The Tonya Harding fall
Sullivan, Randall. Rolling Stone. New York:Jul 14, 1994. Iss. 686-687, p. 80
Full Text (12537 words)
Copyright Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. Jul 14, 1994
It was newspaper stories of Tonya Harding’s chronic asthma and homemade costumes that moved Elaine Stamm. In February 1993, Stamm, a willowy former charm-school operator, wrote a letter to the Oregonian that was the seed of the skater’s official support group. “Tonya had been doing so much with so little for so long,” explained Stamm, whose grown daughter’s bedroom became the home office of the Tonya Harding Fan Club.
Fan-club members paid for the banner strung along the railing above the Ice Chalet rink in the Clackamas Town Center Mall, outside Portland, Ore., that read, HOME OF TONYA HARDING—U.S. NATIONAL CHAMPION, WORLD SILVER MEDALIST, OLYMPIAN. By the end of 1993, their numbers had grown to nearly 400, linked by an official publication, The Skater.
The newsletter’s editor, Joe Haran, a puffy Vietnam vet with white hair and spooky eyes, said he identified with Tonya through his memories of abuse and poverty suffered as a child. Haran was someone for whom it was not inconceivable that a world-class figure skater might phone the police, as Tonya Harding did in March of 1993, to report that her husband, Jeff Gillooly, had emphasized himself during an argument by slamming her head into the bathroom floor.
Tonya moved in with a friend but called the cops on her estranged husband repeatedly last summer. After a confrontation at her new apartment, she filed her second divorce petition, then returned to court to ask for a restraining order. She complained later that Jeff was “following me around,” then reported to the police that he had threatened her life through mutual acquaintances. Last Aug. 28, the couple was granted their divorce. Ten days later, her attorney returned to court to ask that the restraining order be lifted; Tonya and Jeff were contemplating reconciliation.
Tonya stayed at the apartment until the early morning hours of Oct. 2, when neighbors phoned the police to report they had heard a man and a woman arguing outside, then a single gunshot. Officers stopped Tonya and Jeff as they were leaving the apartment complex in a pickup loaded with her possessions. They confiscated the shotgun hanging in the rear-window rack and a 9mm Beretta pistol that had recently been discharged. Tonya was handcuffed to the truck’s front grille while the police interviewed Jeff.
Tonya arrived at the Skate America International Competition in Dallas later that month under enormous pressure to prove she merited the continued support of the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA). Tonya’s short program in Texas was spectacular, lifting the crowd to its feet and her to first place, ahead of favorites Oksana Baiul of the Ukraine and Surya Bonaly of France. During her long program, Tonya hit two triple jumps but wobbled while landing a third and coasted to the judges’ table with a loose skate blade. She was allowed to make repairs, but her concentration had been broken; she fell on her double axel and dropped to third place.
Tonya’s next scheduled appearance was at the Northwest Pacific Regional Championships to be held at her home rink, in the Clackamas Town Center. She was thrilled with the opportunity to skate before hometown fans, she said, yet repeatedly submitted requests to the USFSA for a waiver from the competition. Refused, she was about to step onto the ice for her warm-up when officials announced the competition had been postponed. Someone had phoned in a death threat: “If Harding skates, she’ll get a bullet in the back.” Tonya would be given a bye, it was announced that evening. The official in charge of the event, however, sent a letter to other USFSA members suggesting that the death threat had been staged. New York Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner was so impressed by Tonya’s bravery that he agreed to underwrite her training expenses.
The 1994 Nationals loomed as Tonya’s last chance to make her mark on amateur figure skating before turning pro. She could count on work with ice shows, but endorsement contracts were a long shot—especially with Nancy Kerrigan for competition. Though not so natural an athlete as Tonya, Kerrigan was blessed with higher cheekbones and longer limbs. The media would cast Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan as young women from blue-collar backgrounds who diverged by choosing the high and low roads to upward mobility. In truth, Kerrigan’s life was little like Tonya’s. Kerrigan had been raised in a family both solid and extended. She had no idea what it was to be at once the third-ranked figure skater in the country and the girl behind the counter at Spud City, where Tonya was employed after she left the hardware department at Sears. Her gap-toothed smile filled in by a new set of caps, Kerrigan became one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People” in 1993, appeared on the cover of Life and won endorsement contracts with Northwest Airlines, Seiko and Campbell’s soup.
At the same time, Tonya and Jeff were being dunned by bill collectors armed with court judgments secured by both their phone company and the credit union that had issued their Visa card. Convinced an Olympic medal was her only hope for a major career as a professional, Tonya trained with unusual ardor. Responding to a Portland TV reporter who asked about her going “hopefully to the Olympics,” she said: “There’s no ‘hopefully’ about it. I’m going. Nobody’s going to stop me.”
Signs were posted all through the December 1993 issue of The Skater. Four separate articles reviled malefactors scattered across the globe from Tokyo Bay, Japan, to Cape Cod, Mass., yet the theme of each was the same: Life isn’t fair, especially to Tonya Harding.
Skating crowns Kerrigan, shouted the headline over an article complaining that the USFSA’s official magazine had featured Tonya’s archrival on the cover just before the 1994 Nationals in Detroit. The longest piece in the newsletter reported the results of the recent NHK Trophy tournament in Japan, the last major international competition before the 1994 Olympics, at which judges had placed Tonya behind Surya Bonaly and Chen Lu of China, both of whom “fell on their butts,” as it was described so succinctly by Tonya herself, who wanted fans to know “I was gypped.”
Jeff agreed; political bullshit, he told his friend Shawn Eckardt, the design of skating officials intent on putting Tonya at a disadvantage to their darling Kerrigan. As Jeff knew she would, Tonya returned from Japan on Dec. 14 fuming. Three days later, Eckardt recalled, Jeff asked if he knew anyone who could disable Kerrigan before the national championships.
On Dec. 22, Eckardt phoned his buddy Derrick Smith in Phoenix to explain he had a contract on the figure skater Nancy Kerrigan issued by Tonya Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly. Tonya was being bankrolled by George Steinbrenner, boasted Eckardt, who said his end of the deal was a protective-services contract with Tonya and promised to cut Smith in to the tune of $1,000 per week. Two days before Christmas, Smith called his wife’s sister’s kid Shane Stant and told him somebody needed to be “taken down”
Early Christmas Day, Jeff and Tonya went out to cut their tree; when they came home, there was a message from Derrick Smith on the answering machine, explaining that he needed to discuss “our problem.” Jeff phoned Eckardt to demand that Eckardt call Smith and tell him the deal was off. Eckardt called back and said Smith was on his way, like it or not.
Just meet Smith, Eckardt urged. Tonya didn’t think it was a good idea, Jeff later told the FBI. Her main apprehension was Eckardt, and you only had to look at Eckardt to know why: This was a guy who talked about getting “down” to 300 pounds. It got worse when he opened his mouth: Eckardt boasted constantly about “asset protection” and “hostage retrieval” assignments overseas, telling you every time you saw him that he just got back from Kenya or had to leave the next day for New Zealand, yet he drove a 1976 Mercury and kept the corporate headquarters of World Bodyguard Services in a spare bedroom at his parents’ home in Lents, a neighborhood where a stapled sheet of plastic was a storm window. Eckardt wasn’t going to do the job himself, Jeff said; it was people he knew, professionals.
Smith and Stant arrived at the Eckardt house at a little past 10 on the morning of Dec. 28. Stant, 22, carried 235 pounds on a frame just under 6 feet tall and arrived looking bad in a long black Australian outback coat, black boots and black fingerless gloves. Smith was 29 but looked 38, with his thinning hair and jowly jaw. He was a big guy, though, 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds. It was Smith’s idea to tape record their meeting with Jeff. Eckardt explained so they would have “leverage” on him later. Eckardt, whose skills had been honed, according to his resume, by years devoted to infiltrating underground organizations, prepared for the surreptitious taping by covering his recorder with a paper towel.
Jeff arrived an hour late, said he could pay $6,500 tops and wanted to know what he could get for it. Eckardt suggested it would be simplest to kill Kerrigan, set up a sniper to pick her off at long distance. “What can we do less than that?” Jeff asked. Eckardt suggested flying back to Massachusetts, where Kerrigan lived, buying a beater car and using it to run her off the road. That was abandoned when Jeff pointed out that the beater might break down and strand their driver at the scene. Then Jeff proposed breaking Kerrigan’s landing leg: “A perfect idea,” Eckardt remembered his saying. They would need some information on Kerrigan, Smith said, a good picture and the name of the ice rink where she practiced—plus $2,000 upfront.
Tonya was sitting outside at the wheel of their big blue four-wheel drive, extended-cab, raised-suspension, full-sized Ford pickup as Eckardt embraced Jeff on the front porch and told his old friend, “We’re going to make a lot of money.”
The Willamette river not only passes through Portland, Ore., but divides it. Southwest Portland is home to possibly the prettiest downtown in the United States: City Hall, the performing-arts center, the South Park Blocks and what the New York Times has called “some of the most beautifully detailed and dignified 20th-century classical revival buildings in the country” rest under the twin peaks of the two richest residential neighborhoods, Council Crest and Portland Heights. Northwest Portland has the city’s best restaurant, the nations best bookstore and the largest “urban wilderness” in the U.S.
What a lot of people west of the Willamette tend to forget, though, is that nearly four-fifths of the city’s population resides on the other side of the seven bridges that span the river. Northeast Portland is the most racially diverse quadrant, but Southeast is mostly white, and poor white at that, with pockets of demi-chic among areas considered “close in,” but beyond that, mostly block after block of stunted wood-frame houses and seedy storefonts.
Tonya Maxene Harding has spent most of her life in Outer Southeast, or another step over the line in Clackamas County, where suburban developments are gestating slums and pastureland is consumed acre upon acre by Kmarts and Costcos. Born Nov. 12, 1970, Tonya was the fifth child of LaVona “Sandi” Golden by her fourth husband, Al Harding. Sandi supported the family as a nightshift waitress. Al worked when he wasn’t laid up with back problems, as a truck driver, an apartment manager and a bait-and-tackle salesman.
Tonya’s parents bought her a pair of secondhand skates at a Goodwill thrift store for Christmas a month after she turned 4 and started her in group lessons. Her teachers were incredulous: After only a few weeks, the little girl could skate backward and spin, skills older students needed months to master. The most remarkable thing about Tonya, though, was that she didn’t mind falling: No matter how hard she hit the ice, she picked herself up and went on as if nothing had happened.
During Tonya’s childhood, the Hardings traveled to skating competitions in their pickup truck, sleeping together out in the parking lot under a camper shell. Gas money alone for a trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, or Salt Lake City, Utah, cost Sandi a days wages. Al contributed what he could, driving Tonya out past Eagle Creek on Highway 224 to scavenge the roadside for beer cans and pop bottles.
Tonya’s coach Diane Rawlinson helped out by introducing the Hardings to persons of prominence who would underwrite their daughter’s training. Tonya’s first sponsor was an attorney who stopped by the rink to take a look, saw the 5-year-old warming up with jumping jacks and fell in love on the spot. The lawyer’s support ended, however, when his wife walked in on Sandi Harding in the ladies’ room, whacking her daughter with a hairbrush for a bad performance.
By the time Tonya was 10, mother and daughter were bonded by the knowledge that neither fit in among the lissome ice princesses and immaculate mothers of a “sport” in which costumes count in the scoring and the adjective athletic is used to downgrade rather than compliment a competitor.
The Hardings changed their home address 13 times in 16 years. Tonya started at a new school almost every September, and Sandi discouraged friendships as a distraction from skating. The girl’s only real buddy was Al, who took his daughter sturgeon fishing in the deep water of the Columbia Gorge or deer hunting in the Douglas fir forests east of Estacada. While Sandi made Tonya eat bran muffins for breakfast and sent her to bed without dinner when her weight was up, Al smuggled her off to Dairy Queen for a sundae once a week.
Tonya dropped out of high school after her freshman year and went to the U.S. Nationals for the first time in 1986, when she was 15, finishing sixth. It was 1986 also when Sandi and Al ended their marriage and that year as well when Tonya met 18-year-old Jeffery Scott Gillooly. In 1989, Tonya moved out of her mother’s house to live with Jeff, who supported them with a job as a delivery driver for the Seams Right tailoring shop in a downtown department store. They lived on peanut-butter sandwiches and scrounged for quarters to keep gas in the tank of their pickup truck. The couple married in early 1990, a few months after Tonya turned 19.
Tonya had finished fifth at the US. Nationals in 1987 and 1988, moving up to third in 1.989, but after her marriage she began to slack off, skipping practices and gaining weight. Diane Rawlinson, exasperated, turned Tonya over to Dody Teachman. Tonya never had spent as much time on the ice as other world-class skaters. She was a natural to a degree perhaps unprecedented in her sport, at 19 the strongest female figure skater in the world, the highest jumper, the fastest spinner. The muscular arms and chunky thighs that generated her power, however, also made it difficult for her to achieve the artistry of skaters whose graceful figures and elegant footwork made them judges’ favorites. The sight of her sucking on an asthma inhaler before she took the ice scarcely improved her image, and that awful girl from Oregon outraged the sport’s administrative elite when she began to skate her long program to the music of ZZ Top, wearing costumes with plunging necklines and bare backs.
By 1990, Teachman had realized Tonya’s best chance to become national champion was her ability to land the most difficult of triple jumps, the axel, something no U.S. female figure skater had achieved in competition. Tonya arrived at the 1991 Nationals in Minneapolis ranked third in the country. She sped onto the ice boogieing to “Wild Thing,” flew twice around the rink, then launched her triple axel and landed it with a shriek of delight, finishing to a standing ovation. She not only won the title but received the first perfect score for a technical performance at the Nationals in 18 years.
This was a fairy tale written by the Brothers Grimm, however. Tonya never made it to the formal dress ball for winners; she was in the hotel bar wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, shooting pool.
Her triple axel liberated Tonya. She became the only skater in the world who literally could force the judges to give her a medal; if she hit her big jump and landed the others, she would win the competition, no matter how the judges deplored her low-rent style.
Tonya and Kristi Yamaguchi were co-favorites for the 1992 Winter Olympics, but in April of 1991, less than two months after finishing second at the World Championships, Tonya fired Dody Teachman and announced that she would coach herself, assisted by Jeff. Tonya reversed herself and went back to Teachman in June, the same month she filed for divorce from her husband.
Tonya took first place at the Skate America International in September, beating Yamaguchi in their last competition before the 1992 Nationals, but was back in her downward spiral by October, after reuniting with Jeff. In November she asked the court to delay their divorce and for two months abandoned training, returning to the rink just weeks before the 1992 Nationals, where she tumbled to the ice during both short and long programs. At the Olympics in Albertville, France, her performance was only a little better. Arriving late and still suffering jet lag when she took the ice, she again missed her triple axel, finishing fourth behind bronze medalist Nancy Kerrigan. “I certainly hope she learned from the experience,” Dody Teachman told reporters. Three days after they returned to Portland, Tonya fired her a second time.
Diane Rawlinson was her coach again when Tonya showed up for the 1992 World Championships in Oakland as Mrs. Gillooly. Reporters wanted to know about the skaters appearance on the police record nine days earlier, when sheriffs deputies, summoned by the report of a “slapping match” between two women when cars were blocking an intersection, found Tonya in the street wielding a baseball bat. During the competition, Tonya substituted Frank Sinatra for ZZ Top, seemed concerned mainly with staying on her skates and finished sixth.
Tonya’s petition for a divorce from Jeff was dismissed in January of 1993, the same month she suffered the first of the equipment catastrophes that would climax with her broken boot lace at the 1994 Olympics. It was the clasp supporting the bodice on the bright red dress sewn by Jeff’s sister that failed her this time, popping open as she went up for a triple lutz. She was allowed to repair the costume but skated so poorly she failed even to make the U.S. World Team.
They were the garage band of terrorists. Shawn Eric Eckardt, 26, would have been 16 during the months he spent staking terrorist cells in the employ of a Laurance, Switzerland, company called Blackstone, according to his personal resume. Back in reality, the furthest Eckardt had ventured from home was Aspen, Colo., where he spent two weeks during the summer of 1990 at the Executive Security International. Drawing on his ESI textbooks, a collection of mail-order literature and a computer network of like-minded delusionals, Eckardt spoke with authority on such subjects as the “observational psychology” techniques of the Israeli Mossad and the U.S. Secret Service’s “characteristics matrix” for assassins, regaling fellow students at Pioneer Pacific College with tales of covert operations abroad. He was good with a computer, though, and had every episode of Star Trek on videotape.
Derrick Smith had met Eckardt in a law-enforcement class at Mount Hood Community College, where the two shared their fascination with espionage and survivalism. Smith possessed some basis for his enthusiasm: He had served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1985 as an “intelligence analyst.” After his discharge, he settled with his wife on her mother’s property in the woods east of Corbett, a forlorn little hamlet in the northeast corner of Multnomah County, Ore., working as vocational instructor at a company that trained mentally retarded adults to sort hangers for laundries.
Shane Stant is been best known at Corbett High as the class bully, a strange kid who became scary after he started lifting weights and eating steroids. He dropped out as a junior, disappeared for a year, then returned to town claiming he had been traveling all over the world studying martial arts and working as a bodyguard. Stant connected with Derrick Smith in 1992, when he moved out to his grandmother’s property, where the two spent their spare time building booby traps from barbed wire and bent birch saplings on the slope leading to their cabins, alarming neighbors by playing army in the woods while wearing military-issue camouflage.
By the summer of 1993, Smith and Stant were talking about moving to Arizona to help set up a camp to train “paramilitary personnel.” They left for Phoenix in November, when the weather in Oregon began to turn nasty. The paramilitary thing wasn’t happening though, and Smith took another job in Phoenix working with retarded adults, while Stant moved to nearby Chandler.
Smith applied for a job as a Phoenix police officer and was informed on Dec. 13 that his test scores placed him among the department’s top applicants. He was waiting for the police to schedule his interview when Shawn Eckardt phoned three days before Christmas.
On Dec. 27, Tonya phoned her friend Vera Marano, a Pennsylvania librarian who wrote for American Skating World and explained that she and Jeff had a bet about where Nancy Kerrigan trained. Marano said she would check and called back later, leaving a message on the couple’s answering machine. The worn tape made it sound as if Marano had said Kerrigan’s rink was the Tuna Can Arena. The following day, three calls were made from Tonya and Jeff’s home, a snug cabin above a Christmas-tree farm in Beavercreek, Ore., to the Tony Kent Arena, in South Dennis, Mass.
That evening, Tonya and Jeff again drove to Shawn Eckardt’s house. While Tonya sat chatting with Eckardt’s mother, Agnes, Jeff went upstairs to his friend’s office, where he delivered a World Team Handbook featuring a full-page photograph of Nancy Kerrigan, the address of the Tony Kent Arena, a list of practice times and 20 $100 bills. Tonya stepped into the office, briefly, Jeff recalled, to tell Eckardt that the photo of Kerrigan was “flattering.”
Shane Stant flew from Portland to Boston that evening. According to Jeff, Tonya suggested attacking Kerrigan on New Year’s Eve, believing that if they got her outside a bar, it would sully her image. Stant did not find the Tony Kent Arena until the morning of Dec. 31, however, and spent the next two days in the parking lot watching the main entrance, moving his rented Chevy Cavalier every half hour, but never saw Nancy Kerrigan.
Back in Portland, Jeff asked Eckardt to write a “threat assessment” he could use after the attack on Kerrigan to solicit money from Steinbrenner for bodyguard protection. If Tonya won a medal at the Olympics, Jeff promised, he would transfer 10 percent of her endorsement contracts to Eckardt.
Tonya became unhappy, though, that nothing was happening. According to Eckardt, who attended the skater’s practice session on Jan. 1, when Tonya saw him, she skidded to a stop at the railing and said, “You need to stop screwing around with this and get it done.”
The next day, Jeff and Tonya drove their truck up to Mount Hood to go four-wheeling in the snow but were cut short when Eckardt put a call through to Jeff’s pager. His team might need more money to complete their assignment, Eckardt said, when Jeff phoned him back. “What?” Jeff replied “Do I have stupid written across my forehead?”
It was Jan. 3 when Stant phoned the Tony Kent Arena and was informed that Nancy Kerrigan had left for Detroit. He drove back to Boston, returned his rental car and took a cab to the Greyhound station. After a 29-hour bus trip, Stant arrived in Detroit late on the night of Jan. 4, registered under his own name at a Super 8 Motel, asked for a waterbed, rented a video player and two porno flicks, then retired for the evening.
Tonya and Jeff wondered if they were being scammed. Eckardt had an explanation: His team had broken into Kerrigan’s car—while Kerrigan was in a 7-Eleven store—to obtain the address on the registration. The two men spent New Year’s Eve hiding in Kerrigan’s home, but she never returned.
His team had decided to attack Kerrigan in Detroit, Eckardt explained the next day. He and Jeff wired $725 to Arizona; Smith flew to Michigan the next morning.
Tonya was already ensconced at the Westin Hotel in Detroit’s Renaissance Center, where Nancy Kerrigan was staying on another floor. Jeff said he and Tonya thought it best to catch Kerrigan in her room. Eckardt agreed, suggesting that Stant could force an entry, injure the skater’s leg under controlled condition then leave her bound and gagged with duct tape. Tonya obtained Kerrigan’s room number, Jeff explained, by telling a clerk at the registration booth she wanted to slip a poster under Kerrigan’s door.
Smith and Stant met on the morning of Jan. 5 at Joe Louis Arena, then slogged across a snow-covered parking lot to the Cobo Arena. From the stands, Stant waited where skaters entered and exited the rink, then walked over to see if he could gain entry to the staging area. No problem, he reported back to Smith. There even was a convenient escape route leading to a Plexiglas door that opened onto the parking lot.
Later that afternoon, Eckardt sent Jeff a fax asking if they could meet at Shari’s restaurant. The plan to get Nancy Kerrigan at the hotel had been abandoned, Eckardt explained; it would have to be at the ice arena. Jeff should send him to Detroit, Eckardt said, to make sure this things got done; he could shoot Kerrigan if all else failed. While he was in town, Eckardt added, he might as well eliminate Smith and Stant. Jeff shook his head. What about the tape? Jeff asked Eckardt, who had let slip earlier in the afternoon that he recorded the Dec. 28 meeting (to back Smith off if he threatened them with the police), dodged the question. Eckardt then asked Jeff to promise he would hold a news conference with Eckardt at his side if the assault came off: Jeff could announce that the attack had been carried out by a “mad stalker” and that he had retained World Bodyguard Services to protect Tonya.
On the morning of Jan. 6, Smith and Stant entered the Cobo Arena together, then split up inside: Stant took a seat near the skaters’ entrance while Smith sat on the opposite side of the rink. Stant was armed with a retractable baton and a photocopy of the note Eckardt had composed from letters cut out of magazines. “All skating whores will die,” it read. “No one can shut me off.”
When Nancy Kerrigan stepped onto the ice for her training session, Stant stood up, his signal to Smith, who went back outside to the car. As Kerrigan finished, Stant was standing among a crowd in the staging area. He waited until the cameraman who followed Kerrigan off the ice lowered his camera, then circled toward Kerrigan, crouching as he opened the baton with a whipping motion, and landed a glancing blow an inch above the skater’s right kneecap. He held back a little, Stant told Smith later, and knew he hadn’t hurt Kerrigan seriously because there wasn’t the “popping” sound that a breaking bone would have made.
Stant sprinted down the hallway, hit the Plexiglas so hard he snapped the pane out its metal frame, lay sprawled on the sidewalk for a moment, then scrambled to his feet, body-slamming the one man who tried to stop him and tossing the baton under a truck. Smith pulled the rental car to the curb, and Stant jumped in. They stopped at a gas station few blocks away, buried their stolen license plates in a snowdrift, then drove back to the Super 8.
Jeff had spent the night before at a bar with friends and was still in bed at noon, he said, when Tonya phoned from Detroit to tell him, “It happened.” “What?” Jeff asked. “Nancy,” Tonya said. “They did it.”
"Are you shitting me?" Eckardt answered, when Jeff called a few minutes later. He was serious, said Jeff, who heard Eckardt shout, "It happened!" then order his mother to start taping CNN. He should come straight over, Eckardt said. "And Shane better lose that black coat," Jeff heard Agnes Eckardt yell.
Jeff drove to the bank, withdrew $3,000 and was at the Lents house 10 minutes later. Eckardt said it had gone down this way: His team obtained a press credential by beating up a reporter at a bar, then used it to gain admission to the ice arena, where they “took out” a security guard by wrapping him in duct tape. Stant came out of the crowd as Kerrigan entered the arena, hit her three times on the right kneecap, then twice on the side of the leg with a retractable baton. He hit her again in the head as she fell to the floor, Eckardt said, shouting, “I spent 29 hours on a bus for you, bitch!” Stant had been forced to trash some guy on the sidewalk outside, but Smith covered for him by pretending to be an off-duty cop, shouting, “Stop! Police!” as he chased Stant to their waiting car.
When they returned to the house in Lents, Agnes said she had taped several TV news stories. Eckardt wasn’t even upset that his mother had recorded over one of his Star Trek episodes and kept asking Agnes to play the tape again, growing more excited each time he saw the footage of Kerrigan writhing on the floor. “I changed world history!” he shouted. After the third time her son asked her to rewind, Jeff recalled, Agnes told him, “You’re sick, Shawn.”
Jeff flew to Detroit from Portland on Saturday, Jan. 8, carrying a stack of Eckardt’s business cards. At the Cobo Ice Arena, Tonya’s coach and choreographer were staring aghast at the costume in which Tonya intended to skate for the national championship. It was another outfit Tonya had designed herself, purple except in the center, where gold sequins bordered a V of flesh-colored net that plunged nearly to her navel.
Jeff was in a front-row seat that evening when Tonya skated the long program that put her in first place on the cards of all nine judges, even though two marked her down for the sleazy costume. Tonya’s asthma flared afterward, and she was still hacking as she made her way to the press conference to pose for pictures with the national-championship medal around her neck, telling reporters, “It won’t be a complete title without having competed against Nancy.”
Jeff and Tonya were whispering in the hallway when Detective Dennis Richardson of the Detroit Police Department approached to ask if he could speak to the couple on Sunday afternoon. Jeff offered to meet Richardson at his office.
The next day the detective began the interview alone but excused himself after a few minutes, then returned with two FBI agents he introduced as Dan and Rich. When Rich asked who Derrick was, “I just about shit my pants,” Jeff recalled. He covered, though, and said, “Derrick who?” He should be proud, Detective Richardson observed as Jeff got up to leave: “Behind every great woman is a great man.”
Tonya managed to sleep that night, Jeff said, but he stayed up thinking and woke her finally at about 2 a.m. to say that if the FBI asked about Derrick, she should say, “You mean Derrick at the ice rink?” Tonya couldn’t get back to sleep either after that. “We’re never going to get out of here, are we?” she asked him, according to Jeff, who lay silent a few moments, then answered, “It does not look good.”
The first suspect of the FBI investigation was Nancy Kerrigan. She might have staged the attack, agents reasoned, to obtain a spot on the Olympic team without competing.
Tonya Harding was implicated in the assault on the day she won the national championship, when a woman who would not give her name phoned Detroit deputy police chief Benny Napoleon from Oregon to say she believed those involved had been Tonya, Jeff, Shawn Eckardt and a team of hit men led by someone named Derrick.
The unidentified woman was Patty May Cook. She had met Ron Eckardt two years earlier at the City Market, in Portland, where Shawn’s father was cleaning carpets. She gave him her phone number, and soon Ron was calling at least once a week boasting about his son’s espionage fantasies as if these were actual events. Cook was barely listening when Ron told her how Jeff Gillooly, desperate to save his crumbling marriage to Tonya Harding, had contracted with Shawn to arrange an attack on Tonya’s rival Nancy Kerrigan.
When Cook watched the TV news on the evening of Jan. 6, though, she was stunned. The next day, Cook wrote a two-page letter, signed it “Jane” and mailed copies to the local CBS affiliate, KOIN, the FBI and the Multnomah County district attorney’s office. Then she phoned the Detroit police.
On the morning of Jan. 10, Detective Richardson and the FBI agents spent four hours at the Westin Hotel interviewing Tonya Harding, asked the skater to sign a statement that she had no knowledge of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, then offered Tonya and Jeff a ride to the airport.
Four hours later, Tonya skipped into a crowd at Portland International that included a cluster of fan-club members in yellow TEAM TONYA T-shirts and Shawn Eckardt, who stepped forward wrapped in an XXXXL trench coat, laid a hand in the small of the skater’s back and guided her toward the meeting room where Jo Haran had set up a press conference. Tonya’s irritation flashed when a reporter asked if she knew anything about the attack on Nancy Kerrigan: “I’m really disappointed that you guys would even ask me that.”
"We gotta talk," Jeff told Eckardt as the two of them climbed into Eckardt’s Mercury in the airport parking lot. They followed Al Harding’s truck as her father drove Tonya to Margaret Gillooly’s house. How had the FBI gotten the name Derrick? Jeff demanded of Eckardt. Eckardt swore he didn’t know, which was technically true. Something definitely was going on, though, Eckardt said; an Oregonian reporter had approached him at the airport earlier to say he understood the FBI was investigating Eckardt and Jeff in the Kerrigan assault. At his mothers house, Jeff recalled, Tonya wanted a video tape of her winning performance on the ice in Detroit while he went over their alibi. Tonya and Jeff rode together back to Beavercreek, Eckardt following with the luggage. By the time they reached the cabin in the Christmas-tree forest, Jeff was coming undone, telling them they were all going to jail. Tonya made excuses, Eckardt recalled, claiming she had phoned Tony Kent Arena because she wanted Nancy Kerrigan to sign a poster promised to Elaine Stamm. Jeff decided they should say Derrick Smith had gone to Detroit to solicit clients for Eckardt’s bodyguard company.
Jeff and Eckardt paid $20 for a disposable Talk’n Toss calling card at a truck stop on Marine Drive, drove to the Shilo Inn to phone Smith from the lobby, then called him again from the Kmart on Sandy Boulevard. When they returned to the house in Lents, Jeff told the FBI, he urged Eckardt to destroy the recording of their Dec. 28 meeting. Eckardt said his mother had spent most of that morning burning evidence and flushing ashes down the toilet. (Agnes Eckardt denies any involvement.) Eckardt said not a word to Jeff about his meeting the next day with Eugene Saunders. Eckardt assumed, incorrectly, that it was Saunders who had told the FBI about Derrick. For reasons known only known to himself, Eckardt had played his tape recording of the Dec. 28 meeting for Saunders one evening after their paralegal class at Pioneer Pacific College, in Wilsonville, Ore.
Eckardt’s choice of a confessor was what made this event so incomprehensible. Saunders, the 24-year-old pastor of the Celebration New Song Church, a congregation of 50 who met in a Holiday Inn conference room, was as straight an arrow as had-ever been shot out of eastern Oregon’s high desert. The pastor assumed at first that this was another of Eckardt’s stories but learned such was not the case on the evening of Jan. 6, when Eckardt stopped him outside their paralegal class and said, “It happened: Kerrigan!”
Saunders spoke to Eckardt several times during the next three days, recalled Saunders, who received the distinct impression that Eckardt and Jeff Gillooly had cooked this whole thing up themselves—keeping Tonya Harding in the dark. It was Jan. 9 when Saunders agreed to be interviewed by investigators from the district attorney’s office but only after speaking first to the Oregonian. The newspaper then assigned sportswriter Abby Haight to interview Eckardt; Haight said she was doing a story about the attack on Kerrigan and wanted to hear from people involved in protecting celebrities. Eckardt was happy to oblige. Many of his “clients,” he told Haight, were people who had been menaced by obsessive fans: “There’s a lot of weird people out there.”
Jeff and Tonya were awakened on the morning of Jan. 11 by a phone call from KOIN sportscaster Ann Schatz, who asked if she could fax them a copy of the “Jane” letter for comment. “I don’t know for sure anything about what’s going on,” Tonya told Schatz during an interview at KOIN later that day and described the “Jane” letter as an attempt to “discredit me.” Asked about her chances at the Olympics, Tonya turned defiant: “No one controls my life but me, I mean, if God already wrote it out for me as how it’s going to be, but there’s something in there that I don’t like, I’m going to change it.”
When the couple returned to Beavercreek, they had a message from an Oregonian columnist calling to inquire if Tonya would like to comment on an article coming out in the next days paper. Jeff phoned Abby Haight to ask what it was all about. She had a statement from a Gene Saunders implicating Jeff and Shawn Eckardt in the assault on Kerrigan, the reporter explained. “I have more faith in my wife,” Jeff said, “than to bump off the competition.”
Jeff next phoned the Eckardt home, Agnes answered and said her son couldn’t come to the phone right now; he was talking to the FBI.
Eckardt told the story he and Jeff had agreed upon, claiming the $3,500 he received from Jeff on Jan. 6 was for bodyguard services. When one of the agents asked, “Do you know Eugene Saunders?” though, Eckardt’s several chins trembled, then he spilled: The whole thing was Jeff’s idea; Tonya Harding knew nothing about it.
Jeff and Tonya drove past the Lents house in a rented Lincoln Town Car several times that evening, observed by FBI agents. Back at the Beavercreek cabin, Jeff and Tonya switched from channel to channel during the 11 o’clock news; all stations led with quotes lifted from the next mornings Oregonian. The couple stayed up all night listening to the phone ring. They left the cabin only once, to steal a newspaper from a neighbor’s driveway.
They were awakened the next morning by Eckardt’s phone page. The number Eckardt left was one Jeff didn’t know. He had spent the night at the Red Lion out by Jantzen Beach, Eckardt explained, to avoid the Oregonian. Could they meet at Shari’s for breakfast? Jeff said he would call back, then told Tonya to look up the prefix in the phone book. It was for downtown, not Jantzen Beach. Eckardt probably was calling from the FBI office, Jeff said. He phoned Eckardt and said they could meet at Elmer’s pancake house. Jeff and Tonya drove together to the restaurant. Jeff handed Tonya his wallet and watch, then walked toward Elmer’s alone. Eckardt led him to a booth by the window. Eckardt, wearing an FBI tape recorder, told Jeff that Smith wanted to send Stant to Mexico and needed the $4,600. Certain it was a setup, Jeff said only that he would talk to his attorney.
It was Monday, Jan. 17, before Tonya returned to practice, stepping onto the ice at the Clackamas Town Center just after midnight for a session Diane Rawlinson described as “awesome.” Nancy Kerrigan, now a national icon, skated at Tony Kent Arena for the first time since the attack that same day, wearing a NO LIMITS, NO MERCY T-shirt.
The FBI had asked Tonya to come in for an interview Tuesday afternoon. On Monday evening, Jeff said, he attempted to convince Tonya that they should tell their attorneys the truth. Absolutely not, Tonya told him: Changing her story now “would not look good.”
Tonya came alone and in tears to the Clackamas Town Center at midnight on Jan. 18 and did not return to the Beavercreek cabin until sunrise. She was without Jeff again when she arrived at the FBI office in downtown Portland that afternoon and asked for ice to treat a swollen ankle. Tonya gave her father’s address but didn’t know her mother’s. She had one bank account, she said, which at the moment was $109 overdrawn. She stuck to the cover-up story for seven hours, until Agent James Russell said he knew she was lying about her activities between Jan. 10 and Jan. 12. Attorney Robert Weaver requested a break, took Tonya into the hallway, then returned one hour and 20 minutes later to say that his client had not been totally truthful in some of her answers because “she is fearful of Jeff Gillooly.” Tonya had not been involved in the planning of the attack on Kerrigan, Weaver explained, but believed Jeff probably was; she had gone along with the cover-up to protect her ex-husband “I hope everyone understands.” Tonya said “I’m telling on someone I really care about.”
Jeff Gillooly learned his ex-wife was dumping him again while watching the late news on television. Under siege by the media, Jeff drove to his mother’s house. A short time later, Tonya’s choreographer Erika Bakacs knocked on the door to explain that Tonya needed a vehicle and was going to take the pickup. When he stepped onto the porch, Jeff saw Tonya sitting in a car across the street and approached to ask if she had implicated him to the FBI. Tonya told him no, Jeff recalled, but said she had “really screwed up” and was going to jail. She was in tears when he hugged her, Jeff remembered, and said he would take the fall.
After midnight, Jeff drove out past Beavercreek into the woods near Estacada and spent the night in the back seat of his latest Lincoln Town Car. When he awoke the next morning and turned on the radio, the top story was that a warrant for his arrest had been issued by the FBI. He surrendered later that day. During his booking, Jeff was asked if he had any identifying marks. Jeff rolled up his shirtsleeve to reveal the tattoo on his right shoulder, a small broken heart.
News of Jeff’s arrest was overshadowed in the media by an affidavit attached to the warrant: Shawn Eckardt had changed his story and now said Tonya Harding was involved in the plot early on.
Tonya was staying at her father’s apartment behind the Trading Post Tavern, in Southeast Portland, and emerged only once all day, when a group of children who lived in the complex decorated a sheet of butcher paper with WE LOVE YOU TONYA and hung it outside the front door. Poking her head into the sunlight, her face pale without her makeup and touchingly young, she said only, “I’m just trying to hold on,” to the chorus of reporters who cried out to her.
Jeff phoned Tonya the next evening to tell her he had read the notes of her FBI interview. Tonya didn’t believe him, Jeff later told investigators, until he described the dinner order she had sent out: a turkey sandwich on sourdough bread with tomatoes, onions and cheddar cheese. “That’s cheating!” Tonya said.
He hung up on her, Jeff recalled, but Tonya called back and insisted she had told him about her statement to the FBI during a meeting the day before at his sister’s house. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing,” Jeff said and hung up again. Tonya called back a second time and insisted she had not done anything wrong because she hadn’t been at the Dec. 28 meeting and did not wire any money, said Jeff, who hung up once more. Calling the Tony Kent Arena and getting Kerrigan’s room number “makes you just as guilty as the rest of us,” Jeff told Tonya when she phoned back a third time. “I can’t believe your attitude,” he said.
Tonya had arrived at the Ice Chalet earlier that day wearing her red, white and blue Team USA jacket, escorted to the ice by security guards. “My skating is my life,” she explained to the huge contingent of reporters.
Jeff saw his estranged ex-wife for the first time in six days on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 25, when he returned home to find her loading their furniture into the bed of the blue Ford pickup. Tonya told him, “I just want you to know that I really do appreciate you taking the blame for all this,” Jeff recalled, then asked for a hug. The FBI already had enough to arrest her, Jeff warned. They couldn’t prove anything, Tonya replied. She said, “Good luck.” Jeff recalled, squeezed his hand, gave him a wink and left. It was the last time he saw her.
On Jan. 26, Jeff spent five and a half hours at the FBI office in downtown Portland, then returned the next day for an interview that lasted twice that long. Most reporters in town were filing stories about the Tonya Harding press conference that morning at the Multnomah Athletic Club. Once again wearing her Team USA warm-up suit, Tonya seemed absurdly tiny as she climbed onto a folding chair at the podium and denied any “prior knowledge of the planned assault on Nancy Kerrigan,” then added, “I am responsible however, for failing to report things learned about the assault when I returned home from nationals.” She intended nevertheless, to compete in Norway: “Despite my mistakes and my rough edges…I have devoted my entire life to one objective, winning an Olympic gold medal.”
Ten hours later, attorney Ron Hoevet hustled Jeff out the front door of the Justice Center to a Ford Explorer with a CLINTON/GORE bumper sticker, and the two drove away without comment. Tonya’s own lawyers, however, issued a statement that previewed their dense strategy: “Jeff Gillooly’s accusations appear to evidence a continued practice of abusive conduct intended to disrupt Tonya Harding’s life and destroy her career.”
Jeff’s attorney was replacing Shawn Eckardt as the carnival’s highest-flying hot-air balloon. Hoevet seemed hypnotized whenever a camera was pointed his way, admitting to the Oregonian, he found the attention “intoxicating.” That the attorney was drunk out of his mind he demonstrated on Feb. 1, the day Jeff Gillooly pleaded guilty to racketeering and accepted a two-year prison sentence plus a $100,000 fine. That afternoon, Hoevet staged the largest press conference in the state’s history at the Portland Hilton. Journalists were dumbstruck as it dawned on them that the attorney was there not to defend Jeff Gillooly but to present the prosecution case against Tonya. After detailing Jeff’s accusations against his ex-wife, Hoevet ducked out of the room behind a barricade of potted plants in time to make appearances that evening on Larry King Live and Nightline. Within three weeks 29 complaints against him had been filed with the state bar.
Amid Jeff’s plea and the Hoevet hub-bub, the media nearly buried the most incriminating evidence against Tonya to surface thus far, recovered from a trash bin outside the Dockside Saloon, in the industrial section of Northwest Portland. Kathy Peterson, who owned and operated the Dockside, had spotted a foreign garbage bag in her Dumpster filled with cat litter, taco shells, cigarette butts and an Associated Press envelope bearing an address that made her gasp: “Jeff Gillooly, 15580 S. Spangler Rd., Beavercreek, Ore.” On a second envelope there were doodles and some notes, among them one that read, “Tunee Can Arena,” with a Massachusetts phone number. Also in the bag were a Detroit airport taxi service receipt dated Jan. 8 and the stub of a $10,000 check issued by the United States Figure Skating Association. When investigators saw the handwriting on the second envelope, they recognized it as Tonya Harding’s. The question was, how had it come to rest in the saloon’s Dumpster. The Dockside was a strange place to plant evidence that would implicate Tonya, a little weather-beaten building under the city’s tallest bridge surrounded by warehouses and adjacent to a vacant lot where truckers parked their semis between loads, an hour’s drive from Beavercreek. And how could anyone have known Kathy Peterson would find it? On the other hand, if Tonya had wished to dispose of the envelope, burning it in the sink and flushing it down the toilet would have been simpler and more effective.
"Nobody will ever know what truly happened," Jeff Gillooly’s brother John told the Oregonian. "It’s a matter of who can cut the best deal at this point."
Tonya arrived late the next morning for her practice at the Clackamas Town Center. She was staying now with her best friend Stephanie and her husband, John Quintero, at the Valley Park Plaza Apartments, in suburban Beaverton. The media had staked the place out within hours of Tonya’s arrival massing in the parking lot to watch the front door. To elude the TV news, Tonya and Stephanie climbed a fence behind the apartment complex where John had parked the pickup. By the time Tonya reached rink side, the daily Tonyathon had been underway nearly three hours.
Even after her national championship in 1991, Tonya had skated at the Ice Chalet in virtual anonymity. More than 4,000 people, however, turned out for her first public practice after the Jan. 27 press conference. Spectators filled all three viewing levels. Mall employees handed out photocopies of Tonya’s autograph. Some in the crowd carried signs: WE LOVE YOU TONYA. DEAL WITH IT, AMERICA, read one. Men with steady-cams and boom mikes lined the north side of the rink in a roped-off area reserved for the media. Elaine Stamm—“Mom” to Tonya—set up a table off the down escalator where she offered memberships in the Tonya Harding Fan Club, complete with a TONYA! bumper sticker, a photo button and a free subscription to The Skater. Membership in the club had more than doubled during the past three weeks, said Stamm, whose I.U.P.G. (Innocent Unless Proven Guilty) buttons were a big seller.
The other woman Tonya called Mom showed up also at rinkside each morning, taking a position along the rail to defend herself against allegations in the media “Of course, Tonya and I had our disagreements—show me a teen-age girl and her mother who don’t,” Sandi Golden said. It was chilly by the ice, and Golden wore her winter coat, a beige nylon shell with polyester filling, frayed stitching and fake fur trim. The woman’s sole support was a monthly social-security check. Days earlier, she had been forced out of her little trailer in Happy Valley (adjacent to Lents), spending one night in her truck before friends took her in. Golden cursed the media with every other breath yet accepted business cards from correspondents representing Inside Edition, A Current Affair, Hard Copy, ABC, NBC, CBS, Time and Newsweek, blushing at the unction of a photographer from People who explained that he would like to set up a private portrait shoot “because the pictures we have really don’t do you justice.”
Golden endeavored to impress upon those gathered around her that she remained the world’s leading authority on Tonya Harding, explaining that her daughter was able to make surreptitious exits from the Clackamas Town Center because she had worked at the mall while it was under construction and knew all the secret passages and that chopping wood as a child had built the upper-body strength that made Tonya the greatest jumper in skating history.
Portland is proud of Tonya, read one sign at rinkside. When they saw it on TV, most residents cringed. After two decades of good press, Oregonians were reeling from a year in which the state had generated two stories deemed worthy of international interest: the sexual maladroitness of Sen. Bob Packwood and the Tonya Harding affair.
Few local businesses were complaining, though about media overkill. Bookings at hotels and rental-car agencies had set records for January. Photographers with broadcast-quality video cameras were getting $1,200 a day. Oregonian street sales were up 3,000 copies per day, and every local TV station reported increased ratings for news broadcasts. Perhaps no resident of the state appreciated Tonya more than Sen. Packwood, who flew in from Washington to tell audiences he knew how it felt to be put on trial by the media.
By Feb. 1, Tonya was the most famous person on the planet. The Times-Mirror Press Center, in Washington, reported that its Jan. 27-30 survey of public interest in news events showed more people were paying “very close attention” to the Tonya Harding saga than to any story involving an individual in the survey’s history.
Pundits fell all over themselves to tell America what made the story a matter of such compelling public interest. Most in the media cast the drama as a morality play, Snow White Nancy Kerrigan versus Wicked Witch Tonya Harding. The next level of contemplation involved how money had corrupted the innocence of sports—even at the Olympics. Hardly news. There also was the unsolved mystery. Even Nancy Kerrigan told the press, “It’s kind of like reading a book—you can’t wait to get to the end.” Tonya’s relationships with her mother and ex-husband not only added a psychodrama dimension but introduced the central theme of the American Story: Our Dysfunctional Family. This created a context in which Tonya might be portrayed as sympathetic, but it was her misfortune to catch the spotlight so soon after the trials of Lorena Bobbitt and the Menendez brothers.
Nearer to the heart of the matter was America’s profound denial of (and subterranean fascination with) social class. A cultural apparatus that had substituted race for class was engaged in a willful indifference to the millions of fair-skinned Americans who work for a living that is meager at best. Tonya Harding was the skeleton in the country’s closet. George Will might turn up his ice-blue nose and say her story “doesn’t mean a thing about America” but for millions of Will’s fellow citizens, whether one was with Kerrigan or for Tonya had become a Rorschach test that revealed both political and aesthetic leanings. Jesse Jackson told Tonya’s hometown paper, “If America cannot find in its heart a sense of plight for Tonya Harding, it says something about our own souls.” Even Bill Clinton seemed touched by Tonya’s plight, confiding that he supported her right to compete in the Olympics.
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) had notified Tonya it would meet Feb. 15 in Oslo to “review” her “status.” On Feb. 9, Tonya filed a lawsuit in the Clackamas County seat, Oregon City, to block the hearing demanding $20 million in damages if she was kept off the Olympic team. Oregon City had seen nothing like it since the day Bruce Springsteen’s license to marry Lake Oswego’s Julianne Phillips was filed, and that was low-key compared with this scene: A dozen satellite trucks surrounded the courthouse, and network correspondents filed reports from the middle of Main Street as locals’ cars swerved to avoid them. What played out in court was broad farce rather than high drama, however. Both the USOC and its business partner, CBS, which had paid $295 million to broadcast the games to North America, recognized that a Kerrigan-Tonya confrontation in Norway would produce a ratings bonanza of outlandish proportions. USOC attorneys appeared relieved when Judge Patrick Gilroy ordered the two sides to negotiate and announced a day later they had a deal: Tonya would drop her lawsuit, and the USOC would allow her to skate in the Olympics. “Some compromise,” the Washington Post editorialized
About all the press could offer at this point was commentary. Tabloid TV now owned the story. Inside Edition had taken the lead, buying up exclusive rights to interviews with Tonya Harding for (reportedly) $300,000. A Current Affair was in second place, paying $175,000 for Jeff Gillooly’s insights. The best Hard Copy could do was Derrick Smith and Shane Stant, whose attorney negotiated $60,000 in fees for their appearances.
What the Tonyathon proved was that tabloid TV could control virtually any story it deemed worth the expense. The main asset of its reporters might be no sense of shame, but they got scoops, albeit at a price, and no less than the New York Times had to pay attention, granting Inside Edition anchor Bill O’Reilly space on its Op-Ed page to explain that there was no choice other than to pay for sources, given the current atmosphere. It was not Hard Copy but ABC News that rented the apartment next door to the Quinteros’. Most shocking to John Quinteros was his discovery that an old friend who had moved into the complex was working for one of the tabloid shows.
The networks offered temptresses rather than temptations. Shawn Eckardt received nothing but a couple of hours in the same room with Diane Sawyer for his interview on ABCs Prime Time Live, while Tonya accepted far less from Inside Edition than she might have received, according to her attorneys, because she chose to be interviewed also by Connie Chung for Eye to Eye.
The big payday was going to be Nancy Kerrigan’s. By the time she left for the Olympics, Kerrigan’s performance rights had been sold to Disney for more than 2 million as part of a deal that included a TV movie, a televised skating special, assorted theme-park appearances, a children’s book and—possibly—a Nancy Kerrigan doll. Intersport reported that even before she skated in Norway, Kerrigan had signed contracts totaling $11 million.
Tonya’s last public practice in Oregon was on Valentine’s Day. More television cameras were pointed at the young skater than most heads of state ever see in one place. Investigators from Portland and Detroit, the FBI, the USOC and the USFSA all were staking her. Yet she refused to flinch. Sporting a T-shirt that read, DON’T DREAM IT, BE IT, she glided without a glance past the cameras that followed her every move. Still, the wear was beginning to show; she had missed more jumps during the past week than in the previous four. Diane Rawlinson insisted Tonya skated best under pressure, but there hadn’t been pressure like this on an athlete since the Mayans presented the head of the losing team’s captain to the winners.
Tonya left for Norway the next morning. While she was in the air, the ABC affiliate in Portland reported that Tonya had taken three polygraph tests since Jan. 18, failing two, one “miserably.”
Tonya’s mother was in New York to appear on The Montel Williams Show. Her host’s staff had made Sandi Golden over into a suburban mom, replete with contact lenses and molded coiffure. The same woman who two weeks earlier worried out loud about spending another night in her truck now explained she was living “in seclusion” and dismissed her 23-year-old daughter’s claims of abuse as “nothing but a teen-ager talking.” When Dr. Joyce Brothers entered the picture to do a little on-air therapy, though, Golden’s self-control slipped. Moments after insisting she didn’t give a damn what those snobs at the rink thought, Golden turned a scary shade of red as she admitted how deeply they had wounded her: “I lied to [Tonya] for years, telling her that some day she would be so good that they wouldn’t refuse her.” Golden fainted minutes later and was carried on a stretcher to the ambulance that delivered her to St. Clare’s Hospital.
Aboard SAS Flight 938 to Oslo, her daughter was the exclusive property of Inside Edition which had committed $1.2 million to its coverage of Tonya’s story. Journalists aboard the plane put in calls to the show’s head office to negotiate for an interview with Tonya; Connie Chung got a minute. Tonya spent most of the flight sitting with the tabloid show’s producer, playing poker on a laptop computer.
A Current Affair that evening featured a home video shot by Jeff of Tonya performing a striptease, peeling off what appeared to be a wedding dress until she was naked to the waist.
In Norway, Tonya and Kerrigan were housed in the same dorm on the campus of the Toneheim Music School. More than 500 journalists turned out for their first practice together. The story had spread worldwide, a video virus. Japanese TV ran a half-hour special on the assault; even Margaret Thatcher was subjected to a question from Sam Donaldson about whether Tonya should be allowed to compete in the Olympics.
The frustration of the mainstream media was mounting. Tabloid TV had sewed up a story no newspaper could ignore. Chung was able to wrangle another interview with Tonya, but it lasted only a few minutes. Abraded by charges of puffery, Chung attempted to get tough, quoting two skating judges who said they would be influenced by Tonya’s admissions at the Jan. 27 press conference. “OK, I’m done with this,” snapped Tonya as she unclipped her mike and stormed off the set.
The rest of the media followed he story by watching Inside Edition and A Current Affair. In Portland the two shows ran back to back, presented almost as a dialogue between Jeff and Tonya moderated by the dueling oiliness of Mike Watkiss and Joel Loy. Jeff told A Current Affair what “an exceptional liar” Tonya was, yet insisted he was in love with her still. He showed Watkiss the motel room where they had lost their virginity back in 1986 and where they had returned to spend the first night after returning from Detroit six weeks earlier.
Inside Edition’s most compelling moment the next night was also its tackiest, Tonya phoning her mom to say she had heard about Golden’s collapse in New York but “had no way of getting hold of you.” What a Current Affair used that evening was a horrifying clip of Golden singing a quavering ballad over the phone to Tonya about love that endures.
Tonya looked doomed the moment she stepped onto the ice for her short program on the evening of Feb. 23, wearing the same skimpy scarlet dress that had fallen apart on her at the 1993 Nationals, with Kabuki-dense makeup and slashes of crimson across her cheeks. She seemed unable to draw a deep breath and forced a smile the camera caught as a savage baring of teeth. Reporters who followed her from Portland saw nothing like the skater they observed at the Clackamas Town Center. Slow and sluggish, Tonya seemed only to want it over after taking an extra step on her opening combination jump and was in 10th place at the end of the evening. Nancy Kerrigan was in first.
There was some sympathy for Tonya from other skaters but only gloating from the USOC. For them, it had played out perfectly. CBS reported not only the biggest viewing audience in Olympic history but the highest Nielsen rating for any television show in the past 11 years.
In Portland, Jeff watched with a Current Affair crew. “Tonya was raked over the coals as far as her placement,” Jeff said and explained this was the sort of thing that drove them to an act of desperation: “It’s having the deck stacked against us, time and time again.”
"I was happy with my performance," Tonya insisted on Inside Edition the next evening. Joel Loy read aloud some of the headlines from U.S. newspapers: NANCY SHINES, TONYA DECLINES; A PERFECT LUTZ, A TOTAL KLUTZ. Tonya stared back at him, unblinking, "Frankly, I don’t care what people say….I’m not done."
Tonya had promised to steal the show during Friday’s long program and did just that. CBS opened its coverage with a long shot of the skater in a cinderblock corridor, desperately trying to repair her broken bootlace. “This bizarre real-life movie continues,” intoned announcer Verne Lundquist. Returning to the ice amid boos and jeers, Tonya, amazingly, was better than she had been two nights earlier. She never attempted the triple axel but landed four other triple jumps and applauded the judges’ scores that lifted her to eighth place.
Nancy Kerrigan again was smooth and efficient but fell to second place behind the ineffably graceful 16-year-old Oksana Baiul.
Tonya was suffering from a head cold when she staggered off a jetliner into the pandemonium awaiting her at Delta’s gate D-9 in Portland on Feb. 28. Amid the media were fans waving signs that read, TONYA 6.0 and TONYA, YOU ARE A GREAT LITTLE LADY. The skater mounted a makeshift podium to say, “Norway was beautiful. There’s nothing like home, though.” A white stretch limo ferried Tonya to her pickup truck.
Her welcome back really was not so warm as it appeared at the airport. Oregonian sports columnist Dwight Jaynes described Tonya’s failure to attempt the triple axel in Norway as “athletically dishonest” and wrote that if he saw her again in the Clackamas Town Center, he hoped it would be behind the counter at Hot Dog on a Stick. When Tonya arrived at the Valley Park Plaza Apartments, she learned that the Quinteros had been evicted because of the complaints of neighbors unsettled by the media siege.
The media was gone, though, when Tonya skated onto the ice at the Clackamas Town Center on Wednesday morning. It was eerie, this instant evacuation of the publics attention. More than 4,000 spectators had turned out to watch Tonya practice a few weeks earlier; now there were not four dozen.
Nancy Kerrigan’s reign as America’s ice princess had begun to grow old even before she accepted her silver medal. Kerrigan’s broad streak of bitchiness was caught on camera as she fumed when the medal ceremony in Norway was delayed by Oksana Baiul. At a news conference the next day, Kerrigan was asked if she had seen Tonya skate and replied, “I was going to, but she was able to skate later. Bending lots of rules, I guess.” When a TV interviewer inquired if she ever had seen anything like what happened to Tonya before Friday’s long program, Kerrigan answered, “It happens almost every competition.” Kerrigan irritated the USOC when she skipped the closing ceremonies in Lillehammer to make a promotional appearance at Disney World, where a camera caught her complaining to a man in a Mickey Mouse costume: “This is so corny; this is so dumb.”
Tonya’s own reprieve from front-page headlines wouldn’t last long. On March 7, her attorneys filed a lawsuit in federal court to block the USFSA hearing scheduled to begin in three days. Judge Owen M. Panner said he would rule in favor of the party that would be harmed most if he decided against it. That was Tonya Harding, Panner announced March 9.
Four days later, Tonya moved out of he Quinteros’ apartment to an undisclosed location. Reporters were waiting for her, though, at the Clackamas Town Center on March 14, there to ask about the offer tendered that day by the chairman of the All Japan Women’s Professional Wrestling Association who said he was prepared to pay Tonya $2 million to become a professional wrestler in Tokyo. “Of course, she’ll have to be the bad guy at first,” Takashi Matsunaga said.
The national media awaited Tonya’s expected criminal indictment on March 21. Tonya was scheduled to fly to Japan for the World Championship on St. Patrick’s Day, meaning she once again might skate with the whole world watching. On the morning of March 16, Tonya practiced at the Clackamas Town Center before members of her fan club, to whom she said not a word about her court appearance later that day, the one at which she would plead guilty to the felony charge of hindering prosecution.
Tonya looked small and young as she stood beside Robert Weaver when her name was called in court. Judge Donald Londer recited the specifics of the plea agreement. Tonya would admit that she had learned of a plot by Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckardt to attack Nancy Kerrigan after returning to Portland on Jan. 10, 1994, and that she had participated in discussions of a cover story. Her penalties would be three years’ probation; a $100,000 fine, plus $10,000 to reimburse the district attorneys office for “special costs” and another $50,000 to set up a fund for the Special Olympics; 500 hours of community service; a psychological evaluation; and, finally, her immediate resignation from the USFSA. Impassive as the other penalties we read, Tonya shivered when asked to agree to the end of her career as an amateur skater. She wavered at one other moment, when Londer asked if she suffered from “any emotional or mental instability.” Tonya hesitated, then answered in a voice soft and meek, “I don’t know.”
Under the terms of her plea bargain, Tonya was allowed to leave Oregon only to visit Washington or California. This supposed a career in regional ice shows, but even that seemed unlikely, since major exhibitions are sanctioned by the USFSA. Attorney’s fees by now had consumed much of what Tonya was paid by Inside Edition. A young woman who imagined herself the little skater who could, chugging to the top of the medal platform at the Olympics in spite of those who considered her beneath the sport’s dignity, now could hope for compensation only as a sideshow freak and still faced further sanctions: The USOC executive board announced it would schedule a meeting to discuss removing Tonya’s name retroactively from the Olympic roster; the USFSA intended to proceed with its hearing, and officials predicted Tonya would be stripped of her national title.
What it meant to be a convicted felon was explained to Tonya on the morning of March, 18, when she arrived at the Multnomah County Justice Center to be fingerprinted, pose for her mug shot and receive a detailed accounting of the restrictions on her life. She could not possess a firearm or run for the U.S. presidency; she could not become a police officer, a medical doctor or public-school-teacher; she could not change jobs or residences or leave the state without permission.
A day earlier, Zev Braun Pictures announced it had signed Tonya to a TV-movie deal to tell her life story. Working title: Tonya Harding, American Tragedy. Her fees would be a fraction of Nancy Kerrigan’s.
As expected, Shawn Eckardt, Derrick Smith and Shane Stant were indicted March 21 of racketeering and conspiracy to commit second-degree assault. (Agnes Eckardt was never charged with any crime. The only evidence against her remains the statements given by Jeff Gillooly.) Smith and Stant announced that day they had set up a 900 number to “reveal the truth of Tonya Harding’s involvement.” “Is Tonya Harding guilty? Should she go to prison?” Derrick Smith began the recorded messages, then proceeded to regurgitate (at $4.99 per minute) what already had been revealed in FBI affidavits before offering callers “autographed souvenir memorabilia,” including a “miniature baton key ring” priced at $29.95.
That her official status has become that of an outcast was confirmed for Tonya in early April when the USOC notified the skater that she would not be invited to the post-Olympic ceremony at the White House.
Tonya had begun working off the community-service portion of her criminal sentence at a senior-citizen center by the third week in April, when NBC began to run promotional ads for the first of three planned television movies involving the Kerrigan assault. On April 17, Tonya ran her own ad in the sports section of the Oregonian, thanking supporters and pledging “to make you very proud of me in the coming years.”
Her fan-club members, who still intended to stage a Tribute to Tonya dinner in August, were just about the only takers when she appeared at an autograph show in Portland on the day after NBC aired Tonya and Nancy, selling her signature at the “discount” rate of $35. A national tabloid reported that an unidentified sponsor had agreed to invest nearly $1 million to turn Tonya into a country singer, and a Portland radio station repeated the rumor that another backer was helping Tonya train to become a jockey.
Tonya, though, still wanted to skate. Her HOME OF TONYA HARDING banner had been removed by order of the management, but she continued to turn out for morning practice at the Clackamas Town Center, cheered on by Elaine Stamm and others of her fan club, people who told one another even now that Tonya Harding was the best there had ever been at getting up from a hard fall.
On May 16, Shawn Eckardt, Derrick Smith and Shane Stant pleaded guilty before Judge Philip T. Abraham, each accepting 18-month prison terms and each naming Tonya Harding as a person with whom they conspired to injure Nancy Kerrigan. Jeff Gillooly’s sentencing was scheduled for July 5.
Two weeks earlier, the Ice Chalet rink had been leased by former Olympic gold medalist Dorothy Hamill, who invited Tonya to join her in an on-ice appearance at the Clackamas Town Center. According to Elaine Stamm, Hamill has hired Tonya to coach young skaters at the rink. Hamill also runs the Ice Capades touring show, and the possibility that Tonya will skate as a featured performer has been discussed.
Tonya is currently living with Larry and Rose Jossi, owners of Northwest Landscape Maintenance, and has been employed part time with their company. She has rejected offers to pose for both Playboy and Penthouse magazine but insists she is excited about her book and movie projects.
After a protracted legal battle for possession of their blue Ford pickup, Tonya and Jeff Gillooly were reported to have spent one night together during the first week in June at the Benson Hotel, in downtown Portland. Gillooly denies this, but the hotel staff insists it is true.