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Tonya vs. Nancy: 20 years later, who's the bad guy?

  • Former figure skater Nancy Kerrigan waits to speak at a news conference about NBC's broadcast plans for the Sochi Olympics. It was 20 years ago that she was attacked before the Lillehammer Olympics.
Former figure skater Nancy Kerrigan waits to speak at a news conference… (Reuters )
January 15, 2014|By Dana Moran, @redeyedana

When Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding took the world stage at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics, there was no question which team I was on. Please, did Team Tonya even exist? Tonya's ex-husband hired a guy to smash the crap out of Nancy's knee with a metal baton and left her screaming on the rink floor, wearing a hideous scrunchie. Tonya had terrible bangs and was a huge crybaby.

Nancy, on the other hand, was gorgeous and totally composed. I remember reading a biography I'd gotten from one of those book order forms, and learning she used the deck railing as a balance beam as a child. I never thought I'd be that graceful (still true) and was outraged when she only managed to take home the silver medal. Who cares if some other chick got a higher score? NANCY WAS ATTACKED!

In a not-so shocking twist, my 9-year-old self didn't exactly have the facts straight. Tonya's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, allegedly planned the attack and got off on a plea bargain. Tonya herself pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution of the attackers, but maintained she had no advance knowledge of the crime.

Watching ESPN's 30 for 30 doc, "The Price of Gold," it was tough not to pity Tonya. Here's what the news glossed over 20 years ago: Tonya's mom was emotionally and physically abusive, she lived in a crappy home and often skated on an empty stomach. Even in the months leading up to the 1994 Olympics, she was forced to sew her own costumes and trained at a rink in the middle of a shopping mall. She was derided for her lack of femininity and the fact she was the first American woman to land a triple axel in competition has been mostly lost to history.

Twenty years later, Tonya seemingly has little to lose. After finishing eighth at the '94 Olympics she was forced to do what she could to survive, becoming a gardener and a boxer. Nancy still looks exactly the freaking same, has three kids and has maintained a mostly private persona. It's the same storyline, all over again.

In spite of all this, I still couldn't make myself root for Tonya. Is it because the idea that "Tonya Harding Is Bad" is so beaten into my memory? Is it because she's even less of a sympathetic figure today, overweight and bitter? Is it because Nancy Kerrigan declined to appear in this doc, choosing instead to wait for an NBC version set to air during the Sochi Olympics?

Or is it because I still don't believe she didn't plan the attack?

Dana Moran is RedEye's features editor.

"The Price of Gold"

8 p.m. Thursday, ESPN

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