Tonya Harding says she was scared after infamous 1994 baton attack on Nancy Kerrigan
"I mean, this had never happened [before]," Harding told ABC News' Amy Robach.
— -- Former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding says she was scared for her own safety after the infamous 1994 baton attack on her fellow Olympic figure skater and longtime competitor Nancy Kerrigan.
“I was scared,” Harding told ABC News’ Amy Robach. “I mean, this had never happened [before].”
On Jan. 6, 1994, during a practice session for the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, Kerrigan was clubbed on the right knee with a baton by an assailant. The man was later found to have been hired by Harding’s ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and his friend, Shawn Eckardt.
News cameras captured Kerrigan wailing in pain after the attack. “It makes you cringe, hearing it,” Harding said. “Because you know how much that it had to have hurt.”
The incident, which became known as “the whack” heard around the world, left Kerrigan’s hopes of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team in jeopardy at the time, though she did make the team in the end. Harding went on to win the championships in Detroit and secured a spot on the Olympic team as well.
When asked if she felt relieved at the time that the attack could have kept Kerrigan from competing against her for a spot on the Olympic team, Harding said, “Absolutely not,” adding that she never wanted Kerrigan removed from competition.
“[We were] competitors, yes. Rivals, no,” Harding said. “Any of us could have won, any of us could have failed.”
Harding opened up about the incident, as well as her difficult childhood, her rise in competitive figure skating and the depiction of her life in the new critically-acclaimed movie, “I, Tonya,” starring actress Margot Robbie, in ABC News’ two-hour special, “Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story."
Harding told ABC News she “knew something was up” about a month or two before the attack, but maintained that she never agreed to or knew about her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly’s plan to go after Kerrigan.
“I did, however, overhear them talking about stuff, where, ‘Well, maybe we should take somebody out so we can make sure she gets on the team.' And I remember telling them, I go, ‘What the hell are you talking about? I can skate.’”
"This was, like, a month or two months before [the attack]," Harding continued. "But they were talking about skating and saying, 'Well, maybe somebody should be taken out so then, you know, she can make it.'"
Both Gillooly and Eckardt pleaded guilty to racketeering for their involvement in the incident. Gillooly was sentenced to two years in prison and Eckardt was sentenced to 18 months.
Harding denied having any involvement in the attack but pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution. She had to pay a $160,000 fine and was sentenced to three years’ probation and 500 hours community service.
In addition, she was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
When asked if she had ever apologized to Kerrigan, Harding said she had multiple times. “Enough apologizing,” she said. Kerrigan declined ABC News' request for an interview for this two-hour special.
Despite what she went through in the years following the attack, Harding said her faith has allowed her to persevere.
“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,” she said.
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