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The Portlandian, the Internet's premier source of Tonya News

January 6, 2004 Edition - TENTH ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATIVE EDITION
(C) 2004 Portland Ice Skating Society
http://www.geocities.com/portice
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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 
Tonya since.


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,     
    Thursday)" 

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 
REAL jail.

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 
getaway car.

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 
magazine.

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 
skating popularity.

"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 
interest."

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 
Vail, Colorado.

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, 
Tonya says:

"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 
else."

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 
implicate Tonya?

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.

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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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