This article was initially revealed on August 19, 2016. We’re bringing it to your consideration once more in mild of the premiere of I, Tonya this week.
Whenever the Olympics roll round, there’s all the time one thing price getting fired up over — whether or not you’re rooting for a breakout athlete or arguing over doping or sexism. But, if Michael Phelps staring murderously at his rival Chad Le Clos taught us something, it’s good, old style athletic rivalry of Olympic proportions gives the last word drama. Nothing towards Phelps’ daggers, however the usual for inter-Olympian battle was set (and continues to be held) by determine skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding, method again in 1994 on the Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
We nonetheless have a pair years to attend earlier than the subsequent Winter Olympics in Seoul, however Rio’s summer season video games (and the continuous drama that comes with them) have us within the temper to revisit this story. In truth, any time is an effective time to look again on what occurred between Kerrigan and Harding, because it nonetheless has a shocking maintain on popular culture. Most just lately, we discovered that Margot Robbie has been forged within the lead position in I, Tonya. But the information that the scandal goes to get a big-budget Hollywood retelling comes solely after a number of documentaries on the story have been aired over time — and after the creation of at the very least one short-lived hallway museum went viral.
The factor is although, 1994 was a very long time in the past; it is exhausting to recollect precisely what occurred. Ahead, we dive (as soon as once more) into the small print and reveal the shocking (and irritating) the reason why we nonetheless care about this, greater than 20 years later.
Here’s What Happened
In the winter of 1994, Kerrigan and Harding have been making ready for the upcoming world championship competitors that preceded the Olympic Games in Norway. This can be the second Olympics wherein the pair would compete (Kerrigan took residence the bronze whereas Harding positioned simply behind her in fourth again in 1992).
One January evening in Detroit, after one of many ultimate practices earlier than the U.S. Women’s Championships, Kerrigan was struck with a baton above her proper knee (her touchdown leg) by a person who, it will be revealed later, was employed by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. The physician who handled Kerrigan informed the New York Times on the time that “he was clearly attempting to debilitate her.”
With Kerrigan injured, Harding then went on to put first within the Championships in Detroit whereas Kerrigan was on the mend. By the time the Olympics got here round in February, mainly the whole lot concerning the assault was public information — Gillooly, Kerrigan’s attacker, and two different males would go to jail for planning and finishing up the assault, however not earlier than implicating Harding within the plans, as nicely.
At this level, the U.S. Olympic Committee thought-about eradicating Harding from the crew. She responded by submitting a $25 million lawsuit towards the Committee. And so, she was allowed to compete in Norway. Kerrigan, who had fortunately recovered in time to compete, took residence the silver medal. Harding positioned eighth.
It stays considerably unclear what position Harding had within the assault. Gilooly informed the FBI he mentioned it along with her beforehand, however she solely admitted in court docket that she discovered about it shortly after it occurred and that she helped hinder the investigation. Then, six months after the assault, the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA) stripped Harding of her titles (together with the World Champion title she gained whereas Kerrigan was nonetheless recovering) following an investigation of their very own.
“By a preponderance of the proof, the 5 members of the panel concluded that she had prior information and was concerned previous to the incident,” the USFSA panel chairman William Hybl informed The Washington Post on the time. “This is predicated on civil requirements, not prison requirements.”
She was additionally banned from competing in any USFSA-sponsored occasion — novice or skilled — from then on. The panel additionally concluded: “Ms. Harding’s actions as they associated to the assault on Nancy Kerrigan proof a transparent disregard for equity, good sportsmanship, and moral habits.”
The assault ended Harding’s profession; she maintains that she did not know concerning the assault earlier than it occurred. Kerrigan retired from lively competitors, however went on to skate professionally in a number of ice skating reveals.
How The Media Reacted
Many reporters have been on the rink for the fateful ultimate apply earlier than the World Championship, and the aftermath of the assault was infamously caught on video. Leading as much as the Games, nationwide information stations performed and replayed the heart-wrenching footage, whereas reporters camped outdoors of Kerrigan’s Massachusetts residence.
The story grew to become a tabloid sensation. While it is simple that Kerrigan was viciously attacked, retailers took liberty to painting the ladies as they noticed match: Harding was from the fallacious aspect of the tracks, whereas Kerrigan was a sublime athlete who was born to win. Harding was scrappy and misunderstood, whereas Kerrigan was chilly and stuck-up. Time and yet one more documentary has revealed that, in fact, each girls are extra advanced than the simplistic roles they have been forged in.
It was sadly inevitable that parts of Kerrigan’s and Harding’s respective personalities and backgrounds can be used to amplify any actual competitors between them. The media frenzy clearly had an impact on each of them.
Kerrigan, ever the perfectionist and identified to endure from nerves, informed People, “I have been a fighter all my life,” and informed Newsweek that she had “an odd feeling there’s going to be a giant applause once I go on the market” on the rink. Meanwhile, Harding was so on edge that she began crying when a lace broke on her skates on the Games simply earlier than she went out on the ice, which nearly led to disqualification. (Ultimately, the judges allowed her to repair her lace and skate later within the competitors.) Regardless of which narrative you favored, Harding got here away wanting frazzled, whereas Kerrigan appeared courageous and unflappable.
As aggressive because the media protection was again then, are you able to think about the circus if this went down at present? Twitter would flood with #TeamTonya and #TeamNancy crusaders. Women’s media websites (together with, little doubt, Refinery29) would launch assume piece after assume piece on what it means to pit two younger, gifted girls towards one another and the way their respective appearances and socio-economic backgrounds have affected their lives and portrayal within the media. Of course, we will (and do) write after-the-fact assume items on Harding and Kerrigan, however once we try this, we get to have an emotional distance offered by time.
Maybe that’s why we hold coming again to it; we nonetheless aren’t certain what to consider. We’ll quickly see Kerrigan and Harding’s story dramatized in I, Tonya, and it stays to be seen if Harding will likely be portrayed as a villain or as a human being with ambitions — and if Kerrigan will likely be depicted as a complete sufferer or a chilly ice princess.
Why This Still Matters
It’s fascinating to look again at this now, in an period wherein the media and spectators nonetheless appear to fall again into sexism — particularly relating to female-coded sports activities similar to determine skating and gymnastics. For instance, it is cheap for the media to name consideration to an thrilling rivalry, such because the one between Michael Phelps and Chad Le Clos or the one between American swimmer Lilly King and Yulia Efimova. But why can we rejoice these rivalries and likewise really feel the necessity to pit feminine teammates towards one another (after which punish them for it)?
For instance, the Gold-medal profitable Final Five crew from this 12 months’s Summer Olympics have been forged as a tight-knit crew. Aly Raisman is “Mom” and “Grandma” to her teammates, whereas Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez are the inseparable roommates — and, sadly, Madison Kocian might be the sweet-but-forgotten center youngster in all of this. But the second Gabby Douglas exhibited a hint of disappointment or misery, we deserted this harmonious picture of Team USA, selecting as an alternative to focus on (and cruelly choose) Douglas’ angle.
Even at present, we as a viewing public (preferring the Olympics be extra cleaning soap opera than easy athletic occasion) don’t simply love a great rivalry; we appear to crave a salacious and sinister one, particularly if the athletes are girls.
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