The 1994 Olympics Knee-Bashing Scandal
Overview of what most people know about the Olympics: It is a series of games like swimming, gymnastics, track and field etc. completed by competing athletes, the best of the best, around the world. What the Olympics actually are? Well, that depends on which form you are referring to. There is the Ancient Olympics and there is the Modern Olympics. The Ancient Olympics were a series of athletic competitions among representatives of city-states of Ancient Greece held in honor of Zeus every 4 or so years (Ancient Olympic Games). While Modern Olympics are roughly defined as only the leading international sporting events featuring both summer and winter sports competitions held by various countries wherein thousands of athletes variously compete (Olympic Games). Nonetheless, for as long as history dates back people around the world have come to watch these performances, to see who places, to judge the outfits and/or musical selections and to cheer on their favorite contenders. And since the 1930's with the Olympics first television broadcast millions more have tuned in to the Olympic Games only adding fuel to the fire of the evolution of the modern Olympic Movement. A movement that grew in numbers rather quickly during 1994 in particular, the Olympics that made more news than regular, not for its custom-made uniforms or candidates remarkable talents but because of the great 1994 Olympics Knee-Bashing Scandal: Tonya Harding vs. Nancy Kerrigan (Slate Magazine).
Who? Tonya Harding ' the low class and boyish, blond haired figure skater from Portland, Oregon and Nancy Kerrigan ' the upper class, brown haired, American sweetheart 'princess' from Woburn, Massachusetts; a comparison of night and day. Two women who came to represent not only themselves but their country in grave honor and duty but were and continue to be exploded by this one incident crudely dubbed as 'the whack heard around the world'.
Tonya Maxine Harding, on the surface, was the tom boy figure skater from the lower class end of Portland, Oregon who was a firm believer in self-expression, to say the least. At the age of 3 she set off on this ice skating venture which she later chose over her education, dropping out of high school her sophomore year in order to seriously pursue the beloved sport as her career. She did not care much if people did not like her music or costumes or even if she did not look as graceful as some of the other female skaters when she performed. She did what she loved, ice skating, and was happy with that. But underneath that rough and tough exterior of self- acceptance media displayed her to be, Tonya was said to be a very gentle person who all in all just wanted to be sponsored.
'Contrary to public opinion, Tonya Harding is an intelligent, caring and very sensitive person. Even though she will deny it to some of her friends, ugly remarks hurt her feelings. And why not? She tries hard to ignore so many hurtful words written about her by pretending not to care. But her friends know differently and love her for it (Harding Website).'
The daughter of LaVona Fay Golden and her fifth husband Al Harding, born November 12th 1970, Harding came from a family with a less than promising future, full of instability on an economic and emotional level. A father with a history of health problems that often left him unable to work, a physically abusive mother that was a part-time waitress, and a deceased half-brother, victim to a hit-run. Money was tight for the Harding family (Tonya Harding 'Wikipedia). She was exposed to low-class problems in an upper-class world. Tanya figured that winning the Olympics would not only garner her recognition but bring her financial stability as well. A very different objective from her counterpart, Miss Kerrigan, but nonetheless Harding took off gliding. Boyish-tendencies in all, Tonya started off on her figure skating road to victory with her mother, LaVona, as her costume designer and coach, Diane Rawlinson, by her side. Rough edges, but she got there. Tonya Harding started placing in competitions ' 5th place, 3rd place, 2nd and 1st. Setting records like the first woman to complete a triple axel in the short program, the second to complete a triple axel at all, 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, making time to get married to Jeff Gillooly somewhere in between. Harding's career was taking off in a big way, but still without sponsors (Slate Magazine & Harding Biography).
Nancy Kerrigan, on the other hand, had sponsors throwing themselves to her feet. 'Born in Massachusetts in 1969, Kerrigan showed figure skating talent at an early age. She began training and competing in grammar school and won a bronze medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics (Kerrigan Wikipedia).' Born on October 13, 1969 in Stoneham, Massachusetts figure skater Nancy Ann Kerrigan was kin to her mother Brenda, who was a homemaker and father Daniel Kerrigan, who was a welder. She was the youngest of three'the only girl' and a self-described "tomboy'. Kerrigan often tagged along with her brothers to the neighborhood ice rink while they played hockey ultimately making it easy for her to transition into figure skating at the age of six. Her talent was evident, winning her first competition at the age of 9, going on to win both local and regional competitions her family quickly jumped aboard to invest more time and energy as this hobby turned into an Olympic career (Kerrigan Biography). 'Motivated by her dream, and her family's financial sacrifices, Kerrigan poured all of herself into her practices, rising at 4 AM each morning to attend training before her classes at Stoneham High School. After high school, Kerrigan attended Emmanuel College, where she majored in business but continued to chase her Olympic dreams. A year into her bachelor's degree, she won the National Collegiate Championships. Months later, a bronze medal at the U.S. Olympic Festival. The next year, gold, earning the right to represent the United States at the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France. She won a bronze medal there, followed by her first national title at the U.S. Nationals in Phoenix, Arizona. The Olympian appeared to be entering the top of her game in 1993; Kerrigan even landed two big wins at major international competitions at the end of 1993 (Kerrigan Biography). But it was not all glitz and glamour, Nancy Kerrigan had highs and lows just like Harding. For example, her poor performance at the 1993 World Games in Prague, that sent her down to tenth place. But neither athlete had experienced a low like the one to come. In January of 1994, both Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan found themselves in the international spotlight after Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, conspired with party members Shawn Eckhardt and Shane Stant to physically assault skating competitor Nancy Kerrigan after a practice session during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Michigan (Infoplease).
The Price of Gold documentary stages the attack to have taken place immediately after the run-through when Nancy leaves the ice rink preparing to head down the hall but to her surprise a hooded man greets hers and takes several booming whacks to her lower body. Followed by her loud cries of "Why me? Why now?" that were captured on video and replayed repeatedly on national TV (Bleacher Report).
The attack was said to have seriously bruised Kerrigan's kneecap and quadriceps tendon; therefore preventing her to skate, let alone participate in the 1994 U.S. Championships with injuries of such high dimensions. Under the extenuating circumstances, the United States Figure Skating Association chose to name her to the U.S. Olympic team so if in good health and spirits by the competition Kerrigan could still take the win (NBC). But that did not nearly compensate for the event that had just taken place. She had been brutally attacked by someone whom at the time was unidentified and unsure why. In spite of this, these unknown answers, one thing was certain, Nancy Ann Kerrigan had been attacked and that much was headline news.
'Whack Heard Around The World', 'Knee Bashing Scandal', 'Skater Attacked''just to name a few of the many articles blown up to attract consumers; in reality, attracting more people to this unfortunate event. But fans loved it. They became obsessed with the story because media had seemingly became obsessed with the story (AOL). Everywhere you looked there was a newspaper, magazine, blog offering the latest updates and proposing different versions of what 'really' happened when Kerrigan left the rink. Quickly the scandal starts to unravel.
Days after the attack, fingers were pointed in the direction of Tonya Harding, Kerrigan's rival, who had recently placed 1st in the U.S. Championships and was headed to the National Olympics. An intense FBI investigation was underway with more names starting to emerge and six days later, assault accomplice Shawn Eckardt caves in (Bleacher Report). Eckhardt confesses to the crime labeling Gillooly and Harding as the masterminds behind the whole thing and giving the names of others accomplices, exposing the weapon as a collapsible baton and the blue prints they drew up to get Kerrigan out of Harding's way of winning gold. Authorities proceed in arresting Eckhardt, along with attacker Shane Stant and getaway driver Derrick Smith. Shortly after, a warrant is issued for Gillooly arrest and he surrenders himself to the FBI (People & NBC).
The media blitz to follow could have never been imagined by either party. News reports came from everywhere. They planted themselves out on Harding and Kerrigan's lawns; surrounding their homes, every move they made and every word they said the reporters wanted it all. Continuing coverage on the attack, media seemingly was now egging on the rivalry between Harding and Kerrigan, printing articles with titles like 'Ice Follies', 'The Ice Queen vs. the Darling of Dysfunction' or 'Nancy Harding and Tonya Kerrigan'. Everyone had an opinion to give about Nancy Kerrigan's attack. And when it was announced that Tonya Harding supposedly knew about the plan to brutally attack figure skater Nancy Ann Kerrigan the pressure from the media grew greater (The Huffington Post). More opinions were skewed. Theories. Questions. It was a mess. It was a scandal and the first big scandal of many more to come. And boy does America love its scandals, this scandal in particular.
The investigation proceeded with Tonya Harding remaining to deny any prior knowledge of the attack, a crush of tabloid journalists descending on Kerrigan as she tried to recover and only a few short weeks until the Olympics. With husband Jeff Gillooly in prison and accomplices Shawn and Derrick on trial, Tonya was under the microscope of all media, the pressure now mounted (AOL).
The Figure Skating Association did not want Harding to participate in the upcoming Olympic events but a $25 million lawsuit filed by Harding's lawyers changed its mind. The board permitted Harding to skate although a potential suspect in the case and the knee-bashing victim, Nancy Kerrigan, was now fully recovered and ready to skate again in hopes to claim the Olympic title. The stage was set for the greatest showdown in Olympic history (NBC).
Every reporter you can imagine came to watch the '94 Olympics. They came to the arena and filled the halls, filled the chairs to watch the performances, even interviewed other contenders about their take on the attack and court case as they waited for the duo to appear. But every reporter above all showed for the practice session on the rink because every reporter knew as well as the 70 million viewers at home watching that there would be some kind of tension on the rink between Kerrigan and Harding. And everyone wanted to see it (NBC). The first time the pair had seen one another since the U.S. championships months before. Tabloid reporters were next to the New York Times and the Washington Post, all lined up, two ends of the spectrum colliding together. In this coverage, "they were all equal." Media was obsessed. People, in general, had become obsessed with this 'reality TV'(People).
As the U.S. team entered the practice rink, it was as if all eyes were on the duo because if they were not you were missing something grand, you were missing history. Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan skated on to the rink along with their teammates, and began practicing. They tried to show little to no tension to the massive crowd that had come out to be a part of this momentous reunion but reality was they were there and in large numbers. Tonya struggled to stay focus, missing a number of her jumps, cameras catching her glancing in the direction of Kerrigan. But on the contrary, Kerrigan stretched and proceeded to skate. She carried on as if the attack had never even taken place, entering the rink waving to reporters and posing for pictures. She proceeded on to practice her routine, jumps in all, never once looking over in the direction of Harding.
All in all, the competition started and Kerrigan skates a virtually perfect routine. Heading into the finals, she was in first place, ahead of Ukrainian teenager and world champion Oksana Baiul and France's Surya Bonaly. Harding, on the other hand, placed at a disappointing 10th after missing jumps and having to restart her segment due to a shoelace break. In the end, Nancy Kerrigan finished in 2nd place winning a silver medal at the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, finishing second to Oksana Baiul by 0.1 points and Harding finished 8th (Harding Biography). It was clear to the viewers who had come out on top, the 'Ice Princess'.
More interviews were done after the competition, with reporters asking Kerrigan questions like how she feels to have placed 2nd and what was it like seeing Harding here after the attack? Reporters asked Harding questions like what happened and what's next for her. But the scandal does not end there.
Shortly after the disappointing placement in the Olympics, Harding admits to have known about the attack after the fact but failed to come forward and plead guilty on trial. In response, the United States Olympic Committee ripped Tonya Harding of her U.S. Championship title and issued a lifetime ban from participating in the Olympics (AOL). She gave boxing a run after being disbarred but the career was short lived.
Today, 43 year old Tonya Harding lives a very ordinary life, simple and quite. She says it works out best that way so much of her time is spent alone. Harding claims she has already experienced being at the top so now is willing to live her life independently, aside from that of her closest friends (Harding Website).
After divorcing Jeff Gillooly in 1994, Harding got hitched and divorced again to second husband Michael Smith in 1995. But today it seems as if Harding has finally found the right guy, a commentator on the popular truTV program The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest, who previously had a brief stint as a boxer too. Harding and 42-year-old Joseph Jens Price have been married since June 23, 2010 and as of February 11, 2011, it was announced that she was pregnant with her first child. She gave birth to a son on February 19, 2011.
Harding continues to skate today, although she never did get the sponsorship she worked so hard for. "I don't want to compete. I'd like to have my own skating show, though,' the skater said, according to her site (Harding Website). But she leaves figure skating with a commendable history along the way.
Harding leaves the realm of professional figure skating with the reputation of being the first U.S. woman to successfully complete a Triple Axel - the Everest of women's figure skating- in competition and can still do the triple axel today, according to her website (Harding Wikipedia).
Conversely, after placing silver in the 1994 Olympics Kerrigan went on to receive several lucrative endorsements, including one from Walt Disney World, and retired from active competition. Since 1994, she has performed in a variety of ice skating shows; competed in the 2006 FOX television program, 'Skating with Celebrities'; and appeared in the 2007 film Blades of Glory, starring Will Ferrell. Kerrigan currently reside in Lynnfield, Massachusetts with her husband Jerry Solomon, her former agent, and their three children (Kerrigan Biography & Wikipedia).
These days, both Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding have seemed to move past the events leading up to the first great scandal but one thing is certain, media has not.
After the Kerrigan and Harding scandal, the battle of good versus evil on the world's biggest stage, a new media concept of 'reality TV' surfaced and we have not been able to shake it since. The story of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding is also a story of the media. This affair foreshadowed the public's obsession with "reality TV before there was reality TV (NBC)'.
Even to this day, 20 years later, figure skating is unable to come up in conversation without the mentioning of the 'whack heard around the world' or the most memorable Olympic moments ' top 3. The two remain a duo; you cannot talk about one mentioning the other. 20 years later and people still have their theories. Interviews are still being done asking Kerrigan that same questions like 'how does it feel''? and Tonya, 'what happened..'? Documentaries are still being made to retell the infamous tale. 20 years later and the media is still obsessed. That's a real scandal.
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13. Gray, Emma. "What We Missed About The Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding Scandal 20 Years Ago." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Jan. 2014. Web. 08 Apr. 2014
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