Figure skaters are usually a shoo-in (skate-in?) when it comes to succeeding on Dancing With The Stars. But DWTS: Athletes features three figure skaters — Mirai Nagasu, Adam Rippon, and Tonya Harding — so the competition between these athletes is bound to be fierce. Nagasu and Rippon were teammates at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but they are also close friends and attended the Oscars together, so their rivalry will likely be friendly. Harding, on the other hand, is from another generation of skaters — and quite a notorious one at that. Yet, Nagasu and Rippon's comments about Tonya Harding before DWTS show that they'll be focused on their fellow figure skater's abilities more than anything else when their season starts on April 30.
While Nagasu and Rippon competed for Team USA in PyeongChang, South Korea, this winter, the U.S. Figure Skating Association banned Harding from skating in 1994. As The Washington Post reported, Harding plead guilty to hindering the prosecution into who hit Nancy Kerrigan in the knee before the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the 1994 Winter Olympics. Harding has continued to deny that she knew about or was involved in the attack on Kerrigan.
Even without being figure skaters, Nagasu and Rippon would be familiar with Harding's legacy. But they have a slightly different perspective on it considering their shared profession and how this scandal impacted the figure skating community. So it's unsurprising that both Rippon and Nagasu had tweeted about Harding long before they would be dancing against her on Dancing With The Stars.
In 2010, Canadian skater Jeremy Ten posted a photo on Twitter where he was showing his skate to the panel of judges during a competition. (Based on the date of the tweet, it was probably the Skate Canada International competition.) Ten compared it to when Harding memorably stopped her performance at the 1994 Winter Olympics due to a broken skate lace. Rippon was at that 2010 competition too and responded to Ten's tweet by writing, "HAHA, Brian and I were watching you skate on TV back stage and when this happened we looked at each other and said 'Tonya!!'"
Nagasu also has teasingly referred to Harding on her Twitter. In 2011, Nagasu tweeted, "LOL I just watched tonya Harding give a lesson..,'take it from me, just because violence feels good doesn't make it ok.'" At that time, Harding was a talking head for truTV's series World's Dumbest, which focused on criminals and other people caught on video doing idiotic things. (Nagasu also tweeted about watching Harding drink a whole bottle of Tabasco sauce on TV in 2011.) More recently, Nagasu wrote on social media that couldn't believe Robbie didn't know that Harding was a real person before she starred in I, Tonya.
Nagasu has a particular connection to Harding since Nagasu landed a triple axel during her free skate in the team figure skating competition at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Her successful completion helped Team USA win the bronze in the team figure skating event. The triple axel was Harding's signature move since she was the first American woman to land it in a competition. But as Galore noted, Harding never landed a triple axel at the Olympics after attempts at both the 1992 and 1994 Winter Games. A judge who was at that 1994 Lillehammer Olympics told Cosmopolitan that Harding getting another opportunity to skate after her lace debacle "didn't make any difference in the way that she [skated]; she didn't really skate that well. She didn't get her triple axel in."
In an interview with Access Live, Nagasu claimed that Harding claimed to not know who she was when they met for Dancing With The Stars. As Access hosts Scott Evans and Kit Hoover noted, that seems pretty remarkable considering that Nagasu is the only American female figure skater to accomplish Harding's favorite jump at the Olympics. Nagasu said she handled the snub by telling Harding, "Oh girl, I'm your kindred spirit and I also love axels."
Nagasu has joked before about the fact that she has landed a triple axel at the Olympics while Harding has not. She attended the 2018 Oscars with Rippon and they discussed being excited to see the stars of I, Tonya. Nagasu told Entertainment Tonight that she and Rippon "loved" I, Tonya. She added, "To have a figure skating movie out on the carpet, and up for a nomination, it really means a lot to all of us," Nagasu said.
The pair also talked about Harding and I, Tonya to Entertainment Weekly on the Oscars red carpet. "I heard that she put beer in her hair to get that Tonya Harding hair look," Nagasu said about Robbie's performance. "I mean, whatever it takes, I'll put beer in my hair," Rippon interjected. Nagasu then offered to put a blonde wig on and to perform the triple axel for an I, Tonya 2.
For decades, Harding has been mocked in the media with regards to her career and the Kerrigan incident. (Kerrigan also participated on Dancing With The Stars, but two seasons before Harding's appearance.) While Rippon and Nagasu are certainly aware of that, their recent comments about Harding have steered clear of talking about Harding's main controversy for the most part. And it seems these younger figure skaters are ready to take on the infamous Harding for the Mirrorball trophy come April 30.