Tension between figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan started weeks before the 1994 Winter Olympic Games were scheduled to begin in Lillehammer, Norway.
On January 6th, Kerrigan had just completed a practice session when she was vicioulsy attacked by a hitman named Shane Stant. The assailant fled the scene, but video footage of Kerrigan crying and asking, "Why? Why me?" was later leaked to the public.
Everyone was quick to point fingers at her rival, Tonya Harding, for being the behind the attack that almost knocked Kerrigan out of the competition. Harding denied the allegations, but investigators later confirmed that in addition to Stant, Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly and bodyguard, Shawn Eric Eckardt, were responsible for "the whack heard around the world," as the media often dubbed it.
In exchange for a lighter sentence, Gillooly testified against Harding. She then pleaded guilty and was placed on a three-year probation plus 500 hours of community service. She also received a $100,000 fine, and was banned from the USFA for life.
However, depending on who you ask, Harding's punishment came much earlier.
In what could be touted as karma, Harding came in eighth place and missed the podium after a mishap occurred on the ice: her skate lace broke and she wasn't allowed a redo. Kerrigan, on the other hand, took home the silver medal.
Now, 23 years since the scandal, Harding is back in the spotlight thanks to the new biopic I, Tonya, which shies away from painting the disgraced skater as a villain. The renewed public interest in the story prompted one of the Olympic judges to share her recollection of the famous broken lace incident. Audrey Williams, now 85, also opened up about her feelings towards Harding in the interview with Cosmopolitan.
Williams told the publication that Harding shouldn't have been allowed to participate in the Olympics at all because she was the subject of an ongoing investigation. She revealed that all of the judges felt the same way, but neither the U.S. Figure Skating Association nor the Olympic Committee did anything to stop her.
"There were a lot of athletes that certainly didn't get the attention they should have got because of the Kerrigan and Tonya Harding mishap, and that was really sad," Williams said.
As for the broken lace incident, Williams admitted that she "just couldn't believe it," noting that Harding has pulled a similar "trick" in the past.
Williams explained, "I was a referee at a Skate America in Dallas, and she missed her triple axel, and she came up [and] said her blade was loose. I didn't feel any weakness on the blade. And so I gave it to an international skating union man that was there and I said, 'You try it.' And he said, 'Let's let her have another chance.'"
The Canadian judge added that Harding always came up with a "problem" whenever things didn't go her way.
"I only saw her do it twice, but I know she did it other times "” either her dress or her skate blade or her lace [had a problem]. And it was the lace at the Olympics," she said.
Williams recalled the dramatic moment Harding lifted up her skate to show the judges the broken lace, but no one was buying it. She said that it didn't make "any difference in the way that she [skated]; she didn't really skate that well. She didn't get her triple axel in, so it didn't change where I had her."
When asked if Harding would've had a better chance at making it on the podium if Kerrigan wasn't attacked and she skated her best, Williams replied, "No. There were too many better skaters."
As for Harding's innocence, Williams said, "I just don't know. I can't honestly say one way or the other. I hope she didn't. But I can't say she didn't. We'll never know."
Do you believe that Tonya Harding's lace was really broken?