Nancy Kerrigan is Attacked on January 6, 1994

Hello, I'm David Funk. Welcome to another edition of Basic Bloganomics Sports History Flashback. On January 6, 1994, an attack on a figure skater led to a highly publicized moment that linked two women together forever. It was on this day at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit that Nancy Kerrigan was attacked with a baton by Shane Stant. Stant had conspired with Tonya Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and friend Shawn Eckardt in the attack.

Kerrigan had been skating since she was six, and even played ice hockey with her brothers as a child, too. In 1991, she won her first major competition at the World Figure Skating Championship with a bronze medal(Kristi Yamaguchi won the gold and Tonya Harding won the silver) as the United States swept the event. Her breakthrough came in 1992 after winning a gold medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship. She then won the bronze medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics, and a silver at the World Championship that same year.

Harding was a very successful skater in her early career after first placing sixth at the 1986 U.S. Figure Skating Championship followed by fifth in 1987 and 1988, third in 1989, and seventh in 1990. She did end up winning the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championship and silver medal at the World Figure Skating Championship that turned out to be her breakthrough year. It was also in 1991 that Harding became the first American woman to complete the triple axel jump, doing so three times. She finished third in the 1992 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, but sixth in the World Championship. She failed to qualify for the World Championship after a bad performance at the 1993 U.S. Figure Skating Championship. As her career was winding down, incidents as well as controversies escalated.

It was only supposed to be a practice session for the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, but the attack of Kerrigan turned it into a media frenzy. Kerrigan's cry of "Why? Why?" became an unexpected moment that is still one of the most recognizable ever.

Kerrigan was forced to withdraw from the competition due to the attack. Coincidentally, it was Harding that won the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship, but dark days were coming for her very soon.

Harding plead guilty to hindering an investigation in the attack of Kerrigan after her ex-husband accepted a plea bargain against her. Harding received a $160,000 fine, three year probation, and 500 hours of community service for hindering the investigation. This was only the beginning for Harding.

U.S. Olympic Committee and USFSA(U.S. Figure Skating Association) had attempted to remove Harding from the 1994 U.S. team at the Winter Olympics after the attack, but legal action from the skater prevented that from happening.

In June 1994, the USFSA stripped Harding of the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship and banned her for life from competing in USFSA events as a skater and coach. Harding had already agreed to resign from competing at USFSA events prior to this, and her spot on that year's World Championship was given to someone else, too.

Kerrigan on the other hand did recover from the attack to finish with a silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Kerrigan also received criticism for leaving the Olympic venue to take part in a publicity parade by her sponsor, Walt Disney World. Kerrigan received many endorsement deals after the attack.

Kerrigan retired from competing after the 1994 Olympics. She does appear on figure skating shows, and had a brief part in the 2007 movie Blades of Glory starring Will Ferrell. She also made appearances in the FOX show Skating With Celebrities.

Harding has had numerous run-ins with the law which included being sentenced to three days in jail and 10 days of community service after punching her then-boyfriend Darren Silver and throwing a hubcap at him in 2000. At that time, Harding was attempting a comeback in figure skating, but this incident ended any shot at that. So Harding took up another career: boxing.

In 2002, Harding was involved in the FOX show Celebrity Boxing beating Paula Jones. She became involved in professional boxing as rumors of financial trouble followed her. Her career was short, and she finished with a record of 3-3.

The attack on Nancy Kerrigan did become tabloid news all over televisions and newspapers across the country. However, the attack in a very indirect way helped the sudden rise and popularity of figure skating that would soon follow as a result.

The 1994 Winter Olympics drew very good ratings, and much of it can be attributed to what happened to Kerrigan. In fact, the Ladies Figure Skating Short Program at the 1994 Winter Olympics is still the 6th highest rated sporting event in television history with over 45 million watching. Both Kerrigan and Harding were featured, and is the reason why the ratings sky-rocketed for that show. Figure skating had finally arrived.

Kerrigan currently lives in Lynnfield, Massachusetts her husband(and former agent) Jerry Solomon and three children. She started the Nancy Kerrigan Foundation to raise awareness for those with vision difficulties after garnering fame, and because her mother is blind.

The attack on Nancy Kerrigan linked two women together forever while it eventually helped the popularity of the sport they participated in. No matter the outcomes of their lives, one can't mention either one of them without the other too far into a conversation. The attack made both of them famous(positively and negatively), but helped launched the phenomenon of figure skating in the 1990s. In the end, something good came of this unfortunate attack.

Thanks for viewing, and I hope you enjoyed today's sports history flashback!

Theme music courtesy of ESPN SportsCentury. Photo is courtesy of the Sports Illustrated Vault.



Crazy Cnton Cuts said...

great edition

think ice skating got more publicity than ever before

even more than Dorothy Hamil

maybe they need another hit man for the next games to get some viewers?

Rad said...

Wow, this was in '94? I still remember the huge crush I had on Kristi Yamaguchi as a kid...nothing to do with this story but it deserves a mention lol

David Funk said...

CCC, this did help skating in the long haul despite the negative vibe the media gave this.

LOL- about the hit man again. Most people would never guess that a figure skating event had the 6th best ratings in sports for television.

Thanks for the comment!

David Funk said...

Yeah Rad, hard to believe for me, too. And if it wasn't for one such person later that year getting more publicity(umm, that would be O.J. Simpson), the media would have been much relentless about this I think.

Hey, a lot of us guys liked Yamaguchi. I'm surprised she didn't get as many endorsement offers because of how good she looked and was on the ice.

Thanks for the comment!

Frank said...

Wow ... the 2 were linked forever and we ended up (and unfortunately so) hearing more about Harding. I still remember thinking "I wonder ..." right after the incident then lo and behold it became true.

David ... you always do a great job with these flashbacks! Don't forget the Freezer Bowl as I was there ... well, just in case you haven't already done it.