Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

An ex-husband, a metal baton, and a U.S. title

by Gerry Brown
Tonya Harding, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Nancy Kerrigan

Friends Forever: Tonya Harding, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Nancy Kerrigan

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It all started on Jan. 6, 1994. Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked by a metal-baton-wielding assailant as she left the ice after a practice session in Detroit.

Originally favored to win the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the now-injured Kerrigan was forced to the sidelines.

In her absence, 1991 champion Tonya Harding captured the spotlight, the U.S. title, and a spot on the U.S. Olympic team for the following month's Winter Games in Lillehammer.

It didn't take long for the mystery to unravel.

Assault accomplice Shawn Eckardt caved and told the FBI about the plot that was hatched with Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, to get Kerrigan out of the way.

Eventually Harding admitted that she knew about the attack after the fact but failed to come forward. The United States Olympic Committee was about to kick Harding off the team when a $25 million lawsuit filed by Harding's lawyers changed its mind.

The attack on Kerrigan's knee might not have seemed so bad to her compared to the crush of tabloid journalists that descended on her in the next few weeks as she tried to recover.

Kerrigan recovered in time to compete in Lillehammer, and the stage was set for the ultimate showdown. The suffocating media coverage gave the entire proceedings an electric atmosphere. It was good versus evil on the world's biggest stage. It was called the Battle of Wounded Knee II.

Heading into the finals, Kerrigan was in first place, ahead of Ukrainian teenager and world champion Oksana Baiul and France's Surya Bonaly. Harding was a distant 10th.

In the finals, a controversial 5–4 split among the judges gave the gold to Baiul by the slimmest of margins. Kerrigan got silver, and Harding got to stay out of jail, which is more than can be said for her ex-husband and the band of goons he hired to club Kerrigan.

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