This morning, former Olympic skater and two-time U.S. champion (1991 & 1994, although stripped of 1994 title) Tonya Harding appeared on the Today show to promote her new book The Tonya Tapes. (Recap: During the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee by an unknown assailant. An investigation later revealed that Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and friend Shawn Eckhardt hired Shane Stant to attack Kerrigan. Harding won the 1994 championships, and later admitted to hindering the FBI investigation into the matter. She has consistently denied involvement in the attack. At the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer held several weeks after the U.S. championships, Kerrigan won the silver medal and Harding came in 8th and had a post-Olympic career of celebrity boxing, wrestling and various run-ins with the law.)
I watched the interview, conducted by Meredith Vieira, and was a bit surprised at how poised and mature Harding came across. At age 37, Harding was very philosophical about her place in history and outlook on the rest of her life. The biggest and most disturbing revelation was when she told Vieira that her ex-husband and two men raped her at gunpoint and threatened to kill her if she went to the FBI about what she knew about the attack. (link to Today show interview) The transcript of the entire interview is below:
VIEIRA: This book really is a series of tape recorded conversations that you had describing your life and in the introduction you say "I wanna set the story straight about my life, about who I am." Who do you believe people think that you are?
HARDING: Well, I believe that people think that I am, as what the media has portrayed me out to be. And for me, I'm just a person that, you know, has led a roller coaster life, my whole entire life, um, not only as a child as well, but not only in '94, but up until even just a few years ago, I mean, I finally feel like I'm at peace, you know, and, um, it's just, it's really difficult, you know, to feel that until you're ready.
VIEIRA: You talk about 1994, because that's when your life really changed. That's what people identify with you, the clubbing of Nancy Kerrigan, the fact that although you said you weren't involved in it, you knew after the fact that your ex-husband Jeff Gillooly was, with others, and you didn't come forward to officials in a timely fashion. In this book, for the first time, you reaffirm that you weren't involved in the actual attack. But you say that you did plan to go immediately to the FBI when you found out that your ex-husband was involved, until this happened. I'm gonna read to you, this is the quote from your book:
Jeff (meaning Jeff Gillooly, your ex), and two guys, don't know who they were, because I couldn't see who they were, they were in a different car, decided to drive me up to the mountains, put a gun to my head and take themselves upon me. They told me, "This is what you're going to say, this is what you're going to do, and if you don't, you're not going to be here any more."
What you're saying, Tonya, is that these men raped you and threatened to kill you.
VIEIRA: Why have you waited 14 years to tell this story?
HARDING: Ashamed, um, scared, there's so many people out there that have had bad things happen to them and they can't tell anybody because they're afraid to tell someone. Um, it's just time-
VIEIRA: Did you ever tell anybody, family members, or friends, or the authorities about this?
HARDING: I told Linda Lewis and her husband and-
VIEIRA: Linda Lewis is your godmother.
HARDING: Yes, and I told Lynda Prouse, of course, the one who wrote the book and Michael Rosenberg (former manager).
VIEIRA: But you never went to the authorities and tried to press any charges or anything like that?
VIEIRA: And I have to say that, you know, we obviously tried to reach Jeff Gillooly to get his response to this and we weren't able to do that. But you talk about a life of abuse, not just you claim with your husband, but really beginning when you were a little girl with your mother. You say that, "There's so many times when my mother would be upset with me because I didn't skate good, and drag me off the ice by my hair, take me to the bathroom, beat my butt until it was black and blue."
VIEIRA: What kind of an impact did that have on you as a child growing up?
HARDING: It was very difficult growing up. Um, but you know, I'm sure that she did the best that she possibly could, I mean, that's the only way I can feel anymore, you know, about anything anymore. Uh, but, embarrased and once again, ashamed of my life. And you know, the only thing I had to look forward to was stepping out on the ice. I mean, that was my sanctuary, I mean, that's where I felt the best and I actually felt good about me, no matter what anybody said to me.
VIEIRA: You know, Tonya, we did reach out to your mom and she did respond to us. We're gonna tell you what she said and continue with this conversation. We appreciate you being here this morning with us.
HARDING: Thank you so much.
VIEIRA: We were talking about, and this is the first time that you have revealed the abuse that you say you lived with, from the time you were a little girl, including your mom, you said who would hit you repeatedly. We did reach out to her as I said to you and she denied that. She said that she hit you once with a hairbrush, just a swat on the arm, but she also said this. She said, "I did the very best I could as a mother. I still love her. I always will. I am her mother."
HARDING: Hm. Wow.
VIERA: Do you have a reaction to that. To what she said?
VIEIRA: She and you are estranged. Do you envision a time when you may not be?
HARDING: I gave her the opportunity to be a mother and, uh, it did not happen. And I have forgiven her for everything that she had done to me as a child, but, um, you know, I'm okay. I'm all right.
VIEIRA: You talked about skating being an escape for you. It was the one place that you found joy?
HARDING: Absolutely. Absolutely. Besides, you know, fishing and hunting with my father. (laughter) I mean, I love being in the outdoors.
VIEIRA: You know Tonya, there are a lot of people who since 1994 when you were banned from amateur skating, you've had a couple of run-ins, public run-ins with the law, the DUI was one of them, um, you spent a couple of days in jail for attacking a boyfriend with a hubcap. People look at that and you will have folks who'll look at the book and they'll say "Tonya Harding is not taking responsibility for her mistakes." Some could even question your credibility, and wonder if you wrote the book to make money. What do you say to those people?
HARDING: Well, I wrote the book to just be able to lift my spirits and also help other people out there to, you know, I mean, it's my voice, and a lot of people out there don't get their voices heard. And you know, life is too precious to just throw it away. And, um, I just want people to realize that when it's time that you need to speak to somebody, talk to somebody, it's not shameful, it's, you know, not losing pride, not losing face, if you need help, ask for help. I mean, it's okay and you know, sometimes it's hard to do that, but, you know, that's what life's about. It has ups and downs. And when you go to hell and you come back, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel.
VIEIRA: And where are you now in your life?
HARDING: I'm successful. To me, success is having inner peace and being happy and that's where I'm at.
VIEIRA: I know you want to put closure to that part of your life, to the past, but -
HARDING: I actually want to put closure to, you know, from my childhood all the way up until now, as now I feel that, um, I have matured a lot, and I wanna have a fresh new beginning for my future.
VIEIRA: You know, there was a, one of the candidates, Barack Obama, recently said, uh, he would never pull a Tonya Harding, meaning he would never unfairly attack somebody to get ahead. This notion that your name has become attached to something negative, you wanna close the book. But do you think the public -
HARDING: I'll always be that way though. That's what people always do. And if he said it, it's okay. You know, maybe he's trying to get ahead in the polls somehow in other ways, you know? But um, people should be focusing in on the candidacy and what's going on in the world today instead of bringing my name up all the time (laughter). I mean, I love my life as just being, you know, finally being human and being able to just be peaceful and you know, do what I wanna do.
VIEIRA: Tonya Harding, thank you so much.
HARDING: Thank you. I wanted to thank everyone out there that has supported me and, you know, World Audience, the publishing company that gave me that second chance, Michael Rosenberg, Lynda Prouse, the writer, Linda and Greg Lewis, my dad, and all the people that have supported me all these years. Thank you. I mean, where would I be? Thank you.