Violent Ice Dancing

April 22, 2013 § Leave a comment

There are now 291 290 days until the figure skating events occur during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. We are seven months away from two weeks of elite figure skating and 259 away from an event that made figure skating wildly popular. This event, along with discarding compulsive figures patterns from major international competitions, have for better or worse propelled United States figure skating to what it is today. We are approaching the 20th anniversary of Tonya Harding’s role in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.


Oh baby!

Who Is Nancy Kerrigan?

No relation to Sarah, Nancy Ann Kerrigan was born in Woburn, Massachusetts. While her peers and rivals came out of their mothers’ birth canals and hit the ground skating, Kerrigan took up figure skating at the late age of six, private lessons at age eight, and winning at age nine. She made a splash on the national level by finishing 4th at the 1987 US Figure Skating Championships, before all active senior ladies skaters were conceived or even thought about. Between 1987-1990, Kerrigan would not crack the top 3 at Nationals because her strong jumps would be canceled by her underwhelming compulsory figures patterns, which involves making patterns on the ice with surgical precision and LeBron James-like athleticism. Figures accounted for 30% of the overall score to determine the American champion in 1987, with the rest of the score determined via the standings in the short program and free skate.

Shitty jumps but still win the competition? Rage quit.

Shitty jumps but still win the competition? Rage quit.

There were merits for proponents and opponents of figures, divided about whether knowing their basic edgework or better jumpers/spinners mattered more. Figures were ultimately taken out of international competitions because drawing figure eights on the ice did not retain TV viewers quite like triple axels. This change benefited skaters, including Kerrigan who were great at spinning and jumping but did not win competitions because someone drew better patterns.

After the 1990 season, Kerrigan experienced greater success. She finished 3rd at US Championships in 1991 and qualified for World Championships in Munich, where Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding, and Kerrigan respectively completed an American sweep of gold, silver, and bronze. she would proceed to place 2nd in the 1992 US Championships, 3rd at 1992 Winter Olympics, and 2nd at the 1993 US Championships. Kerrigan secured endorsement deals with companies such as Seiko, Reebok, Campbell’s Soup, and Evian after her breakout performance at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville.

Fell short of gold? Benjamin Franklin's here to console Nancy.

Fell short of gold? Benjamin Franklin’s here to console Nancy.

Who Is Tonya Harding?

Tonya Harding was a precocious figure skater from Portland, Oregon. She began skating at three and landing triple lutzes at twelve years of age. At 1991 Skate America, she was the first woman to land a triple axel in a short program, first woman to land two triple axels in competition, and the first skater ever to complete a triple axel-double toe loop combination.

Incorporating triple axels now? *faints*

Incorporating triple axels now? *faints*

Harding’s inability to land a triple axel following the 1991 season would hold back Harding from winning any major competitions for the rest of her career. She finished 4th at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, 6th at 1992 Worlds, 3rd at 1992 Nationals, 4th at 1993 Skate Canada, and 4th at 1993 Nationals.

1994 Nationals

Held in Detroit, the 1994 US Championships featured strong fields and the return of Olympians Brian Boitano and Elaine Zayak. It was also during a practice session that an attacker hired by Tonya Harding’s ex-husband and Harding’s bodyguard injured Nancy Kerrigan. The attacker used an asp baton to try and break Kerrigan’s right leg but only bruised it. The injury nevertheless forced Kerrigan to withdraw from the competition and qualify for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway, which cleared the way for Harding to capture gold in Detroit. Nancy Kerrigan’s rivals agreed to let her take the second and final Olympic spot on the US team after US champion Harding, relegating 1994 US runner-up and some random skater named Michelle Kwan to an Olympic alternate. Meanwhile, Kwan was given the task of finishing in the top 10 at 1994 Worlds, ensuring that the Americans head into Norway with two Olympic spots. 13-year old Kwan comes up clutch, overcoming a significant error in her short program and finishing 8th overall.

After subsequent investigations, Harding would eventually admit to her role in trying to cover-up the attack on Kerrigan. US Figure Skating started motions to dismiss Harding from the Olympic team but she threatened legal action.

You can just let me know if you're not getting the core concept here. No hard feelings.

If you’re not getting the core concept, it’s okay. There won’t be any hard feelings.

1994 Winter Olympics

Harding was on the cover of Time and Newsweek magazines in January 1994. Reporters would attend her practices in her hometown of Portland. Around 400 members of the press crammed into the ice rink for Harding’s and Kerrigan’s practice ice. No one paid attention to poor Scott Hamilton.

Kerrigan took advantage of her increasing fame from the incident, securing about 10 million dollars in endorsement deals before the start of the 1994 Winter Olympics. Kerrigan’s determination to come back stronger than ever from her injury served her well, earning her silver behind Ukraine’s Oksana Baiul, while Harding fell far short of the podium and finished 8th.

Harding took a plea bargain to avoid jail time, while her ex-husband, bodyguard and the attacker were sentenced to jail sentences. After subsequent investigations of the attack, US Figure Skating decided to hand her a lifetime ban from USFSA competitions as a coach and skater. Though USFSA does not have jurisdiction over other countries’ and ISU competitions, no one would work with Harding due to her status in the United States.

Even Nancy Kerrigan did not leave Lillehammer entirely unscathed. She displayed unsportsmanlike character during the figure skating medals ceremony and did not attend the closing ceremonies in order to make it to Disneyland, in order to fulfill her endorsement contract obligation with sponsor Disney. She then was seen at the Disneyland parade commenting that the parade was stupid, requiring her to brag about her silver medal, slightly tarnishing the publicity she was receiving as the victim of the attack.

Justice handshake, justice autograph, justice hug.

Justice handshake, justice autograph, justice hug.


Tonya Harding’s lifetime ban kept her from cashing in on the fame associated from this incident and the subsequent interest in the United States in figure skating. Meanwhile, Nancy Kerrigan raked in all the endorsement money and showed off dresses in the Olympics donated by Vera Wang herself. After her skating career, she appeared in ice shows and made a cameo appearance in the 2007 movie Blades of Glory. The United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame added Nancy Kerrigan in 2004.

Nancy Kerrigan, getting lucky.

Nancy Kerrigan, getting lucky.

The main lesson from this? If you are a budding figure skater and you got rivals, look after your knees. It’d be a shame if you couldn’t skate for an extended period of time… ಠ_ಠ



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