Tonya Harding – famous for being infamous

Our latest column from William Thomas

Oh man, how I’ve missed Tonya Harding. But mourn no more because the hick chick with a thing for knee caps and pickup trucks is back with a vengeance … and a double axle to grind. Her biopic I Tonya is now being released in cinemas everywhere. (Personally, I still think Take A Knee – The Tonya Harding Story would have been a better title.) And as if that was not enough for one feisty, unindicted co-conspirator, her ABC television special Truth And Lies: The Tonya Harding Story will air Thursday, January 11th. (Apparently the title Still In Denial After 24 Years had been promised to O. J. Simpson.)

You’ll recall “The Whack Heard Around The World” scandal that followed the assault on Tonya’s arch rival Nancy Kerrigan as they prepped for the 1994 Olympics in Norway. The plot to damage Kerrigan’s knee involved Tonya’s husband Jeff Gillooly whom she married at age 19. Next in the chain of command came Tonya’s bodyguard Shawn Eckardt, then Shane Stant who wielded the telescoped baton and Derrick Smith, the getaway driver.

Shawn Eckardt got caught because he bragged to everybody he knew that he’d been involved. The stick man, Shane Stant got caught because on the run, he checked into a hotel under his correct name. Gillooly got caught because anyone who’d ever met him identified him as an idiot and Tonya should have got caught because police positively identified her handwriting on an incriminating note about the planning of the attack but she didn’t. Instead she pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution, serving her time under trailer park arrest.

This event, one of the most unbelievable sports events of our times just had to be the inspiration for the movie Dumb And Dumber which came out the same year. Jeff Gillooly was characterized as “the brains” behind the operation in the same way that LiAngelo Ball was the brains behind the caper in which three UCLA basketball players were jailed for shoplifting sunglasses in China, a country so polluted nobody can see the sun anymore.

Nancy Kerrigan not only recovered from the attack, but skated two of the best performances of her career at those Olympics. In short, four guys with criminal minds and a metal baton failed to take out a skinny girl in a tutu. The gang that couldn’t organize a piss-up at a brew pub.

In the lexicon of American slang, Jeff’s last name became a verb. “To Gillooly” means to screw up something simple on a monumental scale. (In golf “To van Velde” is to blow an insurmountable lead by steadfastly sticking to a strategy that is stupid from the get go.)

Oddly enough, the Harding/Gillooly scandal hit the news at the same time as the John Wayne Bobbitt calamity in which John Wayne’s wife Lorena cut off his “Gillooly.”

And as if that were not enough (please, somebody whack my writing hand with a telescoping baton) both these nefarious events took place just before the Lillehammer Olympics and after John Wayne Bobbitt suffered the cruelest cut a man can manage, that became my nickname for him – Lillehammer! (Before, not after the reattachment surgery.)

Wait! Where was I? Oh yeah, the knee capping of Olympic star Nancy Kerrigan in which Tonya Harding was allegedly involved in the same way Charles Manson was allegedly involved in the “Manson Murders.”

As a pack-a-day smoker who suffered from asthma, Tonya Harding always danced to the beat of a different drummer. Make that an arthritic drummer fired by fellow members of an unnamed garage band.

Tonya Harding moved on from her escapades, trying a lot of different ventures to stay in the spotlight and keep up payments on that truck.

Tonya’s stint as manager for the wrestling stable Los Gringos Locos did not last and her band The Golden Blades were booed off stage at their one and only performance in Portland, Oregon in 1995. Her low budget movie Breakaway did not and what should have been a natural role for her, TruTV’s The Smoking Gun Present World’s Dumbest flopped. Her boxing career was short lived but did include a win on Fox’s Celebrity Boxing over Paula Jones, a Clinton accuser.

In the summer of 2010 Tonya drove a 1931 Ford Model A named Lickity-Split to a land speed record of 97 mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats. She was pregnant at the time.

Tonya Harding’s one constant is to remain one of America’s most distrusted and disliked women. Her new movie and TV special will do little to change this perception and being soundly endorsed by President Donald Trump – “Oh, I like Tonya” – is just like being thrown a concrete life preserver.

Not the sharpest blade in the skate rack, I always thought that if Tonya Harding ever did realize her dream and win an Olympic gold medal, the first thing she would do when she got it home was have it bronzed.

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