mother after she saw the device: “You can leave this rink and never come back. I don’t want to have anything to do with you anymore. I have put up with this too long.”

Shawn’s dumbass had gone around bragging to everyone about how he arranged this whole coup that he masterminded like he thought he was such a badass. So the police were led to Shawn and when they questioned him, he folded fast– he threw everybody under the bus. Oh, and he also told everyone that he’s Tonya’s bodyguard.

That’s confusing because I saw an interview where she was like “body guard? Are you kidding me? He’s dumb as a post.” but i saw another report that said that she referred to him as the bodyguard.

So Shawn Eckardt led the police to Jeff, and of course, that raised a lot of questions about Tonya.. Of course, everybody was just pointing fingers at each other.

She continued saying that she didn’t know anything. In interviews she said that she wasn’t even suspicious of Jeff or anything until like the next 5 days or so. She says that he started acting suspicious and then randomly something popped into her head, she remembered like a month or two earlier she had overheard Jeff and Shawn talking about “taking someone out to make sure that Tonya gets on the olympic team.” But supposedly there was nothing specific said and she didn’t think they meant anything violent by that.” But anyway he was being suspicious so she started questioning him like “ok what are you not saying? Do you know something?”

Then the media was all over her. There were reporters showing up at the rink when she was practicing, trying to question her. Once Shawn was questioned and he named Jeff. Jeff pled to an assault charge and the agreement required him to testify for the state against Tonya Harding.

Tonya says that she then realized that the two of them were involved in Nancy’s attack, but she didn’t know to what extent. *She says*

So Tonya went in for a voluntary interview. She was interviewed for 10 hours and her story was inconsistent. She continued insisting she didn’t know shit until they told her “we know you’re lying and we can tell you how we know.” So then she’s like “ok, this isn’t easy for me to tell on somebody I love, but Jeff did it.”

Then she gave a press conference saying ………. basically that she hasn't been telling the whole truth about knowing nothing.

Still, USFSA now had to decide if she should be allowed to skate in the olympics while the case was being investigated. But she felt she had earned every right to be there, so she sued.

Tonya Harding filed suit late Wednesday to block the U.S. Olympic Committee’s impending hearing on her eligibility. Her suit also demanded $20 million in damages.

1994 Olympics-

There was a lot of media that had never been to a figure skating event before and it was because they wanted to see Nancy and Tonya skate against each other.

It was packed, there were like 700 photographers on them. Nancy decided to wear the exact same outfit she was wearing when she was attacked.

This was such drama. And Nancy and Tonya completely ignored each other.

Tonya kept like downplaying the Nancy situation. It was weird. Maybe she was nervous but like she did an interview with Connie Chung where Connie’s like “so everybody’s talking about you and it’s not because of your skating. You know that right?” and shes like “no i don’t, its because of my skating. It’s because I’m good.”

So Tonya goes to skate at the Olympics and she bombs it. She doesn’t land her jumps, she’s a hot mess. Nancy comes out and skates, and she’s flawless. She nails every move, it’s a clean win.

Tonya’s like “I’m not giving up, I’m going for the gold.” Then it’s Tonya’s turn again and they make the announcement, and nobody comes out. So they announce again, and nothing. Then there’s 45 seconds left and everyone’s like “if she’s not here in 45 seconds, i think they’re gonna disqualify her”. She comes out hastily saying "i'm not going to let it hold me"

After arriving on the ice just six seconds shy of disqualification, the figure skater launched into her long program only to cut the routine short due to an issue with her laces. she started crying.

Then she skates over to the judges and puts her foot up on the ledge to show them, and she’s like “i have a problem, my lace is broken.” Apparently when something like this happens, you're supposed to go let a referee know immediately.

Through tears, she showed her problematic skate to the judges, who allowed her to return to the ice with the right laces five skaters further down the rotation. (Tonya claimed her lace broke after her warm-up exercise and she was worried that the shorter lace she'd used as a substitution could lead to a potentially dangerous accident during her routine.)

….of course it did. and I don't mean that to say it's just another excuse of Tonya's, but rather what I mean is, when it rains it fucking pours.

If you watch the footage (linked below), it seems like what happened was that Tonya, her coach, and a few other people who were helping were all trying to help her lace up her skates, but it looks like they can't get the lace through the little hole.

Her coach was like “why didn’t she have an extra pair of laces?” It’s the fucking olympics, like why isn’t she prepared?

But they give her a second chance. (which is astonishing to me.) She was going to go for a triple axle but….. She couldn’t nail it so went for a double instead. Therefore losing her last chance for a medal.

Nancy Kerrigan comes out again in a beautiful Vera Wang dress, and again, flawless. She nailed all her jumps, and she felt good. She did very well.

So guess who got the gold?

Unfortunately….. A 16 year old skater named Oksana Baiul came out of nowhere and beat Nancy by a 10th of a point, taking home the gold.

The irony. All of this drama, and neither Nancy or Tonya win the gold.

After the Olympics, well Tonya had the authorities to answer to. Now everybody’s like “ok so let’s get back to what you know. How were you involved in Nancy’s attack?”

They found a piece of evidence that was hard for even Tonya to talk her way out of. A restaurant owner went to put some trash in the dumpster and noticed trash bags that weren’t theirs. So she decided to open up the bags and go through the trash and found some mail that belonged to Jeff Gillooly and Tonya Harding. There were some doodles on the envelopes, like somebody jotting down notes, and they read “Tony Kent Arena”, which was the arena where Nancy Kerrigan practiced.

They determined that Tonya had likely called up an acquaintance to find out where Nancy practiced and that Tonya was the one who wrote it down on the envelope.

Tonya insists she didn’t write that.

The police, however, were sure that this was Tonya’s handwriting. The way they saw it was that it was Jeff’s plan, he was the moving force in this whole thing, but this note was proof that Tonya gave him the greenlight.

The other 3 men, Shawn Eckardt, Derrick Smith, and Shane Stant, were all sentenced to 18 months in prison. So the 4 guys are going to prison for sure and that makes it hard for Tonya to avoid prison.

Tonya takes a deal which results in her pleading guilty to hindering the prosecution, which is basically admitting that she helped conspire to cover up a crime after it occurred. She gets 3 years probation, a $100,000 fine, and 500 hours of community service. But the punishment that hurt the most was that she had to resign from the USFSA (United States Figure Skating Association). They stripped her of the championship title and banned her from skating for life. I mean she could still skate with the USFSA but she was pretty much u hiéranle as a skater because of her reputation. For Tonya, that was almost as bad as a prison sentence. Her whole life was devoted to skating, she dropped out of highschool to skate. She didn’t know how to do anything else.

So Tonya’s gotta like, find herself all over again. Figure out who she is outside of ice skating. And it was rough.

There’s a sex tape of Tonya and Jeff that got out, pics ended up in Penthouse magazine. Tonya says that she did not give them permission to do that.

Both Gillooly and Harding used the same agent to negotiate equal payment on the Penthouse sale.

She was in a movie called Breakaway, and apparently wasn’t bad. And then she became a celebrity boxer. They called her Tonya “TNT” Harding. She boxed against Paula Jones and won.

You can’t make this shit up. But she loved it. She said it was monie, it was fun, but I mean it was brutal. She was like in her 30s. Her boxing career was cut short by her asthma.] Her overall record was three wins and three losses.

Then she was hired to host a show called “World’s Dumbest”.

Harding married Michael Smith in 1995; they divorced in 1996.

On February 22, 2000, Harding attacked her then-boyfriend Darren Silver, repeatedly punching him in the face and throwing a hubcap at his head. The attack left Silver with a bloodied face and Harding was arrested. She initially pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges, but in a May trial in Clark County (WA) District Court admitted to attacking Silver and was sentenced to three days in jail, 10 days of community service and a suspended jail sentence of 167 days.

Since leaving skating and boxing, Harding has worked as a welder, a painter at a metal fabrication company, and a hardware sales clerk at Sears.[145] As of 2017, she stated that she worked as a painter and deck builder.

She married 42-year-old Joseph Price on June 23, 2010, when she was 39 years old. She gave birth to a son named Gordon on February 19, 2011.

There’s an Opera about Tonya & Nancy.

Tonya Harding had a Wheaties box.

Barack Obama once used “Tonya Harding” as a verb–

“.. and people say there’s no way Obama has a chance, unless he goes and kneecaps the person ahead of us, does a Tonya Harding”

Nancy Kerrigan went on to be beloved. She continued skating. She went on Dancing With The Stars in 2017 and continued to inspire people.

There was an interview where they spoke to each other, face to face, 4 years after the attack Tonya apologized for “being at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people”.

In the 2008 book The Tonya Tapes, Harding told an interviewer that during the first few days of the Kerrigan investigation, Gillooly and his goons took her into the mountains to frighten her into silence.

In the book The Tonya Tapes, she writes that she decided to call the FBI shortly after the incident, when she first learned of Gillooly’s involvement. Gillooly terrified her into silence, she writes:

“"Jeff and two other guys — don't know who they were because I couldn't see who they were — they were in a different car — decided to drive me up to the mountains, put a gun to my head, and take themselves upon me ... They told me, this is what you are going to say. This is what you are going to do, and if you don't, you're not going to be here anymore.”

"Her saying that I gang raped her is ridiculous," Jeff responded. "I am surprised that some publisher would even print this."

Shane Stant, the hit man who was hired to attack Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan with a collapsible baton 24 years ago, has told Inside Edition exclusively that he is regretful for the act that shook the figure skating world to its core.

“The truth is, I just thought, ‘Well, I’ll do this and kind of go on with my life and she’ll go on with her life,'” he told Inside Edition.

He said there was talk of doing much worse to Kerrigan in the January 1994 attacks at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Mich.

“There was initial talk of cutting her Achilles tendon, which obviously would cripple her,” he said. “I didn’t think it was necessary. I wasn’t willing to do that on top of that.”

Tonya and her mother don’t talk, and Harding said they never will. “I gave her the opportunity to be a mother and it did not happen. I have forgiven her for everything she had done to me as a child, but I’m OK. I’m all right.”

LaVona “she wouldn’t know what a beating was I’ve never abused my children.”

“She’s lied so much she doesn’t know what isn’t a lie anymore.”

Jeff also says that Tonya is a huge liar and it’s not even worth it to respond anymore.

Jeff Gillooly (now Jeff Stone) did say he’s saddened by the fact that Harding is now remembered for the thing he “talked her into doing” rather than for her talent on the ice. And he says he’s sincerely apologetic towards Nancy Kerrigan.

If you like this case, you should check out the movie I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. It’s a fictional telling but it’s very entertaining and the acting is great. It brought a lot of attention to Tonya again. Tonya says that Allison Janney’s portrayal of LaVona is uncanny.

Thank you guys for all the love you’ve given to our podcast! We actually made a list of the Top 80 true crime podcasts on the web in 2022. Broken Limelight came in at #57! That’s pretty good right? I’m excited. I hope you guys loved this episode and what we have cooking up.

Feel free to reach out if you want to hear a case featured on Broken Limelight podcast. You can email me at, or you can just go to the website and go to the “Contact” tab to send me a message.

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Truth & Lies: Tonya Harding

The Tonya Tapes

Photos & Videos

tonya harding boxing