Sports Books: Harding tells her story
By Barry Wilner
NEW YORK ó The memories are painful for Tonya Harding, and somehow liberating.
They fill a new book, “The Tonya Tapes,” in which she speaks frankly, if a bit confusingly, about the Tonya and Nancy scandal. She writes about being abused as a child, contemplating suicide, having a gun placed to her head and being raped. She says she paid a price for not fitting the mold of American figure skaters.
The book is a compilation of interviews with author Lynda D. Prouse conducted over eight years.
“So many people do not have a voice and they should be heard,” Harding told The Associated Press during an interview on Thursday. “I wanted people to see me and know me and I wanted to help other people not go through the things I’ve gone through.”
What the 37-year-old Harding says she has gone through could fill a year’s worth of soap operas. Long before she was a national champion (1991) and two-time Olympian, she says she was molested as a child, looked down upon by skating federations and led astray through bad relationships. She admits to “not being real educated” and “naive” in her dealings with people.
“Being afraid to open up and talk to someone is really difficult,” she said. “That was another reason I wanted to finish the book, to get rid of my past, dealing with everything, the ups and downs, for a fresh start in the future.
“Life is a roller coaster, and sometimes they throw in a loop-de-loop,” she said. “You have to hang on.”
In 1994, Harding’s then-husband Jeff Gillooly helped plan an assault on Nancy Kerrigan that triggered a melodrama complete with headlines and huge television ratings at the Lillehammer Olympics. Since then, Harding has been characterized as a villain. She sees herself as a victim.
In the book, Harding accuses Gillooly and his accomplices of threatening her life:
“Jeff and two other guys ó don’t know who they were because I couldn’t see who they were ó they were in a different car ó decided to drive me up to the mountains, put a gun to my head, and take themselves upon me … They told me this is what you are going to say. This is what you are going to do, and if you don’t you’re not going to be here anymore.”
Harding didn’t pursue rape charges, saying she was afraid to do so. Several attempts by the AP to contact Gillooly (now named Jeff Stone) by telephone were unsuccessful.
Harding said the whole ordeal interfered with her training, even preventing her from performing some jumps in practice because television lights at the rink blinded her. She switched to practicing late at night to avoid the media.
By the time she got to Norway ó after filing a $25 million lawsuit against the U.S. Olympic Committee to remain on the team ó Harding might as well have skated in an all-black outfit.
Still, she never thought about giving up.
“I had to go. I had worked hard my entire life to get here and I had made it,” she said. “People were trying to take it away from me by doing such heinous things, and I can’t understand it. But I couldn’t let go. Skating has been the only thing I knew my whole life.
“Even if you make it down to hell, you can always make it back. I know. I’ve been there. Those who didn’t believe in me, I wanted to show them I could do this,” she said.
Harding struggled with her skating in Lillehammer and finished eighth; Kerrigan won the silver medal.
Harding says she’s not bitter about the way things turned out, even if she has struggled financially. U.S. Figure Skating banned her for life, making it impossible for her to cash in on the financial windfall the sport saw following the saga. She even became a professional boxer for a short time to make money.
She’s proud of her achievements, particularly becoming the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition. And releasing her inner demons has helped her “reach a peaceful place.”
“I did hate myself at times in my life,” she said, her eyes moistening. “It was not knowing what to do or having anyone to talk to. Sometimes, I’d think I don’t want to be here anymore. You get so low you don’t want to get up in the morning and even have a drink of water.
“I’d feel ashamed or ask: “How do I go forward?’ But it was almost like someone grabbed me by the back of my jacket and lifted me up. Like a guardian angel.”