Home Athletes Take a Step-By-Step Tour Through the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Saga

Take a Step-By-Step Tour Through the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Saga

Take a Step-By-Step Tour Through the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan Saga

The Tonya-Nancy figure skating scandal may be considered the most bizarre story in ice skating history.  The story involves lying and cheating, comedy, denial, the FBI, a get away car, and even a hit man. It seems like fiction, but did really happen and changed figure skating forever.  Scroll through this step-by-step summary of what happened and enjoy “the show!”

Before It Happened: Harding and Kerrigan in 1994

Figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan both had a good chance of winning medals at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games.  Kerrigan won the 1993 US ladies figure skating title and was the favorite to win that title again in 1994.  Her bronze medal at the 1992 Olympics also put her in the running to win Olympic gold.  Although Harding had won the 1991 US ladies figure skating title and was the first woman to land a triple Axel in competition, she entered the 1994 competition season as the underdog.   Harding wanted the financial rewards and attention that would come with Olympic gold and she was willing to go to great lengths to make her Olympic dream happen.

The Plot Begins: Shane Stant Was Asked to “Take Down” a Skater

The bizarre story began when Shane Stant received a call in late December of 1993, just before Christmas Day, from his uncle Derrick Smith.  Would he consider hurting someone for the sum of $6500?   In other words, would he consider slicing a figure skater’s Achilles tendon for money?  Stant responded with the answer that he did not want to cut anyone, but he wanted the money and was willing to do something to earn that sum,  It was decided he would agree to injure the skater just enough so she could not skate.

After Christmas Day, the uncle and his nephew then drove from their home in Arizona to Portland, Oregon and met with Shawn Eckardt and Jeff Gillooly (Harding’s ex-husband) to discuss details of the proposed attack on elite figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. In his confession, Jeff Gillooly stated that Eckardt suggested killing Nancy Kerrigan, but Gillooly thought that was too extreme and suggested instead that damaging Kerrigan’s right leg was a better idea since her right leg was her landing leg.  If the right leg was damaged, Kerrigan would be unable to land triple jumps and therefore would be unable to compete and that would give Tonya Harding the edge she needed to win in 1994.

Original Plan: Hurt Nancy Kerrigan Before the Detroit US Championships 1994

In early January, 1994, Shane Stant traveled to South Dennis, Massuchusetts (near Cape Cod), where Nancy Kerrigan trained at the Tony Kent Arena.  He arrived at that location later than planned since he needed a rental car to travel to South Dennis from the airport in Boston, but the rental car company would not accept his girlfriend’s credit card, so he had to have his girlfriend mail him a credit card with his name on it which delayed his arrival in the Cape Cod area.

Once the correct credit card arrived and Stant was able to rent a car, he drove to South Dennis and staked out the Tony Kent Arena hoping to find the right time and place to attack Kerrigan.  He sat in his car and went inside the rink, and hoped to not arouse suspicion.

Finally, on January 4, 1994, Stant called the arena asking when Kerrigan would be there by pretending he was the father of a youngster who wanted to meet Nancy, but was told she had already left for Detroit to compete in the US Figure Skating Championships. Stant then realized he missed his chance to hurt Nancy Kerrigan before the Olympic trials, headed back to the Boston airport, returned the rental car, and took a bus to Detroit hoping he’d get there in time to hurt the skater before she had a chance to compete.

The Climax: Nancy Kerrigan’s Knee Is Wacked

After taking a bus from Boston to Detroit, Shane Stant picked up his uncle, Derrick Smith, at the Detroit airport. They immediately went to the Joe Louis Arena competition rink and spent some time trying to figure out how to attack Nancy Kerrigan.

The next day, on the morning of January 6, 1994, Smith and Stant arrived at Cobo Arena, the practice rink, and sat at opposite ends of the rink, but stayed in sight of one another. Stant gave Smith a signal that he was about to go through with the attack when he stood up and than immediately sat back down. At that point, Smith left the practice rink to get the getaway car.

Stant then followed a television cameraman, who was following Kerrigan as she left the ice through a curtain. He then approached Kerrigan’s right side and swung at her with a baton-like object.

He had planned to exit through a door that had been unlocked the day before, but when he discovered the door was chained and shut, he pushed himself through the plexiglass on the bottom of the door and then ran towards the getaway car. He threw his weapon under another car before he and Smith drove away.

A screaming and sobbing Nancy Kerrigan was left behind. Her father carried her away from cameras as the competition medical crew treated her. She cried and cried saying, “Why? Why?” over and over again.

Plot Fails: Harding and Kerrigan Both Qualify for the Olympics

Although Nancy Kerrigan was hurt and could not compete at the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships, the extent of the damage was not enough to keep her off of the 1994 US Olympic Figure Skating Team.  Two Olympic slots were available for the ladies from the USA. Tonya Harding won the ladies event and earned a spot, but a committee from US Figure Skating decided to give Kerrigan the other Olympic spot.

The Scheme Unravels: The Conspirators Confess

After winning the US National Championships and being named to the 1994 Olympic Figure Skating Team, Tonya Harding returned to Portland.  As she was accompanied through the airport by Shawn Eckardt, who was her designated bodyguard, she told the press she was afraid for the safety of all elite figure skaters and hoped the person responsible would be found soon.

A few days later the mystery of what really happened came out in the open.

Shawn Eckardt had bragged to friends and family about planning the attack and soon was brought in before legal authorities for questioning.  It didn’t take long for him to break and he told the FBI about the plot.  Shortly after that, Shane Stant and Derrick Smith were arrested.

An anonymous letter was sent to a local Portland news station that gave details of the entire plot and an envelope that included scribbled notes about the plan which included phone numbers, places, and the name of the Tony Kent Arena was found in a restaurant’s dumpster. The writing on the paper was thought to be Tonya Harding‘s writing.  Jeff Gillooly was brought to the authorities for questioning and was arrested.

Harding claimed she had no prior knowledge of the attack, but did eventually admit that she failed to share what she learned about the plan once she returned to Portland from Detroit after the 1994 US National Figure Skating Championships.

The US Olympic Committee wanted to remove Harding from the 1994 Olympic team, but a $25 million lawsuit filed by Harding’s lawyers made doing that quite difficult.

Olympics 1994:  Both Tonya and Nancy Compete In Lillehammer

Finally is was time for the 1994 Lillehammer, Norway Olympic Winter Games to begin, and the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan figure skating soap opera had made figure skating the center of media attention.

Reporters stood outside in the freezing cold waiting for Tonya Harding to arrive.  It had been requested at first that perhaps Harding and Kerrigan could practice on separate practice sessions, but that request was denied since at international figure skating events, it is customary for skaters from individual nations to practice at the same time.  The practice session for Team USA’s ladies seemed to be an event in itself.  The arena was filled with media.

The 1994 ladies short program Olympic event drew what was then the largest rating for any sporting event in American history.  Nancy Kerrigan skated beautifully and won the short program, but Tonya Harding skated badly and ended up in tenth place.  It was obvious that all the events that involved the discovery of the conspiracy to hurt Nancy which had occurred before Tonya arrived in Lillehammer had made it impossible for Harding to train properly for the Olympics.

Two days later, when Tonya Harding’s name was announced for her to take the ice for the free skate, she did not appear on the ice.  The skater seemed to have disappeared. Finally, Harding quickly skated out onto the ice and began her program, but then stopped suddenly and skated over to the judges’ area in tears and explained that she had a broken lace on her skate.  She was given permission to begin her program again later after other women had competed.  Her free skate performance pulled her into 8th place overall.

Nancy Kerrigan skated a beautiful free skate, but sixteen year old Ukrainian Oksana Baiul, won the ladies Olympic title. Some people said that the drama surrounding Nancy Kerrigan before the Olympics caused her to lose Olympic gold.  At that point, it seemed as if the skating soap opera was over.

The Aftermath:  Punishment for Tonya – Rewards for Kerrigan

It was never proved that Tonya Harding was in on the plan to the attack Nancy Kerrigan, but her ex-husband, her bodyguard, the hit man, and the get away car driver all served prison terms. Harding was forced to resign from the USFSA after she returned to the United States after the Olympics and thus did not compete in the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships.  She was fined $160,000 and had to put in five hundred hours of community service.  She was officially banned from U.S. Figure Skating for life and all records of her winning the 1994 US ladies figure skating title were erased.  That “life sentence ban” turned out to be the greatest punishment ever since all she was about and all she knew was figure skating. She was shunned by almost everyone who had been part of her skating life.

Nancy Kerrigan went on to make millions after winning two Olympic medals.  She married her agent, Jerry Solomon, had three children, and lived “happily ever after.”

The Tonya-Nancy saga, known as, “The Wack Heard Around the World” increased the popularity of figure skating. Books were written, there were musicals, film parodies, television movies were made about the incident, and the media kept bringing the story back through the years. Tonya did what she could to make ends meet and became a professional boxer.  A book was published that told her side of the story.  Twenty years later, in early 2014, around the time of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, two more documentaries brought the incident back into the public’s eye.  Then, in 2018, “I, Tonya” hit the theaters which told Tonya Harding’s side of the story.

Happy Skating!

JO ANN Schneider Farris

Further Reading:

Jo Ann Schneider-Farris Jo Ann Schneider Farris has participated in figure skating for most of her life as a competitor, coach, and author. Jo Ann was the Figure Skating Expert for About.com for 10 years. Jo Ann began skating as a young child. She won a silver medal in the junior dance event at the United States National Figure Skating Championships and is a US Figure Skating Double Gold Medalist. She coached figure skating and has trained skaters of all ages and levels. In addition, Jo Ann taught hockey players to skate and gave instruction in power skating. She is the author of two skating books: How to Jump and Spin on In-Line Skates, the only book of its kind on inline figure skating, and a personal memoir, My Skating Life: Fifty Plus Years of Skating. Jo Ann also has contributed articles that have been included on the US Figure Skating website and the icenetwork.com website, in SKATING Magazine, Ice Skating Institute's magazine, the Professional Skaters Association magazine, and she also wrote about ice skating for Examiner.com. She is a member of the Professional Skaters Association, The Broadmoor Skating Club, and U.S. Figure Skating. Jo Ann is a graduate of the famous Hollywood Professional School, a school that once was in southern California where many serious figure skaters attended, including Peggy Fleming. She is also a graduate of Colorado College and holds a teaching credential from California State University Long Beach. As a figure skating competitor, she trained under World Ice Dance Champion and Olympic Coach Doreen Denny and also Darlene Gilbert, who has trained international and national teams. From JO ANN Schneider Farris: Hi and Happy Skating! Yes, Happy Skating is my motto. I hope to share my love of the sport and my knowledge of it with you and my goal is to link skaters from all over the world on this site. Happy Skating! Please join me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or follow me on Google+ and Pinterest. Email me at joannfarris@yahoo.com