Tonya: The Long and Potholed Road
By John Glassie
(New York Times Magazine, February 1, 1998)
On Thursday, Tonya Harding will skate with Olympic champions like Katarina Witt and Oksana Baiul in a taped special on the Fox network. She'll also face her old foe Nancy Kerrigan in an interview that's designed to make the network's February sweeps period take off like a tabloid rocket. As second acts go, this one's pretty wan, but Harding deserves points for perseverance. After pleading guilty in March 1994 to hindering the investigation of the Kerrigan attack, she settled on a comeback strategy that has been both aggressive and unclear.
''She's hired and fired more agents, lawyers, professionals, coaches and choreographers than you can shake a stick at,'' says her former agent David Hans Schmidt. Things haven't always happened for Harding, but they certainly have happened. Here's a look back:
September 1994: Penthouse magazine publishes sexually explicit video stills of Harding and Jeff Gillooly, her first husband, supposedly taken on their wedding night. Gillooly reportedly pockets $100,000; Harding gets zilch.
September 1995: Harding's light-rock band, the Golden Blades, opens for Kool and the Gang at a Portland, Ore., fund raiser. One news report says her singing is ''nearly drowned out by loud boos and shouts.''
December 1995: Good news. Harding gets married again -- to Michael Smith, a machinist -- and makes some decent jingle by selling video rights and photographs of the wedding to the tabloids.
April 1996: Bad news. The marriage goes bad. Smith claims Harding married him only for the tabloid money. She gets a restraining order against him.
October 1996: Harding saves a life, giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a collapsed 81-year-old woman, Alice Olson, in a Portland tavern. ''I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her,'' Olson says later. But Harding can't get a break. Cynics wonder if it was all a P.R. stunt.
November 1996: Harding raises $11,500 selling her 1994 Olympic skating outfit. But it isn't enough: she's forced to sell her Portland home to pay back taxes.
January 1997: David Hans Schmidt -- whose clients include Gennifer Flowers -- sends faxes to foreign countries indicating that Harding would be interested in joining their national teams. No takers.
February 1997: Kidnapped! Harding tells police that a ''bushy-haired man'' forced her at knifepoint to drive out to the country. She says she escaped by driving into a tree and running away. Once again, cynics wonder if it was a sympathy-arousing hoax. Later that month, Harding makes her skating comeback, performing before a minor-league hockey game in Reno, Nev. Most of the 4,500 people cheer. Some boo. A few throw police batons onto the ice.
April 1997: Harding's criminal probation expires; she no longer needs written permission to travel outside Oregon. That month, she plays Gina, the moll of a no-good underworld type, in the Cinemax gangster movie
October 1997: Harding's pickup truck is repossessed.
February 1998: Redemption. Harding is to appear on the TV special ''Breaking the Ice: The Women of '94 Revisited.'' And then what? ''I think there's little hope, if any, of her ever fully rehabilitating her image,'' Schmidt says. ''But I wish her luck.''