Exactly 20 years have passed since champion figure skater Tonya Harding became infamous after her ex-husband was involved in an attack on figure skating rival Nancy Kerrigan, and Harding is now saying the media attention just became too much for her.
“Trying to train in front of everyone was so much mania,” Harding, now 43, said in an interview with for ESPN Films’ “The Price of Gold.” “Every time I’d jump they would all flash, I would fall on my face and hurt myself a couple of times. It just started becoming really impossible just to even concentrate on anything.”
The media frenzy following the attack on Kerrigan, who was widely favored to win a medal at the Winter Olympics in 1994, brought the spotlight squarely upon Harding, who denied any involvement in the plot to attack Kerrigan to increase her own odds of getting Olympic gold.
“I just couldn’t believe what was being said and stuff,” Harding said. “I never met or talked to–didn’t even know the other person involved,” she said.
The attention became overwhelming.
“You just get hit by everything all at once and you just want to crawl in a closet and say go away and leave me alone because you just don’t know what is going on,” she added.
The drama began six weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympics when the then-25-year-old Kerrigan was a favorite to win the United States Figure Skating Championships in Detroit — the final pre-Olympic tournament.
But two days before the competition, an assailant appeared backstage brandishing a police baton and clubbed Kerrigan on her right knee.
The attack forced her out of the competition. In her absence, Harding, a fierce competitor who was fighting for one last shot at Olympic glory, won the event.
Harding and Kerrigan were both chosen to represent the U.S. at the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, although suspicions were growing about Harding’s possible role in the attack.
In the weeks leading up to the winter games, Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and three other men pleaded guilty in the attack on Kerrigan. Harding denied having full knowledge of the plan before the incident.
Despite the scandal, Harding stayed on the team, and Kerrigan worked hard to recover from her injury in time for the Olympics.
Harding performed poorly at the Olympics, while Kerrigan won a silver medal and universal respect.
Two months after the attack, Harding pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution. She said she’d learned of the scheme after the fact and failed to report it. Then 23 years old, she was banned from competitive skating for life.
Harding went on to have a mediocre career in boxing. She remarried in 2010 and has a 2-year-old son.
She says she lost everything. She also claimed Kerrigan failed to respond when she apologized for her ex-husband’s actions.