Why The Nancy Kerrigan Attack On I, Tonya Wasn’t Effective

The infamous assault on Nancy Kerrigan was one of the huge talking points in 1994. To rewind, the popular figure skater was hit in the kneecap with a baton during a final practice before the 1994 U.S. Women’s Championships in Detroit. It was eventually revealed that Shane Stant was hired to take out Kerrigan before the 1994 Olympics. Tonya Harding’s ex, Jeff Gillooly, was the person responsible for hiring the hitman, with Tonya herself not particularly knowing about the incident at play. Still, the figure skater was punished as she did plead guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution. She never served jail time like her ex-husband, but she was given three years’ probation, a $160,000 fine, and 500 hours of community service. However, the most damaging service ended Harding’s career: she was banned for life from ice skating from any professional or amateur USFSA events. Her last show was in 1994 Olympics, in which Kerrigan did compete as she was able to recover at the time.

The incident has been covered numerous times including I, Tonya, the 2017 feature that saw Margot Robbie play the famed figure skater, and it documents the life of Tonya Harding prior to the incident. Now, we do eventually get to the big moment and the events play out in the way that’s described in the above paragraph. I, Tonya does an excellent job documenting the figure skater, exploring her troubled life outside of the skating ring in a cheeky, yet serious manner. However, there’s also no denying that the Nancy Kerrigan attack is actually a mess in the film. Granted, the exact attack itself is staged well, but the moment just rang hollow. To give the filmmakers a benefit of a doubt, they likely assumed that people watching this film knew about the infamous moment and didn’t feel the need to dive further than what happened. However, that actually backfires in the long run. That’s because the attack feels random in the film due to the fact that the relationship of Kerrigan and Harding isn’t established. In fact, Kerrigan’s character isn’t developed in the film whatsoever.

According to various reports, Kerrigan and Harding were friends on a certain level. The two weren’t described as best friends who spent every waking moment together, but they were friendly enough to go out and grab a drink or two. Whatever the truth may be, Kerrigan should’ve been introduced in the film much earlier. If Harding saw her as a rival that she didn’t particularly like but pretended to be friends, then that should’ve been documented. Remember, I, Tonya makes a point that the judges didn’t particularly like her presentation or look. The scene with Tonya confronting the judges never happened, but the context is true. According to Tonya Harding herself, one of the judges did criticize her bright pink outfit that she made herself. The judge reportedly threatens to pull her from the U.S. Championships if she ever wore it again. Toya responded with, “Well, you know what. If you can come up with $5,000 for a costume for me, then I won’t have to make it, but until then, stay out of my face.”

Nancy Kerrigan was considered America’s sweetheart. She was deemed the perfect role model for figure skating. The film should’ve understood the relationship between Harding and Kerrigan first, then incorporate that into the story. I, Tonya comes across as a mess at times because it doesn’t particularly have a singular focus. We can get an in-depth look into her tragic life outside skating, but it’s stunning that the actual assault isn’t given more of a spotlight here. What fueled Jeff to even think about hiring a hitman to stop Kerrigan from competing? Was Harding frustrated that the judges seemingly liked her more? There had to be something that prompted Jeff to pull such a bone-headed move and yet we never get to the root of why it happened in the first place. Kerrigan should’ve been a bigger focal point of the piece. There’s no word on whether the producers reached out to the former figure skater, though based on Kerrigan’s reaction, it doesn’t sound like they did. It actually hampers the narrative because we’re not given an even perspective on her side of the story. I do understand that is about Tonya Harding, but the relationship with Nancy Kerrigan would’ve given more of an idea on her involvement in the entire thing. As it stands, the incident happens and Tonya’s life changes drastically over some random assault. I, Tonya isn’t a documentary, so the full-blown truth regarding the incident wasn’t expect here. And to be clear, I’m not claiming that anyone is lying. However, it’s a shame that such a prominent fixture in Harding’s life in given little insight here.

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