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P P O O R R T L A A NN N D D I A A NN N
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P O O R R T L A A N NN D D I A A N NN
P OOOO R R T LLLLL A A N N DDDD I A A N N
The Portlandian, the Internet's premier source of Tonya News
January 6, 2004 Edition - TENTH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE EDITION
(C) 2004 Portland Ice Skating Society
Today marks the tenth anniversary of "the whack heard round the
world". In light of this occasion, it is an appropriate time to
look back on the events of early 1994 and what has happened to
IT WAS TEN YEARS AGO TODAY
In the early afternoon of the 6th of January, 1994, reigning US
ladies figure skating champion Nancy Kerrigan had just finished
practicing for the upcoming Nationals competition that would
determine if she would make the team that was to be sent to the
Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, in February. Within
seconds of her leaving the ice that day at the Cobo Arena in
Detroit, an event would occur that would change her life forever
and puncture the public's perception of figure skating as a
wholesome, genteel, ladylike activity. It would also set off one
of the most bizarre stories in the history of sports - and
shatter the career of her main competitor, Tonya Harding.
From out of the shadows a man moved towards Nancy as she casually
chatted to a reporter. But this wasn't some fan seeking an
autograph - with a quick, unexpected movement he struck Nancy on
the leg with an instrument that was later discovered to be a
retractable baton of a type commonly used by law enforcement
officers, sending Nancy sprawling onto the floor in front of
stunned observers. He then quickly ran off, bolting through a
Plexiglass panel when he discovered his escape route blocked by a
locked door, as the bewildered Nancy lay sobbing in front of the
TV cameras, clutching her knee.
On the at that stage fledgling Internet, the first report of the
attack was brief - a posting to the rec.skate newsgroup headed
"Kerrigan attacked??" simply said:
"A friend just came by and told me he just heard on the radio
that Nancy Kerrigan had been attacked by a spectator
backstage - had been hit in the leg with "a blunt object".
Apparently she was able to walk but is now in the hopsital.
Anyone else hear anything? Is this true?? (it's 2:20 pm PST,
The attack shocked the skating community and the world at large,
but was initially simply assumed to be the work of a madman.
Several months earlier, tennis star Monica Selas had been stabbed
in the back by a deranged "fan" of her rival, Steffi Graf, and
many assumed this was simply more of the same kind of thing, just
another symptom of a sick society breeding an unhealthy obsession
with celebrity. Nancy had earlier received some hate mail from a
crank in the Canadian province of Ontario, just across the border
from Detroit, and early suspicions fell there. Tonya had also
received a threatening phone call at a skating contest in her
home town of Portland, Oregon several weeks earlier as well,
which forced her to withdraw from that contest. But within days
what was already a major news story had taken a serious detour
down Weird Street.
On January 13, law enforcement officials in Portland arrested
Shawn Eric Eckardt, a close friend of Tonya's ex-husband, Jeff
Gillooly. Eckardt, an overweight high-school dropout who fancied
himself as a James Bond-type international man of mystery had
been engaged by Gillooly to act as Tonya's "bodyguard" in the
wake of the earlier death threat. Eckardt ran an outfit called
the "World Bodyguard Service" and proudly boasted of his training
and achievements in "executive protection" and various spy-type
stuff, but the truth was that the WBS "head office" was a spare
bedroom in his parent's house in the working-class Portland
suburb of Lents and that Eckardt had been booted out of the only
security-related course he'd ever done for failing to submit the
required assessments. Initially denying any involvement, Eckardt
quickly spilled his enormous guts when confronted by some REAL
men-in-black from the FBI threatening him with REAL time in a
The clubbing, said Eckardt, was all Gillooly's idea. Gillooly had
been annoyed at Tonya's poor ranking by judges in a competition
in Japan several weeks earlier and feared the same kind of bias
would see Tonya dumped from the Olympic team in favor of Nancy.
Together, he and Eckardt had come up with the idea of eliminating
Nancy from the competition, thereby ensuring that Tonya got onto
the Lillehammer team. Eckardt, bragging about his extensive
underworld contacts, had arranged with a friend of his, Derrick
Smith, and his nephew, bodybuilder Shane Stant, to do the job.
Stant and Smith were two Portland residents who had moved out to
Arizona with the intention of starting a "survivalist" type
training school, but returned in late December for a meeting with
Eckardt and Gillooly to organize the Kerrigan job. Various
options were discussed, from running her car off the road to
tying her up in a hotel room and slicing a tendon, but eventually
it was decided to attack her at the arena. It was Stant who was
the man who had clubbed Nancy that day, with Smith driving the
The whole scheme probably would have succeeded but for one
problem: Eckardt had surreptitiously tape-recorded the late
December meeting at which Stant, Smith, Gillooly and himself had
devised the Kerrigan plot. Apparently elated at the fact he'd
actually accomplished something, he had then played the tape to
several people, mostly classmates of his at a local college.
Several of these people had then contacted the police, the FBI
and "The Oregonian", Portland's daily newspaper. Within days the
FBI was hot on his trail.
As more and more details of the crime became public, speculation
began to mount about how deeply Tonya herself might have been
involved in the plot. Eckardt and Gillooly initially stated that
Tonya knew nothing, but later changed their tune and implicated
her. Tonya herself denied any knowledge, but later admitted to
lying to investigators about certain statements she'd made in an
interview with FBI agents in order to protect Gillooly. In many
people's eyes this was enough to seal their opinion that Tonya
was an active participant from the very beginning. Pressure
mounted to boot her off the Olympic team. Faced with no other
choice in order to retain her chance at realizing her dream of an
Olympic gold, Tonya mounted a lawsuit against the U.S. Olympic
Committee, which ultimately folded and allowed her to compete.
The scene in Norway was a shambles, however. By this stage, the
story had erupted into one of the biggest media sensations of the
decade, eclipsed only by the O.J. Simpson affair of a few months
later. And it was also apparent that Nancy would be competing at
the Games as well, her assailant's blow having failed to produce
sufficient injury to force her off the team. This meant a
Tonya/Nancy showdown was on the cards. As if things couldn't get
any more bizarre, a British tabloid published scenes of Tonya
stripping off a wedding dress that had been lifted from a home
video shot by Gillooly some years before. Several months later
even more explicit footage was released on video by Penthouse
Under the enormous pressure of both the media frenzy and the
already tense preparation for the Games, Tonya's skating
collapsed. A shoelace had broken on one of her skating boots and
a replacement of suitable length could not be found. Early on in
the Long Program the lace came undone, forcing Tonya to abandon
her first attempt and plead for a re-skate. Her concentration
gone, Tonya finished eighth, pulling her up from the tenth place
she had finished in the Short Program. Meanwhile, Nancy went on
to skate one of her best performances, taking the silver behind
Oksana Baiul of the Ukraine. The Tonya/Nancy showdown was to be
one of the most widely-watched events in the history of
television, despite being screened delayed in the U.S.
Back home in Portland, an exhausted Tonya cut a plea bargain with
the Multnomah County D.A.'s office that would see her avoid a
trial. Tonya was to do 500 hours of community service, pay a
$110,000 fine, plus the prosecutor's costs plus a donation to the
Special Olympics. It would also involve her resigning from the
USFSA, a highly unusual feature of a plea bargain. A USFSA
hearing in June subsequently banned her for life, effectively
ending any possibility of her later rejoining and resuming her
eligible career. And although in theory this still left open the
door of pro skating, in practice the decision by the powerful
USFSA effectively rendered her a pariah in the whole skating
community - any show featuring USFSA skaters was off limits.
Stant, Smith, Gillooly & Eckardt all served jail sentences.
Gillooly subsequently changed his name to "Jeff Stone",
supposedly in an attempt to leave behind his past.
While Tonya's career was "iced", skating itself boomed on the
coattails of the whole incident. USFSA membership expanded
rapidly, and numerous made-for-TV ice spectaculars such as "Ice
Wars" filled the screen. The USFSA had 127,538 members in 1996,
an almost 42 percent increase from 1990-91. And the largest
increase was in the 1993-94 season, the year of Tonya/Nancy, when
the Association's membership exploded from 109,721 the previous
year to 125,101. The Ice Skating Institute saw its numbers
quadruple from 1992 to 1997. Hundreds of new rinks were built,
many in warm-weather cities - hardly the traditional centers of
"It was a terrible, terrible thing to happen," skating coach
Frank Carroll told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently.
"But it was sensational. It caused humongous headlines and great
The same sport that had banished Tonya from its ranks now
profited from the scandal.
THE WILDERNESS YEARS
Since then, Tonya has rarely been out of the limelight, though
often for all the wrong reasons. In the wake of the Kerrigan
incident Tonya was deluged with offers for everything from pro-
wrestling in Japan to American Gladiators, but struggled to
establish a new direction, often hampered by talentless hangers-
on intent more on exploiting her notoriety for their own gain
than in helping her. For a while she briefly acted as "celebrity
manager" for a wrestler named "The American Love Machine". An
attempt at launching an acting career saw Tonya in a bit part in
a low budget gangster film, "Breakaway", in late 1994, though it
failed to take off (though Tonya has recently appeared in another
soon-to-be-released boxing oriented film, "The Prize Fighter").
In 1995 Tonya formed a band called "The Golden Blades" which gave
a one-off performance at a charity concert in Portland, but was
pelted with plastic bottles and booed by the audience. A second
marriage, to mechanic Michael Smith later that year lasted 100
days before ending with claims by Tonya of physical abuse.
1996 saw Tonya team up with David Hans Schmidt, a sleazy bottom
feeder who has made a career out of selling nude pictures of
celebrities to tabloids and porn magazines. Schmidt succeeded in
getting Tonya an interview on the "Geraldo Rivera" show, but
lacking the connections in the close-knit world of figure skating
he was unable to get Tonya anything more than a skate in the
half-time interval in a hockey match in Reno, Nevada in February
1997. Shortly afterwards Tonya ditched him amidst claims that he
had ripped her off with proceeds from the Reno deal.
In February 1998, the seemingly impossible happened - Tonya
appeared face to face with Nancy Kerrigan in a Fox TV special
entitled "Breaking The Ice". Tonya's reception was frosty to say
the least, with the other skaters in the special refusing to
skate with her. Tonya was to perform alone at an outdoor rink in
In 1999 Tonya was once again betrayed when the webmaster of her
official web site was exposed as one of Portland's most notorious
porn dealers. She did, however, reunite with her former agent,
Michael Rosenberg, who managed to get her her first appearance in
a proper, professional skating contest, the ESPN classic in
October. Tonya finished second. Once again, however, things did
not go straight for Tonya - after an ugly incident in February
2000 when Tonya was accused of throwing a hub-cap at her
boyfriend, SFX skating dumped her. More drifting followed, with
Tonya doing gigs at a gay night club, a baseball game where she
signed miniature baseball bats that looked uncomfortably like
something else, getting evicted and doing Olympic commentary for
the "morning zoo" team at a Seattle radio station. Tonya had
seemingly joined the celebrity "D-list" - the ranks of those like
Darva Conger who are famous for simply being famous, doomed
forever to tabloid scandal and tacky reality TV shows.
Perhaps ironically, it was one of the latter that gave Tonya the
break she needed. In March 2002 Tonya was to participate in a
"celebrity boxing" special for Fox broadcasting that saw her go
one on one with Paula Jones, a bout that the athletic Tonya
easily won. This resulted in her being approached by those within
the boxing industry who were convinced that with proper training
Tonya could become a real boxer. For the past year Tonya has
applied herself to her new career and currently has a 3-2 record.
TONYA - TEN YEARS AFTER
Ten years on, the enormous boom in skating triggered by the
scandal has now largely evaporated, and many of the professional
ice shows have now closed or scaled down their activities.
Skating itself is still mired in scandal, but of a much different
and more complex kind - corrupt judging.
Tonya herself is thankfully in much better shape. After initial
problems with her first trainer, Tonya is now on track with her
new career. Speaking in an interview recently with Filip Bondy,
"Without being too blunt, the biggest difference between figure
skating and boxing is you have to have the balls to get punched
in the face,". "I just let everything out that's been bottled up.
I think of when my truck breaks down. Or me hitting my trainer
Paul. I want to pound on him."
Of the attack:
"We were friends back then," Tonya says about Nancy and all the
other skaters. "Everybody was always friends. You tour together.
You room together. That's what really hurt. Everything was such a
tragedy. You want to cry, but there's nothing you can do. God had
my life planned out for me, and I took the wrong path."
In another interview with Katy Muldoon of "The Oregonian", Tonya
also reveals that those involved in the plot have tried to
contact her over the years.
"Several have tried, but I ignored them," she says. "My brains
have been scrambled a bit, but not that much. I've only talked
with my father, plain and simple. And it's been a very smart
choice. I'm not bitter at the figure skating people. Not at all.
They made a choice, you have to live with it. You find something
Tonya describes her life today as simpler, cleaner, more honest
and less trusting than it once was. She sees herself as a better
judge of character and is fitter than she ever was.
"I'm growing up," she says. "Back then, I was so young and naive,
and just wanted somebody to love me, and just wanted to be part
of something. And, you know, I made very bad choices about people
that I was around."
THE VERDICT: NOT GUILTY
In the past ten years since the Kerrigan incident, one question
has continually dogged Tonya: how much, if anything, had Tonya
herself known about the plot? Certainly it seems to be a common
assumption amongst many that Tonya knew more than she has
admitted to. Yet many seem to forget that Tonya was never
convicted or even charged with anything connected with the
planning of the attack, and the evidence for any deeper
involvement is largely circumstantial or hinges on the testimony
of very unreliable characters.
Physical evidence is slim: the only example is a scribbled note
found in a dumpster outside a restaurant on the other side of
Portland late in January 1994 along with other documents
connected to Tonya and Gillooly. The note bears the words "Tunee
Can Arena", an apparent attempt at transcribing the name of the
rink in Cape Cod where Nancy practiced. However, there is no
proof that Tonya wrote this note. Tonya denies it, and
handwriting experts are divided on whether it is Tonya's
handwriting or not. And dumping such a note in a trash can on the
other side of town would seem to be a rather inefficient method
of disposing of such incriminating evidence, as opposed to just
burning it or ripping it up and flushing it down the toilet.
Could the note have been deliberately planted by Gillooly to
Shawn Eckardt initially denied that Tonya was involved. However
he later changed his story and recounted a tale of how Tonya had
supposedly approached him once at a practice on New Year's Eve
and expressed her disappointment as to the slow progress of his
"hit men" in taking care of Nancy. In the intervening years we
have been approached by a witness who was present at the practice
in question and who has confirmed that the alleged conversation
between Eckardt and Tonya never took place - in fact Tonya never
spoke to Eckardt at all during that practice that night. Eckardt
is also well known for making up fantastic stories and this
appears to be another one of them. Even his lawyer admitted "he
has a credibility problem".
Another who alleges Tonya was involved was Jeff Gillooly. He
claims that Tonya was aware of the subject of the meeting held
between himself, Stant, Smith and Eckardt on December 28 at the
Eckardt house. He also claims that Tonya helped him get
information about Nancy including the rink she practiced at in
Cape Cod and her hotel room number in Detroit. In fact, Tonya
wasn't even sure that Nancy was staying at the hotel and reports
that she obtained her room number from a hotel clerk seem to be
contradictory and unverified. There is also no way to be certain
who made the calls to the Tony Kent Arena in Cape Cod, as
enquiries about Nancy's practices were common and nobody would
have seen anything significant about such a call. Although it is
true that Tonya did call journalist Vera Marano to get Nancy's
details this was because of a bet that Gillooly had contrived,
and also because Tonya had a large photograph that she wanted
Nancy to sign that the fan club planned to auction as a fund
raising attempt. In the intervening years we have confirmed this
photo exists, contrary to what many believe.
Gillooly is a violent man who has threatened and assaulted Tonya
on numerous occasions. He continues this behavior today - just
months ago being charged with assaulting his wife (ironically
named Nancy), the second time he has been accused of this. He
also negotiated a deal with the D.A. that saw him get a
considerable reduction in his sentence in return for implicating
Tonya. His allegations should be viewed with deep skepticism.
Finally, it is worth noting that contrary to popular belief Tonya
would have had no motive to eliminate Nancy from the Olympic
team. That's because the U.S. was entitled to send two women that
year and Tonya and Nancy were the only likely candidates. Tonya's
fiercely competitive instincts, so often cited as a motive for
the attack, are in fact exactly the opposite: Tonya viewed her
1994 National's victory as hollow precisely because she did not
have the opportunity to face Nancy.
If the evidence for Tonya being involved in the conspiracy is
shaky, then there is a much stronger case that Tonya was denied
her right to due process and a fair hearing by both the sports
authorities and the general public. Consider the following:
- Many journalists immediately suspected innvolvement by Tonya in
the clubbing within minutes of it happening. Christine Brennan
and Verne Lundquist have both confirmed this was the case on
the Fox "Breaking the Ice" special. Philip Hersh stated on the
same special that a senior USFSA official suggested something
to that effect to him at a function on the night of the attack.
This was long before any evidence of Gillooly's or Eckardt's
involvement emerged or was made public.
- There were accusations that Tonya had fakked the death threat
against herself at the Pacific Northwest Regional championships
several weeks earlier. In fact, Tonya's coach of 18 years,
Diane Rawlinson, says that Tonya was genuinely terrified after
receiving the threat. More details can be found in the "Haran
Chronicles" feature of earlier editions of "The Portlandian".
- Ron Hoevet, Gillooly's attorney, called ffor Harding to be
banned and booted off the Olympic team in a lengthy spech that
seemed to be more of an attack on Tonya than a defense of his
client. He also called for "due process". This is a strange
idea of due process, where the result is already made up. His
statements resulted in 29 complaints to the Oregon State Bar.
- While preparing for Lillehammer, Tonya foound herself not only
under investigation by the FBI, but also the subject of two
disciplinary proceedings by the sports authorities. The USFSA
gave her 30 days to respond to the charges. In addition to the
USFSA action, The USOC planned to hold its own Hearing in
Norway on the 15th of February to discuss removing Tonya from
the team. Tonya's coach, Diane Rawlinson said in an affidavit,
"To require Ms. Harding to appear at hearings several hours
from the site of her training within 10 days" of her first
scheduled performance "will make final preparations for the
competition impossible." And yet people wonder why Tonya forgot
simple things like a spare shoelace?
- Sports Illustrated of January 24, 1994 reeported "On Saturday
USOC President Dr. LeRoy Walker, cited the overwhelming
response against Harding, and then went on 'we have to make a
decision without the consideration of whether or not her rights
have been abridged'". In an article in the "Washington Post"
Dr. Walker indicated the USOC would consider removing Tonya
from the team regardless of whether or not she was charged in
the alleged plot, saying it was concerned with "potential
disruptive elements within the U.S. delegation at the Games".
- When Tonya took the only course open to hher to protect her
rights, in the form of legal action, she was castigated for
"poor sportsmanship". A judge sided with Tonya and ordered the
USOC to negotiate.
- Despite a total lack of any evidence, somme commentators implied
that Tonya had murdered one of her half-brothers whom she
claimed had molested her and who was killed in a hit and run
accident in 1989. In fact the relative in question was well
known as having an alcohol problem.
- Tonya's privacy was repeatedly invaded byy members of the press.
Several reporters tried to hack her e-mail account at the
Games. ABC rented an apartment in the same building Tonya was
staying in order to spy on her. Her most intimate moments with
her husband were splashed all over tabloids despite being
totally irrelevant to her guilt or innocence.
The current Nationals competition will see Nancy Kerrigan
inducted into the USFSA's Skating Hall of Fame. Ten years on from
the incident that shook figure skating, the image of her
clutching her knee screaming "Why?" has become one of the
defining images of the Twentieth century, skating's equivalent of
the Zapruder film. Although it is unlikely that we will ever know
the full truth about what went on that week in late December
1993, the evidence for Tonya's involvement in the conspiracy is
feeble and the reasoning supporting it largely illogical.
After ten years it's time to close the case, and deliver a
verdict of "Not Guilty" for Tonya as she moves on into the next
stage of her life.
VISIT THESE GREAT TONYA WEB SITES:
PortIce - http://www.geocities.com/portice
David House - http://www.tonyaharding.org
Charlie Main - http://www.charliesweb.com/tonya/tonya.html
Puppetboy - http://www.puppetland.com/tonya/
Valerie Smith - http://www.olywa.net/radu/valerie/LilHam.html
Swan Lake - http://members.tripod.com/~TonyaHarding/index.html
Blades of Gold - http://members.tripod.com/tmhfan/index.html
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