Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, Mary Carillo
On Feb. 23, 1994, all eyes were on Lillehammer.
Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding were set to face off in the ladies' figure skating Olympic short skate, just six weeks after Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in an attack orchestrated by Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. The tape-delayed broadcast drew more than 70 million viewers and a 48.5 household rating — still the seventh highest-rated TV program in history.
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Twenty years to the day on Sunday, the two will be back on an Olympic broadcast in NBC's one-hour documentary Nancy & Tonya (7/6c) to discuss the soap opera-like scandal that riveted America — and in Kerrigan's case, for the first time. "Everyone's talked about this except Nancy. Tonya can't stop talking about it! But Nancy wanted to do this. She was ready," Mary Carillo, who produced and narrates the documentary, tells TVGuide.com. "I think 10 [years] might still be too close, but 20 is a long time. Looking back is going to be a distant experience anyway. What did this do to them? I think that comes over very strongly."
Carillo interviews both Kerrigan and Harding in the documentary, a project she and her producing partner Margaret Grossi had been wanting to do for years. But like most outlets that craved the sit-down — most recently, ESPN's 30 for 30 doc about the the scandal The Price of Gold — Carillo could never get Kerrigan on board no matter how hard she bugged the skater's husband and agent Jerry Solomon. "I've known Jerry since he represented tennis players. I would see him at tennis tournaments and I would say to him, 'Look, I want to do this thing for the 20th anniversary,'" Carillo says. "He would say, 'No, she would never want to be part of that. It's not something she wants to talk about.' For years, he'd tell me that. But I kept at him. He must've seen me coming and been like, 'Oh, God! We're at a tennis tournament. Why is she talking about this?' But we all knew it was a good story."
Solomon started to give in after he attended a screening of Carillo and Grossi's HBO documentary Fire & Ice in 2011 about another famous rivalry, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. A year later, Carillo and Grossi met with Kerrigan to pitch the project and eventually convinced her. "[Nancy] was still on the fence. I said, 'An anniversary is coming up. We're doing this with or without you. Why don't you tell your story once?'" she says. "We were lucky that she said yes."
The goal of the documentary was to do a character study, Carillo says. Much of Kerrigan and Harding's rivalry and media narrative have been framed by polar-opposite personas. Brunette vs. blonde. Elegance vs. athleticism. High-class ice princess vs. white trash wild card. Even the way they've each lived the past 20 years is vastly different — Kerrigan shunning the spotlight to raise her three kids and Harding doing everything possible to stay in it (see: her and Gillooly's sex tape, boxing career, book, TV show appearances). Kerrigan's reluctance to speak about the incident, coupled with her notorious "Why? Why?" cries after the attack, only perpetuated the spoiled ice princess image. It was made worse when Kerrigan, who won the silver behind Oksana Baiul, was caught on-camera before the medal ceremony remarking that Baiul, who was getting her makeup redone, would cry again on the podium, and later at a Disney World parade ostensibly calling it "corny" and "dumb." But that perception of her is flawed.
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"People talk about class warfare and all that stuff and how Nancy was an ice princess. She wasn't an ice princess," Carillo says. "She was a shy tomboy from a hard-working blue-collar family. The ice princess thing to me is such a phony story line. Through the years, it's stayed that way. Tonya is the hard-scrabbled anti-hero. That is wrong. I'm very happy for people to see this to dispel that notion entirely, when they see how Nancy was raised and where she came from."
She continues: "Nancy was terrific. She was very open and talked in-depth about everything. She was what we thought she'd be. She's a very authentic, hard-working woman. And Tonya is a survivor. She gets boxed into the corner and she's like, 'OK, now what do I do? How do I get out?' It's very interesting to see them juxtaposed then and now."
It's Kerrigan's nose-to-the-grindstone upbringing, Carillo believes, that helped her recover from the assault to win the silver medal and persevere through the insane media frenzy that followed. In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, the press and public devoured every new twist to the sordid saga that seemed more surreal than the previous one. Gillooly and two of his associates, Shane Stant — who attacked Kerrigan — and Shawn Eckhardt, were arrested and later imprisoned for the scheme, which included aborted plans to attack Kerrigan at her home rink, except Stant and Eckhardt couldn't find it. Harding, who won nationals in Kerrigan's absence, admitted to obstructing the investigation, claiming she only learned of the plot after the attack, and then threatened to sue the United States Figure Skating Association for $25 million if they dropped her from the Olympic team. (Harding finished eighth in Lillehammer and was later stripped of her national title and banned for life by the USFSA.)
The insatiable appetite reached a fever pitch when the two frostily shared their first practice session in Lillehammer, never making eye contact with each other.
"Scott Hamilton describes in the show how he looked up in the stands and he said, 'I saw the New York Times, the National Equirer, the Washington Post, People magazine, and they were all equal. I knew then that figure skating had changed a little bit, but the media had changed forever,'" Carillo says. "He's right. This was the beginning of reality TV. This was before O.J. [Simpson]. People couldn't get enough. This also created that environment where if you wanted an exclusive, you had to pay for it. 'What was Tonya like in school?' What people considered news changed. This was before tweeting. If it had happened now, it would've been over quicker because people move on faster now. Back then, it was drawn-out and then evolved into mockery. I can't even imagine going through that."
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Because of the media spectacle, Carillo doesn't blame Kerrigan, 44, for staying silent all these years. "She hated that people couldn't say 'Nancy Kerrigan' without saying 'Tonya Harding.' They had both become punchlines when they were each brilliant skaters — Tonya was the second woman to land a triple Axel — and they ought to have been remembered just for that," she says. "Nancy's not a publicity hound. But Tonya says it on the show: She uses her name and her reputation. She says, 'I needed money.' She makes no apologies for that. God bless her."
Harding and Kerrigan have not spoken to each other since 1998, when they both appeared on the Fox apology special Breaking the Ice, where Harding attempted to make amends to a purse-lipped Kerrigan. "What Tonya says in that is, 'I'm sorry for being around the wrong people at the wrong place at the wrong time.' She didn't say, 'I'm sorry for what I did,'" Carillo says. "You can see Nancy giving her kind of a fishy look. Now you have Tonya saying, 'I have apologized so many times' and you have Nancy saying, 'I don't think she ever actually apologized.'"
Nor will she likely ever do so. Now married with a son, Harding, 43, remains adamant in the documentary that she had nothing to do with the attack despite former coaches, friends and Gillooly himself (who now goes by Jeff Stone) saying otherwise over the years. "I'm not sure how you can think any other way," Carillo says with a laugh. "But that's her story and she's sticking to it. It's been 20 years. She's un-budge-able from my experience with her. ... Her resistance to changing her story is absolutely metallic no matter anybody says or what the FBI tried to prove. From the people we've spoken to, she had a chance to win, to be one of the greats. She was a terrific skater. She didn't need to resort to this."
Apology or not, Kerrigan had long ago moved on, and Carillo predicts, probably won't address the scandal again — or at least for a while. "She has a very normal home life, as everyone will see. Nancy will be a revelation to a lot of people. You'll see the flesh and blood of Nancy. It's a fascinating character study," Carillo says. "She never wanted to dwell on this and she sums up the whole thing in one word: sad. That's the word she uses. The whole thing is sad.
"I do think there is something compelling about the whole thing still, and there always will be," she continues. "We likely won't ever see anything of this magnitude again. This transcended sports."
Nancy & Tonya premieres Sunday at 7/6c on NBC prior to the Winter Olympics closing ceremony.