Then & now Nancy Kerrigan, skater

“WHY? WHY? WHY?” These were the agonised words of 24-year-old figure-skating champion Nancy Kerrigan just seconds after an assailant…

“WHY? WHY? WHY?” These were the agonised words of 24-year-old figure-skating champion Nancy Kerrigan just seconds after an assailant whacked her in the right knee with a collapsible police baton, in what became the most notorious case of rival-nobbling in modern sport. The attack happened during training for the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, and Kerrigan was forced to pull out of the competition.

With Kerrigan out of the contest, the way was clear for her rival Tonya Harding to glide into first place in the championship. But when it was revealed that Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her bodyguard, Shawn Eckhardt, had hired Shane Stant to carry out the attack, speculation about Harding’s involvement reached fever pitch. Kerrigan quickly recovered from her injury, and was chosen to be on the US team for the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Harding was also chosen to represent the US, and the scene was set for a media soap opera with Tarantino-esque undertones. It was the all-American princess from Massachusetts, whose skating outfits were designed by Vera Wang, versus the white trash witch from Oregon, and the public lapped up every twist of the saga. Journalists and TV broadcasters followed the pair’s every move, and the figure skating short programme at that year’s Olympics remains the most-watched women’s sporting event. Kerrigan won silver at Lillehammer, while Harding was left trailing.

Though Harding denied prior knowledge of her ex-husband’s plot, she was sentenced to probation and community service for her part in covering up the attack, stripped of her US championship title, and banned from amateur competition in the US for life. Harding subsequently dabbled in wrestling and TV presenting, battled alcoholism, and was also the subject of a notorious sex-tape scandal, but these days shuns the spotlight.


Kerrigan retired from competitive skating after her silver medal win, but she kept her feet firmly on the rink, performing in a series of lucrative ice shows, including a version of the film Footlooseon ice. She made a cameo appearance in the Will Ferrell ice-skating comedy Blades of Gloryin 2007, and covered the 2010 Winter Olympics for the Entertainment TonightTV show. She is married to her former agent, Jerry Solomon, and the couple has three children.

This year, Kerrigan’s life took an unexpected turn when her brother Mark went on trial for the manslaughter of her 70-year-old father, Daniel Kerrigan. Dan, a welder who had worked at three jobs to pay for Nancy’s training, and had carried his injured daughter after the notorious 1994 incident, died of a heart attack during a scuffle with his 45-year-old son. Nancy supported her brother during the trial; Mark was cleared of manslaughter but found guilty of assault.

But the Nancy Kerrigan-Tonya Harding saga is not over yet – in fact, it's still playing out to eager audiences, in the form of Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera. "It seemed to me a natural subject for an opera," librettist Elizabeth Searle told the Boston Globethis month, "because it has the operatic emotions, the whining, the jealousy, the violence, the longing for attention."