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Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding Scandal: 20 Years Later [VIDEO]

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan/images courtesy of Getty

In early 1994, figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was on top of the world.  She was a heavy favorite for gold heading into the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer.  But all that changed that January 6th when she was the victim of an assault, allegedly hatched by rival skater Tonya Harding.  It was the ‘Whack Heard Round the World’.  Twenty years later, we look back on the scandal, and how the incident changed their lives forever.

Who could forget the wailing, the crying ‘Why, why, why?!’  Oh I ate up every moment of that!  I couldn’t believe this stranger-than-fiction tale was actual reality!

 

Kerrigan was hit in the leg by a baton-wielding attacker as she left practice for the National Championships, which would determine who would represent the U.S. in Lillehammer.  The assailant was a man hired by Jeff Gillooly,  the ex-husband of Harding.

 

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The incident was played out in the media like a classic good vs. evil story.  Kerrigan was America’s Sweetheart, seemingly taken out by a jealous No. 2.  Harding wanted the chance to compete for gold, and the only path to achieving that goal was simple: eliminate the competition.

 

However, Harding didn’t bet on Kerrigan’s quick recovery, or her allowance (after a team vote that eliminated Michelle Kwan) to eventually move on to the Winter Olympics.  When both women competed against each other a few weeks after the attack, the country was riveted, and the women’s skating competition became one of the most-watched programs in American history. In the end, neither emerged with the gold medal.  Kerrigan took silver, while Harding placed eighth.

20 years later, what’s become of America’s most infamous figure skaters?

Nancy Kerrigan

In Lillehammer Nancy delivered a nearly flawless routine, finishing a fraction of a point behind Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul. Later that year, Kerrigan retired from competition and turned pro, appearing in a variety of ice shows, and making a cameo in the Will Ferrell ice-skating parody Blades of Glory. In 1995 she married her agent, with whom she has three children. She refuses to speak to Harding to this day.

Tonya Harding

The self-described “Charles Barkley on ice” with a reputation for bratty behavior had been the first American woman to land a triple-axel jump, but by the 1992 Olympics she lost the ability to master the move.

Following the attack on Kerrigan, Harding nailed her Nationals routine, winning gold and guaranteeing an Olympics slot. Hopes were high, and the plan seemed to have worked.  However, it would mark the last high point of her skating career.

In the days following the assault on Kerrigan, suspicion turned to Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, and soon to Harding herself. Though she maintained she only knew of the attack after it occurred, and didn’t report the crime because she feared what Gillooly would hurt her, she couldn’t escape the public perception that she helped mastermind the plan. She became irreversibly vilified. After the ’94 Olympics Harding was stripped of her National Championship and barred from competitive skating.

She eventually released a sex tape with Gillooly and faced off against Paula Jones for Fox’s Celebrity Boxing. She now lives with her husband and toddler son in Oregon, and reportedly works as a woodworker.

What became of Jeff Gilooly?

He is living under the name Jeff Stone.  Last month he told Deadspin magazine that Harding was “the best figure skater that ever lived. We decided to do something really stupid there, and it ruined her.”

On January 16th ESPN will revisit the scandal during a special 30 for 30 called The Price of Gold.

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