For decades, Tonya Harding repeatedly denied she knew about plans to harm Nancy Kerrigan at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. But, for the first time ever, Harding revealed in ABC's Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story special Thursday that she had an inkling something might happen. At the time, she overheard her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and his friend, Shawn Eckardt, plotting to "take somebody out" just before the attack was carried out.
Eckhardt and Gillooly (who changed his surname to Stone in 1995) served 18-month prison sentences for conspiring to assault Kerrigan; Shane Stant, who clubbed Kerrigan's right leg with a police baton, and Derrick Smith, who drove the getaway car, also went to prison for their involvement. Harding, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution—a felony—and was sentenced to three years' probation, 500 hours of community service and a $160,000 fine. The former champion also underwent a psychiatric examination and surrendered her United States Figure Skating Association membership. Eventually, the organization banned her for life.
In an interview with ABC News' Amy Robach, Harding claimed she was innocent of planning to attack Kerrigan. But, she said, "I knew something was up. I did, however, overhear [Eckhardt and Gillooly] talking about stuff, where, 'Well, maybe we should take somebody out so we can make sure she gets on the team.' And I remember telling them, I go, 'What the hell are you talking about? I can skate.'" Harding later said that until now, "nobody wanted to ever believe" her story, and the Olympian "never understood" why she's "always" seen as "the bad person."
Asked whether she thought about Eckhardt and Gillooly's comments after Kerrigan's attack, Harding said she didn't—initially: "It popped in my head two or three days after we got back." Eckhardt and Gillooly's conversation took place one or two months before the actual attack, she clarified. After Kerrigan was injured, Gillooly "started acting funny," Harding said. "And I remember asking him, 'What is going on? Do you remember something that you've not said?'"
ABC's Connie Chung, who interviewed Harding in 1994 after the incident, was shocked that Harding would admit such a thing. "Unbelievable," she said. "I can't believe that she said that."
"Wow, what a damning comment that is," USA Today columnist Christine Brennan said of Harding's admission. "For her to say that she knew they were attacking someone, that is huge."
The figure skating scandal is the subject of I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie as Harding, Sebastian Stan as Gillooly and Allison Janney as Harding's mother, LaVona "Sandy" Golden. Of Harding, the real Golden said, "She's lied so much she doesn't know what isn't a lie anymore." Harding said Janney did a "fabulous" job, but Golden isn't interested in seeing the film. "I don't care how it portrays me," she barked. "I could care less about that movie than the dirt outside."