Did Tonya Harding Know About The Nancy Kerrigan Attack? 'Truth & Lies' Addresses Harding's Side Of The 1994 Incident
The attack on Nancy Kerrigan occurred 24 years ago, but it's back in the public eye again due to I, Tonya. The film gives a version of Tonya Harding's side of the Nancy Kerrigan story and ABC is doing the same by talking to Harding for Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story. Throughout the years, Harding has said she didn't know about the attack on her rival figure skater Kerrigan. She will maintain that stance in the ABC special, but previews of her Truth and Lies interview have her admitting that she did know something of her ex-husband's plan.
After participating in the 1992 Winter Olympics, where Harding placed fourth and Kerrigan placed third, the athletes were both competing to get on the U.S. Olympics team in 1994. An amendment to the Olympic Charter called for the Winter and Summer Olympics to alternate every two years, which went into effect that year. This gave the veteran figure skaters — Kerrigan was 24; Harding was 23 — another chance at Olympic gold.
Everything changed when, at a U.S. Figure Skating Championships practice session on Jan. 6, 1994, a man attacked Kerrigan by clubbing her right knee. She was severely bruised on her landing leg, which made her unable to compete in the U.S. Championships. It also jeopardized her Olympic dreams since the national championship is the final qualifying event before the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team is announced. Harding, on the other hand, became the national champion and guaranteed herself a spot at the Olympics.
The 2014 ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, The Price of Gold, outlined the assault, and the documentary inspired I, Tonya screenwriter Steven Rogers. The Price of Gold showed that when Harding returned to her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after the championships, TV reporter Ann Schatz received an anonymous letter that implicated Harding, her live-in ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, and Gillooly's friend Shawn Eckardt in the attack. (Eckardt acted as Harding's bodyguard although Harding refutes that claim.) When Schatz told Harding about the letter, the skater agreed to an interview where she denied any knowledge of the attack.
In The Price of Gold, Harding said that after this interview, she asked Gillooly what he had done and he allegedly hit her, which was the first time she started wondering about his involvement. Harding claims that Gillooly physically abused her throughout their relationship and The Baltimore Sun reported in January 1994 that she had sought two restraining orders against him — as well as filing for divorce twice.
As for Gillooly, his character in I, Tonya denies Harding's claims of domestic abuse. (At the beginning of I, Tonya, it says the film is "Based on irony-free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly.") Harding also claimed in a 2008 book that Gillooly had raped her at gunpoint with two other men in 1994 to stop her from talking to the FBI about the attack. CBS reported that Gillooly denied her allegation. In an interview with Deadspin in 2014, Gillooly — who now goes by the name of Jeff Stone — denied it again, calling the accusation a "big story."
It didn't take long for the authorities to figure out that the man who hit Kerrigan, Shane Stant, and his getaway car driver, Derrick Smith, were hired by Gillooly and Eckardt. As The Washington Post reported, on Jan. 19, 1994, Gillooly was charged with the attack and on Jan. 27, Harding admitted to finding out about the plot — but only after the U.S. Championships had concluded. Gillooly claims otherwise and said Harding had allegedly approved of the attack. Below is video of the apology statement she made at the time.
As The New York Times reported, Gillooly was sentenced to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Eckardt, Stant, and Smith were each sentenced to 18 months in prison — Eckardt pleaded guilty to racketeering and Stant and Smith admitted to conspiracy to commit second-degree assault.
Harding was allowed to compete in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, against the recovered Kerrigan. Ukrainian skater Oksana Baiul won the gold medal, Kerrigan won the silver medal, and Harding placed eighth after she memorably struggled with the laces on her skate. Less than a month after the Olympics, Harding pleaded guilty to hindering the investigation of the attack on Kerrigan on March 16, 1994. The plea agreement ensured she wouldn't serve jail time, but she had three years of supervised probation and paid fines that amounted to $160,000.
Then, on June 30, 1994, the U.S. Figure Skating Association took away Harding's national championship title and banned her for life. The Washington Post reported that Harding's lawyer, Robert Weaver, said at the time, "She categorically denies the statements of Jeff Gillooly and others relied upon by the hearing panel that she had any prior knowledge of or participated in the assault on Nancy Kerrigan."
Since then, Harding has continued to assert that she had no involvement in the plan. But, for Truth and Lies, ABC News' Amy Robach interviewed Harding and in one segment, Harding reveals more than she ever has about what she knew before the attack. Harding still denies she had anything to do with it, but she said, "I did, however, overhear [Gillooly and Eckardt] talking about stuff where, 'Well, maybe we should take somebody out so we can make sure she gets on the team.' And I remember telling them, I go, 'What the hell are you talking about? I can skate.'"
She continued, "This was like a month or two months before. But they were talking about skating and saying, 'Well, maybe somebody should be taken out so then, you know, she can make it.'" When asked if after Kerrigan was attacked she thought about this conversation, Harding said, "No. I didn't know what was going on."
I, Tonya demonstrated that Harding and Gillooly have different versions of what happened. And Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote in a recent New York Times profile about Harding, "Here's the thing: A lot of what she said wasn't true. She contradicted herself endlessly. But she reminded me of other people I've known who have survived trauma and abuse, and who tell their stories again and again to explain what had happened to them but also to process it themselves."
So it's most likely that the public will never know the whole truth about Harding's involvement. But, just like in I, Tonya, you can hear Harding's perspective — without the filter of Hollywood — during ABC's Truth and Lies at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, Jan. 11.