With the Dancing With the Stars cast reveal as well was the recent biographical movie I, Tonya still fresh in viewers' minds, Tonya Harding's name hasn't appeared in more headlines since 1994. The figure skater famously went from breaking barriers and winning medals to a receiving a lifetime ban from her chosen sport, all because of an orchestrated attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan.
While Harding maintains to this day she didn't plan the shocking assault, her guilty plea to hindering the prosecution tarnished her reputation for decades. Now she's finding a new light thanks to Margot Robbie's sympathetic portrayal in the black-comedy film and a spot on the ballroom-dancing reality show, one of . For those who need a refresher on all the drama, here's what you need to know:
Born on November 12, 1970, Tonya Harding grew up in Portland, Oregon, where she began skating at age 3. She was the only child of LaVona Golden (played by Allison Janney in a Golden Globe-winning performance) and her fifth husband, Alan Harding.
Harding called herself a learning car mechanics, hunting, shooting, and pool under his tutelage. It was her mom who pushed her towards her skating, working as a waitress to fund expensive lessons and sewing her daughter's costumes by hand. But Golden's support came with , as many friends and relatives attested to her verbal and physical abuse. Golden reportedly pushed Harding down the stairs, beat her with a hairbrush, and refused to let her use the bathroom while practicing, among other accusations.
Harding's parents divorced in 1987 after 19 years together. It was around this time that their daughter started to reach skating prominence, placing fifth at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. By 1989, she won the title outright.
After rising through the ranks, Harding's career peaked in 1991 when she landed her first triple axel at the U.S. Championships and again at the World Championships. As the first American woman to complete it, Harding's athleticism still goes unmatched. Case in point: I, Tonya's director and producers had to replicate it, but learned only six women in history have completed one — and they would have to use computer effects if they wanted to depict a triple axel themselves.
The feat won Harding the national title and a silver at Worlds (behind Kristi Yamaguchi and ahead of Nancy Kerrigan), but she would never successfully complete a triple axel in a competition after 1991.
The year also saw her separation from Jeff Gillooly, who she had married in 1990 at the age of 19. "Scared for her safety," Harding had filed for divorce and a restraining order in spring, but they would later reconcile by the fall.
Harding would also qualify for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, but missed out on the podium by placing fourth. The public instead fell in love with Nancy Kerrigan, a media darling billed as both America's sweetheart and an ice princess when she took home the bronze.
Harding's skating continued to decline in 1993 as she finally divorced Gillooly, but 1994 posed a unique opportunity. It was the first Winter Games to be held in a different year than the Summer Olympics, meaning Harding had a rare chance to redeem herself on an international stage just two years after Albertville.
On January 6, 1994, Nancy Kerrigan was leaving a practice session for the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit when a man later identified as Shane Stant attacked her. Stant whacked the skater's knee with a baton, intending to breaking her right leg. The assault merely bruised it, but Kerrigan wasn't able to compete. "Why me?" Kerrigan famously cried in the recorded after the attack.
Harding would go on win the title, but it later emerged that Gillooly and Harding's bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt had paid Stant $6,500 to remove Kerrigan from Olympic consideration. But by the time more details emerged, both Harding and Kerrigan were both on the team.
As the evidence continued to grow, the United States Olympics Committee tried to bar Harding from competition but Harding threatened legal action. She would go on to skate, but not without further controversy. During the long program, she would tearfully complain to judges about a and earned a second chance at her routine. The do-over didn't help though. Harding would place eighth, while Kerrigan rode the wave of public support to a silver medal.
Many media experts now dub the tabloid frenzy during the Games as . The non-stop coverage demolished Harding's reputation. By March, she pled guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution. While Gillooly, Stant, and Eckhardt all received jail time, Harding avoided prison, earning three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine instead.
"I had no part in the planned assault on Nancy Kerrigan," she said in her first public comments about the attack. "I am responsible, however, for failing to report things I learned about the assault when I returned home from nationals."
Perhaps even worse, the United States Figure Skating Association stripped Harding of her 1994 U.S. Championships title and served her a lifetime ban from the sport. Her name would later appear in the headlines for a celebrity sex tape, a short-lived professional bo career, and a 2008 biography, .
In 2010, she married her third husband, Joseph Jens Prince, and their son Gordon was born a year later. While she works primarily as a mom now, she still skates occasionally and does landscaping work on the side, according an interview with the .
Return to the Spotlight With "I, Tonya"
When she first read the script for I, Tonya, . She was after all only 4 when the events took place. But her critically acclaimed portrayal of Harding did a lot to humanize the disgraced athlete, adding a lot more nuance to her backstory. Now, a whole new generation is learning about the high-profile scandal, albeit with different eyes.
When Allison Janney won the Golden Globe for her performance in the film, she thanked Harding for sharing her story. "What this movie did is tell a story about class in America, tell a story about the disenfranchised, tell a story about a woman who was not embraced for her individuality, tell a story about truth and the perception of truth in the media," .
But just like Harding's complicated past, her attendance at the Globes wasn't without controversy. Many the the allocation of praise to someone who helped cover up an attack — especially at an event where the conversation centered around abuse and assault.
The renewed criticism didn't seem to get to Harding though. In an interview with ABC News air on January 11, Harding doubled-down on her determination to move on.
"The media had me convicted of doing something wrong before I had even done anything at all," she says. "I'm always the bad person. Is it a challenge from the Lord to see how far I can be pushed until I break and become nothing? You can't push me that far anymore. 'Cause I've been nothing. And I've been nothing several times. But it's my faith in myself and in my father that comes back to me and makes me get back up off my butt and be something worth being proud of. I always wanted my daddy to be proud. And now I want my son to be proud."
Appearance on "Dancing With the Stars"
After the blockbuster movie made Harding a household name once again, the former athlete is now trading in her figure skates for character shoes. announced today that Harding will compete with partner Shasha Farbar on Season 24 of Dancing With the Stars.
When asked by Michael Strahan on Good Morning America if her skating experience with translate to the dance floor, Harding says it doesn't. "I need to get rid of a few things, like my skating face, my skating follow-through, and my feet," she joked. "We can't get rid of those!" Farbar interjected.
The special all-athlete cast also featuring figure skaters Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu as well as basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will begin competing for the Mirrorball Trophy on April 30, with the premiere airing at .