Pop quiz, hotshot. Where were you the evening of Feb. 25, 1994? Well, if you're over the age of 35 it's a fairly safe bet you were huddled around a television that night watching Olympic figure skating.
But this wasn't just any Olympic ice skating. It was appointment television because it was was Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan, the Super Bowl of ice skating showdowns. And the appeal had nothing to do with their competition on the ice.
Their duel would become the third-highest-rated sporting event ever to that point. Long before the days of Facebook or Twitter or any social media, when people still largely digested their information from newspapers and the evening news, the showdown between Kerrigan and Harding captivated the nation. And to this day we're still not over it — hence the upcoming film starring Margot Robbie and Amy Adams, "I, Tonya."
It was on Jan. 6, 1994 at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1994 – just one month before the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway – that Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee leaving skating practice. Video of her plaintively screaming "Why? Why?" amid sobs played on endless loops on the evening news for days afterward.
In a 2013 "Today" show interview, Kerrigan spoke about the horrific incident.
"Watching anything sort of horrific, it’s disturbing to see anybody in pain,’" Kerrigan said. "To think it’s me … it’s a lifetime ago. It hurts to see anybody in such pain. It’s a long time ago. I just moved on."
It was later revealed that Jeff Gillooly, Harding's then-husband, had hired Shane Stant to maim Kerrigan in a bid to knock her out of the upcoming Olympics. To this day, Harding disputes her level of involvement, but she was ultimately convicted of hindering the investigation.
Harding received three years' probation, 500 hours of community service and a $160K fine, and was banned from the U.S. Figure Skating Association for life. But before all that, she was free to compete in Lillehammer, and she did.
After a series of mishaps, Harding came eighth. Kerrigan, healed from the attack, took home silver.
Not surprisingly, over the past 23 years, the lives and careers of Harding and Kerrigan careened along distinctively different paths. Kerrigan was inducted into the Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2004, has served as a special correspondent covering various Olympic Games and this year, at age 47, returned to spotlight by competing on "Dancing with the Stars."
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The years weren't as kind to Harding. She released a sex tape showing her with Gillooly, was arrested on domestic violence charges in 2000 and appeared on Fox's "Celebrity Boxing" in 2002.
Now, thanks to the upcoming film, a new generation will get to relive the Kerrigan-Harding feud.
"To be honest, when I read the script, I didn’t know who Tonya Harding was, and I didn’t realize it was a true story," Robbie, who plays Harding, told Vanity Fair."I thought it was entirely fictionalized and our writer Steve was so creative to come up with the quirky characters and absurd incidents."
Robbie is not the first to portray Harding onscreen. Both Melanie Hutsell and Amy Poehler parodied her on NBC's "Saturday Night Live," in 1994 and 2002, respectively. Tina Yothers played the athlete in Comedy Central's spoof, "Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story" in 1994, as did Alexandra Powers in NBC's drama, "Tonya & Nancy: The Inside Story" in 1994.
Robbie told Vanity Fair after the film was completed she and the director screened it for Harding, who was moved to tears.
"I think it is a lot for someone to have the most traumatic events of their life encompassed in a two-hour film," Robbie said. "I feel like you have to be very brave to let someone do that. I don’t know if I could do that, and she handled it incredibly."