On this day seventeen years ago, the world of women’s figure skating became front page news after the American Nancy Kerrigan was attacked whilst practicing for the upcoming US Championships in Detroit. Kerrigan was strongly fancied to win the event which had greater significance with the Winter Olympic Games due to be held in Lillehammer, Norway but she was forced to miss the US Championships having sustained severe bruising to her right leg after being struck above the knee with a collapsible police baton.
The assault was carried out by Shane Stant, who had been hired by Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckhardt, ex-husband and bodyguard respectively of Tonya Harding, one of Kerrigan’s closest rivals on the rink. Harding duly won the event following Kerrigan’s withdrawal, but both were selected for the US Olympic team as the speculation about Harding’s alleged involvement in the attack gathered pace...
Later in the month (on 27th January), Tonya Harding admitted helping to cover up the incident – attempts were made (and justifiably so...) to have her removed from the Olympic team, but she retained her place following threats of legal action. Harding duly competed in Lillehammer and finished eighth (her efforts were not helped by a broken lace on one of her boots) with her every moved being followed by literally hundreds of reporters, but Kerrigan skated magnificently and her performances were rewarded with a silver medal.
The controversy didn’t end there though, as American television suggested that Oksana Baiul from Ukraine had only won the gold because of an East/West bias in the judging... the organisers were clearly taken by surprise as they took twenty minutes to locate the Ukrainian national anthem, but Kerrigan was told the delay was due to the winner putting on her make-up! Kerrigan’s retort: “Oh, come on. So she’s going to get out here and cry again. What’s the difference?” was picked up and transmitted and caused something of a shift in public sympathy away from the American.
Nancy Kerrigan retired from competition after the Lillehammer games, but continued to perform in a number of ice shows; she has also done some broadcast work, written a book and, in 2004, she was inducted into the US Figure Skating Hall of Fame. She has also created a foundation to support the visually impaired....
As for Harding, she pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers and was given probation, a fine and community service... Gillooly and Eckhardt both received jail sentences – they both later changed their names and Eckhardt (now known as Brian Griffith) died, aged 40, in 2007.
Harding continually protested her innocence about involvement in the actual attack, but she was stripped of the 1994 US title and banned from competing in US-run events - as either a skater or a coach – for life. Harding’s reputation was such that she was not welcomed onto the professional skating circuit although ten years later; she did make an attempted sporting comeback... somewhat bizarrely in the boxing ring.... More recently, in February last year, Harding gave birth to her first child... apparently it was a difficult birth, but the midwife still awarded her 5.7 for artistic impression...
All my own work... almost.