“Why me? Why me? Why now?”
Brunette Nancy Kerrigan, 24, and blonde Tonya Harding, 23, both had high hopes for the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics. On 6 January Nancy Kerrigan was practising before about 200 people at the ice rink at Cobo Hall in Detroit. As she left the rink Kerrigan stopped to talk to journalist Dana Scarton of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. No one noticed the black-clad figure hovering in the background who rushed forward and hit the back of the skater’s legs with a 53-cm (21-in) retractable baton. She fell to the ground crying, “Why me? Why me? Why now? Help me! It hurts so bad. Please help me.”
When she was examined, it was discovered that the attack had failed. The thug had hit just too high to fracture the leg but he had still done enough damage to rule her out of competitive skating. The United States Figure Skating Association wanted Kerrigan on the plane to Lillehammer and said that, as long as she was fit, she would be included in the team.
A few days later, the police received a tip-off that a woman had heard a tape of three people from Portland, Oregon — Tonya Harding’s hometown — discussing an attack on Kerrigan. One of them was Jeff Gillooly, Harding’s ex-husband with whom she still lived; another was Shawn Eckhardt, her bodyguard. The FBI placed Eckhardt under surveillance and he obligingly lead them to Derrick Smith, the driver of the getaway car and then to Smith’s nephew, Shane Stant, the man who had wielded the baton.
The FBI quickly discovered that none of the men had the intelligence to arrange the plot and the evidence for that quickly pointed to Jeff Gillooly. At first he denied any involvement in the attack but then broke down and confessed. He believed that, with Kerrigan out of the picture, Tonya Harding’s chances would be improved. Harding professed ignorance but her estranged husband claimed that, far from knowing nothing of the plot, Harding had actively encouraged it. Desperate to compete in the Olympics, Harding then admitted that she had learned about the planned attack but had done nothing with the information.
On 26 February 1994 both women competed for the gold medal. Harding finished eighth and Kerrigan finished second to Oksana Baiul, the Ukrainian.
Cobo Hall, 600 Civic Center Drive,Detroit, Michigan, USA
2.35pm Thursday 6 January 1994
On 1 February 1994, Jeff Gillooly agreed to testify against his ex-wife. On 16 March 1994 Harding pleaded guilty to a felony count of conspiring to hinder prosecution. She was sentenced to three years’ supervised probation, a $100,000 fine and forced to resign from the United States Figure Skating Association.
She was also told to create a $50,000 fund for the Special Olympics, reimburse the District Attorney’s Office to the tune of $10,000, serve 500 hours’ community service and undergo psychiatric evaluation and treatment. In September 1994 Penthouse published stills from a sex tape of Harding and Gillooly.
In a celebrity boxing match for Fox TV in 2002 she beat Paula Jones, the woman who accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment. In 2003 Harding became a professional boxer. Nancy Kerrigan is married to her agent and they have three children.