A Look Inside the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan Figure Skating Scandal

When Skating Gets Icy

Figure Skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan
Corbis/VCG via Getty Images / Getty Images

You may have heard that two skaters, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, were involved in a figure skating scandal. What happened during the altercation and what resulted from it? How did this event impact figure skating?

Just before the 1994 Olympics, right after a practice session at the United States National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Michigan, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked as she was coming off the ice. Nancy was hit with a hard object (later identified as a tactical baton) on her right knee. The injury made it impossible for her to compete, and Tonya Harding won the Championship Ladies event.

Tonya Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was eventually tried and found guilty of hiring a hit man to injure Kerrigan and ruin her chance of competing in the 1994 Olympics. The assailant, Shane Stant, and other co-conspirators served time in prison for their roles in the plot. Gillooly cooperated with the prosecution and pled guilty, serving six months of a two-year prison sentence. 

Tonya also pled guilty, not to the plot to injure Kerrigan, but to hindering the investigation of the men who carried it out. Her suspended sentence allowed her to avoid serving time, but she was fined and sentenced to community service and three years probation. In addition, the U.S. Figure Skating Association banned Harding for life and took away her title.

"Tonya and Nancy" and the Media

The "Kerrigan Attack" increased the popularity of figure skating. People were interested in the story of the two female rivals and wanted to know the truth about what happened during the event. A novel was written, followed by a musical play and a few television movies were made about the incident. The popularity of the event was evident, even 20 years later in early 2014, when two more documentaries brought the incident back into the public's eye.

About Tonya Harding

It is said that Tonya Harding may perhaps be the most controversial person in figure skating history. Some of the highlights of Tonya Harding's competitive career include:

  • Placing 4th at the 1992 Olympics
  • Coming in 2nd at the 1991 World Championships
  • Placing 1st at the 1991 U.S. Nationals

Harding also won the United States National Figure Skating Championships in 1994, but all records of her winning that title have been erased due to the incident.

About Nancy Kerrigan

Nancy Kerrigan won the bronze medal in 1992 and the silver medal in 1994 in women's figure skating at the Olympics. She also was the U.S. Ladies Champion in 1993.

After she was attacked in 1994, Nancy Kerrigan famously said, "Why me? Why, why, why?" This was captured on film, though some people say she only cried, "Why?" over and over again.

"Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera"

Here's another example of how popular the scandal became. "Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera," produced in February of 2008, was an expanded version of "Tonya and Nancy: The Opera" which was an original one-act chamber opera. Both productions are based on the Tonya Harding / Nancy Kerrigan 1994 figure skating scandal.

I, Tonya

In 2017, I Tonya, a critically-acclaimed movie starring Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding earned Robbie a best actress Oscar nomination.