Saturday, July 24

The skater marked by a trap that changed her life: plot, tragedy and the decline of a brilliant career

”The haters They always tell me, ‘Tonya, tell the truth.’ There is no such thing as ‘the truth’. Each has its own truth. ” With that story in voice in off begins the trailer of the movie that led his life – or better: a version of, as befits theaters around the world.

Some of that intrigue, that which Tonya Harding perhaps prefers to keep quiet, haunts her to this day.

In her youth she was one of those great sports stars that everyone admires: dressed in strident fabrics, bulging eyes, tight hair, she dazzled on the ice skating rinks, a place she always described as “ a true home, a sanctuary”. Until everything got out of hand and he ended up starring, as the newspapers in his country called it, “one of the biggest scandals in American sports history.”

Harding was born in 1970 in Portland, Oregon, United States, where he has lived almost always and does so to this day. Due to the financial difficulties of her mother LaVona Golden, who raised her practically alone, she moved at least 13 times before reaching the fifth grade of primary school, according to an extensive interview she gave to ABC News.

There she also revealed that from a very young age she knew that she did not want to lead LaVona’s life, that she worked as a waitress and added other small jobs to be able to support both of them. LaVona also dreamed of another destiny for the little girl, so when she was just four years old, she took Tonya to a skating rink and, when a coach quickly detected the girl’s talent, she did everything possible to make her stand out in that cold terrain. and demanding (later, Tonya herself would tell of some violent episodes of her mother, who hit her when the skater had barely learned to perform her first movements).

In the mid-1980s, Tonya was already touring her country to compete on professional tracks. She dared with tough training, was not afraid to spend hours on the ice, experts described her as a rigorous fighter.

In the 1990s, the great milestones of her career began for the skater. The first took place in 1991, when she became the first American to perform a triple axel – a risky jump and spin routine for ice skating – during a national tournament in Minneapolis. Shortly after, he also did it in an international tournament, which became another important record for his career.

However, beyond that technical display, the young woman did not reach the top of the competitions. In fact, in that year’s world figure skating competition, Harding came second, behind compatriot Kristi Yamaguchi and ahead of Nancy Kerrigan, who would later be designated as Tonya’s eternal challenger.

Beyond the ridiculous, the world was shocked: three American participants occupied the entire podium in that discipline.

Harding’s performance and physique began to notice some decline. The skater was no longer at the top of the tournaments and decided to change her historical coach, Diane Rawlinson, to start working with Dody Teachman. His mother continued to accompany him everywhere and came to insult her when the results were not as expected.

In the ’90s, the great milestones of her career began for the skater. The first took place in 1991, when she became the first American to perform a triple axel, a risky skating routine of jumps and spins.

The problems, meanwhile, multiplied: the athlete suffered an accident in training and sprained her ankle. In any case, he continued to participate in competitions in his country and also abroad. It was part, among others, of the 1993 Winter Olympics and a national tournament.

By then, Tonya had married when she was just 19 years old to Jeff Gillooly, a character who was also obsessively following her career and surrounded her with some of her friends to control her. Although within three years of saying ‘I do’ they divorced, Jeff continued to live at Tonya’s expense and devoted himself to controlling his career.

Towards 1994, with the Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, the athlete felt that a new opportunity was opening up on the horizon to show that nothing was lost.

However, in the run-up to that great world event, the press did nothing but show Harding in opposition to Nancy Kerrigan, the outstanding American figure skater.

For many, beyond the dexterity of both, these were two opposing cases and the comparisons were not lacking, always obnoxious: while Tonya was seen with a rougher style, Nancy seemed more sophisticated in her movements (many years later , Tonya will describe it like this in an interview: ” For everyone Nancy was a princess and I was a lot of shit ”).

Then an event took place that shocked the world and that, yes, it became “one of the greatest scandals in American sports history,” as it is repeated to this day.

For many, beyond the dexterity of both, these were two opposing cases and the comparisons were not lacking, always obnoxious: while Tonya was seen with a rougher style, Nancy seemed more sophisticated in her movements

On January 6, 1994, while training for the United States national championship, Nancy Kerrigan was attacked in Detroit by a mysterious man who appeared while the young woman was leaving a track where she had been practicing her movements. Hidden in a corridor, the attacker hit one of the athlete’s legs with a cane, which caused a significant injury that left her out of that local competition.

A tragedy: Kerrigan’s face of pain was on the cover of all the media and the problem of the safety of athletes – on April 30 of the previous year, tennis player Monica Seles had suffered an attack, who was the victim of a member of the public stabbing him on the court with a knife while playing a tournament in Germany – it was a national debate.

The skater, however, recovered and came to represent her country, along with her compatriot Harrington, in Norway, in February of that year (Nancy then had a prominent role and took a silver medal, while Tonya barely scratched eighth place). The two, meanwhile, were being hunted by the press, who speculated who had been behind Kerrigan’s assault and followed them with cameras day and night.

Weeks later, investigators managed to identify the attacker as Shane Stant. And they discovered that the man had been hired by Tonya’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and his bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, with the intention of putting Nancy out of the Norwegian competition.

Everyone’s eyes, then, turned to be on Tonya herself and the question became obvious: how much did she know of the plot that her environment had set up to favor her?

While the attacker Gillooly and Eckhart faced prison sentences, she was also summoned by the Justice. Finally, he pleaded guilty to avoid going to jail, but in a side case, for an alleged conspiracy to obstruct the investigation that weighed on his surroundings. What was the truth? How much did you really know? He never finished explaining it.

What happened immediately was that Harding was forced to resign from the American Figure Skating Association and, as a result, was unable to participate in any more competitions. Thus ended a brilliant career. In the public eye, in addition, she was identified as a cheater, while she suffered all kinds of public ridicule and humiliation.

Among other things, the athlete’s ex-husband, out of jail, sold intimate videos to a television program and Tonya was commented on by everyone again.

In the 2000s, Harding tried another sport, boxing, and later did so for a short time with car racing as well.

The character, over the years, became one of those references that are always coming back. Sometimes maliciously, sometimes as a commonplace – a way of questioning the public in that sticky terrain of collective memory – Tonya and her story were talked about in series, magazines, documentaries, academic works and even political speeches (the Barack Obama himself referred to her once, almost as a joke). She herself recounted very hard episodes of her life in a memoir.

Turned into a great pop beast, her name was also heard in chapters of Seinfeld Y The Simpson, among many other very popular television shows.

But that’s not all, in addition to her case being mentioned in some musical themes, the indie singer Sufjan Stevens also chose it as the title of one of his singles. A musical comedy about Tonya and Nancy’s rivalry was even brought to the theater in Los Angeles.

Harding’s story, however, was again commented on worldwide with the premiere of the film. I, Tonya, at the end of 2017, with actress Margot Robbie in the role of the skater.

For her great performance, Robbie was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress and an Oscar. For her part, Allison Janney, who played Harding’s mother, won the Oscar for best supporting actress for her unforgettable role.

Tonya, as always, remains zigzagging: at times she lived away from the cameras, at times she wanted to expose herself. In 2018 he was encouraged to participate in the reality show Dancing with the Stars -the Look who is dancing American – and came to stay with a worthy third place.

In 2020, without prejudice and without fear of facing new challenges, the skater went for more and joined a culinary reality show.


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