Tonya Maxene Harding (born November 12, 1970) is an American figure skating champion, a two-time Olympian, and a two-time Skate America Champion. In 1991 she won the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and placed second in theWorld Championships. She was the second woman, and the first American woman, to complete a triple axel jump in competition. She became notorious after her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, conspired with Shawn Eckhardt and Shane Stant to physically assault her skating competitor Nancy Kerrigan at a practice session during the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Harding was born in Portland, Oregon, the daughter of LaVona Fay Golden (1940-) and her fifth husband Al Harding (1933-2009). She had a half-brother, Chris Davison, who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Her father had health problems that sometimes left him unable to work. She claims that her mother sexually abused her, a claim her mother denies. She began skating at age three. She landed her first triple lutz at age 12. Her mother made many of her skating costumes.
She stopped attending high school during her sophomore year and later earned a GED as she started receiving invitations to international skating competitions while she was still in junior high school.
Harding's breakthrough year was in 1991, where she landed her first triple axel at the U.S. Championships, winning the title with the event's first 6.0 ever given to a single female skater for technical merit. She competed well at the World Championships but finished second to Kristi Yamaguchi. She would again complete the triple axel during her long program at the World Championships, becoming the first American woman to do so. In her career, she landed four triple axels in competition (all of them in 1991) where she completed each one she tried: One at the U.S. Championships, another at the World Championships, and two at the Fall 1991 Skate America competition.
At the Fall 1991 Skate America, Harding recorded three more firsts:
- The first woman to complete a triple axel in the short program
- The first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition
- The first ever to complete a triple axel combination with the double toe loop
Despite her initial record-breaking performances, she was never able to successfully perform the triple axel in a competition after 1991, and her career began to decline as a result. In 1992, she placed third in the U.S. Championships after twisting her ankle in practice. She finished fourth in the 1992 Winter Olympics, and in the 1992 World Championships she placed sixth in a weak field. The following season, she skated poorly in the 1993 U.S. Championships and failed to qualify for the World Championship team.
The latter part of her competitive career was marked by a series of blunders, causing television commentators to observe that no competition was complete without Harding having a crisis:
- Skating magazine reported that at Skate America in 1991, she was stranded in heavy traffic just before her event was scheduled to begin and had to hitch a ride with people who drove her backwards through traffic to the arena.
- Harding arrived so late for the competition at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games that her performance was affected by jet lag.
- In the short program at the 1993 Nationals, she had to ask permission from the referee to restart her program after the back of her dress came unhooked as she began to skate.
- At the 1993 Skate America, she stopped midway through her free skate and complained to the referee that her skate lace had become broken. She was allowed to resume her program after her blades were checked by a skate technician. In the same event, she claimed to be suffering from an ovarian cyst that was on the verge of bursting, seriously endangering her health.
- In late 1993, Harding was scheduled to compete in a regional qualifying competition for the 1994 National Championship. However, before the event, its organizers received an anonymous assassination threat against her, and the United States Figure Skating Association told her to stay away, exempting her from having to qualify.
- The medal ceremony at the 1994 Championships had to be delayed because she could not be found backstage after the competition.
- During the 1994 Winter Olympics, she almost failed to appear on the ice when her name was called for the free skating because she was scrambling to replace a broken skate lace. The replacement turned out to be too short to fully lace up the skate, and after missing the opening jump in her program she again had to ask the referee for permission to find a new lace.
In addition to the incidents listed above, Harding went through a series of coaching changes, at one point even attempting to coach herself. In spite of the publicity she received about being handicapped by asthma, she also periodically smoked.
Harding became notorious in conjunction with the January 6, 1994 attack on her competitor Nancy Kerrigan. The widely publicized attack took place during a practice session on the eve of the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. Her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt,hired Shane Stant to break Kerrigan's right leg so that she would be unable to skate. He followed her to Detroit after failing to find her at her training rink in Massachusetts, and struck her on the thigh a few inches above the knee with an ASP baton. Her leg was only bruised, not broken, but the injury forced her to withdraw from the national championship. Harding won that event, and they both were selected for the 1994 Olympic team.  She finished eighth in Lillehammer, while Kerrigan, by then fully recovered from the injury, won the silver medal.
The attack on Kerrigan and the news of Harding's alleged involvement led to amedia frenzy of saturation news coverage. She appeared on the cover of bothTime and Newsweek magazines in January 1994. Reporters and TV news crews attended her practices in Portland and camped out in front of Kerrigan's home. CBS assigned Connie Chung to follow her every move in Lillehammer. Counting 400 members of the press jammed into the practice rink in Norway, Scott Hamilton complained that "the world press was turning the Olympics into just another sensational tabloid event". The tape-delayed broadcast of the short program at the Olympics remains one of the most watched telecasts in American history.
On February 1, 1994, Gillooly accepted a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony against Harding. Gillooly, Stant, Eckhardt, and getaway car driver Derrick Smith all served time in prison for the attack. Eckhardt was sentenced to 18 months in prison for racketeering but was released four months early in September 1995.
Harding avoided further prosecution and a possible jail sentence by pleading guilty on March 16 to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers. She received three years probation, 500 hours of community service and a $160,000 fine. As part of the plea bargain, she was also forced to withdraw from the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships and resign from the USFSA. On June 30, 1994, after conducting its own investigation of the attack, the USFSA stripped her of her 1994 U.S. Championships title and banned her for life from participating in USFSA-run events as either a skater or a coach. The USFSA concluded that she knew about the attack before it happened and displayed "a clear disregard for fairness, good sportsmanship and ethical behavior". Although the USFSA has no control over professional skating events, she was also persona non grata on the pro circuit because few skaters and promoters would work with her. Consequently, she failed to benefit from the pro skating boom that ensued in the aftermath of the scandal.
In her 2008 autobiography, The Tonya Tapes, she said that she wanted to call the FBI to reveal what she knew, but refused when Gillooly allegedly threatened her with death following a gunpoint gang rape by him and two other men she did not know. He subsequently changed his name to Jeff Stone and called the allegations "utterly ridiculous". Eckhardt, who legally changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith following his release from jail, died of natural causes at age 40 on December 12, 2007.
Harding entered the celebrity sex tape world when an explicit "Wedding Video" showed her having sex with her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. Gillooly had sold the tape to a tabloid TV show after being implicated as a conspirator in the Kerrigan attack. Stills from the tape were published by Penthouse in September 1994 and the tape itself was released at about the same time.
She appeared on a AAA professional wrestling show on June 22, 1994 in Portland, Oregon as the manager for wrestling stableLos Gringos Locos, which that night included Art Barr, Eddie Guerrero, and Brian Cox.
A one-off promotional musical event was unsuccessful when she and her band, the Golden Blades, were booed off the stage in their only performance, in 1995 in Portland, Oregon.
She had a part in a 1996 crime-film entitled Breakaway, playing the girlfriend of a criminal.
In late 1996 she used mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to help revive an 81-year-old woman, Alice Olson, who collapsed at a bar inPortland, Oregon while playing video poker. (Olson died at age 90 in 2005.)
In March 2008 she became a regular commentator for TruTV's The Smoking Gun Presents: World's Dumbest....
Harding had a number of minor run-ins with the law following her involvement with the Kerrigan attack. Some of the incidents that have been reported in the press include the following:
- On May 25, 1995, it was reported that she claimed she was being stalked by someone driving a white Lincoln Town Car, resulting in a car chase involving her, her ex-husband Gillooly, and the police.
- On February 12, 1997, Harding claimed that she was abducted at knife-point outside her home by a bushy-haired man who forced her to drive to a rural area, where she rammed her truck into a tree and escaped by running into the woods. Police found no evidence of an abduction. This alleged incident happened on the opening weekend of the 1997 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
- On October 16, 1997, she reported that her truck had been stolen from a shopping mall parking lot.
- On January 6, 2000, Harding was in the news again after she lost control of her truck on an icy road and landed in a ditch. Her then boyfriend, Darren Silver, allegedly made threats against a press photographer.
- On February 24, 2000, Harding was ordered by a Clark County judge to avoid alcohol and her former boyfriend, Darren Silver, after being booked on fourth-degree Domestic Violence assault charges for punching and throwing a hubcap at him at theirCamas, Washington residence. She was also sentenced to 3 days in jail and 10 days of community service on a work crew. Shortly before this Harding was attempting to make a comeback as a professional skater, but the hubcap incident effectively ended her return to skating.
- On April 20, 2002, she was involved in another accident with her truck. She was cited for drunk driving and a violation of her probation agreement from her 2000 conviction.
- On October 23, 2005, Harding, apparently under the influence of alcohol again, was involved in a fight at her home inVancouver, Washington with Christopher Nolan, a man she described as her boyfriend. Initially, she made a 911 call claiming to have been assaulted in her home by two masked men. For his part, Nolan claimed that she attacked him after having too much to drink. In the end, he was charged with assault and ordered to stay away from her and to avoid alcohol.
- On March 11, 2007, the Clark County sheriff's office responded to two calls related to her. The first call was from Harding, at 5 a.m. She told the officer who responded that she had observed five armed intruders trying to steal her vehicle and hide rifles on her property. The responding officer's report described her as "agitated" and her story as "very implausible," and recorded her frustration that others could not see the people she saw. He could find no evidence to back up her claims. The second call, four hours later, at 9 a.m., was from a friend who had agreed to let her visit. Her host told police that although she was not violent, she was "tweaking out, seeing animals," and she was worried about her children's safety. She requested police return her to her home. Police reported that the officer who returned to her home inspected her house, to reassure her, and advised her to seek medical help. Linda Lewis, her longtime agent, attributed her behavior to a bad reaction to legitimate prescription drugs.